Seven beautiful books about grandparents, picked by Maisie Chan

Published on: 12 June 2022

Lots of children have a very special bond with their grandparents. Author Maisie Chan loves to celebrate this in her books - and here, she's shared seven of her favourite stories about the older people who can teach us so much about the world.

You may have noticed that I LOVE writing about grandparents (and old people in general) – they feature heavily in Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths and my new novel Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu.

Many readers of Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths love the character Nai Nai (which means paternal grandmother in the Chinese language.) And the bingo hall where Danny takes his Nai Nai is full to the brim of older people too. I particularly loved writing Mrs Cruikshanks, she loves a good “natter” and she keeps busy because essentially she’s lonely.

We can all learn from each other

I have spent quite a bit of time around the elderly, and I think that has been why they keep popping up in my books! When I was a Brownie, we used to go and sing at the old people’s home, and when I was at secondary school, I used to collect food parcels and give them out to older neighbours. Older people have been around longer than others, and so they are full of life experience. However, young people and children know a lot of stuff too! They can learn from old people and old people can learn from the younger generation. That’s not to say all old people are nice, some have very strong opinions about things. And some still have a youthful outlook on life, like Marjorie - who was a lollipop lady and lived down the road from me years ago. She used to walk twenty-six miles a week to do her lollipop lady duties and she was very proud of that fact. Sometimes she would come around for a cup of tea.

You might have thought I had grown up with a granny and grandad. But I didn’t. I was adopted and I didn’t have grandparents. My mum had grey and white hair and my dad had grey hair because they were quite a bit older than me (they were born in the 1930s and lived through World War II as children!) so they were like parents and grandparents rolled into one.

In Keep Dancing, Lizzie Chu, the grandfather character is a widower. Wai Gong (grandfather in Chinese) loves to sing old songs, and he loved to dance with his wife in the old days before they became Lizzie’s guardians. He was loosely based on my dad, Ron, who in the last few years of his life had dementia (he used to forget things, like if the shopping had been delivered). Even though sometimes things like that can be sad, I wanted to have Lizzie’s grandad having the time of his life and it was important to show that people cared about him.

Maisie Chan's top books about grandparents

Illustration: Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Anisha, Accidental Detective by Serena Patel

This is the first in a series. It’s a funny South Asian detective caper. Anisha is the star of the show, but her family are hilarious. Granny Jas stands out and is a brilliant character. She wears a sari and is wrinkly but even though she’s old, she is as “quick as a fox”. Later Granny Jas appears in Granny Trouble, another book in the series.

Drawn Together by Minh Le (author) and Dan Santat (illustrator)

This wordless picture book is full of colour and heart. A boy can’t communicate with his Vietnamese grandfather as he doesn’t speak the same language. It reminded me a little of my book Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths because eventually they find they can communicate through art. It’s a book I recommend to people as it’s so colourful and vibrant and I love it! 

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List by Jenny Pearson (author) David O’ Connell (illustrator)

From the first page this is a great riotous read. Frank John Davenport, the main character has inherited a lot of money from a step-grandmother because of his name. He didn’t even know he had a Grandpa Frank. He did want to buy a monkey with his newly acquired wealth but instead he and his Grandpa Frank create a “Bucket List” of things to do together. Jenny Pearson’s book is so funny, I think she might be an actual comic genius.

Hubble Bubble, Granny Trouble by Tracey Corderoy (author), Joe Berger (illustrator)

Illustration: Joe Berger

I borrowed this book from the library multiple times when my children were smaller. I loved how the granny was ‘different’ and cool. We find out that she is a witch and tries to do her best to help her granddaughter, but it doesn’t always go to plan! It’s such an original book and if I were a cool gran, I’d want to be like the granny in this book!

Olive Jones and The Memory Thief by Kate Gilby-Smith

This book is so much fun – it’s full of spies, cool gadgets and old people doing suspicious things! Grandma Sylvie has recently passed away but in flashbacks we get to see the world through Grandma Sylvie’s eyes. Olive, her granddaughter, has the same tenacious nature and throughout the book grows closer to her grandmother.

Alex Neptune, Dragon Thief by David Owen

Alex’s grandad has an ice-cream van and he’s a down-to-earth and engaging character. He’s not in the book all the time but when he is he’s always got something interesting to say and knows more than he’s letting on. There’s a lot going on in this book: such as ancient magic, family secrets, a mission to save the world and eco messages. The family and the eccentric nature of Alex’s family really stood out to me. The grandad character in his book is both wise and supportive of Alex and I liked that a lot.

Dadaji’s Paintbrush by Rashmi Sirdeshpande (author) Ruchi Mhasane (Illustrator)

This is such a sweet story about the bond between a boy and his grandfather. It’s set in India and as the title suggests, art is a major factor in the book – the boy and his grandfather love to create together. The boy decides art and painting is no longer for him when his grandfather is no longer around. The book looks at grief in a sensitive and beautiful way. The illustrations are dreamy and capture the light and dark of life.

More blogs by Maisie Chan

Seven beautiful stories featuring Chinese mythology, chosen by Maisie Chan

"I followed my heart - not any family expectations." Maisie Chan on misconceptions about growing up as a British Chinese person

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