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.
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.
- 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 Generations* sharing 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.
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.
Search out others in this series:
The Teacher Who Would Not Retire
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.
Find more picture books at Perfect Picture Book Friday on Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
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