This enchanting book has that perfect marriage of text and image that is the hallmark of an excellent picturebook. A grandfather, the eponymous ‘old man’, shares some of his seafaring stories with his grandson, who is our narrator.
The cover image shows the tenderness that exists between them as Grandfather hands over a paper boat to the little boy. The front endpapers have static repetitions of white sailing ships on a blue background. However, flip over to the back endpapers, and there is a complete contrast. A map of 5 continents surrounded by swirls of lines and waves, depicts the same ship being tossed about merrily on the oceans, observed by a smiling sea-monster. The ‘real’ outlines of the continents are faintly visible, showing them to be larger and positioned somewhat differently. We can ponder the significance of all this.
The same ship, now highly coloured, is contained in a bottle at the beginning of the book, hinting perhaps that Grandpa is trying to fit a lifetime of stories into a few short episodes. And what a life it is! The language is beautiful and lyrical. Grandfather visits and falls in love with each continent – he does not conquer or colonise or plunder. He just fills ‘his luggage with stories.’
The artwork is superb, and what a coincidence that the artist’s name is Santiago – just like Hemingway’s ‘Old Man’! We are lulled by the tranquil seascapes of Grandpa’s imagination (even his shipwreck), while on every other opening, the little boy’s perceptions are colourful and detailed. There is gorgeous use of colour, texture, line, shape and white space throughout.
There are many layers and themes here to be mined by good teachers. After carefully reading and discussing it together, I have no doubt that enterprising teachers will also find endless creative cross-curricular uses for it.
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