All Aboard by Howard L. Schwartz, MD
A Review by Carol L. Skolnick
We first became acquainted with Howard Schwartz’s “Kenny and Benny” stories in his psychoanalytic and personal memoir, Hide and Seek/Hidden and Found. Dr. Schwartz is a man clearly in love with children and childhood—in particular, he adores his grandchildren, to whom he dedicates this book. Indeed, the fun and fanciful Kenny and Benny tales were first written to amuse the grandkids and perhaps as an homage to them; in his memoir, and here again in his new book, Schwartz writes to “Kenny” as if to his own grandson Alexander, putting down on paper what he can of an incomplete family history, regretting the omissions he has either forgotten or was never told, telling the boy, “Remember when you have children someday to tell them all about your family. Tell them everything that you know.”
With the stories collected in All Aboard, Dr. Schwartz continues to follow his own advice; the photo illustrations are of members of his family. The events and characters of All Aboard may be somewhat fictionalized but they are based on real people and events in the lives of his grandchildren, and from his own childhood; as such, they are sweetly representative of the ways youngsters think, learn, grow, imagine, and play.
The narrator of All Aboard presents the world from a young person’s point of view. First we meet eight-year-old Kenny and his next door neighbor and best friend Benny who—using only two cups joined by a string that stretches from each of their bedroom windows—stay in touch and plan adventures, sometimes on the sneak (such as a nighttime walk in the woods searching for “tree ghosts”). We later get to know parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, a sister, cousins, and friends. The boys have good-natured, uncomplicated relationships with other kids, get crushes on girls, and the adults in their lives are supportive, loving, easy-going, and oftentimes indulgent. As the boys grow from age eight to nine, so, too do they begin to leave behind more childish games and become more interested in boats, books, sports, camp, shopping, the arts, computers, and of course, girls. They continue to love stories, from ghost stories to family stories to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Simple, affectionate and reassuring but never condescending, All Aboard captures a child’s sense of wonder and curiosity, the coming to grips with right and wrong, and the joys of play, practical joking, first crushes, and true friendship.
Carol L. Skolnick is a writer, copywriter, editor and former educator. A native New Yorker, she now lives and works in Santa Cruz, CA.