Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Get Your Generations On! (Older characters in YA lit – and my grandma)

It seems a truism in YA lit that adults often seem far and few between.  Even when they are there, they don’t often play a significant role. And older adults? Forget about it.  I have really been thinking about this since our discussion earlier this week about siblings in YA lit: Siblings? We don’t need no stinkin’ siblings.  I guess I have been thinking about family dynamics and multi-generational characters in the lives of teens.

My favorite memories are of those moments spent at my grandparents house. My grandma knew all my favorite foods and would make them every time I cam to visit.  As a young child, I would go to the grocery store with her and she would buy me and 8 pack of crayons and a coloring books.  Even when I visited during college, she would take me to the grocery store and buy me and 8 pack of crayons and a coloring book, for memory sake.  When I had children of my own, she began taking them and buying them an 8 pack of crayons and – yep – a coloring book.

Two of my favorite people

In the last few months of my grandfather’s life he developed dementia.  Sometimes, while we were sitting at the dinner table, his mind would slip back into the past and he would talk about things as if he was in another time and place.  I got a glimpse of life in the past, and to be honest, it wasn’t always pretty.  In those moments I learned that my grandfather was not always the man I thought he was, but I also learned that over the space of a lifetime people grow and change.

In high school, we had an assignment where we had to interview a World War II survivor to learn first hand what the world was like then.  I will never forget sitting knee to knee with this older gentleman and learning about the hunger that sat constantly in the pit of his belly, the long lines at the gas stations as you waited to get just the few gallons of gas your ration coupons would buy, the feeling of knowing that a loved one was never coming home.

My experiences with my own grandparents always makes me think, it is too bad we don’t show more multi-generational relationships in ya lit.  So today, I want to spotlight a few titles that I think show the wisdom that comes from being in relationship with the generations before us.

The Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
Truth be told, Bauer does this really well in a lot of her titles.  But Rules of the Road is my favorite.  It’s kind of like Driving Miss Daisy, but with a teen doing the driving.

Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt
When Mallory finds a list from her grandmother’s high school years, she sets out to complete it.  She swears off all modern life and dives in head first, thinking her grandma’s life was so much simpler than her angsty life today.  Along the way she learns that the teenage years are always the same, the various tools are simply different.  Mallory’s grandma shows tremendous compassion and wisdom while being a genuine person, warts and all.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

Sheridan is known as “Cake Girl” in the town that she has lived all of her life, where she can just walk a hop, skip and a jump away to see her grandmother.  When her father gets offered a chance to have his own cooking show in New York, her life may change forever.

Wake (Dream Catcher #!) by Lisa McCann
Janie gets sucked into other people’s dreams, and some of them put her in terrifying risk.  Miss Stubin is also a dream catcher, and she helps Janie understand her gift.  Wake is a suspenseful read.

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

While not technically YA, this is one of those classic books that everyone can – and should – read.  Told in a series of story vignette, Long Way chronicles the summers spent by siblings Joey and Mary Alice at their grandmas house which is, as you might guess, a long way from Chicago.   Funny, heart felt, this is a book families can sit around and read out loud together.

Please share your favorite titles that show teens interacting in positive ways with older generations.
(PS – I cried typing up this post.  I miss you grandma.)


  1. Anonymous says:

    How sweet. I love to visit retirement homes and bring my kids. The residents light up when the younger generations participate in their world. We need to take a few lessons from our friends in the Far East and treasure our mature population. In America we are so obsessed with being youthful or the appearance of youth that we miss out on many wonderful treasures. I'll keep looking for more titles and keep posting new books.

  2. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense to have these relationships that skip a generation. Maybe parents are just a little too close to the day-to-day for teens to absorb the big lessons.
    Notes from the Midnight Driver
    The Canning Season
    The Giver
    The Patron Saint of Butterflies
    Dicey's Song

  3. Mare's War, by Tanita S. Davis. Sisters take a road trip with their grandma, who tells them about her adventures during WWII.

    I should write a book involving my Grandpa, who was wonderful. Retired science teacher, crossword puzzle fanatic, great with puns.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying about our youth obsessed culture. But there is some much richness and wisdom to be gained by spending time with those who have lived this life longer than us.

  5. Heather, thanks so much for the suggestions. Outside of The Giver, I haven't read any of these. I may have read Dicey's Song – is that the one about the dancer who grows and loses her center? I am not sure.

  6. I think we need more grandparents in ya lit so go for it. And thank you for the recommendation, I haven't read this one. Karen

  7. Oh Karen! Read Dicey's song. It's old, but it's so good. Great, strong, nontraditional girl character in Dicey. Wonderful family story.

  8. Sheri Weisz says:

    “Unbecoming” by Jennifer Downham is an excellent book and involves the relationship between a teen and her grandmother (who she has only recently met and who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s).

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