The Rough Patch

The Rough Patch, by Brian Lies, Greenwillow Books 2018

Publisher’s Description: “Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.”

Okay, Brian Lies is obviously NOT a debut author. In fact, he’s a New York Times-bestselling children’s book author/illustrator. So this is not my typical debut-author picture book review. Also, this book is clearly a winner. It was a Caldecott Honor book. The Picture Book Summit did a great job of reviewing it and the other Caldecott winners here. I highly recommend these educational videos. But I loved The Rough Patch SO MUCH that I couldn’t resist reviewing it myself.

Adults and children can both relate to this heartbreakingly honest portrayal of love, loss, grief, and recovery. While it deals with some very difficult topics (death/loss/grief), it does so gently and compassionately, in a way that children can understand without feeling overwhelmed or scared.

The first few pages portray Evan’s happy, loving relationship with his dog. Then, “the unthinkable happen[s].” I don’t think I’ve ever seen as heartbreaking a drawing in a picture book as the one of Evan kneeling over his lost pup, the two of them surrounded by white emptiness. Then Evan grieves – for pages.

I really love how this book doesn’t rush Evan through his grieving process. It lets him sit there – moving through sadness, anger, depression, and finally – acceptance.

And let me tell you. This book portrays the acceptance stage of grief in such a touchingly beautiful and realistic manner. Happiness doesn’t crash over Evan. He doesn’t go looking for it either. It creeps back in slowly while he’s busy nursing his broken heart. Evan reluctantly tends to a pumpkin vine that has snuck in under his fence, and it grows into a big beautiful pumpkin. Then, “[a]round the time the evening air beg[ins] to cool, Evan [feels] an old, familiar sense of excitement.” It’s Fair Week.

Isn’t that just the way it happens? You think you’ll never be happy again, but you keep moving forward, one day at a time, feeling nothing but sadness. Then suddenly, for the first time in ages, you notice the pleasant sensation of the breeze tickling your skin. You feel an “old, familiar sense of excitement.” And you realize that, unbeknownst to you, your heart has begun to heal just a little. And you’re going to be okay.

Evan goes to the fair. It’s not “quite the same,” but it feels good “to be out again.” And guys, the ending might just have you in tears (again). I’m not going to spoil it for you. You should check it out for yourselves.

Happy reading!

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