What is Goodbye?

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Raul Colón
Hype­r­i­on Books for Chil­dren, 2004

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What is Goodbye?

From the Book

Why? Jesse

Why did Jaron have to die?
I asked till my lips burned dry.
Mom­my sighed and shook her head.
“God scoops up the good,” she said.
Then, from now on, I won’t be.
Hear that God? Don’t come for me.

Why? Jer­i­lyn

Why give God
a bad name?
Why not blame
the moon,
if you must pre­tend
to have an answer?
We both know sense
is like shad­ow.
Chase it till you sweat,
and all you’ll get
is a hand­ful
of noth­ing.
Besides, what dif­fer­ence
does it make?
Just con­cen­trate
on breath­ing.

from What is Good­bye?
© 2004 by Nik­ki Grimes

Lis­ten to Nik­ki Grimes read “Night Noise” from What is Good­bye?:

Awards and Recognition

  • BALA Notable Book 2004
  • Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion Best Chil­dren’s Books of the Year
  • Capi­tol Choices
  • CCBC Best Choic­es 2005
  • Chica­go Library Best of the Best Books for Kids
  • NCTE Notable Book 2005 (Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Assembly)
  • New York Pub­lic Library 100 Books for Read­ing and Sharing
  • Notable Chil­dren’s Books in the Lan­guage Arts
  • Par­ents’ Choice Sil­ver Hon­or Award 2004
  • School Library Jour­nal Best Books 2004



  Insight­ful­ly and con­cise­ly, Grimes (Bronx Mas­quer­ade) traces the stages of grief and heal­ing, through the 26 paired poems of two sib­lings mourn­ing their old­er broth­er, Jaron.Jesse, “too young” to go to the funer­al, express­es loss in raw terms; his poems always lead the pairings.His sis­ter, Jer­i­lyn, is old­er than Jesse, but younger than Jaron, she tends to hide her hurt.Anyone who has expe­ri­enced loss will rec­og­nize the gamut of emo­tions Grimes lays out here. Jesse express­es that momen­tary for­get­ful­ness when he first wakes in “The Day After.”“Saturday is here at last./ Time for soccer!What a blast” and sev­er­al lines lat­er, his real­iza­tion, “Do I have to mow the lawn?/It’s not my turn.Oh.It’s—… In the excel­lent jux­ta­po­si­tion for “His Name,” Jesse uses a flur­ry of words, while Jer­i­lyn con­trasts the mean­ing of Jaron’s name (“to sing”) with the silence since he’s been gone… Both sib­lings observe the changes in their home, and when the fam­i­ly begins to come togeth­er again, read­ers who grieve will feel that they can recov­er, too.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

Peo­ple of all ages have long turned to poet­ry as a way to express pro­found emo­tions of grief. Award-win­ning author Nik­ki Grimes, who lost her father when she was 15, calls upon those mem­o­ries in her new book for chil­dren and teens.What Is Good­bye? is a sto­ry in poems, ele­gant­ly designed and beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed by Raul Colón. The poems are nar­rat­ed in two voic­es, from the points of view of a broth­er and sis­ter whose old­er broth­er has sud­den­ly died.The poems take the read­er through the famil­iar painful process we all expe­ri­ence when a loved one dies.There are poems titled “The Next Day,” The Funer­al,” and “The Awful After.“As time pass­es, Jesse and Jer­i­lyn recount their reac­tions to the “First Day Back,” the changed fam­i­ly dynam­ics at din­ner­time and their anger at Jaron for leaving.By the end of the sto­ry, an entire year has passed.As the chil­dren pose with their par­ents for a new fam­i­ly pho­to­graph, they have begun to feel that even though one piece will always be miss­ing, their fam­i­ly is nev­er­the­less whole once again.Together Grimes and Colón have cre­at­ed a love­ly and poignant book that is sure to be embraced by read­ers of all ages.” (Book­page)

Grimes novel­la in verse is a prime exam­ple of how poet­ry and sto­ry can be com­bined to extend one another.When their broth­er dies, Jer­i­lyn and Jesse cope with the anger, con­fu­sion, and the silence that grief brings to their fam­i­ly. Jesse’s rhyming verse faces his old­er sis­ter’s free-verse com­ments on her expe­ri­ences. When Jesse hits a home run in a league game soon after his broth­er’s death, he glows, “I took off around the field,/legs pump­ing like lightning/I slid into home plate clean./Man, I’m so cool,/I’m frightening!/…What am I sup­posed to do,/spend each minute crying?/I wish I could please you, Mom,/but I’m so sick of trying.“Jerilyn mus­es, “It’s his right to smile,/isn’t it?/ To be delirious?/So what if I don’t understand?/This ghost town,/draped in shadow,/is des­per­ate for/a few more watts of light.” Grimes han­dles these two voic­es flu­ent­ly and lucid­ly, shap­ing her char­ac­ters through her form. Colón’s paint­ings in mut­ed col­ors com­bine imag­ism with real­ism to cre­ate an emo­tion­al dream­scape on near­ly every page. The clean design com­bined with the book’s short, easy pace and small size give read­ers a com­fort­able place from which to lis­ten to the char­ac­ters as they make their way from “Get­ting the News” to“Anniversary,” and final­ly “Ordi­nary Days.“The book clos­es with a poem in two voic­es, and Jesse and Jer­i­lyn come togeth­er for a new fam­i­ly pho­to­graph. “Smile!” — and read­ers will. Fans of Vera B. William’s Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart (Green­wil­low, 2001) will appre­ci­ate this pow­er­ful title. (Nina Lind­say, Oak­land Pub­lic Library,CA, School Library Jour­nal, June 2004)

Find this book at your favorite library or used bookseller.