One photo by Ross Watkins

cover image

Ill. by Liz Anelli. Penguin, 2016. ISBN 9780670077977
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. Dementia. Family. Mental illness. When Dad comes home with a camera, one of those old cameras that takes film which needs to be developed, the family, Mum and their son, watch on. He seems to be taking photos of things which have no inherent interest. There are no people in them, they are of things and places around the house. Photos of his study, of the table at breakfast time, his coffee cup, the clothesline, the bus shelter. He takes roll after roll of film to the developer in the city, bringing the photos home to stick on the window.
The boy and his mum ask him why he doesn't take photos of them, but he doesn't answer.
They find that he has put things in the cupboard that shouldn't be there, and puts the hammer in the fridge, so the reader begins to understand that this man is showing signs of dementia.
More photos appear, until one day he comes home without the camera. Then he is no longer there. The family receives a parcel in the post with his camera in it and one undeveloped film. On getting it developed they see what he was trying to show them, the family he wants them to remember.
This poignant tale of a family coping with dementia will resonate with many children in the class or at home. They may have an older relative with signs that this disease is taking its toll, or may have seen it in someone younger, the book showing that there is no age barrier to this disease.
The illustrations are wonderful, showing the family in their house and all the things which will remind them of their missing father and husband. All around the house are things which he used and the photos of things important to him alongside the photo of him with his family.
There is a growing number of books with this theme for classes and children to begin discussions about this disease: Newspaper hats (Phil Cummings) Forgetting Foster (Dianne Touchell) Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox) to name a few.
This wonderfully emotive book about one family and the coping measures undertaken by the father will resonate with some children and educate others about this disease.
Liz Anelli's wonderful illustrations give the reader a different view of the family and its worries. The first endpaper shows the family in its beginnings, Dad's childhood, meeting Mum, marriage and children, while the last endpaper shows the things he photographed in the home, his very personal collection of things he thought would remind them of him. Time passes as shown in the roof top view of the house and garden, the tree in leaf at the start and later, when he is not there, it is bare. And I love the page when he has gone: the afternoon shadows creeping over the furniture with the photos displayed on top, across the carpet. I could have cried. Anelli's beautiful, touching illustrations augment this poignant story of one family's grief.
Fran Knight