GRANDPARENTS are the greatest. Few kids would disagree, and even the grouchiest of grown-ups will smile when asked to remember time spent with their grandparents.
Here are several excellent books that celebrate the magishared by children and their grandparents. The first two feature African-American characters, and in them the fabric of the extended family is as sturdy and as comforting as grandpa's flannel shirt.
* "When I Am Old with You," by Angela Johnson, pictures bDavid Soman (Orchard Books, $14.95); ages 2-8. In this new book, a little boy tells Grandaddy all the things they're going to do when they're both old men together. They'll go fishing and play cards and ride the tractor through the fields.
"We can look at the old pictures and try to imagine the people ithem. It might make us cry . . . but that's OK.
"In the mornings, Grandaddy, we will cook bacon for breakfasand that's all. We can eat it on the porch too."
The watercolor illustrations are warm and reassuring. Johnsoand Soman also collaborated on "Tell Me a Story, Mama," another book that connects the generations.
* "Grandpa's Face," by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by FloyCooper (Philomel Books, $13.95); ages 2-7. Tamika's grandfather lives at her house, and he takes her for walks and tells her long stories and sometimes he acts in the theater.
One day she goes to Grandpa's room to ask for a story, and she sees him looking into the mirror, rehearsing a part. He changes his face into a face she's never seen before. "It was a hard face. It had a tight mouth and cold, cold eyes. It was a face that could never love her or anyone."
In the end, however, Grandpa reassures Tamika that he wilalways love her, and that he will never look at her with the mean face, no matter what she does wrong.
* "Grandma Gets Grumpy," by Anna Grossnickle Hines (Clariopaperback, $4.95); ages 2-7. This is another story about a grandparent's unconditional love. A little girl and her four cousins can't wait to stay at Grandma's house because she lets them have more fun than their parents do. But one night they are in the midst of wrecking the living room when Grandma shouts "Stop!"
"We didn't know she could shout," the kids say, realizing that Grandma sounds just like their parents. Once the kids get over their surprise, they help Grandma clean up, and by the time they share some ice cream, Grandma isn't grumpy anymore.
* "The Wednesday Surprise," by Eve Bunting, illustrated bDonald Carrick (Clarion paperback, $4.95); ages 2-8. There's lots to like about this book. Anna, 7, and her Grandma are co-conspirators. Every Wednesday evening Grandma comes to stay with Anna because Mom works late. Dad is away from home a lot because he drives a tractor-trailer.
Anna and Grandma use their Wednesdays together to prepare surprise for Dad's birthday: Anna teaches Grandma how to read. When the big day comes, Grandma stands up to read one of her picture books. Anna's proud parents are astounded, and Grandma winks at Anna.
* "Georgia Music," by Helen V. Griffith, pictures by JameStevenson (Mulberry paperback, $3.95); ages 3-8. Like "The Wednesday Surprise," this is a love story that shows how much grandchildren can give.
Griffith's writing brings to life the bumblebees bumbling and thcrickets whirring and scratching outside Grandfather's cabin in Georgia. His granddaughter from Baltimore comes to visit for the summer and he teaches her how to listen to the music outside.
She's sorry to leave, and when she returns next summerGrandaddy is sick and must leave the cabin to come live in her family's rowhouse in the city. The little girl finally finds a way to make him smile when she plays his mouth organ, re-creating the cricket chirps and bee buzzes -- the Georgia Music -- he thought he'd never hear again.
* CHECK THESE OUT: A classic grandfather book is "My Grandson Lew," by Charlotte Zolotow (Harper paperback, $3.95). Then there's "Song and Dance Man," by Karen Ackerman and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, which won the 1989 Caldecott Medal (Knopf, $11.95). Some other super books are "The Patchwork Quilt," by Valerie Flournoy, pictures by Jerry Pinkney (Dial Books for Young Readers, $11.95); "Granny is a Darling," by Kady MacDonald Denton (Aladdin paperback, $4.95); "My Grandma Has Black Hair," by Mary Hoffman, pictures by Joanna Burroughes (Dial Books for Young Readers, $9.95).
* COMING ATTRACTIONS: Every other week from now until Christmas, we'll look at new books that would make great gifts.