I Love My Grandpa

Understanding dementia  

Sally Flint talks to ITM about her new book ‘I Love My Grandpa’ in which she explores dementia from a child’s perspective. 

More than just a story

Having transitioned from a Secondary English teacher to becoming a whole school librarian I read A LOT of children’s books and became hooked on children’s literature, loving the cadences of sound, the profundity of the messages shared and the vibrancy of the images. It became second nature for me to almost unconsciously review the new titles as they arrived in the library; I developed a good feel for what children would and wouldn’t enjoy.

I was also able to see the importance of using stories to explore important social and curriculum issues such as wellbeing, equality and diversity. From this advantageous position I decided to give writing children’s books a try myself and had modest success with my first titles, The Day the Wi-Fi Broke and Just Five More Minutesthat a friend and colleague, Duangporn Turongratanachai illustrated for me.

The onset of dementia

In September 2018, my father became very ill and was admitted to hospital. During his stay he hallucinated terribly, which was a frightening not only for him, but also for my whole family. It is only now, over a year on, that we have managed to ascertain the cause of the hallucinations and to some extent, have them treated with medication. They were in part caused by an onset of a dementia that can occur in Parkinsons’s Disease.

 Useful reading for adults

Since my father’s illness progressed I have been in the privileged position of being able to support my mum, in her amazing care of him. During this time I have read widely on the topic and found many excellent resources to help both manage and understand the illness. The 36 Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace, Wendy Mitchell’s Somebody I Used to Know and Sally Magnusson’s Where Memories Go were all excellent and accessible reads.

Books for children

What I couldn’t find so easily were useful books to help children understand what dementia is and how it presents itself. Having been a librarian I berated myself for never spotting this omission from our library shelves. It became almost inevitable, that with my passion for children’s literature and my love of writing, I would write my own children’s story to help young people understand dementia.

The book

I Love My Grandpa explores dementia from a child’s perspective and shows children and adults alike that dementia is an illness just like any other.

In the story Chris and his Grandpa have great fun together, reminiscing about the ‘olden days’, talking to imaginary friends and making up tongue twisters. ‘Did he mention that he has dementia and did he mention that dementia is ok?’ says Chris to his Grandpa. What I wanted to show, with the use of gentle humour, is that dementia is not something to be dismayed by or ashamed of but can be managed effectively, so that the person with this illness can continue to have great quality of life.

As anyone, who is caring for someone with any kind of dementia, knows, it can be utterly exhausting and sometimes difficult to retain a ‘glass half full’ outlook. In addition to physically caring for a loved one’s physical needs, a carer is also grieving for the loss of the person as they once were.

Laugh out loud

I hope that my own story will be a resource for wives, husbands, daughters, sons, friends, carers, care-home providers and librarians to use when explaining to young people what dementia is and how it manifests itself. I hope it will provoke some laugh out loud moments, while enabling young readers to respond to the story and the illness with empathy and compassion.

I wanted to write a ‘feel good’ book that would be valuable in any school library, care or family home, one with humour, and perfect for bedtime reading. Dementia is an illness that affects 50 million people worldwide and increasingly will affect everyone’s lives. What better way to address this important issue than through the wonderful medium of story?

 

Sally Flint

A teacher of English, Sally is the former Head of Libraries at Bangkok Patana School. In addition to writing articles for various educational publications (including this one) and working as a freelance library consultant, Sally enjoys blogging about family, books and education. I love my Grandpa is her third children’s book.  

I Love My Grandpa written by Sally Flint, illustrated by Terry Cooperit, is published by Jelly Bean Books and is available to buy here.

Click here to link to Sally’s blog

Feature Image and support images – courtesy of Sally