My Good Friend Grandpa

12 August 2016

My Good Friend, Grandpa
Story by Elaine Sharfe, Illustrations by Karen Sim
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$9.95 ISBN 9-781927-756713

You don’t have to be a grandparent to appreciate Saskatoon writer Elaine Sharfe’s illustrated children’s book, My Good Friend, Grandpa. Indeed, anyone with a heart will adore this beautifully-rendered tale about a boy’s strong connection with his beloved grandfather, and, as in all the best writing, the author skillfully evokes emotion without regressing into sentimentality.

Want to write your own children’s book? Reading and studying great books is the best way to learn, and I’d definitely recommend Sharfe’s well-written story to anyone who has an emotional children’s story to tell. The tenor is spot-on here. Sharfe starts and ends on just the right notes, immediately establishing the characters’ close relationship by simply stating it: “Noah and Grandpa Ed had been good friends for as long as Noah could remember. Grandpa Ed said they had been friends forever.”

Nanaimo illustrator Karen Sims ably demonstrates this tight bond via full-colour images that show the young, big-eyed boy and his loving grandfather involved in activities that range from watering plants at the family cottage to enjoying treats in the bleachers at a football game (and I don’t think the green and white flag Noah’s waving is a coincidence). In an e-mail, Sims explained that she used digital paintings to give the illustrations the “memory/dream-like look” the author desired. “Not too cartoonish.”

Noah and Grandpa Ed are each other’s biggest fans. The images reveal a smiling, animated child until page 15, when the story turns: “Noah was nine when Grandpa Ed got sick.” Again, no embellishment’s necessary: stating the facts does the job perfectly; the reader’s heart drops. (You’ll have to read the book yourself to learn what follows).

Sharfe admits in the bio notes that her inspiration stems from “childhood memories of her four children and the antics of her 14 grandchildren.” It should not matter that the story is based on “real” people, but this fact does heighten the emotional impact for me personally. As someone who lived in Saskatoon and for a few years worked as a radio advertising copywriter there, I’m familiar with the Sharfe family’s car dealership, Sherwood Chevrolet, and the author addresses this auto dynasty in her story. “Grandpa Ed sold cars,” she writes, and the first illustration in the book shows the grandfather and grandson in a showroom car, where they are “[pretending] to drive away.”

What I liked best is how Sharfe (and Sim) so effectively conveyed love. Imagine an esteemed businessman taking a day off work so he could walk his grandson to kindergarten, then calling him every day to ask how school went for his “good friend”. Imagine a creative child who, when his grandfather’s too ill to go fishing, suggests they “pretend” fish off the end of the sickbed.

Real, moving, consistent, gorgeous. This intergenerational story is one to be cherished and shared. Thank you, Elaine Sharfe and Karen Sim, for making me feel so much on a rainy afternoon in August. Where it matters most (the heart), your book’s an overwhelming success.


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