After decades of decline, multi-generational households are on the rise in North America. In part the result of the crazily high cost of living, this trend, in Canada at least, is also due to an influx of immigrants from countries where such living arrangements are commonplace – indeed, it is commonplace in much of the world.
For the children of these families, Jennifer Mook-Sang’s book offers a sweet, gentle primer on how to deal with the sudden arrival of a grandparent into the family midst. No matter how functional the family, a change like this, let’s face it, requires adjustments on both sides.
Refreshingly, Mook-Sang flips the expected child-centric narrative. “When my grandma came to live with us,” says our six-year-old-ish-looking female narrator, “she had to get used to a new environment.” Of course, our narrator will have to get used to grandma being in her environment, too. But the important suggestion here is that grandmas, even when they are as relatively young as this one appears to be – she paints, does yoga, has a smartphone – are bound to be a little more set in their ways. For a kid, moving is an adventure; for someone over 60, it’s an uprooting.
Which is not a random metaphor: Plants feature prominently in the book, including in the horticultural-manual-sounding title. Grandma, we glean, has given up a real garden for a mere balcony, but she’s intent on making the most of it. After arriving with a single potted plant under her arm, she sets out, with her granddaughter’s help, to fill that balcony with as much greenery as will fit.
Granddaughter, for her part, enthusiastically keeps her elder fed, watered, and entertained; she introduces her to the neighbours and helps to decorate her room. We’re never told why grandma left her previous home, but a sombre image, rendered by illustrator Yong Ling Kang in moody, monochromatic blues and greys, of her in bed at night scrolling on her phone, is ripe for interpretation: “Even with all my help, my grandma was sometimes a little wilted.”
The book’s final pages show the entire family buzzing around the kitchen preparing a meal, grandma manning the wok. A plant on top of the fridge looks like it could use some water, but the humans, united in a common purpose, are all smiles.