“As time eases the pain of loss, a grandfather’s mechanical stopwatch becomes a treasured keepsake.”
A young boy’s “grampa” used a stopwatch to time everything: “1 minute, 58 seconds” to eat an ice cream cone; “7 minutes, 22 seconds” for a caterpillar to climb the boy’s leg. But now, though it goes unstated, grandpa has passed away, and the boy is left with only the stopwatch, a painful reminder of loss. In his grief, the boy hides it away in his dresser drawer, but when he rediscovers it a year later, the soothing salve of time has changed the associated memories from painful to comforting. “The watch sounds like Grampa. It makes me think of all the things we used to time together.” Garbutt skillfully focuses a story with an important, poignant message around an item that perfectly captures a grandfather figure, a mechanical stopwatch: simple, even old-fashioned, but an object that makes a playful game of even the normal and mundane. For young readers struggling with grief, her story and Mok’s illustrations include opportunities to open up the story to discussion, like when the grandson in his grief scribbles out a picture and experiences a lack of interest in school and friends, or in a nuanced reference to guilt and regret: “Maybe I shouldn’t have told Grampa he snored like a dinosaur.” Mok’s color and graphite pencil illustrations are simple with a fittingly soft color palette.
“When summer started, I got Grampa’s stopwatch,” a small child says. “I don’t want his stopwatch. I want him.” Grampa used to time everything. A race to the end of the street and back: 24 seconds. Eating bubblegum ice cream: 1 minute, 58 seconds. But now, Grampa’s gone. “There are no more Grampa minutes, Grampa seconds,” the child says. “Time just stops.” As the seasons come and go, the stopwatch becomes a cherished symbol of remembrance, and the child uses it to carry on Grampa’s favorite pastimes and traditions.
Loretta Garbutt uses subtlety and sensitivity to explore the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) in this moving picture book story of loss. It features a gender-neutral main character (no first name or pronouns are given) making the story universally relatable. This is a perfect choice for fostering discussions with children about their emotions, particularly the feeling of loss. It also offers a poignant representation of an intergenerational relationship between a grandfather and grandchild. Carmen Mok’s expressive and thoughtful illustrations employ a limited color palette to convey the character’s emotional trajectory. There are curriculum applications here in social-emotional development as well as character education lessons in caring and resilience.
Very touching story about grieving, time healing loss, and savoring memories of loved ones.
Loretta Garbutt is a children’s bookseller and voice actor based in Toronto, Ontario. She has played the voice of Valerie on the beloved children’s television series Max and Ruby and the voice of Franklin the Turtle. A Stopwatch from Grampa is her debut picture book.Carmen Mok is a studio art graduate of the University of Waterloo and a craft and design graduate of Sheridan College. She has illustrated a number of children’s books for publishers across Canada and the United States. Carmen lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.