Next-door neighbours Harry and Walter are best friends. Harry is four and three-quarters and Walter is 92 and a half. Despite the generation gap, the “boys” do everything together, from making paper airplanes to building snowmen. Then Harry moves away. Will the buddies ever see each other again? The ending is thankfully not what a reader might expect.
Kathy Stinson’s newest picture book is lighter in tone than her TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award–winning The Man with the Violin. Also inspired by a true story (note Stinson’s dedication at the beginning of the book), Harry and Walter feels timeless. The title characters have good old-fashioned fun together, eating fresh-picked, garden-ripe tomatoes and doing jigsaw puzzles. Stinson does a remarkable job of making the unusual friendship feel genuine and non-hierarchical despite the vast age difference.
Illustrator Qin Leng (Song for a Summer Night, A Flock of Shoes) perfectly captures the spirit of this intergenerational story with flowing lines and cheerful colours. Her pictures are loaded with energy, and are crafted so meticulously that they alone could tell the story. On one page, Harry and Walter build a snowman together. On the following spread, spring has come and the snowman, now half-melted, gazes sadly at the for-sale sign that has appeared on Harry’s lawn. Details such as these help the story come alive.
Harry and Walter is a tale best shared one-on-one, perhaps between grandparents and grandchildren. Though the sentiment will be immediately obvious, it may take a few readings to fully appreciate this quiet tour de force that takes the reader by surprise.