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Our Favorite Literary Grandparents

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Patricia Thang

Senior Contributor

Patricia Thang is an educator located in Los Angeles. Though a native Angeleno through and through, her heart also belongs to Tokyo, where much of her family is from. Besides books, she is an enthusiastic devourer of many things, including podcasts, television, and J-pop. She realizes there’s not enough time in the world to consume all of that content, but she’s trying anyway. Other endeavors to which she has dedicated herself include cuddling her dogs until they’re annoyed and taste-testing every vegan ice cream she can find. Twitter: @aintnopthang

It’s National Grandparents Day in the US, and in honor of this holiday, Rioters have put together a list of some of our favorite literary grandparents from books. Like all great characters, these grandparents are all uniquely themselves, and we love each of them in their own individual ways.

Namihei and Fune from Sazae-san, by Machiko Hasegawa

The parents of main character Sazae, and grandparents to her son Tarao, are the heads of one of Japan’s most beloved fictional families. The manga depicts the family’s everyday life in postwar Japan, but the warm family dynamic continues to ring true today. Stubborn, comical Namihei and kind, trustworthy Fune were the first characters I’d seen who resembled my own Japanese grandparents, and I’ve loved them and their family ever since.
Patricia Thang

my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorryGranny from My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman

Elsa’s grandmother is someone who fully embraces the magic we find and make ourselves in everyday life. She builds a robust fantasy world for her loved ones. She’s loving but deeply, deeply flawed. She spent her time saving the lives of everyone she knows, except that of her own daughter. After her death, she sends Elsa on a journey that teaches her granddaughter the truth of Granny’s existence, however painful those discoveries turn out to be. She reminds me of darker version of Mary Poppins mixed with the Grandma Mazur from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series (another of my favorite book grandmas)!

Elizabeth Allen

Jemubhai Patel from The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai

On the face of it, there really is nothing quantifiable to like about Jemubhai Patel, the protagonist’s maternal grandfather: an anglophile who never quite fit in anywhere, he has abandoned his family and his wife, and now lives in quiet coexistence with his granddaughter. You have to give it to Kiran Desai as an author, who’s constructed a character so well, that his is the name that pops up when I think about literary grandparents, despite all the problematic angles that stick out. Jemu’s journey from a middle-class family in India to a scholar at Cambridge and back to an unfulfilling life in India is so profoundly, heartbreakingly told, that (and I know this might not be true of everyone) I can’t help but love him.
Deepali Agarwal

Grandmother & Grandfather from When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant & illustrated by Diane Goode

I loved reading this book aloud when my boys were little. The rhythm of the language is comforting, and the illustrations are charming. “When I was young in the mountains, Grandmother spread the table with hot corn bread, pinto beans and fried okra. Later, in the middle of the night, she walked through the grass with me to the johnny-house and held my hand in the dark.” The parents are absent in this book, but the grandparents are both kind and fierce—Grandmother kills a large snake in the garden, and she’s seen wielding her hoe like a badass.

Nicole Mulhausen

Parvine from Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Parvine was a real person, who died in 1991 after her granddaughter Marjane had moved to France. A sensible woman who faced her husband’s incarceration, and a changing government that killed thousands of innocents, Parvine maintains a level head, a good sense of humor, and a strong ethical code. She comforts Marjane before the latter is sent to Vienna, and calls her out for selfishly accusing a man to save her hide. Parvine is a cool lady, and someone to admire.
Priya Sridhar

Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan from The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cordelia doesn’t actually become a grandmother until near the end of the series, but she exudes grandmotherly wisdom long before that. She’s unflinchingly honest and has an uncanny ability to get right to the heart of a matter. She’s intimidating in all the best ways, but you feel like you can tell her anything. She’s soothingly practical and offers real solutions to big problems, but she also has a truly spectacular imagination. She suffers no nonsense (this is a woman who put the severed head of a despot in a burlap sack and brought it out of the capital city in the middle of a civil war) but she is also kind and tender and full of love. Basically she’s an incredible feminist badass, a woman of many careers, my literary model for motherhood as well as grandmotherhood, and one of my favorite characters in all of fiction.

Laura Sackton

Nanny Ogg from the Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett

All the women in Discworld are awesome, but in terms of who’d I’d pick as my favorite grandmother, I’d have to go with Nanny Ogg. A. She’s a witch. Okay, maybe the witches in Discworld practice ‘headology’ more than magic, but it’s still pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want a witch for a grandmother? B. She’s kind-hearted and funny. Unlike Granny Weatherwax (who is not a grandmother or else would’ve been my first choice), Nanny Ogg is friendly and shows her love in recognizable ways. If you haven’t read any of the Discworld novels, I recommend Wyrd Sisters or Witches Abroad. They feature a whole bunch of badass and hilarious ‘grandmotherly’ women, including Nanny Ogg.
Margaret Kingsbury

We know there are many more awesome literary grandparents out there, so let us know in the comments who your favorites are!