23. Jun, 2020

The 'Poo Book' Blog Reviews Lola and Grandpa for Radio Northern Beaches

The Book: Lola and Grandpa

Category: Picture Book 

Creators: Ashling Kwok (Author) and Yvonne Low (Illustrator)

Published: Little Pink Dog Books, May 2020

About the Creators: Burgeoning Author Ashling Kwok's debut picture book Lola and Grandpa, has been closely followed by the release of The Battle, from EK Books. The children's book industry is abuzz with reviews of these 2020 publications, from North Shore-based freelance writer, Kwok, whose professional background lies in journalism and magazine editing. 

Artist, Writer, Illustrator and award-winning Fine Artist, Yvonne Low, welcomes Lola and Grandpa into the world as her latest children's book publication. She has also illustrated covers and internals for The Fastest Ship in Space (by Pamela Freeman), Jack of Spades, and the anthology, A Christmas Menagerie, from Christmas Press. 

Why This Book: I've been a fan of Illustrator Yvonne Low's work, since I was drawn to the cover of junior mystery fiction novel, Jack of Spades. I loved this book by Sophie Masson, but would I have picked it up without Low's intriguing cover? I credit her with reeling me in, and luckily I was able to judge that book accurately by its cover.

I was therefore excited to hear of the publication of Lola and Grandpa, illustrated throughout by Low. It was a chance to enjoy her artistic range, and I was not disappointed. It was also a chance to get to know a new emerging talent, Ashling Kwok, an Australian Author on the rise... 

About the Book: Lola is the story of a young girl whose weeks are charted by how many days until she will see her Grandpa again. Sunday is their special day, and on that day, she experiences all the wonderful experiences of an inter-generational friendship; Grandpa is devoted to his grand-daughter and Lola basks in the warmth of his love and devotion. But when next Sunday comes, something is different and Lola enters a period of grieving when her grandfather passes away. Will the memories of their bond be enough to help her through a new and challenging life experience? 

In an Interview with Kids' Book Review, Ashling Kwok explains that early in her picture book writing career, she received advice to steer clear of sensitive issues in her stories. The common wisdom is that it may deter publishers from backing them. I have also personally received such advice, but fortunately, like the authors of the books When I See Grandma and Finding Granny, Kwok pursued her idea to address old age and the loss of elderly relatives, through a reassuring narrative that is ultimately about love and the value of memories.

Children need to know that the world is not always okay, but they also need to know that no matter how bad it gets, there is always a way through.

- Ashling Kwok, Kids Book Review

Lola and Grandpa is beautifully written. Kwok does indeed live up to her intention of presenting loss in an uplifting way. The story is crafted perfectly, and there is a clear arc from the happy days with Grandpa, to the turning point of his sudden absence, through to the ending, in which Lola can finally see the sun shining through the clouds. Though an old cardigan of Grandpa's is her physical link to his existence, it's the memories and love that will ultimately provide his legacy in her life.

But with potentially daunting subject matter in a text about a child's grief, there is a weight of responsibility on the illustrator, and I believe Yvonne Low has deftly handled the challenge. The cover illustration is light and bright, in both pallette and feel, as is the overall scheme throughout the book. Low's choice of soft but Spring-like hues, to illustrate Lola and Grandpas' adventures, more muted and Autumnal tones for the period of grieving, then a return to Spring freshness, carry the story impeccably. We are taken along by its moods and given the spectre of recovery and hope that we all need when we turn to books, especially when we are children, and just learning to comprehend life's hardships. 

Recommended For: As always, my son is my litmus test for my reviews. He is 7 years old and possibly just beyond the target audience for this book (4 to 6 year olds), but as an independent reader, the length and depth of Kwok's text was a good fit for him. As the tone of the text changed, my son knew that something was about to happen to Grandpa. He guessed that Grandpa was going to die. Could he identify with Lola's experience? Not entirely, no, other than to understand the ending of the book was sad. 

So, for my child this was an engaging read but not one he would ask to read again... at this stage. It's just not his life experience... as yet. However, I would recommend that if your pre-schooler or early primary child, has experienced the personal loss of a loved one, this book would offer a relatable and empathetic example, to help them through the grieving process.

The motif of Grandpa's cardigan providing a physical comfort to Lola, is touching. The fact that a physical object of comfort gives way to a metaphyisical awakening of memories, is even more beautiful. Possibly, it's only when a child has experienced this, they can truly appreciate the sentiment. It is our responsibility as book creators to make sure  everyone's reality is represented, and all stories are told. It is then our job as parents, grandparents and carers, to read widely to our children, and take on the discussion of themes raised in the stories we tell.