Award-Winning AWB (Award-Winning-Books) 2015 Books GB Challenges It's Monday What Are You Reading Picture Books Reading Themes

[Monday Reading] Old People in Colin Thompson’s Picturebooks: “The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness” and “Free to a Good Home”


Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Award Winning Books Reading Challenge for 2015 (#AWBRead2015)! It’s that time of the year to set new reading goals for the coming year.


Here is the sign up page and the March-April Linky if you already have reviews up. One randomly-selected participant would receive a copy of A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond, courtesy of Pansing books.

A Song for Ella Grey
Click here to see my review for A Song for Ella Grey

Click here to view my announcement post to learn more details.


Colin Thompson is one of the reasons why I fell in love with children’s literature. I am glad to share just a few of his titles that deal with old people and grandmothers. Quite strange titles too – just the way I like them.

IMG_0342The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness

Written and Illustrated byColin Thompson
Published by: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2008
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

George is being raised by his grandmother. The first page gives the reader some idea of George’s life circumstances and how this story is a good example of a non-traditional family that quite a lot of children belong to:

George lived alone with his grandmother in an empty place where his mother and father should have been.


George’s grandmother was a kind lady, but she was very old and the two of them spent most of their lives on different planets.

George’s sense of isolation, while explicitly stated in some of Thompson’s lines, could be more keenly felt through his brooding images in the first few pages where George has his back turned on the reader, hiding in a remote corner of the page:


And since misery loves company, George finds the time to visit the animal shelter on most Friday afternoons as he makes his way home from school. He always finds himself gravitating towards the last cage where the unwanted dogs are found, living out what’s left of their lonely existence “before their journey to heaven.” This is where he found the one-legged dog looking up at him, the loneliness and emptiness mirrored in both their eyes.


And so George found a way to bring this three-legged dog home – a not-so-easy feat which involved him rushing back home to get his grandmother, seek her permission, and rushing back again to the dog shelter to save this dog’s life.


George’s grandmother only raised one concern and went with him after seeing how determined George was. This book explores how two wounded spirits can come together in friendship and find wholeness in each other’s pain. It did remind me a little bit of Fox by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, except that this one has a happier resolution that feeds the soul.

For teachers, here is a downloadable reading guide that includes discussion pointers that teachers can raise in the classroom. And here is a humane beings picturebook pack of books written and illustrated by Colin Thompson which includes The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness – this is a 34-paged downloadable PDF file that has printable worksheets that teachers would be very happy to have.

Free To A Good HomeIMG_0350

Written and Illustrated by: Colin Thompson
Published by: Random House, Australia, 2009
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

This picturebook showcases a family that is quite reminiscent of the Addams Family, or Colin Thompson’s The Floods (his MG/YA series that is definitely worth checking out), and a bit of Patricia Polacco’s The Graves Family. Think peculiar, strange, weird, hippie family and you have a picture of what The Smiths family is like.


Not surprisingly, the children are quite a shade strange as well – they don’t pick up stray cats or stray dogs in the street, they brought home… an old lady.


Very much like Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thingthis old woman has no family that is looking for her, nor a home to go back to. The two children also provided a convincing argument to rationalize the presence of the old woman with their mother always saying that she could use an extra pair of hands around the place and their father always claiming that “You never know when something might come in handy.” Clearly, these kids know how to use their parents’ own words against them to win an argument.


Soon enough, the old lady proved that she isn’t just another mouth to feed. She is able to whip up a mean chocolate strawberry cake complete with icing that Mother with her lack of culinary skills could not hope to even try making (at least in her lifetime):


Not only that, Grandmother also has mad, almost-professional-like skills when it comes to doing house renovations that Father is simply unable to do:


It became very obvious very quickly, though no one ever said it out loud, that the one thing their lives had lacked all these years was an old lady.


Definitely a strange little book that spoke to me on so many levels. And one that Colin Thompson’s fans (or those yet unfamiliar to his work) should definitely check out.

Currently Reading…

I finally finished reading By The Book and Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters – the latter was quite important as we just discussed it yesterday for our GatheringReaders book club for young readers at the Jurong West Public Library. I also finished reading Dan Gemeinhart’s The Honest Truth last night. Will post my review very soon.

I haven’t touched The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman yet, as I am nearing the finish line of this series, and I want to prolong the experience as much as I could. Little progress with Dan Brown’s Inferno which I am finding to be quite boring, truth be told.

I am also supposed to finish The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett this week for our Saturday-Night-Out-for-Book-Geeks meeting by end of this week. Good luck to me!



The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness won the Family Therapists Picture Book of the Year 2009 and Honour Book in the CBCA 2009 awards.

#AWBRead2015 Reading Challenge: (37) 35

12 comments on “[Monday Reading] Old People in Colin Thompson’s Picturebooks: “The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness” and “Free to a Good Home”

  1. Wow. That’s a lot of books! I was just thinking that so many picture books are the same story, but the Thompson books sure aren’t. Not entirely sure if that’s good or bad…


  2. Marjorie

    I love Colin Thompson’s books too but I didn’t know either of these – Thank you 🙂


  3. Both books are certainly unique, Myra. It’s fun to find new kinds of stories. Thanks for sharing these. Best wishes on your reading!


  4. You have a lot going on there! It’s amazing to me how deep some picture books can be.

    I’m glad you enjoyed Sisters. My daughter just read Smile yesterday and loved it.


  5. Wonderful ones shared… I read The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness 3 years ago, feel like I should reread it soon! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and happy reading to you!


  6. Some really intriguing choices! Can’t wait to hear what you think about The Colour of Magic too.


  7. I didn’t know about Free To A Good Home, so will definitely get that one for our library as I love everything Colin Thompson. The Colour of Magic is one of many Discworld books that I have not yet read, although I think I might be a crazy Pratchett fan. (have added it to my toread list)


  8. Kay Mcgriff

    The illustrations in both picture books are gorgeous. You made it through By the Book much more quickly than I did!


  9. The Big Little Book looks like a powerful picture book that could lead to a lot of discussion. Thanks for sharing!


  10. I finished Orangutanka last week and loved seeing your name in the back 🙂
    Happy reading this week – good choices in front of you!


  11. These two books by Colin Thompson look great! And if I was able, I’d join your challenges, but I just can’t commit *sigh*


  12. Pingback: [BHE 183] Singapore Library Warehouse Sale 2015 | Gathering Books

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