Written by Mara Rockliff, Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
Peachtree Publishers, 2014
No one in the town of Bonnyripple ever kept a grudge.
No one, that is, except old Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper.
The plot in a nutshell: A town deals with their grudges.
Cornelius is in charge of holding on to all the town’s complaints, which are written on paper scrolls that he stores throughout his cottage. As each person gets angry with someone else, they write out their issues and take it to him for filing and eventually, they fill his entire house. One day, a strong wind blows through the town, making messes and causing all sorts of problems. The next day, everyone is full of new angers and they march up to the Grudge Keeper’s cottage to report them, but they find the cottage in shambles, with all the grudges thrown together in piles. At first they dive into the pile, looking to claim their old grudges back, but then a boy notices Cornelius at the bottom of the pile, dazed from the storm. As the townspeople look through their old grudges, they realize how pointless they all are and they toss them away. Cornelius looks around and sees that the grudges are all gone. The town celebrates a wedding and even when a few things go wrong here and there, everyone just lets it go. Cornelius refills his home with friendliness, smiles and hugs, since he no longer has to save room for grudges.
Author Mara Rockliff said in an interview that she got the idea for this story after hearing the phrase ‘keeping a grudge’ and imagining a grudge keeper to be something like a zookeeper or a beekeeper. It’s a wonderful parable about forgiveness that has the feel of a classic folktale, but with layers of modern sensibility that make it seem almost more relevant in today’s age of people getting all bent out of shape over the smallest thing. Ms. Rockliff exhausts every possible synonym for ‘grudge’ in this book, which will likely serve to teach your little one (or you, even) some new words to add to your vocabulary. (I like to imagine a room full of kindergarteners telling their teacher that they are in high dudgeon with each other.)
Contributing heavily to the story’s classic feel is the gorgeous artwork from illustrator Eliza Wheeler, done in dip pens, India ink and watercolor. The characters look like they stepped out of a Charles Dickens adaptation and the whole village has a yellowish tint that gives it the impression of age. My favorite element of the story is in the illustrations, when you see the physical difference it makes in the villagers to let go of their resentment. Their faces go from sour scowls to carefree smiles that are so much more pleasant to see. It’s a good lesson and the book conveys it entertainingly and well.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that grudges serve no real purpose and only take up room where more positive things could go.