Some years ago, after my grandmothers died, Roger and I realised that our children didn’t have any old people in their lives. (They had their own grandparents of course – but they hardly qualified as old.)
That’s a major gap in a child’s life and one we tried to fill with elderly friends from church and other grandparents and great-grandparents of friends.
I think that one of the reasons we realised this was so important was that we had both read Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge dozens and dozens of times.
It was (still is) a favourite for us and for all of our children. Alec liked it because Wilfrid Gordon had a football. Thomas liked it because he had a skateboard. Jesse liked it because of the little sister who laughs with a mouth full of porridge. And all of our younger children liked it because it was such an important part of our family culture.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is a little boy who lives next door to an old people’s home.
He is friends with all the people there, but his favourite is -
“Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper because she had four names just as he did.”
It’s a lovely friendship – Wilfrid tells Miss Nancy his secrets and when he finds that she has lost her memory he sets out to discover what a memory is and how Miss Nancy can get hers back.
By sharing special treasures from his own life, Wilfrid helps Miss Nancy find some of her own memories.
This is a particularly touching book – it’s comforting, uplifting and hopeful. I do think that one of the reasons it became such a family favourite for us is that it's sentimental without any hint of mushiness. (That’s Mem Fox’s special gift don’t you think?)
It’s also ideal for starting to think about a whole range of values, such as:
The value of service – Wilfrid cares about Miss Nancy so he works to help her. But he is helped along the way himself by the other old people who share their knowledge and their memories.
The importance of sharing memories and stories – Miss Nancy’s memories and stories may have been lost without Wilfrid helping her to find them.
The blessing of cross age-group friendships – Wilfrid doesn’t seek out other small children and the old people value Wilfrid as a friend.
The sadnesses, rigours and the joys of old age – the old people all have precious memories and valuable wisdom to contribute as well as having difficulties that they are working through.
This has long been one of our favourite read aloud books – the words are so carefully put together that it's a joy to read and to listen to. Jesse, who for many years cited this as her absolute favourite book, now reads it to her little preps at school and finds that they too are mesmerised. Perhaps it’s the story, perhaps the sound of the words, perhaps the divine illustrations by Julie Vivas. Personally, I adore the one where Miss Nancy’s little sister is watching a puppet and laughing with a mouth full of oatmeal – so much innocent delight.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge has become a classic in children's literature for good reason - it's universal in its theme and full of kindness, hope and love.
P.S. Wilfrid Gordon is also great for talking about names – and if you go to Mem Fox’s website, you can read about how the names in the story came to be.
P.P.S. In the right circumstances this could be a thoughtful gift for an adult child of a person suffering from memory loss.