________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover My Great Big Mamma.

Olivier Ka. Illustrated by Luc Melanson. Translated by Helen Mixter.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-942-9.

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


Sometimes when we are walking down the street together, children point their fingers. They say to their mothers, "Look how fat that woman is."

That makes me proud. If my mamma wanted to, she could pick up twenty kids at a time. But I'm the only one who gets to enjoy her.

My Great Big Mamma is told from the first person perspective of a little boy who relishes the fact that his mother is bigger (and in his mind, therefore, better) than other mothers. First published in French as Une Maman Tout Entière, Olivier Ka's text was translated by Helen Mixter. When Mamma decides to go on a diet, her son notices how much less happy his mother becomes. His mother explains that she wants to lose weight so that she will look prettier, but the boy responds, "That's crazy. She wouldn't be prettier. She'd be thinner, that's all. And less cuddly, and less soft." It is an interesting response, and the text and illustrations complement one another in such a way that there is no doubt that the boy is delighted with his mother just the way that she is. Throughout the book, Ka's text and Luc Melanson's illustrations work in harmony and are positive and affirming.

internal art

     That said, My Great Big Mamma does beg some questions about health. On the one hand, yes, of course, we need to be happy with who we are. On the other hand, issues such as obesity and heart health are important concerns and need to be considered as such. One feels that, depending on the reader, the book might send an appropriately uplifting message but could alternatively convey a dangerously unhealthy one too.

     Melanson's illustrations are visually interesting, consisting predominantly of oranges and greens. The cool green backgrounds contrast with the mother and child's orange hair and orange clothes. These colour choices help to convey the warmth of their loving relationship, particularly so in an otherwise cold world. In addition to the clever use of colour, some of the artwork features an interesting use of perspective, thus enhancing the presence (and not just physical presence) of Mamma.

     Although it is not explicitly stated, Mamma appears to be a single mother. The story leaves little doubt that the thing of greatest value to the mother and son is one another. As such, readers will be touched by the obvious love that the two share. Their relationship is one to be applauded and, indeed, envied.

     Although the book leaves me with some hesitancy in terms of how the book's message might be interpreted, I recommend My Great Big Mamma on the strength of the writing and the quality of the illustrations. The mother-son portrayal is caring and compassionate, sweet and sincere. Text and illustrations are charming and uplifting. Mothers will enjoy sharing this book with their children.


Gregory Bryan lives in Winnipeg, MB. He teaches literacy education and children's literature classes in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

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