Grandma’s House of Rules by Henry Blackshaw

Values: Trust, Respect and Forgiveness.

This humorous and clever picture book centres around a strict, rule-setting grandmother, her grandson and an expressive cat. There is an element of slapstick comedy in the story as the more the grandson tries to abide by Grandma’s rules, the more that goes wrong. This is embedded in the way the cat reacts and his accompanying thought bubbles.

In the book, the grandson loves his Grandma very much, but whenever he visits her house, he must remember all of the rules whilst Grandma watches over him, arms folded. Even the cat anxiously watches on. Despite all Grandma’s little ways, there is one precious ornament that must not be touched – the big, blue and white vase.

One day, Grandma has to go out and leaves her grandson at home, with a gentle reminder, “Be good, Kid, just remember those few rules.” Inevitably, it all starts off well, but quickly begins to unravel. The blue and white vase ends up getting smashed… and the grandson has to try and mend it. The unexpected twist at the end is that Grandma realises all of her rules are a little unnecessary, and hugs her grandson, explaining that he may have broken her vase, but he can’t break her heart.

I read an interview with Henry Blackshaw on The Reading Realm where he discusses the inspiration for the book. He attributes many of Grandma’s traditional ways to those of his family: he grew up in a loving, but strict household where there were plenty of little rules. I like the way Blackshaw has incorporated many of the household furniture and objects to his own grandparents or extended family, and this is what makes the book feel authentic and genuine whilst funny and entertaining.

The Values that I think are explored in this book are trust, respect and forgiveness. Firstly, the value of trust. Although Grandma appears to not trust her grandson in the first half of the book – watching ominously in the background of many of the pages - she does trust him enough to leave him home alone. Her grandson, not wanting to upset her, tries his best to follow her guidance. He wants Grandma to trust him. When things start to go wrong, and he realises he may have broken her trust, he panics. Grandma appears initially angry, but then realises that maybe her grandson has made some changes for the better; he didn’t lose her trust, but just helped her see things differently. The two are even playing together at the end of the story! Asking children when they have trusted someone with something special is a nice way of thinking about this value. Also asking children to articulate how it feels when someone trusts them is an interesting conversation.

Secondly, the value of respect. In the book, Grandma explains the reason she has so many rules is because this has always been the case in her family. She has grown up respecting the rules, and expects her family to do the same. Her grandson tries his best to respect the rules too. This is such a good talking point for children in schools: why do we respect rules? What happens when people don’t respect the rules? Are respecting rules linked to respecting people?

Thirdly, the value of forgiveness. We talk a lot about forgiveness in schools, but it is actually quite rarely represented in picture books. This book shows that although Grandma is initially upset and angry at the broken vase, she forgives her grandson and even has a laugh using the fixed vase as a hat. The problem actually creates a new opportunity – one for reflection and a change in ways. Talking to children about how and why we forgive people is an interesting circle time!

This is a newly-published book in the UK and not released in the US until 2022. I was lucky enough to be sent my copy from Cicada, but am under no obligation to post about it. This unique and funny book brings the opportunity for plenty of discussions though, and I enjoyed reading it. I will pop it in my Year 6 book corner at work and see what the children make of it independently for a few weeks, before reading it together.

You can find other books with these values by clicking the links: