Newspaper hats by Phil Cummings

cover image

Ill. by Owen Swan. Scholastic, 2015. ISBN 9781743622544
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Age, Alzheimer's Disease, Family, Memory. In the hands of Phil Cummings a tale of an old man with poor memory is subtle and endearing as he shows the man, a grandfather, living in a nursing home. His granddaughter comes to visit, and is a little dismayed when he cannot remember her name. But she perseveres, showing him the photographs adorning the chest of drawers in his room. One is of the man and his brother collecting tadpoles in a glass jar, and a memory is stirred, one of he and his mother as he recalls the honey on his hands, and with the next he and another man are in uniform and he recalls being frightened, listening to the helicopter droning overhead. Each memory provokes a response from his granddaughter and she points out another photograph of him with his son and the girl and their newspaper hats. She picks up some of the newspapers on the floor, reminding him that he used to make them for her and he remembers, and they make some together eventually taking them to the other people in the home.
With incredible subtlety, Cummings reminds us all that we all forget sometimes, and it takes something physical to recall it for us. He reminds us of the closeness of family, of the life of a person going through many stages, of that last stage sometimes in a nursing home, where others can visit and remind them of times past. And of course, Cummings reminds us of the simple joys of life, of making a newspaper hat, of sharing the activity with others.
Swan has used watercolour and pencil to great effect, giving a soft edge to this story, using minimal colour, drawing sticky tape over some of the words, using different framing for the pictures he has drawn, making us look more closely and asking why it is placed just there, or turned around like that. I love his use of the end papers with a range of newspapers to show what has happened during Grandpa's life, and the range of footwear, while he underscores the idea of family with a number of people at different stages in their lives at the nursing home, either residents or visiting.
This is a wonderfully affirming book, one to be read and reread, and make newspaper hats for everyone's head.
Fran Knight