It doesn’t take much to bring the people we love into our thoughts. We see a favorite bird, hear the punchline of an often told joke or finally taste a recipe no one else has ever been able to reproduce, and we are instantly transported. Beautiful, sweet and warm, When Lola Visits will usher readers into their own fond memories through the story of a little girl and the summer she shares with her grandmother, her lola, who visits from the Philippines.
Author Michelle Sterling writes like someone in love with language, her text laden with assonance and alliteration, hyperbole and simile. Every page contains creative metaphors so precise that they’re almost tangible. From the scents of jasmine blossoms and swimming pool chlorine to newly sharpened pencils and mango jam bubbling on the burner, Sterling evokes not only lovely and yummy smells but also the ordinary, everyday smells that linger just beyond our recognition. Each description unlocks a sensory detail that draws readers further into the world of the story and the girl’s time with Lola, but also into their own warm summer recollections. Thanks to Sterling’s descriptive powers, you don’t have to have eaten mango jam or warm cassava cake fresh from the oven to know exactly how it tastes.
Illustrator Aaron Asis’ artwork is an equally magical and intriguing study in contrast. He works with broad strokes of soft, breezy colors and uncomplicated shapes that often fade out, edgeless. At the same time, he delicately details fruit in a bowl, dangling kitchen utensils and the fascinating clutter that seems to accompany grandparents and other older people. (What child can resist going through Grandma’s bag in search of treats or treasures?) Noticing the illustrations’ unusual perspectives and angles feels like gazing through the open eyes of a child.
Like all the best childhood memories of loved ones, When Lola Visits feels familiar, friendly and faded to perfection. It’s a little hazy with age, and a little more shimmery for the haze.