Friday 19 October 2018

ReadItDaddy's Third Book of the Week - Week Ending 19th October 2018: "Grandma Bird" by Benji Davies (Simon and Schuster Children's Books)

Yes, once again we had to stretch things to a third picture book of the week this week - but this one's well worth stretching for...!
Here's a thing that's worth pointing out about the glorious "Grandma Bird" by Benji Davies. We are just as harsh on 'blog fave' authors and illustrators as we are on folk who are new to us. More so perhaps, as quite often if a book is the third in a well-loved series, it has to break new ground or lose its slot as our hallowed Book of the Week.

"Grandma Bird" wasn't an instant success with little miss. Perhaps it was, for C, one book too far in the world of Noi and "The Storm Whale" so our first read through left her feeling a bit 'meh'.

That changed though as this, like most of Benji's books, is a story with a lot to unpack - including a lot of extremely brilliant observations about the relationships between multiple generations in a family, particularly those between grandparents and their grandchildren.

The story opens with Noi taking off with his dad to stay for the summer with Grandma Bird.

She lives on an island of her own (which is beautifully depicted as a small scrap of sand with the most amazing upturned boat as a house).

Noi never looks forward to staying with Grandma Bird as she's quiet (in fact throughout the book you get the feeling she's completely silent most of the time, lost in her own thoughts) and all she seems to eat is boiled seaweed (think of all that iron though, Popeye would love it!)

Noi swiftly becomes bored, and the next day decides to venture off on his own to explore a little bit more of the various rocky outcrops and islets around Grandma's home.

Noi discovers a wonderful place to play - a huge rock full of weather-worn holes that makes a brilliant fort or den. But when a storm blows up, Noi discovers a little lost bird knocked out of the sky by the wind. It also soon becomes clear that both Noi and the Bird are in danger as the storm closes in. Will they make it back to dry land safely?

As we said, the acute observation of the relationship between Noi and Grandma was a lot like the relationship I had with my Grandad on my dad's side. He was always quiet, withdrawn, there was almost an air of hostility about him but then that rugged surface would crack - and now and then you'd see something in him that indicated that there was a warm and caring heart beating deep within him.

That's how this story began to feel to us - as Noi's relationship with his Grandma changes subtly over the course of the book, and their shared experience of rescuing poor storm-weathered birds before retreating to safety.

The end (which we won't spoil for you) is also rather tender and lovely.

The kicker for me though, the thing that really won me over more than anything else was a minuscule tiny little visual detail that I seriously hope was intentional, something that would probably be missed by a lot of folk but clamoured for my attention. In Grandma's wonderfully detailed little upturned-boat house was a copy of "Puzzler" magazine, and I remember that being something my own (late) Nan loved to bits, religiously picking up every single copy as it arrived at the newsagents, then enlisting my help in solving the various word searches and crossword puzzles within.

That, and so many other brilliant little observations once again sees Benji staking his claim on our Book of the Week slot with a story that is full of rich detail, emotionally satisfying payoffs and just a durned good yarn. We still can't find that flipping 6th cat though :)

C's best bit: Noi's amazing rock fort - What an amazing place to play in!

Daddy's favourite bit: Yeah, that puzzler mag - and the absolutely brilliant way Benji describes the blossoming relationship between grandma and grandson mostly with glorious visuals rather than getting too wordy about it. Marvellous!

"Grandma Bird" by Benji Davies is out now, published by Simon and Schuster Children's Books (kindly supplied for review).