cover image What's Heaven?

What's Heaven?

Maria Shriver. St. Martin's Press, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-307-44043-3

According to Shriver, the death of her famous grandmother, Rose Kennedy, and its effect on Shriver's daughters, then five and six, occasioned this book, a series of conversations between a girl named Kate and her mother about the death and funeral of Kate's great-grandmother. The storytelling framework can be bumpy (""[Kate] was the kind of girl whose beautiful eyes sparkled when she talked""), and Speidel's (Songs for the Seasons) idealized pastels of mother, child, fluffy clouds and prim angels, while pretty in a conventional way, don't advance the text or open it more widely to children. However, the exchange between fictional mother and daughter is unusually honest and attentive to children's concerns. Kate wants to know just where heaven is (""If heaven's in the sky, then how come I can't see it?"") and just how Great-grandma got there (""Do the angels just take you through the ceiling and through the sky?""). Kate's reactions to the funeral are the common ones (""Why are we going to [bury Great-grandma in a box]?... What if she wants to get out?"" and ""Why did Great-grandma look so different?""), and they are met with sympathetic, reasonably clear explanations about the difference between souls and bodies. Shriver describes heaven in nondenominational terms, with more emphasis on angels than on God, and she leaves plenty of room for other schools of thought (""Some people believe in different kinds of heaven and have different names for it""). If its structure and overlong text make this book awkward for sharing directly with a child, its content serves as an excellent model for parents. All ages. (Mar.)