Shortlisted for the Yoto Kate Greenaway Medal in 2022, this engaging story about the power of art and cultural connection weaves a gentle magic and is impossible to forget.
On her first day at a UK school, Shu Lin stands nervously to one side in the playground and eats alone at lunch. Dylan knows they’re not being very welcoming, but Barney’s comments – What’s up with her? How can she eat that? – make it harder for the rest of them to get involved.
‘What’s the point if he can’t even speak English?’ asks Barney, when their teacher announces that Shu Lin’s grandpa is going to show them his paintings. But great art doesn’t need words to work its magic, and on a surprise gatefold spread a wonderful ink landscape complete with flying dragon is revealed.
The children find it tricky painting their own ink pictures so Shu Lin steps in to help. ‘Nice one,’ says Barney, but its Dylan who’s quietly making friends, and that night his dreams are full of art-inspired wonders.
Every word counts in poet Matt Goodfellow’s beautifully balanced text, and his story has an authentic feel that reflects his experience as a primary-school teacher. Pared to a stylish minimum but packed with insight, compassion and the kind of details that really make a difference, Shu Lin’s Grandpa demonstrates the transformative power of art and imagination in a relatable and non-preachy way. Readers may recognize the flavour of Barney’s casual insensitivity, if not his actual comments, but there’s a sense of possibility and optimism in this story that reflects the potential for change in every child in every classroom. Small actions can have big consequences, and every act of kindness and connection matters.
Pencil details added to coloured shapes and solid backgrounds bring Yu Rong’s showstopping illustrations to life, and their engaging and expressive sophistication ensures wide age appeal. Every character bursts with energy and individuality, and readers will enjoy observing their many interactions, but skilful page design ensures that Shu Lin’s story always takes centre stage.
Shu Lin’s Grandpa helps readers develop cultural understanding and empathy, and makes a good starting point for creative projects and research.