Maria G. Mackavey tells a simple but enduring story about the trials of a grandmother traveling to visit her granddaughter in her gorgeous picture book Yiayia Visits Amalia.
It’s a common scenario, especially around the holiday season: Relatives like Yiayia (Greek for “grandma”) suffer long rides in cars, trains, and taxis to visit loved ones. In this story, Yiayia sets out to visit her granddaughter Amalia, and a bit of drama ensues. She gets stuck in traffic, nearly misses a train, and forgets her suitcase. One of the book’s strengths is its realistic portrayal of the casual, universal frustrations of travel. Even more important, however, is the payoff—the hard-earned reunion of Yiayia and Amalia on the last page, which might remind readers of why their own families make the effort to get together.
The book emanates a feeling of peace and calm, even when things are going wrong for Yiayia. For every problem, there is a solution—a comforting message for youngsters. The book also reinforces the kindness of people, as Yiayia locates her lost suitcase with the help of a Good Samaritan. “Someone on the train had found her suitcase and carried it to the Lost Baggage Claim desk,” the narrative explains.
The writing is clear and effective, and the illustrations by Bee Johnson are outstanding. Johnson’s colorful pages evoke the visual splendor of a snowy winter day and have a timeless quality to them: Except for a sleek-looking train, a Volkswagen Bug, and the appearance of an escalator and elevator, the story (and the entire book) could pass as contemporary to any time in the last 75 years.
Yiayia Visits Amalia is simple storytelling done right. It’s a book that children—especially those with traveling grandmothers—will enjoy returning to again and again.