Ulf Stark (text) and Anna Högland (illustrator), Can you whistle, Johanna?, Gecko Press, February 2021, 92 pp., RRP $18.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781776573264
This is a delightful new edition of a 1992 Swedish classic novel for younger readers, from Gecko Press.
Berra wonders why he doesn’t have a grandfather, so Ulf suggests they visit the old people’s home where they’re sure to find someone suitable. They decide on Ned, who though surprised at finding himself with a grandson, willingly agrees to most of Berra’s expectations of what a grandfather does: gives him money and cake each visit, flies a kite, and steals cherries like Ned did as a child. Berra, Ulf and the home’s other residents also enjoy each other’s company. Berra wants to learn to whistle, and the tune Grandpa Ned uses is the title of the book. Berra takes too long to master the skill and Ned’s health deteriorates.
It’s a heart-warming story of the interaction between members of two generations, all of whom are the richer for the experience. The ending is predictable but appropriate. It’s a great introduction for children to an understanding of old age and death.
I enjoyed the whole package immensely, but I think it is possibly a book with child protagonists which will appeal more to adults than to most children.
Reviewed by Maureen Mann