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Friday, February 28, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi, written by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Evan Turk. Atheneum Books, Simon & Schuster, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Grandfather wasn't one for riddles, Father had often told me, but he was one for stories. One was coming, I was sure of it. I held the thin cotton thread between my thumb and forefinger, not moving, as Grandfather's fingers went to work. "Have I not told you how anger is like electricity?" I shook my head."

This is a very special account of a slice of life spent with a beloved grandfather, written from the perspective of his grandson. Arun is only twelve when he and his family arrive at Sevagram, the ashram where his Grandfather Gandhi lived in later life.

Arun's voice is clear, and sometimes confused. He loves his grandfather dearly, and wants to spend time with him. So, too, do many others. In fact, there are more than three hundred people living in the ashram. The lifestyle is simple and communal. It consists of morning prayer, chores that are shared by all who live there, and even the dreaded pumpkin mush that everyone eats for dinner.

The family's move from South Africa to spend two years with his grandfather proves to be trying for the young boy. He misses much about his old way of life, including movies, meals, electricity and choice in activities. Here, he has to take lessons in Gujarati, work with a tutor, and share his grandfather with many others. In the first week he spends time hovering nearby trying to speak with him. Arun is soon sent away, to find work that needs to be done.

In the second week, his grandfather walks and talks with him, sharing his wisdom and asking Arun questions about his family and this new way of life. Arun is honest:

"The other kids tease me, and my tutor thinks
I am useless," I blurted out as the path before us
turned. "I try hard, but it is not enough."
I stopped short of saying that I didn't feel like a
Gandhi, that peace and stillness did not come easily
to me. Even Gujarati did not come easily to me!"

His grandfather gives Arun full attention, and offers the advice that he give himself time to adjust. But when Arun's reaction to a bad day, made worse when he is knocked to the ground in soccer, is one of extreme anger, he runs in fear to his grandfather again for counsel. The wisdom that Grandfather Gandhi imparts is a lesson that changes the course of Arun's life.

Debut artist Evan Turk uses complex collage images to give emotion to this powerful story. Using watercolor, gouache and cut papers, he creates scenes that help young readers understand the relative peace of the ashram and the strength of the anger and frustration that the young boy feels.

This is a remarkable story, told with passion and grace. Its message is made clear without ceremony. Rather, it is the tale of a man who speaks from his heart to his confused and much loved grandson, offering a gentle and uplifting message about each person's role in making the world a better place.

A note from the authors provides context and hope for each one of us:

"It is our hope, Arun's and mine, that we each look inside to see where our anger, shame, and fear hides. And when we do so, that we lovingly channel those feelings into positive action. Each time we choose to act rather than react, to sit instead of strike, to listen instead of shout, we work to create peace. We help our world heal.
                   Let us learn to live our lives as light."

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