I was drawn to The Hello, Goodbye Window not because of the star-studded author-illustrator pair, but because it depicts two interracial couples and a biracial girl.
I continue to search far and wide for children’s books that feature families other than racially homogeneous or heterosexual ones. This book is the 2006 Caldecott medal winner from illustrator Chris Raschka (A Ball for Daisy was the 2012 winner) and author Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth.) It’s not a didactic book about race relations. The extended family just happens to be composed of people of different races.
The story is structured around a young girl’s day with her grandparents and it’s centered on their kitchen window. In the first person, the girl tells about the routines of a visit with her grandparents, beginning with the Hello’s called through the window and ending with the Goodbye’s waved through it as she’s leaving. The familial love portrayed here is layered with humor, imagination, and the idiosyncrasies of the grandparents, Poppy and Nanna. Poppy plays the harmonica, chases her with the garden hose, jokes with her about her reflection in the window, hides raisins in her breakfast oatmeal, and greets the morning this way: “HELLO, WORLD! WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR US TODAY?” Because of these finely observed details, the story avoids a descent into a saccharine depiction of close familial bonds. The whimsy of the pictures is a critical component as well. While drawn by an expert, they are convincingly child-like in their use of exuberant color and vibrant motion.
First-person narration in a children’s book seldom rings true. Here it feels believable because you can imagine a verbally precocious child parroting the phrases she’s heard others say. Sometimes Poppy plays his harmonica for me. He can only play one song, “Oh, Susannah.” But he can play it a lot of different ways. He can play it slow or fast or he can play it sitting down or standing up. He says he can even play it and drink a glass of water at the same time, but I’ve never seen him do that. (The only place I was jolted out of the story was in the illustration that depicts the girl who still takes naps on a two-wheel bike.) In this story, the first-person point-of-view works to draw the reader right into the events to see Nanna and Poppy’s delightful quirkiness up close.