Reading helps shape how a child views the world. When kids read books with realistic, positive, older characters and inspiring intergenerational relationships, they’re more likely to see older adults and aging in a favorable light. With this in mind, our recommended reads have something for everyone, from babies to early readers to teens. Our library often features older characters who vary widely in culture and personality. We see them as role models for younger protagonists, introducing new experiences, sharing a sense of history and guiding them through the complications of life with honesty and a sense of humor.
- Unbecoming Posted in: Arts, Teens
By Jenny Downham – Scholastic, 2016
Three generations of redheaded women have secrets that are holding them back from happiness. At 17, Katie is struggling–with her feelings for other girls, with her mother’s expectations, with who she wants to be versus how the world perceives her. When her long-lost grandmother, Mary, moves in, the two form a quick, tight relationship that transcends their age gap. Mary, who is seeing the ghosts of her past as she’s succumbing to dementia, recognizes Katie’s inner fire and stokes it with gentle, all-accepting love. Katie, in turn, commits herself to helping Mary navigate her tenuous grasp of past and present. Their bond, however, threatens the tightly controlled world that Caroline (estranged daughter of Mary, harried mother of Katie) has constructed for her tiny family. As they try to cope with Mary’s increasingly foggy mind, Caroline and Katie are forced to confront their own relationship, which, as it turns out, is tied up in Mary’s lost memories. From page one, this is a story of mothers and daughters, who hand down their hurt and resentment through the generations and sacrifice everything in the name of love.
- Grandmother’s Visit Posted in: Ages 3 to 7, Arts, Children's Books
By Betty Quan, with full-color illustrations by Carmen Mok — Groundwood Books, 2018
This sweetly sad story is about the relationship between a girl and her grandmother, who comes to live with the family. She shows the girl how to properly measure rice and tells tales of her childhood in China. They share a love for the pickled plums that the old woman always has in her pocket. Every day, they say goodbye when Grandmother leaves the girl at school, and every day they say hello at dismissal. Until the day the girl’s father picks her up instead. Now Grandmother stays in her room all the time and Mother and Father worry in whispers. And then Grandmother is gone. But the girl and her family follow a Chinese tradition of keeping the outside lights on, to invite the deceased loved one’s spirit to return for one last goodbye. The girl realizes she can keep her memories, plus the ones Grandmother shared of her own experiences.
The soft illustrations set just the right mood, with muted hues and pops of vibrant oranges and reds. This is a good book to share with children who may need to process the loss of a grandparent, but it’s not limited to that audience. This intergenerational tale has a much broader appeal.
- Goodnight Whispers Posted in: Ages 3 to 7, Children's Books
By Michael Leannah, illustrated by Dani Torrent – Familius, 2018
What we say to the very young can be life-changing, and the bonds we make, eternal. In Goodnight Whispers, a loving daddy whispers affirmations to his daughter as she falls asleep every night, reinforcing her best attributes. He tells her, “You are the most wonderful girl in the world.” The ritual cements her self-image and carries her through the challenges of her teenage years and beyond. The reader sees the girl become a woman, and the father, a man in later life. As an adult, the girl, now a mother, institutes this bedtime practice with her own child, and, yes, her aging father: “You are the most wonderful man in the world.” This sweet picture book is a treasure for anyone who would like to introduce positive images of aging to the very young.
- Mare’s War Posted in: Arts, Children's Books, Teens
By Tanita S. Davis – Knopf, 2009
In this young adult novel, hard-to-impress teenagers Octavia and Tali take the road trip of a lifetime with their unconventional grandmother. The girls are as reluctant to go as Mare is to take them; the sisters don’t get along and they’re embarrassed by their grandmother. Yet as they head south to a family reunion, Mare’s stories slowly draw the teens off their phones. At their age, Mare was running from her Alabama home to join the African American Women’s Air Corps. It’s hard for the girls to picture their sassy, cigarette-wielding, stiletto-wearing grandmother as a fit, young recruit fighting in World War ll. Mare’s stories also illuminate other battles—against pervasive sexism and racism—that allow the girls to see their grandmother and their family history in a new light. This intergenerational tale could be a conversation starter for teens and their older relatives, particularly about how women and minorities have been portrayed throughout history and how far they have yet to go.
- Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs Posted in: Ages 3 to 7, Arts, Children's Books
By Susan Hughes, illustrated by Valérie Boivin – Kids Can Press, 2018
Positive images of aging can be hard to find, especially in children’s literature, and when a children’s book features an older woman as the heroine and role model on the jacket, it catches our eye. To our delight, the inspiring text inside is just as bold and engaging. As an author and activist, Jane Jacobs made a notable impact on urban studies and sociology. This charming biography follows her from her restless childhood to her lifelong battle to get people to appreciate cities as ecosystems that support people rather than skyscrapers and cars. Jane was a child of integrity—she was sent home from school for refusing to make a promise to a teacher that she couldn’t keep. That sense of right took her into community activism to keep urban neighborhoods operating “like sidewalk ballets” where people coexist with nature and their neighbors. Jane doesn’t shy away from a powerful city planner (Robert Moses) and organizes like-minded New Yorkers in, not a ribbon-cutting, but a ribbon-tying ceremony to close Central Park to traffic. If you have a budding activist in your life, don’t miss this information-rich, beautifully told, picture-book story.
- Quiet Posted in: Ages 3 to 7, Children's Books
By Tomie dePaola – Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018
Tomie dePaola—the Caldecott and Newbery Medal-winning author/illustrator of the Strega Nona books (and so many more)—shares a basic yet powerful message in his latest picture book. A grandfather, white-haired and upright, explores the park with his two grandchildren. Everything is moving, from the birds to the leaves to the children themselves. Grandfather suggests the trio sit quietly on a bench. As they do, they observe the subtle details of the animals and plants around them. Once they are still, the children notice that their world seems even more alive because they are taking the time to see and hear. With simple sentences and the muted colors of nature, the words and illustrations echo the theme: quiet is special. The sweetness of the message is, in turn, reflected by the sweetness in the respectful relationships between the generations and between the humans and the environment. A welcome reminder of the importance of a moment of calm in a busy world.
- A Gift from Abuela Posted in: Ages 3 to 7, Arts, Children's Books
By Cecilia Ruiz — Candlewick Press, 2018
The day Niña is born is one of the happiest of Abuela’s life. She adores having a granddaughter. As Niña grows, the pair spends much time together, making cutout paper banners called papel picado and eating pan dulce in the park. Abuela decides she would like to give Niña a very special gift, so she begins to save a few pesos a week in a jar on top of the refrigerator. But times get hard in Mexico. Some weeks, Abuela can barely afford food, let alone savings. She has to work more, so she has less time for an older Niña, who wants to spend her free time with her friends anyway.
One day, Niña realizes how long it has been since she has seen Abuela, so she goes to her house. Abuela is out, and Niña decides to surprise her by tidying up. She discovers the jar of pesos, now worthless because Mexican currency has changed. When Abuela returns to a clean kitchen, she and Niña decide to do something they always loved: they make papel picado from the old pesos and enjoy their time together.
This intergenerational tale is a reminder that togetherness is the best gift and that we can still enjoy the simple things, even as time changes both us and the world around us.
- The Orphan Boy Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
This Maasai tale from Africa is about a magical secret that will be ruined if found out—and the consuming curiosity to discover it anyway. An old man knows the stars so well that he notices when one is missing. That same night, a young boy appears before him, saying he’s an orphan named Kileken who has traveled very far, searching for a home. The childless old man is delighted to adopt him. Read more…
- Bread and Roses, Too Posted in: Ages 8 to 12
This absorbing novel takes place during the infamous 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike in the textile mills of Lawrence, Massachusetts. When the authorities resort to violence, some of the mill workers’ children are sent to volunteer hosts in Vermont to protect them until the strike is over. The two protagonists, Rosa and Jake, stay with a memorable older Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gerbati. Read more…
- The Old Man and His Door Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
This entertaining story is based on a Mexican song claiming that, to an old man, there’s no difference between la puerta (the door) and el puerco (the pig). This plump, white-haired man in his farmer’s overalls is a fine gardener who doesn’t listen carefully enough to his wife. (One can see why not; she’s rather bossy.) When she leaves for a neighbor’s barbecue, she tells him not to be late and to bring the pig. However, he’s in the middle of washing the dog, so she leaves first. Later he’s puzzled by why she wants him to bring a door, but he unscrews the front door and brings it anyway. The grinning pig watches him leave and looks happy not to be on the menu. Read more…
- Aunt Flossie’s Hats (and Crab Cakes Later) Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
Two young, African American sisters love to visit their great-great-aunt Flossie and her hundreds of hats. Each hat holds a vivid Baltimore memory—the 1904 fire, the parade at the end of World War I—and the girls are fascinated as Aunt Flossie tells the stories. Read more…
- Gus and Grandpa series Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
This endearing large-print series for beginning readers celebrates the special relationship between Gus and his grandfather. In the first book, Gus turns 7 and Grandpa turns 70. Grandpa’s thick white hair and mustache are snowy white, and he wears glasses. He loves listening to opera, and he has a lively dog. He’s good with his hands and can make wooden mailboxes and delicious Christmas cookies. Grandpa has a shed full of fascinating old junk, which Gus loves, but his parents don’t. Read more…
- A Time of Angels Posted in: Ages 8 to 12
It is September 1918, near the end of World War I, and the life of a 14-year-old Jewish girl in Boston is about to be turned upside down. Hannah and her two younger sisters, Libbie and Eve, live in a basement tenement with their great-aunt Tanta Rose and her stern roommate Vashti, who practices herbal medicine. The girls’ parents are in Russia and have not been heard from in months. Read more…
- Grandpa Green Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
In his second Caldecott Honor book, Smith tells an intergenerational tale of a young boy traveling through the garden that is his great-grandfather’s life. The boy winds through the topiaries, picking up forgetful Grandpa Green’s dropped tools, and his memories, too. The simplicity of the child’s understanding of Grandpa Green’s multilayered life is deepened by poignant illustrations, simultaneously whimsical and realistic in black, white and many shades of green.
Topiary after topiary represents Grandpa Green’s journey from his farmboy days and schoolyard crushes to World War I and meeting his future wife in a Paris café, to the blooming of both their family and his life as a gardener. The camaraderie between young boy and old man permeates the book. The boy knows where he fits in his family and is at ease as Grandpa’s helper. The great-grandfather accepts the boy’s help with love and his own memory lapses with grace. In the end, their journeys merge as the boy creates his own topiary, his own place, in their garden of family history.
Best-selling author of titles including The Stinky Cheese Man (Caldecott Honor book with Jon Scieszka, 1992), John, Paul, George & Ben (2006) and Madam President (2008), Smith has illustrated works for other renowned children’s book writers, such as Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss and Judith Viorst. With Grandpa Green, he has created a book that resonates with all ages. For children, this is a calming tale of love. For adults, it’s a bittersweet conjurer of memory. From either perspective, this quietly brilliant book will spark conversation between generations about the roots and blossoming of their own family’s journey.
- Darcy and Gran Don’t Like Babies Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
Young Darcy doesn’t like her new baby brother, especially the way he monopolizes her parents’ time and attention. She confides in several adults, but nobody takes her seriously—until Gran comes to visit and matter-of-factly tells Darcy that she has never liked babies either. Read more…
- The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place Posted in: Ages 8 to 12
The Rose brothers, Morris and Alexander, are Jewish immigrants from Hungary who share a jewelry business and a house. They have also collaborated for 45 years on building three towers of scrap steel in their backyard. Now taller than any of the surrounding houses, the towers are decorated with thousands of pendants—gears from old clocks, shards of colored glass, bits of porcelain—that sparkle in the light and sing softly in the wind. Read more…
- The Raft Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
Nicky, who looks about 8 or 9, thinks he will be bored and lonely when he must spend the summer alone with his grandmother in her rustic cottage in the woods. He gradually changes his mind, though, when she introduces him to rafting on the river and appreciating the wildlife that seems mysteriously attracted to the raft. Read more…
- Vet Volunteers series Posted in: Ages 8 to 12
Five preteen kids—Maggie, Sunita, Brenna, Zoe and David—tell their stories of volunteering at a veterinary clinic in Pennsylvania. The clinic is owned by Dr. J. J. MacKenzie, better known as Dr. Mac, the grandmother of first cousins Maggie and Zoe. The series offers a peek into what veterinary work is really like. Read more…
- Tsunami! Posted in: Ages 3 to 7
An old Japanese farmer from long ago is the wealthiest man in his seaside village because he has the largest rice fields. His thatched cottage is high up the mountainside, above the rest of the village. Yet he doesn’t flaunt his wealth. The 400 other villagers respect him and have nicknamed him Ojiisan (Japanese for grandfather); they often seek his advice. Read more…
- Seedfolks Posted in: Ages 8 to 12
Neighbors in a run-down, multiethnic area of Cleveland gradually transform a junk-filled vacant lot into a community garden. Thirteen fictional characters—linked by the garden and the neighborhood—tell their stories with voices spanning a variety of backgrounds, personalities and poignant personal situations. The youngest character is 9, the oldest is over 90, and there are plenty of appealing children, teens and adults in between. Read more…