Kid Lit Review of “Big Papa and the Time Machine” by Daniel Bernstrom

In an Author’s Note, Bernstrom tells us that the stories in this book are his grandpa’s stories (he called him Papa). Bernstrom’s grandfather passed away shortly after he began writing it, and he writes:

“Whenever I miss him, it’s as if, when I open this book, I’m sitting beside my papa as we are driving through Chicago, talking to each other once again.”

He begins with a story from 1952 in Little Rock, Arkansas, when Papa left home to move to Chicago and find work. He was “scared to death.” But, as Papa insisted, “sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the one you want. That’s called being brave.”

Bernstrom explains that Papa would drive him around and “slip in small stories of ordinary courage,” which one often has to call upon both as a Black man and as a human being generally.

In 1955, Papa had to overcome his fears to work atop skyscrapers. In 1957, he saw Nana at a blues club and had to summon the courage to ask her to dance. He explained to his grandson:

“I tell you, I was scared. But sometimes you gotta jump in an ocean of scared if you ever gonna dance with an angel. That’s called being brave.”

In 1986, Bernstrom’s mother left him with Papa and never came back. He was scared he was too old to bring up a child, but “sometimes you gotta love the unexpected if you ever gonna find love at all.”

Bernstrom asked his Papa, “‘Does being scared ever go away? No,’ Big Papa said.’” He explained he was scared right now, because his grandson was growing up too fast, and he already missed him:

“I hugged Big Papa tighter than tight. ‘But that’s called being brave?’ ‘Yes,’ Big Papa said. ‘That’s called being brave.’”

That’s not me crying! I have something in my eye!

Award-winning illustrator Shane W. Evans works his usual magic with the text, with brightly colored whimsical illustrations.

Evaluation: This book for readers 4 and up is a treat for all ages.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2020

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2 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Big Papa and the Time Machine” by Daniel Bernstrom

  1. Mae Sander says:

    Your review makes this book sound very sad, especially for children who would worry about being left behind. What happened to the grandmother, for example? I don’t have any little ones to read to at the moment, so I don’t think I’ll look at it, though.

    best… mae at

  2. Beth F says:

    What a moving and loving book about love, family, and being brave. It so comforting to everyone to know that they’re not alone when they’re feeling scared–that everyone can feel unsure, even grownups. I’m going to see if my library has a copy.

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