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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


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

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)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
740L (what's this?)
File size:
196 KB
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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Getting Near to Baby 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was excellent i have never read anything so sophisticated in my life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the greatest. I read the last 75 pages in a 45-minute period, and still got a 90% on the AR quiz. This book was very good and I was sad when it was over. I realy liked how the book ended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be more amazing. It had so many emotions. There were happy, dissapointing, funny but mostly sad moments. This book was a Newbery Winner and after reading it you'll know why.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book there is a girl named Willa Jo and her sister who is nicknamed Little sister. These girls live with their aunt Patty and uncle Hob because their mom is very depressed so she needs some time to be alone. She is very depressed because her other daughter name Baby died of drinking bad water in the fair. All Willa Jo¿s mom wants to do is draw pictures of baby with in angels in heaven. The girls get sent with their aunt Patty and they don¿t like it because they think all aunt Patty wants to do is boss them around. This of coarse is not true aunt Patty and uncle Hob really care about them. When they first get there, they have strict rules that they have to follow. Then the next day, aunt Patty took them to the store to buy them clothes and sandals so they can have something to wear. They later on learn to follow the rules and behave. When their mom gets better after a couple of months later, they go back to live with her. Little sister doesn¿t talk any more because everyone thinks shehas lost her voice because of the tragic accident. Until one day¿¿¿ I really enjoyed reading this book because there is always something that Willa Jo and Little sister are going to do. They are always up to something. This book helps you understand how kids feel when they are away from their parents and feel like no one understands them. For example Willa Jo and Little sister sit on top of the roof top to watch the sun set, since that¿s what they used to do with their mom. All they have left is the memory of them sitting together watching the golden sun. As soon as you pick up the book, you don¿t want to stop reading it because it always keeps you guessing what¿s going to happen until the next minute. The author really accomplish what he is trying to do by putting clues in the book with things that have to do in the title. You will think this book doesn¿t make sense until you actually get further in to the book then you will start comprehending how Life is for Willa Jo and Little sister.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books of all time! If you want a book that will make you laugh, cry, love, and think, then this book is for you. I guarentee you'll really enjoy it, and afterward you'll ponder the message the book gives for days - it's great!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is actually really good. I didn't know whether I would like or not when I first checked it out, but after reading it, it's probably one of the best stories I've ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Getting near baby was a GREAT book. I really enjoyed the twists and turns in the story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book and it is great....I loved it and i'm reading it for the fifth time now.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book with a wonderful plot. I give it four stars. If the baby lived, I'd give it five.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a very outstanding book that captures the characters feelings expressions, and most memorable moments. If you have the chance you'll be doing it for yourself to read this book,
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is a sad topic as told through the eyes of the older sister, Willa Jo. I liked how the author let you know how everyone was feeling about each other throughout the book. It kept my attention from beginning to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is so touching and sad and happy and the charaters are so easy to relate to. The author also made it seem like you are there. I LOVED it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Getting Near to Baby' is a very good book by Audrey Couloumbus. I think it is the best book I have ever read! It's about a girl named Willa Jo who has a sister named Little Sister who doesn't talk. Their aunt takes them in because their mom is trying to get over the loss of her baby and she doesn't think their mom is fit enough to raise them right now. I think this is a sweet story about a girl and her family tryiing to cope with the loss of her baby sister.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think That this was a very good book. It was sad, like walk two moons. But I enjoyed it. It is about two girls, Willa Jo and JoAnn (Little sister) who are temporaraly livind with their aunt Patty and uncle Hob. It is only temporary because the mom wants them back. The reason they are there is their baby sister died. Little sister does not talk and what I think is very interesting is that Little Sister's real name is only mentioned once in the book. Through Sunday School and Cynthia, Liz Fingers and Sunsets, do they survive? Read it and find out. I know I already said it but I give this book 5 stars!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was beautifully written from the point of view of the oldest sister, but the reader also got a feel for the feelings of the other characters. My 5th grade daughter is reading it now and can't put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, 'Getting Near to Baby,' was one of the best books I have read in a while. It is a book about 2 young girls, Willa Jo and 'Baby Sister', and their sister has died and they have been sent away to their aunt's because their mother is sick. This book is full of 2 of the hardest things for kids to deal with: loss of a loved one and the separation of parents! I STRONGLY suggest this book to anyone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story. Its sad and funny.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have this. Read it many years ago.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this book! It puts you into a young girls sandals and how painful it is to loose someone you love. Its hard to live with someone who dont exactly know; with new rules and new friends. Getting near to baby gives you a new way to look at things. Its an easy read book and you wont be able to put it down. It wasn't given a Newbery Honor Book award for no reason. Read it for yourself and experience what life for two young girls is like after being sent away from their mother after baby has died.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is about two little girls named willa joe and little sister. These to girls had kind of a difficult life because they had to be away from their mother due to her depression problem.The story takes place in aunt's Patty's place she is a really strict women she likes everything perfect.The main characters are Willa Joe,little sister, and aunt patty. This book shows us how two little girls sufford but never gave up they cared for one another they were respectful little girls and very small they suffered a death in their family, the death of their little baby sister. I really loved reading this book is one of the best books i've read because its genre is about family it is always good to try to read a book were you might get a message from fo example this one. the author purpose for writing this book might be that a problem no matter how hard it is you have to try to get out of it because if you dont put effort to help yourself you will never get out of a serious depression. In my opinion i belive this is a really good book no changes have to be made because it is understandable and a really good book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Getting near to Baby Willa Jo, Little Sister, their new born baby sister, and their mom lived happily together, they decided to go to the fair. There at the fair they had cokes to drink all but Baby she had water. The baby dies a week later because of the dirty water she had at the fair. Then the mom of the three, now two children, becomes very depressed and doesn¿t take care of the house let alone her to other two children. Their Aunt Patty comes and helps them out for a little while. As their Aunt is staying with her nieces and her sister, she realizes how much isn¿t getting down around the house and for the children. So their Aunt Patty takes the two girls to live her with her for a while until their mom finds a job and can support her family. Willa Jo & her little sister, who has been silent since the baby died go to Bible school while staying at their Aunt Patty¿s house. They absolutely hate it because, Willa Jo always translates what baby is trying to say and the Bible school counselor won¿t let Willa Jo go into other younger group with Little Sister so she can translate for her. So they simply leave without telling anyone one and wait at the bus stop up the street until Aunt Patty finds out what they did and picks them up. Now Aunt Patty is very bossy & does care about her reputation very much, so when she finds out what the two girls did she is very disappointed. She tries to find them new things to do other than getting in trouble. SO she invites over one of her stuck-up friends and their daughter to play with Willa Jo and Little Sister, but mother lie daughter the daughter is very stuck up and Little Sister and Willa Jo into all sorts of trouble that the had no part in. Like taking six cookies, when really the girl did it. Willa Jo & Little Sister are so fed up with Aunt Patty not believing them or listening to them. So the go and sit on the roof every morning til¿ bed time. This attracts negative attention to Aunt Patty which drives her CRAZY! Aunt Patty sends her husband Hob up to tell them how dangerous it is, well Uncle Hob realizes why the girls are up there because it¿s so peaceful and they view of the sunrise and sunset are marvelous. So Uncle Hob joins them in their daily routine. So Aunt Patty finally decides, if you can¿t beat em¿, join em¿! So they all start to see everything from each others point of view and start to get along better. They finally all get down from the roof and start developing a better relationship with each other. A few days later the kid¿s mother calls and says she has found a great job and is well enough to take them back now. Few hours later there mom comes to pick them up and it¿s a bitter sweet reunion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This profound Newbery Honor Book bears revisiting, and it surely bears listening as the story reveals what it means to be a sister and the different forms that tragedy may take. Mischa Barton reads with compassionate understanding. Twelve-year-old Willa Jo and seven-year-old Little Sister have lost their baby sister. The child's sudden death has, of course, devastated their mother. Aunt Patty, who is not accustomed to having children in her home, takes the two girls thinking that mother needs some time alone to grieve and perhaps begin adjusting to her loss. What seems like a good and generous thought doesn't turn out very well for the girls as they miss their mother desperately, are grieving for their lost sister, and Aunt Patty has jillions of rules. In an effort to escape what seems to be an intolerable situation the girls climb onto the roof one morning to watch the sunrise. The problem is, following the sunrise Willa Jo can't bring herself to come down. After all, once she came down, how could she explain her unusual behavior? There is much for all to learn in this thoughtful recounting of a tragedy and the toll it takes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. You predict from the beginning to the end. The ending is great. Great Book!