I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. It is the perfect book to share with young and old, and what better time to do so than Christmas time.
Debra Tidball’s ‘When I see Grandma’ is a beautiful, poignant story of life, love, family and compassion. It will make you smile. It will make you teary. It will touch your heart in many ways. So thoughtfully and delicately illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom, the images evoke an array of emotions, and tie in magically with Debra’s gentle phrasing.
When the children visit their sick and elderly grandmother in the aged care home, it is their glowing presence that elicits grandma’s fond memories of her past.
”I’m sometimes sad to see her but I’m always glad that I can brighten her dreams.”
The little girl and her brother bring joy to the elderly through elements of music, ”for her dreams to dance on”, through their laughter and their youthful innocence. She nurtures her grandmother with a little pampering and cuddling, which strengthens the love in her heart. The story ends with a kiss for Daddy until he returns from work, and a kiss for Grandma, to say goodbye. The final image of the family sharing grandma’s old photos, which can be viewed in the endpapers, give the book the perfect uplifting conclusion.Wombat Books 2014.
Debra, congratulations on winning the CALEB Prize, and for being shortlisted in the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards for ‘When I see Grandma’! What wonderful achievements!
How did you feel when you heard the exciting news of your nomination and win?
To be short listed for the same award category as the legendary (and our family favourite, Bob Graham) blew me away – he won the Speech Pathology award, but I certainly get bragging rights! And winning the CALEB prize was more quietly and personally gratifying.
All the royalties of ‘When I see Grandma’ will be donated to the Hazel Hawke Alzheimer’s Research and Care fund, which is amazing. What does this connection mean to you personally?
My mum had dementia and the book is dedicated to her: it is based on visiting her with my two daughters when she was in an aged care home – so it seemed appropriate to donate my royalties to an organisation working in the dementia area. Hazel Hawke was a courageous and warmly regarded public personality and this fund seemed to be the right fit. The fund is administered via Alzheimer’s Australia who have been very supportive.
Do you have any special childhood memories of your own Grandma?
It’s interesting you ask that, Romi, because the only contact I had with my grandparents as a child was receiving birthday and Christmas presents from them (which my mother actually bought with money sent from overseas) and writing ‘thank you’ letters in return. My mum was a ‘£10 pom’ and left her family in London in the 1950’s, so I didn’t meet my grandparents until, at a very elderly age, they came for a visit to Australia when I was a teenager, and it was actually very awkward. Having grown up without that grandparent connection, I was keen for my children to have an ongoing relationship with theirs, and for them them to know my parents as people with full and amazing lives.
The illustrations in your book, by Leigh Hedstrom, are just beautiful, and instrumental in guiding the story. How involved did you need to be to create these specific images, and how much did you leave to Leigh?
Leigh felt the story for the start and captured its essence with creativity and with some goose-bump moments of serendipity. The first sketch she sent through was of grandma by the water hole in her swimmers – and I knew from that moment she would be perfect. The manuscript I sent to her had illustrative ideas which she took on board but the dream sequences were not an easy concept to illustrate. The idea I initially had didn’t work, and I loved the way Leigh wrestled with how to portray these pages – she sent a number of rough ideas, through the publisher, to me for comment – I appreciated the way I was consulted through the whole process and how Leigh valued feedback. I was thrilled with how it ended up – particularly the symbolic trail of flowers, laughter, hearts etc that link the bedroom scenes to the dreams. And I love the cartoon like characters and the vibrant colours which I wouldn’t have imagined but engage children so very well, adding fun and vibrancy to the narrative and giving the story it’s uplifting feel.
I wrote the visual narrative of the young boy and his interactions with the residents into the story but Leigh was initially unsure that she could squeeze that onto the page – I’m so glad she managed it as it adds another layer to the story, about community, that I think is so important.
As for serendipity, the little touches that had a huge emotional impact for me were Leigh having grandma dancing with grandpa in uniform – unbeknown to her, my father was in the Air Force and my parents started going out dancing when Mum started nursing; and the father in the story, both as a little boy and an adult, is a replica of my husband (glasses, hair colour, build, musical interest) whom Leigh had never met.
It has Leigh’s personal touches too – the toys on the page where the grandmother is playing with her child are an expression of Leigh’s love of Disney, and she sneakily made the book that the mother reads with the class another of her collaborations (Marty’s Nut Free Party). The use of the endpapers to replicate an old photo album and to recognise some of these photos on pages throughout the book is an inspired way to weave a thread that wraps the whole together. I could go on….
‘When I see Grandma’ is a lovely tribute to all Grandparents, but also fosters an appreciation for family connectedness. What message do you hope for readers, young and old, to gain from reading your story?
I hope that readers get a sense that people are so much more than they seem at any one point in time, that everyone has a history and personal stories that are rich and vibrant and make up who they are – even when they are handicapped by age or illness. I hope, too that readers understand the importance for everyone to include children in an aged care community, and that a sense of connection can be made across generations despite apparent barriers.
What does the festive season mean for you and your family?
Christmas is a time for reflection and recharging after a busy year. We love to spend quiet family days and attend church. It’s also a nice time to catch up with extended family and friends who’ve been neglected during the year. Having spent last Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I realised I’m very much an Aussie girl – nothing says Christmas to me like summer – sleepy reading days relaxing outdoors with the smell of sunscreen and smoke (only from the BBQ hopefully!)
Do you have any special traditions that you follow every year?
As my children have grown up a lot these past few years (they are now adults) it is interesting to see what traditions have stood the test of time. We like to go to choral services at our local church together, beginning the with advent service of lessons and carols. We are excited to exchange presents on Christmas Day and Peter Combe’s Christmas album is still the album of choice to accompany this ritual. We may have a feast or famine of decorations – the gloss goes off glamming up the house or Christmas tree when the children realise that the pulling out the bling is always easier than packing it away. But remembering Christmas past is always part of the fun! I’m not a fruit cake fan, but I look forward to my Ice Cream Christmas Cake all year.
What is your favourite Christmas children’s book?
One with many happy memories from my younger years is a beautiful pop-up book of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ by Clement C Moore and Tom Patrick – it was marvellously interactive both physically and narratively. More recently, it would be a tie between The Nativity by Julie Vivas and Wombat Divine by Mem Fox.
You’ve had great success with your writing in 2014. What do you aim to achieve in 2015?
I have a few other manuscripts out to publishers as well as some other writing projects, so next year it would be great to have something accepted for publication – fingers crossed! I will also continue to search avenues to promote ‘When I see Grandma’ because it is such a pertinent and topical story, and it has the potential to be enduring.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Debra! Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season with your friends and family!
Thanks Romi 🙂
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Interview by Romi Sharp