Review of Big Papa and the Time Machine

Big Papa and the Time Machine
by Daniel Bernstrom; illus. by Shane W. Evans
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.
1/20    978-0-06-246331-9    $17.99

As Big Papa drives his (unnamed) grandson to school, he learns that the child would rather not go because he’s scared. The solution? Big Papa’s “time machine” — visually represented by a big-bodied classic car — which gives the child insights into his grandfather’s own life and fears. Big Papa’s stories take the two back to 1952, as he is leaving his Little Rock home to make his way in the world. To 1955, as he works the perilous job of brick mason on Chicago skyscrapers. To 1957, as he summons up the nerve to dance with the woman who will ultimately become the child’s Nana. With each story he tells, his grandson asks about his fears (“Was you scared?”). In response, the older man dispenses down-home wisdom, empowering the youth with every word (“Sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the one you want”) and with the refrain “That’s called being brave.” When Big Papa relates his last two memories/fears, it’s up to his grandson to remind him about the definition of bravery. Bernstrom’s colloquial text captures the warm relationship between Big Papa and his grandson. Punctuated by brilliant yellows and blues, Evans’s illustrations of swirling stars and outlined memories evoke the ethereal quality of the journey through time.

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Eboni Njoku
Eboni Njoku is a children’s librarian at the Anacostia Neighborhood Library Branch of the DC Public Library.

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