Monday, September 15, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Rating: 5 stars

Arun and his family arrive at Sevagram, his grandfather Gandhi's service village, and go straight to Gandhi's hut. They touch his feet to show respect; he hugs them tightly in return. Gandhi is impressed that the boy had walked the entire way from the train station. "That walk is a test of character. I am impressed." The boy's heart swells.

And so begins Arun's time at Sevagram, a time of simple beds and early mornings, guided meditations and chores, and of wondering if he could live up to the Gandhi name. Wherever the boy came from, it was quite different from where he is now, and the new places frustrates him to no end.  Here, in this place where he is supposed to be still and peaceful, Arun feels fidgety and annoyed all day long. Finally, he gets into a shouting match during a soccer game, and feels singled out for his quickness to anger.

He goes to seek counsel from his grandfather.  Gandhi is busy doing more important things, but he wonderfully shoos away his colleagues and puts away his papers in order to make time and space for his grandson.

"We all feel anger."
"Even you?" I asked.
"Even me," said Grandfather.
"Tell me what has you so upset," he says.  The boy's story spills out, and the fear of never being at peace or living up to the great Gandhi name hangs in the air. Gandhi assures the child that everyone feels anger--even the great Gandhi himself.

Anger is like electricity, Gandhi explains. It can strike like lightening and split a living tree in two. Or it can be channeled and transformative, and it can shed light like a lamp. In this way, anger can illuminate. It can turn darkness into light. We can work to use our anger, instead of letting it use us. The choice lies in each of us: lightning or lamp.


There is so much goodness in this book.  The ability to talk about anger, and how it is a natural feeling, present in all of us, is the best part of the book, but there are others. Namely, how he wonders if he'll ever live up to his family's name, how Gandhi makes time for him, and the introduction of a great man like Gandhi.

I did my best to live my life as light.
But the anger part is so important.  Back when I was obsessed with Gandhi in college, I was attracted to his stoicism.  I wished I had what I thought to be his ability to push down all his feelings and feel at peace.  I think because I was young and still very naive and hadn't yet felt a full range of emotions that I thought this was possible. Now, at an older and, yes, wiser period of my life, I realize that pushing emotions down deep and putting on a certain, expected face is a skill to be cast away, not idolized.  Transforming those very human and very deep emotions is trickier and healthier and what I now aim to do. Living with feelings and using my emotions are things I'm actively figuring out how to do, and how to teach my kids.

I could go on and on. But I won't. The book is wonderful, a great read though not an incredibly fun one. How great to read this with your child (or class), then be able to remind yourself (and for your child to remind you) of the choice we all have when we feel anger: lightening or lamp. The book's simple message has the potential to live in my children and your children for decades. And that is a hallmark of a truly wonderful book. A small critique: I wish it were slightly more accessible for kids.  The illustrations, while beautiful and artsy and Caldecott-worthy, are like poetry--gorgeous but difficult to understand, and they could be a turn off for some kids.

Do read the book for yourself--this might be a picture book your child never reads, or doesn't love.  But you should read it. So check it out for you this time around.

1 comment:

  1. Oh i love this! What a special special book that I wouldn't have found otherwise.