Resolutions, Role Models, Big Changes and News!

2018. I like the sound of that. It seems somewhat auspicious. But perhaps it’s simply that I’ve just turned 60, and personally I’m in transition—on many levels. From child raising to empty nest. From Michigan to Minnesota. From married to unmarried. I know 2018 will be a momentous year in my life. A new chapter.

As I moved officially into the life stage of “young-old” I’ve been thinking of friends, family and mentors who made big changes successfully. Those who faced down huge challenges and joyfully embraced a different life. The realization of how fortunate I am to have so many inspiring me is very heartening. Role models matter.

At times they waded their way through the muck of hard times, and naturally there was pain involved—heartache and sorrow and fear. But very few individuals reaching the age of 60 or 70 do so without challenging years. In honor of those survivors, I’m adopting the mantra “You must navigate the narrows to get to the open waters.”


Those of you who read this “A is for Aging” blog on a regular basis realize this post is far more personal than most. I started this website and blog because I believe strongly that it’s important we show even young children strong role models of every age. Choosing to highlight Positive Aging picture books made sense. Presently I am fully realizing the importance of older role models in a very personal way.

Our beliefs around the possibilities in each life stage drive our decisions, also our attitudes to ourselves and our confidence that we can transcend tough times. Knowing deep down that happiness is possible in later life strengthens me. I’ve seen with my own eyes—careers continuing into the 80’s, 90’s and beyond. Satisfying new work found—either paid or unpaid. New friends made and new love embraced. Relationships strengthened. Each day enjoyed.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Like a lighthouse on my beloved Lake Superior, I have a bright spot beckoning me ahead—the excitement of my first picture book to be published this June 2018 by Sleeping Bear Press. And the thrilling news that a second picture book biography will be published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers in the near future.


You might not be surprised to learn that both books shine a spotlight on the lives of those who lived long—real people who made a difference to the world in the last third of their life.

My picture book bio coming out in June features Gwen Frostic, a Michigan nature artist and early environmentalist. For most of her 95 years she strived to open people’s eyes to the importance of our natural world. Gwen fought negative stereotypes of people living with disability in addition to the low expectations assigned to women of her era.

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius made the world more beautiful

So, if I’m blessed with continued good health…I’m determined to not only survive, but hopefully to make a small difference somewhere.

Gratitude to stroke survivor friends met in my past career encourages that aim. People like Judi, Herb, Marion, Justin and Dave whose lives were turned upside down overnight. They proved it’s possible to do more than survive.

These stroke survivors thrived—despite physical abilities that changed drastically, jobs that evaporated, and important relationships that disappeared. These stroke thrivers made the lives of others better.



Life isn’t Candyland, all sugarplums and lollipops. You and I know that the vast majority of people must stand up to difficult days, months and years in their lives.

I’m holding an image in my mind—one of stones worn smooth by the waves and polished by tiny pebbles and sand.


So join me in resolving to enjoy each day as much as possible? I think that’s a most important resolution for 2018. (I also resolve to post to A is for Aging more frequently!)

What about you? Are there fresh challenges to face? New goals on the horizon? Are you inspired by an older role model? Please feel free to share in the comments.

I’m wishing you all the very best life has to offer in this New Year.


For writers—Please consider seeking inspiration from author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s series of blog posts by longtime writer survivors. Find them here at Cynsations. (Special thanks to Cynthia who has been a tremendous champion of this blog and of avoiding negative age stereotypes in our writing.)

Also, check out a few older role models in these fantastic picture book biographies. Read about:

Jane Goodall

Julia Child

George Moses Horton

Henri Matisse

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Thomas Jefferson

And more! 

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Gus & Me

Gus & Me: The story of my granddad and my first guitar

By Keith Richards with Barnaby Harris and Bill Shapiro; illustrated by Theodora Richards (Little Brown and Company, 2014.)

We all get our start somewhere, even legendary rocker Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and he credits his grandfather. Long considered one of the world’s best guitarists, he says,


“Every time I walk onstage, every time I write a song, every time I reach for a guitar and play a few dinka-plinks for my own grandchildren, I say to myself, Thanks Granddad Thanks Gus!”

Gus & Me is the true story of Keith Richards and his beloved grandfather Theodore Augustus Dupree (Gus). Gus played violin, saxophone and guitar. He had been a soldier, a baker and a leader of a dance band.

Personally I love that this picture book reminds kids that grandparents lived other roles in life prior to becoming grandpa or grandma. It also shares the key roles grandparents can play in a child’s life–including those of role model, mentor and favorite companion.

Keith shares the happy anticipation he felt while growing up in Dartford, England not far from Gus.

“There was nothing like visiting Gus. The closer to his house I’d get, the bigger my smile would grow. By the time I landed on his doorstep, I was all teeth.”

Gus, Keith and the dog Mr. Thompson Wooft would dodge the “honey-do list” presented by Gus’s wife and make a bee-line for the door. They walked miles and miles through towns and countryside, Gus humming tunes all the while.

One such ramble took them too far to return home for the night, so they slept under a tree.

Another took them all the way to London and an instrument shop churning with activity.

“Violins hung from the ceiling by wires.

Horns clung to the walls.

Men in long brown coats

Fixed broken instruments and built new ones.”

All the hubbub and excitement of the shops seemed to flip a switch—Keith Richards was in love with instruments.

As promised, Gus handed Keith his first guitar just a few years later when he was deemed big enough. “When you learn how to play ‘Malaguena,’ you can play anything,” he said.

Dinka-plink dinka-plink dinka-plink.”

(An audio CD is enclosed that includes a brief excerpt of the song “Malaguena” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.)

The illustrations in this picture book are by Keith Richards’ daughter Theodora Dupree Richards, named after her great-grandfather Gus. They are an interesting mix of deep black line drawings and bright washes of color. Theodora interviewed her father, traveled to England and consulted family photos in her research.

Keith Richards has five children and five grandchildren. (And a collection of over 350 guitars!) It’s great fun to see this non-traditional grandfather in loving photos with his grandkids. At the end of the book he shares—

“The bond, the special bond, between kids and grandparents is unique and should be treasured. This is a story of one of those magical moments. May I be as great a grandfather as Gus was to me.”

Your comments are always welcome–Did you have a special bond with a grandparent in your life? Was your life influenced in some significant way?

This book review was of my own copy of the book. Images from book were photographed by me. The majority of Positive Aging picture books reviewed here are donated to literature projects in the city of Detroit.

Read another review at Rollingstones magazine here.

Find more grandfathers in Positive Aging picture books:

Babu’s Song

These Hands

Betsy’s Day at the Game

A Respected Elder

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A Grandparents Day Gift that Keeps on Giving

It’s Grandparents Day—would you care to give something more valuable than a greeting card? Perhaps you are a grandparent yourself and contemplating the type of recognition you’d appreciate? Maybe like me—that sweet, special status is something you long for—someday…

I’m proposing that on this Grandparents Day we resolve to set aside the rampant ageism to be found in too many books for children. It may be well meaning, but it’s there. Please consider replacing it with true respect for grandparents and pick up a Positive Aging picture book (or two).

Just imagine yourself in that precious role for a moment—a grandmother or grandfather. A Nana or a Papa to a sweet six year old.

Let’s call her Lily. Lily snuggles close to you in a cushy armchair. She strokes the soft wrinkles on your cheek and calls them crumples.

Then Lily tugs your arm and hands you a picture book to read out loud. You lean your silvered head in close to hers and begin to read.

The pages reveal attractive and playful young children. The illustrations are rendered in bright fun colors. A bouncy rhythm of rhymes makes the reading fun.

But there is also an older character—a woman rather witch-like. Or perhaps sad. Maybe it’s an old man. Grouchy, or ill. And unfortunately, words like fusty, dusty, rusty, and musty. Also grumpy and frumpy.**

Do you—

  • Read with your good nature intact and shrug it off?
  • Stop mid-page and throw the book at the wall?
  • Quickly recapture the pig latin of your youth and improvise…ustyfay, ustyday, ustyray, umpygray!

Personally, I look forward to being a Nana someday (or an Ouma), but my pig Latin is no longer that good. Also, my now grown kids will tell you if you ask, that I would never choose the first option and shrug it off. Nope.

Illustration in These Hands by Margaret H. Mason & Floyd Cooper

That’s because I know ageism is a cousin to racism and sexism. The cousin in the closet—it still flies under the radar much of the time. In large part because we have ALL been steeped in it from since we were small.

Ageism is treating people over “a certain age” as if they are all the same. It is acting as if all the aging myths and negative stereotypes we’re exposed to are actually true. It is discriminating against older adults.

And as activist Ashton Applewhite has written—“it is ageism that creates the pictures of ugliness and hopelessness around normal aging, and blinds us to what we gain as we grow older.”

Kids get grumpy too, and sadly they also get sick. Quite often. But these images do not dominate picture books. It is age stereotypes applied to older adults that forces us to see an entire cohort of people as identical—their strengths, individuality, and capabilities fading from view.

Illustration from Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft

Diversity in Kidlit is important to many these days. Rightly so. Many parents and grandparents pay close attention to avoiding racism and sexism in books for kids.

You may think it’s not possible that modern day children’s books are riddled with negative age stereotypes. But unfortunately it’s true.

From where I sit—currently alone in the armchair, with regards to age stereotypes there seem to be three basic types of children’s books to beware of:

  • Those that totally exploit age stereotypes (sadly, madly, and badly)
  • Those that are well-meaning, even tender, but perpetuate “older adult means lonely, sick, forgetful, dependent….”
  • Those with illustrations sending messages that older people are funny or freaky or frumpy or foolish

The bottom line? There are too few books for children that make having many birthdays seem like a good thing. And the vast majority of us adults pay little attention to the messages around aging that we feed young kids.

These messages matter. Enormously. If we are fortunate, we will all grow old and we will become what we think as we get older.

Well regarded research by Becca Levy at Yale University tells us that internalized attitudes to aging affect much of our life as older adults. Taking in the negative age stereotypes affects our physical and mental functioning, employment, relationships and enjoyment of life.

As with many things with regard to our health its best to start young. Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers. She recommends that advocacy start early.

“Right from the very beginning we need to show realistic images of older people. If we want people to rely less on stereotypes, we need to show them the exceptions;”

So please let’s choose a New Option. Let’s nip ageism in the bud. Choosing Positive Aging picture books is an easy way to give kids more accurate images of growing older.

Let’s give all grandparents the ultimate gift—respect for their age and recognition of their strengths, individuality, and capabilities.

**Please note: all of the images shown in this post are of Positive Aging picture books!


Below is a sample of diverse ageism-busting picture books to check out:

image from A Gefilte Fishy Tale

A Gefilte Fishy Tale  

Betsy’s Day at the Game

Crouching Tiger

Grandmama’s Pride

Jingle Dancer

Last Stop on Market Street

My Abuelita

Northwoods Girl

These Hands

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5 Picture Book Biographies Highlight Older Role Models

Picture book biographies including the third stage of life offer huge benefits to young readers. Kids absorb adventure, perseverance, creativity and joy shown over the course of an evolving life.

Unlike the majority of picture books with an older character, the protagonist often stays active and well into old age.


Children need older role models devoid of negative age stereotypes such as sick, sad, lonely and forgetful. Research teaches us—a narrow view of aging can actually be harmful. Taking in negative age stereotypes over a lifetime are associated with poor health and function in later life.

As an enormous fan of picture book biographies I’m always on the lookout for new ones. If the subject labors with joy and tenacity at a pastime that brings them happiness and satisfaction in later life—it definitely makes my list.

It’s important to “help children to see their elder within,” say researchers Sandra McGuire, Diane Klein, and Donna Couper in their article Aging Education: a National Imperative. “The potentials in old age are limitless.” We need to “help children to see these potentials and envision the things they could do…”

Positive Aging picture books highlight the possibilities of ongoing goals, continued learning, and new interests and endeavors. You can read more at my post 6 Reasons to Seek Out Positive Aging Children’s Books.


The newer picture book bios below share the “elder heroes and role models” recommended by Dr. McGuire and her colleagues.

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. Illustrated by Evan Turk. (Atheneum 2014)

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace. Read full book review at Kirkus.

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus. Illustrated by Evan Turk. (Atheneum 2016)

This picture book is a terrific follow-up to the book above, but it’s not a picture book biography.

At Grandfather Gandhi’s service village, each day is filled, from sunrise to sunset, with work that is done for the good of all. The villagers vow to live simply and non-violently. Arun Gandhi tries very hard to follow these vows, but he struggles with one of the most important rules: not to waste. (Book descriptions from website Grandfather Gandhi.) Read an interview of author Bethany Hegedus at Readerkidz.


Gus & Me by Keith Richards; illustrated by Theodora Richards (London Orion Children’s Books, 2015. ©2014.

A nostalgic look back at happy childhood days as Rolling Stone Keith Richards remembers his grandfather – a former big band player who encouraged him to take up the guitar. (Book description from Worldcat) Review at


I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark by Debbie Levy; illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers 2016)

Traces the achievements of the celebrated Supreme Court justice through the lens of her many famous acts of civil disagreement against inequality, unfair treatment, and human rights injustice. (Book description from Worldcat)

Book review at School Library Journal




When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike by Michelle Houts; illustrated by Erica Magnus (Ohio University Press 2016)

It took her two tries, but in 1955, sixty-seven-year-old Emma “Grandma” Gatewood became the first woman to solo hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one through hike.

Gatewood has become a legend for those who hike the trail, and in her home state of Ohio, where she helped found the Buckeye Trail. In recent years, she has been the subject of a bestselling biography and a documentary film.
In When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike, Michelle Houts brings us the first children’s book about her feat, which she accomplished without professional gear or even a tent. (Description from


Miss Colfax’s Light by Aimee Bissonette; illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen (Sleeping Bear Press 2016)

In 1861, at the age of 37, Harriet Colfax took on the job of lighthouse keeper for the Michigan City lighthouse off Lake Michigan. It was a bold and determined endeavor, especially since there were very few female lighthouse keepers in the country at that time.

For 43 years, until the age of 80, Harriet kept her light burning, through storms, harsh winters, and changes in technology. This true story focuses on Harriet’s commitment and determination to fulfilling her charge and living life on her own terms. Excerpts from her actual log are included. (Description from Sleeping Bear Press)

Pointing out the potentials in picture book bios is a terrific start to important conversations—“Help children to…envision the things they could do; things such as attending Elderhostel, traveling, flying a plane, biking, joining the Peace Corp, using computers, being community leaders, going to school, working with Habitat for Humanity, being an environmental activist, learning a language, climbing mountains…”* 

*Aging Education: A National Imperative; Educational Gerontology, 31: 443–460, 2005

Read an earlier post here–about 6 picture book bios that also showcase the arc of a long life well-lived.

—And below are other Positive Aging biographies reviewed at A is for Aging:

It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Everything 

The majority of picture books reviewed are donated to community centers in Detroit. Thank you to the authors and publishers for their review copies.


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8 Acts of Kindness to Share with Older Adults

Guest post: Doing Good Together, Minneapolis, MN, and A is for Aging have similar goals and values. Here they share “8 Acts of Kindness & Stereotype-Busting Service to Share with Older Adults” 

Let’s all make time to celebrate older adults, whether they are friends, family, or friends-to-be. Who’s with me? The thoughtful acts of kindness and service listed below are sure to keep that generous, Valentine’s feeling in your heart – and in the heart of a senior friend – for weeks to come.

Even better, these projects just might help your family strike up a new friendship, or deepen an existing relationship.

Opportunities for meaningful intergenerational friendships have diminished substantially in recent decades. Families are moving more frequently and farther from one another. Communities specialize their services for Older Adults versus young adults versus families with young kids, keeping us in our silos.

Whatever our age, we all gain a great deal from a diversity of friendships, including those across the generations. They broaden our perspectives, give us hope and encouragement, and brighten our days. In fact, when giving the gift of friendship, it’s impossible to tell who the giver and the receiver truly is.

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


Here are eight friendly acts of kindness your family can share with older adults from the kindness experts at Doing Good Together.

  1. Give an Award.
    Use this free printable, along with our instructions and conversation starters, to give the gift of recognition to a senior you admire. Then take time to listen to their story.
  2. Listen Deeply with StoryCorps. 
    Watch this animated introduction to the StoryCorps mission, then use the StoryCorps App to record an extended interview with an senior friend or relative.
  3. Visit Older Adults.
    Reach out to older neighbors as well as residents at a nearby nursing home and incorporate some of our conversation starters or The Legacy Project’s creative ideas to make the most of your visit.
  4. Make and Bake.
    Share holiday treats with a senior neighbor, and make time for a visit when you share your deliveries.
  5. Become a Senior Angel.
    Through weekly correspondence, your family will let older adults know they are remembered and loved. Follow our project instructions to be matched with a senior citizen, then share your weekly greetings with a senior in need of a smile.
  6. Start a Grandparent Journal.
    Our friend Cait over at My Little Poppies recently shared this creative, compassionate family project on our blog. Her instructions are thorough and inspiring.
  7. Support Meals on Wheels.
    Make time to deliver meals as a family, or check out five other great ways you can support Meals on Wheels.
  8. Read Together.
    Set the stage for your great intergenerational friendships with these two new, stereotype-busting book lists. Check out our favorite picture books or our chapter books that celebrate older adults and aging. These books show older adults as the dynamic, complex people they are.

Whichever project you choose, be sure to talk to your child about it afterwards. By reflecting on how you felt during the project, how you made others feels, and what good you accomplished, your child will likely be more eager to start a new kindness project very soon.

For more reflection tools, service project ideas, and tips for raising compassionate kids, sign up for the Doing Good Together newsletter.

With a little persistence, you’ll create new friendships with older folks while starting a lifelong habit of giving back.

Picture book “Mrs. Katz & Tush” by Patricia Polacco


Sarah Aadland, MPP is striving to make family volunteering a meaningful habit for her three animal-loving, social-justice-seeking, mud-pie-making kiddos. As Director of Doing Good Together’s Big-Hearted Families™ Program, she creates resources for families that want to develop a kindness practice at home. For her own family and for participants in the Big-Hearted Families Membership Circle, Sarah has watched family volunteering create empowered kids, more connected families, and stronger communities. In addition to her children, Sarah tends a large garden, a small flock of chickens, and a habit of mindfulness amid the necessary rituals of parenting.

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A Gefilte Fishy Tale




By Allison and Wayne Marks

Illustrated by Renee Andriani

MB Publishing (2016; ages 4-8)

One giant jar of Gefilte fish, one grandson and one set of grandparents—a surprising formula for a fun and lively delight of a picture book. A Gefilte Fishy Tale quickly draws in young and old with its bouncy rhymes by Allison and Wayne Marks, all spritzed with Yiddish. This gentle and humorous adventure roams through their town as they prepare for Shabbos, their Friday evening Sabbath meal.

Bubbe (grandmother) Judy hopes to include grandson Jack’s favorite—gefilte fish. But the lid of the huge jar is stuck and everyone from Zayde (grandfather) to their local auto mechanic gets involved as they schlep it from person to person in attempts to loosen the lid.

Silliness abounds and the Yiddish terms sprinkled throughout in italics are words many of us have heard and used, perhaps unaware of their origin.


“They basted it with butter

And spritzed some pickle juice.

They slathered it with olive oil—

It wouldn’t wiggle loose.”


“They lugged it to their auto shop

And schmeared it well with sludge.

But even with a monkey wrench

That lid refused to budge.”screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-57-17-pm

Delightful illustrations by Renee Andriani show a nicely diverse town where both racial and gender stereotypes are avoided. When the town doctor diagnoses “a dreadful case of Liddy-stuck-a-tosis everyone from the dentist to the plumber is consulted for a potential fix.


“They stopped to noodge the plumber.

She sniffed the yummy sauce.

“Don’t give up. If I have time,

I’ll show that jar who’s boss!”

When it’s time for Shabbat dinner an intergenerational array of family members tackle the task with creativity and humor. Naturally it’s young Jack himself who is successful—

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-5-59-33-pm“Jack thought perhaps a magic word

Would do the trick with ease.

He bowed beside it, tapped it twice

And softly whispered, “Please?”

A Yiddish-English glossary for the whole mishpocha anchors the beginning of this book and a recipe for Gefilte Fish Mini Muffins and a light hearted Shabbat song are included in the back.

We Need Diverse Books

A Gefilte Fishy Tale is a treasure celebrating both Jewish traditions, and the enrichment of languages and cultures with the addition of words from other languages.

It’s my hope this picture book will be shared not only in Jewish families, but in families of many different religions and ethnic backgrounds. Cultures are continually enriched by other cultures. Diversity is a gift and both America and the world are in great need of gentle reminders. 24559-1

In addition, older adults are an important part of most families and aging is a normal part of life. Older characters should be shown as a valued part of a diverse society.

Myths about Grandparents

This little book also assists us in busting a few widely held erroneous beliefs about grandparents. A blog post at “The Grandparent Effect” by Olivia Gentile shares “5 Myths about grandparents that it’s time to trash.”

Included is the myth that most grandparents are old. “As of 2010, 54 percent of American grandparents were younger than 65, and 80 percent were younger than 75, according to the MetLife Report on American Grandparents.”

Older Couple on BeachFortunately more and more writers and illustrators are catching on—fewer now portray grandparents with stereotypical traits or treat all older adults as if they are all of the same generation.

And yet, libraries still house stacks of picture books filled with stereotypes of age such as frail, forgetful, freaky and funny.

Picture books that, as in one published fairly recently, show an old man getting lost between the sofa and the TV—yet fail to address the fact that that is NOT aging, it is dementia, a disease. (In fact, a disease that is declining as the population ages.)

Parents tote home negative stereotypes of aging with a total lack of awareness that these images damage the health and well-being of all ages. More than likely they chuckle as they read bouncy rhymes about biddies and witches.

Publishers continue to publish books that either leave out older adults entirely (ageism by invisibility), or show kids fixing the so called “problems of aging” such as grumpiness.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

But there are encouraging signs of change also. The good news—my list of newer Positive Aging picture books to review is now quite long! And this blog at A is for Aging is even being used occasionally as a resource for writers of children’s literature. Thanks mainly to author Cynthia Leitich Smith who teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Perhaps someday diversity in books for kids will naturally include older characters.

Find my review of Paris Hop! also from MB Publishing, and their new picture book Rome Romp! is hot off the press! 651469


ParisHopCoverCheck out this article “Early Children’s Literature and Aging” recently published in the journal Creative Education. It is written by Sandra McGuire Ph.D. and she kindly cites this blog—A is for Aging, B is for Books. Dr. McGuire has compiled a list of Positive Aging picture books and I am in the (slow) process of adding them to the Picture Books tab of this website.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeIt’s Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog most Fridays—find more great books reviewed there.

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Babu’s Song


unnamed          By Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen; Illustrated by Aaron Boyd

Lee & Low Books, 2003, 2008; ages 5-8

Topics: Africa, creativity, grandparents, education, mentoring, poverty, wisdom

Bernardi is a young boy living in Tanzania with his grandfather Babu. It’s just the two of them and they scrape by selling the toys Babu makes at the local market. Their poverty prevents Bernardi from attending school–there is no money for school fees. He looks longingly after the other boys. No money either for the soccer ball Bernardi covets in the shop window.


Babu is unable to speak—“an illness had taken his voice a long time ago.” However, the author and illustrator collaborate beautifully in this award winning picture book. They show us the special relationship between Bernardi and Babu and their ability to communicate. But Bernardi hums a tune Babu used to sing to him, one that he still misses.

The grandfather, Babu, uses amazing creativity in transforming tins and scraps of other materials into toys for selling to tourists. He also makes a music box from a tin of lard that plays the song he once sang to his grandson. Bernardi is thrilled and takes it along to enjoy at the market.fullsizerender-1

Bernardi initially refuses a tourist’s offer to buy the music box, however his dreams of owning a brand new soccer ball lead him to take her money. But Bernardi regrets his decision and heads home in tears without the soccer ball.


When young Bernardi confesses and gives the money to Babu we really see the strength of their close, loving relationship and the wisdom of the grandfather. There is no scolding, just comfort and understanding. Then Babu leaves with a smile and returns with a package—a school uniform for Bernardi. He has paid the school fees. But that’s not all—

“With a flourish Babu held out a soccer ball made from string and Mama Valentina’s gunnysack…Babu pulled one more surprise from the paper bag. It was an empty lard tin. As Babu began to make another music box, Bernardi put the water on the stove to boil. Then Bernardi hummed Babu’s song as they sat in the lamplight and waited for their tea.”

fullsizerenderIn Babu’s Song the grandfather is an older man not only perfectly capable of caring for his young grandson, but he is a true role model—passing on traits like ingenuity and perseverance despite his inability to speak. There are too few picture books that portray an older character exhibiting both competence and creativity like Babu. Even fewer books are in print where an elder with a disability shows such traits and is not in need of the child’s care.

Intergenerational Mentoring

e758edb0386716789194f9f65a55f3f2Babu is able to demonstrate his values around education and hard work and help Bernardi learn from his mistakes without judging or shaming him. This is exactly how the “age-old practice of mentoring” is described in the book From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older.

Authors Zalman Schacter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller define it as–

“the art of intergenerational bestowal by which elders pass on to younger people the living flame of their wisdom.”

unnamed“Mentors do not imposed doctrines and values…Rather, they evoke the individuality of their apprentices, applauding them as they struggle to clarify their values and discover their authentic life paths.”

Of course not all older adults are wise, but Lee & Low, the publisher of Babu’s Song, seems to recognize the many gifts of intergenerational relationships. Lee & Low is not only a trailblazer in publishing diverse titles, but recently featured Diversity 102: Ageism in Children’s Literature on their highly regarded blog.

24559-1They have long published titles like this that spotlight interesting older adults from around the world. Lee & Low is the largest multi-cultural publisher for kids and they celebrate their 25th Anniversary this year.

Intergenerational activities:

From Lee & Low—“Book activity: Ask students to write a letter to their grandparent or grandparent-figure in their life. Review the structure and tone of a friendly letter. Students should describe what they admire about this person and include questions to learn more about them.”


Henri’s Scissors—about artist Henri Matisse. Read this picture book and Babu’s Song with kids and discuss how both thrive creatively as they cope with illness and disability in later life. What do they admire about these characters?

Abbeville Kids Press

Abbeville Kids Press


Read and talk about different types of families. Sometimes It’s Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies, is a picture book showing grandparents raising grandchildren. (According to the organization Generations United, “…nearly 1 million children are living in homes where the grandparent is the householder and neither parent is present in the home…”)

Find more reviews of wonderful books by Lee & Low here and here. Watch for A is for Aging’s upcoming review of The Wakame Gatherers. 

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeIt’s Perfect Picture Book Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog—find more great books here.

Many thanks to Lee & Low for the review copy (most donated to Detroit Public Schools). Copyrighted images used with permission.

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

Harry and Walter: an A is for Aging Book Review


HarryandWalter_Cover final

By Kathy Stinson; illustrated by Qin Leng

Annick Press, 2016. Ages 4-7.

“Harry was four and three-quarters. He had lived next door to Walter all his life. Walter was ninety-two and a half. He had lived in many places.”

Harry and Walter are the very best of buddies. They zoom around on their tractors, eat fresh picked tomatoes, play croquet and board games, jump in leaf piles and shovel snow. Illustrator Qin Leng shows us a white haired and deeply tanned Walter—obviously a man used to being active outdoors. The pictures exude coziness and fun. Many young kids will be jealous of this obviously warm relationship.

HarryandWalter_p007Even in 2016 it is notable when a picture book such as Harry and Walter highlights a true intergenerational friendship between a very old man and a very young boy. And it also resists the pull toward the expected story arc. You get three guesses—yup, that of the old man’s decline.

Commendably, author Kathy Stinson features no stereotypes, no problems of illness, forgetfulness, grumpiness or loneliness in this sweet and uplifting book. And, no one dies.

Young Harry is not helping older adult Walter. In fact, Walter is portrayed as an older role model encouraging Harry by example and with encouraging words.



“You draw well too, Harry. And if you keep at it, you’ll get even better.”

“Keep trying,” Walter said. “You’ll get it. I know you will.”

HarryandWalter_Cover finalWhile building their snow man, Harry says, “Let’s be friends till I’m as old as you, okay?” And a thoughtful Walter replies, “I’d like that, Harry. I’d like that very much.”

This is one of several opportunities for adults to tackle further conversation about aging if they wish to. This book avoids equating aging with death—a huge positive, and a real portrayal. Aging is normal, lifelong, and brings good things to many.


They are true friends—until young Harry must move. (Surprise, its not Walter.) Sadness prevails when the duo are parted and nothing is the same for Harry. The same activities no longer shared have lost their attraction.


Until–here comes Walter! A year or two later Walter moves into an apartment building just up the street from Harry’s new house.


Walter is now ninety-four and Harry is six. Aging is acknowledged by both, but once again the tired trope of decline is avoided.

“Walter laughed. ‘Like I said, Harry, things change.’

‘Yes, they do,’ Harry said. ‘I was four, and then I was five and now I am six.’”

Walter does acknowledge the time has come for him to stop raking leaves and he has a cane in hand now, but the two head off happily together in search of some fun. This picture book gives all ages a sense of joyful anticipation about growing older and tremendous insights into the benefits of intergenerational friendships.

Have I told you about my neighbor? Let’s call her Fran. At age 96 she strolls up the street each week to read to our local preschoolers in daycare. I can’t wait to share this terrific picture book with her! Author Kathy Stinson dedicates it to “best friends Emmett and Erling, whose story inspired this one.”

Benefits of longevity and intergenerational relationships

“Erik Erikson, the pioneering scholar of human development, argued that older generations’ impulse to invest in younger ones is a hallmark of successful development…The passage of time brings us inescapably to the realization that–

humans are designed to pass the torch from generation to generation,

says Marc Freedman in the article Let’s Make the Most of the Intergenerational Opportunity*. As the CEO of, he advocates strongly for the amazing potential benefits of one generation investing in another–“second acts for the greater good.”

000 cover“The challenge, of course, is to transform this potential into practice, and most important, to do so in ways that extend generativity beyond families and into communities, building on the familial resilience uncovered by the Pew studies in ways that bridge age, class and race.”

Marc Freedman wants to see the benefits of intergenerational investment moving beyond grandchild/grandparent relationships into communities.

We need more books for kids showing intergenerational relationships in neighborhoods, schools and community organizations. Both the relationships and the books will build resilience in kids.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara CooneyAs Marc Freedman says, “Instead of urging the graying population to aspire to an endless youth, let’s encourage them to accept their age and embrace the spirit of purpose and legacy.”

(*The article is the eighth in a weekly Next Avenue series, The Future of Aging: Realizing the Potential of Longevity published by the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging.

Review copy and copyrighted images from Harry and Walter provided by Annick Press.

More picture books featuring intergenerational relationships in the community:

Kiki's Hats Front Cover

Kiki’s Hats


Miss Rumphius

Mr. George Baker April 2013 068


Mrs. Muddles’ Holidays

My Teacher

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire series


There’s Something about Hensley’s

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Resources for Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Harry and Walter: an A is for Aging Book Review

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton

dontate_poetpageWritten and illustrated by Don Tate

Peachtree Publishing 2015, ages 7-10

Topics: African-American pride, creativity, life experience, literacy, perseverance, poetry, slavery

unnamed (2)This award winning story begins, “George loved words. He wanted to learn how to read, but George was enslaved.”



George Moses Horton taught himself to read using an old spelling book and he learned to love poetry.


As he worked on his master’s farm in North Carolina, he composed his own poems and memorized them. His poetry enabled him to educate himself further and earn money with the help of college students who admired his efforts.

unnamed (1)

Eventually a professional writer helped him get his poems printed in a Massachusetts newspaper—poems protesting his enslavement. He was the first American slave to do that. George endured many hardships before he was freed around 1863, following the civil war. He continued to write poems inspired by his experiences.

Top Ten Reasons I love Poet: The Remarkable story of George Moses Horton

  1. This is a powerful tale of a survivor—a survivor of slavery who found his own dynamic way to protest his enslavement.


  1. George is a dreamer, with twin dreams—to learn how to read, and to be free. And his story begins with a love of words.


  1. The experiences of George Moses Horton highlight the resilience of the African-American people.

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  1. Both words and pictures illustrate that life goals can be achieved against great odds and at any stage of life.


  1. Life is shown as a complex journey filled with roadblocks. But George navigates the roadblocks with determination and creativity, and in the end he succeeds.

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  1. We see how creativity can lift a person up and enrich a life.


  1. Talent is shown as requiring both perseverance and practice.

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  1. Author Don Tate tells us George’s age. Sixty-six at the end of the text when he is finally a free man.


  1. Children learn that growth and character development of an individual continues over many years. Life does not end at age 21. Adulthood is not static.


  1. In fact, life experiences are an asset.

Activist Ashton Applewhite states, “The older we grow, the more complexly layered identity becomes, the fatter the file in which our knowledge and memories are stored, in which, in turn, our sense of self resides.”  (Find her new book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism.)

Author/illustrator Don Tate seems to consistently concur. Near the end of Poet, Don writes of George—

unnamed“He wrote poems about his travels, about his family and friends back home, and about all the things he had experienced in his long life.”

IJH CoverIn his first book Don Tate shared the story of a late bloomer– It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low Books).

Self-taught artist Bill Traylor first picked up a pencil to draw at age 85, and he was inspired by his long life experience. Stories like these run counter to the frequent narrative of old age as a time to mourn what we’ve lost. (Read review.)

Amazing new accomplishments can pop up in later life, seemingly out of nowhere, or like George Moses Horton, building on skills nurtured over decades.

Both books Don Tate has authored won the Ezra Jack Keats Award. Read an interview of Don at their website.

On stories about slavery and countering stereotypes—

The extensive author’s note shares more on George, and author Don Tate talks of his early aversion to stories about slavery as an illustrator of books for children.

“It seemed to me that whenever the topic of slavery came up, it was always in relation to slavery, about how black people were once the property of white people—no more human than a horse or a wheelbarrow.”

dontate_poetpageDon later decided it’s important to demonstrate the resilience of African-American people and to take pride in that. This message resonates with respect to many aspects of prejudice.

Kids are influenced in their views on people who are different from themselves through media, including picture books. Different because of race, gender, religion, and so on–age included.

Does it matter that having celebrated multiple birthdays often diminishes a person in the view of many people?

“People aren’t born ageist, but it starts young. Research suggests that children develop negative stereotypes about old age in early childhood, around the same time that attitudes to race and gender begin to form,” says Ashton Applewhite in This Chair Rocks.

We need more thoughtful, powerful picture books like Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton to push pride in both African-American heritage and age into the light. Thank you Don Tate!

Activities related to Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton can be found here.

Don founded the blog  The Brown Bookshelf–increasing awareness of African American voices writing for kids.

Read more on diversity in aging in picture books.

Review copy provided by Peachtree Publishing. Copyrighted images provided by Don Tate and used with permission.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeFind more Perfect Picture Books at PPBF!

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These Hands: An A is for Aging book review


These Hands

these-handsBy Margaret H. Mason; illustrated by Floyd Cooper

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011; ages 6-9)

“Look at these hands, Joseph.

Did you know these hands used to make the ivories sing like a sparrow in springtime?

Well, I can still show a young fellow

how to play “Heart and Soul”—yes I can.”

Heart and soul is just what the picture book These Hands has—in spades. Author Margaret H. Mason shows us a grandfather not just sharing memories of days gone by, but also skills he can teach now to his young grandson.

photo 1

His experienced hands transform a deck of cards into a waterfall shuffle, relate the intricacies of tying shoelaces, and help the young boy learn to hit a line drive. All while relating tales of what his own hands once did, bits and pieces of personal history.

Then this African-American grandfather calmly shares a piece of painful history—a task his dark skinned hands was once denied.

“Did you know these hands

were not allowed to touch

the bread dough

in the Wonder Bread factory?


These hands were only allowed

To sweep the floors

And work the line

And load the trucks.”

The author gives us details in the back—her story was sparked by a reminiscence shared by her friend Joe Barnett in Detroit. It was common in the 1950’s and early 60’s to restrict the duties of African American workers in bakeries with claims that white people would not want to eat bread baked by black hands. An example like this makes racism concrete for young kids.

photo 3 “…these hands joined with other hands. And we wrote our petitions, and we carried our signs, and we raised our voices together.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally made the practice illegal.

I’m reminded of a quote from Ken Dychtwald in Age Power where he discussed lifelong aging— “…all the choices we make regarding how we care for ourselves, how we manage our lives, and even how we think about our futures, shape who we ultimately become.”

What amazing lessons and images for a young impressionable grandson. The lovely soft and chalky illustrations by Floyd Cooper somehow also convey power—the power of the people.

cvr9781476706696_9781476706696The author has tapped into what Michael Gurian calls “the sacred stories of the grandparents.”

In his book The Wonder of Aging he tells us that even men and women who have resisted spilling stories of their past hidden lives for decades, may do so for grandchildren. And often “…telling their stories is actually an identity-and legacy-building experience.”

As this grandfather reflects on his own choices he is proud, and also determined to instill a sense of possibilities and empowerment in his grandson–his legacy.

photo 2

Margaret H. Mason mentions the importance of oral histories in her author note. Research by Dr. David Duke of Emory University finds that “the single most important thing we can do for our families is to develop a strong family narrative.

Amazingly, his “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” (Read more in this New York Times article.) Apparently kids feel a stronger sense of control when they are well-informed on who came before them.

these-handsGathering oral histories from older relatives or friends would be a terrific activity for children. Joining forces with an adult would also be an eye-opening and heartwarming inter-generational activity.

I highly recommend beginning by reading this lovely book together.

Oral Histories Activity: I’ve gathered a few tips and resources to assist you:

–Check out The Life Stories Interview on the “Life Story Commons” website of the University of Southern Maine.

P1000664–Remember–“People’s memories are generally attached to sensorial details and details of what is called ‘geomancy’ (details of place and time)…” (The Wonder of Aging) Ask for descriptions to get your interviewee warmed up.

–Ask “What did you learn when that happened?” Don’t forget to ask about their spiritual life—their “relationship with the mysteries of life, nature, the universe, and God.” (The Wonder of Aging)cover

–Read other picture books tapping into life stories and history like The Matchbox Diary and Grandmama’s Pride. Peruse our list of picture book biographies (more coming soon!)

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeFind more Perfect Picture Books at PPBF on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

Read an interview of the author at Bridges Together.

Learn about Floyd Cooper and his most unusual method of illustration!

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Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments