As friends of mine become first-time grandmothers, I like to give them a gift to mark this cherished milestone in their lives. I’ve given darling frames to two women and a small book with a humorous, light-hearted look at grandparenting to a third. But now I’ve come across another great choice: Grandmothering:Real Life in Real Families by Becky Sarah, a manual that combines common sense advice and interviews with more than 80 women.
For her newly-released book, Becky drew upon her professional experience as a former teacher, midwife, childbirth and parent educator, as well as Public Health Director for the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts. I am happy to welcome Becky Sarah as today’s guest writer.
There are so many wonderful ways to bring children’s books into your grandchildren’s lives. When I was interviewing grandmothers, as research for my new book “Grandmothering: Real Life in Real Families,” I heard a lot of great ideas.
In one family, there is a birthday tradition of lunch at a granddaughter’s favorite restaurant and a bookstore trip where she gets to choose any three books she wants.
In another family I interviewed, the grandchild’s family has to make a long plane trip when they visit. On the last day of each visit, the grandmother takes her grandson to their local independent bookstore and he can choose something to read on the trip home. This is an enjoyable way to end the visit, a nice moment for both of them. The child’s parents appreciate it, too, because he has something new to occupy himself with on the plane.
Many grandparents have saved boxes of treasured books, some of them now classics like Charlotte’s Web, Dr. Dolittle, and Misty of Chincoteague. These can make nice bedtime stories, perhaps heard only at grandma’s house. Or, you might give these books to the grandchildren, one at a time, as the children get old enough and you see which ones are special to each child.
There can be some unpleasant surprises, though. One grandmother I talked with was startled and saddened to find that some of the books she loved had ideas or behavior that by today’s standards are inappropriate. In Ramona and Her Father, by Beverly Cleary, the father smokes cigarettes and it’s portrayed as perfectly normal. This grandmother left out those sentences as she read the book in the backseat on a car trip to two granddaughters, and she isn’t going to give them that book to read to themselves because she doesn’t want to give them the idea that smoking is grownup, or fun. They can still enjoy the antics and adventures of Ramona, Beezus, Henry, and Henry’s dog Ribsy.
But most of the books you and your own children loved will be just right for grandchildren. The parents will probably find it a delightful to see their child enjoying their own favorites … especially if you are doing the reading, and the parents are getting a few free moments to themselves. If you don’t have a collection of classic children’s books, a librarian can help you find the ones you remember and many new treasures too.
Some literature that seems too grownup for your grandchild can actually be wonderful for them. One grandmother I interviewed reads poetry to the children, including poems they don’t completely understand. Of course, she doesn’t include anything scary, or disturbing. But when she read Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the children listened intently, then asked, “Why did they stop in the snow?” There was no answer, just something for them all to talk over and to think about, while contemplating the scene that Frost describes so vividly. Goofy old-fashioned humorous poems can be a lot of fun, too, like Ogden Nash’s limericks, or “The Purple Cow.”
Another grandmother told me that she loved reading Winnie the Pooh to grandchildren and she noticed two levels of humor in the book. The children, who are all between five and nine years old, giggled and asked for these stories over and over, but the grandmother laughed at different points in the narrative, at ironies or references that the author intended for the adult reader.
You give your grandchildren a wonderful gift when you teach them to enjoy books, a gift they will have all their lives.