When Connecticut librarian Gayle Byrne realized there were hardly any books about grandparents raising grandkids in her library's children's room, she knew what she had to do: She had to write her own.
Sometimes It's Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies (Abbeville Kids) tells the story of a young girl in the care of Nonnie and Poppy, her affectionate, kindhearted grandparents. Readers follow the trio through the seasons, as they enjoy bedtime stories, share meals, and especially hug. "The simplicity of the cuddling" was especially important to Byrne, she says, to show "the physical comfort that both generations give each other."
Byrne says she wrote the book primarily to show kids, grandparents, and childcare professionals "a different kind of family, but a valid one nonetheless." The absentee parents are briefly referred to, but Byrne intentionally left their circumstances ambiguous. "I wanted this to be a warm, reassuring take on what is basically a very complex and heartbreaking situation," she says.
Warmth and reassurance are reflected in the book's gentle watercolor illustrations. Dallas-based artist Mary Haverfield took care to add cozy flourishes and real-life detail wherever possible, and her depictions of characters like the child's teacher and the family collie are based on Byrne's personal experiences, discussed by the creative team during hours of long-distance calls. "Mary brought a whole other dimension to this family life," Byrne says.
Byrne knows the book's themes well. She is raising her granddaughter, Jasmine, making her one of an estimated 6.5 million grandparents bringing up children nationwide. "Everybody seems to have a grandfather or cousin or a neighbor" doing the same thing, she says. "These grandparents are dealing with so much at an age where they're vulnerable."
Sometimes It's Grandmas and Grandpas is aimed at kids, but Byrne also wanted it to convey a message to their caretakers. "You're not alone," she says. "There are people out there who can help you through the financial and emotional aspects of it." A short list of resources for grandfamilies appears at the end of the book to help support everyone living in nontraditional households of all ages.
"The child is there for the grandparents," Byrne says, "as much as the grandparent is there for the child."
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