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Cover for Matylda, Bright and Tender

Matylda, Bright and Tender

Holly M. McGhee


List Price: 16.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (5/1/2017)
Paperback (4/7/2020)


In a courageous debut novel, Holly M. McGhee explores the loss that shakes one girl’s world — and the unexpected consequences of the things we do for love.

Sussy and Guy are best friends, fourth-graders who share their silliest thoughts and deepest hopes. One afternoon, the two of them decide they must have something of their very own to love. After a trip to the pet store, they bring home a spotted lizard, the one with the ancient face and starfish toes, and they name her Matylda (with a y so it’s all her own). With Guy leading the way, they feed her and give her an origin story fit for a warrior lizard. A few weeks later, on a simple bike ride, there is a terrible accident. As hard as it is, Sussy is sure she can hold on to Guy if she can find a way to love Matylda enough. But in a startling turn of events, Sussy reconsiders what it means to grieve and heal and hope and go on, for her own sake and Matylda’s. By turns both devastating and buoyant, this story is a brave one, showing how far we can justify going for a real and true friend.

Praise For Matylda, Bright and Tender

Sussy’s grief is authentically messy, moving from total despair to anger to confusion, both about her future and Matylda’s. . . . a thoughtful exploration of moving on after loss, and the pet-care element offers an interesting twist.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

This tackles grief for the middle-grade set in much the same way as Ali Benjamin’s The Thing about Jellyfish (2015). As a simple preadolescent love story, it’s refreshing as well.

At its core, this is a sincere, tender story of friendship...Sussy’s deep sorrow hovers at the edges of each page, but McGhee (the author of Dessert First and other books, writing as Hallie Durand) handles the story’s heavy emotions with a light touch, using Sussy’s changing relationship with Matylda and a classmate to provide balance.
—Publishers Weekly

Both Sussy and Guy are creative, intelligent characters, and this novel is a good fit for sensitive middle grade readers...This honest and sensitive offering about grief touches on many difficult topics that, while resolved by the conclusion, may require follow-up conversations with a trusted adult.
—School Library Journal

You will cry when you read this book. But it is worth it. I enjoyed every single page. My heart is full.
—Colby Sharp

This is a beautiful story told with hope and light exploring how life endures despite loss.

Matylda, Bright & Tender masterfully explores the very sad, very poignant grieving process of a child...a well-done, heartwarming, tender story, and one not to be missed.
—Randomly Reading (blog)

This slim middle grade book lives up to its name, a tale that is both bright and tender.
—Reading Style Guide (blog)

Candlewick, 9780763689513, 224pp.

Publication Date: March 14, 2017

About the Author

Holly M. McGhee, who also writes under the pen name Hallie Durand, is the author of three picture books, including Mitchell’s License and Mitchell Goes Bowling, both illustrated by Tony Fucile, and a chapter-book series. She lives with her family, her antisocial dog, and her two leopard geckos (Speedy and Midnight) in Maplewood, New Jersey.

Conversation Starters from

1. Guy and Sussy make up an origin story for Matylda in which she’s a great warrior lizard. Can you think of your own origin story for Matylda?

2. Have you ever learned anything about the world or about yourself from a pet or an animal? What did you learn?

3. Why is it so easy for Sussy to listen to that voice inside her telling her to steal Matylda presents from the pet store?

4. In addition to her stealing and feelings of sadness, what behaviors or changes in personality did you notice in Sussy after Guy died? In what ways did the accident affect her family?

5. Do you think Matylda really is communicating with Sussy?

6. Did this book make you feel at all differently about your loved ones and how you treat them?

7. Why did Sussy wear the same clothes that she was wearing on the day of the accident for so long?

8. Do you think having Matylda made it harder or easier for Sussy to face a world without her best friend?

9. Even when they can’t relate to what she’s going through, the people around Sussy are kind and understanding: her parents, Mrs. Hose, Wayne Hoffman, and Mike from Total Pets. Did any of them surprise you?

10. When Sussy thinks, “I was always gonna be on Witchett somehow, was always gonna hear that crash — loud or quiet I’d hear it. I was supposed to hear it; it was part of me,” what does she realize about that day and her future (page 195)?

11. Do you think it’s right that Sussy isn’t punished for stealing from the pet store? What is the difference between regular bad behavior and bad behavior after a tragedy? Should they be treated differently? Why or why not?

12. What does Matylda’s tail mean to Sussy? What does it mean to you?