Did you know that this coming Sunday is National Grandparents Day? Alas, it can be an overlooked holiday. Perhaps it’s because it comes on the heels of back-to-school and adjusting to new routines. Or maybe it’s just that we celebrate grandparents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But grandparents deserve their very own day, don’t they?
One of the ways we celebrate Grandparents Day in our house is by reading a grandparent-related book. All the more special if you can snuggle up on a grandparent’s lap and read together, but also a nice tradition if a grandparent is far away, or no longer living. Books provide a perfect backdrop to sharing memories, recipes, funny stories and family history.
Here are ten of my family’s favorite grandparent books—and a little bit about the connections we make when reading them. Do you have any favorites to add? Leave a comment about a grandparent book, or any family favorite, in the comments section below and I’ll choose one winner to receive a signed copy of Baking Day at Grandma’s, along with a baker’s dozen (13) holiday gift tags to tie round pretty bags filled with goodies, or attach to a thoughtful gift for a grandparent, teacher or special friend.
How to Babysit a Grandma by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildon
A charming follow up to the hit How to Babysit a Grandpa (Knopf, 2012), it’s a how-to manual from a little girl’s perspective. I love the gusto and good nature of Grandma, who seems equal to the the boundless energy and enthusiasm of her granddaughter. And since my kids are blessed to have fun, energetic grandparents—we get a big kick out of these books.
Because Your Grandparents Love You by Andrew Clements, illustrated by R.W. Alley
All three books in Andrew Clements’s series (there’s an installment for moms and dads, too) are gentle odes to family. I’ve heard books in this genre dismissed for their sentimentality, but there’s a reason young children (and parents) enjoy them. Is there anything more important to kids than knowing they are loved and cherished? Books that celebrate a special family bond—especially ones as charming as these—are warm and reassuring.
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
Legions of readers have discovered the sweet and deceptively simple charm of Castillo’s Caldecott honor winning Nana in the City. For me, it brought back a flood of childhood memories. From clutching my mother’s hand through subway tunnels and up onto the bustling New York City streets, to how the ordinary became extraordinary whenever I spent time with my grandmother. Although it’s the little boy in Castillo’s story who dons a red cape—it’s Nana who feels like a superhero.
My Grandfather’s Coat retold by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Aylesworth’s rhythmic rendition of a favorite Yiddish folksong is a read-aloud treasure. The story follows one tailor’s coat through several iterations and generations. McClintock’s detailed pen and watercolor illustrations are perfect for the story, and we love the lyrical text:
My grandfather loved the coat,
and he wore it, and he wore it.
And little bit by little bit,
he frayed it, and he tore it,
until at last. . .
. . . he wore it out!
So what did my grandfather do?
He went right to work,
and he snipped, and he clipped,
and he stitched, and he sewed,
and out of the still-good cloth
of his handsome coat, he made. . .
. . . a smart jacket!
After picking up a signed copy at the Connecticut Book Fair last year, I read it to my girls. Then I pulled out my own grandfather’s coat, which was given to me by my mother, years ago. It’s a dress coat from the 40’s; a bit worn from age, but I can imagine it new, and my grandfather wearing it, all-dressed up for a party with my grandmother on his arm.
The book also has a recipe for Grandfather’s Coat Cookies printed on the back cover. Why not read the book, then try your hand at making them? Or pull out a favorite family recipe. Maybe something Grandpa loves.
Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Mango Abuela and Me, which released on August 25th from Candlewick, is another book that stirred memories from my childhood. It’s about a little girl whose abuela comes to live with her. At first, the language barrier makes their communication awkward, but through cooking, sharing time together, and with the help of a parrot Mango, they bridge the gap and find joy in one another’s company. My own great grandmother spoke to me in Spanish, even though I wasn’t fluent. I remember how sometimes it made me feel shy, and frustrated that I didn’t always understand her. But inevitably, the unspoken language of love and family settled in, and I’d relax into our special time together. Medina’s spare yet charming story and Dominguez’s warm, inviting illustrations will resonate with all families, but especially those that blend generations and cultures.
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
I remember when I first spied an advance copy of Lane Smith’s poignant picture book Grandpa Green while working at Barrington Books. I read the story and immediately wanted everyone I knew to read it, because it was so different and layered and beautiful. Soon the world did, and Smith was awarded a Caldecott honor for his brilliance. Grandpa Green is a very personal story about Smith’s great grandfather, but it tackles big universal themes of love, aging and loss. We read it after my children lost their grandmother, and though I never overtly related the book to their experience, I know they appreciated the story, and its deeper themes.
We’re a pair beyond compare,
a rare and special two,
in all the ways that I am me
and you’re completely you.
Since this post is about books I read with my daughters, I’m going to declare it fair game that I indulge a bit of nepotism and include a book illustrated by my husband, Chris. Kristy Dempsey (A Dance Like Starlight) originally wrote the poem in Me With You for her husband (aww… romantic sigh) but when Chris and his editor read the piece, they thought it would be lovely to illustrate it with a grandpa and granddaughter bear. Dempsey’s lyrical text and Chris’s vibrant expressive paintings make it a fine book to read in celebration of a grandparent and grandchild, or any “rare and special two.”
Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say
My daughter brought this home from her school library recently. It had been a long time since I’d read it, and it captivated me anew. This line: (“The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.”) sums up the book, and the experience of being torn between a connection to two countries. It prompted a discussion about family origins, immigration and the many different places our grandparents and great grandparents came from.
Bigmama’s by Donald Crews
Another book plucked from the shelves of our library, Bigmama’s is an autobiographical story about traveling by train to stay with grandparents in Florida for the summer. (“There were hugs and kisses and ‘Oh my, how you’ve grown!’ and ‘How tall you are … is this you?”) Although our family takes a plane, not a train, and Tampa is a far cry from the rural countryside so lovingly portrayed in Crews’s book, my girls have a Pop Pop in Florida, and lots of family we only get to see once a year—so this story was extra fun for us to read.
The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
This book. I think perhaps I saved the best for last, because we love it so. As a child, it was my grandmother’s kitchen I loved most. I can still see her framed by the entryway, smiling, with a dish towel slung casually over one shoulder. For the little girl in Juster’s story, the picture window is her magical place. It’s the portal to fun and the window through which she says hello and goodbye to her Nanna and Poppy when they spend their days together. I also love that Nanna and Poppy are a biracial couple, yet it’s not really mentioned in the book. It just is. And that’s cool.
Which grandparent stories are your favorites? I’d love to hear about them. Leave me a note in the comments section below about a family favorite (it doesn’t have to be a grandparent book) with your name, and be automatically entered to win a signed copy of Baking Day at Grandma’s and a baker’s dozen (13) of our Baking Day gift tags.
I’ll announce the winner one week from today!
Happy Grandparents Day!