Grandparents, Part 1

The typ­i­cal post-World War II nuclear fam­i­ly was side­lined dur­ing the polit­i­cal and soci­etal tur­moil of the 1960s. Due to divorce, remar­riage, and blend­ed fam­i­lies, the 21st cen­tu­ry has seen an increas­ing num­ber of grand­par­ents involved in their grand­chil­dren’s lives. To cel­e­brate Grand­par­ents Day in Sep­tem­ber, this arti­cle exam­ines the por­tray­al of grand­par­ents and great-grand­par­ents in select­ed Calde­cott Medal and Hon­or books. A wide range of per­son­ages abound, some ground­ed in fam­i­ly his­to­ry, oth­ers in imag­i­na­tion. The grand­par­ents intro­duced this month are based on real peo­ple or situations.

Grandfather's JourneyIn the 1994 Calde­cott Medal book Grandfather’s Jour­ney, author-illus­tra­tor Allen Say recounts his grandfather’s sojourns to the Unit­ed States from Japan, draw­ing par­al­lels to the artist’s own jour­neys. The book resem­bles a pho­to album with for­mal framed images, an effect Say was striv­ing for 1 with his real­is­tic, almost dis­qui­et­ing, water­col­or paintings.

The last full-page spread shows a teenage Say, which leads to the final sin­gle-page ren­der­ing of a pho­to of Say’s grand­fa­ther, which mir­rors the first illus­tra­tion in the book. Say describes this sequence as “my grandfather’s sto­ry merg­ing with mine, one jour­ney link­ing with anoth­er to form a cir­cle. The end­less cir­cle.” 2 At 16 years old, Say moved to Cal­i­for­nia to join his father’s fam­i­ly. He returned to Japan three years lat­er but ulti­mate­ly set­tled in the Unit­ed States, becom­ing an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. He explains, “The fun­ny thing is, the moment I am in one coun­try, I am home­sick for the oth­er.” 3 This com­plex dichoto­my is shared by recent immi­grant and refugee fam­i­lies seek­ing a sense of home and sta­bil­i­ty in a new land.

In the mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional sto­ry Find­ing Win­nie: The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Bear, author Lind­say Mattick shares the sto­ry, not of her grand­fa­ther, but of her great-grand­fa­ther with her young son Cole. The 2016 Calde­cott Medal book intro­duces Har­ry Col­bourne, a vet­eri­nar­i­an in Win­nipeg who is called in 1914 to serve in the Great War. On his train ride to a train­ing base on the east coast, Hen­ry pur­chas­es a bear from a hunter on a rail­road plat­form. It was impos­si­ble to hide the bear, which becomes a beloved mas­cot named Win­nie, short for Colbourne’s hometown.

Finding Winnie

illus­tra­tion © Sophie Black­all, Find­ing Winnie: 
The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Bear
, Lit­tle, Brown, 2015

Win­nie is sanc­tioned to trav­el with the sol­diers to Eng­land, but when the men are called to bat­tle, Col­bourne makes the tough deci­sion to bring the bear to the Lon­don Zoo. There, Win­nie catch­es the eye and imag­i­na­tion of Alan Alexan­der Milne and his son Christo­pher Robin. The elder Milne’s sto­ries about Win­nie-the-Pooh were lat­er pub­lished, beloved by gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren world­wide. The pain of tran­si­tion and loss is bal­anced with the joy of dis­cov­ery and love through Sophie Blackall’s child-friend­ly Chi­nese ink and water­col­or illustrations.

Coming Home SoonThe grand­moth­er that Jacque­line Wood­son fea­tures in Com­ing On Home Soon steps in as a care­giv­er when Ada Ruth’s moth­er leaves for a job in Chica­go dur­ing World War II. Ada Ruth and Grand­ma wait for months for a promised let­ter and mon­ey from Mama. Illus­tra­tor E.B. Lewis’ real­is­tic water­col­or illus­tra­tions in neu­tral and cool hues set a somber tone in this 2005 Calde­cott Hon­or book. Evoca­tive of rur­al Mid­west life, the images depict a strong and inde­pen­dent Grand­ma car­ry­ing wood for the stove, hunt­ing for pos­sum and rab­bit, and knit­ting by kerosene lamp. While not a dot­ing grand­moth­er, the woman con­soles Ada Ruth with a hug, holds the girl on her lap, and begrudg­ing­ly allows a kit­ten into the house. In these lone­ly months, the girl’s face is often par­tial­ly obscured in shad­ow. When the mail car­ri­er final­ly deliv­ers long-await­ed news from Mama, both Ada Ruth and Grand­ma stand at the open door in full light.

While the author doesn’t con­sid­er Com­ing On Home Soon one of her auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal works 4, there are some ele­ments com­mon to her upbring­ing. Like Ada Ruth, Wood­son and her old­er broth­er and sis­ter were liv­ing with their grand­par­ents in Greenville, South Car­oli­na, while their moth­er left for new oppor­tu­ni­ties in New York City. When their moth­er returned some months lat­er, the chil­dren moved with her to Brook­lyn, as Wood­son recounts in her mem­oir Brown Girl Dream­ing.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week EverA Cou­ple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, the 2009 Calde­cott Hon­or book by Mar­la Frazee, is a con­tem­po­rary sto­ry inspired by the Nature Camp Week that her son James and his friend Eamon attend­ed. In the book, grand­par­ents Bill and Pam wel­come the boys to their home for a week while the boys attend day camp. Through­out the week, the boys show lit­tle enthu­si­asm for camp or for planned activ­i­ties at home in the evening. They show greater inter­est in wrestling, eat­ing, watch­ing tele­vi­sion, and camp­ing in the base­ment. The adults are referred to by their first names, men­tioned only on the first page as grand­par­ents. Break­ing the stereo­type of old-fash­ioned elders, they dress casu­al­ly, with Bill in a t‑shirt, shorts, and san­dals and Pam in a sun­dress and flip-flops. Pam suc­cess­ful­ly entices the boys with food, but Bill’s attempts to share his fond­ness for Antarc­ti­ca fall flat, until the book’s sur­pris­ing climax.

The wit­ty com­ic book-style front and back cov­ers set the tone for this romp. Through­out the book, the tongue-in-cheek humor comes forth through black Pris­ma­col­or pen­cil and gouache images that often con­vey a dif­fer­ent sto­ry than the hand­writ­ten text. For exam­ple, “practic[ing] qui­et med­i­ta­tion down­stairs” shows the boys play­ing video games in a wild fren­zy; when “James and Eamon…discovered that a [pop­corn] par­ty with Bill and Pam could get pret­ty noisy” the exhaust­ed grand­par­ents are shown snor­ing loud­ly on the couch. After all, a week with a cou­ple of ram­bunc­tious bud­dies is drain­ing, even for the most engaged grandparents.

The book began as an elab­o­rate Frazee’s thank-you note to Eamon’s grand­par­ents, Bill and Pam from the sto­ry, with the boys con­tribut­ing some draw­ings. It was many months before Frazee decid­ed to devel­op the con­cept into a pic­ture book, upon the encour­age­ment of her edi­tor Allyn John­ston, who hap­pens to be Eamon’s moth­er. 5

The Hello Goodbye Window

illus­tra­tion © Chris Rasch­ka, The Hel­lo, Good­bye Win­dow, Hype­r­i­on, 2005

The pic­ture book The Hel­lo, Good­bye Win­dow, by Nor­ton Juster and illus­trat­ed by Chris Rasch­ka, also has roots in real­i­ty. Juster and his wife Jeanne used to wel­come their grand­daugh­ter Tori to their home one night a week. The author explains, “Almost every­thing that hap­pens in the book either was sug­gest­ed or almost lit­er­al­ly giv­en through things we did a cou­ple years ago.” 6

The book is nar­rat­ed by the young grand­child, who describes an overnight vis­it with her cher­ished Nan­na and Pop­py. She enjoys indoor and out­door rit­u­als such as draw­ing at the kitchen table, lis­ten­ing to Pop­py play the har­mon­i­ca, and help­ing Nan­na in the gar­den. While Nan­na and Pop­py are cau­tious, they encour­age explo­ration and cre­ativ­i­ty. The kitchen win­dow, the name­sake “Hel­lo, Good­bye Win­dow,” is anoth­er source of delight, car­ry­ing the sto­ry for­ward from begin­ning to end.

The mul­tira­cial fam­i­ly that Rasch­ka por­trays is based on the Justers. The author explains, “My mar­riage is an inter­ra­cial mar­riage: I’m white, my wife is black. My daugh­ter and my grand­daugh­ter have var­i­ous aspects of this.” Juster told his edi­tor that he want­ed the illus­tra­tions to reflect this, “just … to be there as a fact of life.” 7 Rasch­ka hon­ors the request in the play­ful, jubi­lant images of this 2006 Calde­cott Medal book, using water­col­or, oil pas­tel crayons scratched with a fold­ing bone, and char­coal to cre­ate abstract illus­tra­tions that explode with col­or and energy.

These Calde­cott Medal and Hon­or books rein­force how sto­ries of grand­par­ents and great-grand­par­ents drawn from per­son­al expe­ri­ence or fam­i­ly lore give read­ers a deep­er con­nec­tion to pic­ture book creators.

Pic­ture Books Cited

Frazee, Mar­la. A Cou­ple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. Orlan­do: Har­court, 2008.

Juster, Nor­ton. The Hel­lo, Good­bye Win­dow. Illus­trat­ed by Chris Rasch­ka. New York: Hype­r­i­on, 2005.

Mattick, Lind­say. Find­ing Win­nie: The True Sto­ry of the World’s Most Famous Bear. illus­trat­ed by Sophie Black­all. New York: Lit­tle, Brown, 2015.

Say, Allen. Grandfather’s Jour­ney. Boston: Houghton Mif­flin, 1993.

Wood­son, Jacque­line. Com­ing on Home Soon. Illus­trat­ed by E.B. Lewis. New York: Put­nam, 2004.


  1. Judy Hen­der­shot and Jack­ie Peck, “An Inter­view with Allen Say, 1994 Calde­cott Award Win­ner,” The Read­ing Teacher 48, no. 4 (Decem­ber 1994): 304.
  2. Allen Say, “Grandfather’s Jour­ney,” Horn Book Mag­a­zine 71, no. 1 (1995): 31.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Jacque­line Wood­son, “All About Me: Fre­quent­ly Asked Ques­tions,” Jacque­line Wood­son, accessed 25 July 2020,
  5. Jama Kim Rat­ti­gan, “Soup’s On: Mar­la Frazee in the Kitchen Inter­view!,” Jama’s Alpha­bet Soup, accessed 25 July 2020,
  6. Nathalie Op De Beeck, “On Com­ings and Goings,” Pub­lish­ers Week­ly 252, no. 8 (21 Feb­ru­ary 2005): 174.


Ades­man, Andrew and Chris­tine Adamec. The Grand­fam­i­ly Guide­book: Wis­dom and Sup­port for Grand­par­ents Rais­ing Grand­chil­dren. Cen­ter City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2018.

Burg­er, Kevyn. “Not Your Grand­par­ents’ Grand­par­ents: A New Breed of Active, Tech-Savvy Grand­par­ents Builds Bond and Mem­o­ries with the Next Gen­er­a­tion.” Star Tri­bune, 26 Feb­ru­ary 2020, Pro­Quest U.S. Newsstream.

Cohen, Philip. Fam­i­ly Diver­si­ty Is the New Nor­mal for America’s Chil­dren. Brief­ing paper. Austin, Tex.: Coun­cil of Con­tem­po­rary Fam­i­lies, 2014. nor­mal.

De Beeck, Nathalie Op. “On Com­ings and Goings.” Pub­lish­ers Week­ly 252, no. 8 (21 Feb­ru­ary 2005): 174.

Hen­der­shot, Judy, and Jack­ie Peck. “An Inter­view with Allen Say, 1994 Calde­cott Award Win­ner.” The Read­ing Teacher 48, no. 4 (Decem­ber 1994): 304 – 06.

Jama Kim Rat­ti­gan, Jama Kim. “Soup’s On: Mar­la Frazee in the Kitchen Inter­view!” Jama’s Alpha­bet Soup. Accessed 25 July 2020,

Say, Allen. Draw­ing from Mem­o­ry. New York: Scholas­tic Press, 2011.

— – . “Grandfather’s Jour­ney.” Horn Book Mag­a­zine 71, no. 1 (1995): 30 – 32.

Wood­son, Jacque­line. Brown Girl Dream­ing. New York: Nan­cy Paulsen Books/Penguin Group, 2014.

— – . Jacque­line Wood­son. Accessed 25 July 2020.

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