________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 36. . . .May 21, 2010


Grandpa’s Music: A Story About Alzheimer’s.

Alison Acheson. Illustrated by Bill Fransworth.
Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Co. (Distributed in Canada by Fitzhenry & Whiteside), 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.95.
ISBN 978-0-8075-3052-8.

Subject Headings:
Alzheimer’s disease-Fiction.
Family life-Fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Valerie Nielsen.

***½ /4



“It’s time,” says Dad. Time for Grandpa to move into our home. He does, with his songbooks and his little cat, Baby Ruth.

Callie’s grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s. When he moves in, the family makes up a routine with everyone sharing responsibilities for Grandpa. Eight-year-old Callie, understanding her grandfather’s need to feel useful, makes a list on the board of the things the old man is good at, including taking care of the garden, peeling potatoes and kneading bread. Then, noticing the sheets of music her grandpa is holding, she makes an important addition: making music. Although Grandpa’s memory loss makes it hard for him to remember something as simple as where to find the piano, the “muscle memory” in his fingers enables him to play the old songs even when it is too dark to read the notes. Callie and Grandpa sing together as he plays their favorites. And when the words can’t be remembered, they make them up together.

    Grandpa’s Music is a simple and touching story about a family dealing with the frustrations involved when a loved one with Alzheimer’s comes to live with them. It is told through the eyes and in the voice of young Callie. Acheson’s sensitive evocation of the special relationship between Callie and Grandpa recalls a similar relationship between a small girl and her memory-impaired grandmother in Laura Langston’s heart-warming story, Mile High Apple Pie published in 2005.

     internal artIn a note to readers at the beginning of Grandpa’s Music, Alison Acheson writes: “It’s good to share stories, art, and music with people affected by Alzheimer’s. Especially music - research has shown that music stays with people even when Alzheimer’s or other diseases of the brain cause them to lose many other memories and knowledge.” Thus the memory which Grandpa needs to play the piano endures in a physical sense, even though his memory for words fails.

     Alison Acheson received plaudits for her young adult novel Mud Girl published in 2006, and she is anticipating the publication of her new YA novel entitled Molly’s Cue in May of this year. Grandpa’s Music is her first story for young children.

    Bill Farnsworth is an accomplished artist and illustrator who has illustrated over fifty books for children. His depictions of Callie and her grandfather are particularly appealing; each of the two main characters appear to “lift off the page.” Farnsworth’s use of warm bright colours in the foreground which fade into soft, misty backgrounds underscores the theme of Grandpa’s Music beautifully, enabling the reader to feel the strength of the “now” moment as opposed to the faded quality of past moments.

   Acheson has done an excellent job in finding the right narrative voice and selecting the right details to keep her characters lovable and the story believable. As a read-aloud, Grandpa’s Music will be sure to bring up an interesting discussion about old people and memory.

Highly Recommended.

A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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