By Kathy Stinson; illustrated by Qin Leng
Annick Press, 2016. Ages 4-7.
“Harry was four and three-quarters. He had lived next door to Walter all his life. Walter was ninety-two and a half. He had lived in many places.”
Harry and Walter are the very best of buddies. They zoom around on their tractors, eat fresh picked tomatoes, play croquet and board games, jump in leaf piles and shovel snow. Illustrator Qin Leng shows us a white haired and deeply tanned Walter—obviously a man used to being active outdoors. The pictures exude coziness and fun. Many young kids will be jealous of this obviously warm relationship.
Even in 2016 it is notable when a picture book such as Harry and Walter highlights a true intergenerational friendship between a very old man and a very young boy. And it also resists the pull toward the expected story arc. You get three guesses—yup, that of the old man’s decline.
Commendably, author Kathy Stinson features no stereotypes, no problems of illness, forgetfulness, grumpiness or loneliness in this sweet and uplifting book. And, no one dies.
Young Harry is not helping older adult Walter. In fact, Walter is portrayed as an older role model encouraging Harry by example and with encouraging words.
“You draw well too, Harry. And if you keep at it, you’ll get even better.”
“Keep trying,” Walter said. “You’ll get it. I know you will.”
While building their snow man, Harry says, “Let’s be friends till I’m as old as you, okay?” And a thoughtful Walter replies, “I’d like that, Harry. I’d like that very much.”
This is one of several opportunities for adults to tackle further conversation about aging if they wish to. This book avoids equating aging with death—a huge positive, and a real portrayal. Aging is normal, lifelong, and brings good things to many.
They are true friends—until young Harry must move. (Surprise, its not Walter.) Sadness prevails when the duo are parted and nothing is the same for Harry. The same activities no longer shared have lost their attraction.
Until–here comes Walter! A year or two later Walter moves into an apartment building just up the street from Harry’s new house.
Walter is now ninety-four and Harry is six. Aging is acknowledged by both, but once again the tired trope of decline is avoided.
“Walter laughed. ‘Like I said, Harry, things change.’
‘Yes, they do,’ Harry said. ‘I was four, and then I was five and now I am six.’”
Walter does acknowledge the time has come for him to stop raking leaves and he has a cane in hand now, but the two head off happily together in search of some fun. This picture book gives all ages a sense of joyful anticipation about growing older and tremendous insights into the benefits of intergenerational friendships.
Have I told you about my neighbor? Let’s call her Fran. At age 96 she strolls up the street each week to read to our local preschoolers in daycare. I can’t wait to share this terrific picture book with her! Author Kathy Stinson dedicates it to “best friends Emmett and Erling, whose story inspired this one.”
Benefits of longevity and intergenerational relationships
“Erik Erikson, the pioneering scholar of human development, argued that older generations’ impulse to invest in younger ones is a hallmark of successful development…The passage of time brings us inescapably to the realization that–
humans are designed to pass the torch from generation to generation,”
says Marc Freedman in the article Let’s Make the Most of the Intergenerational Opportunity*. As the CEO of encore.org, he advocates strongly for the amazing potential benefits of one generation investing in another–“second acts for the greater good.”
“The challenge, of course, is to transform this potential into practice, and most important, to do so in ways that extend generativity beyond families and into communities, building on the familial resilience uncovered by the Pew studies in ways that bridge age, class and race.”
Marc Freedman wants to see the benefits of intergenerational investment moving beyond grandchild/grandparent relationships into communities.
We need more books for kids showing intergenerational relationships in neighborhoods, schools and community organizations. Both the relationships and the books will build resilience in kids.
As Marc Freedman says, “Instead of urging the graying population to aspire to an endless youth, let’s encourage them to accept their age and embrace the spirit of purpose and legacy.”
Review copy and copyrighted images from Harry and Walter provided by Annick Press.
More picture books featuring intergenerational relationships in the community: