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The Picture Book Buzz

When Grandfather Flew - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Patricia MacLachlan and Chris Sheban have teamed up together to create another stunning and poignant picture book which released on July 27th.

When Grandfather Flew

Author: Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrator : Chris Sheban

Publisher: Neal Porter Books (2021)

Ages: 4-8


Birding, family, death, grief, memories, and healing.


Milo's grandfather is fascinated with birds. He admires their freedom and never loses an opportunity to point out the things that make them special. He can't see like he used to, so Milo helps him spot and take care of some of his favorites: hovering Kestrels, fragile Chickadees, and the soaring Bald Eagle. One day when Milo comes home, Grandpa isn't there, but when he sees a Bald Eagle swoop through the sky above, he knows Grandpa got his wish of being reborn in the skies.

With When Grandfather Flew, acclaimed author Patricia MacLachlan brings readers an honest, reflective, and deeply moving portrait of grief and memory.

Opening Lines:

My grandfather loved birds.

When we were younger—

before his hair turned white

and when he could still see—

my older brother, Aidan, and I

called him “birdman.”

We gave us binoculars so we

could be bird lovers too.

What I LOVED about this book:

First off that cover is so stunning and the title tantalizing, that you just have to open the book! Then this opening spread of grandfather journaling his observations (which form the end pages - see Patricia & Chris' interview Monday for a look at these) is so deceptively simple, but totally encapsulates the story. Especially when you turn the page and you suspect he might not be able to enjoy his passion anymore - when the child narrator says, "before his hair turned white and when he could still see - ."

Text © Patricia MacLachlan, 2021. Image © Chris Sheban, 2021.

Told by the granddaughter, Emma, this is a touching story of a grandfather and his grandchildren who shared a love for birding and a deep affection for each other. The youngest, Milo, developed a shared connection to the birds and his grandfather, as he listened while his grandfather talked about his love for the "brisk wingbeat of the sharp-shinned hawk/the hovering kestrel/and...the high-soaring bald eagle."

Text © Patricia MacLachlan, 2021. Image © Chris Sheban, 2021.

When a chickadee grandfather rescued, after it flew into the window, had recovered, he placed in Emma's hands so she could release it. Sharing with her the marvel and wonder of nature. Being a birder myself, and having rescued a few birds, I totally understood the myriad of overwhelming emotions that Emma experienced at that moment. And as a writer, am I awe of Patricia MacLachlan's ability to capture it all in so few words.

Text © Patricia MacLachlan, 2021. Image © Chris Sheban, 2021.

Accompanying text that tugs at the reader's heartstrings, the soft, almost chalk-like, watercolor, pastel, and pencil illustrations tenderly follow the grandfather as he gradually loses his ability to see the birds. However, we also watch as first Milo helps him identify the sounds he hears and then a home care nurse learns to share grandfather's wonder and love for watching birds. Both of them helping him continue to do what he loves. The tenderness which this story is told and illustrated will make it a go-to book for anyone experiencing the degradation or loss of a loved one or beloved pet.

The ending is both poignant, honest, and reassuring. It's a wonderful intergenerational story full of love for each other and for nature. A book that might help children, and adults, find ways to remember friends and family they've lost. It's definitely a treasure not to be missed.


or song bird ( Or if you enjoy origami, how many other birds can you make?

- do you have a favorite bird? Draw a picture or write a story about this bird.

- start a list of all the birds you see. How many live around your house or town? Use a bird book or The Cornell Lab's online bird identification guide ( to identify ones you don't know.

- what's something special you do (or did) with your grandparents, Aunt or Uncle, other family member, or pet? Why or how does seeing the Bald eagle make Milo feel better? Do you think he'll continue birding? Would, or do, you continue your special activity?

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Patricia MacLachlan and Chris Sheban (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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