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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.

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