By Letty Sustrin; illus. by Thomas H. Bone’ III
Blue Marlin Publications 2017 (Ages 4 and up)
In The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Retires, twenty years have passed in the life of teacher Mrs. Belle since the School Rules forced her into reluctant retirement. It is the final book of a fun series that chronicled those decades.
The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp
The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Discovers a New Planet
The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers
In the first book, the gray haired first grade teacher donned creative disguises and slipped back into school—as a window washer, the lunch lady, and finally as the fire inspector. Her beloved students always recognized her distinctive ballet slippers.
Then Mrs. Belle volunteered weekly in her former classroom. I can count on one hand the number of picture books I’ve found portraying an older adult being of service to their community. Yet the “…the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009) estimates…that 23.5% of adults aged 65 years and older volunteered in 2008…”
In this final book Mrs. Belle decides it’s finally time to retire and she launches her new stage of life with an exciting cruise. She is accompanied by friends featured throughout the series—Mr. Rivera, Kitty Belle the cat, and Magic the dog.
Illustrations for the series are by cartoonist-animator Thomas H. Bone III. For me the pictures are reminiscent of The Jetsons, a much loved futuristic cartoon once enjoyed on Saturday mornings with a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs.
Five things I love about this book:
- Belle’s friends and former students in Laurelville Town planned the trip as a gift in return for the joy she has given them over the years. She is a valued member of her community.
“There she is, our Mrs. Belle.
As she retires, we wish her well.
The Dancing Lady is her ship.
We all know she’ll have a great trip!
- From the moment Mrs. Belle is ushered to a seat at the Captain’s Table we see her recognized. Captain Scott announces—
“On this trip, we are honored to have a very special person with us. Her name is Mrs. Belle, and not only is she celebrating her retirement, but many years ago she was my first grade teacher. She’s still wearing her colorful ballet slippers!”
- The intergenerational friendships in this picture book are warm without a hint of condescension. At every stop on the cruise Mrs. Belle is welcomed by a former student and now in their twenties they enjoy fun times with her.
- Retiree Mrs. Belle is not sitting on the sidelines! Author Letty Sustrin portrays her as game to try anything from cliff diving to dancing and the Limbo.
- Older adults authored this series—Letty and Sheila Sustrin, twin sisters both retired from teaching, enjoyed a long second career as writers for children. Sadly, Sheila Sustrin passed away in 2015 and Letty completed this book in honor of her sister.
Let’s talk about aging and retirement with kids—
It’s important not to treat talk about aging as taboo. Kids, like many adults in our culture, then view getting older as a negative looming in their future according to Elizabeth Larkin Ed.D. and G. Patricia Wilson Ed.D in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.
Books like this seem the perfect way to open conversations with children and encourage them to see aging as “…including a wide range of capabilities and interests.” We can help kids build upon their pre-conceived notions of “old” for a more nuanced understanding of what it really means to grow older beyond the teen and adult years.
—First, dig a little deeper into modern retirement possibilities—
The article Finding Success Well Past the Age of Wunderkind offers inspiration about olders’ creative pursuits. “Maybe they are not making millions, or wielding a brush like Rembrandt.
Still, many people are discovering that the latter part of their lives can be just as (or even more) rewarding creatively, emotionally and spiritually.”
In another fascinating article an older adult dubs her adventures “rewirement,” (“…an alternative twist to the usual retirement story of rest, relaxation and occasional grandparenting duties.”)
Ask kids a few simple questions after reading some books in this picture book series (be sure to include the first book).
- Do you know what retirement means?
- What kinds of things might older people do after they retire from a job?
- Do you think older people can learn new things?
“Teachers…can include the idea of aging in the curriculum simply by introducing children’s literature with older adult characters so the topic is comfortably discussable,” say Larkin and Wilson. I would add—we need to avoid age stereotypes and expose kids to a diverse array of older characters.
Find more picture books avoiding age stereotypes, including the fabulous My Teacher by James Ransome.
And please look for my own brand new picture book biography from Sleeping Bear Press—Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story.
You will LOVE the gorgeous illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Available in all the usual places, and in case you’re wondering how you might help a new author promote her first book 😉
—check out these ideas in Thirteen Ways to Support an Author Without Ever Spending a Dime. (As simple as requesting your local library or bookseller carry it.
(Source of journal article information and quotes: Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. Vol. 11, No. 1, 2013. Pages 4-17)
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book. I was not required to write a review and I received no payment for this post.