March 22, 2012

Grandfather and I

Grandfather and I
By Helen E. Buckley; illus. by Jan Ormerod
No Author Site; No Illustrator Site
3-4 Preschool Harper Collins 24 pp.
978-0688125349 Hardcover $16.99

Originally published in 1959 with illustrations by Paul Galdone, this 2000 reissue of Buckley's classic with updated illustrations by Jan Ormerod is, quite simply, lovely. Having seen only the cover of the original, I will refrain from making comparisons except to say that the reissue is different in at least one respect - Galdone's pictures were of a caucasian grandfather and grandson, while Ormerod's take is of a decidedly cozier looking African-American pair. That said, the race of the protagonists is beside the point. Grandfather and I's quiet celebration of this close, inter-generational bond is in no way altered by the change - a testament to the universality of the theme.

At its heart, Grandfather and I is a meditation on the special relationship between the oldest and youngest members of a modern family. The narrator informs the reader that he and his Grandfather are going for a slow walk, a prospect the boy enjoys. Even Buckley's prose and punctuation reflect his relish as he and his Grandfather take their time. ("We walk along and walk along and stop... and look... just as long as we like"). This time-taking is at the heart of their bond. Everyone else in his busy family rushes - his mother pulls him past a friendly cat, his dad hugs him before he goes to work and his siblings leave him behind, a fact effectively mirrored in Ormerod's illustrations (a family of ducks paddles past the disconsolate looking boy as the smallest duckling scrambles to keep up).

While the family is in no way neglectful or mean, the prose and illustrations on "hurry" pages have a rushed quality, one that is missing from the "Grandfather" pages, which are peaceful and expansive. This boy is relaxed around his Grandfather, a smiling, supportive figure who encourages the boy's curiosity. Together they walk through watercolored natural world, full of pines cones to pick up and heather to inspect. The white background lends to the expansive, relaxed quality while Buckley's prose, which is both loose and deliberate by turns, reflecting the boy's state of mind, verges on poetic. Her repetition of the chorus, "just as long as we like" beautifully communicates the peace this boy finds in his Grandfather's company, as well as the partnership the two have formed.

Grandfather and I is a gentle, quiet book, one best suited for one-on-one reading at home. For younger readers, it's full of opportunities to engage the text (questions like what are they doing? and do you like to rush or take your time? seem like natural extensions of the story), while older children can read Grandfather and I on their own with the help of an adult. Grandfather and I is lovely, old-fashioned, un-flashy book. While it may not stand up to the glamor of bus-driving pigeons and mice with purple plastic purses, it's more than worth finding and sharing with a cuddle, preferably with a beloved grandparent.

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