Kate Simpson (text), and Gwynneth Jones (illustrator), Finding Granny, EK Books, July 2018, 32pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781925335699
Stroke has an enormous impact on Australian families. Last year there were more than 56,000 strokes in Australia, or one every nine minutes, and it’s believed that more that 475,000 Australians currently live with the effects of stroke. These shocking statistics don’t quantify the impact on loved ones, who also have to live with the trauma of stroke and its long-term consequences.
Told though the viewpoint of young Edie, Finding Granny looks at the impact of stroke on Edie’s beloved Granny. It also explores the effects of that event on Edie herself, but also on her mum, who has to support both Granny and Edie though the ordeal.
Edie (depicted as a spirited Ramona Quimby lookalike) and her granny share a very special bond. Edie’s Granny is a playtime Granny, an ice cream Granny, an everything will be alright Granny, and a love as fierce as a lion Granny.
Edie’s love is tested, however, in the aftermath of Granny’s stroke. Who is this frail stranger with the jumbled speech and crooked face, who has to stay in bed and needs help to eat her meals? Edie is reluctant to visit the hospital, seemingly angry and scared about what has happened, and feeling that the Granny she knew is no longer there.
When Granny is well enough to start art therapy, all Edie can see in Granny’s painting is mess, until she catches an unexpected glimpse of the playful Granny she loved. Edie comes to realise that while things have changed, Granny is still her Granny, and the bond between them is as strong as ever. In the mess, there is beauty.
Kate Simpson, in her debut picture book, sensitively explores the bond between grandparent and grandchild, and the adjustments forced by serious illness. Edie struggles believably with that adjustment, cycling through a range of emotions – love, anger, fear, sadness, empathy, and back to love. As Edie’s emotions shift and change, she is able to reframe her situation and see that what she values most is still there – Granny’s love for Edie, and Edie’s love for Granny.
Gwynneth Jones’s illustrations are loose and whimsical, reflecting the changing moods of the story – vibrantly coloured for the playful scenes between Edie and Granny; grey-blue and restrained for the hospital scenes. The gorgeous endpapers echo the painting that Edie and Granny create together as they rediscover their connection.
Kate Simpson’s gentle, rhythmic, circular text, with its repeated refrains about Granny, make it an obvious readaloud for children in pre-school and early primary. Independent readers will be able to explore the issues and themes in more depth. Finding Granny could also form the basis of various art-related extension activities.
Finding Granny is a heart-warming story about the love shared by children and grandparents, and the way relationships can change with illness and age. It’s also a sensitive and emotionally honest account that will offer support and comfort to children (and families) struggling with the effects of illness on their own lives.
Recommended for ages 4-8
Teacher notes can be found on the EK Books website
Reviewed by Beth Dolan