Notes from a Children's Librarian: Great, Great Books About Grandparents

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

*****

The unique exchange between grandchild and grandparent stays true throughout these stories, some of which deal with big themes, such as Alzheimer's, widowhood, remarriage and loss.

Book Cover My Two Grandmothers

In My Two Grandmothers, by Diane Carmel Leger, illustrated by Jean-Luc Trudel, Memere Hermance is as different from Nannie Henrietta as a bee from a hen. Two distinct portraits are constructed: an Acadian, stylish store owner vs. a Scottish, protective, practical grandma. What makes them angry? Where do they take their grandchildren on adventures? Even their dogs are polar opposites. This delightful tale demonstrates character to the age 6+ crowd. It's punctuated with French sayings and Scottish slang with translations at the back. 

Fox Song by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Canadian Paul Morin, is a beautiful story about loss. Jamie wakes in the morning, but doesn't open her eyes. Instead, she basks in the memory of her Abenaki grandma. Jamie remembers all Great Great Grama Bowman taught her, such as taking only what you need, whether it's berries or birch bark to make baskets, or spruce root for sewing thread. Jamie is also inadvertently given the tools to deal with her grandma's death. Age 6+.

My Kokum Called Today, by Iris Loewen, illustrated by Gloria Miller, also involves imagining grandma. When Grandma calls to invite her to the reserve round dance, the protagonist can't wait; life in the big city with Mom is so different from life with Kokum (Cree for grandma). The book depicts her daydream: Kokum making moccasins, beaver mitts and bannock, and picking plants for medicine. This is a loving portrait with a glimpse into a round dance ceremony. Age 5+.

The Crying Christmas Tree, by Allan Crow, illustrated by David Beyer, is set on a Whitefish Bay native reserve. Kokum and Tatanon have many grandchildren. Kokum wants to surprise them with a tree and she walks a long way into the woods with her axe. But her grandchildren laugh at how scrawny the chosen tree is and throw it out. Saddened by her grandchildren's selfishness, she leaves on the 200 km journey by horse and sled to buy presents for them anyway. Upon her return, a surprise awaits. Age 5+. 

Book Cover Morning on the Lake

Descriptive writing elicits all the senses in Morning on the Lake, by Jan Bourdeau Waboose, illustrated by Karen Reczuch. It's an Ojibway story of Noshen (grandpa) and Mishomis  (grandson) sharing three activities at three different times of the day. Together, in silence, they experience a loon from the bow of the canoe, an eagle swooping overhead, and a staring contest with a pack of wolves in a midnight forest. Age 5+. 

Book Cover The Imaginary Garden

Life as a widower is subtly dealt with in two books written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. In The Imaginary Garden, Theodora's grandfather leaves his house with the big garden to live alone in an apartment. Theo and Papa decide to paint a garden on the balcony, starting with scillas and crocuses. When Papa goes on holiday, leaving Theo in charge, she continues to grow the garden scene, with some added surprises for Papa. 

Book Cover The Not So Faraway Adventure

Theo and Papa reappear in The Not-So-Faraway Adventure. Papa has a trunk full of mementos from trips around the world. It's Papa's birthday and he mentions one of his favourite memories: journeying to the seaside with grandma. So Theo and Papa head out on an urban adventure to the beach. They create a map with an X, waving to the vibrant streetscape from the streetcar. They pretend the lake is an ocean, creating a new memory for Papa's trunk. This one inspires the age 5+ crowd to explore their city.

Book Cover Here Comes Hortense

In Here Comes Hortense!, by Heather Hartt-Sussman, playfully illustrated by Georgia Graham, Nana shows up for a day at the amusement park with her grandson, Bob (the man she wed in the “prequel,” Nana's Getting Married) and his granddaughter, Hortense. Lively Nana enjoys daring rides with Hortense, while her grandson is sidelined on a bench with Bob. The tables turn when Hortense admits she just wanted to spend time with her grandpa. It's a sweet ending with Nana and Bob in the Tunnel of Love and the kids coming to an understanding about sharing affection. Age 5+.

Really and Truly, by Emilie Sivard, illustrated by Anne-Claire Delisle, is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story about Alzheimer's disease. Anne-Claire Delisle's colourful settings are infiltrated by line drawings depicting made-up characters from Grandpa's tall tales. One day Grandpa is put in a home where he stares out the window, unable to smile, eat or talk. His grandson creates his own stories in order to tease out the grandpa he knows. This one gives age 5+ a reason to write stories...to inspire the people we love, especially those who are two generations older.

On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of the acclaimed short story collection, Up Up Up.

May 17, 2016
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