Saturday, September 8, 2018

Picture Books to Share on Grandparents Day

Grandparents are such special members of families and Sunday, September 9, 2018 is Grandparents Day, a day to honor them. It's also the perfect time to explore some picture books about the wonderful relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

Drawn Together by Minh LĂȘ, illustrated by Dan Santat
Disney-Hyperion, 2018, 40 pages
A young American boy is dropped off at his Thai grandfather's house for the afternoon. He's not too happy to be there since grandson and grandfather have nothing in common with each other. They don't even speak the same language. They don't even eat the same food: grandfather eats ramen with chopsticks, grandson eats a hot dog and french fries. Bored, the grandson pulls out his art supplies and begins drawing. Grandfather quickly gets his bottle of ink and brush, and both begin drawing their ideas of a superhero warrior. At last, grandson and grandfather have found a connection in their love of drawing, and creating "a new world that even words can't describe." It's wonderful, until a dragon appears and separates them again. Will they be able to draw themselves back together again? This almost wordless picture book has so much to say about intergenerational relationships and how wonderful they can be when the grands find common ground. The mixed media illustrations, both color and black and white, really capture the different emotions and changing attitudes experienced by grandson and grandfather throughout. There is a bit of Thai dialogue, the translation of which can be found on the copyright page. This book was a delight to read with my young readers and it really elicited a conversation about their own, different relationships with their grandparents.  

Sing to the Moon by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, 
illustrated by Sandra van Doorn
Lantana Publishing, 2018, 40 pages
Available October 1, 2018
A young Ugandan boy wishes to go to the moon or maybe just Zanzibar, to the old spice markets, and to eat a monstrous feast. But when he wakes up, he finds heavy rain and hours of nothing to do ahead of him. But to his surprise, his Jjajja (grandfather) has been waiting for him. The two begin working in their storeroom while Jjajja tells his grandson about his childhood best friend and the things they used to do. Later, while making fish stew together, Jjajja tells his grandson about fishing with his own father as a boy. As evening draws in, Jjajja says it's time for their night adventures and reveals a stack of books filled with age old fables about African kingdoms and lost cities. And finally grandfather and grandson go outside to listen to the night sounds of the world around them. It is the end of a perfect, shared day with Jjajja. Told in gentle rhyme by the grandson, this is a endearingly serene bedtime story based on rainy days the author spent with her family in Uganda and she has included much Ugandan culture and tradition in the pages. The grandfather's stories, whether age old or just from his life, demonstrate the importance of handing them down to a younger generation in order to build that important connection between past and present that they need in order to realize their place in the continuum.Van Doorn's beautiful but simple folk art style dry pastel illustrations add the perfect dreamlike feelings evoked by text. A lovely story that will be enjoyed again and again.

Ocean Meets Sky written and illustrated by
Terry and Eric Fan
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2018, 48 pages
I always look forward to books by the Fan Brothers because they are always so magical, and this one didn't disappoint. On what would have been his grandfather's 90th birthday, young Finn looks out the window and can hear his grandfather say "it's a good day for sailing." And to honor his grandfather, Finn decides to build a boat and go on the journey they had planned together. After it's done, Finn falls asleep and waking up, he finds his boat has already begun the journey. Looking for where ocean meets sky, Finn asks a golden fish (who looks strikingly like his grandfather) if he knows where it is. The golden fish leads him to Library Island with roosting bookish birds, then to an island of giant shells, through a sea of moon jellies, and to what may be the magical place where ocean meet sky. After exploring in his little boat, Finn hears a voice calling his name. It's his mother waking him up from his nap for dinner. Looking out at the sea, Finn decides it had indeed been a good day for sailing. Beginning with the front endpapers and ending with the back endpapers and all the pages in between, the graphite and digitally colored illustrations have a dreamlike quality that transports readers alone with Finn on this imaginative journey. Be sure to look carefully at the page showing grandfather's study to get hints about Finn's journey.

Storm (Seasons with Granddad) written and illustrated by Sam Usher
Templar Books, 2018, 40 pages

In this fourth Seasons with Granddad offering, it is a blustery autumn day and colorful leaves are flying and falling. A young boy wakes up and can't wait to go out. When his granddad suggests flying a kite, they look all over the house trying to find it, but finding instead other things that remain them of a past fun day spent together. The kite is finally found and off they go to the park to fly it with all the other kite flyers. As the wind becomes stronger, the boy loses hold of the kite, but luckily granddad catches it. A storm is coming and it's time to head home. There the boy and his granddad have their tea and talk about the day, safe and cozy while the storm rages outside. "The best adventure is an adventure shared" granddad tells his grandson, who couldn't agree more. I just love the relationship granddad and grandson have in these picture books. It's just so comfortable and loving, and you can how much they enjoy being together. Usher's watercolor illustrations, done in a palette of fall reds, yellows, blues and stormy greys add to the atmosphere of an overcast fall day, but the dreariness is broken by birds-eye view of the various colorful kites flying. Usher may follow the same structure in all his Seasons with granddad books, but they are all unique in their own special way.

Grandma's Records written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Walker BFYR, 2001, 32 pages
Every summer, as soon as school is out, Eric would go to spend his vacation with his grandma in Spanish Harlem, or El Barrio, in NYC. There, they listen to records and dance away their days, while grandma tells her grandson stories about growing up in Puerto Rico. They listen to a wide variety of Latin music and sometimes grandma would even let Eric pick out what they would listen to. But, he notices, there is one special song that always causes his grandma to put her hand on her heart and close her eyes as she sings along. Grandma's nephew plays in the famous Rafael Cortijo Band, and one day, they all show up for some of grandma's good home cooking. As they leave, they give grandma tickets to hear them play, and it is at their performance that Eric learns why the special song is so meaningful to his grandma when he sees everyone doing the same gesture his grandma does - putting their hand on their hearts. The song, he learns, is about coming to a new country and leaving the country you love behind, and the gesture shows that their heart is still in Puerto Rico. This is a lovely story of a grandmother and grandson connecting - here it is over music, culture, and heritage. Velasquez's illustrations are realistically painted, capturing the warm love between grandmother and grandson. There are a few Spanish sentences with translation, and the back matter includes short biographies of the musicians in the Rafael Cortijo Band. 

Our Granny written by Margaret Wild, pictures by Julie Vivas
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BFYR, 1998, 32 pages 
In this lyrical picture book, a brother and sister list the different characteristics of granny's, pointing out that they can come in all shapes, sizes and styles, and then personalizing it by telling the reader where their granny fits in. Each characteristic follows the same format, beginning with Some grannies... and ending with Our granny: "Some grannies wear,,,/ jeans and sneakers / pantsuits/ silky dresses/ big bras/ baggy underwear/ lots of jewelry/ high heels/ sensible shoes/ or comfy slippers. Our granny wears a funny bathing suit." There is nothing mean spirited about the comparisons, there is not better or worse, simply the kind of things kids would notice. What makes this brother and sister's granny special is that she loves them and they love her, but that would be true of any granny and her grandchildren, so they are all special. Vivas' colorful watercolor illustrations compliment the warm humor of the text, offering a wide variety of diverse grannies and presents them from various perspectives. Kids will certainly look for their grannies characteristics in those listed throughout this book and that can spark some lively conversations, as it did with my young readers.

Most stories about grandparents and grandchildren show a loving relationship between the two generations, helping children feel connected to the past in a particular, personal way. But sometimes a grandparent's memory begin to disappear, cultural customs are forgotten and special occasions get lost as a grandparent ages. Sadly, that is a part of life for some families, which is why I am including the following book on a day when we celebrate grandparents.

The Remember Balloons written by Jessie Oliveros,
illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2018, 48 pages
Using balloons to a metaphor for memories, young James tells readers he only has a few balloons, unlike his grandpa who has more balloons than James, his little brother, and his parents put together. grandpa has lived a long full life, and James loves hearing about the memories in his balloons. For memories that they share, they each have the same color balloon, like the time they went fishing together. Then, one day, grandpa starts having a problem with his balloons. One would get stuck and he would tell the same story over and over, even though he had just finished it. Or grandpa's balloons would float away and he didn't even notice it. Eventually, grandpa has no more balloons. James is very sad to see this happen, but then his parents point out all the new balloons he has, balloons that once were his grandpa's are now his to share. Memory loss in grandparents caused by age-related dementia or Alzheimer's disease is difficult to explain to children, ever when they see it happening as James does here. I thought that using balloons to represent memories is one of the best way to explain what many grandchildren are probably witnessing in their own grandparents. Each of grandpa's memories is depicted in a different color balloon, and it's an idea kids can understand, after all, what child has witnessed balloons floating away. This is a poignant story, sensitively told, and with a hopeful ending as James becomes the bearer of his grandpa's memories to share with his family.

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