As a brand new grandma myself–to a blessedly healthy (and adorable!) grandson, I certainly notice there are many lovely picture books featuring grandmothers and grandchildren. But not many break the stereotypical typical grandma mold like these three. And they could hardly be more different from each other.
We Became Jaguars—if you believe all grandmas bake cookies and hold grandkids on their comfy, cozy laps (or should), this picture book will unsettle you. This story is dreamy, adventurous, even dare I say, sensuous.
Ten Ways to Hear Snow—breaks open the stereotype that enjoyment of late life ends with disability and a move to an assisted living center for older adults.
Grandmother School—totally debunks the belief that olders no longer learn and grow. It even offers an opportunity to talk about ageism with children.
Learn more about these exceptional picture books about grandmothers:
We Became Jaguars—When Grandma comes to visit and a young boy’s parents leave, the rules of the house—and the world—change: grandson and grandmother transform into jaguars! Readers follow their journey into the undiscovered world of nature, experience true freedom, and lose themselves in an exhilarating adventure. After a day of playing, running, and climbing through sumptuous landscapes, the ending will leave you wondering what’s real and what’s imagined. (Description from the publisher, Chronicle Books. 2021.)
The young boy had only met his grandmother once before. “She lived far away. Her hair was very white and very, very long.” At first, he’s obviously nervous, but is drawn in by her vivid imagination.
“We went across the front lawn and into the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. I had been in those woods many times, but I’d never been through them…as jaguars,” he says. This grandmother is sharing how to live life unafraid.
Author Dave Eggers and illustrator Woodrow White solicited the input of young readers while the text and pictures were in progress. It’s fascinating to read this book and wonder what advice kids shared.
Ten Ways to Hear Snow—Young Lina walks through fresh snow to visit her Sitti. “Lina would help her grandma make warak enab,” rolling the grape leaves. “Sitti was losing her eyesight, and Lina loved helping her cook.” On her walk Lina notes delightful snow-related sounds familiar to us northerners—including crunching boots, soft sweeping and the scratch-scratch of skis.
Author Cathy Camper and illustrator Kenard Pak keep the focus on the loving relationship and the fun Lina and Sitti have together.
References to Sitti’s disability and assisted living type setting are handled in matter of fact fashion. (Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2020.)
Grandmother School– Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write.
The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic.
A moving story about family, women and the power of education—when Aaji learns to spell her name you’ll want to dance along with her. (Description from publisher Orca Books, 2020.) Author Rina Singh; illustrator Ellen Rooney.
This grandmother, Aaji, has been discriminated against when unable to sign her own name. She was made to “feel small.” Then when the teacher in Phangane wanted everyone to be literate, the young narrator’s grandfather “said that learning at this age was a waste of time.”
Sadly older people themselves practice ageism. Ageism can be defined in simple terms as unfair treatment of people based on their age. Older adults have been affected by many decades of ageist messaging in numerous cultures. Webster’s online dictionary for learners defines ageism as “unfair treatment of old people.” But in fact “ageism cuts both ways,” says activist author Ashton Applewhite, who advocate the term “olders.”
Talk about discrimination based on age with children. No doubt they can identify a time they were made to “feel small” because they were small, or young. An adult saw them as one of a stereotyped group, kids, rather than seeing them as an individual.
Discrimination definition: the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people (Webster’s children’s dictionary online).
Next discuss the word “determined.” This grandmother was determined to learn to read and write. She worked hard and persevered. Her oral stories entranced her granddaughter, but she states, “One day I will read you this story from a book.”
Sharing these three picture books, and talking about them, could go a long way in showing young readers that age stereotypes exist and many older adults do not fit the stereotypes. Find more diversity in aging examples in the book resources at “A is for Aging.”
Please take a peek at my new non-fiction picture book available now from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. “A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation.”
Find more Perfect Picture Books at Susanna Hill’s blog!
Note: All three books reviewed above were public library books. Find them in a library near you at WorldCat.