The majority of people reading this review know someone with Alzheimer's or other forms of memory loss. According to Alzheimer's Disease International, more than 55 million people worldwide live with dementia. Even with doctors and scientists working steadily to find better treatments, the likelihood that Alzheimer's will affect a loved one in a child's life keeps increasing.
New York Times bestselling author Jason June conceived Never Forget Eleanor to help children ages four to eight understand Alzheimer's in a personal way. His author's note is addressed to young readers and observes that if a loved one becomes forgetful, "all your memories with them are true and valid and special, even if they can't always remember these moments."
In the story, an adorable elephant, Elijah, loves spending time with his wordsmith, storyteller grandmother, Eleanor. By letting him help her with crossword puzzles, she's enjoyably expanding his vocabulary: a seven-letter word for "gulping down" is "swizzle" — "As in, 'let's swizzle some lemonade, shall we?' " On Saturdays, she tells tales to the town, and her and Elijah's favorite is the story of the sun coming out the moment he was born. When she speaks, he feels like her words dance in the air and wrap him in a warm hug.
So when she starts forgetting crossword answers and even why people are showing up to listen to her — and then the stories themselves — Elijah and everyone who loves her is rightfully concerned. And when she gets lost in town, everyone's consternation grows even greater.
Elijah comes up with a charming way to bring Eleanor back from her wanders. It mirrors a technique that actually works with people who have Alzheimer's, although as the author points out, "each patient is unique, and their doctor will know the best method of care." The story follows through poignantly with Eleanor's passing, Elijah inheriting the storyteller's mantle, and his vow to never forget her.
New York Times bestselling illustrator Loren Long makes the story even more meaningful and endearing. When Elijah helps out with crossword puzzles, for instance, he charmingly holds the pencil in his trunk while his front paws secure the newspaper. And when the town shows up to listen to Eleanor's stories and later to help guide her home, they're a marvelous array of characters, from a rhino baker to a bespectacled moose. Long hopes that the book — which "strikes a comforting balance of love and loss and humanity" — will bring solace to those who love someone with Alzheimer's.