On the cover of the book, we see two cartoon characters, a stereotypical grandma and what seems to be a teenage girl making a dramatic face and holding her nose.
Once inside, it was difficult to ascertain the age of the girl. She seems little when standing by her mother or being hugged by her grandmother, but she manages to carry two large suitcases and a purse. Then again, she plays with dolls and enjoys being read to at bedtime.
Throughout the story, Collins’ character pictures dramatically portray the child’s various expressions of repulsion. The intensity of her reaction does not seem to match the rest of her family. Is the smell that bad, or is she overreacting? As well, the position Grandma holds gives the impression she has flatulence. But, when Grandma and the girl return from the walk, we are given the impression it’s body odour.
The little girl repeatedly shows her ingenuity by attempting ways to diminish the smell: drawing a bath, opening a window, and bringing in an air freshener. I was disappointed that she was unable to have any impact on the problem. Some girls might interpret this message as, you can’t change the situation, you just have to live with it. I confess, I dislike books that subtly give girls the message that the answer is passivity.
At the end of the story, the little girl decides, that because Grandma cherishes her, she can love her back, smell and all. The message of accepting people as they are is a good one, however the idea that the repugnant body odour will continue without any intervention just doesn’t seem reasonable. Because the grandmother is portrayed as generous, affectionate, intelligent, active, and capable, the issue of body odour just doesn’t seem to fit her character.
The tone of the story is mostly over the top silliness. Children will love repeating the phrase, “Grandma Stinks!” Parents would do well to discuss the inappropriateness of that phrase and ensure that their children are mature enough not to repeat it beyond story time. They should discuss reasons why the grandmother might have smelled bad and what the family could have done about it. Surely they would not want the grandmother to be shunned by other people because of her smell.
The family in the story is obviously kind and loving. Throughout the book, the reader assumes that the grandmother is unaware of her stench. However, the ending illustration is puzzling. Grandma winks at the reader and does the hand signal for okay. What are we to make of that?
Children will probably love this book. It will elicit lots of laughs and participation, but I think it needs to be handled with care. An adult should be prepared to discuss the issues raised by “Grandma Stinks!”
I was given a paperback copy of this book in return for publishing a review.