7 Positive Things Picture Books Can Teach Us about Aging

(Note: I’m celebrating a “blogiversary” with a book giveaway! “A is for Aging” was birthed back in 2013, to zero fanfare! 😉 Along the way I’ve collaborated with Sandra L. McGuire Ph.D. on resources on the website. And in 2022 I’m celebrating hanging in there for NINE years. (Resources for parents & educators.) .)

And now to the main course…

7 Positive Things Picture Books Can Teach Us about Aging

Few people think of ageism as affecting children in negative ways.

Nor do they think of ageism in the same light as other abuses of human rights.

The reality? Ageism is yet another highly damaging “ism”—one that simply flies under the radar. Exposure begins in childhood and experts share that ageism affects us all—including our health and longevity.

In the same way that racism robs people of the recognition of their individual strengths and abilities, so goes ageism.

By the time we reach late life we’ve suffered decades of damage taking in stereotypes equating late life with disease, dementia and death. With grumpiness, loneliness and sadness. We then apply the negative beliefs to ourselves. But read on for more positive news.

So what is ageism?

“Ageism is stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of a person’s age. We experience it any time someone assumes that we’re “too old” for something—a task, a haircut, a relationship—instead of finding out who we are and what we’re capable of,” says author and activist Ashton Applewhite.

by Ashton Applewhite

“Or ‘too young;’ ageism cuts both ways, although in a youth-obsessed society olders bear the brunt of it.”

We are all aging—every day. How we think about growing older is critically important.

Many birthdays are a good thing! And here’s another positive.

A body of important research conducted by Becca Levy, professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, found “that the people who had a positive view of aging lived about 7 and half years longer than the people who saw aging in a negative light.”

You read that correctly. Dr. Levy’s extensive research has shown that simply viewing late life and aging in a positive light boosts cardiovascular health, mental and physical functioning, and recovery from illness and disability. The impact is greater than never smoking or exercising daily.

In 2021 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared ageism a global threat.

“Ageism harms everyone – old and young. But often, it is so widespread and accepted – in our attitudes and in policies, laws and institutions – that we do not even recognize its detrimental effect on our dignity and rights,”

“We need to fight ageism head-on, as a deep-rooted human rights violation,” says Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In addition, the WHO shares, “Ageism influences health through three pathways: psychological, behavioural and physiological.”

Ageist beliefs begin in childhood.

At every age we are confronted with sad peeks at a negative future. Age stereotypes and aging myths are everywhere—trumpeted by TV, social media, magazines, movies and books. Even books for kids.

So does it matter if children’s picture books present older characters as negative stereotypes and equate the aging process with decline and death?

It does. In fact, those carefully chosen words and colorful illustrations of later life are helping to create the older adults that children will become. They affect kids’ health and longevity.

Stereotypes make us believe all older adults are the same.

The reality is—we grow more diverse with age and experience.

Age Positive picture books such as those pictured in this post* can counteract the age stereotypes kids take in daily from many sources.

Age positive picture books promote these truths about aging and later life.

  1. Older adults are a highly diverse and interesting bunch. (See We Became Jaguars; Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards; The Water Lady; Don’t Call me Grandma; Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas; An Old Man and his Penguin; Grandad’s Camper)

Miss Rumphius

  1. Normal aging is NOT about stereotypes like decline and death, dementia or other illnesses, loneliness or grumpiness. (See Grandmother School; The Ocean Calls; These Hands; The Truth about Grandparents; Northwoods Girl; The Wakame Gatherers; The Teacher Who Would Not Retire.)

  1. Late life is most often a time of happiness and satisfaction. (Grandparents; My Little Golden Book About Betty WhiteMr. George Baker; Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child; Where Three Oceans Meet; Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs.)

  1. Creativity is frequently enhanced by the experiences of a long life. (See Kiyoshi’s Walk; Mornings with Monet; Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps; Henri’s Scissors;   It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor started to Draw; The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau.)

  1. Aging and interdependence are normal and lifelong—at every age and ability we deserve to be treated as a valued individual. (See The Most Beautiful Thing; How Old am I?; Miss Rumphius; Ten Ways to Hear Snow; Mrs. Katz and Tush, and Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom and Wishes.)

  1. Older adults possess a variety of interests, abilities, and talents that does not melt away with age, but grows with experience. (See Ten Beautiful Things; My Teacher; Abuelita and I Make Flan; Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story; A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams; The Oldest Student and Nana Akua Goes to School.)

show cover of book The Oldest Student

  1. People of all ages have much in common and much to gain from intergenerational relationships. (See Tofu Takes Time; Harry and Walter; A Map into the World; Drawn Together; George Baker; An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution; Jingle Dancer.)

Please share an Age Positive* picture book soon with an impressionable young mind.

***Don’t forget to comment on this post for a chance to win a hard copy of my book A Plan for the People: Nelson Mandela’s Hope for His Nation—mailed to one winner within the continental U.S.A. (Giveaway now closed)

Let me know in a comment if you share this post on social media and I’ll throw another chance in the hat for you. Thank you!

ALL images shared in this post are Age Positive books. For more go to the picture book resources at lindseymcdivitt.com

Download a free RESOURCE PAGE on aging and ageism in picture books here.



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14 Responses to 7 Positive Things Picture Books Can Teach Us about Aging

  1. Rita Miller says:

    Love everything about this article! And yes, I’ll be sharing it on Twitter!

  2. Gail Sorensen says:

    Excellent insights into the ways ageism can influence anyone’s attitude—even those too young to know the meaning of the word. Thanks for spending the last nine years reminding readers how diverse and wonderful we all are at any age!

  3. Ann Fate says:

    Beautiful insights about something that happens to all of us if we are lucky—we get older! Thank you, Lindsey, for reminding us that people need to be valued at all ages of the life span. I plan on reading some of these beautiful picture books to my new grandson. Miss Rumphius has always been a favorite. Thank you Lindsey!

  4. I’m a big fan of intergenerational stories and am honored that you included ABUELITA AND I MAKE FLAN in the mix!

    I read and re-read TEN BEAUTIFUL THINGS when it came out and loved THE OLDEST STUDENT as well as TOFU TAKES TIME. Can’t wait to check out all the other wonderful titles on this list.

  5. Helen H. Wu says:

    I love intergenerational books. Thank you so much for including TOFU TAKES TIME in such great company!

  6. Barbara Kimmel says:

    Such fabulous book suggestions on such an important topic. Let us all read and write books for children that show the dignity and purpose of later years.

  7. Joyce Uglow says:

    As a child of 94-year old parents, I see the miracles of full lives. Your post is inspirational. Thank you!

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