Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee
Reading level:
Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 36 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (March 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0811858154
ISBN-13: 978-0811858151
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

The Joosse/Lavallee team are back with their latest installment of what Barbara Joosse calls her "Great Big Family," series. I became a huge fan of this series right after my daughter was born when I saw Mama, Do You Love Me? and Papa, Do You Love Me? in our local bookstore. I scarfed up a copy of each, and they've become a staple in our story time routine since.

Mama, Do You Love Me? explores the undying and unconditional love an Inuit mother has for her child, and Papa, Do You Love Me? examines the same type of unconditional love a Maasai father has for his son. While the books depict parents and children of different cultures, they hold the common theme of loving your child no matter what--a theme that I suspect most parents identify with, and most children take great comfort in hearing.

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful also explores this theme, this time focusing on the love a Hawaiian grandmother, Tutu, feels for her granddaughter whom she calls Beautiful. The story begins with Tutu telling Beautiful a talk-story about Beautiful's birth. As explained in the book's glossary, a talk-story is an informal conversation, sometimes illustrated with a song, a hei (or string design), or a dance. In this case, Tutu uses a hei, a piece of string which she twists into a design to tell her story. The back of the book also contains instructions on how to make a honu (turtle) hei.

Through Tutu's story of Beautiful's birth, readers learn about Hawaiian traditions, including the custom of "sharing breath," the pressing of foreheads together and touching noses to signify love and affection. When Tutu finishes her story, Beautiful questions her beauty and elicits affirmation from her grandmother that she still is beautiful, similar to the style of questions and and answers the children ask their parents in Mama, Do You Love Me? and Papa, Do You Love Me?

Beautiful: "Sometimes I scare Rooster, just to hear his big noise."
Tutu: "Then you're a little bit naughty, but still, you're beautiful."

Tutu later says, "You are you are--bright as a kukui torch, sweet as breadfruit pudding, soft as kapa cloth."

Barbara Lavallee's vivid watercolor illustrations in tropical tones depict the tender moments between Tutu and Beautiful and exude the warmth between them.

Image used with permission by Chronicle Books

Not only does the book depict the undying love between a grandmother and her grandchild, but it teaches children about different cultures. More importantly, it also serves as a way to boost a child's self-esteem. To know that you're loved no matter what you do, or what you look like, even if you're a bit naughty at times is a wonderful and empowering feeling to have.

Any grandmother would be delighted to receive this book and read it to her own granddaughter, and any granddaughter would be delighted to sit on her grandmother's lap and listen to her read the book.

The entire collection would also make a beautiful gift for new and expectant parents, and I hope there will be a "grandpa" book in the future.

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