And What Comes After a Thousand?
By Anette Bley
Reviewed by Deb Clark
When Auntie Donna died last week so tragically young, my daughters wanted to know why everyone was sad. Preschoolers just don’t comprehend death in all its heartrending finality. So I read this book to them. And they asked me to read it again. And again. Then they “read” it themselves, studying the pictures and telling their own versions to each other.
My girls were fascinated by little Lisa and her elderly buddy, Otto. Despite the many decades difference in their ages, the two are best friends. Together they engage in idyllic pursuits, telling stories, playing in Otto’s garden, sharing pilfered cookies, gazing at the stars. They eat cherry cake and count the pits as they spit them out. They dance exuberantly when Lisa hits a long-sought target with the slingshot that Otto made for her.
Lush-hued watercolor pictures illustrate the story’s action on each page. Most pages are bordered by childish pencil sketches of numbers, German words (the book’s original language) and figures that compliment the tale, such as the Native Americans and buffalo who appear below a contented Otto and Lisa lounging in the grass as Otto explains how certain tribes sometimes placed their dead in trees.
Then Otto gets sick and can’t get out of bed.
“Will you die soon?” Lisa asks, stroking Otto’s hand.
“Mhmmm,” Otto nods, “I think so.”
“Should we tie you to the top of a tree then?” Lisa wants to know. Otto laughs weakly.
“No, old Otto just wants to be laid to rest in the ground,” he says. “Then I can slowly turn into the soil, just like the grass, remember? And someday flowers might even grow out of that earth. Imagine that!”
After Otto dies, Lisa struggles to understand why he left and where he went. Otto’s wife, Olga, helps the little girl understand that while her best friend is gone, he will live forever in her memory.
I am grateful to this book. It helped my daughters understand, and not be frightened by, the sorrow they saw around them. It gave them the solace of knowing that Auntie Donna was still with us in some way. And I found that it comforted me, too.