‘Do you want to meet your Grandma?’ is a humorous and insightful book for young children about our shared universal ancestors. It celebrates female wisdom and ancestry.
Illustrator Auntie Fonu (left) and author SV Middleby (right) had a chat with BroadAgenda’s Ginger Gorman.
Soli, If you were explaining the storyline your book to someone who didn’t know anything about it, what would you say?
I would say it is a journey to meet our Grandmothers from long long ago and to learn about who these ancestor Grandmas are, how we are still like them and what they might have to teach us.
Soli, Where did the idea come from?
‘Do You Want To Meet Your Grandma?’ had been circling around my head ever since I first tried to explain evolution to my own children and seeing the surprise and joy in their reaction when they found out their Grandma was a fish!
For many years I thought about how to tell that story in ways that honoured both my own childhood, growing up in Australian in a family that loved science, nature and creativity with her adult life mostly spent in the Pacific islands, a place of deeply religious and spiritual people who shared with her their connections to each other, the land, ocean, and ancestors.
Soli, this study came out a while ago but males are central characters in 57 percent of children’s books. Your book is a female-focused book. Why have you mainly focused on women?
I wrote this book for all kids regardless of gender to celebrate our female ancestry and female wisdom.
Who better than a Grandma to teach children wise important lessons and help them understood how they came to be in ways that also help them understand their connections to each other, the planet, and the whole universe?
I come from a family full of strong women and my parents taught me to challenged the patriarchy from an very early age, so it was no surprise that this book has allowed me to pay respects to my own maternal lineage, that before me and that to come.
Fonu, the illustrations are gorgeous. How did you go about capturing the story, given that some of the ideas about our connections to the universe, each other and nature are huge?
Thank you! I would say the huge ideas behind the story are what drew me to Soli’s concept in the first place. They were delicious and so true and right feeling. I could relate on a scientific and a spiritual level. A logical and a poetic one. A deep cultural level and a global level. I loved it.
My art has always focused on more intangible subjects like emotional and metaphysical experience through depictions of our bodies, and through texture, colour and nature. I saw Do you want to meet your Grandma? as an exciting challenge and an important one to attempt.
My process began with the very core of the story which is the grandmas! Starting from their words of advice I imagined their spirits, their colour palettes, what environment they existed in and what their favourite flora might be there; all in all trying to capture their personalities, wisdom, “Grandma-ness” and the corner of the universe they occupied.
I think the process of making art, of creating something, naturally taps you into the sense that everything is connected – just like being in nature and connecting to the wonder of life does. So the way we are all connected came together organically in the drawings when I surrendered to the wonder of things and let the grandmas speak their messages through each page.
Fonu, what do you hope children take from your illustrations?
I hope that children reading this story and seeing these illustrations can feel these grandmothers’ mana, their wisdom, their spirit and loving guidance; and be inspired to think of our universal lineage and responsibility to one another and the planet. I hope that adults do also, and that the experience is fun!
Both of you: How did you incorporate diversity?
Soli : Representation matters so much. There are far too few Children’s books in the Pacific and even fewer that have Pacifc kids in them. This was something very important to me and to Fonu and I knew she would create illustrations that captured not only Pacifc kids but also their homes, the land and the sea. We both hope all kids can see themselves in our story and that we have contributed to this gap.
Fonu: I tried to weave diversity into every area of the illustrations, from the children’s backgrounds and their emotional range to the plant forms and colour choices throughout. Living in multicultural places all my life and being culturally diverse, neurodiverse and an artist – I feel like diversity in representation isn’t just a matter of equity and dignity, it’s also a matter of accuracy. So I drew from the world around me, because this is a story for the world.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Most of all I hope this book will encourage intergenerational conversations, sharing of wisdom and celebrating of Grandmas!
Feature image: Auntie Fonu (left) and SV Middleby (right) with their book, ‘Do you want to meet your Grandma?’ Picture: Supplied
Ginger Gorman is a fearless and multi award-winning social justice journalist and feminist. Ginger’s bestselling book, Troll Hunting, came out in 2019. Since then, she’s been in demand both nationally and globally as an expert on cyberhate and the real-life harm predator trolling can do. She's also the editor of BroadAgenda and gender editor at HerCanberra. Ginger hosts the popular "Seriously Social" podcast for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Follow her on Twitter.