The book Emma’s Question arrived at our home just before a very tumultuous time, and was like a small port in the storm for me as a mother. Written by Catherine Urdahl and illustrated by Janine Dawson, the book takes us through a young girl’s curiosity and sadness upon the hospitalization of her grandmother.
Being a mother of young girls, I am always looking for ways in which to explain the “tough stuff” in life to them. I find that through books such as these, I’m better equipped to explain certain situations and help them understand in a way that makes sense to them.
We were drawn in to Emma’s Question by the soft watercolor-like illustrations and the friendly intricacy of the character’s features. Emma, a kindergartner, looks forward to her Grandma reading to her class the next day, only to find out that her much-loved Grandma has fallen ill and needs to stay in the hospital for a while. Emma has a burning question that “scratches at her throat” as she goes through the ins and outs of the next couple of days, worried about her Grandma and wondering what will happen.
When Emma’s mother finally takes her to see Grandma at the hospital, Emma is frightened and can’t bear the weight of her question anymore. “Are you going to die?” she bursts out. “Not today,” answers Grandma. As they begin to talk about the things in the room that help Grandma—the IV fluids, the medicines, the special hospital bed—Emma becomes more comfortable and sees that her Grandma is just the same as she always was, and still just as special. They talk about going out for bagels again, having tea parties and making up silly stories, just as they’ve always done.
When my own grandmother was recently hospitalized, I noticed that my Kindergartner, too, had questions. I thought back to the gentle way in which Catherine Urdahl pens Grandma handling Emma’s confusion and worry and channeled it to my own situation. After leaving the nursing home one day after a visit, I asked my daughter, who is very close to her great-grandmother, “Do you want to talk about Grammy?” “Will Grammy die?” she asked, eerily similar to little Emma’s inquiry. “Well…” I said. “Yes. Someday. But not today.” We walked on together, and I hoped she was thinking of all the fun things we usually do with Grammy and remembering, just as Emma did, that her great-grandmother is just as special as always.