Share a Story!
A couple of weeks ago Children’s Books Ireland published its annual Inis Reading Guide, which gathers over 250 reviews of great, current books for children of all ages. In this issue, a special section, entitled ‘Share a story’, is dedicated to books featuring grandparents and older people.
Perhaps your children are lucky enough to have grandparents in their lives. Perhaps they are super lucky and even have some great-grandparents around. Perhaps they have a granpa who lives far away. Perhaps they have recently lost a granny. Whatever way your family tree is shaped, you are bound to find an echo of it in this month’s roundup.
When the older generation enters the scene, fireworks are always guaranteed, one way or another. Grandparent characters can break the family status-quo by bringing in a different point of view, a new perspective, nourished by the many experiences of a long life or simply by the little bit of distance that beleaguered parents can sometimes lack. They often play the part of the secret companion, the ally or even the co-conspirator for young heroes in need of a grown-up sidekick. They can simply be a protagonist’s best friend, one they can’t wait to be reunited with, as is the case in Taro Gomi’s I Really Want to See You, Grandma. In bookish ‘Happy Families’, you can find kind, patient older men who share a passion with a fascinated grandchild, such as the grandfatherly figure of Papa Georges in The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (ages 9-12). Or you might encounter bold, fearless grandmas who bring a breath of fresh air into a monotonous routine, as do Sophie Henn’s Bad Nana, Daniel Gray-Bennett’s Grandma Z (both for ages 6+), David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny (8+) or the actually scary Granny Samurai in John Chambers’ series (10+). Older characters are also occasionally portrayed as interesting and competent people in their own right (who would have thought??), such as the members of Judith Kerr’s Great Granny Gang (ages 2-5), where none of the 80- and 90-somethings seem to be anybody’s grandmother in particular, which doesn’t stop them from saving the day.
When, on the contrary, they exit the stage, grandparent figures still loom large and you will find plenty of books where the protagonists learn to come to terms with the terrible ache caused by such a loss. Goodbye, Grandma by Melanie Walsh sensitively and pragmatically helps children from the age of 3 navigate the difficult time after a beloved grandmother has passed away; the wonderful Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers takes a poetic approach to a similar subject and will break your heart and rebuild it in one fell swoop (ages 5-8); The House with Chicken Legs (by Sophie Anderson) is a thoughtful adventure story that will engage readers of 9+ who feel the filter of fantasy is the best way to cope. Dementia and various degrees of forgetfulness are also now making their way into children’s books, including for very young readers, such as Morag Hood’s hilarious When Grandad was a Penguin and, for older kids of 10 and up, Emma Donoghue’s The Lotterys Plus One.
Finally, for a bit of a laugh, check out the viral video of a grandmother reading The Wonkey Donkey (by Craig Smith) to her grandchild. Then grab a kid, a book, a grandparent and watch the magic unfold!
Juliette Saumande is a children’s book writer who likes to turn each book she reads with her kids (or not) into an adventure. (juliettesaumande.blogspot.ie)
I Really Want to See You, Grandma!
Yumi desperately wants to see Grandma. Grandma can’t wait to see Yumi. So off she goes to meet her granddaughter. But Yumi doesn’t sit and wait around either, and she heads off to Grandma’s. Of course, when they get to each other’s house, there is no one there … A mad-cap cross country run that involves buses, trucks, scooters and plenty more exciting vehicles, this will delight little ones as they anticipate the disaster and its subsequent resolution. Very short text and plenty to look at ensure that multiple re-readings will be a joy rather than a chore!
The Great Granny Gang
HarperCollins Children’s Books
Meet a bunch of seven grannies, the youngest 82, as they put their many talents to good use. One is an ace mechanic while the other loves nothing but a good climb and will clean your chimney in a jiffy. There’s nothing they can’t do! So when a bunch of seven hoodies gets up to no good, the grannies have a plan … A great, fun rhyming story that even features appearances from another creation of Kerr’s: the beloved Mog the cat!
Bad Nana: Older not Wiser
HarperCollins Children’s Books
Jeannie has three grannies, but only one of them is BAD. Bad Nana likes to cause mischief and also right a wrong when she can, especially if it’ll create a bit of healthy mayhem. She is shy Jeannie’s bold side and is not afraid of taking on bullies of all kinds and ages. Henn’s text is chatty and works well read aloud, too, while her black and neon-pink illustrations scream off the page to the delight of newly-confident readers who should race through this first instalment in a new series.
Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I
Samuel Johnson loves peace and quiet, and he loves words. In this completely bonkers novel, our young hero is repeatedly, sorely disappointed. With his uncle away and a school bully on his case, Samuel would rather just hide indoors, but the granny-next-door (a woman of few words) is acting very strangely (is she really chopping wood with her bare hands? Can she really do karate?) and then the evil Monkey King literally comes knocking and chaos ensues. Hilarious, with deadly dialogue and tons of wonky illustration on every page, Granny Samurai is for readers who don’t mind not having a clue what’s going on while enjoying every word of a crazy romp.
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.