Smith, D. B.
As in Mann’s My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel, above, the purpose here is more therapeutic than aesthetic, but (also like My Dad…) this is an honest and understanding first-person reconstruction of the thoughts and feelings any child might have in the situation. The subject here is death. The narrator’s friend Jamie is first seen laughing in a blackberry patch, then stealing apples from an ornery farmer reputed to have a gun; a little later he is poking into a beehive with a stick, and when he screams and falls and writhes on the ground his friend thinks that he is just horsing around as usual. Soon afterwards, Jamie is dead from a bee sting. The other boys’s progressive reactions are both individual and psychologically true: first, numb incomprehension and a sense of incongruity (“Did the world know that Jamie was dead? The sky didn’t act like it”), then denial (“It seemed that as long as I acted like he wasn’t dead, he wouldn’t be dead”), bargaining (“Maybe it didn’t make much sense but I knew I couldn’t eat until after the funeral”), and asking why (when a neighbor answers that some questions do not have answers, “This made more sense than if she tried to tell me some junk about God needing angels”). Then when the blackberries ripen, he picks two baskets, one for his own and one for Jamie’s mother, who thanks him and doesn’t cry—and “in my relief I felt that Jamie, too, was glad the main sadness was over.” Tailormade to support the current emphasis by child psychologists and psychiatrists on preparing children to deal with death. (Fiction. 8-12)
Amazon Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“Smith deals honestly and emphatically with the range of emotions… the story is not, however, an elegy; but a celebration of the continuity of the life-death cycle.” The Atlanta Journal, 1973, Cynthia Westway
“It will be difficult to find a children’s book this autumn by a new author as good as Doris Buchanan Smith’s A Taste of Blackberries.” Times Literary Supplement, 1975, David Rees
“Rightfully viewed, along with Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, 1977, as one of the seminal children’s books on the subject of death.” School Library Journal, Ann Welton, 2002
“An honest, touching story.” — –ALA Booklist
Barnes & Noble Reader Review
I read A Taste of Blackberries when I was in fourth grade. I am now thirty nine years old, and I teach high school English. Blackberries is so poignantly written concerning the death of a young friend that it serves as a comfort for the child, a jumping point to dicuss a personal tragedy with your children and a texbook example of just how to deal with life and death experiences with youth.