For a young child, visiting a beloved friend or relative can be a momentous occasion. Even if it's someone the child knows well, staying with them provides a glimpse behind the curtain of their mysterious "other" life. Growing up, I was always proud of the fact that my sisters were full-on adults, with their own homes and cars and jobs. Staying with one of them for a weekend was a huge deal for me. It felt like they lived in an alternate dimension, where there were trips to the park, nights at the movies, ice cream in the afternoon and games to play after dinner. Those visits are some of the fondest memories of my childhood, and really they seem even now to be tinged with magic.
In The Hello, Goodbye Window, Norton Juster and Chris Raschka translate that magic to the printed page, and they do it in masterful fashion, as you might expect from two kidlit superstars. The narrative follows a little girl who's visiting her grandparents overnight. The magic at Nanna and Poppy's starts before you even get inside their house, at the Hello, Goodbye Window. The window, we're told, "looks like a regular window, but it's not". Through the Hello, Goodbye Window, you get a glimpse into Nanna and Poppy's world, where there are loads of magical things -- the sink where a certain baby girl used to get a bath ("really!"), the counter where Poppy whips up breakfast delights, the table that's perfect for coloring. From the inside you can look out at the world through the window too. You can see the stars (Nanna knows all of them!), check the weather, keep an eye on Nanna's garden and look for mysterious visitors (a T-Rex, maybe). Yes, this is indeed a magic window, where you can see all the wonders of the world, both inside and out.
In reading this to Sprout, the first thing that we were both taken by was Chris Raschka's unbelievable artwork. (Yes, the very same Chris Raschka who just won the Caldecott for A Ball for Daisy. Well-deserved on both counts!) Raschka's style is like nothing else, and it completely manifests the spirit of our narrator, a vibrant little beauty with twinkling eyes like her Poppy and curly hair like her Nanna. I love the liveliness of Raschka's drawings, the way they dance and snap and nearly skitter off the page, and then gear down to match the quieter moments of the text. Beautiful stuff, truly.
But what kept us coming back to this one, I think, has to be Juster's text. This is an author who knows his character -- he not only gets her voice down just right, he also captures the essence of this girl and her very special grandparents. There's more than a sense of understanding here. There's also the whiff of wanting to freeze a moment in time, preserve one of these visits for her so it stays there, immediate and lovely, always ready for reliving. I'm just guessing that there's some autobiography involved, and that's quite likely why the book rings so true at every point. Oh, and the fact that the family is multiracial? Icing on a very tasty cake indeed.
Don't miss The Hello, Goodbye Window. Even without that Caldecott win, it was always going to be the best of the very best.
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka, published by Hyperion
Ages 2 and up (oh please, read it with your older kids too!)
Sample quote: "Sometimes when it's hot / Poppy chases me with the hose / and I yell, / "Stop it, Poppy, stop it!" / When he does I ask him / to do it again. / Nanna just shakes her head."
Bonus: Kathleen Horning's interview with Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer