Children’s books round-up: Grandparents get adventurous
Plus a visual treat that doubles as an accessible parable about anxiety
Illustration from Don’t Worry Little Crab.
Illustrations from The Baby Beast.
Summer is the perfect time for children to have adventures with their grandparents, and a stash of new releases offer plenty of inspiration. In Ulf Stark’s concise and comic novel The Runaways (Gecko Press, £6.99, 8+), the young unnamed narrator breaks his grumpy grandfather out of hospital, taking him on a journey into his past so that he can make peace with his future.
Other people aren’t so fond of Grandpa, who goes out of his way to provoke people at the care home where he lives. The narrator alone understands why his grandfather is behaving so disgracefully. It is “because he was bored . . . Because he had nothing else to do. No holes to dig. No big rocks to roll. No roof to climb on so he could clean the chimney.” Basically, his grandfather misses his old life, as well as his recently deceased wife.
With the help of a local baker, the narrator brings Grandpa back home to say a proper goodbye to his past. Stark paints a moving portrait of the intergenerational relationship, and he writes beautifully and sensitively about old age, as well as the connection between grandfather and son.
Despite his foul mouth and his cantankerous nature, the reader too will fall a little bit in love with Grandpa, never more than when he is sitting reading a dictionary in his bed, looking “like a tired God sitting on a fluffy cloud”.
Felix, the protagonist of Stewart Foster’s Checkmates (Simon and Schuster, £6.99, 10+), has a more fractious relationship with his equally grumpy grandfather. According to Felix, his grandfather is not just grumpy, he is also “weird”. He drives a pink car, keeps the curtains closed in his house in the daytime, and watches only German TV.
Felix’s best friend, Jake, thinks he’s a Russian spy and sets out to find evidence, but Felix is more interested in trying to keep out of trouble at school. In Felix, Foster gives the reader a convincingly flawed hero. Felix may have ADHD, but it is his inability to trust his own instincts that gets him into trouble. Forced to play chess with his grandfather, Felix finds his relationship with the old man deepening, and his ability to concentrate deepens too. It turns out chess – that much derided game for geeks – is just what Felix needs to anchor his wandering mind.
Foster refuses to sentimentalise the complex relationships that Felix must negotiate in his small social world; from tensions with his time-poor, cash-strapped parents, to his conflicts with Jake, a friend who doesn’t always have his best interests at heart. Checkmates uses a specific and unusual sport to celebrate the triumph of an unlikely hero.
It is grandmothers who are celebrated in Eric Veillé’s Encyclopedia of Grannies (Gecko Press, £10.99, all ages), which features grandmothers of all types, creeds and hues.
Veillé opens his innovative book with a barrage of questions from children: “Why do grannies always tell us to speak up? Where are those busloads of grannies going? Why are some grannies bent over? Do you ever find grannies inside of pumpkins?” Across a joyous and raucous series of spreads, Veillé delights in providing some answers and exemplars of matriarchal martyrdom.
He shows us young grannies, Australian grannies, city grannies, country grannies, 58-year-old grannies and ones who are 89. There are Nonnas and Meemaws and G-mas. There are Nans with creases, and Omas with sayings that hold eternal truths.
“To understand grannies there’s nothing like a good saying: Grannies need thrones to rest their old bones.”
The Encyclopedia of Grannies provides a cornucopia of comedy, both in the content and the brashly coloured cartoon images, which includes a fabulous array of granny hairdos, and not a blue rinse in sight.
Rites of passage
The Beast in Chris Judge’s The Baby Beast (Andersen Press, 2+, £11.99) could do with a bit of advice from a grandmotherly figure. When the Beast discovers an egg on his doorstep, he has no idea what to do. He tries bathing it, walking it, sharing his breakfast, but “he really was awful at looking after eggs”.
Eventually a kindly doctor gives him some instructions, and the egg turns into something better: a baby beast! Judge’s shaggy black amorphous Beast has a brilliantly expressive quality: watch those two yellow oval eyes get angry, bemused, frustrated and, best of all, fall in love. However, nothing could be cuter than the Beast’s miniature, as he undergoes the rites of passage – being burped or wrestled into a babygro – and moves through babyhood into toddlerdom. There’s a fantastic little twist on the final page too. The Baby Beast is a brilliant bedtime read for all the family.
Deep waters and anxiety
Chris Haughton’s Don’t Worry Little Crab (Walker Books, 2+, £12.99) also centres on the negotiations of a parental relationship. Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny rockpool. One morning they set off on a journey towards the sea. Little Crab is very excited, until he realises the enormity of the ocean and the power of the waves. Luckily, Very Big Crab is there to hold his pincer, and when an enormous wave takes them into the deeps, he realises the water holds many cool creatures for him to cavort with.
Haughton uses a distinct and refined colour palette, against which the crabs’ large eyes pop in perpetual surprise. It is a visual treat that also doubles as an accessible parable about anxiety.