Celebrating Our Grandmothers

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/ Elizabeth Zunon

Today I’m doing a double review of two excellent books that explore relationships with grandmothers. Fishing with Grandma and Don’t Call Me Grandma are very different stories that feature loving and powerful grandmothers.

Don’t Call Me Grandma wasn’t what I expected it to be. From reading the title alone, I assumed it would be about a grandmother who doesn’t want to be reminded of her age but that’s not what it’s about at all! Vaunda Micheaux Nelson writes really great books by the way; I’ve already reviewed The Book Itch and Bad News for Outlaws. This book tells the story of a little girl and her relationship with her glamorous Great-Grandmother Nell. Great-Grandmother Nell has a strong personality; she’s very prickly but is also loving (in her own way). Nell’s great-granddaughter is slightly scared of her but because she knows how special she is, she works hard to get close to her.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks scenes in this book because they tell us more about Great-Grandmother Nell. The scene about Nell’s first heart-break is very moving, though it’s not the kind of heart-break you might expect. Great-Grandmother Nell is ninety six  years old and has lived through the civil rights movement and more. I’m glad to see this story discuss race and being a Colored girl (and later a Colored woman) in the United States.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are beautiful. Her style is a mix of watercolor, pen, markers, collage and pencil. Great-granddaughter favors Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandmother’s warm brown face is full of rich lines and wrinkles. All the beautiful perfume bottles on her vanity and the scene where she teaches her great-granddaughter how to blot her lipstick reminds me of my grandmother. For the flashback scenes, Zunon uses blotchy watercolors that give the feeling of hazy memory. Check out this behind the scenes blog post about how Zunon created the illustrations!

Great-Grandmother Nell is a strong grandmother and so is Anaanatsiaq (grandmother) in Fishing with Grandma. She drives an ATV and is always down for an adventure! In the story, a little boy and girl are excited to visit their favorite elder. Their visit starts with string games and fresh bannock from the oven but the children are eager for a little more adventure. They decide to go jigging for fish on the ice and Anaanatsiaq shows them how to dress for the cold. She also shows them to how to check the ice for thickness (safety first) and how to use traditional tools!

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s full of Inuktitut words and describes Inuit fishing tools. Children can learn a bit of another language while enjoying a story about a loving indigenous family. Another plus is that the story is co-written by Inuit elder Susan Avingaq…so it’s a story about indigenous peoples written by an indigenous woman for children all over the world. This is the power of #ownvoices.

After the family has a successful day of fishing, Anaanatsiaq explains that the extra fish they caught will go to elders who can’t make it out to the lake. It’s important to give and think of others and also important to learn traditional skills, she says. These are good lessons for children all over the world to take away.

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

Charlene Chua’s digital illustrations are so clean and vibrant. I love how she brings their community to life and I especially like the spreads on the blue ice and underwater with the beautiful Arctic char. I like how she uses streaks of color to fill space; it creates a pretty effect. Her characters have such bright expressions and rosy cheeks! Annanatsiaq is loving and protective of her curious grandchildren; her happy face shows a lot of pride. They’re adventurers just like her!

I hope your family will take time to enjoy these two stories about grandmothers. Maybe you can even read them with your grandmothers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Relationships, Teamwork, Ice Fishing, Siblings, Love, Indigenous Peoples, Community, Diversity, Strong Women
Book Info: Fishing with Grandma by Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Illustrated by Charlene Chua, 2016 Inhabit Media Inc., ISBN: 9781772270846

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Racism, History, Relationships, African American, Strong Women, Patience, Understanding
Book Info: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, 2016 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781467742085

Last Stop on Market Street

 

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Image Credit: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson

 

Last Stop on Market Street is one of the best of 2015.

It’s about the relationship between a grandmother and her grandson and what makes it shine is the grandmother’s magic. She’s pure positive energy and has the ability to see beauty in everything. Her wisdom is gentle yet strong enough to open CJ’s young eyes to his world. As they travel through their neighborhood, CJ yearns for what others have but her thoughtful corrections and caring perspective show him just how much he already has. She gives him the gift of positive reflection.

Their bus ride in the rain is full of colorful people. A man plays his guitar and a blind man jokingly says he closes his eyes to better hear the music, and they do as well. CJ especially, begins to SEE; he sees the music and all of its vibrancy. At the last stop on Market Street, he steps off the bus and his lessons continue as he walks with Nana down the street…

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Image Credit: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), Matt de la Peña/Christian Robinson

There are so many great things working together in this book. Until I sat down to write this review, I valued the story more, but when I slowed down (like CJ) and took time to appreciate the illustrations, I came to love how well they belong with this story. De la Peña’s poetic, rich and descriptive words combined with Robinson’s vibrant, blocky paint and collage illustrations carry the story to its destination.

I love the diverse people! I love how they speak in colloquial language! Nana sounds like my grandma and that detail is important; some young readers may connect to this book based on that detail alone. The everyday realness of this story shines brightly; Nana and CJ’s story is a reflection of us, our modern world and all of its amazing colors!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Buses, Movement, Travel, Family, Lessons, Perspective, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Grandmother-Grandson, Community Service, Read-Aloud, Music, Disability, Discussion
Book Info: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña/Illustrated by Christian Robinson, 2015 G.P. Putnam’s Sons (Penguin Young Readers Group), ISBN: 9780399257742

Just a Minute

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Image Credit: Chronicle Books LLC, Yuyi Morales

Aye! I love a good trickster tale. Just A Minute is so clever and memorable and features the bony Señor Calavera. If you want to learn more about calaveras, check out the book Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh.

Just a Minute begins with Señor Calavera’s visit to Grandma Beetle’s doorstep. Her time for death has come BUT…she has other ideas! 😉  She tells him “Just a minute…” because she has one house to sweep and so, Señor Calavera, being the agreeable reaper that he is, waits patiently. And so the story continues. This book is also a counting book in English and Spanish and with each number, Grandma cleverly secures a little more time on this earth and Señor Calavera gets more impatient. She is preparing her house and cooking food for her birthday party with her grandchildren…Death can certainly wait! The format of the story is repetitive but this isn’t a bad thing; repetition can help children become comfortable with a story, and with reading as well.

Yuyi Morales is one of my favorite author/illustrators because her stories have so much life! You can taste the food she draws and you can feel the energy. The family she creates in this story, with their warm brown skin, expressive faces and smiling eyes, is beautiful. The big body of Grandma Beetle reminds me of my Grandma Eva who also loved to cook and spend time with her grandchildren. Morales uses acrylic and mixed media to create her illustrations and her color palate is warm and vivid; the colors on the pages remind me of rows of papel picado. If you’re charmed by Grandma Beetle and Señor Calavera, check out the sequel to this book, Just in Case!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Trickster Tales, Cultural Diversity, Mexican Culture, Spanish Language, Mexican Food, Food Culture, Calaveras, Counting, Family, We Need Diverse Books, Grandmothers
Book Info: Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales, 2003 Chronicle Books LLC, ISBN: 9780811837583