“Can you eat popcorn and tell a sixties girl story at the same time, Grandma?” I grin.
Grandma laughs. “Something tells me we are going to find out.”
This children’s chapter book follows Will, an 11-year-old boy who is upset when his Wednesday after-school plans with his friends are ruined by his parents’ insistence that he spend time at his grandmother’s house for several months. Despite her physical closeness to the family home, Will’s relationship with his grandmother, Laura Johnson, is complicated because his grandmother’s status as a children’s book author made him a target for grade school bullies in the past. Despite that past, Will enjoys spending time with his grandmother who is the only person he allows to call him William as “it’s okay for a kid to cut his grandmother a little slack when it comes to something like that”.
Every Wednesday during his visits, Laura relates a story from her life in Winnipeg during the 1960s, starting when she was a first grade student and eventually ending with her graduation from high-school. Laura’s first story of her time as the only non-Catholic child in a Catholic school run by nuns does not include many happy memories and puts Will’s school woes into perspective. One by one, Laura recounts her “sixties girl” stories for Will, including tales of missile drills, car accidents, incapacitating snowstorms, and family illnesses.
MaryLou Driedger alternates perspectives, shifting from Will’s perspective in the present and his grandmother’s stories of her life in the 1960s in every other chapter. Will struggles with his continuing lie to his friends about where he goes on Wednesdays after school until finally he and Laura run into his friends, Aneesh and Emmaline, at a park. Will eventually realizes his nervousness was unfounded as his friends quickly embrace his grandmother and her stories from the Sixties and the full depth of Will’s former bullying experiences are revealed.
By using a beloved grandparent’s recollections as a framing device, Driedger makes moments in local and global history real and rooted in a perspective children can understand. While the topics broached are serious, Driedger tells them with compassion and understanding, softening the subject matter for younger readers without robbing them of their significance. Following the story, Driedger also provides a “Historical Notes” section where the historical timeline of events is laid out simply and clearly.
Tessie Riggs, a librarian living in Toronto, Ontario, never leaves the house without a book.