Patricia MacLachlan's Through Grandpa's Eyes
Pictures by Deborah Ray
A children's book about blindness...and empathy
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
At the risk of sounding like a cranky old man, I'm going to start by saying what I think is wrong with present day society! I'm afraid that's the best way for me to explain what's right about Through Grandpa's Eyes.
In my not entirely humble opinion, we're doing a poor job of teaching our kids what it's like to stand in someone else's shoes. Not only are we underemphasizing the importance of empathy, much of our culture depicts sympathy for someone else's point of view as weakness!
Our politicians, our lawyers, our spokespeople, all make a virtue of painting every issue as one-sided. We're taught to make our best case and belittle opposing viewpoints. That's why the phrase "talking points" has come into vogue.
Whether we read the news or watch it on TV, instead of looking for balance and reason, too many of us turn to media that simply echoes our existing point of view.
Yuck! Shouldn't we be teaching openness instead of opinion? If so, reading Through Grandpa's Eyes to your child would be a great place to start.
This first person narrative (a Reading Rainbow book) is told by John, a little boy who looks to be about five but who is wise beyond his years. His favorite place to be is his grandfather's house, because at grandfather's house he gets to see the world through grandpa's eyes.
Grandpa, you may have guessed, is blind.
John not only marvels at his grandfather's mastery of the other four senses, he's making a point of mastering his own use of them too.
John's own powers of observation are stunningly acute. He doesn't just try to smell smells and hear sounds like his grandfather. He is sophisticated enough in his empathy to close his eyes and observe how even balance is difficult without the usual visual cues.
This child is fascinated by his grandpa's world. He is forever imagining what it's like to be grandpa, to be without sight. Notably, admirably, he feels only wonder at his grandfather's life skills. John is a master of "glass half full" thinking, and he is able to perceive that his Grandpa's world is in some ways richer than his own.
(Picture your own child viewing those with disabilities as being worthy of admiration, not pity, as even having richer capabilities in some ways. It's a nice picture, isn't it?)
Grandpa is very nearly depicted as able to completely compensate for his lack of sight, until one special moment, late in the book. Putting his grandson to sleep, he pulls on the light cord. The light goes on, instead of off, before Grandpa leaves the room. Gracious John giggles to himself, waits for Grandpa to leave the room, then turns off the light.
How many adults do you know of capable of modeling this kind of behavior?
Deborah Ray's illustrations - composed of soft charcoal, colored pencil and a palette largely limited to sun and sky colors - have a wonderful old-time feel to them. (The most modern item depicted is a television, complete with antenna.) Grandpa even smokes a pipe and plays the cello.
Care to give your child a heaping dose of cherished values? The compassion to see the less fortunate as something other than less fortunate? Then give him or her a chance to see the world Through Grandpa's Eyes.
Children's books about blindness on Amazon.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
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