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The things of life: Maia and what matters

"Grandma was Maia's best friend. She was just as impatient as her and as greedy".
Fun, friendship, love, empathy: Belgian author Tine Mortier depicts in just a few pages the richness of the unique bond between a grandmother and her granddaughter.

Grandma is exuberant and irreverent and has a bad sweet tooth, she is just the perfect childhood companion. When a stroke suddenly changes everything, leaving her still and silent, little Maia goes from shock and grief to acceptance and resilience thanks to her unwavering love for her: she spends her time in the hospital decorating her room with drawings, flowers and treats, trying to bring life into that white and cold environment and into her grandma's interrupted brain.
Maia seems to be the only one who can connect with the woman, and as a final immense proof of love, we see her taking the her on her husband's deathbed for a last goodbye, against the nurses' will.
There, when grandma finally asks for cake, we are left hoping that the two will get the chance to spend some more time together, embracing those things that have changed, before the inevitable happens.

Maia and what matters is a tribute to grandparents and a poignant story about love across generations, and an accurate, honest portrait of the old age, probably one of the most touching and realistic that I've ever seen.
The story is full of sugary treats but it's not sugarcoated at all: Kaatje Vermeire does an incredible job at painting every single wrinkle on Maia's grandparents faces going through life, illness and death. 
Her visual language is sophisticated and rich, the result of a complicated and time consuming process of layering illustrations created with different techniques. This creates an interesting feeling of depth and richness that changes and amplify the meaning of the words.

I will not hide that this book left me into tears, since there seems to be so much of my childhood in it, and because as a parent it reminded me of the invaluable importance of the time that my children get to spend with their grandparents.
The original title 'Maia and the things' has been translated in English as 'Maia and what matters', which I find explains less effectively the idea of the girl going through the unavoidable events of life.
The key point is in fact how Maia reacts to these developing resilience, thanks to the love for her grandparents. 
Maia and what matters is a story that will resonate with many of us and with all the children who were lucky enough to spend their childhood with their grandparents, witnessing the end of their life cycle.

The reality of things permeates this heart-warming masterpiece of a picture book to share and treasure for years to come.  
Maia and what matters [2013, last copies available here ]
Original title: Mare en de dingen [2010]
Words by Tine Mortier
Art by Kaatje Vermeire
English language edition published by Book Island

Le cose della vita [2017, available here]
Italian edition published by Kite Edizioni
Reading age: 4+
Themes: Grandparents, Love, Old age


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