Late Blooming Writer: Carol Gordon Ekster

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Today we hear from late blooming author Carol Gordon Ekster:

Teaching was my passion. I taught 4th grade for 35 years. The summer after I turned 50 my husband and I spent a day at the beach. I was reading the Boston Globe, then found myself walking to the car. I returned to my chair with post-its and a pen. And right then, I worked on my first picture book. Writing came to me that day.

I did not ask for this—it was never planned. But I am so grateful for the gift.

I taught writing but never wanted to write myself. But once on this path, there was no turning back. I joined SCBWI. And then I remembered. I’d written a book in 6th grade, and poems. My Masters’ degree was in reading and language. I took a sabbatical and investigated writing workshop programs for my students. I read picture books every day to my fourth graders, to introduce or follow-up on a concept taught.

Everything in my life led me to this new career. It was perfect timing. I would have something wonderful to do during my retirement years. I would not have had the time to invest when I was younger. I could not have supported myself as an author without the benefit of a retirement check. And I just wasn’t ready.

My sister told me she learned at a workshop—for many women menopause and after are times of enormous creativity. That seemed to be what happened to me.

Aging afforded me the freedom, wisdom, and flexibility to endure a writing life with its ups and downs. And the stories just kept coming. I now have more than 120 completed manuscripts.

I didn’t retire until I was 57, the year after my first book came out. I have gotten a huge number of rejections, but pushed on. I did the work–going to conferences, reading stacks of picture books weekly, joining critique groups, writing and revising, and connecting with other writers. I immersed myself in the creative life.

I’m in six critique groups, a marketing group @PBrockiteers22, the Courage to Create at the Writing Barn, and the group blog, Writers’ Rumpus. After many rejections, even from Highlights Magazine, my first piece was in their December 2021 issue. And I continue to persevere.

I recently turned 70 and my fifth book, SOME DADDIES, with Beaming Books, illustrated by Javiera Mac-lean Alvarez, launched May 17th, 2022. The story came to me during a facetime call with my grandson.  He said his daddy shaved like my husband…but he’s going to have a beard when he gets older because he’s going to be a daddy. I said…”Some daddies have beards…” My writing brain ignited and I paused to write that down as a title.

After a picture book pitch event on twitter, this story sold a year later. I’m so excited—it celebrates the incredible diversity of modern fathers and the endless possibilities masculine love offers. And I wanted children to understand the truth in the repeated line, “Every daddy is different.”

I remember feeling emotional at times when I was a child because of the truth in this page spread-

“Some daddies share comforting words and cry with you.

Others love making you laugh.

Some barely hug.

Others hug like bears.”

My dad was one who barely hugged. And when I was younger that was hard for me. But I learned to accept him and appreciate his many other incredible gifts. And as adults we became very close. He passed away before he could see the finished book, but he knew it was coming and that it was dedicated to him and my grandson.

I’m proud of this book trailer for Some Daddies, a family endeavor. My husband and I worked on the trailer and my brother-in-law wrote an original tune and sings.

SOME DADDIES and my fourth book, YOU KNOW WHAT? happened rather quickly in my journey of being an author. My sixth book, TRUCKER KID (Capstone, illustrated by Russ Cox) comes out spring 2023. I wrote it ten years before I will hold the book in my hand. And though there were many rewrites and rejections I believed in that story.

I find writing now to be a meditative experience as I play with words to have them align in the best possible way. This author life even allows me to continue communicating with children during school visits, virtual events, and at bookstores. It has been a surprising and wonderful second career that I hope I can continue for many years to come.

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Find more late bloomers guest posts.

Posted in Especially For Teachers, guest posts, Inspiration and Profiles, Late Bloomers, Resources for Writers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Old Am I? Picture Book Review

Finally—a Children’s Book about Aging!

This is a fascinating and important picture book. I highly recommend How Old Am I?  and commend the publisher, author Julie Pugeat, and illustrator–photographer JR.

It’s not easy convincing publishers that children are interested in late life. (They are.) Or that aging does not equate with decline, disease and death. But childhood is brief and we are helping to form the adults and older adults they will become. Books like this actually promote health and longevity as kids grow into adults and then older adults.

How Old Am I? 1-100 Faces From Around the World was published in May 2021 by Phaidon Books, a leading publisher of books in the visual arts, food, and children’s markets with headquarters in London and New York. 100 people from 100 different countries were interviewed and profiled.

Below is an excerpt of an excellent review of How Old Am I? at “This Age Thing“:

“A CHILDREN’S BOOK HAS COME ALONG THAT MANAGES TO REJOICE IN ONE OF THE MOST MALIGNED DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US—OUR AGE.

How Old Am I? celebrates time passing in its simplest form, as each page turns, we journey through and with the faces and lives of 100 people aged from 1-100….

How Old Am I? is a collaboration between iconic photographer, artist and disruptor JR, and Julie Pugeat, his Studio Director.

This is their second book together, the first, 2019’s ‘Wrinkles’ was an equally loving celebration of the power and the joy we can share in the story of growing older.”

(This Age Thing is a United Kingdom website celebrating our longer lives and striving to change the negative narrative around aging.)

And the New York Journal of Books says…

“The high happy factor brings another consistency to this project. Through that emotional consistency there is no judgement in the age. It’s just a number. Over the years, as faces age, they change. That is just what happens. This book connects the changes to the number.”

You can read their full reviews at the links above, BUT BE SURE to come back and learn…

How has this ground-breaking book about aging been received in the children’s literature world?

 

From Betsy Bird , a highly regarded librarian, author and kidlit blogger at Fuse Eight.

Here’s what Betsy had to say—in her 2021 list of non-fiction books for kids:

“…kids will delight in a book that shows a wide swath of humanity, what makes us different, and what makes us the same. A clever little dingus of a book.

Kirkus, I noticed, got very wrapped up on whom precisely this book is for. It said it spread itself too thin by trying to be for everyone. I couldn’t disagree more.

I think this book does have a bit for a wide range of different ages, but whoever said that only babies like looking at human faces?”

Read Betsy Bird’s complete review; scroll down about halfway down her list to find it.

(The “Kirkus” Betsy Bird refers to is Kirkus Reviews, providing well-regarded pre-publication reviews for readers and industry leaders.)

An excerpt from the Kirkus review of How Old Am I?:

“The book is beautiful and borders on the profound (especially for older caregivers), but the question remains: Who is this for? Babies obsessed with faces may love the portraits; toddlers may learn numbers, colors, etc.; older readers may learn some geography—all ages get a little, but is it enough?…By providing a little for everyone, the book may spread itself too thin. (Picture book. All ages)” You can read the complete Kirkus review here.

Addressing age in children’s books is critically important

Personally, I believe the children’s literature world is missing the point. This is the first book for children to tackle this important topic in thirty years, since What It’s Like to Be Old (1991).

1991. Out of print.

In 2021 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared ageism a global threat. It matters greatly if we, the adults, avoid talking about growing older or buy into stereotypes.

And it matters if children’s picture books present older characters as negative stereotypes and equate the aging process with decline and death. Those carefully chosen words and colorful illustrations of later life are helping to create the older adults that children will become.

Stereotypes make us believe all older adults are the same. The reality is—we grow more diverse with age and experience.

Age Positive picture books can counteract the age stereotypes kids take in daily from many sources. (Learn more about ageism in my earlier blog post.)

Learn more about the Inside Out project , see examples and watch a fascinating interview of artist/photographer/disruptor JR by the publisher at Phaidon Books on YouTube.

How can YOU help fight ageism?

  • Buy a copy. How Old Am I? is available wherever good books are sold. You can raise awareness by ordering a copy from your local independent bookstore. Bookshop.org also supports indie bookshops.

 

  • Post a review of How Old Am I? on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Goodreads online. This informs others of the issues and helps a book’s sales. (Strangely, the current reviews on Amazon are very focused on geography & culture…)

 

 

  • Share this website with teachers, librarians, bookstores, parents, grandparents and others.

 

How Old Am ? is part of a regular roundup of perfect picture books at Perfect Picture Book Fridays on Susanna Leonard Hill’s  website. Find more at her blog here.

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Especially For Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Late Bloomer interview: Author Dionna Mann

Author Dionna Mann

***Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.***

Today we have a delightful interview of late blooming children’s  author Dionna Mann with questions from fellow author Kellye Crocker. It includes helpful info on writing “work for hire” projects! Read on!

Hey, Dionna! We’re shaking things up today. I love reading your Blog Party interviews of your fellow authors! Now we want to hear from you!

That’s nice of you, Kellye! To be honest, I love interviewing, but hate being interviewed. HAHA! But here I am!

It is different to be on the other side, isn’t it? Ha! Before we get to the juicy author-y questions, please fill us in about the blog itself. You’ve been doing it since 2013, right?

When I started my website and blog (free through Weebly) I had no idea what to post. I absolutely did not want to fill it with my own musings about the kidlit industry or life or whatever. After months of staring at a blinking cursor, I decided to recycle some of my published articles about the craft.

by Dionna Mann

After a while I realized there are gobs of blogs in cyberspace devoted to the kidlit industry. Obviously, my little lily pad was not needed. But after falling in love with the marvelous picture book MARVELOUS CORNELIUS, I got a marvelous idea. Why not have a BLOG PARTY for this amazing work of art?!

by Phil Bildner & John Parra

The author, Phil Bildner, and the illustrator, John Parra, were keen on the idea. For seven days, I interviewed someone who had a share in creating MARVELOUS CORNELIUS (which went on to win all kinds of awards, mind you!) My Blog Party was a BIG hit! After that I knew I’d use my blog to celebrate children’s books that I love.

A week of interviewing people involved in the same wonderful project is such a great idea! So how did you find your way into becoming a kidlit author and why do you love it?

In high school I had a creative writing workshop with a published author, Mort Castle. I never had thought of myself as a writer, though I had fun writing for the school newspaper. But when the instructor read my scribblings, he made me believe I had voice, and that it was special. I never heard that before, but okay.

Yay for encouraging teachers and other adults who help young people see their talents! 

I agree! As that course was wrapping up, Mr. Castle showed us how to submit our work using WRITER’S MARKET. I remember showing him my rejection letter that encouraged me to submit something else. I was not impressed, but he was. He told me I should resubmit. But I was discouraged and threw it in the trash.

Dionna, 1988

I understand the discouragement. But, wow, a personalized encouraging rejection letter? That’s amazing, especially for your first time out, and as a teen at that! 

Looking back, it was cool! Fast forward to the late 90s, my husband purchased a family computer. I pulled out my high school manuscripts, and retyped them on this brand new, fancy contraption that came with a backspace that did not involve whiteout strips.

Then using another new contraption called dial-up Internet, I discovered Lee & Low Book’s (very first) New Voices Contest (opens May 1st). I wrote something new for the first time since high school, and sent it off. And guess what? I got a personal rejection letter encouraging me to submit something else.

This time I was impressed! It really was a wonderful rejection—with specific things the editors liked and advice on making the story suitable for kids. And here I am, still writing manuscripts with the goal of one day having Lee & Low say YES!

I can understand why you would be. What project of the heart are you working on?

To be honest, I’m a little sidetracked with work-for-hire projects right now. I’ve had TWELVE since the pandemic started, which has helped with being stuck at home, but not so much with getting projects of the heart written.

TWELVE!? Do you sleep!?

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to!

by Dionna Mann

“WORK FOR HIRE” WRITING FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Ha! Wouldn’t it be nice to have all that extra time? For those who don’t know, can you briefly explain what work-for-hire is?

Sure! Basically, work-for-hire is when a publisher pays you a set fee to write something specific for them. There are no royalties and the publisher owns the complete rights of the work. In my experience, most of the manuscripts are for books in a series designed for the educational market.

The contract tells you beforehand exactly what the topic will be, the scope of the work, and/or the theme the work will need to include. There is always a strict word count, sometimes right down to how many words per spread. And there is almost always a certain reading level you must obtain

Usually there’s a super-tight, non-flexible deadline to be met—first for turning in the outline, then for the draft, and then for the revision. You work very closely with your editor on these titles. The editor ensures your outline and text fits the mold of the series.

We’d love to know a bit about your specific work-for-hire projects. Are they aimed at kids? Do you get an author credit? What topics are you tackling?

For the children’s book market, I am just getting started. My first book, ORCAS, came out by Scholastic Press in 2019. To date, I’ve written for Scholastic, Lerner, Capstone, Little, Brown, Curriculum Associates, WETA, and Core Knowledge. Projects have included fiction and nonfiction books for kindergarten through fifth grade, with word counts from 350 to 10,000 words.

by Dionna Mann

I have covered all kinds of topics! Rhythmic gymnastics, conserving water, space explorers, electric cars, wheelchair basketball, tumbleweeds, potty training, and more! And yes, I have gotten author credit, though I know that with some books your name is not on the cover.

When and how did you get started in the work-for-hire arena? Do editors come to you with assignments or do you pitch ideas? What are the deadlines like?

Previously, I had sent samples “blind” to educational publishers, and had received some nice feedback, but it wasn’t until an SCBWI friend of the pen referred me to Stephanie Fitzgerald of Spooky Cheetah Press that my work-for-hire journey began.

(Recently, I had a nice surprise. An acquiring editor at Curriculum Associates reached out to me after she had read my article about drones collecting whale snot in Spider! It’s not always about who you know! HAHA!)

Regarding deadlines—some of them are quite brutal, honestly. But the more I do these projects, the more I’m learning how to streamline the research, striving to stay clear of those endless research rabbit holes. Working on one project at a time helps me, and not taking on projects with back-to-back deadlines.

So far, all ideas have originated with the editor. Never in a million years would I have attempted to write about how electric cars work, otherwise! That may change in the future. One editor recently invited me to tell her if I have any ideas for a future series. (Now, if only I can think of something!)

Besides meeting deadlines, what qualities do you think are essential for being a successful work-for-hire author?

Be ready to kill your darlings, because changes to what you’ve written will come. (AKA: Don’t be an author diva! Be ready with kindness. After all, we do hope editors will want to work with us again, right?)

by Dionna Mann

PICTURE BOOK WRITING

Thank you for the sneak peek into the work-for-hire world! Now tell us about the project of the heart you’re working on.

I have two projects of the heart brewing in the wee brain. One will be a middle-grade based on my childhood—missteps while trying to fit in with the popular girls. It will have the theme that one good friend is worth more than a ton of phony ones. It will be historical fiction, but I hope the theme will be relevant in our age of social media.

Those themes of fitting in will always resonate, I think. I certainly relate! 

I also have a picture book I just finished about an Antebellum community of free persons of color that thrived near the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It will be full of light and love and respect for the laborer and will have the theme of the land welcoming all kinds of people in.

Just reading your description makes me happy! I hope you’re able to find time for both of these wonderful projects, Dionna!

Me too!

RAVEN QUILL LITERARY AGENCY

What do you love about working with Kelly Dyksterhouse and Jacqui Lipton of Raven Quill Literary?

Lit Agent Jacqui Lipton

I need two agents, apparently! I’m privileged to be represented by both of them. Kelly and Jacqui respect each other’s opinions and both are on the lookout for where to submit my work. How cool is that?

I’m so glad Kelly and Jacqui have helped you trust your writing and your voice. Thank you so much Dionna, for sharing a bit of your journey as a late blooming kidlit author!

It was my pleasure!

–Read Dionna’s fun “BLOG PARTY” interviews of her fellow authors represented by agent Kelly Dyksterhouse on her blog. (This includes lucky me and Kellye.)

Lit Agent Kelly Dyksterhouse

–Interested in writing Work for Hire? Here’s a great blog post from Lerner Books.

Resources for late blooming writers

***Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

 

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7 Positive Things Picture Books Can Teach Us about Aging

(Note: I’m celebrating a “blogiversary” with a book giveaway! “A is for Aging” was birthed back in 2013, to zero fanfare! 😉 Along the way I’ve collaborated with Sandra L. McGuire Ph.D. on resources on the website. And in 2022 I’m celebrating hanging in there for NINE years. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED.)

And now to the main course…

7 Positive Things Picture Books Can Teach Us about Aging

Few people think of ageism as affecting children in negative ways.

Nor do they think of ageism in the same light as other abuses of human rights.

The reality? Ageism is yet another highly damaging “ism”—one that simply flies under the radar. Exposure begins in childhood and experts share that ageism affects us all—including our health and longevity.

In the same way that racism robs people of the recognition of their individual strengths and abilities, so goes ageism.

By the time we reach late life we’ve suffered decades of damage taking in stereotypes equating late life with disease, dementia and death. With grumpiness, loneliness and sadness. We then apply the negative beliefs to ourselves. But read on for more positive news.

So what is ageism?

“Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of,” says author and activist Ashton Applewhite.

by Ashton Applewhite

“Or ‘too young;’ ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.”

We are all aging—every day. How we think about growing older is critically important.

Many birthdays are a good thing! And here’s another positive.

A body of important research conducted by Becca Levy, professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, found “that the people who had a positive view of aging lived about 7 and half years longer than the people who saw aging in a negative light.”

You read that correctly. Dr. Levy’s extensive research has shown that simply viewing late life and aging in a positive light boosts cardiovascular health, mental and physical functioning, and recovery from illness and disability. The impact is greater than never smoking or exercising daily.

In 2021 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared ageism a global threat.

“Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws and institutions – that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights,”

“We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation,” says Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In addition, the WHO shares, “Ageism influences health through three pathways: psychological, behavioural and physiological.”

Ageist beliefs begin in childhood.

At every age we are confronted with sad peeks at a negative future. Age stereotypes and aging myths are everywhere—trumpeted by TV, social media, magazines, movies and books. Even books for kids.

So does it matter if children’s picture books present older characters as negative stereotypes and equate the aging process with decline and death?

It does. In fact, those carefully chosen words and colorful illustrations of later life are helping to create the older adults that children will become. They affect kids’ health and longevity.

Stereotypes make us believe all older adults are the same.

The reality is—we grow more diverse with age and experience.

Age Positive picture books such as those pictured in this post* can counteract the age stereotypes kids take in daily from many sources.

Age positive picture books promote these truths about aging and later life.

  1. Older adults are a highly diverse and interesting bunch. (See We Became Jaguars; Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards; The Water Lady; Don’t Call me Grandma; Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas; An Old Man and his Penguin; Grandad’s Camper)

Miss Rumphius

  1. Normal aging is NOT about stereotypes like decline and death, dementia or other illnesses, loneliness or grumpiness. (See Grandmother School; The Ocean Calls; These Hands; The Truth about Grandparents; Northwoods Girl; The Wakame Gatherers; The Teacher Who Would Not Retire.)

  1. Late life is most often a time of happiness and satisfaction. (Grandparents; My Little Golden Book About Betty WhiteMr. George Baker; Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child; Where Three Oceans Meet; Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs.)

  1. Creativity is frequently enhanced by the experiences of a long life. (See Kiyoshi’s Walk; Mornings with Monet; Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps; Henri’s Scissors;   It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor started to Draw; The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau.)

  1. Aging and interdependence are normal and lifelong—at every age and ability we deserve to be treated as a valued individual. (See The Most Beautiful Thing; How Old am I?; Miss Rumphius; Ten Ways to Hear Snow; Mrs. Katz and Tush, and Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom and Wishes.)

  1. Older adults possess a variety of interests, abilities, and talents that does not melt away with age, but grows with experience. (See Ten Beautiful Things; My Teacher; Abuelita and I Make Flan; Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story; A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams; The Oldest Student and Nana Akua Goes to School.)

show cover of book The Oldest Student

  1. People of all ages have much in common and much to gain from intergenerational relationships. (See Tofu Takes Time; Harry and Walter; A Map into the World; Drawn Together; George Baker; An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution; Jingle Dancer.)

Please share an Age Positive* picture book soon with an impressionable young mind.

***Don’t forget to comment on this post for a chance to win a hard copy of my book A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation—mailed to one winner within the continental U.S.A.

Let me know in a comment if you share this post on social media and I’ll throw another chance in the hat for you. Thank you!

ALL images shared in this post are Age Positive books. For more go to the picture book resources at lindseymcdivitt.com

Download a free RESOURCE PAGE on aging and ageism in picture books here.

Read TEN WAYS TO ADD DIVERSITY IN AGING TO PICTURE BOOK COLLECTIONS.

 

Posted in Articles, Especially For Teachers, Resources for Writers, The Basics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Ten Beautiful Things & Kiyoshi’s Walk

Two lovely new picture books subtly address loneliness, compassion, wisdom, creativity and the beauty surrounding us. These Age Positive picture books, Ten Beautiful Things and Kiyoshi’s Walk, do this in such an exceptional way that both adults and children will come away with renewed appreciation for the poetry to be found in ordinary living, whether they live in rural settings or in a city.

 

Ten Beautiful Things

By Molly Beth Griffin; illustrated by Maribel Lechuga

Charlesbridge; 2021

Ten Beautiful Things illustration

In Ten Beautiful Things “Lily and her grandmother search for ten beautiful things as they take a long car ride to Iowa and Lily’s new home with Gran. At first, Lily sees nothing beautiful in the April slush and cloudy sky.

illustration in Ten Beautiful Things

Soon though, Lily can see beauty in unexpected places, from the smell of spring mud to a cloud shaped like a swan to a dilapidated barn. A furious rainstorm mirrors Lily’s anxiety, but as it clears Lily discovers the tenth beautiful thing: Lily and Gran and their love for each other.

Ten Beautiful Things illustration by Maribel Lechuga

Ten Beautiful Things leaves the exact cause of Lily’s move ambiguous, making it perfect for anyone helping a child navigate change, whether it be the loss of a parent, entering or leaving a foster home, or moving.” (Book description at Bookshop.org)

Kiyoshi’s Walk

by Mark Karlins; illustrated by Nicole Wong

Lee & Low Books Inc.; 2021

Kiyoshi’s Walk

Kiyoshi’s Walk:After Kiyoshi watches his grandfather, Eto, compose his delicate haiku, he wonders out loud: “Where do poems come from?”

illustration in Kiyoshi’s Walk

His grandfather answers by taking him on a walk through their city, where they see a cat perched on a hill of oranges; hear the fluttering of wings; imagine what’s behind a tall wall; and discuss their walk, with each incident inspiring a wonderful new haiku from Eto.

Art in Kiyoshi’s Walk

As Kiyoshi discovers that poems come from the way the world outside of us meets the world within each of us, he also finds the courage to write a haiku of his own.” (Book description from Lee & Low Books)

Kiyoshi, and also Lily in Ten Beautiful Things learn the comfort found just being with a wise, compassionate grandparent. Both also learn to observe the world carefully, looking for beauty and finding it.

As evening shadows fall, the day cools and other children leave the park, Kiyoshi feels lonely.

illustration in Kiyoshi’s Walk

“They sat for a moment in silence.

‘May I write a poem?’ Kiyoshi asked

Eto nodded.

Kiyoshi took a deep breath and wrote:

            In the cool spring night

            The wind’s dance makes me shiver.

            Your voice keeps me warm.

Eto read his grandson’s poem. He smiled.” (Text by Mark Karlins; Kiyoshi’s Walk)

In Ten Beautiful Things, Lily is lonely too, and obviously coping with loss. But she also feels the special accepting warmth of a grandparent’s love.

“Gram came around with the umbrella,

and Lily stepped out of the car.

We’re ten,’ Gram said.

Lily sank into her familiar hug.

None of this was easy.

Maybe it would never be easy.

But she belonged with Gram now.

She belonged here now.” (Text by Molly Beth Griffin; Ten Beautiful Things)

illustration in Ten Beautiful Things

A theme of creativity in later life ties these two Age Positive picture books together in my mind. The kind of creativity that enables the “secret of living with one’s entire being.” The kind of creativity that comes with living many years.

Gene Cohen, M.D. discusses this “secret” extensively in his book The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life. “It is the creativity that empowers us…and that enable us to participate in life as a journey of exploration, discovery, and self-expression,” he states.

“It can occur at any age and under any circumstances, but the richness of experience that age provides us magnifies the possibilities tremendously,” adds Dr. Cohen. “The unique combination of creativity and life experience creates a dynamic dimension for inner growth with aging.”

As author Mark Karlins shares in his note at the end of Kiyoshi’s Walk:

“If we look with a poet’s eye, everything becomes poetry.”

Older adults can often show kids how to live fully while coping with losses in life. How to cope daily with small stresses and the subtle negative feelings that change our moods. And how to reach for happiness.

Read more on late life happiness.

Activity idea: Why not use these two amazing picture books to discuss this question with children—how did this grandmother and this grandfather gain the knowledge, the compassion and the ability to see the beauty in everything around them?

(Answer: Years of living. Years of observing the world. Years of practice. Years of experience.)

I reviewed my own copy of Ten Beautiful Things and a library copy of Kiyoshi’s Walk.

This review is part of Perfect Picture Book Fridays at Susanna Hill’s blog. Find more great books there!

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Picture Book Review: The Water Lady

My Top Ten Reasons to read The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation

Text by Alice McGinty; Illustrations by Shonto Begay

Schwartz & Wade Books; 2021

Grandmother Darlene Arviso delivers water via tanker truck to hundreds of people in the Navajo Nation on a daily basis. As author Alice McGinty shares, “Darlene is a friend, psychologist, and social worker as well as the Water Lady.” In this modern day tale the tremendous sense of community shines despite the people on the reservation lacking so much most of us take for granted. This Age Positive picture book shines a light on a compassionate and hardworking older woman.

  1. True stories about unsung heroes are an absolute favorite of mine. “Almost forty percent of the people living on the Navajo reservation do not have running water in their homes. Darlene delivers 3,500 gallons of water to 10-12 homes a day, taking a month to visit each of the 220 homes on her route.”

  1. Parallel tales highlight Darlene’s day and that of Cody, a thirsty young boy living on the reservation and dependent on her water deliveries.

 

  1. This competent, caring grandmother holds down two jobs. She drives a school bus twice a day and in between she drives a “big yellow tanker truck;” first filling it with more than 3000 gallons of water.

  1. Young readers will gain eye opening insights into life without easy access to water rushing from a faucet. They’ll learn of the animals and people and their water needs.

 

  1. Water conservation efforts are explained simply and colorfully.

Darlene “knows that the families will make careful use of their gift:

They’ll fill the chickens’ feeders with just enough fresh water.

They’ll catch each drop from a shower to water the flowers.

They’ll reuse dishwater to mop floors and bathwater to do laundry.

They’ll use laundry water again to wash the car.”

  1. Illustrator Shonto Begay shows us the hot, dry and dusty terrain and the hardy people beautifully. He was born to a Navajo medicine man and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Sante Fe, New Mexico.

 

 

  1. Author Alice McGinty uses masterful text to also highlight the sensory satisfaction of “cool water sliding down his throat” and the landscape so different from what many of us know:

“Thick, dry heat muffles the land as Darlene guides the big yellow truck, heavy with water, up and down steep hills. She winds between mesas and rolls across valleys dotted with sun-baked shrubs.”

 

  1. There are two grandmothers in The Water Lady and they’re quite different from each other. This is reality and it’s important to remind children that older adults are actually more different from each other than kids are. Years of lived experience will do that to people. No one’s experience is exactly the same.

  1. The back matter is brief, but highly informative—including an author’s note, sources and a photograph of Darlene Arviso, the devoted Water Lady. A glossary at the book’s beginning tells us “The Navajo refer to themselves as Dine`, a word that means “the people.” Navajo was a name given to them by Europeans.

 

  1. Last but not least, this lovely book ends with a note from Darlene herself. She states her wish that the younger generation gets more in touch with the older generation “and listens to their stories and tales of the old days so that our history and tradition will not be lost.”

 

Water conservation activities for kids:

  • After asking kids for guesses regarding which household activities use the most water, you can consult this LA Times article for some surprising information on personal water usage.

 

  • Consult the Water Footprint Calculator to learn the shocking statistics related to water quantities needed to produce much of the food we eat.

 

I reviewed a library copy of The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation.

 

For more fabulous picture book reviews go to the blog of Susanna Leonard Hill for Perfect Picture Book Friday.

 

Find my reviews of more true stories about amazing older adults.

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Picture Book Review: Mornings with Monet

My Top Ten Reasons to Read Mornings with Monet

Text by Barb Rosenstock; illustrated by Mary GrandPre`

Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2021.

Famed Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived near France’s River Seine his entire life. Barb Rosenstock, author of the new Mornings with Monet, shares that Monet painted the river more than any other subject—working on themes of “water, air, light and reflection.”

This lovely age-positive picture book is focused tightly on a series of paintings, “Mornings on the Seine,”  that Monet created in 1896-1897 when he was 56 years old.

Art by Mary Grand Pre`

Many of us know Monet’s iconic water lily pond series that followed as he grew older. I was interested to learn that he “created the pond by diverting a tributary of the Seine.”

Following are my TOP TEN REASONS TO READ MORNINGS WITH MONET:

  1. In 1896 Claude Monet is 56 years old. A boat is his studio, and he greets the dawn. Vivid scenes show him as an older man marveling at nature’s beauty—embracing the day like a gift.
  2. The vivid scenes are grounded in the moment. A fascinating way to show us how to live in the present.

“I can’t begin to describe a day

As wonderful as this.

One marvel after another.

Each lasting less than five minutes….”

Claude Monet

  1. The entire picture book chronicles only about four hours in the artist’s life. An interesting angle and valuable lesson for the rest of us who write picture book biographies.

 

  1. Gray-bearded Monet shows kids an active engaged individual who “strides around the water lily pond, through a meadow, to a rowboat in the reeds at the river’s edge.”

Art by Mary Grand Pre`

  1. Author Barb Rosenstock’s lovely, lyrical writing. She is the author of numerous  picture book biographies that I highly recommend. Look for those about Vincent Van Gogh, artist Marc Chagall and photographer Dorothea Lange among others.

 

  1. The sensuous pleasure of painting is clearly conveyed in the text by the author—“He picks up a dollop of deep purple on his brush…” Illustrator Mary GrandPré uses glowing color that will please lovers of Claude Monet’s art. This author/illustrator team has produced three previous books together.

 

  1. Monet’s earnest effort is also shown—helping young readers understand the striving and the willingness to experiment that go into creating art. He obviously challenged himself continually.

 

  1. We see Claude Monet’s skill, creativity and joy in creating enhanced by his age and experience.

Art by Mary Grand Pre`

  1. I enjoyed the mention of Claude Monet’s continuing work on his iconic water lily series for the last thirty years of his life—despite declining eyesight.

 

  1. Additional information in the impressive back matter at the end of the book is so interesting and also reveals Barb Rosenstock’s extensive research. This is detailed in her listed sources and her acknowledgements.

Activities for kids:

  • View Claude Monet’s art on the website for the Musee d’Orsay on the banks of the Seine River in Paris. Ask for the child reader to show you their favorite painting.
  • Have the child identify paintings that feature themes of “water, air, light and reflection.”
  • Ask how might being an older artist have benefitted Monet? (i.e. years of practice, life experience, travel, years of observation, patience gained, etc.)
  • Find more picture books about Claude Monet and a fun art project at the Pragmatic Mom blog
  • Read Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter to learn how that artist persevered and innovated with his art in old, old age while coping with illness and disability.

I reviewed a library copy of Mornings with Monet.

Posted in Activities and Resources, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Late Bloomer Gloria Amescua guest post

Late Bloomer Guest Post

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

 

Gloria Amescua is the late blooming author of a picture book biography coming from Abrams Books for Young Readers coming August 17, 2021.

I’m thrilled that at age seventy-four my lifelong dream of being an author is coming true. Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua is available August 2021! It is a picture book biography in verse.

Luz Jiménez was a Nahua woman, an indigenous people of Mexico. She modeled for famous artists in Mexico in the early 20th century. Luz represented “the spirit of Mexico” and helped scholars record historical stories of her people and community.

I grew up in the country outside Austin, Texas. I was a shy curious kid, constantly thinking about everything around me. Often I would climb into an old oak tree in our yard to read and dream about faraway places.

Books were my passage to other worlds.

The bookmobile van that stopped across the road during the summer was a treasure. I can still feel the motor vibration, the cool air in the van, and the thrill of the search for books. I would leave with a towering stack that I could barely carry every two weeks.

Neighbors gave us a ten-volume set of British and American poetry. At about nine I didn’t understand most of the poetry, but there was a four-line poem, “Outwitted” by Edwin G. Markham that changed my life. I was astounded—those four lines said so much about love taking someone in, even though they tried to shut you out.

I started writing my thoughts and poetry in a little brown notebook. I’ve been writing ever since and I still remember my first poem:

I’m brown not from the sun

but from my birth.

I’m like a sunflower growing

through a crack in the earth.

As a kid and teenager, I struggled with feeling I didn’t fit in. I was a Mexican-American in Texas who grew up not speaking Spanish.

My long writing journey

As an adult I worked on regaining my culture and language. Throughout many roles in Texas education, including director of secondary language arts for a school district, I wrote poetry.

In 1996, I met Anjela Villarreal Ratliff who created a poetry group for Latinos. We created chapbooks, did readings, submitted to journals and created workshops. We also participated in local Austin poetry conferences and readings.

Then I was accepted into CantoMundo, a national group supporting Latinx poets. One of my poems was chosen for a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt national language arts textbook.

What caused me to add writing books for kids? My granddaughters! Back when they were three and six, and I was sixty-five, I wrote a picture book for them about shadows. I used photos of them and they loved it, but it wasn’t good. In 2012 I started taking courses at The Writing Barn, joined SCBWI and began learning the craft of picture books.

First drafts

In early 2013, at sixty-six, I wrote my first prose draft about, Luz Jiménez. Years earlier, I had first read about Luz and was intrigued. Then in 2016, during a course in nonfiction I was encouraged to write the manuscript in verse.

I won the Lee & Low 2016 New Voices Honor Award! But it took until 2019 and many revisions to find an agent, then get an offer to publish from Abrams Books. From first draft to publication took eight years! I have other picture books waiting in the wings. I’m thrilled that award-winning illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh illustrated my debut picture book!

Enjoying life as a late bloomer!

I’ve been enjoying life along the way—dancing, traveling, camping and photography. New adventures as well as new writing friends and supporters.

I met my partner at sixty-one after being single for twenty-three years. We’ve dropped from a rope into a deep cenote and zip lined in Cancun, Mexico. We’ve hiked and rappelled into a canyon to view pictographs and more. It’s never too late to be blooming!

(Note: All photos provided by Gloria Amescua and used with permission.)

*Pre-order Child of the Flower-Song People: Luz Jiménez, Daughter of the Nahua

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Find more posts by Late Blooming writers here.

Find Gloria Amescua at her website,

on Twitter: @GloriaAmescua

Facebook: gloriaamescuawriter

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3 Stereotype-busting Picture Books about Grandmothers

 

As a brand new grandma myself–to a blessedly healthy (and adorable!) grandson, I certainly notice there are many lovely picture books featuring grandmothers and grandchildren. But not many break the stereotypical typical grandma mold like these three. And they could hardly be more different from each other.

 

We Became Jaguars—if you believe all grandmas bake cookies and hold grandkids on their comfy, cozy laps (or should), this picture book will unsettle you. This story is dreamy, adventurous, even dare I say, sensuous.

Ten Ways to Hear Snow—breaks open the stereotype that enjoyment of late life ends with disability and a move to an assisted living center for older adults.

Grandmother School—totally debunks the belief that olders no longer learn and grow. It even offers an opportunity to talk about ageism with children.

Learn more about these exceptional picture books about grandmothers:

We Became Jaguars—When Grandma comes to visit and a young boy’s parents leave, the rules of the house—and the world—change: grandson and grandmother transform into jaguars! Readers follow their journey into the undiscovered world of nature, experience true freedom, and lose themselves in an exhilarating adventure. After a day of playing, running, and climbing through sumptuous landscapes, the ending will leave you wondering what’s real and what’s imagined. (Description from the publisher, Chronicle Books. 2021.)

illustration by Woodrow White in “We Became Jaguars”

The young boy had only met his grandmother once before. “She lived far away. Her hair was very white and very, very long.” At first, he’s obviously nervous, but is drawn in by her vivid imagination.

“We went across the front lawn and into the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. I had been in those woods many times, but I’d never been through them…as jaguars,” he says. This grandmother is sharing how to live life unafraid.

Illustration by Woodrow White in “We Became Jaguars”

Author Dave Eggers and illustrator Woodrow White solicited the input of young readers while the text and pictures were in progress. It’s fascinating to read this book and wonder what advice kids shared.

Illustration by Kenard Pak in “Ten Ways to Hear Snow”

Ten Ways to Hear SnowYoung Lina walks through fresh snow to visit her Sitti. “Lina would help her grandma make warak enab,” rolling the grape leaves. “Sitti was losing her eyesight, and Lina loved helping her cook.” On her walk Lina notes delightful snow-related sounds familiar to us northerners—including crunching boots, soft sweeping and the scratch-scratch of skis.

Illustration by Kenard Pak in “Ten Ways to Hear Snow”

Author Cathy Camper and illustrator Kenard Pak keep the focus on the loving relationship and the fun Lina and Sitti have together.

Illustration by Kenard Pak in “Ten Ways to Hear Snow”

References to Sitti’s disability and assisted living type setting are handled in matter of fact fashion. (Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2020.)

Grandmother School– Every morning, a young girl walks her grandmother to the Aajibaichi Shala, the school that was built for the grandmothers in her village to have a place to learn to read and write.

The narrator beams with pride as she drops her grandmother off with the other aajis to practice the alphabet and learn simple arithmetic.

A moving story about family, women and the power of education—when Aaji learns to spell her name you’ll want to dance along with her. (Description from publisher Orca Books, 2020.) Author Rina Singh; illustrator Ellen Rooney.

This grandmother, Aaji, has been discriminated against when unable to sign her own name. She was made to “feel small.” Then when the teacher in Phangane wanted everyone to be literate, the young narrator’s grandfather “said that learning at this age was a waste of time.”

Illustration by Ellen Rooney in “Grandmother School”

Sadly older people themselves practice ageism. Ageism can be defined in simple terms as unfair treatment of people based on their age. Older adults have been affected by many decades of ageist messaging in numerous cultures. Webster’s online dictionary for learners defines ageism as “unfair treatment of old people.” But in fact “ageism cuts both ways,” says activist author Ashton Applewhite, who advocate the term “olders.”

Talk about discrimination based on age with children. No doubt they can identify a time they were made to “feel small” because they were small, or young. An adult saw them as one of a stereotyped group, kids, rather than seeing them as an individual.

Discrimination definition: the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people (Webster’s children’s dictionary online).

Illustration by Ellen Rooney in “Grandmother School”

Next discuss the word “determined.” This grandmother was determined to learn to read and write. She worked hard and persevered. Her oral stories entranced her granddaughter, but she states, “One day I will read you this story from a book.”

Sharing these three picture books, and talking about them, could go a long way in showing young readers that age stereotypes exist and many older adults do not fit the stereotypes. Find more diversity in aging examples in the book resources at “A is for Aging.” 

A Plan For The People Nelson Mandela's Hope For His NationPlease take a peek at my new non-fiction picture book available now from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. “A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation.

Find more Perfect Picture Books at Susanna Hill’s blog!

Note: All three books reviewed above were public library books. Find them in a library near you at WorldCat.

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nana Akua Goes to School

Nana Akua Goes to School

By Tricia Elam Walker

Illustrated by April Harrison

Schwartz & Wade Books; 2020

What’s not to love in the picture book Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker?!

It’s Grandparents Day at school.

Three kids are bragging about their grandparents.

Nana Akua is Zura’s “favorite person in the whole universe.” (Her Nana is “filled to the brim with stories about growing up in West Africa.”)

And she gives “big hugs, the kind that wrap around like a sweater.”

Top that off with bright joyful illustrations by April Harrison—reminiscent of African batik fabrics.

Of course there is a conflict in this great read-aloud story. Zura is worried about Grandparents Day. Her Nana Akua has permanent markings on her face that everyone will see. Traditional African markings that don’t wash off. Zura is afraid her classmates may laugh or say mean things about her Nana.

But Nana Akua is not only loving, she is smart and sensitive.

Her plan for the school visit is a big hit and her openness with the children results in a beautiful celebration of West African tradition. Zura’s classmates are enthralled to learn more and to participate.

I’m happy to report that it’s not the child who solves the problem here. All too frequently a child protagonist “fixes” a grandparent (ill or forgetful). Or a neighbor (lonely, sad, or grumpy).

Nana Akua Goes to School is a great example of an age positive picture book. Nana Akua pulls off a successful event and also allays Zura’s anxieties. I suggest adding a short discussion after reading this story.

Why not prompt a child reader to consider the life experiences that may have prepared Nana Akua? How did she know how to manage these issues so well? Where did her wisdom come from?

I reviewed a library copy of this picture book.

A Plan For The People Nelson Mandela's Hope For His NationMy own new picture book bio A PLAN FOR THE PEOPLE: NELSON MANDELA’S HOPE FOR HIS NATION is now available everywhere books are sold. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; 2021. Ages 7 & up.)

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments