#1239 – BIG PAPA AND THE TIME MACHINE by Daniel Bernstrom & Shane W. Evans



Written by Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Harper 1/14/2020
32 ages   Age 4—8

Genre:  Children’s Picture Book, Fiction
Themes: African-American History, Generational Love & Sharing


We took Big Papa’s time machine to a long time ago.
We took it to when Big Papa worked in the sky.
Way, way up on top of tall buildings wrapped in coats of smoke and ash.
“You was so high up,” I said. “Wasn’t you scared?”

From acclaimed picture book creators Daniel Bernstrom and Shane W. Evans comes Big Papa and the Time Machine, a stirring dialogue between a child and his grandfather.

In this dreamlike journey, Bernstrom and Evans masterfully explore crucial moments of African American history—happy and sad—inviting the young and the old to share their stories of courage across time. (from jacket flap)

Opening Sentences

“I won’t never forget that September time when I didn’t want to go to school and Big Papa came in his time machine to take us way, way back.”

Why I like this book

A young African-American does not want to go to school on what feels like the first day of a new school year. His Big Papa (grandfather) picks the unnamed child up in his 1952 Ford—the time machine.  Realizing the child is just scared, Big Papa decides “. . . it’s time I showed you somethin’ a long time ago.” He turns the key and the engine revs with life. At each of the five stops from Big Papa’s earlier life, he lets his grandchild know he was scared, but he never let the fear stop him. Big Papa formulates a dictum to help the child understand and remember each of the time-traveled dates.

Leaving home (for the first time), to forge his own life, Big Papa has no job, no home, and no money, and he is scared. He hugs his mama and leaves. His dictum:  “But sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the one you want.” After each dictum he adds, “That’s called being brave.”

Told in a conversational style, Big Papa takes his grandchild to pivotal moments of his life. The young child sees Big Papa as a young man leaving home for the first time and then working a very adult job, on a very tall building, in a very windy city. The next two stops are bring familial scenes, first in 1957 at a “boogie-bluesy club” and three decades later when, holding a newborn, he watches his daughter leave home.

Lastly, the two “drive” back to 1941 at a Little Rock, Arkansas, cotton field. Big Papa is a child bent over writing on a piece of paper. An African-American man walks up and asks what he is doing. “I’m doin’ school,” he answers. The child hears this in reply, “Give up school, son. Work is all you ever gonna do.” This underscores Big Papa’s regard for education and its importance to propel a life forward. There is no dictum for this stop, but it serves as a way to segue readers to the young boy’s school, bringing the story full-circle.

The fabulously detailed illustrations were created using several tools, including “patience (and) skill.”  Time traveling scenes are fluid sketches with yellow, blue, and pink shading conveying movement. Readers will feel the dreamy state the time machine gives to the young boy. Skin-tones remains a rich brown whether in reality or during time traveling. There are dreamy stars here and there matching the stars on Big Papa’s keychain, hanging from the rear view mirror, and as its hood ornament.

This third character has an unusual instrument panel for a 1952 Ford. It must have grabbed instruments from each decade it went through given that the 8-track is a CD (or DVD) player and the Internet screen and keyboard replaced . . . nothing. Kitt and the Batmobile would turn green if they saw this tricked out Ford.

The gentle, loving conversation between two generations of family helps the younger understand the older a bit better and his own lineage. Big Papa never ridicules the boy for wanting to skip school. Instead, he uses this moment to teach his grandson a lesson on character, passes on family history, impresses the importance of an education (something Big Papa was denied), and expresses how important the grandson is to his grandfather.

Children will relate to the young boy not wanting to go to school (or start a new school year, with a new teacher and students). Children of color will benefit the most from Big Papa and the Time Machine. They will relate to the history and to a character that finally looks like they look. Being brave is a concept. Big Papa puts that concept into action so all readers will understand how brave they can be and have already been. A beautiful book not to be missed.

Favorite Sentence /Scene

In the back matter, illustrator Shane W. Evans writes, “Whether we know it or not, our families (courageously) face decisions that create the paths for us.”  I’d not thought of this this, but he is right.  Their decisions reflect in our decisions and the options available to us.

For me, the illustrations are inspirational. I like the image of Big Papa. He looks very familiar (a movie or television star, a relative I met long ago), yet I cannot place who I’m reminded of when I look at his strong symmetrical face. His love for his grandson is complete. Outside of the boy’s school, he tells his grandson, “I’m scared you growin’ up too fast. And I already miss you.” A tiny tear rolls out of his left eye, visible in the rear view mirror of the ’52 Ford and again outside the school entrance when he holds the boy “tighter than tight.”  I thought Big Papa and the Time Machine was going to be a fantasy story with goofy imaginative creatures from the minds of a small children.  Instead, it is a tender love story.

Back Matter

In A Note from the Author:  Daniel Bernstrom relates his relationship with his grandfather (“Papa”), whom he did not know until age eighteen. Papa is the man the character Big Papa is based on. The real Papa worked extra jobs to purchase his 1952 Ford and told stories of ordinary courage, just like Big Papa. Daniel writes how his Papa paused to reflect or relive whatever moment or story he was talking about in the same manner as Big Papa. Both simply said, “Mmmm-Hmmm,” when needing a little time to self-reflect.

In A Note from the Illustrator: Shane W. Evans explains there is a story in art, just as in words, calling “Lines, colors, and marks are a language all their own.” He defines courage as “. . . the culmination of the hopes, dreams, and fears of those who choose to love us.” Shane also believes, “Life presents us with a vast number of choices. This book shows that whether our stories are sad or joyful, LOVE will prevail and keep us going through it all.”

Illustrations Rendered in “. . . patience, skill, mixed media, pen, alkyd paint, and digital media tools.”

Available at Amazon

Also by Daniel Bernstrom


Gator, Gator, Gator!
art by Frann Preston-Gannon
PB, 32 pages


One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree
art by Brendan Wenzel
PB, 32 pages


BIG PAPA AND THE TIME MACHINE. Text Copyright © 2020 by Daniel Bernstrom. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Shane W. Evans. Published by Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.


Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

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