What’s a Yiayia? – A beautiful children’s book about embracing diversity
Released ahead of Harmony Day, What’s a Yiayia? is a new children’s book that celebrates cultural diversity. Written by primary school teacher, Stella Stamatakis the book encourages children to understand, appreciate and respect diversity. It also explores the special bond between grandparents and grandchildren – and the important role that grandparents play in helping the next generation connect with their culture and heritage.
The book is about a little girl called Eleni, who tells her friend Luca that her yiayia is picking her up from school and they’re going to make avgolemeno soup together. Luca has no idea what she’s talking about. That is until he realises that Eleni is talking about her grandmother! Only his is called Nonna and he loves making ravioli with her. In fact, all Eleni and Luca’s friends – whether they’re Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese or from country Australia – have a grandmother, the only difference is the special name they have for her.
Eleni is happy to teach her friends about her yiayia, the special things they do together and the delicious food they cook. In the same way that she is curious to learn about her friends’ backgrounds and what they call their grandmothers.
Inspiration for the book came from Stella’s daughter, Elle. When Elle was five years old, her yiayia was visiting from Adelaide, which meant she would be picking up Elle from school. In anticipation, Elle proudly declared to her classmates “My yiayia is picking me up from school today!” To which they responded “What’s a yiayia?”
“When Elle recounted the story back at home that night it initiated lots of great discussion about different cultures. I loved the moral of the story – and thought it was a perfect springboard for teaching my students about cultural diversity and acceptance. It actually gave way to an annual classroom tradition – at the beginning of each school year, I would put up a list of the various names my students had for their grandparents, so that when peers spoke of their grandparents it was no longer foreign, “ Says Stella, whose own parents were migrants to Australia from Greece.
Although the exchange between Elle and her classmate took place some 16 years ago, it continued to linger in Stella’s mind and went on to become the inspiration for the plot of her first children’s book.
“By drawing on my own cultural background, along with my passion for family, food and education, I hope that children reading this book will come to understand that we are all the same and a little bit different too. Even though we may all be from different backgrounds we all share so much – like the love for our family and joy of preparing food together.”