Look at Me, Grandma! - Valerie Mendes
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Look at Me, Grandma!


Barry Cunningham OBE set up Chicken House Publishing in 2000. Barry had become famous overnight: he’d discovered the work of J. K. Rowling during his stint at Bloomsbury, and the rest is history. I’d heard about him, and moved fast. He and his Editor, Elinor Bagenal, read my very short story and offered to publish it. I jumped at the chance, and positively danced around my cottage when the painter and illustrator Claire Fletcher agreed to work with me. Claire, who lives and works in Hastings, adores the sea and its beaches, so Look at Me, Grandma! fitted her style perfectly. The heatwave of the story also lends itself to her stunning work, with its delicate shimmer of movement, sunshine and moonlight.

As a storyteller, I love writing about the transitions in people’s lives: those extraordinary moments when the baby becomes a child, the child a teenager, the teenager an adult. Everyone recognises these sometimes traumatic occasions – and how they can become memorable, life-changing turning points.

Here is how the back cover of our English edition spelled it out:

Jamie stays alone with his darling Grandma while his mother is having another baby.

Grandma’s loving stories of a child, lost long ago, bring Jamie dreams of strength and
confidence as this secret friend shows him how to ride a bike, swim and,
finally, how he can get ready to welcome his new baby sister.

This is a memorable story about the wonderful love
between generations – and the secret of how it endures.

“An empowering tale for very young children” THE SUNDAY TIMES

“There is poetry in the text which matches the beauty of the pictures” BOOKS FOR KEEPS

“A comforting sense of continuity and regeneration” SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

Look at Me, Grandma!

Just in time, Grandma comes to stay.

“Goodbye, Jamie, darling,” says Mum.
“It’s time for me to have our baby.”
She climbs into the car.
“I’ll be home soon. Grandma will take you to the park.
And to the beach. And to the Midsummer Fair.”

The car speeds away. “Bye, Mum,” Jamie says.

Jamie digs in the sandbox. The sand is burning hot.
At the end of the garden the sea lies calm and blue.
Everything is waiting.

Jamie wants to talk to Mum. It’s lonely without her.
“Come in for lunch,” says Grandma.
“Soon you’ll have a baby to play with.”

“Eat up, Jamie,” says Grandma.
“I’m not hungry,” Jamie says.
The telephone rings. Grandma leaps to answer it.
“Hello?” she says. “Hi, Danny … No news? … Give her our love.
“Jamie’s fine. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“That was Dad,” says Grandma. “He sends his love …
“I know what we could do.
“Let’s look at my photo album. I brought it specially to show you.”

Grandma opens the book. It’s thick and smells of glue.
“There,” she says. “That’s me when I was your age.”
“Who’s that?” asks Jamie, pointing.
“That’s my big brother, Callum,” says Grandma.
“There he is riding his bike. And there, swimming in the sea.
“He had red hair and the brightest green eyes.”

“Where is he now?” asks Jamie.
“He died when he was ten. He was ill. The doctors couldn’t save him.
“It’s different today. Today they would make him well.”

The phone rings again at breakfast.
“Hi, Dad,” says Jamie. “How’s Mum? Oh! … That’s great …
“I love you, too.”

“Mum’s had our baby,” Jamie says. “Her name’s going to be Sara.”
“Yes!” says Grandma. She begins to dance.

Jamie runs down to the bottom of the garden.
“I’ve got a baby sister,” he sings to the sea and sky.
“Her name’s Sara and she’s mine.”

That night, Jamie has a dream.
A boy stands by his bed.
He has red hair and the brightest green eyes.

“My name’s Callum,” he says. He touches Jamie’s hand.
Jamie feels himself flying. Out of the window.
Into the garden under the shining moon.

Callum picks up Jamie’s bicycle.
He begins to pedal faster than the wind.
“I wish I could do that,” Jamie says.

“And so you can,” says Callum.
He pulls Jamie on to the bike.
Then he melts into the air.
Jamie whirls round and round the garden on his own.

“Can we go to the park today?” Jamie asks next morning.
“And can I take my bike?”

On the smooth path, Jamie grips the handlebars.
Suddenly he isn’t frightened any more.
He begins to pedal.
He feels he’s moving faster than the wind.

“Look at me, Grandma!” he says.

In Jamie’s dream that night, Callum comes again.
He touches Jamie’s hand.
Jamie feels himself flying.
Out of the window. Into the garden.
Down to the midnight sea.

Callum begins to swim.
“I wish I could do that,” Jamie says.
“Here,” says Callum. “Hold on to me.”
Then he melts into the waves and Jamie begins to swim.

“Can we go to the beach today?” Jamie asks next morning.
He and Grandma race down to the sea.
Jamie wades into the waves.
Suddenly he isn’t frightened any more.
He takes the water in his arms and begins to swim.

“Look at me, Grandma!” he says.

In Jamie’s dream that night, Callum comes again.
He touches Jamie’s hand.
Jamie feels himself flying.
Out of the window. Into the garden.
Across the moonlit sky to the Midsummer Fair.

Callum strokes a bumper car and hums it into life.
They climb aboard.
They zoom it round and round.
Then Callum melts into the zoom and Jamie drives.

“Can we go to the Midsummer Fair today?” Jamie asks next morning.
“There’s something very special I want to do.”

The Fair is hot and crowded.
Jamie pulls Grandma towards the bumper cars.
He climbs into the driving seat.
Grandma sits down beside him.
Jamie hums the engine into life and then he drives.

“Look at me, Grandma!” he says.

That night the heatwave breaks.
White sheets of rain sweep from the midnight sky.
Jamie falls deeply asleep.
In his dream he teaches Sara to ride a bike.
To swim in the warm calm sea.
To drive a bumper car at the Midsummer Fair.

Next morning the doorbell rings.
Jamie runs to answer it.
Mum stands on the doorstep, holding a bundle.

“Hello, Jamie, darling,” she says. “This is Sara.”
She puts the bundle into Jamie’s arms.
Jamie looks down at Sara’s tiny face.
At her red hair.
And the brightest green eyes.

“Look at us, Grandma!” he says.