Using Picture Books to Change Attitudes to Aging

Back in 2013, when I first began blogging about images of aging and older adults in picture books, I believed it to be a rather lonely effort. Awareness of the need to diversify those images in both text and illustrations was largely lacking. But there are others out there—individuals concerned about ageism blossoming in very young kids.

And people aware that research shows we all age more healthfully when we hold positive attitudes to growing older.

Also, those long dedicated to promoting aging education for kids using children’s literature.

They all inform my own efforts in different ways as I refine my message. Below are brief insights into the educators who point the way—I’m honored to follow in their footsteps:

  1. Sandra L. McGuire, who has published and presented on aging education for children for over 25 years, believes strongly that children’s books should help promote positive attitudes about aging. Our society bombards both kids and adult with negative stereotypes and myths about aging. Read her article in Creative Education Journal.

    Groundwood Books/House of Anansi

    Dr. McGuire has compiled an extensive list of children’s literature with only positive portrayals of older adults rather than books that “mirrored 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.” You can find her list here and also on my website. I’m truly honored that Dr. McGuire has lent her expertise and experience as an advisor to my website and “A is for Aging” blog for several years now.

 

  1. Barbara M. Friedman’s excellent book, Connecting Generations, shares strategies for integrating aging education. She 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.”

Lee & Low Books

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.

(Connecting Generations: Integrating Aging Education and Intergenerational Programs with Elementary and Middle Grade Curricula. Allyn and Bacon, 1999.)

  1. A 2013 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, Ed.D. and Patricia Wilson, Ed.D. asked the question—- “…how do children build a nuanced understanding of what ‘old’ means?” Teacher 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)

    Picture book “Harry and Walter” celebrates inter-generational friendship

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…”

 

The article added, “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.”

 

Current developments are very encouraging. Numerous organizations and individuals that advocate for older adults are campaigning against ageism. Two to definitely check out: Ashton Applewhite, activist and author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism.

And Dr. Bill Thomas’s Changing Aging efforts—this recent guest post calls on teachers to change the focus of “100 days of school” celebrations. (Read my thoughts on ideas for celebrating 100 Days of School here.)

 

In the world of kidlit we are fortunate to have the powerful winds of change brought by the We Need Diverse Books organization (WNDB), a grassroots organization advocating for changes in the publishing industry.

They are pushing for “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” The WNDB website states: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including) but not limited to LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities.

 

In addition, NYT bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith has been a strong supporter on her blog Cynsations since the inception of “A is for Aging.” Cynthia also teaches her students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program that avoiding a reliance on age stereotypes is essential to showing a diversity of older characters in our writing.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Here at “A is for Aging, B is for Books” I’m looking forward to adding more voices, including those of teachers and librarians sharing strategies for engaging kids in conversations about growing older.

Watch for a fascinating guest post soon by Joanne Corrigan, librarian for a school located in the same building as a long term care center for older adults.

Also, “Late Bloomers” guest blog posts will begin here next week and share thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

The inaugural post is by Cynthia Surrisi, author of picture books and middle grade mysteries. She was 66 when her first mystery was published.

 

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

 

 

Read my post “5 Stereotypes Positive Aging Picture Books Avoid.

Nature's Friend The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivittPlease look for my new picture book from Sleeping Bear Press about an amazing older role model, Gwen Frostic.

(My own ever developing list of picture books with positive and accurate images of aging began in 2013 with a list used with permission of the SEA Change project. It was initiated by Dr. Gene D. Cohen at the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at The George Washington University.

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