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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Can You Whistle, Johanna?
by Ulf Stark
Age Range: 9-11
As two boys play together, one talks about his grandfather. Ulf says his granddad is everything a grandfather should be - he eats pigs’ trotters, smokes a pipe and gives him money. His rather wistful friend Berra reflects that it must be very nice to have a grandfather and the two boys agree it is high time they found him one.
The next day, they visit a retirement home and identify the perfect candidate sitting alone in his room. ‘Grandpa Ned’ is surprised but very obliging when Ulf presents him with his new grandson. Berra enthusiastically explains what is expected of the role, and the book follows the trio as they embark on a series of activities from flying kites to climbing cherry trees. Eventually we see Berra determinedly learning to whistle, so that he can perform Grandpa Ned’s favourite tune for him. However when they return to the retirement home, the inevitable has happened and Ned’s room is empty.
This is a memorable and thought-provoking book, which has deservedly earned its place as a classic in many countries and won its fair share of literary awards. Its message that true friendship transcends age difference is delivered with sensitivity and wit, and heightened further by Anna Höglund’s highly distinctive illustrations. The symbiotic relationship between young boys and old man will touch readers of any age, as they surprise each other with presents, trips and new experiences. The innocence of the friendship has a poignant and timeless appeal. It is a book which serves as a powerful reminder of the value of good friendship but also the transient nature of life.