when dementia alters a grandparent…two thoughtful stories

My grandma and her beloved blueberries!

My glorious, spunky grandmother took care of the “old people” until she was in her 80s. Tended her glorious roses. Tramped through northern Minnesota meadows picking buckets of wild blueberries. Walked to and from her ceramics class on bitter cold winter evenings. And then, gradually, she began to fade away. Not her body, but her mind and her good cheer.

It is hard to watch someone we love alter in such devastating ways. Hard to hear snappish words when that’s so out of character. Hard to sense the strain of confusion. Really, really hard to not be known by ones so very dear.

I’ve read a number of books touching on this situation, seeking to come alongside young children who are experiencing something so sad and shocking. I haven’t just loved them, though. Some have offered what seem to be trite solutions, when there are no such things.

The books I have today have really good things to say to us. One is a picture book, one a short novel. Maybe one of these will speak some good words to you or your kids in a tough time.

KidsLogoORIGINALFILEWhat a Beautiful Morning, written by Arthur A. Levine, illustrated by Katie Kath
published in 2016 by Running Press Kids

Noah is the lucky recipient of his grandpa’s and grandma’s joyous affection and attention.

Summer mornings at their house begin bright and early “with a booming song.” It’s Noah and Grandpa, singing in the kitchen. While these two energetically brew coffee for sleepy Grandma, walk the dog, gobble French toast, and put things “on the docket” for the day, they sing with glad abandon.


This year, though, things are strangely different. Forgetfulness, a bit of gray vacancy, and fatigue seem to be erasing the animated grandfather Noah loves. One terrible day, Grandpa doesn’t even know who Noah is. Devastating.

Noah tries to carry on with the usual routines and serendipitously discovers that music still has a way of touching Grandpa’s real self, bringing him out of the gray for a moment. Golden.

There are still painful adjustments to make. Grandma steps up to fill the void in ways she can. A new, tender, hesitant normal works itself out, with songs being, at least for now, one of the happy constants.


This touching story rings true. The sweet relationships and personalities, the bewildering illness, Noah’s honest responses, and the measured hope of the story’s resolution, are authentic. No sugar-coating. It’s also true that music touches our minds and souls even when the fog settles in.

Katie Kath’s illustrations beam with love, welcome, and comfort. Her ingenuous device depicting the changes affecting Grandpa communicate extremely effectively. A fantastic collaboration, for ages 4 and up.

the-acb-with-honora-lee-cover-imageThe ACB with Honora Lee, by Kate De Goldi, drawings by Gregory O’Brien
first published in 2012; published by Tundra Books in 2014

Perry, age 9, is the only child in her family. Her parents are a bit preoccupied with their own lives, frankly, and her mother believes that “only children must be kept busy. They needed plenty of activities…plenty of other people in their life.” So, Perry is kept busy with after-school activities. Every day. Week after week. Until Brita, the teacher in her Music and Movement class, pulls a muscle and cancels class. Leaving a void in Perry’s week.

Recently Perry and her father have begun visiting Perry’s grandmother — Honora Lee — in a care facility on Saturday mornings. Perry has never really known Gran before. Only met her once, at the age of two. And Gran is quite a character. Mostly her memory has slipped right away. Visits with her are kept short and are predominantly a time of Perry’s father asking Gran questions that she doesn’t answer. If Dad leaves the room, Gran usually asks Perry who “that man” is. “His name is Jonathan Sunley. He’s your son,” Perry replies. “Are you Imogen?” asks Gran. “No, I’m Perry.” “That’s a boy’s name. Are you a boy? Where is Imogen?”


As you can see, there is mostly an abundance of confusion. Gran’s questions and comments hop from here to there like crickets, with very little rhyme or reason.

And yet. Perry enjoys spending time with her and the rest of the muddled residents of St. Lucia’s. With a new gap in her weekly schedule, she wangles more opportunities to visit Gran on her own. This results in a peculiar sort of attachment, friendship, understanding of Gran and her neighbors on Perry’s part. Plus, an offbeat alphabet book, co-authored with said residents.

It’s a decidedly quirky story, but at the same time endearing. Warm the-acb-with-honora-lee-illustration-by-gregory-obrienconnections do happen between the elderly and the young, even the mostly-confused elderly who can be a tad bit cranky, particular, and blunt. When someone takes the time to simply sit in their world, as Perry does, a sliver of personality, a glimpse of preference, a flash of comprehension can result. Perry is comfortable in her own skin and able to catch those nuanced clues about her grandmother, and I love her for it.

Try this one with mature, thoughtful kids ages 10 and up.