Reading a story aloud together is
an opportunity to connect – with
the ideas in the story and with each other. And reading aloud is for all ages, young and old. Children who are read stories are better learners and develop stronger communication skills (e.g. listening, speaking, writing, reading). Research also shows that most older adults enjoy reading or being read to, and reading can help them retain a more positive, happier outlook on life. The picture book format – which often has stories full of wonder, imagination, and hope – is an art form particularly suited to intergenerational sharing.
Before reading a story aloud to someone else, make sure you read it aloud to yourself a few times to become familiar and comfortable with it. Try reading in front of a mirror to see how you should stand, hold the book, and which gestures and facial expressions you might want to introduce.
When you read aloud, be dramatic. You need a strong start to capture attention. Then, as you go through the story, vary the volume, tone, and pace of your voice. Make the reading as interesting, heartfelt, and dramatic as possible. Above all – enjoy yourself! There's no "right way" or "wrong way" to do a reading. Each person brings their own style to a reading – and that's what makes it interesting. Also keep in mind that simply being read to is a treat your audience will enjoy. You don't have to be perfect.
If you're reading to a small group, you may want to make copies of the book available for everyone to look at while you're reading, or project the illustration slides. For a book like A Little Something, the group doesn't necessarily have to see the illustrations to appreciate the story. In fact, the story is often so personal for people that one of the best ways to introduce it before you start reading is to invite the audience "to think of your own mother or grandmother, child or grandchild." In this way, each listener makes their own mental pictures as you read the story, and in turn makes a more personal connection to the story.
A Little Something (available in softcover as Something to Remember Me By) has won six national awards, including the Joan Fassler Award for an Outstanding Contribution to Family and a Parents' Choice. It's a seemingly simple little 32-page picture book about the special bonds and legacies across generations. It's also a true story.
A Little Something was purposefully written not just as a "children's book" but as an "intergenerational book" – one that reaches both children and adults (although on different levels) and prompts discussion and sharing between generations. After reading the story, children usually ask lots of questions. For adults, the story often evokes emotions and memories. The story serves as an intergenerational catalyst.
There's a line that's repeated in A Little Something:
"She gave her a big, warm smile and a warm, snuggly hug." That's what it's all about, right there, in one sentence. Sometimes that's what we all need, whether you're a child or a grown-up. Sometimes it's just that simple. And that's why young and old respond to this story so strongly.
A Little Something is a popular gift book for Grandparents Day and Mother's Day for all ages – grandmothers, mothers, children and grandchildren. Many grandparents give the book to grandchildren as a gift, often with a personal keepsake or with some of their own family stories. It's also a book teachers can use with students – even teenagers – to introduce and explore intergenerational themes, family history and stories, memories, and memoir writing.
The following summary of the plot and themes of A Little Something helps you lead a discussion about the book. Read the story aloud; then invite comments. Ask open-ended questions (e.g. What did you like about the story? What was your favorite part? What did you feel as you read different parts of the story? Why do you think the relationship between the granddaughter and grandmother was important? What are some of the things the grandmother gave her granddaughter? What are some of the things the granddaughter gave her grandmother?). Also encourage personal memories and reflections (e.g. Does the story remind you of anyone you know? What do you do with your grandparents/grandchildren? Do you have any special keepsakes from your parents or grandparents, or keepsakes that you will pass down to your children or grandchildren?).
More than anything else, A Little Something is a celebration of love and legacies across generations. It's a true story about how precious connections across generations can be, especially as we get older, and the special things that young and old can give each other.
The heart cushion on the book's front cover sets the stage for the story – it's a love story, about the love and memories across generations that live on. The story follows the characters through different stages of their life. At first, the granddaughter is a little girl. Then she grows into a teenager. By the end of the story, she is a young woman. At the beginning of the story, the grandmother is an active, involved older adult. By the end of the story, she is very, very old. Researchers describe a person's life course in terms of different stages: infant, child, teenager, young adult, middle-aged, young-old, old-old, and oldest-old (defined as those over 85 years).
The story begins with the happy times the grandmother and her young granddaughter share. Grandparents (and other older people) are often able to give children an undivided attention and unconditional kind of love they don't get from other relationships. They make children feel special and allow them indulgences. Some examples from the story: "The little girl could have a snack anytime she wanted"; "And if she spilled her juice, her grandmother would just wipe it up"; "The little girl could choose whatever she wanted her grandmother to cook for dinner."
One of the story's themes is that the more complicated life gets, the more the simple things matter. It's the little things, the simple moments, that make memories. The text and illustrations show the simple things grandmother and granddaughter do together – read books, play games, bake cookies, go for walks, take care of errands and chores, talk, watch television. There are also family gatherings, during special times like holidays, when "the little girl would figure out exactly the right place to put each shiny spoon and knife and fork." And, of course, there are lots of the grandmother's big, warm smiles and warm, snuggly hugs.
Memories are another theme in the story. One of the best ways to evoke memories is through the senses, particularly taste and smell. So many memories for people involve food. Research shows that many intergenerational memories are made in the kitchen, which is why the book starts with a sunny, warm kitchen scene. The kitchen is often the center of family life. Baking something simple together like cookies (even if you use a mix) is a common intergenerational activity. Family get-togethers often involve special foods, and children enjoy being able to participate in preparations (grandmother and granddaughter "would get ready for a party for friends and relatives").
As the story progresses, many of the visits end with the grandmother's familiar words, "I want to give you a little something to remember me by." Then she gives her young granddaughter a small keepsake. This becomes a little tradition, a ritual between grandmother and granddaughter. As happens with most children, not all the gifts are to the granddaughter's taste ("that tablecloth was the one thing the girl thought was really ugly"). But, the granddaughter is polite ("she took it and said thank you as always").
An important theme in the story is the give-and-take between generations. Each generation has something to offer the other. At the beginning of the story, the grandmother obviously gets enjoyment from her granddaughter's company. At the same time, she is the one doing most of the conscious giving (e.g. her time, her undivided attention, the small keepsakes). In the middle of the story, the grandmother still gives (i.e. attention through her pride in her granddaughter's accomplishments; the needlework cushion keepsake), but we begin to see a shift in the relationship. The granddaughter makes a point of keeping in touch and makes her grandmother happy through frequent telephone calls.
The turning point in the story is when the grandmother moves out of her house. The granddaughter clearly and consciously gives to her grandmother. The grandmother is older now and can't do many of the things she once did. Life has brought its changes. The granddaughter supports her grandmother through the major life change of moving from her home. She listens to her grandmother's concerns. She provides comfort and hope in the seemingly small gesture of giving her grandmother the photograph. It is here that the idea of being "remembered" is reversed. The passing along of the final, major keepsake – the cedar chest – symbolizes the major shift in the relationship and the flow of life from one generation to the next. There is a sense of connection to something bigger, to the past and to the future.
When the granddaughter visits her grandmother later in the story, the grandmother isn't well and is very, very old. When the grandmother doesn't recognize her granddaughter, the granddaughter expresses understandable emotions of surprise and sadness. The grandmother later has a moment of seeming recognition. These are the moments of joy you hold on to.
The granddaughter comes to understand at a very personal level what she didn't understand earlier – what it means to be remembered. We all need to feel like our life matters, that we are important to someone. Whether we are old or young, a basic human need is the need to be loved and to leave a legacy.
Through flowers to brighten her grandmother's room and holding her grandmother's hand, the granddaughter provides small but very important comforts. There is a heartfelt echo from earlier in the story: "You're the best grandmother in the whole world." If you love someone, that doesn't change. The message in the well-worn photograph is that the granddaughter was very important to the grandmother. That is the sort of comfort that both children and adults can hold on to.
At the end of the story, the granddaughter realizes that although she will always treasure the keepsakes (there's even a perspective shift with age as the tacky tablecloth becomes something treasured – not because of its intrinsic beauty, but because of what it meant to the grandmother), the most precious gift her grandmother gave her was her love – and the happy memories it created (represented by the photos on the floor). The keepsakes and the photos also symbolize the spectrum of gifts one generation gives the next – from material objects to life experiences and wisdom. And there's a continuity to life as the old cedar chest now sits at the foot of a new bed. Things change, but they also stay the same in some ways.
The final image of the smiling granddaughter symbolizes much more than a physical similarity. The granddaughter has her grandmother's "big, warm smile," meaning that who her grandmother was – loving, warm, full of life – has, in part, made the granddaughter who she is. The grandmother will always be with her granddaughter. The grandmother's love lives on, and both grandmother and granddaughter are part of a much bigger life connection.
There are some "teachable moments" that frequently come up when you're sharing A Little Something with children. Many children ask why the characters in the story don't have names. This can open a discussion about the book's focus on relationships rather than personalities, and about seeing yourself in a story (children can even try reading the story by inserting their own or a friend's name). It's also a good opportunity to explore different literary approaches; some books use names while others don't. Other books you may want to explore for literary comparison purposes: Old Pig by Margaret Wild; The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams by Jenny Koralek; Our Granny by Margaret Wild; Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson.
When many children read the line, "The girl didn't quite understand," their immediate response is that they understand. This can open a discussion about what "being remembered" means and the concept of legacy. What is a legacy? Children can look up and compare definitions of the word "legacy" in various dictionaries (in general, the definition of a "legacy" is "a gift left behind" or "something handed down"; the whole idea of legacy is that what is passed to you, you then pass on to the next generation). What, exactly, does the grandmother mean when she says "everyone wants to be remembered?" How and why are legacies important to both the people who pass them down and the people who receive them? What are the different ways to remember someone? Why do you think it's important to remember people like our grandparents? Why do you think it's important to them to be remembered? In general, why is it important to remember people from long ago? What can learning about them teach us? What legacy would you like to pass along to your children and grandchildren?
At the end of A Little Something, it's clear that the grandmother has given her granddaughter much more than just the keepsakes in the cedar chest. What else did the grandmother give her granddaughter? This part of the story can open a discussion about all the things parents and grandparents give us. Sometimes what they give is material. Sometimes they give their time and attention. Sometimes they tell us stories that let us know about our ancestors or teach us about life. What have you learned from your parents, grandparents, or other older adults you know?