What Do You Call Your Grandma by Ashleigh Barton

Reviewed by Gerard Healy

Another delightful winner from the same team of writer Ashleigh Barton and illustrator Martina Heiduczek, that brought us last year’s What Do You Call Your Grandpa?  Following a similar format, we get a look at different cultures around the world and this time, their beloved grandmothers.

A clever feature of the Grandpa text is repeated. We are given a clue to the pronunciation of the local word for grandma in a rhyming pair. So, we have the Vietnamese word Ba Noi (rhymes with joy) and the Xhosa word Makhulu (rhymes with do). I didn’t know that South Africa has eleven official languages, one of which is Xhosa.

Geographically, they do indeed cover the world, with each continent covered at least once. For younger readers (four years and up) it introduces some places and people they probably haven’t heard much about, including the Warlpiri people of the Northern Territory. They use Jaja (rhymes with star) for their grandmothers.

This time, North America is included with the nick-name Meemaw (rhymes with see-saw). This is used in the southern states of the USA and is believed to be derived from a French-Cajun word.

Undoubtedly one of the strengths of this book are the colourful illustrations by Martina Heiduczek. Strong, vibrant palettes are the norm here, made with layers of scanned materials, coloured pencils, watercolours and gouache. We have the brilliant white buildings of the Greek village contrasting with the blue sky and Yia Yia’s red sportscar or the deep green of a New Zealand forest and the tiny specks of colour that are the insects.

She has been also been able to add important details to each scene that allow us to connect personally with the characters. The Italian Nonna stands beaming over her table of delicacies and we can see the fashionable items in the Icelandic Amma’s wardrobe, while outside the snowflakes dot the countryside. Most of the main characters are positioned closely enough for us to see their welcoming smiles, lively features and open-armed enthusiasm for life.

One of the underlying themes of the book is the key role that grandmothers play in children’s lives. From a skilled coach of crafts such as sewing or knitting, to a respected storyteller or adventurous companion, Grandmothers play an important part in their little ones’ lives. But how do they compare to their male counter-parts?

Well, in general, they seemed to be depicted in more passive activities than the grandfathers were. Only a few are shaking things up in any sense (driving fast in a sports car or bouncing on a see-saw enthusiastically). Perhaps, the authors felt they couldn’t use most of the same ideas again, even though many grandmothers play sport, ride bicycles or go fishing with their young charges. There were a few roles that re-appeared, such as the fashion conscious elder or the tribal story-teller.

A quirky question for you? Did (or does) your own grandmother have a pet? I would have thought that a reasonable number of them would be pet lovers/owners. But in this book only two of the thirteen women seem to have pets and in each case it was dogs. Actually, there were no pets at all in the Grandpa book, so perhaps outside Australia, it is more uncommon than not for grandparents to have a pet.

For many Australian families, both parents are now working outside the home for part of the week and grandparents are helping to mind the children more. This aspect was not specifically included, but implied in some of the depictions, such as the African story-telling grandmother or the Spanish Lita, welcoming her grandson into her art-filled home.

I would certainly recommend this book for its joyful depiction of grandmothers. It would make a good companion to the Grandpa book by the same team.

Ashleigh Barton is a communication professional, who markets and promotes children’s books. She is also a freelance content writer and copywriter and she has a food blog.

Martina Heiduczek grew up in a small village on the Baltic Sea in Germany and now lives in Australia. This is the third book she’s illustrated after ‘Duck, Apple, Egg’ and ‘What Do You Call Your Grandpa?

“What Do You Call Your Grandma?’


by Ashleigh Barton (writer) and Martina Heiduczek (illustrator)

Harper Collins

ISBN: 978 0 7333 4084 0

32pp;  $19.99 (HB)


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