Where Lily Isn’t

For 17 years my husband Joe and I had a little dog named Lily.
When she died her absence pressed against me. I missed her in general, and I missed her specifically and strongly in all the places where she had been.
Our house was full of all the places where Lily wasn’t.
 

Laura Godwin, my editor at Holt, suggested that I write a book about that. So I did, from the point of view of a child.  This is how it began:

Where Lily Isn’t

Lily ran and jumped and

barked and whimpered and growled

and wiggled and wagged and 

licked and snuggled.

But not now.

Now, next to my bed in the morning 

there is a little rug

where Lily isn’t.

I showed the manuscript to Laura Godwin. She was interested in publishing it, but wondered how I would illustrate it.

I had painted Lily before.
She was a model in Here Comes Grandma –

and in The Great Smelly, Slobbery, Small-Tooth Dog.

She even graced a label for pickled green beans.

But I found myself unable to illustrate this book.

Luckily I knew who could. At that time Margaret Chodos-Irvine was living in London. We had been sending each other wordless letters (you can read about those letters in her blogpost here and in mine here). Margaret sent me this wordless letter when Lily died.

She knew Lily – and me. I asked Margaret if she would be interested in illustrating Where Lily Isn’t. We submitted it to Laura Godwin as a team and we were accepted!

In her art Margaret conveys the loss and the love that I wrote about.
Her illustrations are spare but warm. She manages to show what is there, and what isn’t there.

There is a lot of white space which conveys a sense of loss.

The stencil and brushed shapes are expressive.

Margaret hid little references in the book – such as mugs made by my mother on the kitchen shelf, and reference to a drawing by my nephew Benji.


This is the first time that I have written a book without illustrating it. Now my friendship with Margaret is also part of this story of Where Lily Isn’t.  It is a stronger book for being told with both of our voices.

I am not particularly religious. Religion doesn’t help me to understand death. But I truly believe that animals and people live on in our memories and through our stories. Love lasts longer than any physical presence.

This is how the book ends:

The house is quiet with all of the sounds that Lily isn’t making.

The house is full of all the places where Lily isn’t.

But here inside me –

that’s where Lily is,

and where she always will be.

I hope that children and their families will see themselves and find comfort in this story.

p.s. Here is link to a blogpost that Margaret wrote about illustrating this book. And here is a link to buy the book at Secret Garden Books in Seattle, or from Amazon. Thank you.

34 responses to “Where Lily Isn’t

  1. Welcome to this wonderful book! Such an inspired collaboration. And how good it is to see photos of Lily, too. I remember petting her lovely sweet thick fur and her great agility jump-up move.

  2. Congratulations on your new book! It looks like a wonderful addition to a much needed genre. I’m calling Secret Garden to see if they have signed copies.

    • Thank you, Cathy.
      I haven’t signed any books yet, but I will get in touch with Secret Garden today. Thanks for the idea!

  3. What a beautiful backstory behind a beautiful book! (I got a sneak peek at Margaret’s house last year and already have told many people about it.) Lily was so lucky to have you; I remember HER backstory. Just bought the first of many copies, I’m sure; this will become a go-to gift for friends experiencing loss.

  4. I see myself here and I do find comfort in the story. I lost my beloved corgi to rat poison a couple of weeks before Christmas. This story reminds me that even though there are many places where he isn’t anymore, I will always carry the memory of him inside.

    On a lighter note, I’ve had the goal of writing (and maybe illustrating) a children’s book of this length for a long time, and I find your story of how it came to be inspiring 🙂

    • I am sorry that you lost your corgi, and sorry how it happened.
      I hope that you do work on your book! If you are just getting started (or keeping going) SCBWI is a good organization with lots of local branches. SCBWI stands for “Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators”.

  5. Julie, this is beautiful and brought me to tears. I lost my little dog Diza at 18 years a little over a year ago. This conveys the feeling of the empty spaces and activities they used to occupy so well. I wish we had had this book to share with Grayson when she died. It is a wonderful way of helping kids understand and cope with loss.

  6. It has been fun and inspiring to watch this book come together. The text is clear, matter-of-fact and yet heartfelt. It looks at loss straight on and I really love that. It has its own music which is beautifully complemented by Margaret’s illustrations. Congratulations!

  7. Such a lovely book, Julie! We experience losses like this, and those losses often leave us without words that help. But this concept, of where someone we love is NOT, just says it perfectly. Out in the real world, we feel their absence in places we were with them. But we do have them with us, inside us. I love that, and I think the book will help kids – and adults – going through this kind of loss. Wonderful illustrations by Margaret, too – like you said, that white space of loss….. Congratulations on the launch of the book.

    • Thank you. And feeling that loss, and that presence, is hard, but not something to skip over. I like to be with people and pets who are gone. I continue to talk to them – just wish they could reply once in a while.

  8. Beautiful.

  9. Lovely book on many levels, Julie & Margaret. Our pets are part of the family & glad you had many years with Lily. I ordered a copy from Secret Garden & wondered when you’re having a signing. Can’t wait to read your latest masterpiece. Cheers!

  10. This is such a beautiful and touching book. I’m so glad it’s being published and that you two were able to work on it together. Congratulations!

  11. It’s touching and beautiful.

  12. Congratulations to you and Margaret! Thanks for sharing the backstory and all those wonderful spreads. It’s such a unique take on losing a pet. Your text is so heartfelt and touching. Can’t wait to read and share this book.

  13. Your memories entwined and now moving out to the world forever. So much beauty and heart here, Julie and Margaret.

  14. Oh what a wonderful collaboration.Both the words and the pictures are beautiful and so poignant. Lily looks a lot like my Zeus but Zeus has shorter hair.

  15. Absolutely beautiful! Magnificent!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  16. I am sorry for your loss. I lost my Lilie 2 years ago and she was 14 years old. It’s wonderful to commemorate her in such beautiful book. Congratulations.

  17. Julie – what a wonderful story. brought tears to my heart thinking about my dogger. Lily was such a lovely little fur girl. Will look for a signed book @ Secret Garden.

  18. I cried reading your story spreads of Where Lily Isn’t. And while a story and memories give comfort, there is no replacement for a lost beloved. I am so impressed with the beauty of Margaret’s lovely “wordless letter” of Lily walking under the protective umbrella of a story!

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