Monday, August 24, 2015

There is Such a Creature as the Perfect Book

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge and a Shoe-Box of Memories

Picture books engender strong memories, often strong emotions. We all have our list of favorites, books that were read to us, or books that we read to others; to our students, to our children, to our grandchildren. If we were fortunate, we associate those books with a loved one, a parent or grandparent, an older sibling who loved us enough to take the time to sit down and read with us, to exclaim over a story or slowly trace their finger across the words so we could follow along (or pretend to). My mother read to the five of us every night, and I did the same for my own children. The human connection, the bond created, by reading aloud can never be equaled by any electronic devise, no matter how sophisticated or state-of-the-art (which changes from week to week anyway).

So come bedtime, do something daring and toss the iPhone, the iPad, the Wii and everything else that beeps, bings, tweets, and updates.  The cute kitten pictures on Facebook can wait, as will the endless videos of People Behaving Badly on YouTube; they'll live in cyberspace forever (an incredibly depressing thought).

Focus on something that is truly important.


Read to your child.

That is author Mem Fox's rallying cry.  Read to your child.  Not sure how?  No one ever read to you, so you're uncertain about reading to your own children? Not a problem. Mem Fox wrote a book just for you, called Reading Magic: How your child can learn to read before school-and other read aloud miracles (2001).  Here's the link for Amazon.

Mem Fox has a wonderful  website.  Check it out; it's worth your time. You can learn all about her there.

Mem Fox has written many wonderful books over the years, but she has only written one perfect book, and that perfect book is Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. 

Book #31: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (1984) by Mem Fox. Illustrated by Julie Vivas. 28 glorious pages.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a small boy, who isn't very old either. He lives in a house with his mother and father that is next-door to an old people's home. In addition to being small, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a friendly boy and likes to ask questions, and he knows every single one of the people who live there.

He knows Mrs. Jordan, and Mr. Hosking, and Mr. Trippett and Miss Mitchell and Mr. Drysdale, who had a voice like a giant. 

But his most favorite of all the people is Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper, because she had four names just like him.

                       He called her Miss Nancy and told her all his secrets.

One day, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge hears his mother and father talking about Miss Nancy, calling her a poor old thing. When he asks why she is a poor old thing, they answer that Miss Nancy has lost her memory. After all, she is 96 years old.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge wants to know what a memory is, so he begins asking the other people at the home.  He is told that a memory is something warm, something from long ago, something that makes you cary, something that makes you laugh, and finally, from Mr. Drysdale who had a voice like a giant, that a memory is something as precious as gold.

Armed with his new knowledge, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge went home to look for memories for Miss Nancy because she had lost her own.

He gathered objects that he thought would match the definitions he'd been given, and placed them in a shoebox: seashells, a puppet on strings, a medal from his grandfather, his football, and two fresh warm eggs from the henhouse.

Then he called on Miss Nancy, and handed her each thing, one by one.

And Miss Nancy started to remember.  She told Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge about tiny blue speckled eggs she had found in her aunt's garden, or going to the beach by tram long ago in her burton-up boots, of the big brother she had loved who had gone off to war and never returned, of the puppet she had once played with and made her little sister laugh.

Then, she bounced the football with Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, a small boy who wasn't very old either, and she remembered the day that she met him and all of the secrets that he told her. And the two smiled at each other, because Miss Nancy's memory had been found again.

This is a perfect book.

There is not one, single extraneous word or even slightly out of rhythm phrase. The beauty of the friendship between the small boy and the old woman is captured in one simple sentence, "He called her Miss Nancy and told her all his secrets."

And the illustrations are wonderful. When Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge  is with adults, he is conspicuously small in comparison, but when he is on his quest for Miss Nancy, he fills the page, visually equal to the task.

And Vivas' elders are fully realized individuals, easily distinguishable from each other. These people have lived lives, and still have a great deal to offer, thank you very much.

I love intergenerational stories, particularly friendships between the very old and the very young, two groups that are constantly marginalized by society.

Get this book. Read it. First to yourselves, and then to someone you love.

If you're at a school, Sunday, September 13th, is National Grandparent Day. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge makes for a great read-aloud.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge at

Mem Fox website.

Interview with Julie Vivas.

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