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5 Remarkable Books About Grandparents from Around the World

Marcia Lynx Qualey By Marcia Lynx Qualey Published on September 11, 2017

Of course there’s Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, with her classically grumpy grandfather, translated by Eileen Hall. But what other wonderful books highlight the important relationship between grandparents and grandchildren?

The Little Word Catcher, by Danielle Simard, illustrated by Geneviève Côté, translated by Jill Corner.

Elsie’s grandmother used to know many wonderful words, but now she seems to be losing them all the time. Elsie tries to help her grandma by finding the growing number of words that seem to be escaping her. Are the words hiding somewhere? Can she trap them in her net? This story offers a gentle view of the effects of Alzheimer’s on relationships in a family. It was first published in French as the award-winning La petite rapporteuse de mots. Ages 4 and up.

Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, translated from the Danish by Robert Moulthrop.

This book has a personified version of Death that comes to take away the grandmother of four brothers and sisters. Death is gentle, not scary, and explains his role in the world.

Brain Pickings calls it “a remarkable illustrated meditation on loss and life.” All ages.

Grandmother’s Alligator/Burukenge Wa Nyanya: A Tail in Two Sittings/Mkia Wa Vikao Viwili, by Wendy Wakefield Ferris.

This is a bicultural, bilingual, multiracial rhyming family story in English and Swahili. It’s the maverick grandmother whose fantastical stories spellbind her grandchildren, telling them of wizards, pilgrims, and holiday celebrations. Ages 6 and up.

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal

Six-year-old Sophia spends months with her grandmother on a remote Finnish island. “They make art, row boats, collect bones and driftwood, visit the magic forest, adopt a cat and observe the natural life of the island – from a single blade of grass to the shifting state of the sea and everything between. They discuss love, death, religion and much else.”

Listed as one of the top ten grandmothers in fiction by The Guardian. For ages 14+.

Grandma Lives in a Perfume Village, by Fang Suzhen, illustrated by Sonja Danowski, translated by Huang Xiumin.

A Batchelder shortlistee, Grandma tells the story of Xiao Le, whose grandmother dies. He comforts his mom by “reminding her that when it rains, Grandma is washing her clothes in the sky . . . and that although the Perfume Village in heaven cannot be reached by train, it can be accessed by the heart.” For ages 6+.


Marcia Lynx Qualey is a court poet, ghost writer, and itinerant scribe with a focus on Arab and Arabic literatures. Writes for The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Deutchse Welle, The National, and ... Show More