Monday 20 January 2014

Us Minus Mum by Heather Butler

Mongrel means your parents are not the same breed.
We are on our way to look at a dog.
"Mr and Mrs Warren?" the man says.
Mum nods.
Dad nods.
Theo nods. He is holding Mum's hand because he has never been to a Dog Rescue Centre before.
Published by Little Brown Books for Younger Kids
Pages - 304
Summary From Little, Brown
George's life is full of FACTS. His little brother, Theo, is a pain; nobody ever disagrees with their Nana; and their new dog, Goffo, is the best dog ever (despite his uncontrollable bowels). But the biggest fact of all is that his mum is absolutely, completely brilliant.
She tells great stories, can wave the fastest of anyone on the planet and, most importantly, she was the one who suggested they adopt Goffo. The boys think she's invincible. But they're wrong.
Because Mum is ill. Really ill.
It's up to George and Theo to keep Mum smiling. Which will almost probably definitely involve wellies, shepherd's pie and Goffo's victory at the pet talent show…
Heart-warming as well as heart-breaking, Us Minus Mum is the unforgettable story of two brothers and their lovable mongrel finding laughter in the face of loss. Written by child bereavement expert Heather Butler, the novel sensitively and authentically depicts a family pulling together in the face of grief.
This has been a difficult book to review because it deals with such a sad subject – 
the illness, decline and death of George and Theo's dearly loved mum. Told in the first person, from George's point of view, it begins by showing his close family having fun together, then moves into a troubling time where the boys try to cope with Mum's illness without really understanding how serious it is. Finally they discover that Mum has terminal cancer. Her death comes very near the end of the book.
The first part of the story, before Mum falls ill, shows a normal family adopting a new dog and making up limericks. There's a lot of farting in it, which children will find funny. Gradually clues begin to emerge about Mum's illness, though these are fairly subtle and easily missed at first. As the illness progresses, the boys' routine alters and friends and extended family members rally round. Mixed up with this is a subplot about a bully in George's class.
George goes through many different emotions during the course of the story, but is haunted by the possibility that Mum's illness is his fault. This is a common misconception amongst children trying to cope with the illness and death of a parent, and Butler handles it with a gentleness and compassion which will help children in a similar situation. However, the story ends too soon after Mum's death, in my opinion, with the boys and Dad making up a new limerick about Mum and vowing to remember her. The front cover states: 'one family, their dog and a new beginning', but I didn't feel that the book showed this new beginning. I wanted to visit the family again a couple of months later, to see the boys and Dad moving forward in their life without Mum.
Butler's writing style is unusual, very spare and with paragraphs which often consist of only one sentence. This may help young readers to access the story more easily, but the subject matter is more suited to an older age group. I would recommend this book for children facing the death of someone they love, not least because it will help them to understand the emotional turmoil they're experiencing. However, I imagine it would be a worrying read for those whose lives aren't touched by such a tragedy; few children even consider the possibility that one of their parents might die and maybe it's best not to encourage them to think about something which, thankfully, happens to only a few. 

1 comment:

  1. I think kids whose friends are experiencing death could benefit from a book like this as well. A couple of my son's classmates lost a parent when he was young.


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