I have a dear friend, Erin Stewart, who is an Usborne Books consultant. We recently bought some books from her, including today’s Favorite Book Friday selection, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.
Here's a link to Erin's Facebook page. This is not an affiliate link, and I'm not getting any compensation for sharing it. Erin is just a truly wonderful person who sells some high quality books.
Before purchasing the book, I had heard of Mem Fox but I had not read any of her books (that I can recall). I had this title on my list of wants because it was suggested on a booklist from a trusted source. Based on that, the interesting title, and appealing cover art, I decided to give it a go. We read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. As it turns out, it has special significance to me and the kids for a couple of reasons, and it is for them I decided to make the book this week’s Favorite Book Friday selection.
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To begin with I identify with the main character, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Besides having untamed, red hair, he’s a little boy who lives next to an “old people’s home”. Thus he has a constant source of interesting people with which to interact. When I was about the age Wilfrid is, I lived in a large city and across from a home for adults with mental and/or physical disabilities. Though Wilfrid regularly visits his older neighbors, we frequently received visits from ours.
Mem Fox named the main character after her father, whose real name was Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. This is him at age four. The photo is courtesy of http://memfox.com/.
Our home was the only one in the neighborhood with a basketball goal, so the caretaker for the home would bring everyone over to play basketball. My friend and I would sit on the sidelines and cheer them on. Some were too disabled to join in, so they sat with us and we watched, talked, and cheered together. I fondly remember one man in particular. He was mentally and physically disabled and couldn’t play, but he was the loudest cheerleader. He was ALWAYS happy and his happiness was infectious. I don’t know his real name, but I will always remember he was called Slap Slap. He would often laugh, rock back and forth, and slap, out of joy, whatever he was sitting on (usually the ground in the case of our basketball games). Hence he was given this nickname (I assume by his housemates…you don’t question these things as a five-ish-year-old). While watching the game, my friend and I would join in the slapping and this thrilled him.
Slap Slap was my favorite person from the house across the street. Wilfred, likewise, has a favorite person from the house next door—Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper. She’s his favorite “because she had four names just as he did”. And in the world of children something like that is very important.
Miss Nancy is named after the author's mother (Nan), little sister (Alison), and middle sister (Jan Delacourt Cooper). So this picture shows Miss Nancy and Wilfred holding their baby, Mem Fox. The photo is courtesy of http://memfox.com/.
Wilfrid learns from his parents that Miss Nancy has lost her memory. Here’s the part where the story resonates with my kids. My husband’s grandmother is currently in a nursing home due to severe Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t remember anyone and has progressed to the point that she can’t perform essential tasks without assistance. They are aware of the situation and know about the disease; it’s sadly prevalent on both sides of our family. While reading the book, they knew to what losing your memory in advanced age is likely attributed. They understood Miss Nancy has Alzheimer’s like their Nanny.
After learning about Miss Nancy’s memory loss, Wilfred seeks to find the missing memories. To do that he asks other residents at the nursing home what a memory is. They each provide a different answer that offers insight and helps Wilfred collect various items to present to Miss Nancy in the hopes of restoring her lost memory.
When Miss Nancy receives these items they do have the desired effect and make for a bittersweet ending. At least, adults will likely see it that way. Children will just see a happy ending.
After reading the book, I had to explain that taking various objects to Nanny would not help her remember, as her Alzheimer’s has progressed too far for that. They weren’t upset by this, and seemed to just accept it as the way it is. However, if your children have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, you may want to use your best judgement on whether this book would help explain and talk about it or cause confusion. I feel that it could be a great tool to discuss a new diagnosis with kids or encourage them do possibly do something like Wilfred did, if your loved one still has the ability to recall some memories.
Besides sparking a discussion about Alzheimer’s this would be an excellent book to read together before taking children to visit nursing homes. This was, in fact, the goal Mem Fox had in mind when writing the book. Here’s what she said about it: “My grandfather…lived in an old people’s home…When I visited him I noticed—and mourned—the lack of children. Old people and children get along brilliantly, yet here they were, separated from each other by the craziness of our society. So I decided to write a book that might bring children and the elderly together in the hope that teachers might initiate the inter-generational contact.”
The author also sadly relates that before the book was written no person in her family had Alzheimer’s, but several years after the book was published, her dad, the original Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, was diagnosed with and ultimately passed away with dementia.
I realize my description of the book may make it seem like a gloomy read for adults, but I assure you it isn't. If I could only use one word to describe it, it would be sweet. For it is a sweet, little book.
Thoughts? Opinions? Stories? Share in the comments!
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