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An Alien in My House

by Shenaaz G. Nanji, Chum McLeod, illus.

When his grandfather moves in, Ben tells his friends that an alien has invaded his house. By the way he describes the old man’s removable teeth and hair, taste for greens, and apparent fixation on chores, it’s clear that Ben would like to send the alien back into space. At the same time, the grandfather reports to his own friends that he has moved into the home of a monster, one who has springs in his feet and eats only “C foods: candy, chocolate, cake and chips.” However, it isn’t long before Ben and his grandfather find common ground, with each confessing to his own friends that he is glad of the other’s company.

The parallel structure of the story, in which the narrative alternates between the little boy’s and old man’s versions of events, gives zest to what could otherwise have been a saccharine tale of intergenerational bonding. Calgary-based author Shenaaz Nanji has written other books about understanding differences – most recently cultural differences in Treasure for Lunch. Her strong storytelling skills carry her themes gracefully. Here, deftly handled repetition and vivid similes make the book a good choice for reading aloud.

The pictures, by Ontario illustrator Chum McLeod, aren’t as satisfying to me as the text. The sharp angles and lines around the people create a sense of rigidity. However, there are some clever details, such as the differences between young and old faces. The children, with their angular bodies and outsized oval heads, look much more like aliens than do the old people – a subtle reminder, perhaps, that strangeness is in the eye of the beholder.