This week something momentous happened. It wasn’t just my 54th birthday, it wasn’t that I taught my last maths class of this academic year and it certainly wasn’t that Britain finally reached the climax of yet another election campaign and some of us dutifully trotted off to vote. No, what made it momentous was the fact that without doing anything I became a GRANDPARENT. Over the last few months I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether I want to be called Granny or Grandma, Nanny or Nona and this got me thinking about why I felt uncomfortable with being labelled ‘granny’(see below for my final decision).
Society and media stereotype grandparents as old, grey, infirm, sedentary and either cosy or grouchy and yet the last census showed that there are now 2.7 million grandparents acting as the primary caregiver for their grandchildren but this isn’t reflected in literature and media. In addition to the primary carers there are also umpteen grandparents who have either taken early retirement or reduced their hours of work in order to act as unpaid baby-sitters and child-minders so their adult children can carry on working. The reality of many middle-aged and pre-retirement people being actively engaged day in and day out with the raising of the next generation is barely acknowledged at all.
So with my Book Eater’s hat on I set out to find some great books about Grandparents. The first thing I discovered is that most books with a focus on the senior generation are aimed at young readers and many of them perpetuate the stereotypes. A study of children’s books in five EU countries confirmed that not only are grandparents portrayed as a sedentary, grey haired and wrinkly but identified that the age of these literary ‘grandparents’ was depicted as being far older than the average age of real grandparents with young grandchildren.
Sadly I found very few examples of genuine grandparent/grandchild relationships and so if you are aware of any that fit the bill please, please, please – recommend them to me
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.
This fantasy series is often recommended to Harry Potter addicts. It turns out that Grandpa Sorenson is the caretaker of an amazing and dangerous fantasy world. Unfortunately his relationship with his grandchildren is not overflowing with openness and trust and quite a few of the problems they encounter are because he isn’t entirely truthful with them. Not exactly the grandparent / grandchild relationship I was hoping to find. 3 bites
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
This book was always a firm childhood favourite of mine – with a more typical depiction of a firm grandfather and an adventurous young girl. Their relationship grows in strength and trust and grandfather’s heart is softened by the love and affection of Heidi. This novel has stood the test of time and Grandfather is perhaps the epitome of literary grandparents, stern, firm, loving and with a twinkle in his eye. 4 bites
Gansta Granny by David Walliams
This is an absolute favourite of my 81 year old mother. She has read this with two of her five great-grandchildren and plans to read it with the other three just as soon as they are old enough. It opens with the typical depiction of a boring Scrabble playing granny who makes her grandson Ben eat cabbage and …even worse…whose only television is broken. However the plot quickly develops as young Ben, who hates staying the night at granny’s place, accidentally discovers that she was an international jewel thief and all her life she has longed to steal the crown jewels – and now needs his help to do exactly that! Full of laughs and adventures the real joy of the story lies in the blossoming relationship that develops between Ben and his Granny when he learns to see her in a different light. 5 bites
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
Aubrey is just 11 when she finds herself bereaved and abandoned but then her grandmother Gram arrives and takes her back to live in Vermont. Struggling to cope with her losses Aubrey is a difficult house-guest but Gram has endless patience and gradually with the help of a new friend and a good counsellor Aubrey begins to open up. Written from Aubrey’s point of view the reader will nevertheless feel the love that Gram has for this child and the efforts she makes to help her heal.This really is an excellent depiction of a modern grandparent / grandchild relationship. 5 bites
Well there we go – please send me your book recommendations so I can read how to be the best Grandee (!) that I can.