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.

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

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 encore.org, 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

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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.

unnamed (2)

  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.

unnamed (3)

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


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

unnamed (1)

  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!

Please consider signing up to receive A is for Aging blog posts 1-2x/month via email–see top right of this page.

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

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau: An A is for Aging Book Review


The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Written by Michelle Markel & illustrated by Amanda Hall


(Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, 2012) For ages—5-9

Themes/Topics—Arts, creativity, non-fiction bio, perseverance, resilience


“Henri Rousseau wants to be an artist.

Not a single person has told him he is talented.

He’s a toll collector.

He’s forty years old.”

This is a tale of blossoming creativity realized in later life. And a story of dedication to learning a new skill over many decades.

photo 1 (7)

But most of all, it’s a story of perseverance—to an astounding degree. Despite poverty, limited resources and brutal discouragement from the critics Rousseau stays the course.

He lives and works in Paris, so when the creativity bug bites he does at least have the Louvre! He embarks on a campaign to teach himself to paint by examining the work of his favorite artists and studying anatomy in photographs and illustrations. Upon sharing his initial efforts at an art exhibition he hears only “mean things” from the critics.photo 2 (7)


It’s the World’s Fair of 1889 held in Paris that really sparks Henri’s imagination. Not only the tower erected by Eiffel, but exhibits of exotic faraway lands. They inhabit his dreams and his paintings for years to come.


“He holds his paintbrush to the canvas. A

tiger crawls out. Lightning strikes, and

wind whips the jungle grass.”

photo 1 (6)

“Sometimes Henri is so startled by what

he paints that he has to open the window

to let in some air.”

The lines above highlight the artistry of not only Henri Rousseau, but author Michelle Markel. Her beautiful and active writing is complemented by dreamlike illustrations by Amanda Hall. It’s not easy to draw child readers into the art process of others, and some adults believe kids have little interest in adult characters. I think this picture book will fascinate all ages.

Why I like this book—

To me, a writer who spent years merely reading about the craft of writing and only truly dove in after the age of fifty, this story is very inspiring. Picture book biographies featuring characters living long interesting lives are always a draw for me, and important for children to read. But Rousseau never traveled to a jungle and he died in poverty.

photo 2 (6)                                                                                                      However, he enriched his own humdrum life and he persevered with little encouragement. Rousseau’s personal courage carried him through year after year of cruel critics. One said, “only cavemen would be impressed by his art.” Others said, “…it looks like he closed his eyes and painted with his feet.” But he kept at it, improving his skills—a valuable lesson whatever stage of life we’re in.

The Sleeping Gypsy by Rousseau (MOMA)

The Sleeping Gypsy by Rousseau (MOMA)

Fortunately, the gray haired Rousseau’s work was eventually appreciated by avant-garde writers and artists such as Picasso, who befriended him. We learn in the back matter that his work was groundbreaking. Soon after his death his skill as a self-taught artist was acclaimed world-wide and Rousseau was “the first ‘naïve’ artist to be recognized as a great master.”

Not long after discovering this lovely book I had the opportunity to attend a national conference for writers in New York City.

At the end I zipped over to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to gaze at art by true masters. There I found enormous original paintings by Rousseau and fought my way through crowds to stand in awe with many, many others. It was a treat to share with them a few anecdotes of his amazing life.

Portion of The Dream by Henri Rousseau (MOMA)

Portion of The Dream by Henri Rousseau (MOMA)

Links to resources—

Enjoy a coloring page of Rousseau astride a tiger leaping over jungle-like foliage. Kids and adults? Coloring for stress relief is all the rage.

Find clever activities, discussion questions and vocabulary in this discussion guide from Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.

Visit a conservatory near you and marvel at exotic palms, ferns and even fruit-laden trees. Take a child along, and a sketch pad…

Find more “Positive Aging picture books” listed here and watch this blog for ongoing additions. You can sign up at top of page for posts via email just 1-2x/month.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeThis post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday. Find more great books reviewed at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

I reviewed my own copy of this book. To find or purchase a copy, go to Worldcat.org.

Read about other determined artists in Henri’s Scissors cvr9781442464858_9781442464858_hr

mr-cornells-dream-boxes-9781442499003_hrand Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children

By Jan Pinborough; illus. by Debby Atwell

(Houghton Mifflin, 2013; ages 6-9)

“Once in a big house in Limerick, Maine, there lived a little girl name Annie Carroll Moore. She had large gray eyes, seven older brothers, and ideas of her own.”


Summary—At first glance, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise might seem simply a charming story about a woman of the latter 19th century who ushers in the age of libraries for children. But in fact, this picture book biography shows us a strong single woman busting both gender and age stereotypes left and right.

Themes: Biography, History, Jobs, Reading

“A is for Aging” Book Review–

“In the 1870’s many people believed a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery.” But from the outset we learn that “Annie thought otherwise.” She loves wild toboggan rides, but also reading. Back then even reading was not considered important for girls, and children were not allowed inside libraries!

In this day and age in America—we often urge girls to believe they can do anything and be anything. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the unwritten rules girls lived by. But many girls around the world continue to live under the strictures of what girls cannot do. Many are not even permitted to attend school.

3ce4f5a5-739c-4030-8d20-4b3fd316ba06As an unmarried woman of 19, Anne Carroll Moore should have “kept house for her parents, or perhaps become a teacher or a missionary. “But Annie thought otherwise.” She began studying to become a lawyer.

When both parents and her brother’s wife die from the flu she cares for her young nieces for a time. Then again she bucks the expectations of a young woman on her own and heads to Brooklyn, NY, to study to become a librarian. Lovely folk art style illustrations by Debby Atwell highlight the excitement of the big city.

“Some libraries were beginning to let children come inside, but Annie’s library had something brand new—a library room planned just for children.” She does such a fine job that she is put in charge of the children’s sections in all branches of the NYC Public Library. Gradually Annie changes policies and children are allowed to not only touch the books, but take them home. (Imagine!)


“She urged the librarians to take down the SILENCE signs and spend time talking with children and telling them stories.” Annie even began to “encourage book publishers to publish better children’s books.” Many libraries still allocated little space and few books to kids.


Annie’s real vision came to fruition with the grand new library on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street. A large sunny room filled with child-size tables and chairs and artwork on the walls. “Hundreds of new children’s books in many languages waited within reach.”8e532474-3a3b-4224-8d0c-c85bc79120ed



Even authors like Dr. Seuss entertained the kids.

9780394800165Read a short bio of Dr. Seuss.

Link to fun video read-aloud of Green Eggs and Ham.


Positive Aging!

And now we get to the juicy part (for me!), because her story does not end there—

“When Miss Moore turned seventy years old, it was time for her to retire.

Some people thought she should sit quietly at home. But Miss Moore thought otherwise.

ae692566-62af-436b-bbeb-0597fdf5e093Her friends at the library gave her a set of luggage…and she traveled across the country, teaching more people how to make good libraries for children.”

Ok, so she was forced to retire, BUT she then became a consultant! In her seventies! I love it.

Picture book bios that showcase a long life well-lived always make me happy. And in Miss Moore Thought Otherwise we are treated to gender stereotype-busting and a positive aging message.

nanasmall“Real life does not end at age 21…” I think Annie would agree with a publication titled Teaching about Aging, intended as a call to action for teachers and librarians from AARP. The goal is to help children “develop realistic and balanced attitudes, which see aging as a lifelong process.”

Did you know? “…young children often hold positive attitudes of their grandparents, but they do not* transfer their positive attitudes of grandparents to older people in general.” (*The underlining is mine.)

Recently awarded the Newbery and Caldecott

Recently awarded the Newbery and Caldecott

And more from an AARP research study using drawings from over 400 elementary students…

“Generalized images of aging among young people are typically negative. They perceive growing older as a process of decline, without potential for growth and fulfillment.”

Well! Miss Moore thought otherwise!


It’s time to modernize our attitudes to what constitutes appropriate older characters. Perhaps we should recall that times have changed, “What we [now] view as racist or sexist was at one time often accepted with little question.”


“Myths and stereotypes are transmitted from one generation to another in our language, humor, literature, and media…”

Let’s stop perpetuating the untruths about growing older and give kids something to look forward to after age 21.

9780375869440Activity: “Replace ageist children’s books with books that provide a balanced view of aging and older people.” –A Language Arts activity suggested in Teaching about Aging.

Involve kids in building a book collection including Positive Aging picture books.

Find “Positive Aging picture books” listed here and watch this blog for ongoing additions. You can sign up at top of page for posts via email just 1-2x/month.

For more on Miss Moore, visit this link.

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeThis post is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday. Find more at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

I reviewed a library copy of this book. To find or purchase a copy, go to Worldcat.org.

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

Ageless Love: Late Life Romance

Older Couple on BeachI’m always on the prowl for Positive Aging picture books, but not all books with an older character make the cut.

Too few feature older adults kids can admire. And there are attributes to admire in every older. Those enjoying later stages of life also tend to be ignored.

Children should be taught empathy, respect and understanding, but they should not be taught “old equals bad or sad.” Sickness and disability do not represent growing older, but they seem to in books for kids. We simply need greater balance when it comes to images of aging in books for children. family


Too many show older adults evoking pity—characters challenged by dependency or memory loss, or too little joy in life (i.e. grumpy). Let’s be clear. These are stereotypes, not accurate representations of growing older.

And they could be damaging our minds and bodies, and setting kids up for future trouble.

On Word Counts

Ageist greeting cards are far too common!

In the latest research from Becca Levy, associate professor of psychology and epidemiology at Yale, she and her colleagues found a link between negative age stereotypes and the brain changes leading to Alzheimer’s disease.

Actually, they believe it is “the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging” that we all take in from many sources.

“Participants holding more negative beliefs about aging had a significantly greater number of plaques and tangles. The age stereotypes were measured an average of 28 years before the plaques and tangles.” (Read more about Dr. Levy’s extensive research here.)

The picture books listed below all touch on romantic love in late life, or its possibility. Nothing too racy, but messages to warm your heart, and encourage children to anticipate late life with pleasure.


Cover of "Nelson Mandela" by Kadir Nelson

Cover of “Nelson Mandela” by Kadir Nelson

(Did you know that Nelson Mandela married on his 80th birthday?)



Late Life Love

New relationships–

catsonbenyehuda-300x300In The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street by Ann Redisch Stampler (Kar-Ben, 2013) we begin with a budding friendship between two older neighbors. Initially Mr. Modiano is only annoyed by cats at his Tel Aviv Fish Palace, and also those of neighbor Mrs. Spiegel, who dotes on her pets.

Children will enjoy “plump cats and skinny cats, spotted cats and striped cats,” illustrated beautifully by Francesca Carabelli. Then there’s the “little grey cat with a pink collar” who gets lost. Can you guess who finds her?

Mr. Modiano rejects invitations to tea along with cats. But Mrs. S. reaches out in friendly fashion and inch by inch he not only learns to meet her halfway, but he saves the day.

Neither is portrayed as pathetic or lonely, and thankfully grumpy is also avoided. But it’s obvious that as they learn to accept others as they are, their lives are enhanced.

P1000660Someone for Mr. Sussman by Patricia Polacco acknowledges older adults’ interest in romantic love. (Ages 6-9, Philomel 2008.)

It is also unusual in featuring a grade-school age grandson hanging out with his interesting grandmother—and why not?

Grandma is a Jewish matchmaker who changes herself several times over attempting to please Mr. Sussman—perhaps prompting feminists to wonder. But eventually she sends him packing, and when he returns they find love together.

Long time love—

P1000662Fancy Nancy: Bonjour Butterfly, one of the series filled with “fancy” words by Jane O’Connor, deserves recognition for showcasing Nancy’s grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. All too often we see only one grandparent in picture books.

Nancy is heartbroken to miss the fanciest birthday party ever—for friend Bree, but it falls on the same day as the big anniversary party. Once there, Nancy is “ecstatic” to be at the “extraordinary” night. (Ages 3-6. Harper Collins 2008. Illus. by Robin Preiss Glasser)

Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest for ages 6-9 (Candlewick 2004.) Mr. Baker is 100 years old and learning to read. He and young neighbor Harry ride the bus together and all the kids clamor for Mr. Baker to sit with them.April 2013 068

Their friendship and also the long-standing love between Mr. Baker and his wife are a real rarity in kidlit. Mr. and Mrs. B. dance together on the front porch to the bemusement of young Harry.

A publisher’s note encourages parents and teachers to use Mr. George Baker for discussions with children about friendship, Black History month and multi-culturalism.

Fall 2013 011

I’m looking forward to the time when publishers also suggest discussions about normal aging and older role models. Someday!

Perhaps few parents, teachers or librarians have positive aging on their radar, but a little nudge in that direction might be all it takes. Have I told you about my 96 year old neighbor who reads to pre-schoolers every Thursday?

The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka

The Hello Goodbye Window by Norman Juster;Chris Raschka

Activity: Select an array of picture books with older characters, ensuring some are not stereotypes. (See picture book resources.)

Ask kids to decide how accurate the portrayals are. Are ALL older people forgetful, frail, sad, or grumpy for example? (No!) Do you think older people are all different, just like younger ones? (Yes!)

Gift a “Positive Aging picture book” to someone young or old this holiday season!

older love JPEG

(This is a lovely picture book/gift book geared to gift  older adults.

The tender rhymes of Older Love by Warren Hanson share the pleasures of a long marriage (Waldman House Press, 1999.)


The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street and Older Love review copies courtesy of the author and publisher. All others were library copies.

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Especially For Teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ageless Love: Late Life Romance

North Woods Girl

By Aimee Bissonette; illustrated by Claudia McGehee

Minnesota Historical Society Press 2015. Fiction, ages 3-7



North Woods Girl opens—

“My grandma says she’s not a good-looking woman.

I don’t know. She looks pretty good to me.

She is not like other grandmas, it’s true.

She’s bony.

And she dresses in Grandpa’s old flannel shirts.”

Themesadventure, aging, be yourself, grandparents, habitat, independence, nature, role models

Synopsis—a young girl relishes hikes with her north woods grandma in every season. They fully appreciate the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors and the grand-daughter hopes to be just like her grandma someday.

Open this beautiful picture book and I swear the scent of pine wafts into the room. As a north woods girl myself, first Minnesota, now Michigan, both the words and gorgeous scratchboard art resonate.

ph_aimee_300dpiX2inAuthor Aimee Bissonette spends endless hours on Lake Superior and it shows. She knows the wildlife—including the “buffleheads and teals, goldeneyes and mergansers” (all water fowl, by the way). She shares the sounds, like “boots crunching and squeaking in the cold snow.” Winter is the favorite season for this girl and grandma.


The author also knows the people of the north woods. “…when Grandma tucks her pants into her over-sized boots and grabs her walking stick, I run to catch up.”


We know all older people are different, in actual fact, older adults become more diverse with time. Yet many books for kids perpetuate frail, forgetful, grumpy and dependent.

No age stereotypes here. This grandmother strides along hiking paths and despite being widowed and living alone in the woods, she is determined to stay there.

I love how this picture book tackles the topic— the text reassures us that Grandma has supportive neighbors, but affirms her strength and individuality.

“Mom wants Grandma to move to the city with us. She worries about Grandma living alone in the woods. But what would happen if we took that north woods girl away from her woods?”

Grandma in the gray-toned city illustrated shows us—nothing good.

Did you know that “perhaps surprisingly, active health span is increasing faster than total life span”? “More people are living longer and healthier, while avoiding or delaying severe disability.” Quote from the book Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond—just added to my Resources page.

bk_northwoodsgirlThe grandma in North Woods Girl exemplifies the “spirit of prudence and persistence, coupled with meaningful social connections, (that) are the factors that seem to contribute to health and longevity” according to researchers Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin.

Children today can learn from older generations. As the author shares in her blog, “…time spent in nature is therapeutic. It has a positive, documented effect on our mental and physical well-being.” (read more in the book Last Child in the Woods by author Richard Louv)

The unique and lovely illustrations by Claudia McGehee will inspire you. So don’t let the the coming snow stop you, wrap a warm scarf and tuck your hands into cozy mittens.

Then head out with a child in hand. Are you with me?


Kids often wonder how animals survive harsh winters. Read these picture books for fascinating insights.

A Warm Winter Tail by Carrie Pearson—animals question how humans stay warm and reveal their own secrets.

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart—reveals what creatures are doing under those piles of snow .

Find terrific snow-related kid’s activities (paper snowflakes to igloos) and also 10 children’s books about snow here, including the amazing Snowflake Bentley.

Read about more independent, adventurous older women–

—An article about Great Old Broads for Wilderness aged 36-82

—More picture books about older women role models

—my own Great Lakes Review article inspired by memories of my mother and our favorite spot on Lake Superior (be warned—a tiny bit sentimental).

Perfect-Pic-Book-BadgeFind more fabulous picture books at Perfect Picture Books Friday!

Images use with permission. Review copy from the publisher.

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments