CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 34 . . . . May 4, 2012
When Dawn Porter was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease over a decade ago, she realized that very few Canadians knew much about the chronic disease that was supposed to double its existence by 2016. If adults were not well informed, thought Porter, then how would young people learn about the illness? It was for the purpose of enlightening children about the condition that the author wrote Oliver's Grandma.
Oliver feels anxious watching his grandma's shaky hands. He is embarrassed to have his friends see her. He wishes he had a grandma who would have him for sleep overs and take him to the park to fly a kite. When he finds out that on the following Friday his school is hosting a Grandparents' Day, his anxiety mounts. What will he do if people laughed at Grandma's funny walk and shaking hands? Fortunately, Oliver's mother understands her son's worries and is able to explain all that he needs to know about his grandmother's illness in simple and straightforward language. She tells him that Parkinson's disease is a slow moving ailment, and she reassures him that Grandma will be coming for Sunday dinner for many years to come. Oliver's fears are allayed, and Grandparents' Day turns out to one of the best days ever.
On the last two pages of the book, the author has appended a note to adult readers entitled "Tips on Talking to Young Children about Parkinson's disease." In it, she gives a general description of the illness and includes seven specific hints to help explain the disease to young children. She ends with a list of resources which would be helpful for those readers looking for more information.
Oliver's Grandma is illustrated by Janet Johnson with bold caricature-like drawings. They have a certain careless, wobbly style which may (or may not) be meant to subtly suggest the impairment that accompanies Parkinson's disease. The pictures will certainly grab the reader's attention; however there are some unattractive and hard-to-explain aspects of the artist's depiction of the characters in the story. Why does Grandma wear skirts so short that her legs appear bare (even up to the thighs) on several pages? There seems to be something of a mismatch between illustrations with a humorous sub-text and a narrative which is decidedly serious.
Illustrations aside, Oliver's Grandma is certainly successful in fulfilling the author's stated purpose of bringing information to all whose lives are touched by adults dealing with Parkinson's disease. The tone and language of the text are very appropriate for children between 4 and 8 and should provide reassurance on the kinds of anxieties to which youngsters of that age are prone.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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