Big Papa and the Time Machine

HarperCollins/Harper. Jan. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062463319.
K-Gr 3–Bernstrom’s (One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree) latest book digs deep, with a story about a child facing fears by discovering a grandfather’s difficult past. An unnamed, ungendered child is nervous about starting school, so they’re taken for a ride with Big Papa in his old blue car. As they move through the grandfather’s past, leaving the South in the 1950’s as a young man and eventually becoming the caregiver of the child, it is revealed that Big Papa was never able to attend school. In the first-person narrative, written largely in dialogue that features African American Vernacular English, the child poses questions, and the knowing grandparent responds with sage, though not preachy, one-liners. “Sometimes you gotta walk with giants if you ever gonna find out what you made of.” The big and bold mixed-media illustrations in Evans’s signature style animate the story in a joyous way that uplifts the text. Big Papa is a bearded, brown-skinned man, wearing overalls and a bow tie, and the child resembles the character in Evans’s Mixed Me. The notion of time-travel appears fluid; the events of the past occur outside of the car in muted colors. A powerful penultimate spread shows Big Papa’s stoic face, a lone teardrop only visible through the rear view mirror. The underlying thread is an encouraging message of facing one’s fear, and a constant presence of familial love.
VERDICT A unique perspective in a beautifully executed book about starting school. A must-purchase.

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