In the last week or so, I’ve been trying to read to my grandmother. She inherited my grandfather’s periodical subscriptions, which are the sort of thing you’d expect for an educated liberal civil servant — the Washington Post, the New Yorker, the Nation, Smithsonian. When I try to read to her from those, though, she usually complains after a while that she doesn’t understand what it’s about. She’s in a difficult state of dementia where she’s lost her ability to follow complex material, but is still conscious enough to want to understand it. She also has some paranoia (a common symptom of dementia) so the traumatic subject matter of most news stories doesn’t exactly put her in a good frame of mind.
So today when I was at the library I impulsively picked up a novella by Cynthia Rylant called The Islander. I’d never heard of either the book or the author, but I saw that it involved a mermaid, and it was about a boy trying to relate to a grandparent, so it seemed like a nice diversion.
When I got home I read it aloud to my grandmother — it took about an hour — and she was totally transfixed. I realized I’d picked the perfect book. It seems aimed at about a ten-to-fourteen age range, which is probably exactly the right reading level for her these days, the narrative is simple with only a few characters, and it deals with family and with death, but in a reassuring way. When I was done, she said, “I’d like another one in a few hours, but that’s fine for now.”
Ulp. It was the only children’s book I checked out! And I really don’t know much of anything about the world of YA fiction these days. Can anyone recommend other books along this line? Something short like that would be good — maybe even a book of short stories — since if I had to read it in installments she’d forget everything in between readings. For all the reading I did as a child, I’m having trouble conjuring up other candidates.