Books That Celebrate Grandmothers

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Photo: Stratford School

Among the lessons of the pandemic is that family matters—more than perhaps we ever realized. To be sure, over the past year many of us found creative ways to stay connected with family in other cities or countries, hosting holiday Zoom sessions and virtual family reunions, posting smart-phone videos of graduations, and other rites-of-passage to our preferred social media platforms. But flat-screen interactions by their very nature lack a third dimension,  meaning depth—depth of feeling, of understanding, of intimacy. The months of enforced separations and make-do virtual encounters have heightened our appreciation for the value of face-to-face interactions and the comfort of human touch.

Prolonged separations of the pandemic have been especially hard on grandparents, whether they live in the same neighborhood as their grandchildren, or an ocean away. Between the enforced travel restrictions and their own increased vulnerability, many, perhaps most, grandparents have had to step away from familiar, sometimes frequent, and always cherished, interactions with grandchildren. With vaccines in arms and restrictions lifting, grandparents everywhere are reuniting with their families, returning to the warm embrace and open affection of their grandchildren.

While the second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day, we thought it was a fitting month, and an opportune time, to also honor grandmothers—and the interdependence of generations—in our May book choices. The selected stories feature traditional and non-traditional grandmas (storytellers, protectors, and confidantes) and the children who love them—in beautifully written prose that all will enjoy.

Grades Kindergarten to Second

Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon written by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow
Young Molly Lou is reminded by her grandmother that when she was little, she made her toys and fun out of nothing. The fun came from her mind and the simple things around her like cardboard boxes and nature. Molly Lou experiences this same fun and when a new girl, Gertie, moves in next door. Molly shares the fun and Gertie is amazed. The main theme of the book is written on the back: “The Best Thing to Play with Is a Huge Imagination.” A good message about the value of being resourceful, versus heading straight to technology. The beautiful pictures work well to present a cute and simple lesson on the value of good old-fashioned play, just like Grandma used to do. Enjoy the entire series of Molly Lou Melon books.

Grades 3-4

Strega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
This timeless Caldecott winner is written and illustrated by the legendary Tomie dePaola. Nona is translated into grandmother, and that is what this woman is to one entire town. She helps single young women find husbands, cures warts, and provides fellow villagers with ongoing support. She comes across goofy Big Anthony, who she offers a job as well as a place to stay with her. Strega Nona trusts him, but of course, he fails, and she is there to protect him and teach him an important lesson at the end. This funny, meaningful and exciting tale shows the importance of respecting one’s elders, and the value of a village matriarch. There are many sequels to this tale worth reading as well.

Grades 5-8

When the Sea Turned to Silver  written by Grace Lin
This breathtaking, full-color illustrated fantasy inspired by Chinese folklore was a National Book Award Finalist and is a companion to the Newbery Honor winner Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The main story follows Pinmei—her grandmother is a storyteller, and people from near and far come to listen to her seemingly endless tales. But one day, the Emperor imprisons her. Legends are interspersed throughout, here retold by Amah, to her stonecutter cellmate, and also by Pinmei, to those she meets on her journey to rescue her Amah. This beautiful tribute to storytelling, the power of folklore, and how, through stories, we can find truth and inspiration.

Chirp written by Kate Messner
When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget. Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding—and find the courage she never knew she had? In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.

feature image via iStock

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Keira Pride is the Head Librarian at Stratford School, the leading independent private school founded with a vision of creating a unique, multi-dimensional, educational foundation for children. As Stratford's Head Librarian, she manages the library services department across campuses throughout Northern and Southern California. 

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