Interview of Sandra McGuire Ph.D. at A is for Aging

I’m pleased to share a brief interview of Dr. Sandra L. McGuire, who has been an invaluable advisor to this blog and website at A is for Aging, B is for Books for a number of years.

Dr. McGuire created the resource Growing Up and Growing Older: Books for Young Readers Book List and she is dedicated to updating this important list annually.

How did you become interested in ageism affecting children?

Years ago in my graduate program it was noted that ageism was pervasive in society. Growing up in a 4-generation family, ageism was a new concept to me. I had been surrounded by older adults who were active, capable, and valued members of their family and community.

I wondered—what is this ageism?

What really troubled me was that ageist attitudes started as early as preschool children, became more negative as the child grew older, and became difficult to change by the time the child reached middle school.

Knowing these attitudes started early, it made sense to start with young children to form more positive attitudes about aging. Children needed help to see what aging could be for them—the older adult they could be potentially.

What was your motivation for beginning your book list?

My doctoral research focused on promoting positive attitudes about aging with preschool children. It used a curriculum that incorporated early children’s literature with positive portrayals of aging.

The books were a great success, and that was the motivation to start the Growing Up and Growing Older: Books for Young Readers booklist. I’m now motivated to keep the booklist updated and available free online. It is available at, in the Educational Resources Information Center, and has been recently added to the Old School Anti-Ageism Clearinghouse under TOOLS.

Can you please share your personal criteria for selecting books to include on the booklist?

I strive to select books that to help combat ageism. Books are selected that have positive, meaningful, realistic portrayals of aging and help children see what old age can be for them.


What are your favorite type of picture books?

Definitely books where the illustrations are non-stereotypic, and those that show older adults playing a vital role in the story. Favorites include intergenerational learning and intergenerational friendships.

I like picture books that portray older adults in diverse roles like leaders, workers, volunteers, artists, teachers and caregivers. Biographical books that illustrate growing up and growing older are important also.


Is there a type of picture book with older adults that you avoid including in your book list?

Books are not included that focus on the devastating d’s of death, dying, disease, disability, decline, dependence, dementia, and depression. These are not synonymous with aging and can occur across the lifespan.

Those issues are also important, but separate book lists can address them. And frankly, too often published picture books conflate aging with dying, dementia and the other d’s.

It’s very important for children to not equate growing older with the above. We are all growing older every day and research tells us that most of us actually grow happier in old age.

Have you noticed an increase in accurate and positive portrayals of aging in picture book over the years?

Yes and no. I’ve been maintaining the book list for over 30 years. Trying to locate literature for the book list is challenging, time consuming, and often frustrating.  Publications and guides that showcase children’s books often do not have a separate section on older adults.

A publication guide might have a listing for “family” and under that listing you can find grandfathers, grandmothers and other older adult family members. These are not the only roles for older adults.

What do we need to see more of—with regards to older adults in books for children?

The variety of roles older adults play still needs to be better represented in this literature. Being a grandparent is not the only role for children to aspire to as older adults. More books need to portray older adults in the variety of roles they are playing in society.

More intergenerational learning and intergenerational friendships with folks other than grandparents would be great. 


Any thoughts regarding what might boost awareness of how aging is portrayed in children’s books?

It remains difficult to find publication guides that include an “intergenerational” listing for locating books. Adding “aging” or “growing older” as categories would help too.

With the start of the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education* Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging in 2008 there has been some increased awareness of publishers and authors on how aging is presented in early children’s literature. However, the award is not well known and information on this award not easy to locate.

An award from nationally visible platform would be helpful. This A is for Aging, B is for Books blog and website are great resources and much appreciated.

*Formerly the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

What is your biggest frustration?

My biggest frustration is that we have not made more progress in combating ageism. Everyone is aging and ageism affects everyone. We need to do more to prevent and counteract ageism with young children. By combating ageism we can help ensure that aging does not define the person, but that the person defines aging.

Can you recommend any anti-ageism resources for us?

GSA is now offering free access to Ageism First Aid.” It’s an online multi-module course to help change common misconceptions and myths about aging, promote knowledge about aging, and combat ageism.

It is available for free from April 1 through July 1, 2020. The first two modules are great for everyone. The third is more for professionals in the field. GSA (Gerontological Society of America) is coordinating the national Reframing Aging initiative.

Sandra McGuire welcomes your questions and comments. Please email her directly at smcguire at utk dot edu

     Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions Dr. McGuire! And more importantly for mentoring me in my efforts at A is for Aging, B is for Books. With enormous gratitude, Lindsey

–Please note: Book cover images shown in this post are new on Dr. McGuire’s Growing Up and Growing Older: Books for Young Readers book list in 2020 and are recommended.

Another resource for these troubled times is the children’s lit list of Coretta Scott King Book Awards. It’s so important to talk with kids about race relations.

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