February 24, 2018

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Bridging the Age Divide: Intergenerational Relationships | Focus On

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People of the same generation often speak the same cultural language, from slang to music. That’s why it can feel easier at times to communicate with peers than even family. However, beautiful things can happen when we stretch ourselves to befriend individuals from other generations. This column focuses on narratives in which people cross intergenerational divides.

In most of the stories, characters encounter obstacles, puzzles, or frustration on the road to open communication. It is instructive and inspiring to read of these journeys. They remind us how we can enrich our perspectives on the world through such relationships, often coming to understand ourselves better in the process. Many of the titles lend themselves to reading aloud or sharing between older and younger people, which will encourage intergenerational bonding, dialogue, and understanding. They also support Common Core State Standards across all grades—especially ELA standards relating to the comparison of one narrative or point of view to another. Intergenerational stories are all about multiplicity and complexity; we learn about present and past, contemporary and historical perspectives. We learn about multicultural families and immigrant stories. We delve into two or more homelands, languages, cultures, attitudes, and beliefs. Along with the bold characters, readers embark on a journey toward new insights. Despite the wide diversity of cultures and literary styles represented here, all of the books share a universal theme: the desire for connection across the boundaries of age.


Board Books

Families . (Babies Everywhere). Star Bright. 2009. Board. $6.95. ISBN 9781595721761.

PreS –Simple, lively language and bright color photos of culturally diverse children and their caregivers juxtaposed with similar snapshots from the animal kingdom (kissing giraffes, napping polar bears) illustrate the powerful love and warmth between family members. Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Vietnamese editions are also available.

MCBRATNEY , Sam . Guess How Much I Love You . illus. by Anita Jeram. Candlewick. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763641757; Board $7.99. ISBN 9780763642648.

PreS-Gr 1 –When Little Nutbrown Hare asks Big Nutbrown Hare to guess how much he loves him, they share metaphors to quantify their love. The older rabbit could be a father, uncle, or friend, and this open-endedness makes for a versatile story with appeal to children in diverse family structures. Children will warm to the straggly skinniness of this affectionate pair.

NEWMAN , Lesléa . Daddy, Papa, and Me . ISBN 9781582462622.
––––. Mommy, Mama, and Me . ISBN 9781582462639.
ea vol: illus. by Carol Thompson. Tricycle. 2009. Board. $7.99.
PreS –Having two moms or dads doesn’t mean having two of the same. Daddy plays guitar while Papa drums. Mom cooks; Mama tells stories. Spare line drawings enlivened with flourishes of color capture the frenzy of toddlers on the loose. Through this delightful romp, readers will learn to differentiate their own family members.

TAYLOR , Ann . Baby Dance . illus by Marjorie van Heerden. HarperCollins. 1998. Board. $6.99. ISBN 9780694012060.

PreS –After Mom begins to nap, baby cries. But Dad knows a dance that will soothe her. This book will help the very youngest child remember that different adults can be caregivers. Rich pastels, with shades of vermillion and deep marigold, add warmth to glimpses of this vibrant African American family.

Picture Books

FAGAN, Cary . Oy, Feh, So? illus. by Gary Clement. Groundwood. 2013. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781554981489.

K-Gr 2 –Do different generations speak different languages? The text plays with this idea, while cartoony illustrations highlight the oddness of a trio of elderly relatives who only seem to say: “Oy!” “Feh!” and “So!” When the children finally crack the code of their relatives’ monosyllabic barrier, however, they find there’s a lot to share and learn.

DEPAOLA, Tomie . Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs . illus. by author. Penguin. 1997. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399231087; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780698118362; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781101654552.

PreS-Gr 2– In this classic title, originally published in 1973, readers learn about the worlds of a grandmother and great-grandmother through the eyes of four-year-old Tommy. The floors of the house serve as a metaphor for two different generations, and, eventually, for heaven and earth. Reissued with revitalized color illustrations. Audio version available from Spoken Arts.

DORROS, Arthur . Abuelo . illus. by Raúl Colón. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061686276.

K-Gr 2 –As Abuelo teaches his grandson to ride horses with the sky all around them, their adventures swirl with magical realism. Enhanced by shimmering watercolor and pencil illustrations, the poetic text is punctuated with Spanish words. After moving to the big city, the boy finds strength by remembering his abuelo’s lessons. This title demonstrates the staying power of traditions shared by elders, even long after they are gone.

MORA, Pat & Libby Martinez . I Pledge Allegiance . illus. by Patrice Barton. Knopf. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780307931818; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375971099; ebk. $10.99; ISBN 9780307975560.

K-Gr 2 –Libby is learning the Pledge of Allegiance—and so is her great-aunt from Mexico, who has just passed her American citizenship test. As they practice together, Libby learns what citizenship means. Packed with information about immigration, this story captures the close bond between aunt and niece in pencil sketches digitally painted with soft colors.

MUNSCH , Robert . Love You Forever . illus. by Sheila McGraw. Firefly. 1995. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780920668368; pap. $5.95. ISBN 9780920668375; ebk. $4.99; ISBN 9781770880511.

K Up –While the writing and illustrations may seem slightly dated, this timeless tale of a baby boy’s development, from toddler to adulthood, allows children to see themselves through a parent’s eyes. Naturalistic color drawings humorously depict kids’ naughtiness and adults’ frustration. Still, unconditional love permeates each page, and the eventual parent-child role-reversal is quietly profound.

REAGAN , Jean . How to Babysit a Grandma . illus. by Lee Wildish. Random. 2014. Tr $16.99; ISBN 9780385753845; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385753852; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9780385388719.

PreS-Gr 2 –This sequel to How to Babysit a Grandpa (2012) offers a playful example of the role-reversal theme as a grandchild pretends she’s babysitting her grandmother. There’s an authenticity to the child narrator’s voice, play activities, and games, while digitally created cartoon illustrations present fun-filled snapshots of an action-packed visit.

REID , Aimee . Mama’s Day with Little Gray . illus. by Laura J. Bryant. Groundwood. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780449810835; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375971501; ebk. $10.99; ISBN 9780375981388.

PreS-K –In another refreshing variation on the role-reversal theme, baby elephant asks his mother, “When I grow up, will you grow down?” Illustrations depict a lush, light-filled jungle with velvet-soft leaves. The elephants’ gently curving trunks and endearing facial expressions will cast a quiet, reflective spell over readers.


Elementary and Middle Grades

BABBITT , Natalie . Tuck Everlasting . Farrar. 1975. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374378486; ebk. $4.98. ISBN 9780374706449.

Gr 4 Up –Ten-year-old Winnie ventures into the neighbors’ yard and discovers that the Tuck family has been drinking water from an eternal spring. As her friendship forms with Jesse Tuck, who appears to be 17—although in reality he has lived over a century—Winnie is swept into dramatic events. A daringly truthful, unparalleled tale about mortality and how age affects relationships. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

BRYANT, Jen . Pieces of Georgia . Random. 2006. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9780375832598; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780440420552; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780375890925.

Gr 5 Up –Shared in a diary format, Georgia’s poetic reflections reveal the world of a daughter mourning for her mother. When a mysterious adult gives Georgia a free membership to a museum near her Pennsylvania home, she learns about several generations of artists in the close-knit Wyeth family, reflects on her own complex familial web, and gains inspiration for her art.

ERSKINE , Kathryn . The Absolute Value of Mike . Philomel. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399255052; pap. $7.99; ISBN 9780142421017; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781101516072.

Gr 6-9 –Fourteen-year-old Mike is used to taking care of his eccentric mathematician father, but his great-aunt and uncle need even more help. Poppy can’t even get off his couch! A rollicking story about a brave boy who stirs up a stagnant family and helps a whole community come together during one summer in rural Pennsylvania. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

FLORES-GALBIS, Enrique . 90 Miles to Havana . Roaring Brook. 2010. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781596431683; ebk. $4.98. ISBN 9781429969673.

Gr 4-7 –As a young boy, Julian leaves his family in Cuba when he is sent to Miami via Operation Pedro Pan in 1961. This beautifully written poetic novel explores the rich and relevant question of what happens to family ties during temporary separations due to immigration and how children forge relationships with other adults during these years.

MILLS , Claudia . How Oliver Olson Changed the World . illus. by Heather Maione. Farrar. 2009. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9780374334871; ebk. $4.27. ISBN 9781429935920.

Gr 2-4 –What happens when parents get too involved in kids’ lives? After Oliver’s parents try to do his science project for him, the third-grader speaks up and makes his voice heard. Expressive line drawings perfectly capture Oliver’s emotional arc from vulnerability to bravery, while sympathetic characters expose adults’ fallibility and children’s need for independence.

O’CONNOR, Sheila . Sparrow Road . Putnam. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399254581; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781101515105.

Gr 5-7 –When her mom is hired as a housekeeper at an artist colony, 12-year-old Raine must leave the grandparents she loves dearly. More comfortable in the presence of adults than other children, the realistically portrayed, precocious preteen befriends many artists, including elderly Josie, who encourages her creativity and her need to find the father she never knew.

PENNYPACKER , Sara . Clementine and the Family Meeting . (Clementine). illus. by Marla Frazee. Hyperion. 2011. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781423123569; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781423124368; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9781423154365.

Gr 2-4 –Who wouldn’t want to be in Clementine’s family? This sweet, funny, imperfect family offers a model of excellent communication. Parents truly listen, and children feel safe enough to communicate their feelings honestly. When a family meeting introduces news Clementine isn’t happy about, she copes through conversations with her parents, teacher, and principal. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

STEAD, Rebecca . When You Reach Me . Random. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780385737425; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780375850868; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780375892691.

Gr 5-8 –This mystery starring sixth-grader Miranda has been celebrated for its exploration of time travel and changing adolescent friendships. Equally poignant is Stead’s portrayal of the close, though sometimes fraught, relationship between Miranda and her single mother. Despite authentic tween angst, Miranda cheers her mother on when she’s invited to appear on a game show. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

SYNDER , Laurel. Seven Stories Up . Random. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375869174; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375969171; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780375899997.

Gr 3-5 –Meeting her dying grandmother for the first time, 12-year-old Annie doesn’t feel a connection to the rude and snappy stranger. However, when Annie mysteriously time-travels back to 1937, she encounters her grandmother as a girl. As they share adventures, the child gains an understanding of the forces that shaped her grandmother’s personality at a young age.

WILLIAMS-GARCIA , Rita . One Crazy Summer . 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780060760885; lib. ed. $16.89. ISBN 9780060760892; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780061966675.

––––. P.S. Be Eleven . 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780061938627; lib. ed. $17.89. ISBN 978006 1938634; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780062208507.

ea. vol: HarperCollins/Amistad.

Gr 4-7One Crazy Summer and its sequel take place in the 1960s, when social change is in the air and generations clash. Eleven-year-old Delphine finds her voice among her Black Panther mother, traditional grandmother and father, and feminist stepmother. Set in Oakland, CA and NYC’s Bed-Stuy, these heartfelt stories are enthralling, and not at all didactic, in their comparisons of one generation’s viewpoint to another. Audio versions available from Recorded Books.

High School

CAMERON , Peter. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You . Farrar. 2007. Tr $16. ISBN 9780374309893. pap. $14. ISBN 9780312428167; ebk. $14. ISBN 9781429927130.

Gr 10 Up –Eighteen-year-old James feels alienated from his privileged Manhattan upbringing, his divorced parents, and college-age sister. His mother’s most recent marriage lasted a handful of days, and his father keeps pestering him about his sexuality. Only his grandmother listens with an open mind when he shares his true dream, and it is her nonjudgmental attention that sustains him. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

HOLT , Elliott. You Are One of Them . Penguin. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781594205286; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781101617977.

Adult/High School –During the height of the Cold War, Sarah and her friend Jenny write letters to the Russian president asking for world peace. Although primarily a story about how the Soviet leader’s response dramatically changes the girls’ lives, there is also a complex mother-daughter story at its heart as Sarah grows into adulthood and reacts to her mother’s fatalistic worldview.

NUNEZ , Sigrid . A Feather on the Breath of God . Farrar. 1996. pap. $16. ISBN 9780312422738; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781429944946.

Adult/High School –The daughter of a Chinese-Panamanian father and German mother who had little in common weaves together her parents’ stories with the account of her flight from their mid-1960s Brooklyn housing project to the world of ballet. This sophisticated novel will find its audience among advanced readers interested in examining the challenges of a multilingual family struggling to communicate.

OSTOW , Micol . Family . Egmont. 2011. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781606841556; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781606843932; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781606841976.

Gr 10 Up –Seventeen-year-old Melinda flees a troubled home life and falls sway to a charismatic cult leader named Henry. Melinda has only known abusive adults in her life and sadly gravitates toward another harmful situation. This shattering novel-in-verse shows how the concept of “family” can be tantalizing in various forms, including malicious ones.

SHEPARD , Sara . The Visibles . Free Press. 2010. pap. $20.99. ISBN 9781416597407; ebk. $10.93. ISBN 9781416597735.

Adult/High School –Growing up in the 1990s in Brooklyn, Summer wants to study genetics to understand her father’s mental illness. Is her father’s illness her destiny too? After tumultuous life events, Summer journeys to Pennsylvania, meets her great-aunt Stella, and finally becomes emotionally liberated from her father’s dark legacy. A literary novel by the author of the “Pretty Little Liars” series.

SHIN , Kyung-Sook . Please Look After Mom. (Vintage Contemporaries). tr. from Korean by Chi-Young Kim. Knopf. 2012. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780307739513; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9780307595492.

Gr 10 Up –Revealed through scattered shards of memory and told from the viewpoints of different siblings, this story illuminates the generational divide between Korean siblings and their mother as it examines her descent into dementia. At the heart of the story is an ambitious career woman, who most sharply feels the divide between her modern life and her mother’s selfless, traditional one.

SUMA , Nova Ren . 17 & Gone . Penguin. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525423409; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101592526.

Gr 8 Up –Seventeen-year-old Lauren is troubled and obsessed with the fate of kidnapped girls she reads about in the news—who all happen to be her age when they vanish. A strong subplot in this mystery is Lauren’s relationship with her hardworking single mother, as it realistically arcs from confusion to connection, detachment to sharing.

TORRES, Justin . We the Animals . Houghton Harcourt. 2011. Tr $18. ISBN 9780547576725; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9780547844190; ebk. $12.95; ISBN 9780547577005.

Adult/High School –In this slim, poetic novel, a young boy grows up in upstate New York in an emotionally—and violently—charged household, with his white mother, Puerto Rican father, and two rambunctious brothers. The narrator comes of age as he acknowledges his gay sexuality and builds a life atop a volcanic home foundation. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

Jess deCourcy Hinds is the librarian at Bard High School Early College Queens, Long Island City, NY.

Media picks

By Kent Turner

Guess How Much I Love You: Friendship Adventures . 80 min. Dist. by Entertainment One. 2011, released in 2013. $12.98. ISBN 1417241918.
PreS-Gr 1 –In this animated installment of Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram’s popular series, devoted dad Big Nutbrown Hare patiently guides Little Nutbrown through sweet and gentle life lessons in this heartwarming depiction of a father-and-son relationship.

Nicky’s Family . 96 min. Dist. by Menemsha Films. 2013. $29.95. ISBN unavail.
Gr 7 Up –A moving and memorable documentary on 104-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton. In the 1930s, his efforts saved hundreds of Jewish Czech children. Today, generations of the surviving families pay tribute to him.

Wadjda . 98 min. w/English subtitles. Dist. by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2012, released in 2014. DVD & Blu-ray, $40.99. ISBN unavail.
Gr 8 Up –A complex and affectionate mother-daughter relationship anchors this feisty and savvy coming-of-age film, the first made in Saudi Arabia. The titular teen and her soon-to-be-single mom both bristle against social convention.

Digital picks

Connecting Generations

SeniorNet. www.seniornet.org. SeniorNet. (Accessed 3/24/14).
The goal of this fee-based organization is to build senior citizens’ technology skills. The site’s free GrandMentor Program, a “pioneering intergenerational literacy program,” pairs adults over the age of 55 with disadvantaged children in grades K-3 and the seniors read quality literature to the kids via Skype.

Ustyme: A Shared Experience. ustyme. 2013. Version 1.25. iOS, requires 6.1 or later. Compatible with iPad. Available for Chrome. Free, with charges for additional content.
Like FaceTime, this is a videoconferencing app but with more features. After logging in with Facebook, Chrome, or an ustyme account, users can read aloud to one another from digital books or play games such as Memory, Go Fish, and checkers.

Recording Family and Oral History

Ellis Island: Genealogy Center. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. (Accessed 3/24/14).
Gr 7 Up –A step-by-step guide to researching genealogy and learning about ancestors is included on this website. Registered users can download pedigree charts and other graphic organizers to aid in family history research, with old and young participating together.

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Smithsonian Institution. (Accessed 3/24/14).
Gr 7 Up –From interview tips to sample questions to guidelines for creating a finished product (such as an archive or video documentary), this website empowers students to reach out to older generations and record their stories. The full resource can be downloaded as a PDF.

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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