A Classic Children's Book on Aging and Memory

Caregiver, patient expert

When my children were young, we went, once a week, to the public library where we'd check out up to 30 books at a time. I had a special system for keeping track of the books and am still proud to say we didn't lose any. My kids learned to read early, though I continued to read aloud as long as they'd allow it.

I adore a good children's book and kids learn a lot from the very best of them. I reviewed two books about children who have grandparents with dementia in an OurAlzheimer's post titled "Children's Books That Deal With Alzheimer's."

That post attracted some attention, and a publicist from Kane/Miller Book Publishers contacted me to see if I'd like to review Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge. I explained that I only write about books that I feel would be helpful to my readers but that they could send one if they'd like.

Soon after, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge landed in my mailbox. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge is everything a children's book should be. It was a classic the day it was first published, and will be a classic decades from now.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge is a little boy who lives next to an old people's home. While this phrase may seem politically incorrect now, it won't ruffle a feather for anyone reading this book. People get old. There's nothing shameful about that (the alternative is early death).

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge loves all of his elderly neighbors. Each elder is unique and full of a special wisdom that this lovable boy recognizes and cherishes. But his favorite (spelled favourite to stay true to the Australian roots) friend was Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper because "she had four names just as he did."

One day, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge overhears his parents talking about his friend.

"Poor old thing," is what his mother said. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge wondered why she would say that. "Because she's lost her memory," is the answer he received from his father. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge wasn't sure what a memory was, so one by one, he asked his elderly friends. Each has a different answer for the child. After quizzing his friends, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge decides he will gather together something to symbolize each of the answers about memory he received from his elderly friends and give Miss Nancy back her memory.

A good children's book is a delight to read aloud. The words are delicious. They tumble off the tongue. They remind a mature reader just how important each word in our language truly is. Dr. Seuss was a genius at that. A good children's book teaches without preaching. Dr. Seuss was also a genius at that. I must say that Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge is one of the few books that belongs in the same league as Dr. Suess.

The art, too, is off-the-charts charming. It's whimsical, colorful and allows just the right amount of room for a child's imagination to complete the picture.

Does this book pack a message? Indeed, it delivers many. Elders are unique. They have lived lives that allow them to develop a special wisdom. Even an elder with a flawed memory has much to give. And a child with a giving heart can be best friends with an elder. They can learn from each other. The full message of this book - open to interpretation by the reader like any good poetry or writing - will take many readings, which is a good thing, because most parents will delight in reading this book aloud many times over.

The physical attractiveness, the tasty words, the rhythm and the message all make this a book every child - and adult - should read. Churches, day cares, schools - all would benefit from knowingWilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge. This book, and the message it delivers, could change the way a child looks at aging people, if the child is exposed early and often. Don't miss out on the lessons packed into this delightful classic.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partidge written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas and published by Kane/Miller Book Publishers sells for $14.95 (hard cover). It's available through book stores and online.