Written by Nancy Van Laan, Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014
I remember when Grandma was still her old sweet self, doing the things she had always done, exactly the way she had always done them.
The plot in a nutshell: A young girl deals with her grandma’s failing memory
Julia loves visiting her grandma. She loves Grandma’s fried chicken and biscuits and the way she smells like cinnamon and lilac. But Grandma starts becoming forgetful. It starts with her forgetting names and Julia tries to help her laugh it off. Then Grandma can’t remember things they did together or where she parked the car. One night, she forgets to turn on the oven and puts salt instead of sugar in the pie. The family tries to hire help for Grandma, but things keep getting progressively worse and when they find Grandma digging in the snow in her nightgown, Julia’s mom tells her that they’re moving Grandma to a special care facility. Julia is worried, but she goes to see Grandma in her new home and gives her big hugs, even though Grandma often doesn’t remember who she is. Julia plans to bring forget-me-nots to her Grandma, hoping they will make her smile and clap, like she used to.
My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and reading through this book was like a sad journey back through her decline. Author Nancy Van Laan treats her subject matter with the perfect amount of poignancy and delicacy, with some appropriately light moments to balance it all out and give it a sense of warmth and optimism. She addresses not only the loss of memory, but the eventual inability of Grandma to care for herself and how frustrating and scary that can be for everyone involved. Grandma’s illness is described as coming on “ever so slowly, like a low tide leaving the bay,” which is a beautiful and somehow comforting image.
Stephanie Graegin’s artwork, in digitally colored pencil and ink washes, gives the story a cozy softness that manages to convey all the emotions of the story’s characters in a way that never feels alarming. Because we’re seeing this story from Julia’s perspective, we see Grandma as she sees her and Ms. Graegin is careful to make very subtle changes to her appearance as the illness progresses. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with young kids having to face the onset of Alzheimer’s in a loved one, especially because it’s so positive, with the closing reminder that everything will be okay.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that disease can change our loved ones, but they can’t take away our happy memories of them.