Book Reviews: Picture Books for Grandparents

My 4-year-old daughter’s grandparents are visiting this week. As part of my daughter’s bedtime routine, she picked two books for them to read that just happened to contain grandparents in the stories. One book was complimentary, the other comedy.

It got me wondering, what other books prominently contain grandparents, and which of those are good for engaging real grandparents in story time?

The cover of the book Grandpa's Teeth. It shows an old man lying in bed clutching his covers while he looks at his teeth in a glass of water on his bed stand.

Book #1: Grandpa’s Teeth by Rod Clement is a silly story appreciated by youngsters for its crazy premise and by parents and (maybe) grandparents for its sophisticated humor.

The plot: "Help! I’ve been robbed! It’sth a disthasthter! Come quickly!" yelps Grandpa. His expensive designer teeth have been stolen from his bedside.

Everyone takes the crime seriously. The authorities treat his room as a crime scene and the usual suspects are rounded up for police line-ups.

When all leads turn up empty, Grandpa begins to suspect anyone who doesn’t smile. Pretty soon the entire city is smiling all day, every day… even at funerals.

As the city begins to crack under the strain of sustained smiling, a town hall meeting is held. The community decides to pool its money to buy Grandpa a new set of teeth. The story concludes with everyone smiling over the new teeth, even Grandpa’s dog Gump (who is sporting a Grandpa-sized toothy smile).

The good: 1. Clement’s illustrations are wonderfully detailed. In one scene, a busy sidewalk is shown with smiles everywhere. An infant with a full mouth of teeth smiles inside a sling. Birds in a pet store window smile. Frozen fish packed on ice in an outdoor market smile. Even stuffed animals held by kids smile. Upon your second reading you can appreciate that Grandpa’s dog is the only one not smiling.

2. Grandpa speaks with a lisp that is fun to read aloud and adds to the story’s humor. For example, when his grown daughter says she couldn’t afford to replace his teeth unless she were to sell the family’s home, Grandpa says, "Who needsth a housthe anyway? It doesthn’t help you chew your food!"

3. The deadpan humor! "Tourists, seeing the endless sea of smiling faces, were too scared to get out of their cars." (Picture a family in their car on a safari looking fearfully at lions pressed against the windows, but instead of lions they are smiling people.)

The bad: 1. Some grandfathers may dislike the portrayal of a grumpy grandpa. Also, this grandpa lives in a room in his grown daughter’s house. And if your grandfather still has his real teeth, well… hopefully he has a sense of humor too.

The cover of the book The Doorbell Rings. It shows twelve kids and a mother approaching a door with the lead child looking through a mail slot in the door.

Book #2: The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins was previously profiled here in Books that Teach Toddlers Life Lessons. Until this week, I missed that this story is really about grandmothers.

The plot: Two kids are sitting at a kitchen table about to each eat six cookies baked by their mother. Then the doorbell rings and two friends enter, so the kids recalculate how many cookies everyone can eat. Then the doorbell rings again, more kids enter and the calculations continue. This process proceeds until there is only one cookie available for each child. When the doorbell rings one last time, the kids look on in dread expecting more kids to enter.

The thing I missed until hearing our real grandmother read this story aloud is that a fictional grandmother exists on every page.

The neighborhood kids repeatedly say, "They (the cookies) smell as good as your Grandma’s," and the mother repeats, "No one makes cookies like Grandma." Not only is Grandma’s cooking revered, but it’s known throughout the neighborhood.

I normally get fixated on explaining to my daughter the math angle of the story, thus missing the foreshadowing of Grandma’s arrival. It is, of course, Grandma who rings the doorbell at the end and enters with a large tray of freshly baked cookies, thus restoring order to the universe.

The good: 1. Grandma is repeatedly revered.

2. Sharing is a core theme. Even during the final doorbell ring, when the mother says, "Perhaps you’d better eat them before we open the door," it is her own son who counters, "We’ll wait," and he opens the door.

3. Math! You could read this story while working out the math with your toddler. Use plush animals to simulate a group of kids and use toys to simulate the cookies.

4. Multiracial. It’s a white household, but with twelve kids ending up at the kitchen table, five of them have dark skin.

The bad: 1. The illustrations strike me as being on the amateurish side and a bit perspective-challenged. In other words, I don’t care for "the look" of the book. But if toddlers have similar hangups with art, I haven’t seen it.

2. Cookies. It’s a minor detail, but confections are a special-occasion-only deal in our home, so it’s unusual to have a book centered around the excitement of eating cookies.

More? Another fictional grandmother recently graced our home in the story Thunder Cake.

Can you recommend other picture books that have a grandparent as a central, positive (or at least amusing) character?


5 Responses to “Book Reviews: Picture Books for Grandparents”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I think that this falls into the lines of special occasions for the cookies. It is obviously a treat for the children to have these cookies, so I am still okay with the book centered around cookies.

    At least, that has been my impression everytime I read this book (which is a lot! Many times!) As a preschool teacher I just can’t over look the great lessons in this book and the cultural diversity.

    August 11th, 2008 at 7:33 am

  2. Nancy says:

    We have What Grandpas Do Best and it’s always been one of my son’s favorites. It features different creature pairs of grandpas and grandkids doing things like going to the beach and painting pictures.

    Grandpa’s Teeth would be more like Grandma’s Teeth in my family, but The Doorbell Rang sounds like a great book.

    August 11th, 2008 at 8:02 am

  3. Micah says:

    We have a book called Grandma’s Garden by Elaine Moore. I’m not crazy about the illustration, but the story is sweet. A little girl goes to grandma’s house (which smells like bacon in the morning) to help plant the garden. A thunderstorm washes it away. Instead of getting discouraged, they just plant it again. Then frost threatens the plums they planted last year and the girl has her doubts as to grandma’s plan to save them, which of course works (in the book, not sure if it really would). The book portrays grandma as mellow, crafty, fun, and nurturing – qualities we’d all like our kids to see in their grandparents, whether or not that’s the reality.
    It’s not necessarily one of the favorites, but they pick it occasionally. Grandpa’s Teeth would probably go over better in our house, just for the humor value!

    August 11th, 2008 at 11:52 am

  4. Sara says:

    We are definitely not quite as restrictive as you on the sweets. However, if we were, with one grandma 800 miles away and the other 2300 miles away, seeing grandma would be an occasion special enough to warrant cookies! I love the premise of the first book, and though our Grandpa’s still have their teeth, it is exactly the kind of humor our family would love. I will have to look these up at the library.

    August 11th, 2008 at 5:40 pm

  5. kelli says:

    We like “Where is Coco Going?” by Sloane Tanen. Basically cute photos of a fuzzy chick on her way to Grandma’s house.

    August 15th, 2008 at 12:27 pm

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