The Hello,Goodbye Window, and Happiness in Late Life

The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Any child or adult lucky enough to know and love their grandparents will find themselves entranced by the sweet domestic world created by Norton Juster in The Hello, Goodbye Window (Michael di Capua Books, 2005.)

Recall the simple rituals and favorite corners of your grandparents’ home that enhanced a sense of belonging together. In this picture book the kitchen window is almost magical to the young granddaughter visiting her Nanna and Poppy. “So I get a lot of extra fun and hellos before I even get inside,” she says as she arrives to stay overnight.

There is peek-a-boo through the window, and then later, after enjoying Poppy’s many renditions of  “Oh Susannah!” on the harmonica, they look at their reflections in the now dark window, and she and Nanna say good night to the stars.

The playful illustrations by Chris Raschka portray Nanna and Poppy as a bi-racial couple and their granddaughter as a lovely shade of brown, but the focus is simply on loving family relationships. Pictures in this picture book (for ages 3-6) are a combination of sketchy black drawings and soft smudgy colors in jewel tones, all offset by lots of white, and they gained Raschka the 2006 Caldecott Medal. Award Committee Chair, Gratia Banta, is quoted as saying, “With a few energetic lines, Raschka suggests a world filled with affection and humor. The richly textured tones of these expressive illustrations convey the emotional warmth of the intergenerational connection.”

My own children, now pretty well grown, always treasured their trips to their grandparent’s homes—a welcome respite from “real life” at home with their (demanding?) parents. I still have a tiny, treasured note home from my daughter at age six, where she shared, “I’m just finishing my strawberries before I can have a granma bar for dessert. Then I’m going to have a bath in the pink bath.” It was always the same little ritual before bed, one that brought comfort and security.

A friend of mine, author Jacquie Fletcher, has published a story about the very special bond she had with her grandmother, and the peace found in the glow of her little red lamp after her parents’ divorce.

This is the first picture book by Norton Juster, but the author is well known for his children’s adventure novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, first published in 1961 and considered an American classic.

Now 84, and grandpa to one granddaughter, Juster also enjoyed a long career as an architect. Apparently he has written a sequel to The Hello, Goodbye Window called Sourpuss and Sweetiepie.

Next Steps

The Nanna and Poppy in this picture book are so obviously living a life of happiness and contentment revolving around the simple pleasures of home and family. There’s not a mention of skydiving, or hiking the Matterhorn.

I always admire older adults with the energy, fitness and gumption to take on those types of challenges, however, personally I believe it’s important to point out to young children the happiness found in successful relationships, including the grandparent/grandchild relationship.

Relationships are not usually sensational enough to make the news unless a couple is celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, but we can help kids to realize some of the true benefits of getting older.

Research by Laura Carstensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, has found that “In general, people get happier as they get older.

Over the years, the older subjects reported having fewer negative emotions and more positive ones compared with their younger days.” She further states that the era they were born in doesn’t matter. “As people age, they’re more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems.”

Unfortunately, according to other researchers, children often admire their own aging grandparents, but in general have a poor opinion of older adults and of getting old.

Can we help change that by talking more openly about what pleasures older adults enjoy, even if it may not seem exciting to children right now? After all, taking yet another soak in Grandma’s pink bath tub didn’t seem all that thrilling to me, the grown-up.


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