The last month, for the first time since I started this little blog project called ‘Book of the Month’ two years ago, I missed the monthly post. My August was overwhelming. I had a friend visiting from abroad, two book deadlines on top of a day job, and health issues. In the middle of all that, my grandmother passed away and I missed her funeral held in Japan.
In my family, we called my grandmother ‘Mama’ because that’s how my mum called her, and my brother and I just adopted it. Most of my memories of her involve baking or cooking and food. I’m known for my passion for baking among my friends and colleagues, and it was Mama who taught me how to bake. Because I’m not good at expressing my feelings in person, I tend to say it with my bakes not words. Baking is my creative platform, my therapist, and my bridge to show my gratitude and love to other people. I can’t think of me without baking. By losing Mama, I realised how much she meant to me and who I am today.
I wanted to dedicated the last month’s BOTM post to Mama, but I wasn’t in the right head and mental space and I didn’t have a book that makes me think of her. However, last week, by chance, I found a perfect book on @momoe.picturebook Instagram post. It’s Thank you, Omu by Oge Mora (Little Brown 2018).
Omu (an author’s note explains that “Omu” (pronounced AH-moo) means “queen” in the Igbo language of her parents, but growing up, she used it to mean “Grandma.”), an elderly woman who lives on the corner of First Street and Long Street on the top floor, cooks a thick red stew in a big fat pot for her dinner. As the scrumptious scent wafted through the block, one by one, people come to knock on her door and ask for a taste of her delicious stew. And one by one, Omu offers a portion of her meal. By the time for her dinner, the pot becomes empty. Then comes another knock. As Omu tries to tell the visitor that there’s none left in the pot to give, she finds all the neighbours have come back with food to share with Omu.
This remarkable author-illustrator debut by Oge Mora is a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, and it’s no surprise. Not to mention the heartwarming story, her colour cut-paper illustrations are sheer delight. They are gorgeous, whimsical, playful and dynamic. I can go on. When I saw the Omu’s red stew, made of red flower patterned papers, I was simply wowed. I also love the effective use of cut-paper fonts within the text.
The story is a celebration of community spirit, but first and foremost it’s about giving. This book reminds me that, by shearing her recipes and passion for baking, Mama taught me not just how to bake but how to be generous and kind. To be honest, I still can’t believe Mama is gone. Probably it won’t sink in until next time I go home and see her empty kitchen. But I know she lives on within me as long as I bake and share my cakes with people.
R.I.P Mama. I miss you forever.