Arthur Levine’s new picture book, What a Beautiful Morning, illustrated by Katie Kath, launches on August 8. It is a stellar example of treating a story concerning a serious issue with tenderness and joy.
Full disclosure; this review may be biased for a couple of reasons. First of all, I consider Arthur a friend and I got to hear him read this as a work-in-progress a year ago at a retreat. A work-in-progress that had actually sold right before the retreat. When Arthur stood up and read it to the 60 or 70 of us there in his smooth and gentle voice, everyone in the room was moved. I was choked up to the point of tears.
What a Beautiful Morning is a tender story of the relationship between a boy, Noah, and his grandfather. They spend their summer days together. They get up early, Grandpa belting out a big song with “big round notes” about what a beautiful morning it is. He belts out songs when they walk the dog, eat their breakfast and figure out “what’s on the docket” for the day.
But this year, Grandpa forgets to ask what’s on the docket. He has trouble cutting his French toast. And at one point even forgets who Noah is. It is clear that Grandpa is experiencing the the early stages of dementia. This upsets Noah greatly. As the summer goes on and Grandpa becomes more and more, as Grandma says, confused, Noah makes his own docket, walking the dog, feeding the birds, and playing by himself. That is until one day when Noah is playing the piano and Grandpa comes in bursting into song. Music seems to clear Grandpa’s head and he is his old self again. At least for a little while. Noah discovers, with the help of Grandma, how to best spend his time with Grandpa working towards a moving and heart-warming end.
The simple ink and watercolor illustrations are perfect for this book. A soft earthy palette brings a warmth to the story. Kath also employs a technique where Grandpa fades into a sepia monotone when the dementia has taken hold and back to color when his head clears. This works very nicely.
The second reason I might be biased in this review is that my wife is in the late stages of young-onset Alzheimer’s. This story speaks truth in a number of ways to me. The relationship may be different; husband/wife as opposed to grandparent/child, but the love and the commitment are the same. This will be an important and comforting book for those who have had their lives touched by dementia, but it is much more than that, it is a joyous and charming story about love beyond circumstance.
What a Beautiful Morning. What a beautiful book.