Always Sisters: A Story of Loss and Love
“Always Sisters is a pertinent tool for both adults and children as they learn to communicate and productively process their feelings together after the loss of a loved one.”
Always Sisters is a thoughtful and sensitive children’s picture book written by Saira Mir—the author of Muslim Girls Rise, which won The Amelia Bloomer Booklist Award in 2020—and illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani, an artist and storyteller who lives and works in Berkeley, California.
Always Sisters navigates the difficult experience of losing a loved one, offering a tender look at a family’s experience of pregnancy loss from the perspective of a child. Saira Mir’s experience as a mother as well as an OB-GYN physician contributes to her realistic description of Raya, the soon-to-be big sister who has already planned the play dates and secrets she will share with her unborn sister. But it is the author’s loss of her own unborn child and her need to support her living daughter’s grief that makes her book the helpful family resource that it is. Indeed, it is because Mir could not find such a book during her family’s time of need that she determined to create one, and those who are sharing similar experiences will be grateful for the result.
Though the prose in Always Sisters is written in simple, repetitive words that young children can understand, the language takes on a poetic quality as the book describes the fun times that young Raya imagines having with her unborn sister: “I’ll get tired and take a break, but not for long, because I’ll want to hear her laugh more.”
The story seems to whisper in one’s ears as it retells Raya’s mother returning home from her doctor’s appointment in tears and telling Raya that her sister won’t be coming home. But the magic is how Raya’s parents, teacher, and peers handle the tragic situation—their emotion-confirming discussions about their own losses and the meaningful things they do together to make Raya’s unborn sister a part of their lives.
Like Remembering for Both of Us (Charlotte Woods’ picture book about a child during their grandparents’ descent into Alzheimer’s Disease) or Daddy’s Little Girl (Therese Day’s children’s book about an increasingly disappointed little girl who confronts her increasingly absent parent), Always Sisters is squarely in that genre of children’s books that exists to help caregivers discuss difficult or painful topics with young ones. As such, the book’s message is just as important for the adults who read it as for the children they read it to.
It’s easy to think it’s better not to talk to young children about a tragedy like pregnancy loss, particularly when that loss is their own sibling. But lack of communication with family members, even in non-tragic situations, can make a child feel unsafe and unsure about sharing their concerns and feelings, causing mistrust and fueling psychological problems like depression and anxiety. Always Sisters is a pertinent tool for both adults and children as they learn to communicate and productively process their feelings together after the loss of a loved one. This book should be on every grief counselor’s bookshelf.