Scary grandmas are always called “grandMOTHER,” especially if they are 96-year-old great-grandmothers who have “chocolaty brown” skin and are named Nell and sometimes growl into their mirrors.
This little girl’s great-grandmother is glamorous and has wigs, earrings, and “bottles and bottles and bottles of perfume.” Nelson’s young protagonist is mesmerized by her great-grandmother’s rituals, from posing in her bathing suit on the beach to applying ruby red lipstick. Even though her great-grandmother is old, the young girl knows she is “not worn out.” Nell, who never hugs or kisses, still deigns to share beauty tips and stories of long ago. Zunon’s mixed-media illustrations of paper collage, pastel, and watercolor lend warmth to this tender story of an aging dragon of a diva and her great-grandchild. The facial expressions span the emotional gamut from pique to sorrow to haughtiness and are all spot-on. When Nell reminisces, vague watercolor impressions evoke the perfect tone of wistfulness. Black-and-white photo reproductions accompany brief recollections of the civil rights movement. But the sterling moment shines at the very end of the story when the grandchild steals a kiss with no remorse. “Even asleep, Great-Grandmother Nell is scary. But I like her that way. I give her a little hug. She smells like peaches. I kiss my grandma. // She won’t know.”
Children will best appreciate this nostalgic journey when accompanied by a doting loved one. (Picture book. 5-8)