Weekly Feature



2016-12-07 / Lifestyles

Children’s book focuses on reality of losing loved ones


Sandy Barton, author of “The First Summer,” left, and Beth Aschbacher, the illustrator, worked together to bring the book to life. Sandy Barton, author of “The First Summer,” left, and Beth Aschbacher, the illustrator, worked together to bring the book to life. There was one student who always stayed in the back of Sandy Barton’s mind. Eighteen years ago, Barton was an elementary school teacher. She had a boy in her class who experienced the death of his cousin. While she was touched that he shared his heartbreak with her, she felt a bit helpless. She searched and searched for books that might be relatable to him, but none fit the bill.

“I found a few [books], but by the end of every story, everything was all better, just fine, end of problem. Well, that’s not how it is, and that’s not how it feels, so I began writing my own book,” Barton said.

The writing process took many years, and the story was revised at least 12 times. Barton wanted to make sure she got the story right. Every time she lost someone in her own life, she altered the story a bit. Barton has written other books in her career and was a teacher in the Amherst Central School District for 30 years.

Finally, “The First Summer” has been published, with the help of Barton’s friend, Beth Aschbacher, who illustrated the book.

“The First Summer” follows the story of a young boy, Jack, who is spending his first summer without his grandfather.

“This book is a compilation of all the losses I’ve had. Not that I’m ever at ease with death, but it’s a profound honor of being with someone when they die. It’s about empathy, not just sympathy,” Barton said.

The book is recommended for children ages 7 and older. Jack, the main character, is supposed to be about 10 years old. “My book is meant to be a starting point for a conversation within a family,” Barton said.

“After the loss of a loved one, the adults are trying to be brave. They themselves can even be confused and be unsure of how to explain things to children.”

Aschbacher is an art teacher at Forest Elementary School in Williamsville. She hand drew all the illustrations with graphite and colored pencil, allowing for tweaking to make the picture book just right. She spent childhood summers on the New England coast, where the book takes place, so she was able to envision that while she was drawing.

“To be able to go through what Jack was feeling, I had to feel it, too. I was going through the process knowing that I had to create expressions on his face, and I put myself in his shoes,” Aschbacher said.

“Somewhere along the way, the pictures fade off with the pale colors to try and make it feel dreamlike.”


Beth Aschbacher was the illustrator of “The First Summer.” By using colored pencils for her drawings, she looked to create a very “tender and soft” mood to express the main character’s emotions about losing a loved one. Beth Aschbacher was the illustrator of “The First Summer.” By using colored pencils for her drawings, she looked to create a very “tender and soft” mood to express the main character’s emotions about losing a loved one. The beauty of self-publishing, and one thing Barton said that other authors have told her, is that it’s not typical for an author and illustrator to be able to work so closely together.

The house on the cover of the book is described by both women as a character itself.

“It aches. It’s sad,” Aschbacher said.

The women were in contact almost every day over the summer to work on “The

First Summer.”

While it doesn’t have that fairytale happy ending, Barton says, it’s hopeful.

“I’m hoping kids will relate to it and learn that it’s OK to talk and cry about it and feel sad,” Barton said.

A quote that’s always stuck with her and inspired her in the writing process is one from the Native Americans: “Be the buffalo.”

“Grief can feel like a storm of emotions,” Barton said.

“The buffalo is the only animal that runs into a storm and doesn’t run away from it. And that’s what I want children to do. To cope and not run.”

The book is available for purchase on Amazon and can be found by searching “Sandy Barton.” For more information, visit www.sandybarton.com.

email: llopez@beenews.com

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