Are All Tales, Stories? Are All Stories, Tales? A PatSays Children’s Book Review of GREAT GRANDMA’S SHED, Marcum Road Follies by Helen Nickolson

Way back there, in your growing up days, did you ever have an elderly relative or family friend (such as, Grandpa Gemballa or Mimi Maserati?; what about a Great Uncle Edsel, or an elderly Miss Audi?) tell you any made-up-on-the-spot stories? Perhaps you did. And perhaps it came in the form of a campfire experience, or around the dinner table, or at bedtime. Storytelling, legends, etc. is nothing new. It’s as old as Adam and Eve. Most of us enjoy being “generational-passer-downers”, in hopes that our younger generation hears about the family history. Storytelling is as natural an act for some people, as snoring is for others. Have you ever noticed that some people are better at telling stories than others?And, some story tellers never need an opening, right? Given a right situation, right moment, and right audience, and they are off! In fact, it is how the children’s book, GREAT GRANDMA’S SHED, Marcum Road Follies, published by Adelaide Books, came to be. Its author, Helen Nickolson, writes this in the introduction page for readers:

“While driving my daughter Katherine to daycare about 28 years ago, I began telling her my ‘dreams’ about Old Red, the kind convertible with magical powers.” 

From her opening sentence until its last paragraph, the writer details her “dreams/follies” using an old convertible as its main character. But, Old Red, remains a mystery until the second page with no picture ; and then, four pages later, Old Red appears through an illustration of “himself” and Great Grandma Erica inside her shed. Out of the book’s 52 pages which are divided into seven chapters and fourteen single-paged, lighthearted illustrations by artist Tanya Maneki, the book turns into “long-tales-with-limited-art format”. This style of writing does not often hold a young child’s attention.

The book’s title, GREAT GRANDMA’S SHED, Marcum Road Follies, implies that the book is about a shed; when, instead, the book is about an old car named, Old Red. The magical powers of the convertible, as well as assigning it with human qualities, does not transition well mentally, even though the adventures reveal writing with humor, real fears, and kids in happy scenarios. Her “dreams”, as author Nickolson labels the book’s contents, provide lengthy tales, which some children may enjoy. But, other children may “balk at all of the talk,” as mentioned before. Why so? Could it be that because “follies” don’t replace stories well?

Put it this way: If powdered cocoa were to replace a Hershey’s® chocolate bar in a S’Mores recipe, would people still love eating one? Obviously not. Both chocolates are in the same food group, the Hershey®’s candy bar tasting sweet, while the other, the cocoa powder, tasting bitter. Even so, cocoa cannot be denied as an important and necessary food source in cooking and baking. Therefore, both kinds of chocolate prove to be essential items; but, both differ in nature and purpose. So, too, are kids’ books. Most writers of children’s literature categorize their own books appropriately, e.g., picture books, YA fiction & nonfiction, fairy tales, and so on. Yet, not every children’s writer has the option available from his publisher to do the categorizing, which means the book might result in being overlooked, reviewed poorly, or DOA.

So, for you reader/storyteller adults–be you a Grandpa Gemballa, a Grandma Maserati, Great Uncle Edsel, or elderly Miss Audi, read the books for yourself first. Then, ask some silly questions:

A. Is it a Hershey®’s Chocolate Bar STORY?

B. A cocoa powder TALE?

C. Or, could it be Cadbury Egg® Legend?

D. Might it be a Whitmer’s Box of Chocolates® Folly?

Then, after you decide, and you’ve read the book aloud to your kids, ask them some silly and chocolaty questions about it. Kids will get it–honestly, they will.

Mrs. Patricia Ann Timbrook, PatSays Children’s Book Reviewer, March 25, 2020

Are All Tales, Stories? Are All Stories, Tales? A PatSays Children’s Book Review of GREAT GRANDMA’S SHED, Marcum Road Follies by Helen Nickolson