Best Books for Kids and Teens

The best books on Grandparents and Grandchildren

recommended by Joseph Coelho

Acclaimed poet, Joseph Coelho, recommends five of the best kids' books that celebrate the magical bonds between grandparents and their grandchildren. Positive intergenerational relationships have very real health benefits for the whole family! So get yourself settled on a comfy chair with a grandchild and take some time to enjoy sharing these delightful stories.

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  • 1

    15 Things Not To Do With A Granny
    by Margaret McAllister and illustrated by Holly Stirling

  • 2

    Joy
    by Corrinne Averiss and illustrated by Isabelle Follath

  • 3

    Sun
    by Sam Usher

  • 4

    Into The Forest
    by Anthony Browne

  • 5

    Julian Is A Mermaid
    by Jessica Love

Acclaimed poet, Joseph Coelho, recommends five of the best kids' books that celebrate the magical bonds between grandparents and their grandchildren. Positive intergenerational relationships have very real health benefits for the whole family! So get yourself settled on a comfy chair with a grandchild and take some time to enjoy sharing these delightful stories.

Joseph Coelho

Joseph Coelho won the CLPE Children's Poetry Award for his debut collection, Werewolf Club Rules, in 2015. He is a writer, performer and co-founder of Word Pepper Theatre Company.  His poems have been published in several anthologies. Overheard in a Tower Block, his second solo collection, was shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2018, longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and chosen by the Empathy Lab for the 2018 Empathy Guide.  He has also had two picture books published: Luna Loves Library Day, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, and his new book If All The World Were… illustrated by Allison Colpoys.

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You were close to your grandparents, weren’t you?

I grew up in Roehampton in a single parent family. It was just me and my little sister and my mum, so grandparents were quite important. I remember that when my mum was working, my Nan would come down on the bus or the train and look after us in the evenings. My grandfather would come round if anything needed fixing, or if a shelf needed putting up—that sort of thing. He was quite handy. I would visit my grandparents on the weekend. My grandpa would get me doing all sorts of jobs, some slightly dangerous.

He once had me breaking down lighting tubes! Which was great fun, but I’m not sure how my mum would have felt about it if she knew. He always had tins of stuff—a tin of fuses, that sort of thing. I think he taught me how to wire a plug.

“He also gave me an insight into his life in a different country, India. From his descriptions, it seemed to me like this magical land”

There was always stuff that needed doing in my grandparents garden and I was always more than keen to help out. I have many fond memories of them from when I was very young. I stayed with my grandparents while my little sister was being born. In these ways, my grandparents took on parenting responsibilities—as well as helping my mum out.

It’s an important relationship, isn’t it?

Yeah. For me they became alternative adult role models. They are quite different from parents. I think kids learn that there are different things they can go to different adults for, and different conversations they can have. My Nan was always very soft and understanding in ways that my mother was not—mum was running the house and working. My grandpa, he was the clown. He would always muck about. He would probably take things too far … then my Nan would be like, “You started it!”

He would teach me how to play cards. He was from India, so he had a huge number of exotic and terrifying stories from his childhood, often involving animals, dangerous animals or animals dying, which I just loved as a little boy growing up. I was in awe, and wanted nothing else than to go to India with him, because he’d go and visit our extended family every year. Unfortunately, that never happened. I think my mum thought we wouldn’t come back.

There’s an illustration (by Allison Colpoys) in your own book filled with parrots, peacocks and palaces—is that inspired by your childhood?

Yes, my grandfather constantly had little stories about tigers and villages and people getting decapitated by them. He nearly drowned in a pond. We were never quite sure what the complete truth was. He wasn’t beyond making stuff up!

Heightening the storytelling a little?

I think he liked a little spice. When we played cards, if I cheated, he warned me, “If you did that if you were really playing cards, they’d come for you.” For a child this was very cool, but I’m sure he exaggerated. He also gave me an insight into his life in a different country, India. From his descriptions, it seemed like this magical land—a mysterious place that my grandfather would disappear to once a year.

There was always talk of his extended family out in Calcutta, and the wonderful food. His classic saying was always, “Ten pounds, you’ll live like a king.” So, it represented this exotic land but also this place where, being from a poor family, we would be suddenly rich. He was also the grandparent who would give me five pound notes for doing little jobs. I remember once he said to me, “Why do you love me and your grandmother?” And, I said something like, “I love gran because she cooks the food and I love you because you give me fivers.”

He taught me from an early age that it’s okay to be a bit silly. I adored that sense of this silly grown-up who would kind of throw things and be a bit naughty. For a kid, it’s just brilliant. I think that’s also probably why my mum never let me go to India with him.

Shall we talk about your book choices now? Where would you like to begin?

15 Things? Not To Do With Granny by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling – it’s presented like a rule book which I just love. The best thing about this book is just the joy in it – and the silliness.

“These are very active grandparents, they aren’t wrapped in a blanket in a comfy chair by the fire. These are grannies that do karate!”

Also, the way they’re able to go beneath the surface of the idea is clever. The fact that you’ve got two grannies from two different backgrounds struggling to entertain these two little kids. You can see their annoyances and their joy and their love. One granny is struggling with a pile of kids. Another granny is holding her ears because they make so much noise. I love that real-life aspect.

These are very active grandparents; they aren’t wrapped in a blanket in a comfy chair by the fire. You’ve got grannies that take you to the zoo and do karate! We’re not often presented that side of granny-hood.

Grandparents are often portrayed as cantankerous or very fragile. I know when I was young and lived in Roehampton on the third floor—if the lift wasn’t working, my Nan would walk up the stairs and let us know how many stairs there were. She always counted stairs. She is still alive, I should say, and she till counts stairs. She’s very active, always running about between our house and then my aunt’s house, and kind of just back and forth and always on hand. As was my granddad—he worked all his life, and died eight years ago. I think he was 82. He was working right up to like the last moment. He was constantly active. We’d always go for long walks and explore Wandsworth.

The focus on the two grannies works well. I don’t think the parents feature at all. There’s no granddad. It’s just unashamedly focusing on two grannies. Two active older ladies, which it seems like the media is terrified of. I think that’s lovely.

And the colours in the illustrations are gorgeous. There’s one scene where they go to the moon—the granny is in the rocket—you get such a sense of love and joy.

Your next choice is Joy by Corinne Averiss.

I can’t remember who said this, but it’s something I heard and always have lived by: a good picture book empowers the child. In this book we do have the traditional fragile looking granny, by the fire with the blanket, and a little girl who just wants to make her feel better. We don’t know what’s wrong with granny, which I think is nicely done. Is she ill or just feeling a bit sad? The child is empowered in the story to cheer her granny up. She takes the initiative: I’m going to go and make granny better.

“As a child being read this or reading this with your family, you couldn’t help but feel on top of the world afterward.”

You often hear of those projects where young kids go and visit old people’s homes, and the impact that has. I had the pleasure of being involved in one many years ago where we took a group of kids to an old people’s homes and just got them talking to all the residents. It was a joyous afternoon. There was lots of tea and biscuits. Everyone was glowing.

The book begins with illustrations in greys and muted colours. You’ve got granny in her home with the pictures all askew and a wonderful cat in the middle who appears very unimpressed. Even the flowers are dead. Then this expressive little girl—a bundle of joy—tiptoes around gathering all the things she’ll need to collect “joy.”

I love her “catching kit.”

And all this “joy” is represented in the illustrations by great splurges of colour and shapes. As a child being read this or reading this with your family, you couldn’t help but feel on top of the world afterward.

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I think children reading this book would understand how the simple act of being with someone, of talking to someone, can have a huge impact. It’s so clear that by the end that granny is now happy and laughing. She is now dressed in colours and out having picnics, active again. Just delightful.

Your third choice is Sun by Sam Usher

It has a fantastically glittery cover, which is a super start for any book. This story means a lot to me because it reminds me of going on adventures with my grandfather. After dinner we’d always go for a walk, just once around the commons. I remember once we went for a walk and came across a fair. He took me to the coconut shy where I failed abysmally at knocking anything down.

“This story means a lot to me because it reminds me of going on adventures with my grandfather”

I just think Sam’s book is gorgeous. Focusing on that relationship between the little boy and his grandfather, and having adventures that are dictated by the weather. Other books in the series are StormRain and Snow. Nothing stops them from going out.

This one is about the heat of a summer day. It’s just beating down. There’s a lovely repetition in this of ‘the sun beats down’. Then the story suddenly explodes into a riot of unexpectedness and adventure.  They come across a galleon full of pirates and have to cross deserts.

Every time I look at it, I spot another detail in the illustrations.

Yes—I think the duck and the penguin pop up in some of his other books too. He captures that cross-generational connection, a grandfather and a grandson and the simple pleasures of walking, taking photographs—they use a map, they don’t use Google. There’s not a mobile phone in sight. They use an old-school camera and they have a picnic basket. They’re not on their phones walking to the numerous coffee shops to have a babyccino. It’s an imaginative adventure.

Your fourth choice is Into the Forest by Anthony Browne.

I think Anthony Browne is so good—especially when dealing with deep issues. He handles them in a sensitive, understated way. It took me a while to realize what was going on here: you’ve got a boy waking up in the middle of the night, woken up by a terrible sound. You see the lightning. When we first read it, you sort of assume there’s a storm. But I interpret the lightning as an argument. There’s an argument going on, and then dad’s not there in the morning. From this starting point, Anthony Brown embarks on a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. The little boy is sent to his grandmother’s house with a cake. The journey through the woods is a dream-scape and along the way we meet numerous well-known fairy tale characters.

“In this story the grandmother is a linchpin keeping things together in times of need”

I think this is the essence of this book is that it’s all about that role of grandparents to kind of be the other parents, to be there in times of need. Clearly this is a time of need. He’s going to see Granny because Mum and Dad had an argument, so Dad left. Dad left for the night. Stormed out, I imagine.

In this story, the grandmother is a linchpin keeping things together in times of need. That’s a really important role of grandparents, I think. They are the ones that mum and dad will call when they have arguments, when they need a babysitter, when there’s a family emergency. That steadfastness is so key.

The family is all back together again at the end, which is so interesting. It’s so challenging artistically to see Mum right at the end—to see that she’s drawn in this kind of very realistic style, whereas right at the start, she’s drawn in a more cartoon-type style.

There’s just so much for the kids to discover and appreciate here in terms of the different styles Anthony has used throughout the book, combined with dabbling into the world of fairy tales as a way of bringing to light our deepest, darkest fears. It’s just so intelligently done.

Your final choice is Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love.

I think this is a perfect picture book. It’s both gorgeous and beautifully sparse.

It’s just the simplest of stories—a little boy with his grandmother on a bus, seeing these beautiful ladies dressed as mermaids. You can watch him as he gets the idea, “I could be a mermaid!” He’s clearly reading a book about mermaids, you can just make out the outline of a mermaid in the book that he’s got on his lap. That link of being inspired by the things that you read, of kids seeing themselves reflected in books. I think it’s so important. His transformation is just delightful. He’s such a character—the way he delights at his tail.

“Today we need much broader definitions of masculinity and femininity”

By the middle spread, you’ve got a big blue fish presenting him with a necklace, which mirrors the print on the grandmother’s dress in a later illustration. It’s just genius. I noticed that, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” This just works on so many levels. Nothing is wasted. So many details like this to notice.

I love all the expressions on the characters’ faces. You know exactly what they’re thinking. Even the minor characters appear to have vivid lives. They’re all thinking something, they’re all real.

The book celebrates self-expression and the fact that the grandmother accepts that this little boy wants to be a mermaid, and supports him in that endeavour without question. I think that speaks volumes in this day and age—of the importance of allowing people to be themselves without judgment, without fear. Especially across generations.

My son loved reading it because he loves dressing up—and certainly he’ll happily layer a Robin Hood outfit over a fairy princess dress. He doesn’t differentiate.

It’s so important, isn’t it? I think society needs to readdress these notions of masculinity and femininity and find new definitions, because they’re not serving us. They don’t do anyone any favours.

It’s so limiting when we make these distinctions that you can only be a certain way as a man or as a woman—that there are certain ways that you have to behave, certain ways you have to be, when our souls are limitless.

I think this book kind of just approaches all these issues so beautifully and does so with a light touch and a big heart.

Interview by Zoe Greaves

July 11, 2018

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Joseph Coelho

Joseph Coelho won the CLPE Children's Poetry Award for his debut collection, Werewolf Club Rules, in 2015. He is a writer, performer and co-founder of Word Pepper Theatre Company.  His poems have been published in several anthologies. Overheard in a Tower Block, his second solo collection, was shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2018, longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal and chosen by the Empathy Lab for the 2018 Empathy Guide.  He has also had two picture books published: Luna Loves Library Day, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, and his new book If All The World Were… illustrated by Allison Colpoys.