We often forget of the great sacrifice that grandparents too have to make when their children and grandchildren leave to move overseas or if you are a grandparent living overseas.
My mom will never forget that moment, years ago, as they prepared to return overseas. As we reached their front door, Laura, her granddaughter, then 18 months, turned around, a big smile on her face, and waved, “Bye, bye, Nana.” This tender goodbye nearly broke her heart. She knew it would be many years before she would see her loving, smile face again.
Although the goodbyes are still heart breaking, there are many ways for families living overseas to stay connected with family, especially nurturing the relationship between your child or children and their grandparents. One of those ways is through…can you guess what I’m about to say? Yes, reading and sharing stories!
1.Reading books aloud over Facetime or skype: I have a friend who lives overseas. She is a grandmother. One way she stays connected to her young granddaughters is to read books aloud to them using Facetime. The girls love it. Facetime or Skype as well as email is such a blessing in our day and age. Reading aloud can be a great way to get a child to open up to grandma or grandpa, to get beyond “How are you?” “I’m fine”. Reading stories together can be a bonding experience. Have grandma and grandpa select favorite books from your childhood, or from their own childhood.
2. Sharing your own stories with your kids. Share memories of your childhood with them, or stories about grandma or grandpa. “I remember when grandpa…”, “One day, grandma…”
3. Reading picture books that portray the warmth, love, and special bond between generations. Here are some of my favorite books, some are humorous and light-hearted, others are multicultural, some talk about long-distance relationships while others speak of loss – all a beautiful portrait of family love:
The Two of Them written and illustrated by Aliki (1979)
For ages 4-8
This heart-warming book is a tribute to the special bond between a little girl and her grandfather, from infancy until the girl reaches 9 or 10. It does deal with illness and the death of the grandfather, but it’s presented with warmth, emphasizing the special memories she will always cherish throughout her life of her time with grandpa. Grief and sadness are not downplayed, but the overall tone of the book is one of wonderful intimate moments between the two of them.
Our Grandparents A Global Album by Maya Ahjmera, Sheila Kinkade, and Cynthia Pon (2010)
For ages 4-8
With a touching forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and stunning photography celebrating the bond between a child and their grandparents around the world, this picture book reminds young children that though their grandparents may be far away, they will always be in their hearts. This is also a great book to share with children in the country you live in. In the back of the book, there is a map showing where all the families are from, as well as a page with suggested activities with your grandparents.
Maya Ajmera is the founder of The Global Fund for Children. She is the co-author of several Global Fund for Children books, including Global Babies (see my list of books of ages 0-3) and Children from Australia to Zimbabwe.
When I Go Camping with Grandma by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Allen Garns (1995)
For ages 3 and up
What I like about this picture book is the fact that time with grandma involves physical activity, adventure and nature.
“When I go camping with Grandma,
We hike deep in the woods.
Grandma holds my hand and sings
to scare away the bears.”
To be honest there are way too many books that focus on time with grandma and grandpa involving laps and rocking chairs, which is fine, but spending time with grandma in a canoe, setting up a tent, cooking over a fire, watching the stars? What a memory that would be!
Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin, Illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (2007)
Alvina grannies are both so different and so full of love for her. Grannie Vero is from the Caribbean Island of Trinidad and Grannie Rose is from Northern England. When Alvina’s parents go away for a trip, they both agree to stay with Alvina. Things are off to rocky start until Alvina comes up with a plan. The book is a celebration of family bonding as the two grandmas learn to appreciate their differences and the three of them have a wonderful time together. The bright colorful and amusing illustrations by Chamberlain will bring smiles and laughter and remind children that each granny is a special gift. A great book for biracial families.
Grandfather and I and Grandmother and I by Helen E. Buckley, illustrated by Jan Ormerod (1994)
For ages 3-8
Jan Ormerod is one of my favorite illustrators for young children. Her series of books for toddlers are amazing – my favorites are Sunshine (which I mention in my blog post 10 favorite wordless picture books) and Reading. In Grandfather and I, time with grandfather is special because it means the two of them escape the hurried/scheduled life of the day to day and spend unstructured time together
“But Grandfather and I
we walk along
and walk along
just as long as we like”
In Grandmother and I, a young child describes how grandmother’s lap is a place unlike anyone else’s lap. A place to go when you need extra comfort and reassurance.
“But grandmother’s lap is just right
when you’re having a bad cold.
We sit in the big chair
And rock back and forth, and back and forth..”
“The special bond between grandparent and grandchild comes shining through.” – Booklist
Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castaneda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. (1993)
For ages 6-9
Lee & Low Books Award Winner**, Abuela’s Weave reminds us that for many people around the world, the grandparents work hard and must do their part to help put food on the table for their families. Abuela is a weaver, making beautiful traditional huipiles and tapestries from a loom tied to a tree in their small village in Guatemala, working along side her granddaughter, as she teaches her to weave. They weave well past sunset, so they can be done in time to take their tapestries to the market to sell. Many of her grandmother’s tapestries have traditional symbols of the country’s history weaved in. As they head to market, they fear their handmaid wares would not sell with all the commercial stalls also selling tapestries made my machines. This is a beautiful story rich in history, cultural details and family traditions. I also recommend Abuela (1991) and it’s sequel Isla (1995) by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.
**Note: Lee & Low was founded in 1991 by Chinese Americans Tom Low and Philip Lee as a children’s book publisher specializing in books featuring people of color and one of the few minority-owned publishing companies in the United States.
Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi (1993)
In this moving story of a Vietnamese family’s plight as they are forced to flee from their home land, grandma saves and treasures a lotus seed she plucked from a lotus pod in the Imperial garden. She has kept it all these years and it has been her only connection to her past life in Veitnam, so when her grandson steals the lotus seed and plants it, Ba cries and cries. When Spring comes and a beautiful pink bloom appears in the garden, grandma shouts for joy. She tells her grandchildren: “It is the flower of life and hope…It is the flower of my country.” The author’s desire was to show “how a family’s heritage is passed on from one generation to the next, and how hope, like the lotus seed, can survive through the worst of circumstances.” Each illustration by Tatsuro Kiuchi, a native of Tokyo is a painting in itself – I love the painting of the pink lotus flower and the one of the grandmother crying in the window seat at night, the moonlight streaming in through the window.
Grandfather’s Story Cloth written by Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford, illustrated by Stuart Loughridge (2008)
For grades 2-4
In this multicultural picture book, Chersheng’s, a Laotian American boy, is saddened by his grandfather’s memory loss and how it affects their close relationship. With English and Hmong texts side by side and beautiful watercolor paintings by Stuart Loughridge, this story highlights the grandfather’s families escape to Thailand where they settled in a refugee camp and made story cloths to pay for food, clothing and medicine. When the story cloth depicting his own family history is pulled out of storage, the cloth helps grandpa remember the tragedies he and his family faced when he was young and he shares them with Chersheng. When Chersheng realized that grandpa’s trip to America is not on the story cloth, he comes up with a plan to help his grandfather remember even more of his story. There are explanations in the back of the book about Alzheimer’s Disease as well as notes about the Hmong and Story Cloths.
When I Am Old With You by Angela A. Johnson, pictures by David Soman (1990)
For ages 4-7
In the picture book, brimming with happy memories, a little African American girl, talking to her grandfather, tells him all the things she will do with him when she is old like him.
“When I am old with you, Granddaddy,
I will sit in a big rocking chair beside you
and talk about everything.”
The conversation continues: they will go fishing, play cards under the old tree, try on all the old clothes in the cedar chest, look at old photos, cook bacon and eat it on the porch, roast corn over the open fire, even go to the ocean and walk on the hot sand…until the grandfather falls asleep in this rocking chair. They may never coexist at the same age, but they can still have lots of adventures together, right now, the young and the old, just the two of them. Soman’s warm watercolor paintings reinforce this story of love and the joy between generations.
Coretta Scott King Honor Book
An ALA Notable Book
Through Grandpa’s Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan, pictures by Deborah Kogan Ray (1980)
For ages 5-8
From the author of Newbery Medal winning novel Sarah Plain and Tall, comes this picture book about a child’s perspective on his blind grandfather. His grandfather has learned to see the world, not through his eyes, but with his other senses, and he teaches his grandson to do the same. He frequently tells his grandson John: “close your eyes, John, and look through my eyes.” They listen and hear grandma downstairs making breakfast. They smell the eggs, the toast, and the flowers. They hear the songs of the birds, the rain in the gutter, the gurgling river, the music as they play the cello together. They feel the wood in your hands, the sculpture as he runs their hands over it, the soft wind on their face. John even listened as grandpa reads aloud to him as he reads with his fingers. Just like his grandpa, John hears, feels and touches as he enters grandpas world. A beautiful yet simple story of bond between a young boy and his grandfather, with soft pastel illustrations that creates a sense of warmth and belonging.
Pablo’s Tree by Pat Mora, illustrated by Cecily Lang (1994).
For ages 3-8
In this multicultural book that focuses on the grandfather/grandson relationship through adoption, Mora has created a beautiful story of the celebration and intimacy between a grandson and his abuelita (grandfather). When Pablo’s mother tells her father she is going to adopt a baby, he goes out and buys a tree which he plants on the day Pablo first comes home. Each year, on Pablo’s birthday, he decorates the tree, varying the theme and decorations each year to surprise Pablo. They spend the day together under the tree, playing music and enjoying each other’s company. Spanish words and phrases (with translation) are interspersed. I love that this book blends adoption and the bond between grandfather and child.
“A lovely and resonant picture book that, like the tree that Pablo discovers decked with bells and wind chimes, rings with happiness and family love.” – Booklist
This series What was It Like, Grandma? includes:
- Grandma Esther Remembers: A Jewish-American Family Story
- Grandma Hekmatt Remembers: An Arab-American Family Story
- Grandma Lai Goon Remembers: A Chinese-American Family Story
- Grandma Lois Remembers: An African-American Family Story
- Grandma Maxine Remembers: A Native American Family Story
- Grandma Susan Remembers: A British-American Family Story
This series is by Ann Morris, photographs and illustrations by Peter Linenthal (2002)
For ages 4 and up
I love these books, as they explore and celebrate not only family ties but also cultural roots. Each book has a section where they give you background information on the grandmother’s family – where she was born, and about her family’s history, as well as highlights activities the grandma and grandchild do together. In Grandma Francisca Remembers, for example, the activity is making a sock doll, with instructions on how to make one. The books are filled with photographs that make you feel you’ve stepped into the lives and love of a child with his grandma. Beautifully done.
Dear Juno by Soyung Pak, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (1999)
For ages 3-7
I recently mention this book in my blog post about letters and mail You’ve Got Mail! 10 picture books about letters and mail, but it is also fitting here as well, and well worth reviewing again.
This book brought tears to my eyes. I know what it’s like both as a child, but also as a parent to have grandparents living far away. This simple, yet deeply moving story is about a young Korea boy who exchanges letters with his grandmother who is back in Korea. Although he can’t read Korean, and she can’t read English, they communicate with photos, mementos and drawings. The illustrations by Susan Kathleen Hartung were created using blotted oil paint glazes on sealed paper. It’s affect creates simple but intimate scenes either depicting Juno and his thoughts about his grandma or the grandmother, alone, lovingly opening and treasuring Juno’s letters. The message is clear: a simple drawing or letter can convey so much love, love shared across thousands of miles. I highly recommend this – it may spur your child to “write” to their grandparents.
“This warm, simple, yet richly woven story informs readers that even in this electronic age there is nothing like mail received from afar to tie together family and friends.” Library Journal
A Gift From Papá Diego – Un Regalo de Papá Diego by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, illustrations by Geronimo Garcia (1998)
For ages 5-8
In this moving picture book, perfect for TCK, Diego, a young boy, who recently moved to El Paso, Texas, misses her grandfather. Diego thinks about his grandpa all the time. When Diego learns a new word, or discovers a new treasure in the backyard, he longs more than ever to run to his grandfather to share the word, or treasure with him. But they live in different countries now. After reading his father’s old superman comics, he is sure that if he had a superman suit, he could fly to Chihuahua to see him every day. On his birthday, he gets his wish, but Diego is bitterly disappointed when instead of flying, he falls to the ground.
“I just wanted to see my Papá Diego”, he sobbed. His father tries to console him. When they go out to the kitchen to get some champurrado, a big surprise is waiting for him.
A beautiful multicultural story of love between generations that transcends time and space. This is bilingual book with both English and Spanish text. The illustrations were done by shaping clay into figures and painting them. The illustrator, Geronimo Garcia, hopes it will inspire young readers to make their own art using clay and paint.
“A Gift from Papá Diego is a tender love story of a book, perfect for all relatives who must live at any distance from one another…”
– Naomi Shihab Nye
40 uses for a Grandpa & 40 uses for a Grandma by Harriet Ziefert, drawings by Amanda Haley (2009)
For ages 5 and up
Another fun and amusing book by Harriet Ziefert, these 2 books are sure to make your children laugh (and grandma and grandpa will join in). This is a great child/grandparents read-aloud especially for younger children. The books consists of one or two word numbered descriptions, such as e-pal, bug catcher, chef, and ends with number 40 – friend. This list is paired with humorous cartoon-like drawings that children can related to. These books are a great launching pad for your child to make their own book about grandma or grandpa. I also recommend How to Babysit a Grandma and How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan (2014)
Grandmas Are For Giving Tickles & Grandpas Are For Finding Worms – A Lift-the-Flap Book by Harriet Zieffert, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2000)
For ages 4-8
If your kids like interactive books (who doesn’t?), these 2 books are just the ticket. Ziefert has created a series of books about family members that affirm family life and bonding. The books share lots of fun and special activities you can do with grandma or grandpa, as well as their many abilities and gifts, such as “grandma knows about butterflies. And computers. And snails.”. “Grandpas have change and pens and mints and keys in their pockets.”. The books avoid gender stereotyping and include ethnically diverse families. For TCKs who are often away from grandparents, I love this one: “Grandpa is someone to call on the telephone.” These books will help remind TCK away from family of grandpa and grandpa special gifts and abilities, (you can add your own) and the unique bond they share with them. Great books to pull out before a trip or on a visit to see family. This is another book that may spur your child or children to make up their own book about their grandparents (and share it with them on Skype)
Quotes about Grandparents
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” – Alex Hayley
“Grandparents make the world … a little softer, a little kinder, a little warmer.” — Unknown