Sunday, February 24, 2013

REALLY AND TRULY

Written by Émilie Rivard

Illustrated by Anne-Claire Delisle

Translated by Sarah Quinn

(Owl Kids, 2011)

This is the story of an endearing relationship between a young boy named Charlie and his grandfather.  Grandpa entertains Charlie with far-fetched tales about witches and pirates and gnomes. Each story is punctuated by Grandpa’s assurance that what he says is true, “really and truly.” Charlie is enchanted each time.

But only a few years later, things change. Sadly, Grandpa is not his old self.

An awful disease has eaten up his memory and his words. It has even swallowed up his smile.

Charlie struggles to understand why his grandfather has changed.

When we walk in his room, he doesn’t even turn around. The cars driving by outside are more interesting than we are.

It is a heartbreaking reality that too many families must face. Young children don’t understand, just as I felt insulted when my great-grandmother called me Reggie. She got most of the letters right, just jumbled them up.

Due to the change in Grandpa, Charlie becomes the storyteller. He retells his grandfather’s stories about ninjas and hunters. He even makes up his own tales in an attempt to reach his grandfather. Grandpa responds by looking, by eating and, on one special occasion when Charlie pulls out every trick he can imagine, smiling.

Rivard’s story provides a starting point in helping children understand dementia and Alzheimer’s. Delisle’s illustrations, particularly her drawings of Grandpa, will increase empathy in kids. (My one quibble with the illustrations is that the tiny black ink doodles of toads, gnomes and ninjas distract from the main subject matter.)

Really and Truly is a touching story that will enlighten children and linger with adults.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

PENGUIN AND PINECONE: A Friendship Story

By Salina Yoon

(Walker Books for Young Readers, 2012)

Haven’t we all made fast friends with someone who happens to be at the same sandbox but actually lives in a distant land (like the suburbs)?  Haven’t we all begged to have the toad or the ladybug in the backyard garden become our newest, most beloved indoor pet?  Please, mom!  But why not?!  Sometimes staying connected just isn’t practical.

This book celebrates an unusual friendship, springing from an immediate bond when Penguin discovers “a curious object” on the ice:  Pinecone.  Immediately, Pinecone becomes more than a toy; Pinecone is a friend.  Penguin knits a scarf for his new friend and wraps it around Pinecone to keep him warm.

Still, something seems to be wrong with Pinecone.  Penguin’s grandfather has to explain what is literally the cold, hard truth:  “It’s too cold here.  Pinecone belongs in the forest far, far away.  He can’t grow big and strong on the ice.”

And so Penguin sets off to take Pinecone to a better home.  The image of Penguin finally leaving the scarf-clad Pinecone will touch even the most cold-blooded being, especially since Penguin goes to the trouble of leaving a special message on the ground.

When Penguin grows up, he still wonders about his friend so he makes the long trek back to the forest.  Once again, the image is precious, as is the book’s final message.

A few times I year, I discover a picture book that I can’t stop talking about.  I share it with everyone I see.  This is one of those instant treasures.  I keep it in my knapsack and pull it out at Starbucks, before the movie starts and after we’ve given the waiter our order.  (Today, I took it out while attending a conference and insisted that complete strangers give it a read.  Since they didn’t move to another table, I assume I didn’t alarm them too much!) 

With simple text and uncluttered illustrations, Salina Yoon’s message is clearly conveyed.  I have a good sense of when people are merely indulging me and when they are truly entertained.  This book has been a big hit with everyone.  You’ll look at pine cones in an entirely different way...maybe even name one Sally or Chuck.  As for me, I just might take up knitting.
Penguin and Pinecone is a pure pleasure!