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5.0 out of 5 stars Richie's Picks: MICHAEL ROSEN'S SAD BOOK, May 21, 2005
This review is from: Michael Rosen's Sad Book (Boston Globe-Horn Book Honors (Awards)) (Hardcover)
"When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom

Let it be."

--The Beatles

Nearly ten years ago, back when I was the new Children's and YA buyer at Copperfield's, I had a business meeting with RDR Books publisher Roger Rapoport.

The most significant aspect of that meeting with Roger was his leaving me with a sample copy of the utterly delightful, Quentin Blake-illustrated, THE BEST OF MICHAEL ROSEN (Wetlands Press, 1995, ISBN: 1-57143-046-6). And the most significant aspect of THE BEST OF MICHAEL ROSEN (which is overflowing with Rosen's funny poems and tales) is a story titled, "Eddie and the Birthday."

"Eddie and the Birthday

(Eddie is my second son)

When Eddie had his second birthday

he got lots of cards,

and he had a cake and all kinds of presents

and we sang Happy Birthday,

'Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday, dear Eddie...'

and all that.

He liked that very much

So he goes:

'More. Sing it again.'

So we sang it again.

'Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday, dear Eddie...'

and all that.

And he goes,

'More. Sing it again.'

So we sang it again.

'Happy Birthday to you

da de da de da, dear Eddie

da de da to you...'

And he goes,

'More. Sing it again.'

It felt like we sang Happy Birthday about

Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And the candles. On the cake.

He loved them.

'Eddie, blow.'

He blew.

And the moment he blew it out

he wanted more.

'More candle.'

So we light it.

'More Eddie blow.'

Eddie blew.

'More candle.'

We light.

'More Eddie blow.'

'More candle.'

That felt like two hundred and twenty-three times as well.

And he loved the cards.

Everyone who sent him a card

seemed to think he'd like one

with pictures of big fat animals.

Elephants and hippos.

He got about ten of them.

Imagine.

Your second birthday

and everyone sends you pictures of

hippopotamuses.

Maybe they think he is a hippo.

Anyway he had a nice birthday.

Next day he gets up

comes downstairs

and he looks around

and he goes,

'More happy birfdy.'

So I go,

'That was yesterday, Eddie.'

'More happy birfdy.'

'But it isn't your birfdy--I mean birthday...'

'More happy birfdy.'

Now you don't cross Eddie.

He throws tantrums.

We call them wobblies.

'Look out, he's going to throw a wobbly!'

And the face starts going red,

the arms start going up and down,

the screaming starts winding up

he starts jumping up and down

and there he is--

throwing a wobbly.

So I thought,

'We don't want to have a wobbly over this one.'

So we started singing Happy Birthday all over again.

Two hundred and twenty-three times.

Then he says

'More candles.'

'We haven't got any,' we say

(Lies, of course, we had).

'More candles...'

So out came the candles

and yes--

'Eddie blow.'

He blew.

'More candle.'

And off we go again--

Two hundred and twenty-three times.

And then he says,

'Letters. More.'

Well, of course no one sent him any more,

so while I'm singing more happy birfdys,

my wife was stuffing all the cards

into envelopes and sticking them down.

So we hand over all his cards again

and out came all the hippopotamuses again.

So he's very pleased.

And that's how Eddie had two birthdays.

Lucky for us

he'd forgotten by the third day.

Maybe he thinks when you're two you have two birthdays

and when you're three you have three birthdays

and when you're seventy-eight you..."

Over the past decade I've sent copies of that story along with birthday cards. I've easily read it aloud two hundred and twenty-three times.

I was feeling sad a few weeks ago. Now that I've completed my three-year term on the Best Books for Young Adults committee, it feels like some of the publishers have forgotten about me. So I'm paging through various publisher catalogues that I'd picked up in Boston to see what I've been missing, and I see an unmistakable Quentin Blake illustration.

(I still think that Quentin Blake's wordless picture book CLOWN (Holt, 1996) is one of the most significant pieces of social commentary disguised as a children's book that has ever been published.)

So I look at the Quentin Blake illustration in the Candlewick catalogue, and I look at the title, MICHAEL ROSEN'S SAD BOOK, and I read the catalogue copy, and...Oh, my God. Reading the catalogue copy brought on one of those moments when you can't get your mind around what you're seeing.

"What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen."

So I was sad that afternoon, and I was already sad again this morning before the FedEx guy came up our long, rutty, rain-damaged driveway, and before I opened the package and there was the SAD BOOK.

"Though she was born a long, long time ago

Your mother should know."

--The Beatles again

But what might be making me saddest right now is Michael's saying in the book,

"Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone. Like my mum. But she's not here anymore, either. So I can't."

which makes me really, really sad, because my mom was the person I always had to talk to about things and now it's been five long years since she's not been here for me to talk with.

And now I'm crying even harder, looking at the last spread in the book which has Michael sitting alone at a desk, staring at a photo and a burning candle.

And I hope I can kind of get it all out of my system before I try reading the book aloud to an audience which I need to do because Michael's story--which Quentin brings to life--of what it's like to deal with sadness will touch and teach readers and audiences of all ages.
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