It’s raining outside, but Jjajjia and his grandson share a wonderful day of activities, stories and memories.
Sing to the Moon is the most recent of two picture books set in Uganda written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and illustrated by Sandra van Doorn – and what a beauty it is! A young boy dreams of flying, sailing, feasting and wondering, but his reality is far different. He wakes to grey skies, rain and the gloomy prospect of a day of boredom ahead of him. Jiajja, his grandfather, has other plans, however. The pair pack away peas in the storeroom and prepare food for a fish stew, while Jjajja shares childhood memories of friends and fishing. As day continues into evening, Jjajja reveals a glorious stack of books filled with stories – and his superlative talent as a storyteller.
This is a touching and warm tale that highlights the strong intergenerational bond between the young boy and his grandfather. They work side by side, they discover a shared love for guava trees, they explore the pages of storybooks by candlelight and listen to the sounds of the evening (after the rain). The connection between them is reinforced by Sandra van Doorn’s magical illustrations: Jjajjia looks across at his grandson as the boy cleans tilapia for the fish stew; the pair hug under the night sky; Jjiajja lays a gentle hand on his grandson’s shoulder as they perch on a tree branch.
The theme of stories and memories runs as a constant thread throughout the picture book. Jjajjia tells his grandson snippets of information about his childhood, and tales that have been passed down through the ages:
‘…tales of lost cities and great heaps of gold/…African kingdoms and sights to behold.’
There is a real sense of continuity – of preserving family memories and literary heritage by sharing stories with the younger generation. And, of course, Jjajjia and his grandson are creating a new set of memories for themselves, of magical moments spent together on a rainy day.
Written in rhyming verse (although this is not immediately obvious from the format), the text has a lovely flow and feel, especially when read aloud. As in her first picture book Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl incorporates a number of references to Uganda, where the story is set, including a chatty and informative letter to the reader in the back matter. Here, we learn that Jjajjia is the Lugandan word for ‘grandfather’ and that Uganda has two very long rainy seasons, as well as some remarkable flora and fauna. I love that illustrator Sandra van Doorn has printed the words ‘Product of Uganda’ on the bags of peas, too! The context provides a fascinating extra dimension (or reassuring familiarity) to a story that is sure to appeal to children and adults everywhere.
Sing to the Moon is a wonderfully comforting read, especially at bedtime, when children can sleep safe in the knowledge that they are loved. And wake up knowing that a day of discovery lies ahead of them, rain or shine!
Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra van Doorn (Lantana Publishing, 2018)
Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl was born in the United States to Ugandan parents and currently lives in South Africa. She is an expert technical writer with more than 15 years’ experience in global health, education and social protection in Sub-Saharan Africa. She has published two picture books with Lantana Publishing both illustrated by Sandra van Doorn.
Sandra van Doorn is a freelance illustrator who has published children’s books in the UK, Canada and Greece. She was born in France, studied at university in Canada, and now lives in Western Australia.
Click here for my review of Sleep Well, Siba and Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, illustrated by Sandra van Doorn.