with illustrations by Gregory O’Brien
I absolutely adored The ACB with Honora Lee. It grabbed me the moment I opened it. I’m always on the look out for books which help children and young adults to understand what it’s like living with Dementia and I could instantly see how this book would appeal to mid-Primary aged children and help them process some difficult issues. Gregory O’Brien’s gorgeous illustrations explode across the inside cover and continue throughout, bringing main character, Perry’s thoughts to life in what look to be a series of colourful mind maps. I particularly enjoyed the way the story and illustrations bring different perspectives to the forefront and yet also compliment each other superbly in this short novel.
Perry is an only child with a very inquisitive outlook. Her favourite word seems to be why. She’s trying to figure out the world around her by constantly bombarding the adults in her life with questions. Sometimes she gets the answers she’s after. Often, she feels as if she’s being fobbed off. Perry has a wonderful relationship with her gran, Honora. She’s been Perry’s go to person but now she lives in a retirement home called Santa Lucia. Perry still visits regularly, accompanied by her parents or more frequently, her childminder Nina and Nina’s son Claude. They not only spend time with Honora but form a kind of community with the other residents.
Within a few chapters it is clear that Perry’s gran isn’t the same as she used to be. Gran is confused and sometimes doesn’t even recognise Perry. Perry finds this a bit distressing but instead of abandoning her trips to Santa Lucia, she tries to find a new way for them to connect. She begins to work with her gran on a school project, compiling a quirky and sometimes confused ABC of the older woman’s life. Through the ACB (as Honora calls it), and time spent together, Perry comes to understand a little more of the illness her gran is living with and finds new ways to bond with her as she now is.
The strength of The ACB with Honora Lee is to be found in the way Kate De Gold allows us to see Dementia through the eyes of a young child. Perry describes and explains things in her own childlike way and I found the tone she takes incredibly reassuring.
“So far, all Perry knew about Gran was her name – Honora Lee- and her age – seventy-six years old – and that she didn’t have a husband or much memory any more, which was why she lived at Santa Lucia and could never get Perry’s father’s name right.”
The book is an excellent resource for children who are learning how to live with a loved one who has Dementia. The tone is upbeat, fun and full of little quirks and yet the book doesn’t shy away from some of the harsher realities of living with Dementia. There are plenty of opportunities presented by the story for talking about the sad and difficult changes Dementia can bring about. However, the message comes across loud and clear in both the written text and the illustrations. A special friend or loved one living with Dementia is still the same special friend or loved one. There are ways in which to continue enjoying your time with them and, if you’re anything like Perry, you might even learn something in the process.
The ACB with Honora Lee was published by Hot Key Books in August 2015