• Grace McKinney

Life is Grand: Intergenerational Picture Books

Updated: Mar 19, 2019

I don’t know if you’ve read our “About” page to get to know us yet, but beneath each of our highly professional headshots you’ll find a very different and much less recent photograph of us. In the early stages of the site, Gaby asked me if I’d be able to dig up a photo of myself reading as a child. The first one I thought of, and the only one I have accessible on my computer outside my mother’s behemoth photo albums of my sister’s and my childhood, is the one you’ll find there. In it, I am sitting in my grandfather’s lap at around age one. I’m cramming a Vienna Finger Sandwich cookie into my never-quite-large-enough mouth as he reads to me from a paperback picture book. I can’t quite figure out the title of the paperback in his hands, and I have utterly no recollection of the moment with him. All the same, it’s one of my very favorite photos of one of my very favorite people, and I was thrilled to put it on this blog.

Beyond drawing attention to an underrated sandwich cookie, I want to note that both Gaby and I found and chose photographs that featured us as readers alongside or in the laps of our grandparents. Now, I don’t want to launch into any sweeping statements about the state of our culture, but I do want to draw attention to the importance of intergenerational relationships. The kind of communication methods we use today seems to encourage a lot of horizontal connections—between people of approximately the same age group—but not much vertical connection across those age groups or generations. We use what is easy and comfortable to connect with those around us, whether it’s an app or an email or a text or, heck, a good ol’ phone call. I’d like to think, though, that a book is something that can always bridge the age gap. They’ve done that for us, and I feel confident that they have, and will continue to, do that for you.

Below is a list of some of our favorite picture books that laud intergenerational connections—both human and, because we can, animal. Snag a title, whether new or familiar, and read it with someone grand, perhaps.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat

This captivating picturebook outlines the bond forged between a grandfather and grandson when they put pen (or paintbrush) to paper to overcome a language barrier. It's dynamic, touching, and has an oh-so-satisfying cover reveal.

The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Raschka

Juster's artistry with language pairs perfectly with Raschka's splashes of color to tell the story of a child's visit to her grandparents' house. The narrative details the everyday idiosyncrasies of their relationship in what feels like an authentic child's voice. An old favorite.

Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo

A child visits their grandmother in the big city and learns from her that what seems "busy," "loud," and "scary" can become extraordinary when seen in a different light. In summary: get yourself a city-living Nana who knits bravery-infused red capes.

Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman and illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Once he moves from his easy chair to the attic floor, Grandpa transforms into a song and dance man with his tap shoes and bowler hat while his grandchildren watch his show. This Caldecott-winning picture book captures the delight of unfastening an old trunk to make the "good ol' days" into the good-right-now days.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson

A highly decorated title, Last Stop traces CJ and his grandmother's Sunday bus ride from church to the soup kitchen. Along the way, the two show us how to be a better "witness for what's beautiful:" a jar of butterflies, a pleasant perfume, a guitar serenade, and an unexpected rainbow.

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina

A once "far-away grandmother" becomes a new roommate and friend for a young girl as the two learn to communicate, finding that their stories can be translated through art, food, and, with the help of Mango the parrot, their voices. Sprinkled with Spanish, Medina's picture book is a rich and delightful addition to the list.

Old Dog, Baby Baby by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Chris Raschka

In a familiar family dynamic, the old dog and the "baby baby" delight in each other's presence on the kitchen floor as they sniff, giggle, and roll together. Fogliano's rhythmic text (she's a gift, honestly) reminds us that young and old, fussy and furry, can all come together over a good nap.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

"Do something to make the world more beautiful," Alice's grandfather tells her. Cooney's luscious tale outlines the life of Miss Rumphius, who travels the world with her grandfather's words ringing in her ears, till a hillside of lupines fulfills his wish for her. A beautiful reflection on legacy, family, and living to bring joy to others.

A Gift from Abuela by Cecilia Ruiz

The Horn Book described this one best: "Ruiz elevates a standard tale about the loving bond between a grandmother and granddaughter, Abuela and Niña, with historically significant and culturally relevant detail...Against fickle materialism and wealth, Ruiz demonstrates how family bonds and love remain steady, unbreakable, and are indeed our greatest gift."

My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Tired of being teased, a girl runs to her neighbor Tessie to get advice on how to handle a head full of unmanageable hair. Tessie tenderly guides her young friend in methods of hair care, showing her that it deserves the same love and attention as a garden. A more text-heavy selection, but rich in vocabulary and striking in illustration.

What did we miss? What are your favorites?

Print this list! Click here for a link to a condensed version of this list in Google Drive.


A note about buying books: We encourage everyone who's able to shop locally as much as possible. However, if you plan to buy this book on Amazon, you can support us by buying it with our special affiliate link, accessible by clicking the book title or image. Thank you for your support!

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