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EMMA’S QUESTION by Catherine Urdahl


by Catherine Urdahl & illustrated by Janine Dawson

Age Range: 5 - 7

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-58089-145-5
Publisher: Charlesbridge

The buildup to the revelation of Emma’s titular question takes some time, while Urdahl introduces Emma, her parents and her beloved, hospitalized Grandma. “Are you going to die?” Emma finally asks when permitted to visit, and Grandma, who has already soothed Emma’s fears about her I.V. by calling it her “dancing partner,” emerges as a hero by using humor and gentle honesty to respond: “Not today. I have a Chutes and Ladders game to play.” While Emma and her parents’ emotional turmoil leading up to the hospital visit resonates, it’s troubling that her parents haven’t taken the time to sit down with her to talk. By placing the responsibility of answering and comforting Emma on the gravely ill Grandma rather than on her parents, the book introduces a contextual dissonance, given that its likely users are parents seeking to provide their own children with a literary mirror to their own experiences. Dawson’s cartoon-style watercolor illustrations occasionally provide successful comic relief, but often emerge as one half of a contradictory pairing with the seriousness of the text’s content. (Picture book. 5-7)