On Barb’s Bookshelf: Rosa, Sola by Carmela Martino

Carmela Martino deftly handles the sensitive topic of infant loss in Rosa, Sola, a book for children ages 10 and up.

Rosa wants nothing more than a baby brother of her own. But this is more than simple envy over her best friend’s new baby brother. Rosa is an only child, and in 1960s Chicago, that’s a rarity–and she feels like an outsider among all her friends with their large families. Rosa’s wish comes true, but she blames herself for the tragic events that follow.

It’s easy to forget, or overlook, the impact that the death of an unborn or newborn sibling can have on other children in a family. Rosa, Sola explores all the raw emotions that go along with a family tragedy–in a manner that is merciful, not gratuitous.

Parents will appreciate the classroom discussion guide at the end of the book; it’s also available on the author’s website.

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As I read this very touching novel, I couldn’t help but consider the Year-of-Mercy implications it contains. Rosa, Sola is all about how the Corporal and Spiritual Mercy can be given and received. With that in mind, I asked author Carmela Martino to discuss this topic from her own point of view and that of a few of the characters.

Carmela, this book deals with the sensitive topic of infant loss as seen through the eyes of an older sibling. How do you recommend that parents handle the discussion of this topic with their children?

The original publisher, Candlewick Press, designated Rosa, Sola for ages 8-12. When I speak to parents, I tell them that it’s aimed at ages 9 and up, but add that it does deal with death. My first recommendation is for parents to read the novel themselves before deciding whether it’s appropriate for their child, especially if the child is under age 10. (The book’s a quick read.) I am not a therapist or an expert on the topic of grief, but I am a parent, as well as an aunt to many nieces and nephews, and I’ve seen how unique a child’s reaction to a book can be, no matter the subject. Teen readers have responded more enthusiastically to Rosa, Sola than I expected. One Chicago-area Catholic school added the novel to their sixth-grade curriculum and it led to terrific discussions. At the other end of the spectrum, I was stunned to read a review of Rosa, Sola written by a seven-year-old. I don’t believe my son would have handled the book well at that age. Yet this seven-year-old wrote an amazing review, admitting that Rosa, Sola “was a very sad book and it made me cry,” but also writing about how Rosa’s family “solves problems together and helps together.” The seven-year-old ended the review by saying “I learned that when someone cries about a book it’s a very good book!”

So perhaps a good place for parents to start a discussion of Rosa, Sola would be by having their child write a book review, or by talking about what points the child would include in a review. This could provide insights into which parts of the book made the greatest impression and lead into a discussion of what the book is really about. Parents may be surprised, as I have been, to find how well children pick up on the novel’s deeper themes. In my opinion, Rosa, Sola isn’t so much about death as it is about how love—God’s love and the love of family and friends—can help us through our darkest moments. Father Kevin Shanley, O. Carm., summarized the novel beautifully in his review of the original hardcover edition: “Challenged by the loss of her brother but ultimately bolstered by hope, young Rosa comes to the great understanding that she is never alone, and that love and kinship are often found in the most unexpected places—right in the middle of life itself.”

By the way, parents will find a “Discussion Questions” section in the back of the new edition of Rosa, Sola. For those with the original hardcover edition, the same discussion questions are available on my website.

Let’s talk with a few of the characters about how they gave and received the works of mercy.

Rosa, what do you wish your friends would have said or done for you when you were feeling bad about your baby brother’s death?

I know you’re supposed to say “I’m sorry” when someone dies, but when my best friend AnnaMaria said that to me, all I could think of was how she had a baby brother and I didn’t. That made me cry, and then I felt embarrassed for crying in front of everyone. I think maybe it would have been better if she’d made me a card and mailed it to my house instead, the way Ma had me do for AnnaMaria when her grandpa died. That way, if the card made me cry, no one would see.

But what I really wish is that my friends would treat me the same as before and not be afraid to talk to me or play with me. I know at first I wanted to be left alone, and I’m glad they didn’t bother me then. But later, when I wanted to be around them again, my friends stayed away from me at lunch and recess. I guess they were afraid of making me cry again. I’m so glad we had the spelling bee! After that, everything went back to normal and I didn’t feel strange or different anymore, even though inside I was still sad.

Rosa, what would you have changed about the way your parents and Aunt Ida handled the subject around you?

First thing, I would have had Papa or Uncle Sal tell me the bad news. I didn’t really like Aunt Ida back then, so it made me extra sad when she was the one who told me. She tried to make me feel better, but she didn’t know how to hold me the way Ma did. Then later, I would have had Papa be home more and not spend so much time at the hospital, and for Papa not to ignore me the way he did when he was home. I would have had him talk to me more, and tell me everything was going to be okay. That Ma would be okay. That our family would be okay.

I just thought of something. Maybe Papa didn’t want to cry in front of me, just like I didn’t want to cry in front of my friends. But I think it would have been good if Papa did cry. Uncle Sal had told me it was okay to cry, and after I did, I felt a little better. I think Papa and me crying together would have helped both of us feel better.

Aunt Ida, what was the hardest part about caring for Rosa while Ma was in the hospital?

Oh, those days were so very terrible. I was afraid Francesca might die and leave Rosa motherless. I grew up without a mother and I feared Rosa might have to suffer in the same way. During those terrible days, I tried my best to make Rosa feel safe, to protect her from worry. But what did I know of mothering? I have no memory of my mother and I never had any children of my own. I think the hardest part was hiding how afraid I really was. I had to be strong for Rosa’s sake, even if she thought I was being cruel. Better Rosa hate me than she should worry about her mama, no?

Mrs. Graziano, as a neighbor and family friend, what was the best thing you were able to do for Rosa or her family?

The best thing? I’m not sure. I tried to be there for whatever help the family needed. They needed someone to care for Rosa before and after school—I was there. They needed food to eat—I cooked. Rosa needed someone to tell her worries to—I let her talk. I tried not to ask too many questions. I didn’t want to be nosy. But when Rosa talked, I listened. Not with just my ears. Con il mio cuore—with my heart. Rosa’s words reminded me of some hard, scary times in my own family. So I told Rosa about those times, and about how everything was okay in the end. Maybe, then, the best thing I did was give Rosa hope that everything would be okay for her family, too.

About the author: Carmela Martino (www.carmelamartino.com) is a freelance writer, children’s author, and writing teacher. Her acclaimed children’s novel, Rosa, Sola, which was inspired by her experiences growing up in an Italian-American family, received the Catholic Writer’s Guild Seal of Approval and was named a Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth. Carmela’s articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Catholic Parent, New Catholic Explorer, and numerous other publications. She blogs about writing and teaching at TeachingAuthors.com (www.teachingauthors.com).

Barb's Book shelf blog title

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.
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#WorthRevisit: French Toast and Mercy

The Year of Mercy is a great time to concentrate on ways we can involve our whole family in acts of mercy toward others. I just finished reading Divine Mercy for Moms, which is all about this topic (and which deserves a real review of its own–coming soon!) And over at CatholicMom.com we’re planning a special summertime feature called “Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy” beginning after Pentecost. So I’ve got mercy on my mind these days.

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Here’s a look back at one spring day 11 years ago when my Big Kids (ages 9 and 13 at the time) really stepped up their mercy game.

Photo by annaj (2015) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.
Photo by annaj (2015) via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.

Today one of my neighbors was down with the Flu. This afternoon she came outside with her children (4 1/2 years, and 14 months) and she looked so worn out that I told her to pass the kids over the fence to me and let the kids play here. My Big Kids were helpful with the children, and she got a bit of a nap. Then when she came back out for them, she said that the kids would be eating French toast for dinner.

French toast is Big Brother’s specialty.

I told Big Brother I had a special catering job for him, and sent him inside to make enough French toast for the two little ones. Middle Sister helped him out, cut it all up and put it on plates for the kids.
We passed the children and their dinner back over the fence to their Mommy.

Big Brother bragged about his use of the Secret Ingredient (my guess is, it was cinnamon sugar).

I’m very proud of how my Big Kids were helpful to our neighbor in this way, and without complaining or whining. Good job, Big Kids! I will be sure they are justly rewarded even though (and maybe especially because) they didn’t look for what was in it for them.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Christmas in the Year of Mercy

I prayed Christmas Eve Vespers last night while sitting in a chair at the foot of my mother-in-law’s hospital bed.

All those years we took for granted our health, our loved ones’ health, everyone’s ability to be together and celebrate Christmas. All those years did not prepare us for this one; how Hubs and I would be at the hospital, comforting his mother who no longer knows his name or recognizes him as her son.

He’s back at the hospital with her today instead of hanging out here at home with us, relaxing, enjoying snacks and watching Christmas movies. Or movies someone got for Christmas (not always the same thing).

It just about kills him–as it has been for the past several years–that he can’t fix this. He can’t make Alzheimer’s go away. He can’t bring back his mom’s memory.

He can only sit by and hold her hand and reassure her again and again and again and again that everything is OK, that he is there. He can hold the water bottle and help her drink. He can play her favorite hymns on his iPhone and hold it close to her ear so she can hear familiar music.

He is doing those works of mercy like they’re his job (as the kids would say). They’re not his job, actually. He does them out of love.

Christmas Eve sqLast night he missed his family’s Christmas Eve party for the first time in his life. The kids went; we are thankful that 2 of our kids are old enough to drive so they could enjoy this time with their cousins after visiting Grandma in the hospital.

Today he missed Mass with the family and he’ll miss dinner. We’ll save him some, but it won’t be the same. Honestly, I don’t even care if we eat. We have plenty of snacks and another giant box of Bagel Bites, and the rest of the enormous pan of baked ziti one of his cousins generously sent home with the kids so Hubs and I could have a meal after we got home from the hospital.

It was hard to rejoice, this morning at Mass, knowing that while we sang “Silent Night” Hubs was on his way into that hospital room to spend the day listening to his mom talk (sometimes in Polish), holding her hand, trying to get her to eat something–anything–and having only snacks for himself until he gets kicked out of the room at the end of visiting hours, then driving more than an hour to get back here.

This is our Christmas in this Year of Mercy.

It’s going to be a hard year.

Please pray for Hubs, and his mom, and our family, and all others whose lives are impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia. May God have mercy on us all.

Related: Erin McCole Cupp’s “Christmas is Not Supposed to Be Like This” is hitting especially hard right now–but is also a great comfort.

Monday Recap: December 14, 2015

Monday Recap-What I've been writing

As I do each Monday, I’ve gathered up links to the work I’ve done in other spaces. There hasn’t been much this week. A lot of work has gotten done ahead of time for my job, so that there will be time off for Christmas! And this week I completed an outline for a possible book project; that was sent out today.

At CatholicMom.com

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Benedicta: Chant in Honor of the Blessed Mother

 

 

365 days to Mercy logoTech Talk: An App for the Year of Mercy