cover image Grand Fathers

Grand Fathers

. Henry Holt & Company, $18.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5484-2

""Know your history!"" These words, uttered by the man whom artist Ashley Bryan adopted as a grandfather, are taken to heart by all of the contributors to this collection, a companion volume to Giovanni's Grand Mothers. While some of the 47 writers of these poems and reminiscences (and even a song) celebrate the relationship between grandfather and grandchild, the majority focus on documenting the lives of the men who came before them, setting down details of births, marriages, children and careers as a testament to their courage, strong wills and, occasionally, to their failures. Eugenia Collier crafts a toast to her step-grandfather, born ""in the first generation after slavery""; Walter J. Leonard relates the pithy words of wisdom he learned from his grandfather's experience as teacher and minister. In a finely honed piece, Lydie Raschka writes of her Norwegian grandfather (""Talking was not his strong point""), who raised his two children alone after his wife's suicide. Marina Budhos attests, in spare language, to the power of her Russian Jewish grandfather even after he disowns his daughter. Few of the pieces tell a sustained story; rather, like mosaics, they capture their subjects by juxtaposing small snippets of a life one against another. This technique, as well as the mature insights and sensibilities of the essayists, may attract more adults than teens. Though a fitting homage, this volume, with its smattering of handsome black-and-white photographs, is most effective as a moving collection of American social history. Ages 11-up. (June)