________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 2. . . .September 15, 2017


Grandfather and the Moon.

Stéphanie Lapointe. Illustrated by Rogé. Translated by Shelley Tanaka.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2017.
100 pp., hardcover & epub, $17.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55498-961-4 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-55498-963-8 (epub).

Subject Heading:
Graphic novels.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** /4



After that day,
everyone learned to live without Lucille,
because that’s what you have to do.

except Grandfather.

Maybe it was being so sad about losing her
too fast
that made him want to stay silent.

Maybe it was not being able to understand,
which turned into
a kind of emptiness.

Like his heart
ran out of gas.

Like there was this wall
between him
and the life he would have had
with her.


A young narrator tells the story of her grandfather Adrien who becomes depressed after the death of his beloved wife Lucille, withdrawing from life. His granddaughter, to make him proud, enters a contest called Who Will Go to the Moon, and she is chosen for the voyage. But as she nears the moon, she is overcome by the silence and the emptiness of space, and, thinking about Albert, the dog sent into space by NASA, she ejects herself from her spacecraft, landing in a parachute next to her grandfather who is sleeping in his car.

     The story, itself, initially follows an arc familiar in the rarified world of the most serious, mature youth literature— sombre, tender, and slow-moving, taking a dewy-eyed look at the joys and tragedies that define our lives. In this case, it is the relationship of the narrator and Adrien, and how it is transformed by the death of Lucille. But then the story takes a completely unexpected turn, not just towards the whimsical—itself a familiar feature in this genre—but towards the surreal, almost baffling. The narrator obsesses with the details of the contest, right down to Grandfather’s inability to visit his favourite barber because everyone in town has gathered to try their luck; then with the story of Albert, the first dog to go into space, and how he might have abandoned his mission had he known that Yuri Gagarin would steal his thunder as the first person in space. Taking her cue, she ejects herself to the dismay of the crowd below and rejoins her grandfather instead.

     The question, of course, is why, and what does it signify? And why, for that matter, does the narrator mention that the crowd was uncertain if her parachute was open or closed as she descended? If there is a familiar tradition in mature books for young people, there is an even more rarified one in French-Canadian ones, one that often takes a turn for the obscure, the oblique, the unexplained. Think of Sylvie Desrosiers’ novel Les trois lieues, itself a GG winner, where one wonders about the significance of Patte Bleue, the dog-wolf that accompanies Tom on his quest to find his missing father in the Nunavut wilderness; or of Marie-Francine Hébert and Janice Nadeau’s picture book Nul poisson où aller, where the reader struggles to understand why a refugee would take a goldfish with her when fleeing war (No Fish Where to Go is the English title of the NFB film based on the book). In this context, Grandfather and the Moon is not entirely unique, but it doesn’t quite hit the same sense of satisfaction or completeness that might have transcended the puzzling allegory at its core.

     Holding the book together, though, are Rogé’s evocative illustrations, rendered in muted shades of pencil and charcoal, with occasional uses of red as the only real colour. They capture the sadness and beauty of the story, with an almost cardboard-cutout feel that is paradoxically warm. Grandfather’s “gray Chrysler shaped like a box of soap” appears as almost a totem throughout the book (he is sleeping in it when his granddaughter falls to Earth at the end); the terrified, almost thoughtful face of Albert the monkey as seen though a rocket porthole is as haunting as any human face. Whether this book is an understated, haunting masterpiece, or just a wide-of-the-mark attempt at high art, it is certain to delight and infuriate in equal measure.


Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past-President of the Ontario Library Association.

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

© CM                    This Creative Commons license allows you to download the review and share it with others as long
Association          as you credit the CM Association. You cannot change the review in any way or use it commercially.

Hosted by the      Commercial use is available through a contract with the CM Association. This Creative Commons
University of        license allows publishers whose works are being reviewed to download and share said CM reviews
Manitoba.             provided you credit the CM Association.

Next Review | Table of Contents For This Issue - September 15, 2017
CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive