Saturday, December 5, 2015

Text Set: Books Featuring Diverse US Grandparents and Grandchildren

In November I presented at NCTE in a session called "Reading Another Culture: Teaching Diversity without Reinforcing Stereotypes.

As part of that session, I have put together various text sets of picture books that teachers and parents can use to help introduce children to diverse characters and children around the world. The complete handouts from the talk are available here.

This is the fourth in a series of posts that provides more details about each of the example text sets. Click on any of the previous posts below:

Books Featuring Diverse Grandparents

US Grandchildren Visiting Grandparents in Different Countries

Sitti's Secrets (1997) by Naomi Shihab Nye and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. This story about an American girl who travels to Palestine to visit her Sitti (grandmother) remains as relevant today as when it was published in 1997. Mona does not speak Arabic, but between her father's translations and the language of gestures and smiles, she builds her relationship with her grandmother. The ongoing conflicts in this region are addressed only obliquely when Mona writes her letter to the President urging him to find a peaceful solution.

Time to Pray (2010) by Maha Addasi, translated by Nuha Albitar, and illustrated by Ned Gannon. In this tender bilingual book, young Yasmin is visiting her grandmother in a Muslim country. Fascinated by the calls of the muezzin, she asks her grandmother to teach her to pray. When she returns home (presumably to America), she finds a special gift from her grandmother to remind her about her prayers. A note at the end of the book describes the five times for prayer and the reasons behind them.

US Grandchild Whose Grandparents Immigrated from a Different Country

Abuela (1991) by Arthur Dorros. This fanciful picture book is told in the imaginative voice of the young narrator, Rosalba. Out on the town with her grandmother or Abuela, the girl imagines all the places they could see if they could fly. One stop includes a flight over the Statue of Liberty and references to her grandmother's own immigration to the United States from a Spanish-speaking country. The book also weaves in many Spanish phrases and expressions.

A Picnic in October (1999) by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. In this modern-day story, a young boy and his family take a trip to the Statue of Liberty to celebrate her birthday (though the story is set up to make you believe that they are celebrating his Italian grandmother's birthday). The boy doesn't understand the importance or the symbolism until later when he witnesses a family of new immigrants viewing the statue.

The Lotus Seed (1993) by Sherry Garland and illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi. This sparse picture book tells the story of the narrator's grandmother and her flight from Vietnam and her resettlement in America (implied). When the narrator's little brother steals grandmother's special lotus seed and tries to plant it, the family learns a lesson about history and perseverance.

The Matchbox Diary (2013) by Paul Fleischmann and illustrated by the unparalled Bagram Ibatoulline. This wonderful narrative weaves together the modern interaction between the grandfather and his young granddaughter with the stories that he tells her about his immigration to the United States from Italy via Ellis Island. The illustrations are incredible, and the story contains a lot of wonderful historical detail. It might make any reader want to start his/her own "matchbox diary."

Just a Minute: a trickster tale and counting book (2003) by Yuyi Morales (a Pura Belpré Award winner). This one is less of a relationship story, but it is highly entertaining. In this inventive trickster tale, Grandma Beetle is surprised to find the skeleton Señor Calavera beckoning her to follow. Imposing on his politeness, Grandma Beetle continues with an escalating list of tasks (with numbers in both English and Spanish). Kids will delight in this outrageous outsmarting of Death.

The Best Winds (2006) by Laura E. Williams and illustrated by Eujin Kim Neilan. Jinho is embarrassed after Grandfather moves in, with his traditional hanboks and other Korean customs. The two begin spending more time together, and Grandfather teachers Jinho how to make bangpae-yeon, a shield kite. Yet when Grandfather starts telling stories about making kites from his own grandfather, Jinho tunes out. I appreciated that this is a grandparent-grandchild story that is not all warm fuzzies and includes an initial skeptical reaction.

A Morning with Grandpa (2016) by Silvia Liu and illustrated by Christina Forshay. In the first half of the story, Gong Gong (grandfather) teaches young Mei Mei about tai chi, and in the second half, she teaches him about yoga. The illustrations, combined with the details in the back, help readers try out both for themselves. There are some cute contrasts between the two, as well as solid grandparent-grandchild moments, but I felt like the story itself left the reader hanging.

Mango, Abuela, and Me (2015) by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez [a Pura Belpre Honor Book for both writing and illustrations]. Also available in Spanish. In this charming story, Mia's abuela comes to live with the family (and share her room), but Abuela doesn't speak much English and Mia doesn't speak much Spanish. How can they communicate about all the important things they need to share? Mia takes some tips from her own teacher, as they both to be happy together.

African-American Grandparent-Grandchildren Books

The Grandad Tree (2000) by Trish Cooke and illustrated by Sharon Wilson. This lovely, heartwarming story connects the a child's love and memories of their grandad to the apple tree that marks their times together. Only partway through the story do the narrators reveal that their grandad has died and that they planted a new tree in his honor. This is a gentle story to share with children experiencing loss.

Poems in the Attic (2015) by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. This is a story in poems of a story about poems. The seven-year old narrator (and poet) finds a collection of her mother's poems in the attic of her grandmother's house. Each two-page spread shares a poem written by the narrator connected to a poem written by her mother. There is great interplay between the two sets of poems as we learn more about the narrator through her reflections on her own life as well as on her mother's poems.

Grandma in Blue with Red Hat (2015) by Scott Menchin and illustrated by Harry Bliss. This is a fun new book to get kids talking about art. One of my students decided to read this book out loud to me, and it was fun to experience his reactions (especially his escalating giggles as he realized the boy was about the apply his definition of art ... to his grandma!). So fun!

Don't Call me Grandma (2016) by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. Our narrator's great-grandmother Nell is a strong, independent woman who does not appreciate being referred to by the truncated sobriquet of "Grandma." This and her many other quirks are shared by the young narrator who shows us the love and life experience behind her great-grandmother's prickly exterior. I love how this is a book that celebrates the complexities of (great-)grandparent / grandchild relationships in a way that is both charming and true-to-life.

The Baby on the Way (2005) by Karen English. This book is Sean Qualls's first picture book for children, and it is a tender story of a grandmother and grandson. The grandmother relates the story of her own birth, and the illustrations alternate between the present day and the events being narrated in the story. The story concludes as a bit of a circular story, as the boy asks about his own birth story and the grandmother prepares to tell it. Be prepared when sharing this book to immediately follow it up with your own telling of your listener's birth story.

Do you have a favorite picture book that features a diverse grandparent-grandchild relationship? Please share in the comments below!

Next week's post shares my favorite books set in other countries that feature grandparents and grandchildren. For more text sets on diverse topics, please click here.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post and the post with your NCTE presentation. I've saved both for more in-depth reading later today and for future reference. Wish I could have seen your presentation in person, though. I'm sure it was excellent and informative.

  2. So pleased to see that two of my titles, I'M NEW HERE and JOUANAH: A HMONG CINDERELLA (illustrator), were on these wonderful lists from your presentation about diverse books.

    I wanted to share a book I wrote and illustrated, A PATH OF STARS, about the relationship between Dara and her grandmother, a refugee from Cambodia.


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