#ENDALZ, Let's Talk about Books

The Remember Balloons- the children’s book opening doors to hard conversations

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a love of books. I was always an avid reader. One of my fondest memories of early reading was reading Little Woman on the couch in our living room. Throughout the course of parenthood I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading to the boys and have passed that love of reading onto them. My time with Usborne Books & More led to us having more books than most in our home. And you know what, I wouldn’t change it for a moment. Being a reader opens so many doors. Being a reader builds curiosity and the desire to learn more, which in turn creates life long learners. I consider myself someone who is always learning new “tricks” so to speak. Whether it’s learning all I can about running, or children’s books or skills for being in the classroom- I’m up for the challenge.

I must share about a book that recently took my breath away! While subbing last week one of the books left for me to read was The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliverso and Dana Wulfekotte. I honestly thought it was going to be this book about making memories…yeah I should have realized that there was going to be a deeper message in the book. I joke it’s like a Disney movie- appropriate for kids but deep with meaning that those who are able to will grasp.

Half way through the book I could feel my heart racing and moved my mask to the side to catch my breath. Spoiler alert- here’s how the plot unfolds. The little boy in the book notes that he has way more balloons than his little brother and you see them holding their balloons. But then he notes that his parents have even more balloons than him and then ultimately that Grandpa has the most balloons of everyone. The boy begins asking Grandpa about the different colored balloons and he shares the memories that “live” in each balloon, such as his wedding day, the day he scared Aunt Nelle’s cows and the shared memory that he and the boy share together in the silver balloon about their fishing/camping adventure.

It’s important to note in case you aren’t aware my father suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s. As I was reading the book, I suddenly realized where it was headed. Before you know it one of Grandpa’s balloons is getting caught in the tree and he’s repeating the same story over and over again. Then some of Grandpa’s balloons are getting loose and they are floating away. The climax of the story comes when the silver balloon goes floating away and the boy is so angry that the grandfather has “given” away the memory. The boy ultimately confronts his parents asking what is wrong with Grandpa and the mother informs him that this happens sometimes when people get older. Towards the end of the book the grandfather no longer has any balloons but the boy notes that his balloons have increased. He now has the responsibility of having those memories live on and sharing them with his younger brother and down the road his own family. The book closes with the boy sitting in the grandfather’s lap retelling the stories that the grandfather once told him. If you’re crying, I was and am now too. My youngest who is five years old asks the darnedest questions. On his last visit with my dad in 2020, he spent a lot of time talking to him about cactus. When I recently made my trip out to Arizona he was so concerned with whether or not Pop Pop remembered talking to him about the cactus or if he had forgotten. Needless to say this is a balloon memory. Regardless of whether my dad recalls the conversation, Carter will hold that memory close. It should come as no surprise that I have ordered this book for my boys. I can’t wait to read it with them, cry with them, and then create our remember balloons.

Trying to talk to kids about Alzheimer’s or death is a daunting task. They ask real and hard questions. As educators and parents we bring our own life experiences to the conversation. Some conversations are easier to have than others, but in all fairness we are also human and processing our own emotions surrounding death or a particular disease. Books help explain and offer tangible ways to have conversations. In some cases books offer a spring board to begin a difficult conversation. I’m forever searching for new tools to add to my tool chest and I am so glad to add The Remember Balloons. I’m sharing it today because perhaps it will be a helpful tool to use as well.