Book Review: Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same

Every Lunar New Year, Grandma would ask the same questions, wear the same "lucky" red, cook the same "lucky" food, give the same "lucky" amount, and invite the same "lucky" lions.

The year turns, the lanterns are lit, the table is laden. Food, family, and festivities: it's time for the Lunar New Year reunion dinner.

But a reunion dinner celebration in the world of Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same might be quite the same as Lunar New Year in our world.

From its opening pages, Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same invites readers into a land of European fairy tale, where the deep dark wood serves as a backdrop for a reunion dinner whose players are a family of assorted animals of different shape and size. The cartoony art and the artist's choice of colours -- deep purples and rich reds that we don't encounter every day in our world -- underscores that the reader has chanced upon a strange and different land.

But while the pictures depict an unfamiliar world, the titular Grandma of the story is not. Although she looks like a sheep, her questions uncover the relationships between the animals at the table -- family, friends, neighbours -- and reveal them to be familiar stories. Whether it's a parents' desire for a new baby, or whether the youngest grandchild has gotten number one in class, Grandma's probing questions alongside 'lucky' Lunar New Year traditions unearth how the past year has shaped each animal's life.

The contrast between the illustration and the story serves a purpose. As the story becomes familiar and resonates with readers, the family members who tell their stories through the pages of the book lose their strangeness and become familiar animal friends as well. This animal family might look different from us but they all act and behave in ways that we readers recognise.

Similarly, even as the family's lives change over the year, Grandma's unchanging questions make evident the values that come out through their story. Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same make clear to the reader that beyond the 'lucky' trappings of the Lunar New Year, the values of familial love and the ways of showing that love are the true meaning of the season.

A book that works all year 'round for people of all cultures to show and celebrate the meaning of the Lunar New Year, Grandma and the Things that Stay the Same is a wonderful book for children aged 4 and up.

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