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Emma’s Question

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By: Catherine Urdahl / Illustrated by: Janine Dawson

A question scritches and scratches at the back of Emma's throat.

Emma is a curious kid. She loves to ask questions—and she loves the silly answers that her grandmother always gives. But now Emma has a very important question, one that she is bursting to ask, one that scritches and scratches at the back of her throat. Her grandmother is sick and has to stay in the hospital. Emma wonders if Grandma will still be able to read to her kindergarten; if she will still make up funny stories over bagels on Wednesdays; if she will still be able to watch her after school. But mostly Emma wonders if Grandma is going to die.

Emma's Question helps families to answer the question that all kids face at one time or another. Geared toward young children, the story uses gentle humor and simple explanations to describe what is happening to Grandma in the hospital. Funny, sweet illustrations show the depth and closeness of Emma and Grandma’s relationship.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Catherine Urdahl, author

Catherine Urdahl is the author of Emma's Question and Polka-Dot Fixes Kindergarten. She lives in Minnesota.

Read more about Catherine.

Janine Dawson, illustrator

Janine Dawson lives in Fairlight, New South Wales, Australia. She is the illustrator of several books including the Lily Quench series (Penguin Young Readers) and Bobbie Dazzler (Kane/Miller).

Read more about Janine.

Awards & Honors:

  • Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, 2009

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

The buildup to the revelation of Emma’s titular question takes some time, while Urdahl introduces Emma, her parents and her beloved, hospitalized Grandma. “Are you going to die?” Emma finally asks when permitted to visit, and Grandma, who has already soothed Emma’s fears about her I.V. by calling it her “dancing partner,” emerges as a hero by using humor and gentle honesty to respond: “Not today. I have a Chutes and Ladders game to play.” While Emma and her parents’ emotional turmoil leading up to the hospital visit resonates, it’s troubling that her parents haven’t taken the time to sit down with her to talk. By placing the responsibility of answering and comforting Emma on the gravely ill Grandma rather than on her parents, the book introduces a contextual dissonance, given that its likely users are parents seeking to provide their own children with a literary mirror to their own experiences. Dawson’s cartoon-style watercolor illustrations occasionally provide successful comic relief, but often emerge as one half of a contradictory pairing with the seriousness of the text’s content.

Publishers Weekly

What happens when a grandparent falls ill? In her debut, Urdahl does a clear if slightly flat-footed job of setting out five-year-old Emma's ambivalence when Grandma lands in the hospital. She's peeved that Grandma can't keep her promise to read to her kindergarten class; she's lonely without her special companion; and she's just plain frightened. She wants to ask something, but, in a leitmotif, finds that she can't: “The question clawed at Emma's throat. She clamped her lips together.” When readers finally meet Grandma, they see why Emma loves her so much. “That's just my dancing partner,” she jokes when Emma shies away from the IV stand. More importantly, she responds candidly when Emma blurts her burning question: “Are you going to die?” “Sometime,” Grandma replies. “But not now.” Dawson (the Lily Quench series) keeps the images upbeat with pastel shades and lots of smiles. Still, it's a scary subject, and Urdahl does not entirely defang it: Grandma is still in the hospital at the end. Ages 5–8. (Feb.)


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-146-2

ISBN: 978-1-60734-125-3 PDF
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Ages: 5-8
Page count: 32
11 x 8 1/2

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