A Grandparents Day Gift that Keeps on Giving

It’s Grandparents Day—would you care to give something more valuable than a greeting card? Perhaps you are a grandparent yourself and contemplating the type of recognition you’d appreciate? Maybe like me—that sweet, special status is something you long for—someday…

I’m proposing that on this Grandparents Day we resolve to set aside the rampant ageism to be found in too many books for children. It may be well meaning, but it’s there. Please consider replacing it with true respect for grandparents and pick up a Positive Aging picture book (or two).

Just imagine yourself in that precious role for a moment—a grandmother or grandfather. A Nana or a Papa to a sweet six year old.

Let’s call her Lily. Lily snuggles close to you in a cushy armchair. She strokes the soft wrinkles on your cheek and calls them crumples.

Then Lily tugs your arm and hands you a picture book to read out loud. You lean your silvered head in close to hers and begin to read.

The pages reveal attractive and playful young children. The illustrations are rendered in bright fun colors. A bouncy rhythm of rhymes makes the reading fun.

But there is also an older character—a woman rather witch-like. Or perhaps sad. Maybe it’s an old man. Grouchy, or ill. And unfortunately, words like fusty, dusty, rusty, and musty. Also grumpy and frumpy.**

Do you—

  • Read with your good nature intact and shrug it off?
  • Stop mid-page and throw the book at the wall?
  • 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. Also, my now grown kids will tell you if you ask, that I would never choose the first option and shrug it off. Nope.

Illustration in These Hands by Margaret H. Mason & Floyd Cooper

That’s because I know ageism is a cousin to racism and sexism. The cousin in the closet—it still flies under the radar much of the time. In large part because we have ALL been steeped in it from since we were small.

Ageism is treating people over “a certain age” as if they are all the same. It is acting as if all the aging myths and negative stereotypes we’re exposed to are actually true. It is discriminating against older adults.

And as activist Ashton Applewhite has written—“it is ageism that creates the pictures of ugliness and hopelessness around normal aging, and blinds us to what we gain as we grow older.”

Kids get grumpy too, and sadly they also get sick. Quite often. But these images do not dominate picture books. It is age stereotypes applied to older adults that forces us to see an entire cohort of people as identical—their strengths, individuality, and capabilities fading from view.

Illustration from Betsy’s Day at the Game by Greg Bancroft

Diversity in Kidlit is important to many these days. Rightly so. Many parents and grandparents pay close attention to avoiding racism and sexism in books for kids.

You may think it’s not possible that modern day children’s books are riddled with negative age stereotypes. But unfortunately it’s true.

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

  • Those that totally exploit age 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? There are too few books for children that make having many birthdays seem like a good thing. And the vast majority of us adults pay little attention to the messages around aging that we feed young kids.

These messages matter. Enormously. If we are fortunate, we will all grow old and we will become what we think as we get older.

Well regarded research by Becca Levy at Yale University tells us that internalized attitudes to aging affect much of our life as older adults. Taking in the negative age stereotypes affects our physical and mental functioning, employment, relationships and enjoyment of life.

As with many things with regard to our health its best to start young. Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers. She recommends that advocacy start early.

“Right from the very beginning we need to show realistic images of older people. If we want people to rely less on stereotypes, we need to show them the exceptions;”

So please let’s choose a New Option. Let’s nip ageism in the bud. Choosing Positive Aging picture books is an easy way to give kids more accurate images of growing older.

Let’s give all grandparents the ultimate gift—respect for their age and recognition of their strengths, individuality, and capabilities.

**Please note: all of the images shown in this post are of Positive Aging picture books!


Below is a sample of diverse ageism-busting picture books to check out:

image from A Gefilte Fishy Tale

A Gefilte Fishy Tale  

Betsy’s Day at the Game

Crouching Tiger

Grandmama’s Pride

Jingle Dancer

Last Stop on Market Street

My Abuelita

Northwoods Girl

These Hands

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