CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 30 . . . . April 6, 2012
Jack's Grandpa Nod has died, and Jack never got a chance to say good-bye. But, while waiting for the bus home one day, Jack gets an unexpected visit from his deceased grandfather. Grandpa Nod takes Jack on a different kind of bus ride, to let him know what it was like to die, and to let Jack say a final farewell.
The Wrong Bus, by Lois Peterson and illustrated by Amy Meissner, is an easy-to-read chapter book about a boy dealing with the death of someone he loves. Jack is an eight-year-old who doesn't get the chance to say goodbye to his dying grandfather because his mother continuously tells him that hospitals, funeral homes, and cemeteries are "not for eight-year-olds." Jack, however, is curious about his grandfather's death, and when Grandpa Nod (who was a bus driver in life) comes to take him on one final bus ride, Jack gets the opportunity to ask the questions that have been bothering him. Jack asks questions like, "Did it hurt?" and "Why did you die?", and Grandpa Nod happily answers the questions, all the while showing Jack that he is now in a good place where he can be at peace.
When this story first begins, readers might think that the bus ride Jack is going to take with his grandfather is going to be a fun one because, just before Grandpa Nod arrives in the wrong bus, Jack reflects on all the fun stuff he and his grandfather used to do together, such as watching the tugboats in the river. During the trip, Jack and his grandfather do make one fun stop to play in a water park, but most of the book has a more serious tone to it: Grandpa Nod brings Jack to the hospital room where he died, the funeral home where he was put in a coffin, and the cemetery where he was buried. The book is actually fairly lighthearted, but there is no escaping the sober nature of the plot, which readers should be aware of when approaching this tale.
The Wrong Bus is a good book for a child who has recently experienced the death of a friend or family member, or for any children who are curious about death. The aim of The Wrong Bus seems to be to make the concept of death less frightening for children, although whether this is successful or not will likely depend on the individual reader. Certain scenes might be somewhat disturbing to some readers, such as when Grandpa Nod asks Jack which coffin he would want for himself. However, the book does its best to make the subject of death approachable, and despite its being about such a sad topic, the story does have a happy ending.
There are several full-page, black and white illustrations in this story, done by Amy Meissner. The illustrations don't drive the story forward, but they are good for detailing what is happening in the tale. A swirling design of circles and stars also helps to highlight the magic of Grandpa Nod's visit, and the pictures show Jack's varying emotions throughout the trip, something not always mentioned in the text.
The Wrong Bus is the story of a child's learning to come to terms with his grandfather's death. This is not a book for everyone, as the subject matter is serious, and some of the scenes might be disturbing for some readers to experience. However, for children who have recently lost someone in their lives, or for any child who is curious about death, this story is a good option It makes the subject of death more approachable simply by approaching the topic head-on, something not often seen in books for this age group. The Wrong Bus is a unique story that lets children confront an important subject at their own level, making it a good addition to both personal and school collections.
Meredith Cleversey is a librarian who lives in Cambridge, ON. She loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.
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