Dear Mr. G

By Christine Evans, illustrated by Gracey Zhang. Union Square Kids, 2023. 32 pages. $17.99/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4–8.

Dear Mr. G is a gentle, sweet story of friendship between two unlikely pen pals. When young Jackson accidentally kicks his soccer ball into the roses of his neighbor Mr. Graham, he writes a simple note of apology and delivers it with scones he made with his mother. Mr. G responds with an acceptance of Jackson’s apology and an invitation for his young neighbor to learn more about growing roses. Thus begins a warm friendship between Jackson and Mr. G, punctuated by many letters back and forth. When Mr. G moves into a senior living facility, the friendship continues through more letters and a visit. Jackson and his surrogate grandfather remain friends through the rest of Mr. G’s life.

This lovely story, told completely through letters and the colorful, playful artwork of Gracey Zhang, highlights the strengths of community. Mr. G and Jackson are different in many ways, but in their letters, they discover how much they have in common, including birthdays a week (and more than a few years) apart. The act of apology that begins the story is a gesture of peace, a wonderful example of owning one’s actions and the integrity of admitting wrongdoing. There is joy on every page and parallels shown between the simple, happy life of a young child and that of a senior citizen.

Mr. G’s roses play an important role: first as a reason for their correspondence and then as an ongoing project, as Mr. G teaches Jackson how to care for the plants. When Mr. G moves away, he asks Jackson and his mother to move the roses into their yard. In winter, as Mr. G’s life is beginning to wane, the roses appear dead, but Mr. G assures Jackson that they will bloom again in the spring, offering hope. Mr. G’s passing is handled delicately, so much so that young readers may not realize he has died. This in no way changes the impact of the story.

Young readers of this story may be inspired to write letters of their own, a novelty to some in this era. They may also recognize the benefit of befriending people from other generations or be moved to talk more with their grandparents or great-grandparents. They may decide to try gardening, or perhaps, they will just be warmed by the story of the friendship between Jackson and Mr. G. In any case, they will smile.

Karen Clark, a convinced Friend, is a member of Little Falls Meeting in Fallston, Md., and a fifth-grade teacher at Friends School of Baltimore. She has taught in independent schools for 22 years, educating students from preschool through middle school.

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