A tender and comforting story about the death of a grandfather, with beautiful illustrations
At ninety years old, Dolf Verroen is the oldest children’s writer in the Netherlands who is still having books published. Two years ago, he surprised readers with the flawless Oorlog en vriendschap (War and Friendship), his first collaboration with the illustrator Charlotte Dematons. This apparently went well, as Droomopa (Dream Grandpa) has also been illustrated by the same artist.
This is a small and tender story about Thomas, who is staying with his grandparents when Grandpa dies. Grandma says he’s not allowed to go and look at Grandpa, because ‘death is for old people, not for children.’ Thomas thinks: ‘Huh? I’m nearly ten!’ – and he sneaks upstairs. He doesn’t think dead Grandpa is scary, just strange. ‘I suddenly know what I’m really seeing: he’s not dreaming anymore.’
In the days after Grandpa’s death, Thomas thinks back to his stories about his adventurous dreams. Dematons depicts this beautifully, capturing Thomas’s experiences in detailed black-and-white illustrations, which always have a single accent in red: Grandpa’s scarf or Thomas’s hat. You see the boy from a short distance, which emphasizes his sense of being lost, while Grandpa’s dreams fill double spreads, in delicate line drawings on a coloured background. Sometimes those lines are ethereal and white, as in the most beautiful illustration, one of Grandpa flying among the skyscrapers of New York.
Meanwhile Verroen writes succinctly and in a sober, direct tone about what Thomas is experiencing. He expresses his feelings in touching sentences. About the palpable emptiness in Grandpa’s familiar kitchen: ‘I sit across from Grandpa, who isn’t there anymore.’ And about the fact that he shouldn’t cry: ‘I don’t even know if I’m sad. It’s just like something’s not there anymore. Not an arm or a leg or something like that. Something inside. Oh, I don’t know.’
It is a dream about Grandpa that ultimately helps Thomas through his grief. Dematons rounds off the story: on the final endpapers, the boy is wearing not only his red hat but also Grandpa’s red scarf. A beautiful book, full of consolation.