Tuesday, 21 May 2019

'What big teeth you have, grandma' by Anne Booth

I have recently been thinking about writing about grandmothers. I have written quite  a few grandmothers in my books - Lucy's grandmother in my Lucy books runs an animal  rescue centre, Jessie's grandmother in 'Girl with a White Dog' is elderly, with dementia, Anna in 'Dog Ears' has a rather bossy grandmother who doesn't notice her granddaughter is worn out with caring, whilst in my latest middle grade book, 'Across The Divide,' Olivia's Gran is a vicar's wife, fun and caring and sensitive.

None of them are very young grandmothers, and I think I would like to write one. I am 54, with four children and I am not a grandmother, but I could be. If I had married earlier and not at 30, and if my daughter or son had also married young, I could even be a great grandmother.  I've realised, in terms of writing books where children can see their own experience reflected in them, that more young grandmothers might be a good idea.

How many books are there with young grandmothers and young grandfathers? I'd love to read more and hear recommendations.

But what about the really very elderly grandmothers, great grandmothers etc. How do we write about them?

When I was a teenager I used to visit an elderly lady, and because she lived on her own and was bed bound and didn't have much help, she did smell, unfortunately, of urine. I noticed that smell when I visited, and if I were writing from the perspective of that teenager,  to describe my visits accurately, I would have to include that in the description. It was really unpleasant, but she was lovely - interested and fiercely independent and a pleasure and an honour to know.

In our society the odds are weighted against the elderly, and in particular older women, and it is sadly not unusual in our media to come across the stereotype of the smelly elderly person who is, not lovely, or interesting, like the lady I knew, but funny in a worthy- to- be-sneered- at way or unpleasant or easily dismissed. Being frail, or unsteady, or having memory problems, or getting confused, are also real states which can be described with respect, but  which have become negative stereotypes associated with old age, and which I have been a bit shocked to recently see not handled well in our media. Children are affected by this, just as they are affected by negative depictions of race or sexuality or gender or disability, but I think negative or lazy or unsympathetic depictions of the elderly in particular  seem to be less challenged than they should be, and maybe, as an industry, we have a part to play in raising awareness and making this better.

So could editors and writers of children's books also be aware about our depiction of the elderly and how they are being presented to children at the moment? This is our opportunity as editors and writers of books  for children to quietly challenge stereotypes - let's have younger grandparents in our stories, but also, let's present any physical problems of old age with empathy and respect.

1 comment:

Lynne Benton said...

Interesting post, Anne. As a grandmother myself, five times over, I have been put off by the insistence of so many children's books and illustrations on depicting grandmothers as very elderly, bent old women sitting in the corner knitting and keeping their false teeth in a glass by their bed. This is so out-of date - I even know some great-grandmothers who defy that description! Certainly neither I nor most of my friends who are also grandmothers are in the least like that - we're all very busy and active, with lively minds. There have been a few books about grandmothers being daredevil sky-divers, motor-bike fiends etc., but they are exceptions and not necessarily part of most children's experiences, I'd have thought. However, now that more and more couples are having their children later in life, I suppose the chances are that the original depiction of grandmothers may be the case in a few years' time. Thank you for this post, challenging the idea that all grandmothers are alike. We certainly aren't!