Microreview: Three picturebooks with children and grandparents

Three awesome picturebooks with a central child-grandparent relationship:

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng

Hana’s visit to Ojichan in the summer had been full of his beautiful violin music. Hana’s beloved grandfather had long ago been Second Violin in an orchestra in Kyoto, and at home, Hana is determined to play just as he did. She diligently practices every day (her brothers run with covered ears), before her parents, before her dog, and on her own, before a photo of Ojichan from his symphony days. But when the talent show approaches, will Hana be ready to perform for an audience?

When Hana Hashimoto announced that she had signed up for the talent show and that she would be playing the violin, her brothers nearly fell out of a tree.

“That’s just loopy,” said Kenji. “You’re still a beginner.”

“Stop kidding,” said Koji. “You can barely play a note.”

“It’s a talent show, Hana.”

“You’ll be a disaster!”

Hana squared her shoulders and took her violin and bow inside, leaving her brothers laughing like monkeys in the tree.

This lively, gentle story depicts a close, loving relationship between child and grandparent that is vividly present despite physical distance. Hana’s parents and brother are solid supporting characters, and the resolution is realistic and wholly satisfying. The illustrations are playful and just right. A book to read again and again.


A Walk on the Tundra by Rebecca Hainnu and Anna Ziegler; illustrated by Qin Leng

Inuujaq is bored, bored, bored. She hopes her grandmother, Silaaq, is going to the store for candy, but Silaaq is headed out on the land instead, and invites Inuujaq along for a walk on the tundra.

Inuujaq stares at the crumpled leaves.

“Eat those? Are they even food?” she thinks. Her belly grumbles again.

“Nirilikkit,” her grandma tells her. “They’re good for you, Innujaq.”

Inuujaq inspects one leaf.

She pinches it in front of one eye.

She holds it under her nose.

Fortunately for hungry Inuujaq, qunnguliit leaves are even better than candy! The story of one day that opens up a small girl’s eyes through the love of a grandmother and the bounty of the land, this story is perfect for a snuggled-in storytime. For the curious and the scientifically-minded, there is a plant glossary at the end, with photos and a physical description of each plant, along with its uses. And for the English-speakers, there is a glossary of Inuktitut words and phrases — which, throughout the text, are italicized only the first time they are used.

You will want to put your walking shoes on after reading this story! Perfect for children who like adventures and for anyone who likes eating.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China translated and illustrated by Ed Young

Lon Po Po is a much more satisfying story than the European Red Riding Hood, and this is a lovely rendition.

(I also love the book’s dedication: To all the wolves of the world for lending their good name as a tangible symbol of our darkness.)

Once, long ago, there was a woman who lived alone in the country with her three children, Shang, Tao, and Paotze. On the day of their grandmother’s birthday, the good mother set off to see her, leaving the three children at home.

Before she left, she said, “Be good while I am away, my heart-loving children; I will not return tonight. Remember to close the door tight at sunset and latch it well.”

But an old wolf lived nearby and saw the good mother leave. At dusk, disguised as an old woman, he came up to the house of the children and knocked on the door twice: bang, bang.

Shang, who was the eldest, said through the latched door, “Who is it?”

“My little jewels,” said the wolf, “this is your grandmother, your Po Po.”

It is nearly too late when the youngest two let the wolf into the house, but clever Shang realizes the danger and sets about saving herself and her sisters. Shang uses perceived weakness and vulnerability to her advantage, and the three sisters work together to defeat the false grandmother while their mother visits the real Po Po. The illustrations are shadowy, edged, impressionistic, perfect.

Let’s hear it for books with good child-grandparent relationships!