By Debbie le Quesne

Children’s books with a grown-up message

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I have been in the States on holiday and was surprised to discover that issues relating to the care of the elderly are now being targeted at children as young as four.

In downtown Manhattan you can find a range of books that describe the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in language suitable for four to 12-year-olds.

Titles like “What’s Wrong with Grandma?” “The Memory Box” and “What’s Happening to Grandpa?” offer the young readers an explanation of this all-too-common disease.

I later discovered that more than 30 titles are available and they had been published since 1988.

Just like the UK, America has an ever-growing, ageing population and the challenges of Alzheimer’s rise along with the number of its older residents.


I wonder, given that most of those people are in their 70s and 80s, whether storybook readers are likely to be not grandchildren but great-grandchildren.

It’s hardly bedtime reading, but I applaud the attempt to explain in more detail what happens to those who are Alzhiemer’s sufferers.

The books appear to offer a gentle way of explaining a difficult subject, giving children insight while also providing a parental path for discussion.

The books portray well the cognitive aspects – memory problems and poor judgment, but critics say only about a third of publications depicted anger or irritability.

Whatever the critics may say, I am convinced this is a hugely useful tool for a family dealing with this problem.

Perhaps there is a market for children’s books that handle the issues of the normal ageing process. I’m no writer. But I would suspect achieving this without stereotyping would be hard.

Like all educational books, there is a danger of them being well-intentioned but dull. Those with children will know favourite stories can be requested frequently. “Read me the one about  . . . “ can be a bedtime mantra. But “What’s Happening to Grandpa?” somehow doesn’t do it for me.

The key must be conveying information about a terrible disease while simultaneously telling an absorbing story – not an easy fix.

As authors try to improve on the model I wish them every success. My struggle is one of how they would arrive at a happy ending. Perhaps a less direct approach would work with the focus on a single character among many in a narrative being used to convey the critical information.

What I do know is that the books need to have the ‘kid appeal’ of the Harry Potter character but finding the magic wand to make that happen is a mystery only JK Rowling could resolve.


Written by debbielq

October 23, 2012 at 10:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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