Everyone in the world knows the pain of having to say goodbye to someone they love. It's one of those universal levelers that make all peoples equal. Whether it's a parting of friends or a death of a loved one, no matter the age, the pain is real and tender. Books about saying goodbye are plentiful. There are books like Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me that deal with a friend that has moved away and the hole that can leave in someone's life, and there are books too numerous to mention (but take Mockingbird for example) that look at the death of someone close to you. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg is one of the former kinds of books. The separation at the heart of the book goes right to the soul of its eight-year-old heroine.
Eleanor's parents have bad news. Not the worst (Grandma's doing fine), but still pretty bad. Bibi, Eleanor's one and only beloved babysitter, is moving away. This makes for a very bad summer vacation, "As bad as pickle juice on a cookie." At first, everything reminds Eleanor of Bibi, from her bike to Roma Pizza. Eleanor is blessed with two very understanding and helpful parents, who go out of their way to make things better for their only child. Eventually, Eleanor gets a new babysitter, who has all the right moves, but isn't Bibi. But slowly, this becomes okay. Eleanor and Natalie play games together, go on walks, and wait for the mailwoman every day for a letter from Bibi. Of course, the letter finally comes, and it allows Eleanor some closure.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is written in a semi-poetic language, but one that feels very germane to inner workings of an eight-year-old. Eleanor's feelings are very raw, and very easy to relate to. As I said, who hasn't lost someone? Sternberg does a wonderful job of getting inside Eleanor's head and letting us feel her sadness, her apprehension about joining the third grade, and her growing okay-ness with Natalie and moving on. Illustrations by Matthew Cordell also add to the inviting atmosphere. Because Eleanor has everyone on her side, her parents, her new babysitter, even her friend who is away for the summer, there is very little conflict in this little book, but it seems to get by just fine without it. We wait, just as Eleanor does, for those sure to be comforting words for Bibi, and sure enough, when they come, it's enough to bring a tear to your eye. The final letter is clear and compact, but full of love. Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is also light and small, but also full of lovely thoughts.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg, ill. by Matthew Cordell
2011, Amulet Books