“You have taught me, O God, from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds. And now that I am old and grey, O God, forsake me not, till I proclaim your strength to every generation that is to come.” – Psalm 71:17-18

Reading Level

3.4 AR [0.5 points]

Grade 3

Interest Level

Pre-K – Grade 2

Review and Comments

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs is a true story based on Tomie dePaola’s early life.  His close relationship with his grandmothers is very touching.  Besides the obvious love Tommy has for his grandmothers, he also experiences the sad reality of grief from their deaths, which may be difficult for sensitive children.  During his healing however, he begins to understand that the love of his grandmothers is never lost or forgotten.  It will always be a cherished memory in his heart. 

Tommy is a little boy who loves his beautiful grandmas. During his weekly visits, he observes the traits that make each grandma so special.  His Nana Downstairs is always busy in the kitchen preparing food for others and doing necessary chores.  His Nana Upstairs spends most of her time in bed.  When Tommy comes, Nana Upstairs sits in a chair so they can visit.  She must be tied in the chair because she is so frail, and Tommy insists that he is tied in his chair also.  So, each week they sit side by side and share mints and stories from the old country. 

It is a very sad day when Tommy’s mother tells him that Nana Upstairs has died.  He cries and listens as his mother explains what that means.  She also comforts him when she tells him Nana is part of his memory that will always be with him. And when Tommy sees a shooting star he believes it is a kiss from his Nana.   When he is older, his Nana Downstairs also dies.  Again, he sees a shooting star and accepts the kiss from Nana.  He knows that “both his Grandmas are upstairs” now. 

This story is a tender tribute to dePaola’s grandmothers and might even evoke personal, sweet memories for readers and parents.  It is a story that can be used with a young child experiencing the death of a grandparent, but it is also just a beautiful story.   It is very appropriate for the recommended age. 

Possible Concerns

A sensitive child may be upset by the deaths of the grandmas.

Further Discussion

Activities [for Grandmas or Grandpas]:

  1. Find pictures of Grandma at different times in her life.  Research what Grandma is/was like and what she did throughout her life by interviewing her or asking other family members.
  2. Choose a special object that holds a memory of Grandma.  Keep it on display.  Write a personal story about the object.
  3. Make a collage using pictures, words, or fabric that tells her story.
  4. Write a love letter to Grandma expressing what she means to you.
  5. Write an acrostic poem using the word GRANDMA. Click here to find out about acrostic poems.
  6. Option: Compile all these activities into one book.

Tommy calls both his grandmother’s Nana.  One grandmother is Irish and one is Italian. 

  • Italian: Nonna is a popular grandmother’s name, possibly because it is close to Nana and other familiar grandmother nicknames.
  • Irish: Seanmháthair is Irish for grandmother, but Irish children are much more likely to use Maimeó or Móraí. You can read more about it here.

Catholic Resources

Special Saints:

  1. Saint Anne is the patron saint of grandmothers.  Her feast day is July 26.
  • Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint of grief.  Her feast day is January 4.

Resources for Dealing with Grief in Young Children:I

This book would be helpful for little kids:(Click on the book for our affiliate link.)

Prayers for Death and Dying: This Catholic site includes shorts texts, scripture readings, and prayers.

CCC 1681 The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ in whom resides our only hope.  The Christian who dies in Christ Jesus is “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8)