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.

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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.”


  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

Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Written by Sandra Neil Wallace

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

A Paula Wiseman Book; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 2020.

For ages 4-8.


My Top Ten Reasons to Read Marjory save the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas

“The Everglades is a test. If we pass it, we get to keep the planet.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

  • This exceptional picture book biography tells the true tale of an older activist. This is a rarity. The book, not older activists! Marjory Stoneman Douglas fully deserved the recognition she received for her work on behalf of our environment. And she was also a suffragette, working to gain women the vote.


  • After age 40, Marjory became an advocate for the Everglades—“a slow-moving, life-giving river of grass,” convincing officials to establish a national park there. She was almost 80 when a planned supersonic jetport required she amp up her activism, and her efforts continued until age 108.

Illustrations by Rebecca Gibbon

  • Very poor hearing and eyesight did not deter her, and her determination and creativity shine.


  • At one point she took National Park Service officials high above the “swamp” as they regarded it. Floating above the Everglades in a dirigible they were awed by tens of thousands of birds.

Illus. by Rebecca Gibbon

  • Thanks to Marjory it was “the first park created not for sightseeing but for the benefit of animals and plants…She became the first person to make the world realize why the Everglades mattered.”


  • The text by award-winning author Sandra Neil Wallace is lyrical and evocative of Florida and the Everglades. I’m always a sucker for lovely similes like “a silk dress with pleats as thick as the saw grass jutting through the shallow waters.” (This was Marjory’s very first boat trip into the Everglades.)

Illus. by Rebecca Gibbon

  • The story includes many important quotes from Marjory herself. For example, “I wanted to live my own life in my own way.” No small feat for a woman born in 1890. And “If the Everglades go, then South Florida becomes a desert,” Marjory explained. The brilliant illustrations by Rebecca Gibbons of Wales have a playful childlike quality. The sunny colors brought Florida into my wintry Minnesota home on a sub-zero day.


  • Six pages of additional information in the back make this book a fantastic resource for teachers. The author’s note draws an important parallel between Marjory’s activism and that of the students at her namesake high school who have had to change the national conversation around gun laws.

Art by Rebecca Gibbon

  • Marjory’s age is shared numerous times in the text. 18, 24, 40, 57, almost 80, 93, 108. What a terrific way to show kids that life doesn’t stall out after childhood or adolescence.


  • This picture book gives adult readers the opportunity to talk about growing older in an accurate and positive way, and also to touch on ageism. We can show kids a vivid example of inner strength and experience winning the day. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was as tough as Jane Goodall or Jane Fonda in their environmental activism. She deserves her place in history.

Art by Rebecca Gibbon

“Ninety-three-year-old Marjory refused to be silent. As mosquitos buzzed and bit at town meetings, she spoke her mind.

     “Go home granny!” people yelled and hissed. “Butterfly chaser!” They booed.

     “Can’t you boo any louder than that?” Marjory demanded. “I’ve got all night, and I’m used to the heat.”

Love that!!!

I received a review copy of Marjory Saves the Everglades from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Another early environmentalist was nature artist Gwen Frostic. My picture book Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story shares more. There’s also the beloved classic Miss Rumphius.

A Michigan Notable Book

All three books are terrific reads for Earth Day on April 22, 2021.

Watch a brief video of Marjory Saves the Everglades!

Find more PERFECT PICTURE BOOKS each Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog here.

My new picture book bio A PLAN FOR THE PEOPLE: NELSON MANDELA’S HOPE FOR HIS NATION is available for pre-order. Releasing March 30, 2021.

A Plan For The People Nelson Mandela's Hope For His Nation

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Picture Book Review: The Most Beautiful Thing

From The Most Beautiful Thing Carolrhoda Books © 2020


Readers please note: In 2021 I’m planning an e-newsletter delivered to your inbox 1x/month, rather than blog posts 2x/month. One brief page only with links to Age Positive book reviews & other items of interest. Fewer emails and more variety of information from A is for Aging! (Always love feedback—in blog comments or via contact page of the website.) Many thanks for following and Happy Holidays to you!!!



Written by Kao Kalia Yang and illustrated by Khoa Le

For ages 5-9; CarolRhoda Books 2020.

Overview of The Most Beautiful Thing

“Drawn from author Kao Kalia Yang’s childhood experiences as a Hmong refugee, this moving picture book portrays a family with little money—and a great deal of love. Weaving together Kalia’s story with that of her beloved grandmother, the book moves from the jungles of Laos to the family’s early years in the United States.” (Book jacket)

The Most Beautiful Thing gives readers a peek into the rich history and culture of the Hmong people, greatly underrepresented in books. A loving family of three generations is shown with lush illustrations by Khoa Le weaving between the present in Minnesota and Grandma’s past in Laos.

From The Most Beautiful Thing Carolrhoda Books © 2020

Their present life as new refugees is often difficult, but the young grandchildren beg for repeated tellings of Grandma’s tales of her childhood of danger and deprivation across the world.

And on every page we see their acceptance of her aging body. “The luckiest of the grandchildren got to help take care of Grandma…”

From The Most Beautiful Thing Carolrhoda Books © 2020

We learn that “…in her mouth was a single tooth.” Yet the grandchildren find Grandma’s smile beautiful—the kind of acceptance we all hope for in our old old age. Author Kao Kalia Yang so skillfully shows us their devotion and understanding with her poetic text.

“I squeezed her feet in my arms and pulled them close to my heart, a hug for the hard road she’s walked to get to me.”

From The Most Beautiful Thing Carolrhoda Books © 2020

In the end we see what gifts Grandma’s quiet presence and acceptance are for her granddaughter struggling to understand why she can’t have all that she wants.

Talking about aging with young people

All too often very old adults are seen as frail, their inner strength seldom discussed. The Most Beautiful Thing reminds us that sometimes entire families are greatly challenged, for generations. And yet—they can be resilient and loving and happy.

Recently I reread a 2013 article from The New York Times, “The Stories That Bind Us.” Author Bruce Feiler asks a question worth pondering in 2020—“What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?” It turns out the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all:

Develop a strong family narrative.

Feiler shares the findings of Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. Dr. Duke has researched the importance of developing strong family narratives. His research showed:

“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

Children with strong self-confidence have what Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

“When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship.” Dr. Duke recommends that families share traditions and stories as important ways to build that intergenerational self.

Intergenerational Activities

2020 has been a tough year. No disputing that. A pandemic—with anxiety, illness and loss for many, isolation from friends and family, divisive politics, lost jobs and business, virtual school and more. For many families it has been very, very difficult.

Maybe asking older family members and friends to share past hard times would help. Prompt them to tell us about the challenges they’ve met in years gone by. And what about documenting 2020 from a family perspective?

Learn more about three types of “unifying family narratives” in NYT “The Stories That Bind Us” article. And start with some of the “Do you know?” questions shared there.

I would add—let’s talk to kids about the softer skills frequently offered by the older adults in our lives—the stories and insights shared, patience shown, the acts of kindness and time given freely. Read children more “age positive” picture books and commenting on skills you notice.

Illustrations used with permission. I reviewed a library copy of the book.

***What has YOUR family found helpful meeting the challenges of 2020?

Look for picture book A Map into the World also by Kao Kalia Yang. Find more Age Positive picture books here.

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Picture Book Review: The Most Beautiful Thing

Review: The Ocean Calls

The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

Written by Tina Cho and Illustrated by Jess X. Snow.

For ages 5-8 years. Kokila, 2020 (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLS, New York).

Dayeon says her Grandma is “like a treasure-hunting mermaid. “This age positive picture book set in South Korea provides kids with an inspiring non-stereotypic portrayal of an older woman. Grandma is active, courageous and capable. (Dayeon is pronounced dah-yeon.)










There is a loving intergenerational bond between Grandma and young Dayeon, (pronounced dah-yeon), not uncommon in grandparent/grandchild stories. But all too often picture books portray a child protagonist solving a problem for an older person. Kudos to author Tina Cho for sharing this story with young readers.

Dayeon is a young Korean girl who longs to be a haenyeo like her Grandma. Haenyeo’s are female divers—many are 60 years old or older and some are in their 80s. They deep sea dive off the coast of Korea’s Jeju Island to “pluck treasures from the sea.” Haenyeo are skilled divers who free dive without oxygen. The haenyeo tradition is centuries old and has been passed from generation to generation.

Grandma learned to be a haenyeo from her mother. Although she wants to be a haenyeo like her Grandma, she has a scary memory of the sea and is afraid to dive.

One day as Dayeon and her Grandma watch the sun’s first rays touch the sea, Grandma says that the ocean is calling her and she must dive. Grandma says not to be afraid, that the ocean is their home. Grandma tells Dayeon she will teach her to dive just like her mother taught her.

They practice holding their breath together. Dayeon learns to hold her breath longer, and how to let out her breath. Grandma suits up for a dive. Dayeon puts on a suit, flippers, googles, and a snorkel.

They sing a haenyeo song as they walk to the sea shore where the haenyeo gather. Jess Snow’s playful illustration shows their shadows behind them like mermaid tails.

Grandma and the other haenyeo dive and Dayeon stays on the shore. She plucks shore treasures, and wiggles her toes in a tide pool.

From where she is sitting on the shore Dayeon sees a shell under the water. Grandma’s voice echoes in her head—the ocean is your home and don’t be afraid. She jumps into the water to grab the shell, then takes a deep breath, thinking that maybe she could swim deeper.

When the haenyeo return to shore Dayeon shares the sea treasures she found. Grandma tells her the waves are calling them to come home. She takes Dayeon’s hand and they walk side by side into the ocean to dive as haenyeo together.

This beautiful book has rich colorful artwork by Jess X. Snow and is dedicated to the hardworking haenyeo of South Korea. The end of the book shares the history of Korea’s “granny mermaids.” They work as a team following rules such as diving in groups, checking on each other, and keeping each other safe.

Haenyeo are protectors of the marine environment, respectful of no-harvest seasons and no-diving zones. Today the older haenyeo are training younger women to carry on the tradition.

We see the courage to face fear passed on to a new generation by the older generation. This grandmother also shares a cultural tradition along with the importance of environmental stewardship. Intergenerational learning, older teaching younger, is not uncommon, but it’s wonderful to see it shared in literature for young children.

Review by Sandra L. McGuire, Ed.D.

Related activities for The Ocean Calls:

See amazing photos & video of hanyeo at work on author Tina Cho’s website!

Find the free teacher’s guide for The Ocean Calls (includes story map, coloring sheet & writing prompt)

Find or purchase the book here.

For more perfect picture books visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog!

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Late Bloomer: Author Letty Sustrin

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.

Author Letty Sustrin

My life as a “Late Bloomer.” It’s a trip down memory lane, starting in 1938 when my identical twin sister, Sheila, and I were born. My “Baby Sister” as I was born first. I think we had conversations while in mother’s womb—making the decision that we would be elementary school teachers.

By the time we entered Kindergarten our dolls became our students, and we were the “Twin Teachers.” This pattern of teaching and helping others followed us through school and college. Having parents who were avid readers, books became an important part of our lives.

I remember vividly when we were four years old. Our parents took Sheila and I to the Grand Army Plaza Library in Brooklyn. We wanted our own library cards. The librarian looked at this set of skinny twin sisters and asked, “Can you write your name in script? We said “No.” She told our parents that printing our names was not acceptable. They needed a legitimate signature. We went home and practiced with mom. The next weekend found us back at the library, signing our names in script and getting our own library cards.


Twin Teachers

After graduation in Early Childhood from Brooklyn we looked for teaching positions. Fortune was with us. We went for an interview and the Principal said, “I think you two will be great teachers. If you’ll take a chance with me, I’ll take a chance and hire both of you as Kindergarten teachers.” Thus began 38 wonderful years teaching side-by-side.

We taught Kindergarten for 18 years, and when the school closed, we both became First Grade Teachers. We were known as being a “Great Team.”

Teachers of the Year

In 1978 Sheila and I were chosen as “Brentwood’s Teachers of the Year.” The award is usually given to only one person. Our administrator asked which one he should nominate. We told him, “We’re a team! It’s double or nothing.” We never had any sibling rivalry—I thank our parents for bringing us up right.


















We nurtured our students. I like to think we were surrogate mothers to them. Their own mothers had to work full time. To this day I am close to many of our former students. After a certain age, they become your contemporaries and friends.


We retired in 1998 as the timing was perfect. It was a hard decision to make and we spent the whole summer at home crying and saying, “What did we do? Why did we retire? How are we going to spend the rest of our lives not teaching children?” It was a very traumatic time. So in September we want back to our old school as volunteers to help the PTA and the students.

Post-retirement writing careers

Sheila and I always enjoyed writing. We were on the staff of all the newspapers at schools we attended. We talked about this, and our longing to be authors. Friends said “You are too old to start writing. You need to travel and relax.” No way! That was just not our style.

First book of the series


We pondered what we’d like to write about. We realized—we loved teaching, we loved school, we loved kids. THAT”S WHAT OUR LIVES WERE ALL ABOUT! It was easy to create a title. The first book was, The Teacher Who Would Not Retire.

We were very much into the intergenerational scene and wanted an older, traditional teacher. One that would take care of her students like we did. It took about one and a half years to find a publisher (Blue Marlin Publications).


Writing a successful picture book series

Our main character, “Mrs. Belle” became our lucky charm. Children, educators, and seniors fell in love with her. The first book turned into a series! Illustrated by animator/cartoonist Thomas H. Bone III. Mrs. Belle had many escapades with her former pupils. Sheila and I wrote the first five books together.

After Sheila passed away in 2015, I wrote the 6th and final book of the series in her memory, The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Retires! I thought my writing career was over. But I began to find pennies wherever I went, and whenever I felt I needed my sister. I started collecting them.

illustration in The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Retires

Then, one day I went to the cemetery to visit her grave, and as I turned away, there in the front of her grave was an old penny laying in the grass. I started to cry, and when I got home I called my cousin to tell her what happened. She told me to write about it. My publisher agreed I should write the story.

Thus, my new book A Penny from My Sister was born.

New Book: A Penny from My Sister

I am very excited about this new book. It’s about a grandmother whose twin sister passed away in childhood. The grandmother tells her grandchildren of how she would find pennies. The pennies made her feel that her sister was watching over her. It is a sweet book, not sad, but it shows that “memories are forever.” Beautifully illustrated by Peter Catalanotto. With the tragedies due to the Covid-19 virus, I hope my book will help the children and their families cope with losses and remember their loved ones.

Volunteer work in my eighties

I am currently a mentor for kids in the Brentwood schools. We seniors in the group work with children who need attention to give them confidence. During the Covid-19 crisis I’ve been a Pen Pal with my 10 year old student. So that he knows he is thought of and cared about. Life is truly still exciting and fruitful, even at age 81.

Images used with permission of the author.

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

Find more late bloomers guest posts here.

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

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

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

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