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Just For Fun

Aren’t They Grand? Our Favorite Grandparents from Children’s Literature

by Tom Burns

Image credits: Grandpa Joe (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl), Nana (Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña), Hippie Grandmother (My Hippie Grandmother by Reeve Lindbergh), Grandma Concetta (Strega Nona, Her Story by Tomie dePaola), Grannie (Red Riding Hood retold by James Marshall)

Grandparents aren’t just solid sources of extra dollars, hearty hugs, and embarrassing stories about your parents. They also make amazing characters in children’s stories. There’s a long history of literary grandparents — passing down wisdom, sharing adventures, being eaten by wolves — so, to celebrate the vital role they play in children’s literature, here are a few of our very favorite grandparents from some of our very favorite kids’ books.

1. Grandpa Joe (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)
All of Charlie Bucket’s grandparents are pretty fantastic, but due credit must go to Grandpa Joe for dragging himself out of bed and going with young Charlie on an adventure of a lifetime to Willy Wonka’s candy paradise. A great example of a grandparent acting as a guardian and a friend.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

2. Grannie (of Red Riding Hood retold by James Marshall)
Red Riding’s poor Grannie might be the most famous grandparent in children’s literature (and one of the first recorded victims of identity theft). Fortunately, Red was able to see past the wolf’s deception, but her grandmother’s fate depends on what version of the tale you read. If you prefer your grandmothers undigested, you’ll love this bold, clever take on the classic tale told from the creator of The Stupids and Miss Nelson Is Missing.

Red Riding Hood

3. Hippie Grandmother (from My Hippie Grandmother by Reeve Lindbergh)
This “crunchy” grandma is a wonderful reminder that not all grandparents grew up during the Great Depression. Grandparents come from wide variety of backgrounds and time periods, so it’s fun to celebrate a grandmother who “hasn’t cut her hair at all / Since nineteen sixty-nine.”

My Hippie Grandmother

4. Uncle Alp (of Heidi by Johanna Spyri)
This children’s classic, originally published in 1881, actually has a surprisingly progressive attitude towards grandparents. Throughout Spryi’s text, grandparents act as confidants and caregivers, and the transformation of Heidi’s grandpa, Uncle Alp, from a gruff hermit to a loving parent figure is the emotional core of the book.


5. Grandma Dowdel (from A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck)
This brilliantly funny juvenile novel, set during the 1920s and ‘30s, collects the memories of young Joey and Mary Alice as they spend each summer in the country with their bombastic, tough-as-nails, force-of-nature Grandma Dowdel. (The book’s sequel, A Year Down Yonder, won the 2001 Newbery Medal.)

A Long Way from Chicago

6. Grandpa Green (of Grandpa Green by Lane Smith)
Author-illustrator Lane Smith has always been known as a master of visual design, but his picture book Grandpa Green is one of his finest achievements. Smith turns a breathtaking topiary garden into a living collection of memories, allowing a young boy to share the life of his beloved great-grandfather, a.k.a. “Grandpa Green.” A wonderful testament to a life well lived and a book so beautiful you’ll want to frame every page.


7. Grandma Concetta (from Strega Nona, Her Story by Tomie dePaola)
The original Strega Nona is one of the most iconic fables published in the last 50 years, but did you ever wonder where the kindly witch got her magical pasta pot? She got it from her grandmother, of course! This charming origin story invites us to learn more about our favorite Strega, particularly her relationship with her Grandma Concetta.


8. Nana (of Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Peña)
This powerful, beautifully illustrated picture book truly shows off the importance of intergenerational relationships. Young CJ and his Nana are waiting for the bus after church one Sunday, and CJ starts wondering why they have to take the bus, why  he doesn’t have as many toys as some of the other kids, and why they live in a “dirty” part of town. His Nana addresses each question with patience and grace, helping her grandson understand inequality with the kind of insights that only come from living a long, full life.



Which grandparents did we leave off the list? Let us know in the comments.