Review Blog

May 22 2018

The old man by Sarah V and Claude K Dubois

cover image

Gecko Press, 2018. ISBN 9781776571918
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Compassion. Homelessness. Paris. Age. This gem of understatement stopped me in my tracks and I'm sure it will for everyone as they read of the plight of one homeless old man.
A young girl wakes and gets ready to go to school. Nearby an old man also wakes and struggles to rise from the pavement where he has spent the night. He is cold, wet and hungry and walks to keep warm, rummaging in a bin for food. He is tired and so puts down his blanket to sleep until someone tells him to move on. He heads for the shelter for warmth and food, and when one of the volunteers asks his name, he cannot remember. He climbs aboard a bus and finds warmth, falling asleep in his seat until more passengers get on, complaining of his smell and he must move again.
Finding a spot in the park, he covers himself with his blanket and it is here that a young girl approaches, offering him her sandwich.
This tiny act makes him feel warm inside, he has an idea of who he is, of being part of the world he lives in and he can smile.
The spare prose burrows its way into the readers' imaginations as we see this old man, learning a little of his life as the story proceeds. What we learn of him makes him not just a homeless man, a smelly man, someone whose feet hurt or whose blanket is wet. He is given a context and the kind act of the young girl makes us realise that he is part of all of our worlds. The compassion the young girl shows contrasts heavily with how he is perceived by all the adults who pass him by, or ask him to move on, or simply ignore him.
The innocence of the child shows us all how we should all respond, without rancor, prejudice or bitterness.
The loneliness of the old man is beautifully detailed by the wonderful watercolour pencil illustrations, showing the lack of colour and warmth in his world. The images are soft and redolent of the life this man lives on the streets, and like the text, compel us to show more compassion to those we see living in such a way.
First published in Paris in 2017, this has been republished in Australia by Gecko Press.
Fran Knight

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