Thursday, February 7, 2019

Shelf Awareness--When I Found Grandma

PB Review: When I Found Grandma

When I Found Grandma by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illus. by Qin Leng (Groundwood Books, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781773060187, March 5, 2019)

When Maya says that she wants to see her grandma, Mother explains "Grandma lives many thousands of miles away." But, a few weeks later, while walking home from school, Mother says she has a surprise for Maya, and it's even "more special" than cupcakes. Inside, Maya finds her "special surprise": Grandma!

Maya learns right away that Grandma does things differently. She wears a "crimson sari" and offers "homemade sweets"--which Maya quickly decides she doesn't like as much as cupcakes. The next day at dismissal time, instead of waiting outside Maya's classroom with the rest of the parents and grandparents, Maya's grandma strides right in, wearing her "fancy clothes" and jingling her bangles. Not only does she draw attention to herself, she draws embarrassing attention to Maya, calling her by the wrong name (Mayalakshmi). For dinner, Grandma cooks "a meal with rice and cashews," and Maya pushes the nuts away. Worst of all, the next morning, instead of taking the exciting trip Father had promised to an island with a carousel, Mother says the family will pray at a temple for Holi. Maya "wishe[s] Grandma had never come."

Recognizing how upset her granddaughter is, Grandma offers to pray on the island with the carousel--it doesn't matter where she prays, she says, because "strong prayers come from honest hearts." Mother packs cupcakes and Grandma leaves her sari at home, borrowing pants and shoes from Mother; she even buys a bright red-and-blue, "all-American" baseball cap along the way. When they get to the island, Maya races ahead to the carousel "to show Grandma her favorite pony." But when she gets there, Grandma--and the rest of her family--are nowhere in sight. As Maya closes her eyes and tries to pray "honestly," just like Grandma said, she hears a familiar "loud voice" and sees Grandma's "red-and-blue cap bob[bing] in the distance, high over people's heads." That night, when Grandma makes her rice and cashew dinner again, Maya tries the nuts and decides they aren't so bad after all.

Saumiya Balasubramaniam takes a tender yet piercing look at the complexity of family bonds, especially when they span oceans and generations. Maya's initial unhappiness gives way to acceptance and love in a way young readers are sure to understand. Her struggles with cultural differences are convincingly stated, and reinforced perfectly by Leng's lively ink and watercolor illustrations: on page after page, Maya's body language makes her thoughts crystal clear. Leng's broken lines and dynamic use of color and texture help promote the feeling of a strong little girl in motion. Her detailed paintings so clearly define Maya's world that her abstract treatment of the moments when Maya is lost feel even more powerful by contrast. When I Found Grandma is a book for all ages, likely to have lasting appeal. Maya's and Grandma's compromises are satisfying and, by the end, as Father points out, Maya didn't just find Grandma, they "found each other." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Maya is eager to see Grandma, who lives far away, but the visit gets off to a difficult start when Grandma dresses, cooks and acts differently than Maya expects.

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