Kathleen Cherry's Blowing Bubbles
illustrated by Jill Quinn Babcock
Book review by Steve Barancik
Josh has a grandpa who was "born to speed." (It even says so on the back of his windbreaker.) And that's not all. Grandpa George can blow bubble gum bubbles that pretty much belong in a museum.
Grandpa takes Josh on roller coasters and speedboats and even go-carts. You could pretty much say that Josh is developing his own need for speed, when he comes home from school one day to find his mom with sad news to report.
Grandpa George, she explains, is sick. Not with a cold or flu, but with a stroke, a concept Josh doesn't quite grasp - neither its severity, nor the tenuous path to recovery.
Josh is apprehensive about his first visit to see Grandpa in the hospital, and what he sees doesn't make him feel any better. To Josh, it's as if his dear Grandpa George isn't even there, as if he's been replaced by a very unsatisfactory and inactive imitation.
Then one day, Josh's mother gives him a DVD of a fishing show to share with Grandpa George. We already know of Grandpa's disdain for spectating; he much prefers doing. In a wheelchair now, and without speech, Grandpa is able to show Josh that he is the same guy when he manages to convey that what he really wants to do is be pushed around on his wheelchair...
And when their mutual need for speed is satisfied, Grandpa's mouth starts moving. Is he trying to say something? Is he getting ready to throw up, or have a seizure?
Review - Blowing Bubbles
Author Kathleen Cherry tells a story that feels authentic, leaving this reader thinking there was some real-life experience behind it. Illustrator Jill Quinn Babcock contributes to the impression with detailed, realistic watercolors that feel as if they were taken from photographs of real people.
That said, I had some trouble buying that a stroke patient still unable to speak was able to blow bubbles (or even that he would be allowed to chew gum!). Putting questions of verity aside, parents will still likely have to help their children understand the hopeful symbolism of the book's final bubble, as they will with other aspects of Josh's emotional journey following Grandpa's stroke. Cherry does a better job conveying Josh's love of his grandfather than she does his feelings and perceptions of the stroke and its effects.
But hey! Parental engagement is a good thing, especially when you consider that those most likely to buy this book are families, with children, who have been affected by stroke. If you're expecting the book to do all the heavy lifting, well, you're probably under-parenting.
Blowing Bubbles would be an excellent tool for families with children coping with a grandparent with stroke, brain damage, a head injury, or even a sudden illness that leaves them significantly less vital. Children have no context for a loved one seeming suddenly different, and their questions and needs are too easily forgotten in the midst of sickness or tragedy.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
Now One Foot, Now the Other is another good picture book about stroke.
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