By Maureen Tai, 5 February 2021
All in all, it’s been a beautiful life …even if at times a little strange.”Grandpa
Ageing is an inevitable part of life. One of the hardest tasks for a parent is talking to young children about old age, in particular as it relates to beloved grandparents or other elderly friends and relatives. In her whimsical and imaginative illustrated story, Grandpa’s Angel, German author and illustrator Jutta Bauer manages to cover all the bases of this difficult conversation without plunging readers into the depths of depression. The book we read was also a delightfully compact A5 size, adding a subtle hint of playfulness to the experience.
The beginning pages show a teenaged boy visiting his grandfather in the hospital. The images are stark and sparse, as you’d imagine a hospital to be, but Bauer’s clever use of yellow in her watercolour illustrations focuses the eyes on what is warm and comforting (the boy coming into the room, the grandfather’s smile on his wrinkled face) instead of what might be troubling (the half-full bed pan underneath the bed). The narrative then shifts to the grandfather’s voice as he recounts his oddly charmed life. We see Grandfather when he was a carefree young boy, running to school with a satchel full of books. We see what Grandfather himself doesn’t ever see: the outline of a plump, winged guardian angel, detaching herself from a statue and pursuing the innocent young boy.
The angel proceeds to follow Grandpa, and to save him from mortal harm as he goes about his merry way. There is humour, even a bit of slapstick comedy, in Bauer’s illustrations of the angel and her life-saving efforts. She uses her hands to cover the eyes of a thug, lying in wait for Grandpa. She pulls him from the bottom of a deep lake. She chastises a big, fearful dog, as the unsuspecting Grandpa looks on, wondering why dogs are afraid of him. Even as Grandpa grows up and becomes a soldier in the war, and then a civilian in a desperate post-war world, the angel never abandons him. As Grandpa continues his life’s journey, unsuspecting of her presence, she helps and comforts him as best she can, her yellow halo glowing luminously on every page. In the second to last page, Grandpa has finished talking and has closed his eyes. He is asleep, a smile faint on his lips, and the guardian angel is floating close behind his head, her hand tenderly caressing his face. It is a wonderfully satisfying ending to a wonderfully satisfying story.
Grandpa’s Angel is probably one of the most poignant and heartwarming odes to a life well-lived that I have ever read, and certainly, one of the most unforgettable.
For ages 5 and up.