Written & illustrated by Henry Blackshaw
Published by Cicada Books ISBN: 978-1-908714-93-0
Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster
Rules, rules, rules. Who can live without rules? Well, the boy in Grandma’s House of Rules wishes that his Grandma didn’t have so many. Grandma has a prized family heirloom that mustn’t even be approached, never mind touched – how will the boy cope with this rule? In a tale about coping with responsibilities and finding surprising solutions to problems, our young hero discovers his Grandma is not quite what she seems.
In a drawing style that is direct and simplified we see the world of a boy who appears to be in a small English village, however he uses a vernacular closer to that of folks Stateside. The boy is dropped off at his grandma’s house by an enthusiastic mother who speeds off without so much as a by your leave. She is happy! The boy loves visiting his Grandma, but he is stressed out by her many rules – Don’t jump on the bed, or leave the loo seat up, or put your elbows on the table, etc.
Even after he finds out why there are so many rules, he still can’t process this new information. Surprisingly Grandma goes out shopping and leaves the boy alone. What could possibly go wrong?
This error of judgement on Grandma’s part provides the main drama and fun in this narrative. The pared back illustrations come into their own at this stage of the story as there is so much going on and clarity is extremely important. The sequence of disasters builds to a satisfying crescendo that includes a pair of china dogs and Grandma’s prized family heirloom.
There is a graphic device that decorates the boy’s T-shirt that is used to great effect on several pages when the energized lines overlap and synchronise with calamitous outcomes. Grandma’s ever present grey cat adds to the humour, sometimes it mimics the boy’s growing distress.
Henry Blackshaw keeps things simple in his plotting and direct in his artistic style and I applaud him for that. It helps him to set up a compassionate ending that young readers will appreciate and identify with. The boy has no name, and this feels like a deliberate act to make the character more universal. If you do love your Grandma, then be assured that she loves you so much more.