Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 7 to 11
- Grade: 2 to 6
Every summer, Laney's family visits their cottage on Tidnish Beach. Summertime on Nova Scotia's north shore is slow and sweet: there are long days in the water until fingers turn pruney, bottomless glasses of cherry Kool-Aid, and bonfires with the other families summering along the shore. But this year the baking heat and bright red sand provide cold comfort. This year Laney's little sister, Jenny, is gone.
Ten-year-old Laney grapples with the loss. She carries immense, secret guilt that she can only work out by writing letters to her sister. Laney's mother won't even say Jenny's name, so writing quickly becomes Laney's coping mechanism, to the detriment of her social skills. She avoids the other kids until she makes a new friend—one who doesn't look at her with pity.
It's a tough lesson for a preteen, but Laney must learn to acknowledge her grief in order to overcome it. When a situation arises and Laney needs to help her new friend, she finally understands that even though she will miss Jenny forever, she can find happiness again. A tender meditation on life and loss through the lens of a childhood summer, A Beginner's Guide to Goodbye will fill readers with warmth and spark important conversations.
About the author
Melanie Mosher won an essay contest when she was in grade two and has been a writer ever since. She lives in a tiny green house with her husband, two daughters, one grand-daughter, and a dog. The house is full, but there is always room for stories. Melanie loves to write for children. Her goal is to kindle their love of words, ignite their imaginations, and spark their creativity. She has many published articles to her credit, but Fire Pie Trout is her first picture book.
Excerpt: A Beginner's Guide to Goodbye (by (author) Melanie Mosher)
Dear Diary Jenny,
Today was grading day. Mrs. Anderson gave me this diary. She said it might be nice to write down my thoughts over the summer. I tried to write Dear Diary, but I'd rather write to you. I miss you.
I got ribbons for doing well in math and reading the most books. I like numbers and stories. But I'm glad school's done for the summer. This year was tough.
We head to the cottage tomorrow. Dad and John loaded everything into the car. Dad isn't coming. He was going to, but now he says he has to work. He says he'll come soon and we can play on the beach.
Remember the big sandcastle we built last year? It had twelve towers surrounded by a huge wall. We took John's old toy dinosaurs and used them as monsters in the moat to protect the castle. Remember the drawbridge we made from Popsicle sticks? We ate all the Popsicles in the freezer. In one day. Remember?
P.S. I'm afraid the cottage won't be the same without you. I'm sorry. It's all my fault.
Laney slid into her seat in the family minivan. She glanced at the boxes behind her and bit her lip. Dad had removed the last row of seating to allow room for the things they needed to take to the cottage. He had removed Jenny's seat.
Dad waved as Mom backed the minivan out of the driveway in Truro.
Laney and her older sister, Kate, waved back. Mom nodded slightly.
John, Laney's older brother, turned away. "How come Dad's not coming?" He banged his fist on his leg.
Mom sighed. "We've already discussed this, John." She sounded tired even though it was morning. "He has to work."
"Yeah." John shook his head. "What else is new? He's always working now." John stared out the window. "He promised to help me build a fort this year."
"He's working on an important project." Mom's shoulders sagged.
John grumbled under his breath, "The fort's important."
Laney was disappointed too, but she didn't say anything. She pushed the button to lower her window. She tipped her head upward to let the rush of cool air soothe her. Her family had been spending summers at Tidnish Beach for as long as Laney could remember. She had been getting carsick just as long.
"Put your window up," Kate barked. Kate never opened her window, because she didn't want to mess up her dark brown hair. It was long and straight and every strand was perfectly placed.
"No way." Laney shook her head.
"Put it up, Laney." Kate reached over and poked her sister's arm.
"I can put it up, but then you run the risk of me throwing up on you." Laney raised the window, gave Kate a forced smile, puffed up her freckled cheeks, and faked a gag. "You know I get carsick. So, if that's what you want..."
"Fine. Never mind then." Kate huffed and folded her arms across her chest. She glared at Laney. "I can't wait to get to the cottage and out of this car, away from you."
Laney closed her eyes and smiled as the window lowered again. Bugging Kate was a bonus of having the window down.
The trip to the cottage took a little over an hour. They travelled along cross-country roads that were full of curves and turns that usually made Laney's stomach swirl and churn. But not this time. This year Laney had made a plan with John. She kept her eyes closed and listened for her cue.
"Cows!" John hollered.
Laney opened her eyes to see the cows grazing in the fields as they passed. She checked to see if they were rusty brown, shiny black, or covered with white and brown spots that looked liked maps. She hoped her new interest in counting cows would be the distraction she needed to keep her breakfast down. Counting things comforted Laney; numbers made sense when nothing else did.
The crunching of gravel under the tires announced their arrival. The van came to a stop in front of their cottage. Their cottage was among fourteen along an S-shaped dirt lane that led from the main road to the shore, forming one of many summer communities along the coast of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia. On the left-hand side of the highway were farms and houses of people who lived there all year long. On the right-hand side, closest to the water, were groups of homes for summer living only.
Laney loved going to the cottage. At least she used to. This year was different. It was the first time without her little sister, Jenny. All Laney wanted was to make it through the next two months without having to talk about her. So, she intended to avoid everyone.
As Laney squashed the thoughts in her mind, her motion sickness faded and was replaced with another type of stomach pain—a boulder-like heaviness Laney had been carrying for the last ten months. She opened the door of the vehicle to get out. Her sweaty legs stuck on the vinyl seat as she tried to slide and it made a funny sound.
"Gross," said Kate, squishing up her nose.
"Did you let one rip?" John laughed.
"No." Laney stuck her tongue out at John even though she knew he was teasing her. "The seats are sticky."
John walked over to Laney. Laney was the youngest now. John was three years older and a whole lot taller. His hair was curly like Laney's but lighter in colour—like chocolate-chip cookie dough. John reached his long, freckled arm out and ruffled Laney's hair. John took extra care of Laney now. He walked her over to Cindy's house if Laney wanted to play, and helped her with homework when she needed. Which she didn't. John was the one who could have used the help. Laney remembered the day John brought his report card home.
Dad had shaken his head. "What happened, son?" He studied John, searching for an answer. "You always do well in school and this year you barely passed."
John's words had rushed out in one breath. "Schoolwork doesn't make sense. When will I ever need to multiply fractions, or know the first prime minister? Some old geezer a million years ago."
"You know education's important." That was all Dad had said. He didn't even put up a fuss. He put a hand on John's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "You'll get 'em next year."
John hadn't answered. He took the report card and walked to his room.
John interrupted Laney's thoughts now. "How many cows?" he asked.
Laney glanced at her notebook and quickly tallied the numbers. "Twenty-five Herefords, forty-three Black Angus, and nineteen Holsteins. There were more, but we drove by too fast."
"Good counting." John nodded.