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Dementia book helps children understand why their grandpa doesn't recognise them

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Children’s author, Julia Jarman, has written her latest book with families in mind. ‘Lovely Old Lion’ tells the story of a young lion faced with the realisation that his grandpa King Lion is becoming forgetful.

Lovely Old Lion, written by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Susan  Varley

The story was created to help young children understand dementia and how it may affect their loved ones or grandparents.

The inspiration for the book came from a friend of Ms Jarman and Stockton librarian, Karen Morris, who is responsible for books on health and well-being in Stockton libraries, working with schools and young children.

Ms Jarman said: “She told me about several children with lives affected by a granny or granddad suffering from dementia. Confused and hurt when a formerly loving hands-on granny or granddad now doesn’t want to play games with them anymore, or help with their homework, they feel to blame. What have they done wrong? Many of them spoke of the hurt of not being recognised by a grandparent who didn’t know their name.”

Lovely Old Lion, written by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Susan  Varley

The book tells the story of Lenny the lion and his grandpa, King Lion, who has started to become forgetful making Lenny worry and wonder what is wrong with him. The story shows King Lion forgetting the rules to games, forgetting names and not wanting to play with Lenny anymore.

As the story continues, Lenny seeks help from his grandma and his friends to help King Lion to remind him of good times gone by and encourage him to play even as his memory fades.

Speaking about the research behind the book, Ms Jarman said: “Karen provided me with a lot of research material. She insisted she wanted a story, not an information book, believing story to be a powerful way of engaging children’s hearts and minds, but she also wanted the facts about dementia to be one hundred per cent correct.”

In addition to researching dementia, Ms Jarman has a personal interest in dementia, she added: “I have seen dementia at close hand. A good friend got Alzheimer’s. It was heart-breaking to see a woman who once worked at Bletchley Park, becoming withdrawn and incoherent.

“In my own family I observe old and young interacting all the time. I have five grandchildren and a bright, though very deaf ninety-five year old mother, so I’m in the middle.”

‘Lovely Old Lion’ was written to help children understand problems associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia, Ms Jarman said: “It is an issue close to my heart, children with problems. I feel children are burdened with problems these days.

“I wanted to write a story empowering children. They can do something. They want to do something. They can’t cure dementia but they can help. Lenny helps.”

Children usually make a first impression of a story based on the picture on the front cover, resulting in choices being made on how bold, eye-catching and interesting the illustrations are.

Lovely Old Lion, written by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Susan  Varley

Her decision to use animals to tell the story supports the idea that picture books allow stories to be mixed with art. Illustrations work alongside the text to tell the story and engage children.

She said: “Children do identify strongly with animals in stories and they find it easier to talk about problems as experienced by animals. It gives a bit of distance which makes talking about painful emotions a bit easier. As one reason for writing this book was to promote discussion it seemed a good idea to use animals. Karen and I talked about various kinds of animals and lions just seemed right. The pride is a family. I may also have been influenced by ‘The Lion King’ which I’ve watched with my grandchildren! What if the king got dementia?”

‘Lovely Old Lion’ sees Ms Jarman reunite with Susan Varley, author and illustrator of poignant story, ‘Bagder’s Parting Gifts’ which depicts the grief felt by Badger’s friends when he passes away.

Speaking about the collaboration, she said: “I relied on Susan bringing her brilliant imagination to my story and interpreting it with all the sensitivity she brought to Badger’s Parting Gifts. She has also illustrated Two Shy Pandas, my story about chronic shyness so I had complete confidence.”

In the past, Julia Jarman has produced a number of different books, covering a range of topics and is working on a follow-up to the story to Lovely Old Lion, focusing on the upbeat tale of a granny with people both young and old. Referring to personal experience, she commented: “It’s not always a problem. I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren and I think they enjoy their time with me.

"I think it’s important to demonstrate that not all old people, even forgetful ones, have dementia. That said, I think it’s important that children see disability as part of life and I include characters with disabilities in several of my stories, often unremarked upon. For instance in the picture-book ‘Class Three All At Sea’ – illustrated by Lynne Chapman, a lad called Harry who wears leg-supports plays a key role in overcoming pirates and finding treasure island!”

Other titles written by Julia Jarman include: ‘Two Shy Pandas’, ‘Class Three All at Sea’ and the unpublished, ‘Fussy Freda’ a story on healthy eating, illustrated by Fred Blunt for publication in 2016.


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