Subscribe to The Horn Book

Review of Don’t Call Me Grandma

nelson_don't call me grandmaDon’t Call Me Grandma
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; 
illus. by Elizabeth Zunon
Primary   Carolrhoda   32 pp.
2/16   978-1-4677-4208-5   $17.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-9559-3   $19.99

Ninety-six-year-old great-grandmother, Nell, doesn’t answer to “Grandma.” She doesn’t do hugs and kisses. She growls her disapproval at her great-granddaughter, who narrates this book. But belying Nell’s starchy exterior is the sumptuous appearance of her bedroom: it’s a perfumed sanctuary with a ballerina doll and a lavishly appointed vanity whose prettifying contents intoxicate the narrator. Nelson seems at first to be offering a character study, but it becomes something more when Nell shares with her great-granddaughter her memories of nickel Hershey bars, a church-picnic blue ribbon, and “the time her best friend said they couldn’t be friends anymore because of her brown skin” — the “first time” her heart was broken. This intergenerational exchange prompts a sort of laying on of hands — great-granddaughter’s on great-grandmother’s. The scene yields to a wordless and illuminating double-page spread that further reveals Nell’s story: it’s devoted to black-and-white photos of mid-twentieth-century civil rights activism, “I Voted” buttons, and other souvenirs of a life both severely tested and richly lived. Though she twice describes Nell as “scary,” by book’s end the narrator has come to better understand her great-grandmother, admitting, “I like her that way.” Zunon’s illustrations, with their vintage motifs, textured backdrops, and layered-looking set pieces, create a stage for the queenly central character.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Nell Beram

Nell Beram is coauthor of the young adult biography Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies (Amulet/Abrams), which made the 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project list and YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

Share
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*