A grandson’s loving homage to his war-scarred grandfather.
Michael has been told to never stare at his grandfather when he comes for rare visits. During World War II, Grandpa served on a British merchant vessel that was torpedoed and engulfed in flames, leaving his face a grotesque mask. When Michael turns 12, he starts spending summers with Grandpa, fishing off the Isles of Scilly. It is only when Michael is older, a high school graduate, that the grandfather recounts what happened in all its horrific detail. Facially disfigured, missing fingers and turning to drink, he was abandoned by his wife, who took their daughter, the narrator’s mother, with her. “No one wants a monster for a husband. No one wants half a man….” At his death, he leaves a note for his grandson asking that the family gather together to scatter his ashes in the sea. They do, and gannets, a sign of good luck, fly overhead. Morpurgo writes with great sensitivity and grace, dedicating the book to a World War II burn victim who underwent experimental reconstructive surgery. The ink-and–screen-printed illustrations in blues and oranges vividly contrast the violence of the recalled violence with the calm serenity of water. Veterans are still returning from war with scars and trauma; this short story may help families heal.
A sorrowful yet ultimately redeeming tale. (Fiction. 12-16)