It’s been a while since I rounded up my favorite picture books for a review, so I am eager to share one of my most recent favorites.
On a good week, I bring home approximately 10 picture books to read with my son. They typically fall into three categories: books my son wants to read over and over again, books he is through with after one reading and books we all love. Sometimes, though, they fall into a fourth category: books that make me cry.
The most recent book to fall in that fourth category is “BIG PAPA and the TIME MACHINE” by DANIEL BERNSTROM and SHANE EVANS. This sweet story about a grandparent’s love was inspired by Bernstrom’s relationship with his own grandfather; don’t skip on the illustrator’s note at the end to hear more about it.
“Big Papa and the Time Machine” follows a young boy and his grandfather as they travel back in time to glean lessons on bravery and love. The story begins with the boy and his papa driving to school in the titular time machine, a 1952 Ford. On the drive, the boy admits to his grandfather that he’s scared to go to school. His admission sparks a time-traveling journey through one African American family’s experience in the 20th century. They visit a younger version of the grandfather, hugging his mother as he prepares to leave home. They stop at a 1957 club, just as his grandfather and grandmother meet for the first time. Each trip back in time ends with the same question: “Was you scared?” Big Papa’s response as they watch a younger version of himself leaving home is the first of many musings on bravery. As they watch the boy’s mother hand a newborn baby off to Big Papa, the weight of his love for the boy becomes clear; the newborn baby is that boy, and the mother never returns. Big Papa admits to his own fear here too: “You was so little, and I was so old … but sometimes you gotta love the unexpected if you ever gonna find love at all. That’s called being brave.”
As someone whose child is very loved by his grandparents, I felt myself getting emotional at this point. But as a parent who sends her child to preschool every day (and as a human being with working tear ducts), I was done getting emotional by the end of the book; I had fully arrived.
The last lesson on bravery comes when the boy looks over at Big Papa as they pull up to school and sees a tear rolling down his cheek. “You scared right now?” he asks, and his grandfather responds, “I’m scared you grown’ up too fast … and I already miss you.”
Shane W. Evans’ illustrations are simple yet poignant. His drawings consist of sharp outlines and soft colors, with soft white swirls stretching across each page, signifying a dreamlike journey back in time. Evans portrays feelings between grandfather and grandson in subtle ways, as with Big Papa’s bunched up shirt sleeve when they share a long hug before they finally say goodbye. Admittedly, I am a sucker for a good intergenerational story, and Bernstrom and Evans do it well. I would recommend this book for families, obviously, but I would also recommend it to anyone with a heart.