Written by Karen Ackerman, Illustrated by Stephen Gammell
Alfred A. Knopf, 1988
Awards: Caldecott Medal (1989)
Grandpa was a song and dance man who once danced on the vaudeville stage.
The plot in a nutshell: A grandfather puts on a show for his three grandkids, showing them the songs, dances and jokes he used to perform when he was younger.
I will admit this right up front – I got choked up reading this book. Admittedly, this is mostly because I am a sap, but also because it’s a remarkably sweet story about a former vaudevillian performing his old show numbers for his grandchildren. I loved the enthusiasm of the kids in this book. There was no heavy handed morality, showing the grandfather having to pull the kids away from the TV. When Grandpa unpacks his old costumes up in the attic, they each pull out a hat to wear and then sit down eagerly to watch him.
He goes through a whole routine for the kids, including a song, a dance, a joke and even a magic trick. At the end, they give him a standing ovation and ask for more. On their way back downstairs, there’s a line that says, ‘Grandpa holds on to the rail as we go down the steps.’ I get the idea that, with that line, author Karen Ackerman is telling us that Grandpa was young again up in the attic and now, coming back downstairs, is feeling his age once more. And he pauses to tell his grandchildren that the days he spends with them are better than all of his days in vaudeville. Someone get me a grandpa to hug right now!
Illustrator Stephen Gammell fills his artwork with emotion and gives us pictures that echo the love and joy we read on the page between these kids and their grandfather. The whole book is told from the point of view of the children and the pictures have a childlike quality to them that works perfectly with the story. My maternal grandmother lived with my family while I was growing up and my paternal grandfather moved in when I was a teenager. I always enjoyed asking them questions about their lives and interests, and listening to their stories. This book made me miss them both.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you never forget anything you truly enjoy, but you can make it even better by sharing it with those you truly love.