In today’s globally mobile world, a grandparent living in another country is not such a rare occurrence. In fact, most of my class - I’m a primary school teacher in Tamaki Makaurau - could relate to Margaret Chiu Greanias' loosely autobiographical story of a San Franciscan kid called Kylie, whose grandmother lives in Taiwan.
When Kylie is due to visit Amah (Amah is the Taiwanese word for grandmother), she is nervous. Sure, they have regular video chats on the computer, but a new country, new customs, a new language… Kylie is out of her comfort zone, and Amah may as well be a stranger. Kylie is perplexed to discover that in Taiwan, “family” is a broad concept, it’s tricky to be a picky eater at a nine-course banquet, and the local donuts have “No frosting, no filling, no chocolate?”
Imitating a cunning linguistic trick so exquisitely well played in the poignant 2018 refugee allegory Room on our Rock, the lines of the first half of the book are repeated from the midpoint in the reverse order, to reflect the transition Kylie goes through: from her initial uncertainty about her trip to a different country, to learning to embrace a new culture and establish a solid connection with Amah.
While that trick might’ve gone over the heads of my five-year-olds (no-one said anything while I was reading it, so I pointed it out, but they might’ve just been absorbed in the story), the story generated a great discussion about culture, whānau and manawaroa (resilience).
Reviewer: Stacey Anyan
Allen & Unwin