Betsy’s Day at the Game—Author Interview of Greg Bancroft

Betsy’s Day at the Game–Interview of author Greg Bancroft

By Greg Bancroft; illustrated by Katherine Blackmore

Mighty Media Press, 2013; ages 6-10

betsy-cover-v4-for-PGW-300x240Betsy and her grandpa revel in baseball in the picture book Betsy’s Day at the Game. “In the middle of the crowded city, the brick walls opened up to reveal a beautiful baseball diamond. Like a pop-up book. It was magic.”

Millions of Americans will agree in the midst of an exciting World Series season—baseball brings families together. Author Greg Bancroft believes baseball can not only enhance inter-generational relationships, but also boost confidence in young girls

Greg agreed to answer some questions raised for me when I reviewed Betsy’s Day at the Game. (Read the full book review here.)

The giveaway has ended. Mighty Media Press gave away two copies of his book to commentors on this post!

Interview of author Greg Bancroft—

unnamed (2)In your story of an inter-generational day at the ball park, the young grand-daughter demonstrates how to score the game and the grandfather tests and reinforces her knowledge. You are teaching the reader how to score in the process.

Knowing how to score baseball seems to empower Betsy and enhance her enjoyment—was it your goal to give girls the same knowledge?

Greg's scorebook

Greg’s scorebook

Definitely. Scoring is almost a lost art. There is so much going on, so much strategy, and directions to any game can be so ridiculously difficult to understand.

I was inspired to use a baseball game, and our family always journaled in the margins of the scorebooks—they contain the history of our family. So I pitched the idea of sharing family history in the context of baseball to my publisher.

Eleven year old girls in my focus group learned to score from the picture book with no coaching!

You emphasize the older generation sharing baseball traditions with younger traditions in the story. Are there baseball traditions in your family?

unnamed (3)I passed on scoring and journaling to my daughter and grandchildren. Betsy is really a composite of them. My own grandfather didn’t talk much, but he talked about baseball. I was the only one to hit a home run one day at age ten, and by the time I got to his hardware store he already knew.

He chose to take me, not a friend, to a World Series game back when the Twins were brand new to Minnesota. Sandy Colfax pitched a three hit game on only two days rest. I’ve never been to a World Series game since, but I’d love to!

Do you feel kids, particularly girls, benefit from playing baseball?

I really do. Team camaraderie is so important—it takes a whole team to win or lose. Baseball is so accepting and forgiving. You never know who is going to step up, and you have to support each other.

“Nice pitch! Good eye!”

It’s the only sport where you can fail more often than you succeed and still be a super star.

Girls can start early and size and shape don’t matter. Baseball is great for girls’ self-esteem. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what you can do.

I love learning you consulted a group of eleven year old girls! What else did you learn from your focus group?


The girls commented on how Betsy’s tongue was sticking out at times. They were concerned with how they looked and this confirmed my understanding of girls that age.

We asked, “what do you think Betsy was thinking about when she caught the ball? It was quite a feat, catching the ball in the midst of a crowd. Grandpa helped steady her, but he didn’t do it for her. He knew she would do her best.”

We talked about how focused she was. Her tongue sticking out showed how hard she was concentrating. That lesson is now included in the Educator’s Guide for Betsy’s Day at the Game. (sorry, link to educ guide not working-awaiting new)

The grandfather in your story celebrates the chance to spend time with Betsy. He fills important roles such as teacher, cheerleader and family historian. Tell us about time with your own grandkids, and your stories.

St. Paul sidewalk poem

St. Paul sidewalk poem

I was a Navy chaplain and a pastor for years, and there were always chances to share stories with children—in Sunday school, camps and retreats. Then my own kids, and now I have three grandchildren living in Nashville and Boston.

I have a journal for each one, mainly observations of life and of the kids and eventually I’ll give them to the grandkids. The journal will end up in their lap someday, as now they’re in my lap themselves.

Thank you Greg, last question! I’m guessing you prefer outdoor baseball, but do you have a favorite ball park?

Oh yeah! Target Field in Minneapolis. It’s in the city in the thick of things, natural turf and a nice layout. Great food, customer friendly and eco-friendly.

Penny Marshall, actress, film director, and producer for the movie “A League of Their Own” calls this lovely picture book, “An entertaining book about baseball and passing traditions down through generations.”

We gave away two copies of Betsy’s Day at the Game to commentors-courtesy of publisher Mighty Media Press. Winners Patricia and Katy were drawn out of a hat (a baseball cap of course!)

And here is a link to fun facts about the film “A League of Their Own.”

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman

(Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) Ages 5-8

c02-1                                                                                                                         A most amazing and prolific artist, Maira Kalman has written and illustrated eighteen books for children, produced two columns for The New York Times, numerous gorgeous covers for The New Yorker, and an opera. There are too many other accomplishments to name, but you can learn more here.


In honor of her recent books Ah-hA to Zig-Zag (for kids) and My Favorite Things (for adults), here are…

     MY favorite things about her book Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything—

  • The beginning sets the tone, alerting us that we will learn all manner of fascinating things about Thomas Jefferson, and in a playful way:  “Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), and he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third President of the United States.”


  • A powerful sense of place permeates this picture book bio centered on Jefferson’s beloved home Monticello. The house was a “MUSEUM of his MIND” illustrating his intellect and curiosity. His bed was situated with two sides open—one to his study with his rotating book stand (“He loved books.”) and the other side with boots waiting by the door to outside.


  • Reading of Jefferson’s long, productive life and his healthy habits way ahead of the times, I could not help but think of the book The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest (National Geographic, 2008, 2012).         Author Dan Buettner explored the world and observed the lifestyle habits of people in the Blue Zones (home to the globe’s longest lived people): Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece
  • “As Jefferson got older, he spent more time outdoors. He no longer cared for fancy clothes. His torn jacket was repaired with socks. He carried a penknife with many tools, and would spend many hours riding his horse or walking through his garden and land.” In The Blue Zones, Buettner shares tips we can all incorporate into our lives—including “move naturally” and “plant a garden.” Jefferson was devoted to walking and to his garden.
Monticello by Maira Kalman

Monticello by Maira Kalman

  • Peas were a favorite food and Jefferson “thought vegetables should be the main course and meat a side dish.” This mirrors The Blue Zones recommendation—“Plant Slant.” (Limit meat, eat 4-6 servings of veg a day.) Kalman’s exuberant paintings make even veggies appeal to kids. (Here is a New York Times article about Blue Zones eating habits.)


  • In Ikaria “…the notion of ‘ikigai’…the reason for which you wake up in the morning…imbues people’s entire adult lives.” Other Blue Zones embrace similar notions, as did Thomas Jefferson, and author Buettner advises us to learn something new—a language or music. Jefferson practiced his violin three hours a day, indulged his passion for his garden and “he still read many books (his books were the beginning of the Library of Congress) and founded a university. There was always much to be done.” The University of Virginia was founded just seven years before he died in 1826.


  • Yes, he was America’s third President and he wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, AND he also had wisdom to share—“…good advice about being mad. ‘When you are ANGRY, count TEN Before you SPEAK; if VERY ANGRY, to 100.’”


  • Author/illustrator Maira Kalman does not gloss over the fact that Jefferson was a slave owner and it is believed he had children with his slave Sally Hemings after his wife died. This lovely book ends with “If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be OPTIMISTIC and COMPLEX and TRAGIC and WRONG and COURAGEOUS, you need to go to Monticello.”


  • Activities for children—Open the topic of enjoying a long life using this book and other Positive Aging picture books. See if kids can identify the activities Jefferson pursued for decades and what sense of purpose drove him. Take a peek into the long and interesting life of author/illustrator Maira Kalman on her website and ask child readers to share a current interest they might continue into old age. Learn more about U.S. history and Jefferson in the extensive back notes and check out the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.


  • Adults—Indulge yourself by admiring Maira Kalman’s gorgeous New Yorker covers! Think about new and fascinating pursuits to take up in your Third Age, and read about my friend and mentor Jan Hively, aged 83, “the serial entrepreneur,” recently featured at Check out the National Center for Creative Aging.


I reviewed a copy from my library. (But think I need to own it!)

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

Lillian’s Right to Vote

Lillian’s Right to Vote

By Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans

Schwartz & Wade Books/Penguin Random House (ages 5-9)

9780385390286In Lillian’s Right to Vote we learn about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is the 50th Anniversary of that federal law on August 6, 2015.

A law protecting us all from abuses that could rob us of our rights as U.S. citizens. It passed thanks to strong support from President Lyndon B. Johnson, to his own peril politically.

Poll taxes, literacy tests and crazy, crazy quizzes were once used right at the polls to deny voters their rights.

“How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

“Name all sixty-seven judges in the state of Alabama.”

This picture book depicts 100 year old Lillian walking alone up a steep, steep hill in order to vote. The hill is “a metaphor for the uphill climb faced by African Americans in the struggle for voting rights.” Along the way she recalls personal and family anecdotes that remind us of the milestones of the movement.

washington dc 029Lillian has seen and learned much over her long life. Her thoughts personalize the civil rights movement for all of us, beginning with “her great-grandpa Edmund…owned by another man.” He had no rights as all until after the Civil War. Thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment he votes for the first time.

Next we learn of her grandpa, unable to come up with the required poll tax. Then its 1920 and a law has just passed finally allowing women the vote (the 19th Amendment). Lillian herself heads to the polls, but is “chased away by an angry mob.” That is a vivid image, and it’s followed by another—a burning cross on her family’s lawn.

Lillian continues up the hill cane in hand. I greatly appreciate that the authors depict Lillian, a centenarian, as determined and independent-minded.

“Are you going to vote?” she asks a young man who passes her on her route.

‘Yes ma’am,’ he answers.

‘You better,’ she says, and she means it.”

An authors’ note reminds us that when our nation was new, very few had the right to vote. “Generally, the only citizens who were allowed to cast their ballots were white men who owned property.” Reminding kids of this fact may help them take this in on a more personal level.



I’m ashamed to tell you that I was largely unaware of the significance of this law, and as a naturalized citizen I don’t take my right to vote lightly. In fact, yesterday I was one of only 10% of registered voters in my small city who voted in the primary election.


But I was not aware that legislation was needed to ensure that people, primarily African Americans, are not denied that right.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided for oversight of elections in the South, to ensure that African Americans were treated fairly.

Some may be aware that in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law. Now many states are requiring state-issued photo ID when voting—a hardship for older and poorer citizens. We are reminded that “the right to vote still needs protection.

24559-1Be sure and tell young readers that Lillian is based on a real woman born the grand-daughter of a slave.

“In 2008, at age one hundred, not only did she vote for the first African American president, Barack Obama, she also campaigned door to door in her hilly neighborhood.” This is a valuable book and a tremendous example for all generations.

Thanks to Schwartz & Wade for review copy and copyrighted cover image. Thanks to Sue Nichols for “I voted” image and Paul McDivitt for flag image.

a561e497f2954a4f1490ea522bed5eb7Read about other inspiring centenarians in Mr. George Baker and The Day Gogo Went to Vote (about a 100 year old woman voting in South Africa for the first time ever.)


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Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Especially For Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lillian’s Right to Vote

Grandfather’s Wrinkles


Grandfather’s Wrinkles

By Kathryn England; illus. by Richard McFarland

Flashlight Press 2007. (Ages 5-8)


Grandfathers Wrinkles








I really wish that my name was listed as author of this book. After all I’ve written about wrinkles before. I’ve thought of them as mostly smile lines more than once (except for the tiny one next to my right eyebrow). I’ve even linked one or two to a happy life event.

But I did not pen this great little book, Kathryn England did. And I’m happy to report, she did a terrific job!

This picture book presents aging and wrinkles as not only entirely natural, but a positive development.

“Why doesn’t your skin fit you any more, Granddad?” Lucy asked. “It’s all crinkly!”

Grandfather and granddaughterGranddad threw back his head and laughed. “Those crinkles are called wrinkles,” he said. “I have lived a very long time and I have wrinkles from smiling so often.”

Contrast this Granddad’s cheerful response with sadly common answers such as, “I’ve spent too much time in the sun,” or “that’s what happens when you get old,” or “Oh well, I’m old and ugly now.” (Yes, I’ve heard that last one.)

Apologies! For a natural process that will affect—Every. Single. One of us.

Author Kathryn England and illustrator Richard McFarland are both grandparents, and I suspect they have personally fielded that question—it’s handled here at the perfect level for a young child. The lovely illustrations are lit by the obvious affection and closeness between Lucy and her Granddad. In addition, we see Granddad changing over the years in happy flashbacks.

When Lucy points and asks specifically just what created each line, we’re treated to a warm memory of a time in his past. We hear of marriage to her Grandma, her mother’s birth, several fun memories of Mommy’s childhood, and her parents’ wedding. The sense is strong of a long life well lived, the joyful times highlighted for Lucy.

Naturally the “two really, really big ones,” the deep lines alongside his mouth, are the most important—they’re from the day Lucy herself was born. I really love that the author takes it one step further—

Baby girl is born

“Oh,” said Lucy, smiling a huge smile. And at the corners of her mouth appeared two little wrinkles, just like Granddad’s.”

On the very last page are seven vignettes of Granddad, all over his adult years—that is so unusual. We often seem to jump from middle age to old old age. (No doubt he can laugh at himself looking just a bit like Elvis—back in the sixties I suspect.)

Grandfather through timeGrandfather’s Wrinkles shares a powerful message of positive aging. Our attitudes to aging will affect both health and our happiness as we grow older, and we all know kids look to the adults in their lives when forming those attitudes. This is a lovely book for grandparents and grandchildren to read together (and parents too).

Amy Gutman writes in The Washington Post, “We’re living longer than ever before. In the 20th century, Americans gained a staggering 30 years of life expectancy, thanks to advances in nutrition, public health and medicine.” Yet, rounding a personal new decade we often act as if the end is at hand.

Ms. Gutman asks why we so often “posit death as the singular focus of the years after middle age…Aging is a lifelong process, and the experience of being an ‘older adult’ is one that, for most of us, is likely to last decades.”

The reality of those extra years? They are most often a vital and happy time of life. Yes, HAPPY.

Have I told you? I’ve figured out why older people are so often stereotyped as “grumpy”! And it’s not because they’re grumpy.

It’s all the fault of gravity actually. When our older faces are in repose (as in not actually smiling) gravity pulls our faces down into that stern look—the one I recall that disturbed me as a child gazing at my grandmother’s much loved face at rest. There’s a lesson for kids and adults. Gravity. I know, I’m not the first, but I say, all the more reason to smile more.

More frequent smiling must be at least part of the reason older adults are happier than those younger I’ve decided. (After all, researchers have found the act of smiling actually improves your mood.) Well then! I’ve got it all figured out!

For more on happiness in late life–watch a TED Talk by researcher Laura Carstensen, Stanford University.

My post on “crumples and wrinkles.”  Another post on aging and appearances.

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Images and review copy courtesy from Flashlight Press.


Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mr. Frank


Mr. Frank by Irene Luxbacher

Groundwood Books 2014; ages 4-7, see activities at bottom of post.

mr frank cover

“Mr. Frank was a tailor. He had been measuring, cutting, stitching, sewing, mending and pressing clothes for many years.” He is about to begin an exciting new project that brings all his years of experience into play.

Those years are traced for us beginning with the uniforms he mended as a boy more than sixty years ago. Author/illustrator, Irene Luxbacher uses textiles to great effect in the illustrations.

We see him as a young man creating stylish suits, then shrinking hemlines in the swinging sixties, and as the decades pass, designing dazzling outfits—think bell bottoms and maxi skirts, and patching blue jeans.

Mr. Frank is working on a very special order, one even more special than one fifteen years ago for frilly tutus. The process of filling this exciting order is shared, but we’re left to wonder and anticipate—just what is it? And who is it for? He selects velvety soft fabric and a simple yet elegant design, then sets to work. We know it will be perfect.

Mr. Frank is old when he starts on this perfect outfit. We learn that “after sewing the last stitch, Mr. Frank knew there was nothing else he wanted to do.” It’s time to pack up his shop and retire. The Canadian author/illustrator, Irene Luxbacher, excels at sharing small details that draw us in.

“He would hang up his measuring tape, unplug his iron and put away his pins for the very last time…well, almost.”

mr frank illusThe collage-like illustrations show Mr. Frank presenting the finished outfit—a super hero suit! to a young boy. The very last spreads are a long, long clothesline displaying numerous colorful and imaginative outfits of just the right size for this child.

And it will warm your heart to know, we see Mr. Frank seated side by side with this youngster at his work table. Imparting his skills and knowledge we assume.

Irene Luxbacher dedicated this picture book to her family “and especially for my dad. ‘Frank the Tailor’ with love.”

She credits her dad with introducing her to the world of pattern, texture, and color. In a guest post on the publisher’s blog page, the author/illustrator shows us her dad’s workspace and shares her process of producing the book’s pictures:

“I made lots of paintings that resembled the look of woven fabric textures, and of course poured over lots of old photos of my dad over the years, drawing and re-drawing his facial expressions and posture as he aged from a young boy into an elderly man.”

This picture book’s portrayal of Mr. Frank’s aging is masterful. Children not only see a man changing physically, but also adapting his skills to each era. I think we should remind kids of the hours and hours in takes to develop these types of skills. Share the author’s post and talk about the legacy of skills he passed on to her.

If you’re lucky you also possess a family member talented in an art or craft. I always maintain that sewing skills skip a generation. My mother both designed and made my wedding dress…

photo (16)


Mom had sewed her own wedding dress also (take a peek at left), and then, always practical, she subsequently cut it down into a tennis dress!


Me? In Home Economics class I once sewed a nightgown sleeve to the side seam and closed a pillow case on all four sides…

My grandmother Katie knitted up a storm for my son when young.  I’m just so thankful I thought to gift my gran with little labels that read “Handcrafted by Katie.” (You could do the same here for a talented someone.)

How about you? Has an older family member passed on an art or craft to you? Knitting? Embroidery? Lacemaking? Woodworking?

Related activities for kids–

Encourage a child to create artwork based on this book and then email it to the author to be included on her website on the “Your Art” page.

Perhaps make a collage of textile pieces or color fabric images with chalk, oil pastels, or crayons

This blogger shares “25 Things to sew in under 10 minutes”—projects for kids from fabric flowers to hand warmers.

Discuss the skills of family members and how long it took them to develop their expertise. Encourage them to write a brief story about a handicraft made by a family member—to preserve that piece of family history.

Print free stickers and activity pages from the author’s website to use as encouragement

photo (12)Mr. Frank was selected for the Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices of 2015.

Find My Grandfather’s Coat retold by Jim Aylesworth  for another tailor’s tale.

Read A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead.




Review copy and images courtesy of Groundwood Books

Find more Perfect Picture Books on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog. Perfect-Pic-Book-Badge

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes

mr-cornells-dream-boxes-9781442499003_hrMr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane Books 2014. Non-fiction ages 4-8.

Themes: Arts, bio, creativity, dreams, intergenerational, memory

This selection for Perfect Picture Book Friday begins, “If you had lived on Utopia Parkway not so long ago, you might have walked past this house.” Self-taught artist Joseph Cornell lived there in Queens, NY where he assembled highly acclaimed “shadow boxes” from things he collected.

**See the end of this review for activity suggestions and resources.

In his “dream boxes” the artist Joseph Cornell mixed an array of unlikely objects and images behind glass in a form of sculpture known as an “assemblage.” He was influenced by the Surrealists in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, and although completely self-taught, Cornell’s work was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

illustration by Jeanette Winter

illustration by Jeanette Winter

I consider this a “Positive Aging” picture book although Joseph Cornell didn’t live a particularly long life by today’s standards—he died at age 69, in 1972. Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter shows children an adult with an interest they can relate to, one he pursued with passion into later life.

Cornell was not a grandparent and he lived a quiet life caring for his mother, and for his brother Robert who lived with cerebral palsy, but she shines a light on his rich inner life.

Rather than portray Joseph Cornell as lonely or sad, Jeanette Winter illuminates his amazing creativity. I like that kids will see how he used his memories and dreams to create his “WONDERLANDS covered in glass.” The author tells us “his journals filled over 30,000 pages.”

“Mr. Cornell remembered blowing soap bubbles.”

“He remembered animals in the museum locked behind glass.”

“He remembered learning about stars.”

illustration by Jeanette Winter

illustration by Jeanette Winter

According to the website of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), his “Soap Bubbles” assemblage (1936) includes:

“…four cylindrical weights, an egg in a wine glass, a cast of a child’s head, a clay pipe and a map of the moon. The clay pipe, with which soap bubbles can be made, has a clear relationship to childhood and hence the child’s head. For Cornell the soap bubble also symbolized the contemplation of the cosmos as suggested by the lunar map.”

His use of toys will intrigue kids and it suggests “the relationship between art and play” says MOMA’s website. Surely it’s a good thing to show children that adults, even older adults can retain that kind of playfulness?

illustration by Jeanette Winter

illustration by Jeanette Winter

The inspired illustrations are reminiscent of Cornell’s own artistic boxes. He is showcased by the author/illustrator in the glowing windows of his house on Utopia Parkway in Queens, New York.

The treasures he collected to adorn his dream boxes peek from the glass of buildings in the vast city he roamed.

A description on the website of artist Nancy Doyle:

“His range of subjects was vast – Hollywood stars, birds, astrology, ballet (a swan), opera, Medicis of the Renaissance, travel, artists (Juan Gris), poetry (Emily Dickinson), the cosmos.

The materials he used were also wide-ranging: cut-outs from various publications, marbles, butterfly wings, scraps of wallpaper, souvenirs and memorabilia, sky charts, old advertisements, broken glassware, music boxes, feathers, metal springs, maps, seashells, mirrors, plastic ice cubes.”

As kids most of us filled boxes and drawers with such treasures!

In ending, a gray haired Mr. Cornell is shown interacting with children at a special exhibition of his work just for them. An author’s note gives more details and actual photos—his dream boxes beckoned from just the perfect height for kids, and like most kids, Mr. Cornell loved sweets so brownies and cherry cola were served. Cheers to a delightful picture book bio!

To view vivid images of Cornell’s work—visit this page and click on each image to see a larger image.

photo (1)My favorite is “Untitled (Pharmacy),” a box filled with small capped glass bottles—each containing an object such as a shell.

I’ve been holding onto lots of little shells and momentos, pictures of exotic birds from my uncle’s scrapbook, and an old medicine cabinet, a treasure from our local Treasure Mart, with the intent of working a little magic of my own….

What about you? Have you ever incorporated your own small treasures or found objects into a creative project? Or do you have good intentions like my own?

a Quetzal

a Quetzal

Resources for activities—

  • Make your own shadow box from a sturdy cardboard box with a lid. Share a memory or a dream like Joseph Cornell, or illustrate a story from your life or that of a family member. Find instructions and two videos including “Shadow Boxes for Kids” at Home Museum dot com.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeCheck out Perfect Picture Book Fridays on the blog of Susanna Leonard Hill for more great picture books!

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Betsy’s Day at the Game


Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft; illustrated by Katherine Blackmore. Scarletta Kids, now Mighty Media Press, 2013; Fiction for ages 6-10 (Baseball, baseball scoring, grandparents, intergenerational)

betsy-cover-v4-for-PGW-300x240It’s spring! It’s baseball season! “What do you like the most—smelling the grass, reading the scoreboard, or watching the people?”

In the picture book Betsy’s Day at the Game, Betsy and her grandpa put it all together, and come to the conclusion, “it doesn’t get much better.” Both the joys and intricacies of baseball are celebrated. From my perspective the only thing missing is the peanuts, but it’s surely positive that the focus is not on food.

A grand slam home run may be less rare than a picture book unnamed (3)portrayal of a warm intergenerational relationship paired with a dynamic illustration of healthy aging. And the ketchup on the hotdog? A young girl enjoying baseball!

Betsy’s grandpa treats her to a day at the ball park (outdoors of course) where he reinforces his previous lessons as she tracks runs, strikes, foul balls, home runs, and favorite players in her special score book. A child learns new skills from an older adult and verbalizes her appreciation for Grandpa’s “smarts.”

unnamed (1)


The plot of intergenerational books frequently revolve around a child helping an older adult in some way. I would never advocate that we not teach kids to empathize or help others. But far too often the messages equate growing older with growing dependent, grumpy, or forgetful—which does not do justice to our Third Age!


Grandpa and Betsy’s affection radiates from the pages as they relish their time at the field. Author Greg Bancroft even shows us a soft-hearted grandpa “blinking hard” singing the National Anthem, and after Betsy compliments his knowledge of baseball scoring. We learn that Grandpa has been keeping score since he was Betsy’s age.

unnamed (2)This book actually teaches kids the scoring “codes” and use of a score card in step by step fashion. We know children love secret codes—learning baseball’s codes is sure to create a sense of accomplishment.

I was a bit intimidated knowing I was going to finally learn what all the letters and numbers mean (because, confession time—I’m generally people watching and fetching the Frosty Malts). My dad grew up playing cricket and rugby, so sadly baseball was just not a part of my upbringing. But it’s integrated so well into the story and illustrations by Katherine Blackmore are perfect for the job–it was painless!

unnamedThe story is jazzed up by events like a high pitch hit by The Crusher that heads straight for Betsy! Grabbing her glove she catches it to the cheers of the crowd. I also love the fact that their favorite player, “Happy” Rodriquez, is touted not only for his skill, but for his terrific attitude.

Betsy turns her cap inside out and backward for luck, but their unnamed (4)team is losing and it’s the 9th inning with just one more chance to score. “But it’s not over until it’s over,” says Grandpa, and sure enough, before long bases are loaded and Happy Rodriguez hits a grand slam home run to win the game.

Tired but happy they head home to Mom who shows Betsy “a very worn and yellowed score book” given to her by her dad at the same age. Just like Betsy she had kept score, scribbled notes about her week in the margins, AND caught a ball at the game!

Summer 2012 294

Both the author and Mighty Media Press reside in Minneapolis, and the outdoor ball park illustrated reminds me of the Twin Cities’ Target Field.

When our son was young the Twin Cities had controversial indoor baseball at “the Dome”—which would spit you out the door in the whirlwind of pressure required to keep the enormous roof up. Keep in mind this was Minnesota and snow collapsed that dome at least once!

That's Kay up to bat! And her twin sister catching.

That’s Kay up to bat! And her twin sister catching.

On my husband’s side, baseball is HUGE. His mom Kay rarely missed a Minnesota Twins game—listening to most on the radio like many of her generation. She and her twin sister Marg even played soft ball in an early women’s league—and her twin ended up marrying the coach!

Two of Kay’s grandkids got their gloves at age two and reveled in three generations sharing memories, skills, and their love of baseball. How they would have loved this special book. Here’s to baseball—bringing the generations together! Pass the peanuts!

There is an extensive Educator’s Activity Guide for this book from Mighty Media.

Read about the vital roles of grandparents in modern society in this article by Olivia Gentile.

In the picture book Take Me Out to the Ball Game by Maryann Kovalski a grandmother takes her granddaughters to a game.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeCheck out Perfect Picture Book Fridays at Susanna Leonard Hill’s site for more wonderful picture books!

I received a review copy from the publisher. All images used with permission of Mighty Media Press. Thanks to Gail in St. Paul for the tip off to this lovely book.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers


By Sheila and Letty Sustrin; illustrated by Thomas H. Bone` III

Fiction for ages 4 & up; Blue Marlin Publications 2014

Themes: Dedicated teacher, appreciation, community, cooperation, helping others, active retirement, healthy aging, use of maps.

“Mrs. Belle looked at herself in the mirror and said, ‘My goodness, I look like I’ve gained a few pounds.’ Then she took one look at Kitty Belle and said, ‘I think BOTH of us have been eating too many goodies. Tomorrow we must start to exercise.”

The opening lines of this fifth book in a fun series do not give away the plot—a mystery about a retired first grade teacher who volunteers with her former students. Her trademark ballet slippers go missing and the whole town turns out to search and to support her.

In the first book, Mrs. Belle sneaks repeatedly back into the classroom wearing creative disguises such as window washer and lunch lady. Her beloved students always recognize her by her ballet slippers.

Here Mrs. Belle reads to the children weekly in the school library and they notice right away that she is wearing flippers on her feet. Her entire collection of distinctive ballet slippers has disappeared.

unnamed (1)Unlike the first four in the series, this one is a gentle mystery involving a highly organized search for her special shoes by the entire town of Laurelville.

This book provides a great introduction to the use of maps for grades K-3.

The children’s new chant reflects the affection and high regard the community has for Mrs. Belle.

“Mrs. Belle, What can we do?

We must find your slippers for you.

We do not want to see you sad.

We only like to see you glad.”

Engaging illustrations by cartoonist-animator Thomas H. Bone` III always remind me of The Jetsons, the classic futuristic cartoon I watched every Saturday morning as a kid while my parents slept in. Colorful, active, and packed with emotion, they pull readers into the action.

This book is unusual for several reasons—

  • The main character is an older adult. A rarity in books for kids.
  • She volunteers weekly in her former classroom. (I can count on one hand—three fingers! the number of picture books I’ve found portraying an older adult being of service to their community.)
  • Belle talks about the need to exercise AND she goes jogging. (Very few books show older adults engaged in healthy pursuits.)
  • She is not a grandmother, but she is highly valued by the children and her community—a lovely intergenerational message.unnamed (2)
  • The authors are themselves older adults—twin sisters both retired from teaching and enjoying a second career. (Their first book came out in 2002, followed by four others in the series—definitely an active and creative retirement.)

Teaching children about aging

Barbara M. Friedman taught kids about aging in schools for many years and authored the book Connecting Generationssharing her insights and valuable activities. One chapter advocates helping children to examine picture books and identify—

Ageism (defined as “discrimination against people on the basis of age”)

Stereotypes (“an unvarying, fixed, or conventional expression, notion, character, or mental pattern, having no individuality”).

Barbara Friedman states that “…many intergenerational trade books have examples of ageism, stereotyping, and age-related negative attitude portrayals.” (Bold print is mine.)

“These ageist portrayals are likely acts of omission rather than commission by the author and illustrators, but they are there,” says Sandra L. McGuire, who has studied aging education for decades. Basically, the positive things about growing older are left out.

Ignoring the topic of aging contributes to kids’ beliefs that later life is simply a black cloud hovering on the horizon. In this picture book, the authors show us positive possibilities and make it easy to open a conversation about our continued growth and development.

First book of the series

First book of the series

Ask a child some questions and give them simple answers:

  • What does retirement mean?
  • What kinds of things can older people choose to do after they retire from a job? (Point that like Mrs. Belle and the authors, many choose to share their skills volunteering or even start a second career.)
  • How does Mrs. Belle’s town show they care about her?
  • What does Mrs. Belle do to stay healthy?

Activity pages for kids to color are available at the author’s website.

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Becomes a Movie Star

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Becomes a Movie Star

Search out others in this series:

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Discovers a New Planet

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Discovers a New Planet






Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book. I was not required to write a review and I received no payment for this post. Copyrighted images used with permission of the publisher

*Full title of book is Connecting Generations: Integrating Aging Education and Intergenerational Programs with Elementary and Middle Grades Curricula

Read my review of My Teacher by James Ransome.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeFind more picture books at Perfect Picture Book Friday on Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Especially For Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Can We Talk About Ageism in Picture Books?


Deepening discussions around diversity in books for kids gives me tremendous hope for our world. Racism and sexism are being addressed in amazing ways, but ageism? Not so much.

Aging gets a bad rap. But whatever their sex, skin color, or cultural heritage—if they are lucky—today’s children will grow up and eventually grow old.  “…In 1940 only 7 percent of Americans lived to be 90. Old age was the domain of the lucky few…But we are privileged to witness a new stage of life,”* said Dr. Robert N. Butler, who coined the term “ageism” in the 1960’s.

What we believe about aging greatly impacts how we will age. And—it’s best to start young with positive attitudes to growing older. Which brings me to what we share in books for kids.Jingle_large

Recently I discovered an excellent blog post by Uma Krishnaswami, at the website of Cynthia Leitich Smith. In her illuminating post of 2009 she writes about creating characters from countries other than the US and Europe. Uma Krishnaswami wisely reminds us—

“The thing is, you can’t see people as fully human if all you can feel for them is pity.”

000 coverThe recognition that eliciting pity is not the same as recognizing equality, dignity, and worth means we have come a long way, baby.

But pity seems to be the default setting when writing about growing older.

“Americans have been socialized to understand the problems and pathology of old age. What they do not understand is the great potential for activity, happiness, and wellness throughout long life” *(Fran Pratt, founder, Teaching and Learning about Age Project).

Much of what we think we know about growing older is myth or stereotypes. There’s no need to feel guilty, for our minds are polluted daily by inaccurate information around aging. But we do need to change the conversation.


Sad, sick, lonely, grumpy, and forgetful—we are not doing anyone any favors with these portrayals. Unlike Amos McGee, most are in decline, rather than a mere case of the sniffles. In picture books with older adults as characters, you will find few that recognize equality, dignity, and worth as the books in this post all do.

And it is a very rare book indeed that highlights the creativity and joy of an older person coping well with challenges, as Jeanette Winter does in Henri’s Scissors.



As Barbara M. Friedman, author of Connecting Generations,* *states, “Students often believe that what they read in books is true and right…a book may be sensitive and caring, may provide a wonderful lesson, and may be very enjoyable and still contain ageism or stereotyping.” 

Pull picture books from the shelf and you will search through many to even find an older adult. That’s “ageism by invisibility,” says Sandra L. McGuire, Ed.D who has studied the importance of aging education for decades. Her efforts have resulted in a list of only 200 picture books still in print showing older adults in positive, meaningful roles—this over a span of 30 years. “Old” is rarely addressed in kidlit—but it’s time for age to come out of the closet.

Cover of "Nelson Mandela" by Kadir Nelson

Cover of “Nelson Mandela” by Kadir Nelson

The good news? Many birthdays are a positive thing—

  • “American children have the potential to live longer, and will likely spend more years in old age than in youth”
  • Less than 5% of adults over 65 live in nursing homes
  • Only one out of nine gets Alzheimer’s disease
  • Normal healthy brains may find some info with less speed, but recent research tells us aging brains discern patterns and work smarter and quicker.

The bad news? Many books for kids lead them to believe that old=bad. It’s not their natural inclination, it is us socializing them to believe it–by not showing them a more diverse older population.

Here Comes Grandma by Janet Lord & Julie Paschkis

Here Comes Grandma by Janet Lord & Julie Paschkis

In the interest of busting a few age myths, I’m letting you in on a little “locker room” talk. For me swimming balances all the “butt in chair” action that goes with writing, and I share the locker room with a cadre of women, ages mid-70’s to mid 80’s.

9780375869440Their lively chat reveals—entire summers spent at the cottage up north with four grand-sons, camping trips with two new puppies, great-grandchildren splashing in the pool, and an upcoming bike trip in Tuscany—post double knee replacement. Meanwhile my 91 year old neighbor Russ is there walking laps on the track.Layout 1

This is just a small sample of the active, healthy older adults under-represented in books for children. We could add Barbara Beskind, the 90 year old woman enjoying her 5th career—with IDEO, a global design firm, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (aka The Notorious R.B.G), not planning to retire at 81.

Noticing great older role models, we can all make better choices, and live longer and more healthfully.

coverI’m not advocating we ignore the unlucky ones, those facing dementia for example, just as we shouldn’t ignore poverty, racial strife, or young girls in slavery. But a better balance is essential, and there is no need to imply illness and disability make an individual pitiable either.

"Nana in the City" by Lauren Castillo

“Nana in the City” by Lauren Castillo

The portrayal of older characters in books for children should not be aimed at evoking pity. That is ageism. Older people are different than those younger, but not inferior. That’s the message we aim for around human diversity isn’t it?

All of the books featured in this post are examples of Positive Aging picture books.

For more discussion of age diversity please read here. I’m pleased to share that Sandra L. McGuire Ed.D. is now collaborating with me at A is for Aging. Coming soon—our “Wish list for Older Characters in Picture Books.”

Jingle Dancer (my book review soon)

My Teacher

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Henri’s Scissors

Nelson Mandela

Here Comes Grandma

Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child

Grandfather Counts

The Matchbox Diary

Nana in the City

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*Aging Education: a National Imperative, by Sandra L. McGuire, Diane A. Klein, & Donna Couper. 

**Connecting Generations:  Integrating Aging Education and Intergenerational Programs with Elementary and Middle Grades Curricula by Barbara M. Friedman (Allyn and Bacon, 1999)

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Paris Hop!: An A is for Aging Book Review


In Paris Hop! (MB Publishing 2014, ages 4-7) delight in all the distractions Paris offers as a grandmother and granddaughter explore it en route to the “tippity-top” of the Eiffel Tower. What begins as a race to reach it within the hour quickly becomes a meandering  immersion into the many pleasures of that lovely city in spring time.

Naturally the pair is first tempted off their path by baked goods at a boulangerie.

“But…smell the air—

Croissants! Ẻclairs!

Baguettes with apple butter…”

French words are sprinkled throughout and explained in a glossary (from Au revoir to Voilἁ) at the beginning of this charming picture book.


Illustrations by Renẻe Andriani show this grandmother ready for anything in her Capri pants and sandals—she leads her granddaughter from painters to puppet shows, from river boat rides to Notre Dame, from the Mona Lisa to modeling high fashion together in a boutique.


The population of Paris is shown as relatively diverse ethnically and luckily also lacking in age stereotypes. Adventures in Paree look oh so tempting in these playful pictures.

Paris Hop! highlights the happiness of special times with a grandparent. This granddaughter revels in the multitude of joyous surprises provided by her vital gray haired grandma—a terrific way to show kids how love of live continues into our later years.

The lively rhyming text by author Margie Blumberg matches the energy of this intergenerational duo and draws us along at a rapid pace.

“You have the print?

Okay, let’s sprint…

When I say ‘three,’ we’ll race!”


The two finally reach the Eiffel Tower at sunset, worried that their many delicious diversions have caused them to miss the beautiful city spread out for their viewing. But of course, instead, they are treated to the City of Light all atwinkle below. “Bonne nuit, ‘Paree’…”

The Benefits of Grandparenting

Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Girls and The Wonder of Boys, has written another book of interest– The Wonder of Aging: a new approach to embracing life after fifty. He discusses the “wonderful and liberating task of grandparenting.”

     “New scientific research is fascinating in this regard: the actions of grandparenting stimulate brain centers and create neurogenesis in verbal, emotive, and memory centers in particular.”

“…psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Sussman…have found that the kind of social connection that grandparenting provides stimulates what are now called, in common language, ‘our happy hormones’…”

My Teacher by James Ransome

My Teacher by James Ransome

And, to add to the good news—if we are not grandparents, these exciting benefits can be ours if we involve ourselves with the children of others—perhaps through volunteer work, mentoring, or interaction with “adopted” grandchildren.

The travel to Paris is optional, but most certainly appealing!

Review copy and photos courtesy of MB Publishing.

Do you know of any picture books featuring older adults volunteering? I’m on the hunt!

40501ct10-11.tifRead about a grandma and grandson exploring the Big Apple in Nana in the City and the simple joys shared at a grandparent’s home in The Hello, Goodbye Window.

Explore lesser known parts of Paris via The Travel Oyster blog in this fascinating post.

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