Encountering dementia

More and more children are encountering dementia in their families and are learning to adapt their relationships to account for dementia’s effects on their loved ones. Grandma by Jessica Shepherd (Child’s Play) and Really and Truly by Emile Rivard and Anne-Claire Deslisle (Franklin Watts) explore a child’s changing relationship with a grandparent who has developed dementia. Both books would be a sensitive and helpful way of discussing dementia’s effects with children who are experiencing them in their families, but they also work on a wider level- celebrating the bond between grandchild and grandparent and the value and power of play and shared stories.

Grandma is a beautifully sensitive and child-centred look at the changing relationship between Oscar and his Grandma.

The strength and warmth of their relationship is made obvious from the cover of the book – look at the positioning of them on the page, everything in the picture draws the eye in to them cuddling in the chair. The title is like a banner celebrating Grandma, the word itself embraced by flowers. This illustration cries warmth and love and sets the tone for the whole book.

Told in Oscar’s words, the games they play together and the things they share are lovingly portrayed. When Grandma starts to forget things and needs more care, dad tells Oscar that Grandma needs to move to a special home and Oscar is sad and lonely. When he visits her at the home for the first time he is a bit scared but soon he and Grandma are sharing cupcakes and enjoying their time together. It is not always easy and sometimes Grandma is upset and angry but Oscar still thinks his Grandma is the best in the world.

I love that Grandma doesn’t hide the facts or the emotional responses to Grandma’s dementia. It is dealt with in a very child-friendly way, explaining through Oscar’s eyes and emotions. Jessica Shepherd has captured Oscar’s voice beautifully and included lots of child-observations to really bring the child’s viewpoint to life.


The map of the home with child’s labelling is a great touch, as are the illustrations of items from a memory box and Grandma’s stories – involving the child reader in the story and inviting them to join in and discuss. Lovely!

This level of child-friendly interaction continues at the end of the book with a very child-centred fact sheet about dementia and it’s effects on people and their families.

This book radiates love and care, sensitivity and positivity. It is clear that Jessica Shepherd creates from the heart – she is one to watch!

Really Truly takes a more playful approach to the changing relationship between grandchild and grandparent, whilst retaining the emotional sensitivity and child-centred viewpoint.

Charlie loved his Grandpa’s stories about pirates living in his attic and witches hiding in his shed. But when he got older, his Grandpa stopped telling stories and an awful disease ate up his memories and his smiles. Grandpa’s distance makes Charlie sad and he uses the stories Grandpa told him to catch his attention and reconnect.

The magic in this book comes from the use of storytelling. The relationship between Charlie and his Grandpa is portrayed with such fun and tenderness. Look at how adoringly Charlie is looking up at his Grandpa and how engrossed they both are in their roles.

The illustrations bring this story to life for the child reader, using black line drawings to highlight the imaginary characters from Grandpa and Charlie’s storytelling and including lots of humorous detail that enhances the portrayal of their relationship. I love the little pirates running off with the biscuits! In Grandpa and Charlie’s world, stories are adventures and are – really and truly – happening all around them.

The role reversal of Charlie becoming the storyteller is a beautifully child-friendly way of describing the changing role of a family member supporting a loved one with dementia. I love Really and Truly‘s positivity and the way it manages to express a child’s fear and sadness and confusion whilst giving the reader coping strategies and the knowledge that they can still have a fun and meaningful relationship with a grandparent.

A beautiful book that celebrates the relationship between Grandparent and Grandchild and the magical power of storytelling.

Grandma – bought from my lovely local bookshop, Bags of Books.
Really and Truly – kindly sent for review by Franklin Watts, now heading to the Rainbow Library to support the children who need it.

3 thoughts on “Encountering dementia

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  1. Oh, I didn’t know about Grandma – thanks. I’d include Maia and What Matters too in a round up of picture books where dementia is a theme (in Maia, it is not explicit that it is dementia, but it would work well with this set of books).

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