In this children’s picture book, a special bond between young Lily and her great-grandmother helps them through the elderly woman’s time at a hospice residence.
This story starts by explaining the main characters’ unusual names for each other. Lily’s great-grandmother is called “GG” for short, a fact that the book awkwardly explains by having the girl say, “I forget—why do we call you that?” When Lily asks about her own pet name, GG says mysteriously, “I call you Mamela, because you are close to my heart.” (It likely comes from the Yiddish word for “little girl”—literally, “little mother.”) Lily sums up, “You’re my GG and I’m you’re Mamela,” and GG answers, “And that’s the way it will always be,” setting up a refrain that repeats a bit too often throughout the text. Next, Lily visits GG’s apartment and learns how to make chicken soup with GG’s secret ingredient. In this part, the simple but emotionally resonant illustrations show GG looking hale and hearty, but “[a]fter dinner, GG felt tired,” which provides the only inkling of what’s to come. Readers may not be fully prepared when, “a few days later,” Lily’s father gently breaks the news that GG is dying. Lily responds by telling him that GG is at the top of a family tree she made in school; that night, she has a bad dream about GG falling off that family tree, which gives the book a nice, true-to-life touch. When Lily’s parents take her to the hospice residence, GG is in a wheelchair and suddenly looks much older. “You look…tired. Are you okay?” Lily asks. The next day, GG and Lily snuggle together while listening to a harpist play. The book pairs an ethereal illustration with lyrical text (“Ariel’s music wrapped around them just like GG’s rainbow afghan”), which truly captures the healing, transporting power of music in this setting. Shortly after making GG’s chicken soup with her father, Lily goes for a last visit and poignantly whispers in GG’s ear, “You are my Mamela. Because I love you with all my heart.”
A welcome addition to children’s literature about death and dying.