Book Review: 'When I See Grandma'

Writing this review has come at an interesting time for me. Over the past two years I have watched as my own Grandmother has gradually declined in both physical and mental health. Though her mental faculties are often intact, there are times when I wonder if she remembers that I have visited her. Visiting her can be difficult and painful, or it can be wonderfully reminiscent. I never know until I am there.

I have also wrestled with the concept of explaining her illness to my two pre-school aged children, an idea that is explored subtly and tactfully in the beautifully illustrated children’s book ‘When I See Grandma’, (written by Debra Tidball and illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom).

Visiting sick, old and often confused relatives can be difficult for children to understand. There is a particular sadness for a parent experiencing the slow and painful decline of someone they love and deeply respect, someone they hold a particular affection for and bond with – and it is compounded when the circumstances need to be explained to a small child.


For a simple Children’s book, ‘When I See Grandma’ is effective on many levels. It is a big picture reminder for young children of the importance of caring for sick loved ones as well as the vital role that family plays in their lives. Through glimpses into grandma’s earlier life, It signals to the young reader that they exist within a community, rather than the self-centric world children tend to imagine themselves in. And most importantly, at its core, it tells the story of a young girl who loves to visit her grandma in a completely relatable way.

There is something in this book for parents as well. Though it replicates a foreboding fear of the gradual death of a loved one, it does so in a touching and understated way, leaving adults with a bittersweet sense of nostalgia at the end. The illustrations tell several stories – the story of a child looking adoringly at her grandmother, of a parent visiting a dying relative, and of the power of children in bringing happiness to the sick and elderly.

‘When I See Grandma’ is a must read for any family experiencing the difficulties associated with terminal illness.


Debra Tidball has been a North Shore mum for just on 10 years and her two girls have been educated locally, in a jigsaw puzzle of schools. She undertook a postgrad Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Macquarie University when her children were young, having studied Social Work at Sydney Uni and worked in the welfare sector pre-parenting. She now juggles parenting her teenagers (and wonders how anyone struggles through this without a Social Work degree), writing (and promoting) children’s books, and working casually for a large NGO. When I See Grandma is her first picture book and is based on her experiences taking her young children to visit their grandmother when she was declining with dementia. All her author royalties for this book go to dementia care and research. You can find out more about Debra on her website (where you can also find activities to do with your children), and you can ‘like’ to follow her on Facebook.

Leigh Hedstrom is a Northern Beaches artist and mum. This is her second book, her first book Marty’s Nut Free Party is also published by Wombat Books.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of ‘When I See Grandma’, you can purchase online from Wombat Books here for $19.95 (+$2.50 postage). Otherwise, local stockists on the North Shore include Lindfield Bookshop, Berkelouw Books (Hornsby, Mona Vale, Dee Why, Balgowlah), The Children’s Bookshop (Beecroft), and Koorong (West Ryde). 

Kate has been a business owner, accountant, and a personal trainer and is currently a writer and mum to two cheeky pre schoolers. She writes a blog about parenting and lifestyle issues. Kate and her husband live in Turramurra with a 5 year old superhero, a 3 year old fairy princess and a very well loved dog.