Grandparents, Part 2

Fic­tion­al Calde­cott grand­par­ents reveal inter­est­ing and sur­pris­ing per­son­al­i­ties. While the sto­ries are imag­i­nary, some of the char­ac­ters are inspired by admired grand­par­ents and mentors.

Song and Dance ManSong and Dance Man, by Karen Ack­er­man and illus­trat­ed by Stephen Gam­mell, intro­duces chil­dren to the bygone era of vaude­ville. The first image of the pro­tag­o­nist appears oppo­site the title page: a grin­ning old­er man, sunken in a stuffed chair, a book dan­gling from one hand. When three grand­chil­dren arrive, they pro­claim that this unas­sum­ing fig­ure is a song and dance man and fol­low Grand­pa to the attic, where dance shoes, show clothes, and props trans­form him.

Dynam­ic diag­o­nal lines cre­ate ener­gy, while in almost every spread, an object or two swings pre­car­i­ous­ly or is on the verge of tum­bling to the ground. Gam­mell uses a loose real­is­tic style and spir­it­ed col­ored pen­cil draw­ings in this 1989 Calde­cott Medal book. When Grand­pa con­cludes his tap dance finale, awash in col­or, his effu­sive grand­chil­dren sur­round the wist­ful per­former and won­der if he miss­es “the song and dance days.”

Grandpa GreenIn anoth­er sto­ry that hear­kens to the past, author-illus­tra­tor Lane Smith explores the rela­tion­ship between a boy and his great-grand­fa­ther in Grand­pa Green, a 2012 Calde­cott Hon­or book. Smith uses an unusu­al array of media in his car­toon and abstract illus­tra­tions: brush and water­proof India ink, water­col­or, oil paint, water-based var­nish, and dig­i­tal paint.¹ The flat illus­tra­tions impart a nos­tal­gic feel for what Smith describes as “a strong 1970s vibe,”² fit­ting for a ten­der sto­ry of mem­o­ry, loss, and love.

Through liv­ing sculp­tures in a top­i­ary gar­den, a boy traces an elder gardener’s life. Along the way, he picks up objects left behind by Grand­pa Green because “Now he’s pret­ty old and he some­times for­gets things…” When the boy meets up with his great-grand­fa­ther near the end of the book, the man is com­plet­ing a sculp­ture of the boy, show­cased in a gate­fold of the won­drous gar­den. A final sin­gle-page illus­tra­tion shows the boy cre­at­ing a top­i­ary sculp­ture of Grand­pa Green.

Last Stop on Market StreetTwo recent Calde­cott Hon­or books high­light mod­ern inde­pen­dent urban grand­moth­ers. In Last Stop on Mar­ket Street, writ­ten by Matt de la Peña and illus­trat­ed by Chris­t­ian Robin­son, a boy and his nana leave church on a rainy day to take the bus down Mar­ket Street. CJ’s ques­tions and com­ments indi­cate that he and Nana make this trip reg­u­lar­ly to its final stop at the soup kitchen where they have come to vol­un­teer. Nana answers his ques­tions direct­ly to deep­en his under­stand­ing of the world. She shows her grand­son com­pas­sion in her inter­ac­tions with bus rid­ers and soup kitchen diners.

While Matt de la Peña “drew on [my Dad’s] qui­et wis­dom when I wrote Nana’s dialogue,”³ illus­tra­tor Chris­t­ian Robin­son found inspi­ra­tion in the grand­moth­er who raised him. The woman in the sto­ry looks like his grand­moth­er, and he ded­i­cates the book to her. He also hon­ors his nephew Basil by insert­ing his birth­day as the bus num­ber 0923.4 In this 2016 Calde­cott Hon­or book, the artist cre­ates the dynam­ic car­toon­like illus­tra­tions with acrylic paint and col­lage, using some dig­i­tal manip­u­la­tion. Page design varies from small­er vignettes with rough bor­ders to full bleed dou­ble-page spreads. Most back­grounds are applied with broad brush strokes, from dull green of the bus inte­ri­or to bril­liant blue when CJ is car­ried away by music. Robinson’s can­did depic­tion of the city and its res­i­dents com­ple­ment de la Peña’s earnest text, for which the author received the New­bery Medal.

illustration from Last Stop on Market Street

illus­tra­tion © Chris­t­ian Robin­son, Last Stop on Mar­ket Street, G.P. Put­nam’s Sons, 2015

Nana in the CityIn Nana in the City, a 2015 Calde­cott Hon­or book, author-illus­tra­tor Lau­ren Castil­lo presents a grand­moth­er who has moved to a new apart­ment in New York City. While she is ener­gized by the envi­ron­ment, her vis­it­ing grand­son finds the city “busy, loud, and filled with scary things.” To embold­en him, Nana knits a nub­by red cape for the child to wear for the next day’s activ­i­ties. Feel­ing a new sense of brav­ery, the boy ven­tures out with Nana to dis­cov­er that he now finds the city busy, loud, and “filled with extra­or­di­nary things!”

Grainy and thick lines dom­i­nate Castillo’s illus­tra­tions, achieved when she uses a print­er to enlarge small draw­ings onto water­col­or paper. Ini­tial­ly, the city and its peo­ple are bathed in greys and oth­er neu­tral water­col­or shades; reds and golds are threat­en­ing, except for Nana’s fetch­ing out­fit. When the boy lat­er dons his red cape, the warm col­ors of his sur­round­ings exude new­found excite­ment. Castil­lo wrote the book to hon­or two sig­nif­i­cant women in her life: her grand­moth­er, whom she vis­it­ed in New York dur­ing child­hood sum­mers, and her late edi­tor Frances Fos­ter, “who was like fam­i­ly to me in New York City….and was a won­der­ful men­tor and friend. I aimed to cap­ture her wise and gen­tle spir­it in the char­ac­ter of Nana.”5

illustration from Nana in the City

illus­tra­tion © Lau­ren Castil­lo, Nana in the City, Clar­i­on Books, 2014

Alma and How She Got Her NameThe impor­tance of fam­i­ly sto­ries dri­ves Alma and How She Got Her Name, a 2019 Calde­cott Hon­or book by author-illus­tra­tor Jua­na Mar­tinez-Neal. When Alma Sofia Esper­an­za José Pura Can­dela express­es her dis­may over her long name, her father pulls out a pho­to album with the girl’s pater­nal grand­moth­er, great grand­moth­er, pater­nal grand­fa­ther, great-aunt, and mater­nal grand­moth­er. These tal­ent­ed, adven­tur­ous, and inquis­i­tive rel­a­tives have qual­i­ties that Alma admires and rec­og­nizes in her­self. When her father final­ly divulges the ori­gin of her first name, Alma beams with pride. Martinez-Neal’s debut book as an author-illus­tra­tor con­cludes with “A Note from Jua­na,” where she con­fides that she was not fond of her name when grow­ing up in Peru, but lat­er appre­ci­at­ed it after mov­ing to the Unit­ed States.

Soft black and grey car­toon-style draw­ings are cre­at­ed with graphite, col­ored pen­cils, and print trans­fers on hand­made tex­tured paper, with spare use of mut­ed reds and blues. Plucky Alma shows strength and con­fi­dence in her striped leg­gings, a pat­tern repli­cat­ed in the endpapers.

Leave Me Alone!All the grand­par­ents dis­cussed depict ador­ing rel­a­tives. How­ev­er, in her first pic­ture book, author-illus­tra­tor Vera Bros­gol breaks children’s lit­er­a­ture con­ven­tion by fea­tur­ing an unap­peal­ing adult pro­tag­o­nist with a can­tan­ker­ous per­son­al­i­ty and skull-like face. The orig­i­nal folk­tale Leave Me Alone!, a 2017 Calde­cott Hon­or book, shows the wom­an’s small house filled beyond capac­i­ty each day when thir­ty active grand­chil­dren arrive, leav­ing her no oppor­tu­ni­ty to do “some seri­ous knit­ting.” Final­ly, she packs a sack in exas­per­a­tion and trots out of the vil­lage shout­ing, “Leave me alone!” to her adult chil­dren. Despite unex­pect­ed diver­sions, the grand­moth­er com­pletes her task and returns home to reveal her endear­ing side, dis­trib­ut­ing hand-knit sweaters to her jubi­lant young charges. Brosgol’s ink and water­col­or illus­tra­tions pro­vide humor and ele­ments of sur­prise. Autumn col­ors rein­force the sense of urgency in the woman’s mis­sion to pre­pare her grand­chil­dren for winter.

illustration from Leave Me Alone!

illus­tra­tion © Vera Bros­gol, Leave Me Alone!, Roar­ing Brook Press, 2016

The depic­tions of grand­par­ents in Calde­cott Medal and Hon­or books intro­duce read­ers to a com­pelling cast of char­ac­ters. Whether fic­tion­al or inspired by loved ones, the grand­par­ents are engaged with or have left a lega­cy to their grand­chil­dren. These appeal­ing pic­ture books rec­og­nize the active roles that grand­par­ents play in the lives of chil­dren, roles that con­tin­ue to expand as Amer­i­can fam­i­lies evolve.

Pic­ture Books Cited

Ack­er­man, Karen. Song and Dance Man. Illus­trat­ed by Stephen Gam­mell. New York: Knopf: 1988.

Bros­gol, Vera. Leave Me Alone! New York: Roar­ing Brook Press, 2016.

Castil­lo, Lau­ren. Nana in the City. Boston: Clar­i­on, 2014.

de la Peña, Matt. Last Stop on Mar­ket Street. Illus­trat­ed by Chris­t­ian Robin­son. New York: Put­nam, 2015.

Mar­tinez-Neal, Jua­na. Alma and How She Got Her Name. Somerville, MA: Can­dlewick, 2018.

Smith, Lane. Grand­pa Green. New York: Roar­ing Brook, 2011.


  1. Jen­nifer M. Brown, “A Gar­den of Mem­o­ries,” Cur­ricu­lum Con­nec­tions, 2 August 2011, – 442/a_garden_of_memories.html.csp.
  2. Bur­gin Street­man, “Meet Lane Smith: Part Two,” Vin­tage Kids’ Books My Kids Love, 2 Octo­ber 2011,
  3. Matt de la Peña, “New­bery Medal Accep­tance,” Horn Book Mag­a­zine 92, no. 4 (2016): 62.
    Chris­t­ian Robin­son, (pre­sen­ta­tion, St. Cather­ine Uni­ver­si­ty, St. Paul, MN, 17 May 2016).
  4. John Schu­mach­er, “Calde­cott Hon­oree Lau­ren Castil­lo,” Watch. Read. Con­nect, 23 Feb­ru­ary 2015,


Brown, Jen­nifer M. “A Gar­den of Mem­o­ries.” Cur­ricu­lum Con­nec­tions. August 2, 2011. – 442/a_garden_of_memories.html.csp.

de la Peña, Matt. “New­bery Medal Accep­tance.” Horn Book Mag­a­zine 92, no. 4 (2016): 56 – 64.

Robin­son, Chris­t­ian. Pre­sen­ta­tion at St. Cather­ine Uni­ver­si­ty, St. Paul, MN, 17­May 2016.

Schu­mach­er, John. “Calde­cott Hon­oree Lau­ren Castil­lo.” Watch. Read. Con­nect. 23 Feb­ru­ary 2015.

Street­man, Bur­gin. “Meet Lane Smith: Part Two.” Vin­tage Kids’ Books My Kids Love. 2 Octo­ber 2011. part-two.html.

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