Albert the Fix-It Man, by Janet Lord, has Albert helping out all over town, pulling out his tools in aid of numerous neighbors. If something needs fixing Albert is on the job volunteering his assistance whether it be a rusty hinge or a leaky roof. His kindness to his friends and neighbors is repaid when Albert is in bed with a terrible cold—all those grateful friends show up to help him out in many small ways.
Fortunately, unlike many books with an ill older character, in the end he is on the mend and already contemplating his very next fix-it job. It’s a simple story for very young kids, but with powerful images of active aging and neighborliness for all ages. (Peachtree Publishers, 2008; ages 4 and up)
This brief tale will appeal to young children—most are fascinated by what tools can do and like to be thought helpful. I recall my son as a pre-schooler “painting” the deck over and over with a bucket of water and a very large and scruffy old paintbrush. It kept him busy long enough for me to put my feet up—as soon as the sun evaporated his “paint” it needed another “coat!” (And that was a tip from his very smart Grandma.)
It’s uncommon that older characters like Albert star in a children’s book and if they are even co-stars, they are generally a child’s grandma or grandpa. Picture books that feature an older man valued by those around him are also rare. All too often we see the stereotypes of a grumpy old man or a slightly dim “duffer” in books for children. Albert is nothing like that!
Author Janet Lord and illustrator Julie Paschkis are sisters and I learned recently from Julie that Albert is based on their father, the fix-it man. The two also collaborated on Here Comes Grandma, and Julie illustrated Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey. (Both are great positive aging books and you can read my book review of Grandma Prisbrey here.) Julie’s art is always bright and engaging with a folk art quality. Her website is definitely worth a look.
Take the time to search out picture books featuring older men who are good natured, neighborly, sharp and obviously valued by their community. We all know them, but our kids need us to point out who they are and what they are doing. Our children also need us all to drop the phrase “grumpy old man” from our vocabulary. Laura Carstensen Ph.D., of Stanford University, has conducted extensive research on happiness in late life. She states, “Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old.”
See also—The Honeybee Man and
Song and Dance Man—on my resource list.
Albert the Fix-It Man will soon join them on the list.