Educators on Using Picture Books to Change Attitudes to Aging

Blogging about positive aging picture books I’ve realized something—it’s not as “lonely” an effort as I first believed. Readers and organizations of great variety are supporting me (thank you!), both publishers and authors have requested book reviews, and several fascinating collaborations may blossom into projects never imagined B.B. (Before Blog).

Crouching TigerWhat’s more—there are others out there, long dedicated to promoting aging education for kids using children’s literature, and they inform my own efforts as I refine my message. Below are brief insights into the educators who point the way—I follow in their footsteps:

—–In Connecting Generations, her excellent book about integrating aging education, Barbara M. Friedman advocates that educators expose children to all types of books, while recognizing that “…many intergenerational trade books have examples of ageism, stereotyping, and age-related negative attitude portrayals.”      

Ms. Friedman further states, “Students often believe that what they read in books is true and right,” but she believes children should be helped to develop the critical-thinking skills needed to assess the value of the books. Her book shares many excellent ways to teach kids about growing older and to develop those skills.

Mrs Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco —–On the other hand, Dr. Sandra L. McGuire, who has published and presented on aging education with children for over 25 years, believes strongly that children’s books should help promote positive attitudes about aging. She seeks out children’s literaturewith only positive portrayals of older adults rather than books that “mirror our society’s ageist attitudes.” Her criteria eliminate, “Books that focus on death, dying, dementia, illness and disability…These topics are not synonymous with aging.”

The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi & Krysten Brooker—–A recent issue of the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships reports on related research in “Images of Old: Teaching About Aging Through Children’s Literature.” Recognizing teachers’ reluctance to teach about aging—unsurprising given our society’s mixed messages—researchers Elizabeth Larkin, EdD and G. Patricia Wilson, EdD asked the question “…how do children build a nuanced understanding of what ‘old’ means?” Teaching interns in culturally diverse K-5 classrooms selected books thought to appeal to students and critical thinking was encouraged. (Vol. 11, No. 1, 2013. Pages 4-17)

Key findings included “…children can be helped to recognize older adults in the school and the community as role models for growing older so that their understanding of the aging process includes a wide range of capabilities and interests…Children’s literature with likeable, realistic older adult characters offers an effective doorway into conversations about how we are all aging from the moment we are born.”

Here Comes Grandma—–My own ever developing list began with the SEA Change project and their list of books that feature positive portrayals of adults in the storyline (updated by Reading Rockets). The original list was a collaboration of the Children’s Division of American Library Association and The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at The George Washington University initiated by Dr. Gene D. Cohen.

SEAChange is committed to promoting media that portrays aging and intergenerational relationships in a positive light as a way to “… allow children, and everyone else…to promote and access the potential of aging.” They hope to encourage the creative community to produce more stories that include positive images of getting older.

Read my “Six Reasons to Seek Out Positive Images of Aging in Children’s Books” here and watch forImportant Conversations—Talking about Getting Older with Kids” soon.

Find a book information below (click on title):   Miss Rumphius


Crouching Tiger

Mrs. Katz and Tush

Honeybee Man

Here Comes Grandma

Miss Rumphius

Consider joining the conversation—what do YOU think is vital in teaching children about aging? How do you envision using books for children in that effort?

Which books are at the top of your stack —–favorites with older characters?

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