Children's bookclub: Us Minus Mum by Heather Butler

(21 Posts)
pinkgirlythoughts Wed 05-Mar-14 20:11:27

I'd had Heather Butler's book, Helping Children Think about Bereavement, recommended to me as a teacher, as there are a number of recently bereaved children in our school at the moment. I enjoyed the style of writing in the book, and think it may particularly appeal to boys. As a previous poster said, definitely one to be shared with an adult, rather than given to a child without preparation.

Happydaysmum Mon 03-Mar-14 18:09:48

Thank you for the book which I enjoyed reading. It was easy and imagine it would be for children too of KS2 and older though the themes are sad so wouldn't just give it without a parent warning to read together or alongside. Imagine it would be a useful way of generating discussion for families in this awful situation or at least acknowledging the issues involved are valid for children. The most poignant part for me was the children finding out before being told by the parents. Overall a bitter sweet read.

nerysw Sat 01-Mar-14 14:16:51

This is a lovely book, sensitive in the right places and funny in others, I really enjoyed the style of writing.
My daughter is too young for this at the moment but I would be happy for her to read it when she's a bit older. It is a difficult subject and the type of book which you hope it won't be necessary for your kids to read but I imagine it would be a great help to anyone in a similar situation and worth reading in its own right.

papaver Fri 28-Feb-14 18:39:26

I found this book a good read and liked the fact that it dealt with the issues directly from the perspective of George and in particular the way the adults were initially (unsuccessfully) trying to shelter the children from what was happening to their mum. I think the style of writing will definitely appeal to the 9-12 age group and although it deals with a difficult subject it doesn't have too much raw emotion. I also became a little bored with the details dog trick but I don't think the book cover helped as it showed two boys and a large dog which looked suspiciously like a labrador, trying to balance one of those on a tea tray would be some challenge!

maryburrows Wed 26-Feb-14 12:16:50

The story wound its way sensitively to the inevitable passing away of mum. Although a basically sad book there is a fair amount of humour largely centring on the kids antics with their dog. Not a book to be read by an unprepared kid but rather to be shared with a concerned adult so they can discuss it together. Then there are a phoneline and website for further help.An excellent book which because of the subject matter needs careful handling.

jestermarc Wed 26-Feb-14 11:04:37

What a great read - initially I was somewhat concerned with exposing my children to such a sensitive subject, but upon reading the book I had no reservations. Although written for children I was engaged and entertained throughout the book. The issues of bereavement and loss are dealt with sensitively and pragmatically and the narrative keeps you going to the end.
Just got to wait now to see what the kids make of it.

Odew Wed 26-Feb-14 10:08:50

Please forgive the length and school homework style of my review but as a newbie I didn't realise the review was for the discussion thread (I thought we had to 'hand it in'! Anyway now that I've written it, it seems a shame to waste it!

Us Minus Mum by Heather Butler

Narrative structure:
•Bite size detail from George’s point of view recalls the sensitivity and insight of a Janet and Alan Ahlberg text (Starting School) or Michael Rosen poem.
•Although reading the ‘chunk layout‘ of the paragraphs felt a bit like being spoon fed for me as an adult reader, I appreciate this could be very accessible for the young, reluctant reader.
•Ditto ‘Fact chapter headings’ (recalling similar technique in The Odds by Stewart O’Nan)
•Similarly, I personally found that the bold text of key phrases was distracting, making the text feel overly didactic (I could hear the teacher telling her PGCE trainees / keen parents that they might want to 'note these ones down'). Yet for precisely these reasons, they are relevant for young readers.

Content:
Having gone through a similar childhood experience of a mother with a brain tumour, I could completely recognise and relate to George’s “sharp-finger-nailed dark thoughts” and his having to be sensible, as well as the ‘busyness’ of having lots of people being nice to you and doing special things with you, which is frightening and overwhelming. So the author was spot on here.

Characterisation: Very effective

Elsie, through use of (fantasy?) pencil sharpeners and that she lost her mum aged 10. I think this is important as it shows George / young readers that the experience of losing a parent can be survived.

Dad, through being allowed to cry and play with his food (p119)
Miss Cortez, Mrs Logan and Mr Jenkins were very familiar!

Not so sure about:

Nana: the strict and scary characterisation went on a bit especially once she got involved with the dog competition trick (I actually got confused with / lost interest in the details of the trick as couldn’t really visualise which dog was at which end of the see saw. Also, I imagined a bigger dog so couldn’t really see Goffo balancing on a tray or a small child like Theo being able carry him on a tray. However, Nana’s characterisation made her tears on learning about Mum’s cancer being terminal all the more poignant.

The Worthingtons:
Karl / Charmaine / delinquent brother Harry gum-chewing, gym-afficiando Mrs (?) Worthington were problematically stereotypical. Although psychological insight into the Karl’s mindset would burden the focus / agenda of the novel (George + his dying mum), I feel George + Dermo (and Skye and Alice) are emotionally articulate enough to see beyond the bully (George provides a complete psychological profile of Theo for example). The author should have (briefly, subtly) offered a more useful / constructive explanation of Karl’s behaviour than simply that his sister is called Charmaine, that his brother is a dog-baiter and that his mother prefers the gym to responsible parenting. Reducing Karl to a set of social class markers was a bit of a let-down when set against the otherwise very effective development of his bullying interaction with George (thanks to realistic, minute detail and dialogue.)

Theo: I felt his characterisation was a little uneven as he frequently seemed far more sophisticated (i.e. more than just cute or naughty) than George especially in the latter half of the novel, which made George seem much younger than 10 years old at times. In the same way there was some age discrepancy in the kind of detail George picked up on: p153 “buff colour reading books” p249 “Janine … takes out eye shadow, lipstick and blusher” – would George really pick up on the italicised? - however, these are just minor quibbles.

Overall, "Us Minus Mum" is a very good read, to be recommended. In terms of literary aesthetics and sub-plots, it could be smoother (the fantastic range of vocabulary in bold needn’t stick out quite so much like a list of spellings to be learnt). However as a tool for accessing children facing a similar situation to George or for children (and ‘their’ adults) who have friends facing bereavement or illness in the family, this novel ticks all the boxes.

sjonlegs Sun 23-Feb-14 20:17:02

WOW ... I read this book in just a couple of days ... I loved the style of the book and it's emotive vein. This book has to be one of the sweetest, honest most heart-wrenching books I've read in a while ... and with a best friend battling a brain tumour, another friend fighting breast cancer and a mother battling ovarian cancer .. it's really no surprise that I shed a tear. I wonder how, when the time comes, I might tackle this with my two youngest children. They're both superb readers and at just 8 and 5 years ... I think they would really relate to this book! Thanks for offering such a touching read that absolutely hit the right note. Well done Heather!

vanbandi Sun 23-Feb-14 19:27:56

Thanks for the free copy. However it is a book written for children it was really enjoyable for me as well. Such a funny and sad at the same time. I like the way that the book is written in a narrative way told by George. The characters are lovely and real, I liked Theo and Nana the most.
The end of the book is sad but I think it really could help children with similar loss. It is amazing how the writer could broadcast the feelings of Charlie.
I am going to land the book to someone at the age of 10-11 because I would like to have their opinion about it.

Rhimchugh Fri 21-Feb-14 13:29:21

Just finished reading this and thought it was very well done. I loved the fact that the story was written in the first-person narrative. It was very poignant seeing the Mum's illness develop and thought it was appropriate that a lot of that was behind closed doors due to the target audience. One of the best things was that we didn't really get too know Mum too well so this cushioned the blow somehow- again, sensitively done. The humour and high jinx were a wonderful distraction and the fffourteen thing made me smile every time. I liked the way the reader also got to meet the children's wider family so you know they had a good support network- again making it slightly less traumatic. Well written but difficult to know when would be a good time for a child to read this if they were in a similar situation i.e. while the parent was ill or more appropriate to help support a bereavement.

kateandme Fri 21-Feb-14 04:04:43

what a beautiful book.well done for the age group as it gave shorter paragraphs.so if a younger read youd be able to hold your attention enough and too when in grief you often need those shorter moments too and cant concentrat on pages full of writing.
i think you would have to be careful for younger readers because its such a sad subject.so i would perhaps get or recomend it to be read by all.but if your child has loss or is sensitive to some things then this book might help a little from that becasue they are already thinking bout these things.
kids rightly or wrongly think bout stuff more nowadays,often i hate to say when they shouldnt.but that is our world now.but then we need to meet them.and helpful things like this should be through about and produced more.

Rajie Fri 21-Feb-14 01:10:01

A very touching and poignant story. Sad ending and I did shed a few tears whilst reading. Thank you for sending one to me, though I feel my Son may be a little too sensitive for such a subject. Overall I enjoyed it and hang on to it

sallyc06 Thu 20-Feb-14 16:38:20

Wow what a fab book, a little sad in parts but also funny. A good read.

weathermum Thu 20-Feb-14 11:26:43

I read this book before giving it to my grandaughter....It is very amusing and will make you chuckle at some of the antics the children get up too. Sadly I felt too that past halfway mark the story could upset those children of a sensitive nature so will be passing it on to my daughter in law to see what she thinks as she knows her child the best. It is written well and with an understanding of children's antics... appart from the sad end when I confess I too shed a tear I found it amusing. Many thanks for sending me a copy.

purplemonstermum Thu 20-Feb-14 11:20:43

Hi I read this book in 1 sitting and it made me cry! Got it for my 9 year old son whose friend is recently bereaved; however my son said he's not interested in reading it! The focus on dog tricks annoyed me a bit too but I am not a dog person and I also understand that it was probably a distraction from the boys' feelings about their mum. Overall I enjoyed it and will hang onto it for any other kids for whom it might be appropriate.

Uzma01 Sun 16-Feb-14 09:44:33

I read this book really quickly and liked the style - the chapters were short and to the point though still brimming with information. I cried at several points whilst reading it. It was really sensitively done and covered a range of emotions I could really sympathise with.

There are a couple of children I could pass the book on to, though they are incredibly sensitive so it may upset them. May hold on to it for a while yet. My two are way too young to read books like this.

penguinpaperback Sat 15-Feb-14 15:43:10

I applied for this book as I'm a not so very old Grandma with cancer that's being controlled ok at the moment but this will change at some point. I'm very close to my daughter, my grandchildren and wondered if this book might be helpful sometime in the future.
I was able to finish the book in one sitting. I didn't think the story flowed very smoothly, everything seemed in little bite sized chunks of texts.
At times it seemed more like a collection of diary entries than a novel but perhaps that style is more suitable for the age group it's aimed for? I thought the book was probably for 8-11 year olds. I will keep the book for now and I have it ready to pass on, thank you sending it and I look forward to hearing other's thoughts.
smile

mysister Fri 14-Feb-14 15:03:03

Such a nice book and such a sad story.did swell up a couple of times.only thing,there was a bit too much blabbering about the dog trick,but kids may like that.

weathermum Wed 12-Feb-14 16:26:39

looking forward to the post calling I will come back with my thoughts after I have read it...many thanks for the copy

AliceMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 10-Feb-14 10:37:30

This giveaway is now closed. We will notify those who have been selected to receive a free copy via email. We would love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, or post a review.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 03-Feb-14 16:53:34

February bookclub choice: Heart-warming as well as heart-breaking, Us Minus Mum is the unforgettable story of two brothers and their loveable mongrel finding laughter in the face of loss. Written by child bereavement expert Heather Butler, the novel sensitively and authentically depicts a family pulling together in the face of grief.

Apply for one of 50 free copies and join the discussion about the book on this thread or post a review.

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