Sunday, March 7, 2021

Four Picture Books About Grandparents

Grandparents have so much to give to and to share with their grandchildren. Here are four diverse books about that wonderful grandparent/grandchild bond. 

My Day with Gong Gong by Sennah Yee,
illustrated by Elaine Chen
Annick Press, 2020, 36 pages
May isn't terrible happy when her mom tells her she will be spending the day at Gong Gong's house. He doesn't speak English, and she doesn't speak Chinese. When Gong Gong falls asleep watching hockey, and May changes the channel, he turns off the the TV and they head out for a walk. Gong Gong greets all the neighbors, saying funny things in Chinese, but May doesn't understand what's making them laugh. The same thing happens inside the gift store, and at the dim sum restaurant - Gong Gong is so busy chatting he doesn't' seem to notice May is so hungry. When they stop at the grocery store to buy food, May hopes they will go home and eat soon, but first Gong Gong stops by the park to greet more friends and play some cards. Just what does he say that makes they laugh, too, just like the people in the gift store, the restaurant, and the grocery? But when a pigeon poops on the shoulder of her jacket, May's had enough and bursts into tears. Gong Gong gently cleans her up, then hands her the toy monkey she wanted at the gift store. Not only that, but he even has pork buns, her favorite, from dim sum restaurant. On their way home, they pass the same people from earlier in the day, only now, May gets a pleasant surprise when they all know just who she is. May's day turns out to be completely different from what she expected. Now, she and Gong Gong have a loving bond, and she even begins to learn a little Chinese starting with "Ngo oi nei" (I love you). I think Sennah Yee has perfectly captured May's frustration not understanding what is going on in the first part of this story and thinking her grandfather didn't much care about her, when it turns out to be just the opposite. As the two walk around Chinatown, the watercolor and pencil crayons illustrations show a friendly, welcoming place, much like Gong Gong himself, but it is not something May notices until things turn around. There are a few Chinese words used throughout and there is a glossary in the back that includes Chinese characters with pronunciation and translation.  

Bindu's Bindis by Supriya Kelkar,
illustrated by Parvati Pillai
Sterling Children's Books, March 16, 2021, 32 pages
Bindu loves to wear the different bindis her Nani sends to her from India. She wears them to temple, at home and on holidays. And she has bindis for whatever was going on in her life - even a squiggle bindi that says "I'm Unique!" But when Nani comes to visit, bearing new bindis, Bindu's excitement quickly changes from happiness to worry. At the airport, they meet protesters who want foreigners to go home. But Nani just tells Bindu to march by with pride. At home, Nani teaches Bindu some Indian dancing for the school talent show and the two have fun choosing the perfect bindi to wear for it. But at her school talent show, Bindu suddenly doesn't want to feel unique, to wear her bindi and do the dance Nani taught her when she sees people laughing at them. So Nani gets up on the stage all by herself and begins dancing alone. After watching her Nani dancing with a big smile and a sense of pride, Bindu decides to get on stage so they can dance together for everyone to see. This is a great story about learning to appreciate and be proud of who you are despite what others may think, and about the strong bond that exists between grandparents and grandchildren despite distance. There is spare text, and sometimes the illustrations tell more of the story than the words do, but if your young readers are like mine, they will pore over each illustration and fill in the missing words. That said, this story is as joyful as the beautiful, boldly colored cartoon-style illustrations. 

Grandpa Across the Ocean
written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum
Abrams BFYR, April 27, 2021, 40 pages
A young Korean American boy travels with his mother across the ocean to Korea goes to visit his grandfather, but he isn't very happy about it. Everything is unfamiliar - the smells, the food, even the way his grandpa bows to say hello. He can't understand anything grandpa says and grandpa doesn't hear well, plus he naps a lot in his chair. But when this ill-tempered boy breaks a potted plant playing ball in the house, instead of being mad, his grandpa proves to be quite caring and concerned, offering his contrite grandson some sweet peaches. Next thing you know, the two are playing together and have a great time laughing at the TV, going to the plants] store, enjoying some ice cream (both love chocolate). At the beach, Grandpa has more energy than is grandson, but both have a wonderful time together. Grandpa even begins to teach his grandson some Korean words. Naturally, when it comes time to return home, the boy is sad, but can't wait to return next summer. Grandpa Across the Ocean looks at the strength of family bond despite a language and distance barrier. The color pencil illustrations are bright and open, some are quite detailed, others are more like spot illustrations. I loved seeing the changes in the demeanor of both the grandfather and grandson as they get to know and understand each other better, and you can just see the feelings of mutual affection growing. There are a few Korean words in characters used throughout the book, but there is also a translation for each.   

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker,
illustrated by April Harrison
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020, 40 pages
When Zura's elementary school teacher reminds her students that Grandparents Day is coming up soon, all the kids in her class are excited except her. The other kids can't wait to show off what makes their grandparents special. Alejo thinks his abeulo is a great fisherman, Bisou thinks his mimi is "the best dentist in the world," but what makes Zura's Nana Akua so special? After all, Zura has seen kids and grownups stare at her grandmother because she looks different. Nana Akua, who was born in Ghana, has tribal symbols marked on her face that her parents had done when she was young according to old African tradition. Nana Akua's marks represent beauty and confidence. But what if Zura's classmates laugh or make fun of her grandmother, her favorite person in the world? But her wise grandmother has the perfect solution. On Grandparents Day, she and Zura arrive with the quilt Nana Akua had made for her and which is covered with Adinkra symbols. Nana Akua talks about the symbols and what they mean and why she has two symbols on her face. Then, she invites the class and the visiting grandparents to pick Adinkra symbols to have (temporarily) painted on their faces. You can find the symbols and their meanings on the endpapers. This is such a beautiful book about family, tradition, and cultural diversity. Nana Akua teaches Zura's class an important lesson in accepting differences in others, and provides her granddaughter with an example of how to handle the kind of situation she was afraid would happen with pride and a positive attitude. The mixed-media collage illustrations are perfect for this story, done in a palette of earth tones. 

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