Cover image for Inside Grandad
Inside Grandad
Dickinson, Peter, 1927-2015.
Publication Information:
New York : Wendy Lamb Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
117 pages ; 22 cm
Gavin tries to enlist the help of selkies--seal people--to communicate with his comatose grandfather.
Reading Level:

970 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.5 5.0 76700.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 5.8 9 Quiz: 41390.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



An unusual and moving story about the magical bond between a boy and his grandfather. Does it just happen that Gavin and Grandad see the seal while they are fishing in the harbor? Just happen that Grandad talks about the selkies, the seal people who can leave the water and take human form? Just happen that Grandad is finishing the beautiful miniature boat he's making for Gavin's tenth birthday, and Gavin decides to call her Selkie? And at that moment, Grandad has his stroke. Could the selkies have something to do with all this? Day after day at the hospital, Gavin tries to get through to helpless and speechless Grandad, trying to reach him, explain what's happened to him. Everyone else has given up. But Gavin will try anything. Even asking the selkies to help. To do that, he must give them something to show them how much it matters. What is the dearest thing he owns? From the Hardcover edition.

Author Notes

Peter Dickinson was born in Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia on December 16, 1927. He served in the British Army before receiving a B.A. in English literature from King's College, Cambridge in 1951. He was an assistant editor and reviewer for Punch Magazine for seventeen years. His first book, The Weathermonger, was published in 1968. He has written over 50 books for adults and young adults. His works for adults include Death of a Unicorn, Skeleton-in-Waiting, Perfect Gallows, The Yellow Room Conspiracy, and Some Deaths Before Dying. His works for young adults include The Iron Lion, The Ropemaker, Angel Isle, and In the Palace of the Khans. He has won several awards including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award in 1989 for Eva, the Carnegie Medal in 1979 for Tulku and in 1980 for City of Gold, the Whitbread Children's Prize for Tulku, and the Crime Writer's Golden Dagger for Skin Deep in 1968 and A Pride of Heroes in 1969. In 2009, he was awarded the OBE for services to literature. He died after a brief illness on December 16, 2015 at the age of 88.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 3-6. Many of Dickinson's best stories, such as Eva (1988), are set on the edge between the ordinary and the magical, and in this small book his simple, beautiful words once again root the fantasy in real places and daily routine. The most important person in 11-year-old Gavin's life is his grandfather, but after a severe stroke, Grandad lies in the hospital bed totally unresponsive. Gavin tries everything to reach his beloved companion, but to no avail. The boy feels meaningless, exhausted--until, with the help of a mythical selkie, he finds himself inside his grandfather's thoughts, talks to Grandad, and brings him back, at least for the moment. The fantasy works well; the bond between Gavin and Grandad is understated, yet so deep that the boy and his beloved relative can easily imagine one another's lives. They remember--and Gavin will always remember--their times together at the ocean, on the edge between sea and shore, where they glimpsed what might have been a selkie. The love and grief in the story will touch many readers. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Magic hovers just beneath the surface of Dickinson's (The Ropemaker) lyrical tale. Grandad is young Gavin's dear friend and confidante -his father is away at sea, his mother and grandmother are too often at work. The boy and his grandfather spend their days together fishing along the shores of their Scotland home. A skilled maker of model boats, Grandad is nearly finished building one for Gavin when a stroke renders him silent and motionless in a hospital bed. For Gavin, the fact that Grandad suffered the stroke while he was talking about the fabled "selkies" (a race of half-seal/half-men who sometimes come onto dry land to walk among us) is more than a coincidence. In a powerful scene, Gavin offers up an enormous sacrifice to the selkies if they will "please, please help me get Grandad back." While such a summary suggests a fantasy, the author remains more concerned with the quieter moments and emotions that define the characters' tender relationships. His depiction of the silent pain of one who sits bedside in a hospital, hour after hour, with only the most tenuous strands of hope, is heartbreaking. The road to the hopeful but honest conclusion is thoughtful but never maudlin, and the insights the author offers will linger long after journey's end. Ages 9-12. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-A meticulously crafted novel about 11-year-old Gavin, whose beloved grandfather suffers a debilitating stroke. Set in a Scottish seaside town, the story is rich in imagery that centers on the sea: Gavin's father works on a big container ship, his grandfather builds exquisite model boats, and a seal-or possibly a selkie-plays a crucial role in Grandad's possible recovery. The plot itself is fairly uneventful, yet Gavin's inner life is complex and interesting. Dickinson describes subtle things with beautiful simplicity ("-not dead, but not alive either. Like a turned-off TV-there's always a faint hum when the set's on- but when the set's off you can tell the difference. Like that"); his flashes of quiet humor enliven the characterizations (Gran's monologues, full of tangents, non sequiturs, and pithy observations, are a delight). Like the author's Eva (Laurel-Leaf, 1990), this story touches on the mysteries of identity and transference. Experienced and thoughtful readers are in for a treat with this lovely story that hovers at the edge of fantasy.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 Gavin and Grandad were fishing for mackerel from the harbor wall when the seal popped its head out of the water. For a moment Gavin thought it was a loose net-float bobbing about. Then he saw the two eyes, large, round, and glistening black, staring straight at him. The thing rose a bit more and he saw the whiskery muzzle and knew what he was looking at. He'd never seen a seal that close. They often came to Stonehaven but usually stayed farther out. What's more, though it must have seen Gavin, it didn't duck out of sight but stayed where it was, staring. Gavin stared straight back. "It looks like Dodgem begging for handouts," he said. (Dodgem was Gran's dog, a sort-of-bulldog. He looked tough, but was really a total wimp, and lazy and greedy with it. You couldn't imagine him dodging anything. Gavin's elder brother, Donald, swore he'd once seen him collide with an old woman with a walker, though he'd been moving slower than she had. Grandad and Gavin didn't pay much attention to him. He was just there.) Grandad hadn't seen the seal because he was putting his tackle away. The harbor wasn't the best place to fish, but there wasn't time to go anywhere else between Gavin coming out of school and getting home to cook tea. Still, they'd been lucky that afternoon. Gavin had hooked into a half-size mackerel almost at once. Perhaps he should have thrown it back, but he'd kept it because they mightn't get anything else, and by the time they'd caught five more good ones it was dead. Now Grandad looked up, grunted, and picked the half-size fish out of his creel. Gavin took it and tossed it to the seal. The seal wasn't a trained seal in an aquarium, so it didn't reach up and catch the fish in midair but snapped it up just as it hit the water, and dived out of sight. Tacky Steward, fishing twenty yards off along the wall, shouted at Grandad for encouraging seals to come to the harbor. They scared the fish off, he said. "Plenty to go round," said Grandad mildly. Nothing fazed Grandad. That made Tacky even madder. He hadn't caught much. He never did, and it was always someone else's fault. He shouted some more and the seal popped its head out of the water as if it wanted to see what the fuss was about. The mackerel's tail was sticking out of the corner of its mouth until the seal threw its head back and sort of gargled it down. "You're welcome," said Gavin. The seal blinked, as if it hadn't expected to be spoken to like that. "See you soon," said Gavin. The seal seemed to nod before it dived out of sight. "Mr. Steward's right, though, isn't he?" Gavin said as they trudged up the hill. "If you feed the seals they'll come for more." "Maybe," said Grandad. "But Tacky's got no cause to go yelling at me like that. There's ways of making your point, and ways of not." "I liked the seal," said Gavin. "It looked like it knew what I was saying to it." "Could be," said Grandad. "What do you mean?" "There's more to seals than they show you on the telly. Know what a selkie is, boy?" "A selkie?" "They're seal-people, selkies. See them in the water, and they're seals all right. But come ashore, and you wouldn't know them from people. There's stories of selkie women falling in love with farmers, and marrying them, and living on land for a while and raising a family, until the pull of the sea got too strong for them and they went back and turned themselves into seals again." "You don't really believe that." "Tacky doesn't. No imagination." You didn't always get a straight answer out of Grandad. Gavin tried somewhere else. "Did they have children--the selkie women who married the farmers?" "Says so in the stories." "Some of them would have been selkies too, wouldn't they? Half selkies, anyway?" "Stands to reason." "Do you think we've had any of them in our family? We can't keep away from the sea either." (Far back as anybody knew, the Robinson men had always been sailors, fishermen or seamen on merchant ships, mostly. Grandad had been a ship's engineer. Dad was first mate on a big container ship. He was in the Caribbean right now. Donald was in Edinburgh, training to be a doctor, but chances were he'd finish up doctoring people on a ship.) "Don't see why not," said Grandad. They fell silent and trudged on up the hill to Arduthie Road. Stonehaven was a steep, dark gray town nestling round its bay. It was always uphill going home. Grandad was the most important person in Gavin's life. Once, when Gavin was smaller, his teacher had told her class to draw their mums, or whoever else looked after them. Gavin had drawn Grandad. It was a small kid's picture, of course, all wrong, but you could still see it was Grandad, short and square, with a shiny bald head, brown and mottled, and with spectacles and a bushy gray mustache. In Gavin's picture the mustache was almost as big as Grandad's head. Gavin had a perfectly good mum, and she lived in the same house. So did Gran, and Dad too, when he was home, but most of the time he wasn't, and Mum and Gran both worked. Mum was an estate agent, helping people buy and sell houses, and Gran sold things at Hankin's, the big hardware store down in the square. Grandad was eighteen years older than Gran, so he'd retired when Gavin had still been small, and soon after that the family had sold their two separate houses and bought the one in Arduthie Road. The idea was that Gran would look after Gavin so that Mum could go back to her job, because they needed the extra money; but almost at once Gran had got bored with that arrangement--she needed people to talk to, even if it was only about size-ten countersunk screws and stuff--so she went back to work too and Grandad started doing the looking after. So it had been Grandad who'd taken Gavin to his first school and fetched him back and done things with him after and cooked his tea and put him to bed like as not, because Mum often worked late, showing houses to clients, while Gran cooked grown-up tea. Nowadays, when Gavin didn't go to bed much earlier than anyone else, he and Grandad cooked what Grandad still called tea and Mum called supper. Sometimes Gavin wondered a bit guiltily if it would make a lot of difference if Mum and Gran just vanished one day and never came back. Not much, he decided, except that the house would be a lot quieter in the times when they used to be there. (Gran liked to talk. She did it like breathing--all the time. Mum wasn't so bad, unless there were plans and arrangements to be made. She could out-talk Gran then, no problem.) But if Grandad vanished . . . He was seventy-four already. . . . He was bound to die one day. . . . Gavin couldn't bear to think about it. The great thing about Grandad was that he understood what it was like being Gavin. He always had, even when Gavin was small--understood what made him miserable or happy or angry or afraid, even things that Gavin was ashamed to talk about to anyone. Like when Dave Murray had been giving him a hard time in his fourth year and he didn't want anyone to know how scared he was of going to school each morning, but Grandad had noticed and got it out of him and told him how to deal with it. He'd let Gavin think he'd done it all on his own too, but later on Gavin guessed that he'd gone round and seen Mrs. Whebbery after school and sorted it out with her. Excerpted from Inside Grandad by Peter Dickinson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.