THE heartache and loneliness of families divided by distance is nothing new in Ireland’s long history of emigration.
What has changed over many decades, however, is the ease of communication across the miles. Where once letters from America were awaited for weeks on end, now Skype and Zoom calls bring long-distant relatives together in a virtual sense at the click of a mouse.
During Covid-19 lockdown, most of us have been thankful for the technology that has allowed us to connect with loved ones abroad while we could not meet in person.
Despite the wonders of new technology though, nothing can replicate the warmth of a real-life hug and time spent in the company of family.
So if ever there was a book released at the perfect time, it’s James Kelly’s Granny’s Special Delivery, a tale of a grandmother and grand-daughter for whom their weekly video call is just not enough.
Stuck in London as her granny sits isolated and lonely at home in rural Ireland, Aisling decides to take matters into her own hands.
She has a startlingly simple solution, as long as you don’t worry too much about the practicalities…
“She wrapped herself up with brown paper and tape. Then she wrote her Granny’s address on her forehead and put a postage stamp there too. Then she posted herself back to her Granny!”
Squeezing herself into a post box is the first challenge for Aisling, but being fairly small, she seems to fit in OK, and is soon whiling away the hours until collection time by opening the letters in the box and reading other people’s mail.
The postwoman who empties the box doesn’t appear fazed by the presence of a child with a postage stamp on her head, and packs Aisling into her van, en route to the boat to Ireland.
Not content with letter-snooping, Aisling makes sure she doesn’t go hungry on her voyage, by opening up her fellow parcels until she finds something to eat.
Her odyssey continues when she is processed and delivered by An Post, whose staff also take the appearance of a human parcel in their stride. “The old man in the sorting office looked at Aisling’s forehead to read the address, gently stamped her forehead and placed her on the conveyor belt.”
While the multiple impossibilities of the scenario may temper adult appreciation of this picture book, Aisling’s direct approach to problem-solving gives Granny’s Special Delivery an endearing innocence.
Human mail as a concept has been done before, including in a fictional context by Jeff Brown in Flat Stanley, and in real life by Reg Spiers, who successfully posted himself from London to Australia in a box in 1964, so the book should perhaps include the caveat: Don’t try this at home children.
For author James Kelly, a Macrompian living in Carrigaline, it was a case of reality inspiring fiction.
He admits to “planning and procrastinating for nearly 30 years to write a children’s book” before lockdown presented the opportunity to put his daughter Aisling’s imagined adventures down on paper.
Living in London with her family, the real Aisling, then aged five, missed her granny Nora Coughlan in Macroom, longing to spend the summer holidays with her and, says James, “sad to leave her when it was time to go home”.
Though Aisling, now a nutritional therapist, did not take the drastic steps described in her father’s book, her dream of finding a way back to Ireland provided his inspiration and immortalised Granny Nora, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 96.
Illustrated by Carrigaline artist Rita Dineen, Granny’s Special Delivery is available at local bookshops, with proceeds going to the Heart Angel charity, based in Carrigaline and set up by Eoin and Irene O’Connor in memory of their daughter Beibhinn, who passed away last year.
The fictional Aisling’s free-spirited determination — and her journey of confinement — have certain echoes in a new collaboration between Swapna Haddow and Cork illustrator Sheena Dempsey.
The creators of the ‘Dave Pigeon’ series join forces again for the equally side-splittingly witty Bad Panda (Faber & Faber €8.40).
Striking a chord with all those sick of keeping up appearances, this is the story of Lin, a panda whose lot in life is to be ogled at in a zoo by humans calling her a cute “fluffy-wuffy bear”.
Lin yearns for the freedom of privacy and the right to get disgustingly dirty, enjoyed by her less attractive brother, Face-Like-A-Bag-of-Potatoes.
Crated and shipped to a zoo, Lin is determined to convince her human captors she is a rotter of a panda and should be sent straight home. However, despite her best and most hilarious efforts, it’s hard to get people to take your badness seriously when they’ve confused your head for your bottom because you’re so “sooooper-doooooper fluffy”.
Dempsey’s black, white, and red illustrations, in the not-at-all-cute colours of a panda with a ribbon in her fur, are as central to the humour as Haddow’s wit, in this comic-style book likely to entice even reluctant readers aged six-plus.
Pet O’Connell takes delivery of two books with a distinctive Cork stamp