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Grandfather Gandhi

gandhi_grandfather gandhiLet’s get the hard stuff out of the way at the beginning: I am not 100% sure this book is eligible for Caldecott. Yes, it’s published by an American press in the United States, and the illustrator is American. One of the authors (Bethany Hegedus) is American, and the other (Arun Gandhi) lives in Rochester, NY, according to  the flap copy. I cannot find a reference to his citizenship on his website or on other websites. That means the book is most likely eligible. I think.

Here are the most common questions that crop up when members of the committee are checking eligibility: actual publication date vs. copyright  date (especially confusing if a book comes out late in December or early in January); residency or nationality of the creator; whether some of the book has been previously published in another format. If there is any question, the chair asks ALSC to vet the book. Books are vetted through ALSC, and (AS FAR AS I KNOW) a book is either deemed eligible or it is not. That information becomes part of the confidentiality agreement of the committee. I think that’s how it works. (People who know better, chime in!)

That means, when random folks state that a book is or is not eligible, folks might be right. Or wrong. For all we know, we could be yakking about books that are not even eligible. Or we might think a book is not eligible when it actually is. The committee will not be talking.

But, back to Grandfather Gandhi: because the book was published in the United States and the illustrator is American, I assume the book is eligible for Caldecott consideration. I was pretty excited when I read KT Horning’s Horn Book review way back in the spring. Her description of the art made my fibers-loving heart beat faster. She wrote, “The graceful narrative is nearly outdone by the vivid mixed-media illustrations, rendered in watercolor, paper collage, cotton fabric, cotton yarn, gouache, pencil, tea and tinfoil.” Even the yarn is spun on an Indian book charkha (one of the earliest types of spinning wheels). Yup. Yarn. I love yarn.

Spinning wheels fill the endpapers, and that handspun cotton is on the first page, resting in Bapu’s (Gandhi’s) knobby hands. And that cotton, in various forms, shows up on many pages — in a large bale of cotton, on Gandhi’s own charkha, in cloth, growing in fields, even as Bapu’s mustache. In other places, other string makes an appearance, the most memorable being black string in a ragged tangle to symbolize Arun’s frustrated fidgeting at early morning prayers and during a soccer game where he feels wronged and grabs a rock in frustration. (And later, those black tangles show up as Arun’s written schoolwork.)

Shadows play into many of the spreads, forcing the reader’s eye to slow down and consider the whole composition. Imagine that a child is thumbing through the book. She or he will just have to stop, read the words, and figure out why the shadow of a cowboy is growing out of Arun’s back. It’s a provocative illustration, but it is exactly the right image for daydreaming Arun. I love the cover image where Arun is walking on the road toward the sun with his grandfather, each with an arm or two behind his back, shadows engulfing much of the path. Interesting shadows of workers, animals, folks in the market, and people meditating draw the eye to the whole page and encourage close inspection of each spread.

Beyond the repeated shadow motif, Turk includes spindles in many of the spreads as a symbol of both the grandfather and for balance in life. So, whether Grandfather is spinning a tale comparing electricity to anger or is actually spinning cotton into thread, the reader has those spinning images to hold onto. Cut-paper abstract images further deepen the emotional pull of the illustrations.

This is a story that holds true to the child’s perspective — a child who is jealous of other people’s pull on his grandfather’s attention, frustrated with his schoolwork, and embarrassed at his inability to control his anger. It’s also a heartfelt introduction to the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

Even if this one does not end up with a shiny sticker on it — and I know it’s a long shot — I hope you will take a second look at it and let us know what you think.

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. The best review I have read on this book was Elizabeth Bird’s at SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, but that shouldn’t be a surprise considering the general excellent and exhaustive aspect to her writing. She was a huge fan of the book, and at that time I immediately secured a copy. I plan to write my own review of it in a few weeks for my own Caldecott Contender series at my site, and I do consider it as a probably favorite of the committee’s though nothing is certain. There are many outstanding picture books, and this still may not be one of the titles they are seriously mulling over. Time will tell of course. In any case, I notified my school superintendent of the availability of both Ms. Hegedus and young Mr. Turk early in the spring and after communication back and forth with their agent, they were booked for September 24th at my own school in northern New Jersey. Conveniently enough it was the Monday after the weekend Brooklyn Book Festival, where my family and I got to see the talented Turk draw in a spirited competition with A.J. Ford (illustrator of Malcolm X and Johnny Cash). Needless to say their presentation at the school was utterly magnificent. The kids took to both, who brought Gandhi to life, and broached the vital issue of bullying in the schools. Mr. Turk displayed his original oversized work prints and great use was made of a slide show. I had read the book myself to the five grade groups (4, 5, 6, 7 & 8) the previous Friday, and they were both ready and enthusiastic for what the author and illustrator presented. The book is exceedingly well-written by the two authors and Evan Turk’s collage work is breathtaking. Yes as you note the paper-cut abstract designs and the spindles are visually arresting and they help to define the book’s ethic flavor. You do a splendid job here discussion the shadow motif and how it is employed as a device to pull the reader into the narrative. I fully concur. Both Hegedus and Turk did discuss the emotion of envy, which of course is integral to this story.

    I am not so sure I’d agree with you that this book is a “long shot” for a shiny sticker, gold or silver, but I can see why you might see it that way. I looked again at your crucial second paragraph about qualification and can’t even fathom that this book does not fall firmly and irrefutable under the Caldecott umbrella. The crucial point of course is young Mr. Turk himself. Last year we had a situation where it was assumed that ON A BEAM OF LIGHT was eligible, but Jennifer Berne herself told me at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival that it was not because illustrator Vladimir Radunsky is a non-American. I remember that most here at the Horn Book were operating under the assumption that the book WAS eligible.

    Originally I myself had though it all depended on the status of the illustrator, but this sobering and exhaustive post has me thinking again.

    In any case when the smoke clears I do predict this is fair game for the voters, and for certain it is one of the ten best picture books of 2014. This would translate to a certain Caldecott bid.

    The committee of course will make that determination. 🙂 Thanks for such a magnificent review Robin!

  2. I still haven’t seen this. Gotta find a library copy. This write-up makes me want to see it even more.

  3. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    The Terms say “The award is restricted to artists who are citizens or residents of the United States.” I was reading “artist” to mean illustrator, but maybe the author could also be considered an artist?

  4. As a side note – has anyone else had difficulty opening the previous post “New York Times Best Illustrated list announced?” I have tried over the past several days and get the message that the page cannot be displayed. I have been able to open and read all the rest.

    I do like all the textures that are found within “Grandfather Gandhi.” It is unique and beautiful. It was one of my early favorites of the year.

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