We all have or had grandparents. And chances are they have memories and insights that can be of real interest to young children . But fewer and fewer families these days have grandparents living with them. So what children learn about older people often comes from TV shows or popular culture, and the stereotypes abound.
Where can we find books that deal with intergenerational issues in positive ways, especially if we’re looking for stories from elders in cultures other than our own? Andrea Cheng and her publishers offer wonderful answers to such questions. Instead of the more common depiction of fuddy duddies, dowdy grammas and cranky old men, Cheng has created books that radiate respect and generate curiosity. They’re great stories worth reading aloud again and again.
Take The Lemon Sisters, for example. Three little girls playing in the snow warm the heart of a neighbor lady whose own sisters moved away many years before. Her recipe for lemon ice is what bridges the gap between her own childhood and the little girls today. As the book jacket blurb says, the rest of the story “gives voice to the magic of sisterhood, a bond that lasts a lifetime and can span thousands of miles.” Cheng’s words and Tatjan Mai-Wyss’s illustrations will charm you. They make ideal reading for pre-school and early elementary children.
If you read The Lemon Sisters, it will warm your heart, too. You’ll want a copy for your lifetime children’s collection. Get it from G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.
Two other books from Cheng help children understand how coming from an “old” or “other” culture can offer excellent lessons, too. Grandfather Counts, about two girls’ getting to know their Chinese grandfather who has come to live with them, introduces both intergenerational and intercultural themes. Goldfish and Chrysanthemums tells of a Chinese-born grandmother and her westernized granddaughter. As Publisher’s Weekly put it, “the book’s uplifting theme emphasizes the importance of familial ties and continuity.”
Andrea Cheng’s other books such as Year of the Fortune Cookie, Year of the Book, Year of the Baby and other titles for middle grades and young adults offer a great start for a Little Library (or big library) collection. Such books can enrich kids’ familiarity with ethnic experiences and values of families around the world. Being able to read such stories from different perspectives can help children and adults alike to thrive among radically different cultural influences.
To see more of Cheng’s work, see her website.
Two of the best places to look for excellent children’s books are the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, which lists things like 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, and Teaching Books, which some people call the mother lode of what you need to know about books, reading and library activities.
Lee and Low, a venerable publisher addressing intercultural issues for years, offers a wide and growing selection of books for all ages. You’ll hear more about Lee and Low here in the Little Free Library blog.
Cinco Puntos, a small, independent publisher based in El Paso, Texas, has offered books in Spanish and English about Chicano, Jewish, Native American and many other themes since 1985.
We cherish the writers and publishers who recognize the importance of reading, as Lee and Low’s motto describes so well–“About Everyone. For Everyone.”
Little Free Libraries celebrate such ideas.