Books & Literature

Book Review: What’s a Yiayia? by Stella Stamatakis

When Eleni tells her school friends about her yiayia, it begins a conversation about the cultural diversity of all their grandmothers.

A multi-layered picture book about the similarities found within cultural diversity.

Released in time for Harmony Day this coming Thursday, 21 March, What’s a Yiayia? is a stellar (!), multi-layered children’s book for ages 4-8. It explores language, culture, food, clothing and, most importantly, the similarities to be found in diversity.

Eleni tells her friends at school that Mondays are her favourite day because her yiayia collects her from school. When asked What’s a yiayia? Eleni explains it’s the Greek word for Grandmother. She goes on to tell her friends how she and her yiayia cook a traditional Greek meal together and enjoy each other’s company.

Her story prompts Luca to talk about his Nonna Maria, who he sees on Tuesdays. Rubi talks of her nanna on Wednesdays, followed by Malik with his Teta on Thursdays, and so on. Six days of the week are explored with six different cultures, including Australian. What the kids discover is that, despite their cultural and language differences, they all love their grandmother and do similar things with her.

The clever, engaging text is crafted in a way to open up conversations about a range of learning opportunities, from the different cultures we interact with, to family, knowing the days of the week, and activities that can be done together. Each child in the story cooks a traditional meal from their grandmother’s birth country and just enough detail is given to potentially excite a child into wanting to try it themselves with their own parent, guardian or grandmother.

French illustrator Oscar Fa provides colourful full-page graphics that reveal traditional clothing from each of the cultures, along with depictions of the cooking and other activities the children engage in. We see each country’s flag, the food, and items associated with that culture, whether it be a tin of tomatoes, a tea pot or a portrait of a flamenco dancer in the background. His vibrant images are so exceptionally well planned and drawn that entire new conversations can be found within each.

Not everyone agrees with multiculturalism but regardless of whether you enjoy the discovery of other cultures, or struggle to come to terms with it, What’s a Yiayia? focusses the argument on our similarities instead of our differences. Multiculturalism is here to stay and as the world gets smaller, our children must learn to accept it if they want to move ahead in the world as they grow older. Stella Stamatakis has used her skills as a primary school teacher to begin that journey of acceptance and understanding for children and adults alike. For those who already embrace diversity, her simple revelations of each child’s heritage are exciting and interesting, opening up so many possibilities to help children enhance their own lives and spread a message of peace on this coming Harmony Day and beyond.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Available from:
Released: March 2019
RRP: $24.99

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