________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 16 . . . . April 3, 2009

cover Grandpa Joe.

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu. Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
34 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.99 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-11-2 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9738799-6-4 (hc.).

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Todd Kyle.

** /4


By age six, I had not spoken a word. The doctors could not find any problem. My grandfather said: “So what? My youngest son, your uncle, could not speak a word for years. One day, he fell out of a tree and bumped his head. All of a sudden, he spoke?and he hasn’t shut up since.”

With no other children to play with, I was lonely. I used to draw pictures to “talk” to Grandpa Joe. When I started school, I grew out of that kind of baby business and did not “talk” to him much anymore. But I was still his best listener.

A young Chinese-Canadian boy, unable to speak, recounts the story of his friendship with an Italian-born widower, Joe, who spends his days hanging out at the local mall and annoying people with his constant gossip. After he breaks his leg, Joe disappears, the neighbourhood starts to miss him, and the old man’s house is put up for sale. When Joe finally reappears, ranting about not wanting to sell his house, the boy’s speech suddenly appears from the shock.

internal art

    Wang is a prolific and talented self-published picture book author who has a knack for original story ideas, often based on Chinese and other Canadian immigrant groups. A former ESL teacher, her command of the English language is remarkable as well.

     Grandpa Joe is a story that screams out to be heard. Children’s stories set in an Italian-Canadian milieu are rare, and the basis of this one – a lonely man who can’t stop telling the same tall tales – is very vivid to this reviewer: Joe could easily have been my late father-in-law, whose funeral was actually attended by “mall friends” none of the family knew.

     The problem with this book, however, is one that often plagues self-published material – a lack of professional and demanding editing. There are several key details that the reader struggles to comprehend – the cause of Joe’s accident, the boy’s inability to speak, and how Joe’s house could have been put up for sale by his son against his wishes while Joe is still alive.

     Overall, the writing lurches in one direction after another, never quite hitting a groove. And while Joe’s stories and the casual annoyance of the shopkeepers ares convincing, the boy’s inability to speak is not examined in enough depth to make his sudden ability believable.

     The charcoal and watercolour illustrations, by fellow Chinese-Canadian Hechen Yu, are lively and expressive, and vividly portray all of the characters, right down to the recognizably Italian features on many faces, most notably Joe’s friend Old Angelo. They are undoubtedly a treat and would not be out of place in any publisher’s catalogue.

Recommended with reservations.

Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.