Every few years a new picture book takes on the subject of dementia and memory loss; this is that title for 2018.
Not since Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas (1984), has the topic been handled with such gentle compassion, using the metaphor of memory-filled balloons to explore it. Explaining a confounding disease to young children is difficult, and the notion of the titular balloons is initially confusing. As the story—and the disease as it manifests in the narrator’s grandfather—progresses, the idea of storing memories in balloons is increasingly effective. Children understand the ephemeral nature of balloons. Gray-toned line drawings quietly convey James and Grandpa’s loving relationship even as Grandpa is beginning to forget the details of his life. The brightly colored balloons stand out against the white background in stark contrast to Grandpa’s fading memory. Placing the memory vignettes in full-page tinted balloons helps clarify their position in the story and makes this abstract metaphor more concrete for young readers. Both Grandpa and Dad have curly hair and dark skin, and Mom is white. Biracial James and Grandpa’s shared heritage and stories of their loving family shine. What is clear is that their memories matter—to them and ultimately to readers.
A moving and meaningful way to talk about a situation many families will face. (Picture book. 4-8)