Don't Call Me Grandma

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Product Details

$19.99  $18.59
Carolrhoda Books (R)
Publish Date
9.3 X 11.1 X 0.4 inches | 0.9 pounds

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About the Author

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online at
Illustrator Elizabeth Zunon grew up in the Ivory Coast of West Africa and lives in Albany, New York. This is her first illustrated picture book.


"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."--Kirkus Reviews


"It's easy (and not uncommon) to write books about fun grandmothers who bake cookies or read stories. Introducing a sharp-tongued, disagreeable grandmother is more difficult. But Nelson pulls it off. Great-grandmother Nell is described by the narrator as scary. She's vain, growls, and calls the girl "my pretty," like the witch in The Wizard of Oz, while yanking her ear. She's other things, too, though: a woman who has a bedroom that smells like flowers and has a ballerina doll on her bed, and she drinks from a glass with a spider on it because she has a broken heart. She also dabs lipstick on the girl and tells stories about her life. Illustrator Zunon cleverly alters her art throughout, portraying a steely woman of today and then using hazy watercolors and collage art to show events of the past, including church picnics and civil rights moments. By book's end, perceptive readers will see this 96-year-old as a multilayered woman who has experienced joy and tears--and is loved by a great-granddaughter who embraces her complexity."--Booklist


"Not all grandmas are cuddly and sweet--Nelson's unnamed narrator thinks that her African-American great-grandmother, Nell, can be 'scary' and 'stern.' But despite Nell's disgruntled expressions and chilly demeanor, her great-granddaughter has abundant fascination and tenderness for her glamorous relative, who shows her how to apply lipstick and even lets her taste the mysterious brown liquid she sips from a tumbler all day ('Heart medicine, ' Nells tells her. 'Broken heart'). Nell's personality shines through Zunon's (Poems in the Attic) collage work; an assemblage of civil rights-era photographs and other mementos provide insight into Nell's past, while abstracted watercolor images depict her distant memories. Nelson (The Book Itch) sensitively conveys the complexity of intergenerational relationships while celebrating a grandmother whose individuality hasn't diminished one iota over the years."--Publishers Weekly


"Ninety-six-year-old great-grandmother, Nell, doesn't answer to 'Grandma.' She doesn't do hugs and kisses. She growls her disapproval at her great-granddaughter, who narrates this book. But belying Nell's starchy exterior is the sumptuous appearance of her bedroom: it's a perfumed sanctuary with a ballerina doll and a lavishly appointed vanity whose prettifying contents intoxicate the narrator. Nelson seems at first to be offering a character study, but it becomes something more when Nell shares with her great-granddaughter her memories of nickel Hershey bars, a church-picnic blue ribbon, and 'the time her best friend said they couldn't be friends anymore because of her brown skin'--the 'first time' her heart was broken. This intergenerational exchange prompts a sort of laying on of hands-- great-granddaughter's on great-grandmother's. The scene yields to a wordless and illuminating double-page spread that further reveals Nell's story: it's devoted to black-and-white photos of mid-twentieth-century civil rights activism, 'I Voted' buttons, and other souvenirs of a life both severely tested and richly lived. Though she twice describes Nell as 'scary, ' by book's end the narrator has come to better understand her great-grandmother, admitting 'I like her that way.' Zunon's illustrations, with their vintage motifs, textured backdrops, and layered-looking set pieces, create a stage for the queenly central character."--The Horn Book Magazine


"Great-grandmother Nell is 96 and prickly, and her great-granddaughter admires her very much. Little by little, the girl learns bits and snatches about her great-grandmother's life, including one of the things that caused her broken heart: when Nell's best friend told her they couldn't be friends anymore because of her brown skin. Nelson weaves tension into the text as the little girl wants desperately to have the attention of her great-grandmother, but the elderly lady just isn't one for giving out affection. The eccentric nonagenarian eats fish for breakfast, wears pearls everywhere, and takes sips of an amber liquid that are so tiny that one glass lasts all day. The story's perspective is from the child, who finds her great-grandmother 'scary' but also intriguing, outspoken, and glamorous. Zunon's lively, colorful illustrations balance the serious tone of the text with warmth and saturation. The two characters may seem very different, but Zunon gives each the same birthmark on her right cheek, indicating they may not be so different after all. VERDICT: An appealing intergenerational story."--School Library Journal


"A lot of children's books have a doting older relative hovering around, looking cuddly and offering cookies and hugs. Don't Call Me Grandma has a fully realized character who upends those stereotypes. The 'Grandma' of the title is Great-Grandmother Nell, 96 years old, with wrinkled 'chocolaty brown' skin, who wears pearls every day, doesn't hug and eats fish for breakfast. Nell is prickly and sometimes scary, but to her great-granddaughter, the narrator, she is also fascinating, with her crowded vanity, the glass she's always sipping out of, and the bedroom that's fit for a princess. Elizabeth Zunon's illustrations are genius--mixed media that allows some of Nell's memories to be sharper than others. There are civil rights-era photographs, a lone ticket to Alvin Ailey, an I Voted sticker. Vaunda Nelson spells out neither Nell's past, nor the message of the book, allowing readers the best ending: a conversation about what makes us who we are, and the pleasure of loving difficult people."―NPR Books' Best Books of 2016