10 brilliant books that celebrate grandparents

Published on: 05 June 2023

Last Girl In author Cheryl Diane Parkinson shares her favourite stories about brilliant grandparents.

The front covers of Last Girl In, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Check Mates, The Witches, The Last Paper Crane, When Our Worlds Collided, Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers, Bone Talk, Look Both Ways and The Memory Cage

In today's world where the cost of living has skyrocketed, more and more families are relying on the support of grandparents when it comes to owning their own home, for financial and emotional help with grandchildren and for childcare. As a result of this, the bond between grandparent and grandchild has been given a new lease of life.

Whether it's baking cookies, fishing or fixing bikes in Grandpa's garage, the time spent together is precious. Stories are told of a bygone age, advice is given, and older skills are passed down. Grandparents' patience, wisdom and non-judgemental kindness is something that is much needed in today's busy social media-fuelled world.

There are many books which demonstrate the important role that grandparents have in children's lives, from classics such as Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to more modern books like When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando.

An illustration from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Willy Wonka looking in big vats as Charlie watches on

Pic: Sir Quentin Blake

Who can forget the importance of Grandpa Joe and the other grandparents who helped guide Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Not only was Grandpa Joe Charlie's best friend, but he was also his mentor and moral guide. They shared many qualities, like a sense of good fun, a wicked imagination and, most importantly, a love of family.

Grandparents can also be in the parental role, like in The Witches, also by Roald Dahl. Luke's grandmother is the character with all the knowledge and stories about the witches that she passes to Luke to help him protect himself.

Similarly, in When Our Worlds Collided, a powerful coming-of-age book for teenagers, the protagonist Chantelle Jackson is brought up by her grandmother. It is her grandmother who supports her at school when the system works against her.

Her wisdom and guidance help Danielle to challenge not only the racism she suffers at the hands of teachers in her school, but also the racism within the wider community, which resulted in a peer losing his life. It is her grandmother who gives her the stability to challenge, grow and develop.

An illustration of the faces of three young people from the front cover of When Our Worlds Collided

Pic: Raymond Sebastien

A part of grandparents' magic is this 'time machine' element. This almost historical, alternative view that grandparents give can help their grandchildren explore a different perspective. However, this relationship is not just one-sided - grandchildren can also help grandparents. For example, take a look at Check Mates by Stewart Foster.

Felix struggles with concentrating at school due to his ADHD. No-one seems to understand him or help him with his struggles. He is encouraged by his mother to spend time with his grandad, who hasn't been the same since his grandma died. Grandad decides to teach Felix chess to help him with his concentration and their relationship grows, resulting in Grandad sharing a 60-year-old secret.

This is like the grandpa in Ruth Eastham's The Memory Cage. This grandfather has dementia and is slowly losing his memories. Much like the grandfather with dementia in Jason Reynolds' Look Both Ways, it is the connection with his grandchild that helps ground him. Grandparents and grandchildren can heal each other, creating a relationship that is natural and beautiful.

In The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery, Mikuki is worried about her grandfather and recognises that he has not healed from something that happened in the past. She gently gets him to tell her what it is.

An illustration from the front cover of The Last Paper Crane - a silhouette of a man and a child in front of a big red circle, with a silhouetted tree to the right

Pic: Natsko Seki

Mikuki's teenage grandfather Ichiro was relaxing at home with his friend Hiro when the devastating Hiroshima bomb hit. While dying, Hiro made his friend promise to look after his little sister Keiko. When seeking help, teenage Ichiro lost her, and years later, this broken promise still haunts him. It is this pain that his granddaughter helps heal in a touching story about love, hope and the bond between grandparent and grandchild.

This idea of a secret knowledge or understanding that grandparents have is evident in The Last Paper Crane but also in Malorie Blackman's Grandpa Bert and the Ghost Snatchers.

'Grandma Gertie's eyes gleamed as if she had a secret that no one in the world knew except her.' This secret she carries around in her handbag – the squished ghost of Grandpa Bert! Grandma, with her magical undertones, is similar to Nana in my own Last Girl In, who also imparts knowledge and along with Grandpa has undertones of magic and mystery.

An illustration from the front cover of Last Girl In - a girl walking through a city market holding a cricket bat and looking up at a cricket ball above her

Pic: Imogyn Nicholas

In Last Girl In, Nana gives a humorous recount of a cricket match involving the local boys, and a young Grandpa is among them. Through a shared love of cricket, Grandpa (with Nana's help) reminds the protagonist Kerry-Ann who she is: her history, her family connections to London, and the shared skill of how to play cricket. This strengthens her identity as a Caribbean British citizen. She uses this knowledge and skill passed down from her grandparents to fight the bullies in her cricket club and overcome personal identity issues.

Similarly, in Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay, the elders guide the younger generation to 'become men'. This touching story reflects how grandparents can help, guide and educate our young in a way others can't – ultimately bridging the age gap.

Grandparents are an important part of family life. Since lockdown and the struggles with modern living, this has never been more evident. Grandparents can help ground grandchildren in today's hectic world - and vice versa.

Last Girl In by Cheryl Diane Parkinson is available now.

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