By Maureen Tai, 28 August 2018
“The notebook was full of Grandpa’s thoughts and sketches and answers to questions such as, ‘When I die, who will I become and what do I want to happen?'”
This quirky but remarkably endearing picture book is about a dead grandfather and his notebook and his grandson. The little boy discovers the notebook not long after the grandfather’s demise, and its pages are bursting with amusing, detailed doodles and light-hearted, anticipatory musings about the afterlife.
So death has come, as it does. Kono ato dou shichaou? What happens next indeed?
Is there really a Ghost Centre that the dead person’s spirit first heads to after death? Do you get to choose whether you go to Heaven or Hell? Can you really opt to be reborn if you find Heaven a tad too boring, and if so, what would you be happy to be reborn as? A pizza chef? A jellyfish? A rich old lady’s cat?
As the boy flips through the notebook, it is clear that Grandfather has given quite a bit of thought to the afterlife. He’s made a list of the things that he’d like to talk about with the gods, all of whom look like ancient philosophers, kitted out in flowing togas. Grandfather has decided what he’d pack in his backpack for his journey to the Other Side. He’s even sketched creative designs for his gravestone and made helpful suggestions for commemorative souvenirs – such as Grandpa trading cards – reminders to those left behind. The illustrations are deceptively simple but wonderfully evocative and heartwarming.
Then the boy astutely wonders – did Grandfather really anticipate death with the cheerful optimism that the scribbles in the notebook seem to suggest? Or had Grandfather instead been anxious and afraid, and writing in his notebook had been his way of keeping those fears at bay?
Without Grandfather to ask, there can be no answers. But there is hope, and longing, and playfulness, all bundled up together within the pages of Grandfather’s precious little notebook. And as the boy contemplates his Grandfather’s legacy in a decidedly non-morbid and non-emotional manner, perhaps it doesn’t really matter what happens next if one has had a life well-lived and been a person well-loved. Perhaps that alone is enough.
Translated from the Japanese, this book is a candid and uplifting meditation on death, a difficult topic which is explored in other wonderful picture books that we’ve discovered including The Bear and the Wildcat, and Duck, Death and the Tulip.
For ages 7 and up.