Images of Aging in Children’s Books

Older Couple on Beach

Imagine for a moment that you are a grandmother, or a grandfather — a Nana or a Papa, to a sweet six year old. Let’s call her Lily. Perhaps you have silvery hair and “crumples” — in the words of a child I knew, who once called wrinkles, crumples. Or perhaps you are not there, yet.

Lily snuggles close to you in an armchair just big enough to fit, and hands you a picture book to read out loud. The pages reveal a bouncy rhyming rhythm, children, an older character, and unfortunately, words like fusty, dusty, rusty, and musty. Also, grumpy and frumpy.

Do you?



  1. Read with your good nature intact and shrug it off
  2. Stop mid-page and offer ice cream instead of a book
  3. Quickly recapture the pig latin of your youth and improvise… ustyfay, ustyday, ustyray, umpygray!

Personally, I look forward to being a Nana someday (or an Ouma), but my pig Latin is no longer that good and my kids will tell you, if you ask, that I would never choose option A with regards to ageism. You may think I am kidding about modern day children’s books riddled with negative age stereotypes. I am not.

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

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

The bottom line? I believe the biggest issue is there are so few books for children that make having many, many birthdays seem like a good thing.

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