The Runaways

The Runaways
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

As a result of a fall, Gottfried Junior’s much loved, curmudgeonly grandfather is in hospital with a broken leg. His son hates visiting him but in his grandson Grandpa has a kindred spirit.

Pretending to be at football training Gottfried Junior visits Grandpa and suggests running away.

The following week having told his parents he has a football camp requiring an overnight stay, Gottfried, armed with meatballs his mother has made, persuades Adam aka Ronny to help with transport and thus begins operation breakout.

The destination is Grandpa’s island home where he’d lived with Grandma till she died. It takes Grandpa two hours to walk up the hill to the front door but it’s worth every laborious step

and once there the old man dons his old clothes, resumes his place at the table and savours some of grandma’s last ever jar of lingonberry jam. (The remainder has to last the rest of his life and part of Grandma “is still in it.”).

The next morning it’s time to leave but first Grandpa needs to do one or two things. Finally they do though, young Gottfried with his head full of questions about what his parents, especially his dad, will say when they discover his deception as well as others about whether or not Grandpa can keep his promise about no longer swearing in preparation for a possible meeting with Grandma in another life.

Eventually, acceptance and peace come for all, Grandpa, his son, and the young narrator Gottfried; and the end is powerfully affecting.

With occasional touches of musicality, Ulf Stark’s gently humorous story is told, for the most part, in a straightforward manner that adds to its impact while Kitty Crowther’s colour pencil illustrations have their own power that perfectly complements the honesty of the first person narration.

When I Was a Child

When I Was a Child
Andy Stanton & David Litchfield
Hodder Children’s Books

You’re swept away with this enormously heart-warming book right from Andy Stanton’s opening lines, ‘ “Back in the days before you were born, “ said Grandma, / “when the world was a rose’s dream … “ / There was butterfly-and-daffodil ice cream.‘

Back in the day, so she tells her grandchild, the world was ‘a crystal jewel’ full of beauty and magical events: ‘… in the summers of long ago, / when the world married the sun, / there was music in everyone.’

Now though that magic has gone, thinks the world-weary gran. But perhaps it hasn’t.

It’s down (or rather up) to young Emily to re-awaken the ability in her grandmother to see the world as that place of magic, with its beauty and hope once more: ‘ I can show you how to see.” Take my hand and come with me … she gently urges her gran as they embark on further flights of fancy, this time under the child’s guidance.

If you’re not brimming over with the joy it exudes having read this book once, then start over and soak up the transformative power of young Emily’s imagination as she finds magic, wonder and awe even in the most seemingly ordinary things such as  flowers and raindrops.

‘The world is a spinning star … no matter how old you are’ is what’s said on the book’s final spread.

A child’s wisdom is as fresh and young, and as old as the world itself; that is something we all need to remember especially in these troubled times of ours.

Totally immersive, tender and uplifting, this stunning creative collaboration between two  favourite book creators is also a celebration of a special intergenerational bond.

Verbal and visual poetry both: Awesome!

My Grandma and Me

My Grandma and Me
Mina Javaherbin and Lindsey Yankey
Walker Books

What an utterly gorgeous book is this tribute to a beloved Iranian grandmother from the young Mina with whom she lived.

The two do everything together be that cooking, cleaning, praying or visiting neighbours: grandma is the centre of Mina’s universe.

There are companionable times when two sets of best friends – young and old – play, or chat and knit together;

occasions that will make readers laugh, like Mina’s account of draping her grandma’s beautiful chadors to build a rocket ship or using one to transport her on her astro-explorations.

Be it during Ramadan, when the two would visit the mosque together for midnight prayers; or showing ingenuity over getting a fresh loaf daily without leaving their 3rd floor apartment,

this autobiographical celebration of a special intergenerational bond is truly special; in part because it’s a portrayal of a culture and country relatively few children will be familiar with.

With her lovely patterns, Lindsey Yankey’s beautiful, respectful visual portrayal is the perfect complement to Mina’s written memories in a book that transcends cultural boundaries and speaks to everyone.

Grandma Bird

Grandma Bird
Benji Davies
Simon & Schuster

As an avid fan of Benji Davies’ world of Noi books, I was eagerly anticipating this new one and it certainly lives up to expectations.

Noi is off to spend the summer with his Grandma whose home is on a windswept rock across the water. He’s less than enthusiastic at the prospect of this solitary place and the idea of Grandma’s seaweed soup. Worse, he discovers they have to sleep head to toe in her small bed where Grandma snores loudly and the blankets itch; and during the day she’s so busy she has no time to play with her grandson.

The boy decides to explore the seashore alone. Suddenly he spies something shining in the distance and discovers a large hole-filled rock – the perfect place for some imaginary play.

The wind lashes outside, the sea beats against the rocks and suddenly out of the storm a little bird drops at Noi’s feet.

Knowing it needs help, Noi tries to make his way back across the rocks towards Grandma’s home and as he battles against the lashing storm he sees the bright red sail of a little boat.

Grandma has come to his rescue and once safely aboard her boat, boy and Gran gather up more bedraggled birds which they take back to dry out indoors.

Eventually the storm abates and the birds depart, all except one. Could it be that Grandma feels lonely sometimes in her solitary existence, Noi wonders.

Then for the remainder of the summer two humans, one young, one old and a feathered companion spend their days exploring the tiny island together.

Despite the remoteness and bleakness of the setting this is a story full of warmth and tenderness. Gran’s apparent absorption with her daily routine doesn’t prevent her from keeping a watchful eye on Noi from a distance and she’s quick to act when the storm blows up, while the notion that his Gran might be lonely occurs to the boy as the rescued birds depart.

Such is Benji Davies’ way with words that they alone paint wonderful images in the mind, while every one of his illustrations, large or small merits close attention. I love Grandma’s upturned boat of a cottage and its cosy interior complete with’ One Hundred and One Uses for Seaweed’ book, not to mention her skill at stone balancing and yoga; all of which can be relished during the course of this tender tale.

Sing to the Moon

Sing to the Moon
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing

A Ugandan boy relates one unexpectedly magical day spent at his grandfather’s house.

When he awakes it’s to the sound of the rain’s patter and the sight of dark, brooding clouds. He anticipates that none of those wishes he shared at the outset: the flight to the stars; the ocean crossing aboard a dhow to the old spice markets of Zanzibar or the flight on the back of a crested crane culminating in a wonderful forest feast, will come true.

“Sing to the moon” his Jjajja always tells him if he wants a wish granted.

Instead, there’s nothing for it but to go and join his Jjajja in the kitchen as he sips his morning tea, and together they break their fast on porridge.

The boy’s intention is to return to his room and mope but his grandfather has other ideas. Taking the boy by the hand he leads him to the storeroom …

and that’s where the magic begins as Jjajja starts to reminisce about his boyhood days.

As they pack away the peas he talks of his best friend Kirobo with the enormous smile.
Then they move to the veranda where the boy hears of Jjajja’s guava tree climbing, something his grandson also loves.

At sundown, they prepare the ingredients for a fish stew supper while the boy’s grandfather shares tales of fishing expeditions.

By now darkness has descended and then their ‘night adventures’ commence.
Jjajja has a huge stack of books, a veritable tower containing tales of brave kings and crooks; fables of long gone cities full of gold and African kingdoms. He talks of how the sky once rose and fell, as thunder raged.

Then outside they go and to the sound of echoing drums and grasshoppers’ song the lad is reminded that no matter what he’s always loved.
Now all that’s left is to savour the sweetness of the day; the boy safe in the knowledge that nothing could possibly have been as wonderful as their rainy day together, a day rounded off perfectly with Jjajja’s soft goodnight bidding, “Sing to the moon.”

Not only does this beautiful book portray that very special intergenerational relationship, the spellbinding tale also evokes the natural world and life of a distant land that most of us won’t ever visit for real, both through Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl’s rhyming narrative that’s a real joy to read aloud, and Sandra van Doorn’s absolutely stunning illustrations. I’d love to include every single one but hopefully those included here will inspire readers sufficiently to seek out their own copy of the book. It’s a must.