The Brown triplets are girls who share a last name, but no interests except one- their dear, departed Nonnie. They spend a day with their mother, goofing on the playground, munching a picnic, digging at the beach, having dinner, and going to bed.
But their conversational topic all day is the title of their book: How Did Nonnie Get to Heaven? Some of their theories involve a swing, rocket, ladder, trampoline, balloon, and even a giant beanstalk. But they are all certain their grandmother is there.
The book was inspired, in part, by the poem "Gone from My Sight" by Henry Van Dyke, which contains the image of a boat sailing over the horizon of departure, but being greeted on the shore of arrival: "And, just at the moment when someone says, 'There, she is gone'…There are… other voices ready to take up the glad shout, 'Here she comes!'"
When he tucks them in, their father says, "When someone is loved, no matter where they are, they can always be with you in your heart." These images comfort the girls, who also remember their Nonnie reading to them, knitting and baking for them, and hugging them.
The book was written by Arlene Michlin Bronstein, a Chicago author and video historian. It is her first children's book; her earlier one was an oral history of the Chicago Board of Trade. This characters are based on her own grandchildren, who really are 4-year-old triplets with the names given in the book. They lost their Nonnie- their mother's grandmother- when they were only 2, but the family talks a great deal about her. Recently, the girls have been asking how she got to Heaven, and coming up with the answers Bronstein recorded in the book. "They really wrote the book," she smiled.
When the children asked her about Nonnie, Bronstein surveyed the available literature and found several excellent resources for helping children cope with death. But none "were in a child's voice," she said. She said that children react not only with sadness but with curiosity. "Someone they have known and loved is no longer there," she said, and children wonder, "Where are they? Are they somewhere happy?"
Bronstein, who is from Glencoe, cites her educational credentials as being from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University, and "being a wife for 40 years, a mother for 38 years, and a grandmother for 6." Diana Torres, the illustrator, has studied and exhibited art on four continents. Her degrees are from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Bronstein was connected to her by the Institute's Ellen Sandor.
It is very hard to explain to children how they will never see their loved ones again after they pass on. But with resources like How Did Nonnie Get to Heaven?, these conversations can be gentle, reassuring, and positive. After all, as Bronstein observed, "Family bonds extend beyond life."