Maia and What Matters

This beautiful book left me with a lump in my throat. It tells the story of feisty little Maia and her close relationship with her beloved Grandma. The bond between them is remarkable and, thanks to the brilliance of the author and illustrator, almost tangible. They adore cherries, are greedy for cake and enjoy racing pell-mell around the garden; but more than that – they share a huge understanding of each other. And then life intervenes.

Tine Mortier deals with old age, illness and death in a remarkably non-maudlin and sensitive way. Children will not be frightened. They will be encouraged to think about such issues and be reassured that life goes on. Grandma suffers a stroke and when the adults around her fail to understand her words, Maia interprets her needs perfectly because she KNOWS her Grandma. The fact that Grandma, with whom we form a relationship, is merely ill, while Grandpa, who is a peripheral character, dies, means that we can examine illness, recovery and death in an objective and more detached way than if Grandma had passed on. Kaatje Vermeire’s illustrations are superb. They capture the exuberance of a life lived fully and the stillness of illness, sadness and death. Her artwork is subtle and delicate and she manages to portray the difficult subject matter deftly and gracefully. Her illustrations make reading the story an intense yet gentle experience and will help children to make meaning of the subject matter while forming a close connection with Maia and her Grandma. This is not a book to choose lightly – and parents or teachers should, before presenting it to a child, read it fully themselves and be prepared to discuss it or answer questions. This book is set to become a classic and I thoroughly recommend it.