Getting Near to Baby

Getting Near to Baby

4.2 26
by Audrey Couloumbis

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A Southern charmer for fans of Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Audrey Couloumbis's masterful debut novel brings to mind Karen Hesse, Katherine Paterson, and Betsy Byars's The Summer of the Swans—it is a story you will never forget. 

Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house.

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A Southern charmer for fans of Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Audrey Couloumbis's masterful debut novel brings to mind Karen Hesse, Katherine Paterson, and Betsy Byars's The Summer of the Swans—it is a story you will never forget. 

Willa Jo and Little Sister are up on the roof at Aunt Patty’s house. Willa Jo went up to watch the sunrise, and Little Sister followed, like she always does. But by mid-morning, they are still up on that roof, and soon it’s clear it wasn’t just the sunrise that brought them there. 

The trouble is, coming down would mean they’d have to explain, and they just can’t find the words. 

This is a funny, sometimes heartbreaking, story about sisters, about grief, and about healing.  Two girls must come to terms with the death of their baby sister, their mother’s unshakable depression, and the ridiculously controlling aunt who takes them in and means well but just doesn’t understand children. Willa Jo has to try and make things right in their new home, but she and Aunt Patty keep butting heads. Until the morning the two girls climb up to the roof of her house. Aunt Patty tries everything she can think of to get them down, but in the end, the solution is miraculously simple.

A Newbery Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her first novel for children, Couloumbis deftly constructs an intricate montage of thoughts and memories from the perspective of 12-year-old Willa Jo Dean who, with Little Sister, mourns the death of their baby sister. As the story opens, Willa Jo and Little Sister are sitting on the roof, ignoring their Aunt Patty's orders to come down. Over the course of a single day, Willa Jo, from her high perch, mulls over the events of the past few weeks: her mother's depression, Little Sister's refusal to talk and Aunt Patty's efforts to make things right by taking the girls into her home. But Aunt Patty and her nieces don't see things the same way. Willa Jo and Little Sister would rather play with the children across the street (dirty "mole rats," in Aunt Patty's opinion) than attend Bible School or associate with the socially acceptable daughters of Aunt Patty's friends. The tension rises until Uncle Hob, in his soft-spoken way, forms a bridge of understanding that unites them all. Willa Jo's narrative, with its subtle cadences of a Southern drawl, achieves a child's sense of the timelessness of long summer days stretching before her. Coloumbis infuses the heroine's voice with an elegiac quality, even as the child's humor and determination to keep up Little Sister's spirits shine through. The tale of this one day on the roof chronicles the changes in the other three characters as much as the changes in Willa Jo, and the combined strength of this unforgettable cast of characters leaves a lasting and uplifting impression. Ages 10-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Getting Near to Baby is best described as limp. Although dealing with the death of a young child is an important subject, Couloumbis manages to make it horrifically boring. I found the characters difficult to relate to and unrealistic, and could not imagine anybody I know acting like them. The writing is fairly good but runofthemill. I would not recommend this novel. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999, Putnam's, Ages 12 to 15, 224p, $17.99. Reviewer: Erin Hutchinson, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature
There is a tension right at the beginning of Getting Near to Baby. On the surface, two nieces can't communicate with their appearance-oriented Aunt Patty. Little Sister doesn't speak at all and Willa Jo can't make herself understood. The underlying problem is the death of their infant sister and the separation from their mother caused by this forceful aunt. The story is sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking; all is told with strong images that relate the small events that have large feelings behind them. Mischa Barton's soft reading seems an appropriate interpretation of how the girls struggle quietly with their grief. The Raleigh setting and Southern voice emphasized by the reader lend a gentleness to this story of healing. There are two cassettes, unabridged. 2001, Listening Library, 2 cassettes, $22.00. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Library Journal
Gr 6-8-When their baby sibling dies, two sisters are sent to stay with their domineering Aunt Patty. A poignant and uplifting novel told from a child's wise and down-to-earth perspective. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Audrey Couloumbis' first children's novel (Putnam, 1999) is an exquisitely-crafted story of loss, family love, and new beginnings, with a generous dollop of down-home humor. While their mother is trying to cope with the death of their baby sister, 13-year-old Willa Jo and eight-year-old Little Sister are spending a few weeks with Aunt Patty and Uncle Hob. Everyone is trying to be cooperative and supportive, but Aunt Patty and Willa Jo are often at odds over matters such the girls' playmates and how to deal with Little Sister's grief-induced silence. Everything comes to a head when the girls climb onto the roof to watch the sunrise and remain there throughout the day. Uncle Hob's understanding, Aunt Patty's genuine concern, and Willa Jo's reflections on her feelings turn a potential crisis into a growth experience for all of them. Mischa Barton's soft Carolina cadence conveys the emotional and the ironic moments of the book with grace and power. Sound quality is good, and the cassettes and case are well marked. This is an exceptional recording of an exceptional book that offers meaningful insights on some universal truths about grief and healing.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library, Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Couloumbis's debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby's sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called "Little Sister," in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby's death, but also artfully illuminates each character's depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.63(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Things don't feel right here.

I want to open my eyes in the morning to see my very own wallpaper with the tiny blue flowers and pink rosebuds. Aunt Patty does not believe in putting up wallpaper, not even in the bathroom. She says mold grows behind it.

I want Mom to read to us for an hour before bedtime, all of us in a clump like alligators in the sun so we can all look at the pictures together. Aunt Patty tucks us into bed before it is even full dark. We want our mom. We're worried about her having to sleep all alone. We worry that she doesn't eat right, now that she doesn't have us to feed. We miss her.

I hear Aunt Patty's bossy voice, rousing Uncle Hob out of his bed. She's telling him he has to come outside to order us down. Or to plead with us, whichever he thinks will work. That sad feeling I have hardens into a mad feeling and I don't think I'll ever get down off this roof. I'll stay here till kingdom comes.

Meet the Author

Audrey Couloumbis was born in Illinois. Her book Getting Near to Baby was awarded a Newbery Honor in 2000.

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