The 10 best grandmothers in children's books, chosen by Bad Nana's Sophy Henn

Published on: 19 June 2019 Author: Sophy Henn

Sophy Henn knows a thing or two about grandmas after writing her Bad Nana books! To celebrate the arrival of the second story, All the Fun of the Fair, we asked her to pick some of her other favourite grandmothers...

The front cover of Bad Nana

1. Cops and Robbers by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

One of my all-time favourite nanas from the wonderful world of children's books is the hilarious and scandalous Grandma Swag from Janet and Allen Ahlberg's Cops and Robbers (Ho! Ho!)

The image of her wheeling away a pram stuffed full of children's Christmas presents, ON CHRISTMAS EVE, without a backward glance is thrilling and infuriating all at the same time.

As all the other robbers are taken down by the superhuman PC Pugh, it's only Grandma Swag who has the sneaky presence of mind to slip away (with a lovely appearance on the last page) proving, without a shadow of a doubt, who the real criminal mastermind really is!

2. The Lines on Nana's Face by Simona Ciraolo

The front cover of The Lines on Nana's Face

This is such a lovely, gentle book which really showcases the wonderful relationship between a grandmother and their grandchild.

The child's innocent amazement at ALL the lines on her Nana's face is so honestly reported and the Nana's beautiful explanation that each line holds a memory is just charming. I love this idea as it's all too easy to see an old person and just see, well, an old person - when of course they have lived rich and full lives, doing silly, sad, serious and wondrous things.

Read our review of The Lines on Nana's Face

3. Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Well, this book is beautiful in all kinds of ways, but the quiet, calm and unwavering character of Julian's Grandma is an utter joy.

The acceptance, support and unconditional love she gives throughout the story makes your heart sing and is another wonderful example of the uncluttered relationship between the grandparent and grandchild.

Read our review of Julian is a Mermaid

4. Grandmas from Mars by Michelle Robinson and Fred Blunt

The front cover of Grandmas from Mars

A hilarious caper involving evil green aliens switching places with Earth's Grandmas in order to achieve world domination.

Happily, the children they attempt to boss about come up with a GENIUS plan to get rid of them and get back their human and slightly less green grandmas. Robinson's hilarious rhyme and Blunt's action-packed, witty illustrations combine to make this heaps of geriatric fun!

Read our review of Grandmas from Mars

5. Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

No booklist I write is complete without Milly-Molly-Mandy. Old fashioned, yes. Rose-tinted, yes. Utterly comforting, OOOOOOH yes.

All the Milly-Molly-Mandy tales have a special place in my heart, but the young entrepreneur in me (who sadly scarpered when I was about 10) especially loved Milly-Molly-Mandy Spends a Penny - no, not that penny, an actual penny!

Back then a penny went a long way and it lasted even longer in MMM's savvy hands. One of her money-making exploits involved Grandma teaching her how to knit a pot holder; at this point in the story, the pace slowed a little, reflecting the luxury of time that grandparents can give their grandchildren. Marvellous.

Read our review of The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook

6. Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett

The front cover of Grandma Z

The super-stylish, super-cool, super-fun Grandma Z takes her grandson Albert on a birthday trip to remember... on her motorbike, obviously!

This book slightly reminds me of one of my favourite novels, Aunt Mame by Patrick Dennis - both stories play on the idea that once you remove the sensible parental figure from the family dynamics, then the fun can really begin. And it's a wonderful reminder that grandmas can be just as bonkers, playful and curious as the youngsters!

7. The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steven Lenton and Steven Butler

The Nothing to See Here Hotel is nothing short of hilarious, with both Stevens bringing the LOLS, big time. And while not the focal character, Granny Regurgita pretty much stole the show for me.

Her name conjures a million gags, in both senses of the word, and her grumpy, cantankerous grossness is a delight - but cross her at your peril. The ultimate matriarch for our times!

Read our review of The Nothing to See Here Hotel

8. Grandma Bird by Benji Davies

The front cover of Grandma Bird

We all fell in love with Noi in The Storm Whale and The Storm Whale in Winter and now we can fall in love with Noi's Grandma Bird.

Noi isn't at sure about staying at his Grandma's and his curiosity and observations about her Nana-ish ways are charming, but then sometimes nanas have a way of surprising us - and Grandma Bird is no exception!

9. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

I cannot write a list about grandmas in books and not include The Summer Book, which features one of my all-time, absolute favourite Grandmas ever. I know it's not a children's book, but Jansson is one of our most beloved children's authors so...

I love this book; I love the gentle pace of the story about a summer spent on a family island in the gulf of Finland, focusing on the beautiful, tempestuous, playful relationship between the very new (Sophie) and the very old (Grandmother), told with the brutal honesty that befits both ages. Please read this book.

10. Granpa by John Burningham

Granpa by John Burningham

Another cheat, but how could I not sneak a Grandpa in at the end of the list? This book has a lot in common with The Summer Book in that it tells the story of a wonderful relationship between a young girl and her grandfather.

It is magical, so beautifully observed and tenderly told, though not without heartbreak. Granpa is such a wonderful way to remember the genius, John Burningham.

Read our review of Granpa

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