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From The Asian Reporter, V19, #18 (May 5, 2009), page 14.
Bridge to memory
Grandfather’s Story Cloth
(Yawg Daim Paj Ntaub Dab Neeg)
By Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford
Illustrations by Stuart Loughridge
Shen’s Books, 2008
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95
By Josephine Bridges
Alzheimer’s Disease is a deeply troubling condition, even for adults who understand the reasons behind the symptoms. Imagine what it’s like for children. In Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford’s Grandfather’s Story Cloth, Chersheng’s grandfather has begun to forget things, everything from turning off the faucet to having a grandson. Of course the boy is troubled, yet he doesn’t add to his family’s distress. "He did the only thing that always made him feel better. He drew."
Chersheng’s mother comforts her son, but is matter-of-fact about Grandfather’s future and the family’s responsibility to him: "He will only grow more confused. We must continue to love and respect him, even when he does not remember." Then she entrusts the boy with the care of a story cloth Grandfather made before Chersheng was born — a story cloth illustrating the man’s life in Laos. As Chersheng begins to ask Grandfather questions about the pictures in the story cloth, he learns the details of his family’s history, and Grandfather briefly crosses this bridge to memory.
But all the latest years are missing. "Your trip to America is not in your story cloth," Chersheng points out to Grandfather. "Why don’t you make a new story cloth?" Grandfather only shakes his head and says, "I have left my sewing behind." Following another troubling episode with Grandfather, Chersheng turns to the creativity that sustains him and emerges with something wonderful, something that makes a difference.
Following the story is further information about Alzheimer’s Disease and about Hmong people and story cloths. The authors of Grandfather’s Story Cloth are a nurse and a nursing student, and this is, remarkably, their first children’s book. It’s the first for illustrator Stuart Loughridge, too, whose watercolors are as moving as the authors’ words.
Grandfather’s Story Cloth would be a distinctive book if it had been written in only one language, but the fact that English and Hmong appear side by side catapults it into a category all its own. I learned a few words of Hmong from reading Grandfather’s Story Cloth — it’s hard not to. Let’s hope we see more and more examples of bilingual children’s books.
And let’s end with some of Chersheng’s words, among the most hopeful words in any language, in English and in Hmong: "Look what I made!" "Saib seb kuv ua tau dabtsi!"