Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

To Remember

My one grandparent I knew, my dad, and my mom were mentally and physically great before a heart quit beating, ALS took over, and old age (94) claimed each one respectively.  For the last few years of her life, my mother resided in assisted living.  When I shared a meal with her and other residents in the dining room, the occupants at our table would be deep in conversation when one would suddenly pause.  You could see by the look on their face, they were desperately trying to recall a word or a thought.  It was utterly heartbreaking to watch and experience this with them.

The loss of memory through the disease of Alzheimer's is particularly difficult to see happen to those we love.  This disease is relentless and can affect people at different ages, young or old.  Never Forget Eleanor (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, February 14, 2023) written by Jason June with pictures by Loren Long explores memory loss through the affectionate bond between a grandson and his grandmother.  For as long as you can, you will remember this tender story about the power of words.

Elijah loved doing crossword puzzles with his
grandma Eleanor.  She always seemed to know 
every word in the dictionary.

Elijah read aloud the clue and Eleanor knew the answer almost before he finished.  There wasn't a word she couldn't spell or understand.  The best thing about her gift with words was the stories Grandma Eleanor would tell Elijah.  

On Saturdays, Grandma Eleanor would hold special story sessions.  Everyone in town would come to listen.  Can you guess which one was Elijah's favorite?

When Elijah and Grandma Eleanor walked around town, she knew everyone's faces.  She believed each face held a tale.  They called her 

"Never Forget Eleanor."

One day Elijah noticed his grandmother couldn't recall an answer to his clue or even remember the clue.  One Saturday she forgot about story sessions.  The next Saturday Grandma Eleanor was missing for the town tale telling.  Elijah looked everywhere for her.  He thought and thought about how to find her.

He remembered their crossword puzzle fun, their walks throughout town and meeting the individuals whose faces she always knew, and her Saturday story sessions.  That was when an idea came to Elijah.  He knew how to find and assist his grandmother.  He had listened.  He had learned.  It was all about words and love and the help of those who named her 

"Never Forget Eleanor."

From the first page of words written by Jason June, the genuine affection shared by Elijah and Eleanor is clearly present.  Their conversations are like those between the best of friends as are their walks in the community and their wonderful Saturdays.  The manner in which this story is told allows readers along with Elijah to understand the true beauty of Grandma Eleanor.  She leads by example, embracing the best things in others and raising them up through her words.  Here is a sentence.

As she spoke, Elijah felt like his grandmother's words danced in the air and wrapped him up in a warm hug.

When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, the love between Grandma Eleanor and Elijah radiates from the front, right side.  The color choices of artist Loren Long are complementary, hues of yellow and purple.  The flower Elijah is offering his grandmother is worn behind her ear in many of the images.  She holds the latest issue of the newspaper, folded to show the crossword puzzle they enjoy doing together.  

To the left of the spine on a crisp white canvas is an interior illustration.  Here Elijah and his grandmother are in the park.  She sits on a bench near a small tree and a few flowers.  Bunnies are near them, one on Eleanor's knee and the other in front of her.  Elijah sits on the grass in front of her.  All of them are listening to her tell one of her beloved tales.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a hue of purple.  Under the text on the title page, the duo walk to the right with their backs to us.  On the dedication page they sit face to face along the bottom of the page.  The flower, a Black-eyed Susan, is between them

These illustrations by Loren Long were rendered using

gouache and color pencil.

There is a liberal use of white space to highlight the characters and whatever they are doing.  Their body postures and facial expressions are lively and full of emotion, even in the sad times.  It is absolutely wonderful when the inhabitants of the town all listen together when Grandma Eleanor is telling her stories regardless of their prey-predator status in our world.

The sizes of the pictures vary to enhance the pacing and to show the passage of time.  Careful readers will notice the tiny details added by Loren Long.  Words relative to this story are tucked in a newspaper article.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  It is of Grandma Eleanor and Elijah on a white background.  It is in response to several sentences including the above-quoted one.  From the left we see a portion of Grandma Eleanor's body.  Her mouth is open as she tells Elijah a story.  Her trunk and right arm are raised. Elijah is in the center of the right side.  His arms are clasped as if to give himself a hug.  On the tip of his trunk is a blue butterfly.  In a circle around him are the words,

Legend says it's good luck when a butterfly lands on your nose.

Elijah looks at the butterfly and his grandmother with awe, a slight smile on his face.

Like Elijah we won't forget Never Forget Eleanor written by Jason June with artwork by Loren Long.  There is an author's note and an illustrator's note at the close of the book talking about Alzheimer's disease and their very personal connections to it.  I can't imagine a personal or professional collection without a copy of this gentle, truthful title.

To learn more about Jason June and Loren Long and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their website.  Jason June has a newsletter geared to slightly older audiences along with an account on Instagram.  Loren Long has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This book is featured by John Schu at his Watch. Connect. Read. with a conversation with the creators.  

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