Beyond environment:
Michael Morpurgo's letter to the next generations

This is not a Christmas book. I'm not planning to start spamming you about Christmas (not just yet:)
But when you'll read this book you will want to gift it to any child you know this Christmas, and you will treasure it for your own children for years to come.

Grandpa Christmas was published two weeks ago, during an enduring period of unseasonably warm weather (around 25°C here in London),  which just didn't feel like a regular Indian Summer.
Apparently not the right time for a Christmas book.
But the thing is, despite the white Winter landscape on the cover, Christmas is not an actual theme in the story and it's left to the opening and closing scenes of the book, where we see a now grown-up Mia pulling the Christmas decorations out of the cupboard, together with her diary and the letter that her Grandpa wrote to her when she was a little girl. 
Every year Mia performs her own Christmas ritual, sitting down and reading the letter aloud.
Therefore, Christmas works as a narrative device to approach more difficult themes which are tackled in the letter: pollution, climate change, mindfulness, sustainability and conservation. 
In the guise of Grandpa Christmas, master storyteller Michael Morpurgo writes a poignant, somehow hopeful yet realistic letter to the next generations, overflowing with love for the natural world and for our planet, seen as the source of our sweetest childhood memories. 
Morpurgo goes beyond environmentalism, urging us to fall back in love with Mother Earth. 

"We have to learn to love our earth again, love her as much as I love you and you love me. For you and I, we are part of this living planet, part of the earth's great family. And we are her guardians too".

This collective awakening is only possible by reconnecting with Nature, and with a mindfulness revolution that starts with children.
Michael Morpurgo's important words are brought to life by Field's intense and empathetic art. 
The bold, quirky style of the Oi Frog series is quite distant here. The scenes are beautifully realistic yet non-specific, and the characters are typified to allow the reader identification as well as to leave enough space to the words.
The visual storytelling has a compelling 'cinematographic' pace thanks to a great attention to lighting, characters poses and to camera angles. Jim Field effortlessy transitions from bright lighting when depicting Mia's idyllic childhood memories, to dramatic spreads using chiaroscuro when it comes to representing the fragile magnificence of nature, thus rendering the mixture of happiness and sadness that is always somehow present in Morpurgo's stories.
Here is how Field describes the creative process behind Grandpa Christmas:

"Below are some of the character designs for Mia and Grandpa. I wanted the design of the characters to be quite simple, they would be less expressive and exaggerated compared to the usual animal characters I illustrate in picture books. Why? Well, Michael’s beautiful, emotional words speak volumes and the book is about a very serious subject, protecting our planet and each other. Therefore, it would have felt odd to have huge grinning faces, or big boggly eyes. Both characters took along time to get right, it was difficult to communicate some of the right emotion in the faces when they were so simple. That’s when finding the right pose for the characters is absolutely key to striking the right emotional chord in the scene.

Finding the ‘look’ was tricky too. My initial approach to the book was to give a more, painterly - expressionist approach. I didn’t want to get into lots of details in the scenes, or too specific with locations, instead I wanted to give a feel of what’s going on and the reader can fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Lighting was really the key to this. If I could crack a realism feel to the lighting and mood then I felt it would work well with Michael’s beautiful words. The art was created initially in pencil, to give the hand feel approach. Then I coloured it digitally using Kyles T. Websters excellent Photoshop brushes." [Source: Jim Field]
If you are a parent reading this book aloud to your children, you might need to handle a few lumps in your throat to get to the end of it (I did that quite badly).
Interestingly, Morpurgo advised teachers to be emotional and even cry when reading poignant stories to children, so that they can sense and understand the importance of the story. This made me feel better:)

At first reading I couldn't help thinking about Oliver Jeffers' Here we are which also is a letter (to Jeffers' newborn son) inviting him to take care of our planet (plus some notes for living on it). 
Here we are had an incredible success worldwide, and has recently been published in Italian as well, with the title Noi siamo qui.
I must admit I still struggle to read it aloud to my daughters though, they are intrigued by the art (by far its best work, illustration-wise) but puzzled by the words. 
I suppose it's because the ideas in it are quite roughly put for the target readers (3-4 year olds) but too abstract for a 2 year old.
Grandpa Christmas does a similar thing but with a completely different depth and intensity. 
Michael Morpurgo's writing  is fluid, strong and heart-warming, his voice is never too loud, never childish (which is why I love his books). He makes difficult concepts easy to understand while Jim Field translates them into familiar images, to resonate with both children and adults.

We look forward to an Italian edition as well!
Grandpa Christmas [4th October 2018] available on Amazon Books
Words by Michael Morpurgo
Art by Jim Field
English-language edition published by Egmont Publishing, London
Reading age: 4+
Themes: Growing up, Sustainability, Nature, Grandparents Love

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