An idea whose time has come

Children's book author Victoria Lane reflects on the need for books for children whose family members are affected by dementia.

When I set out a few years back to write a children’s book exploring the experience of dementia, I felt compelled to do so because I couldn’t find any contemporary, Australian books on the topic. It took another year or two to find a publisher willing to take on an “issues-based” story.

Dementia, whether caused by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or another disease, is an issue of growing importance in our society, with an estimated 1.2 million Australians involved in caring for a person with dementia.

Fast-forward to 2015 and there are now several local children’s books available to help kids navigate this confusing time after dementia sets in for an elderly relative. (All the books, incidentally, are published by small, independent Australian houses.)

The authors have each come to their unique stories through personal experience. Some of us spent time in the “sandwich generation”, helping to care both for elderly parents and young children.

And we have banded together to showcase our books about ageing and dementia for September’s World Alzheimer's Month.

The helplessness and confusion a growing number of children face when confronted with the decline of an elderly relative prompted us, as writers, to step in to create emotive stories to provide encouragement and hope to families.

Each unique and beautifully illustrated story offers practical strategies to connect and share love with elderly grandparents even in difficult, changing, and confusing circumstances.

The power of memory and remembering as a way to sustain a loving connection is a common thread. In Celia and Nonna, Celia brings memories of happy times spent together with her grandmother into Nonna’s new aged care home by making pictures and paintings to fill the walls. The grandchild mouse in Do You Remember uses artwork to honour Grandma’s memories.

In When I See Grandma, Grandma’s memories are brought to life through her dreams as the granddaughter shares with her everyday things she enjoys doing and in Harry Helps Grandpa Remember, Harry shares coping skills to help his grandpa boost his memory and confidence.

In Lucas and Jack, Lucas’s encounter with elderly Jack reveals to him what Lucas can’t see on the surface - the rich past of each resident - and in so doing, gives Lucas the key to connecting with his Grandpop through inquiring about his childhood memories. At times humorous, at times poignant and always heartfelt, these stories will inspire and encourage children and families who are grappling with change and illness in those they love.

The books are: Celia and Nonna by Victoria Lane and Kayleen West (Ford Street Publishing); When I See Grandma by Debra Tidball and Leigh Hedstrom (Wombat Books); Do You Remember by Kelly O’Gara and Anna McNeil (Wombat Books); Harry Helps Grandpa Remember by Karen Tyrell and Aaron Pocock (Digital Press); and Lucas and Jack by Ellie Royce and Andrew McLean (Working Title Press).

Victoria Lane is the Melbourne-based author of dementia-themed children’s book, Celia and Nonna.

dementia children's book covers