Two Picture Books Celebrate Late Life

 

Two picture books celebrating late life. Two picture books pushing ageism out of the shadows in kidlit. Two picture books I wish I’d written!

Hats off to

The Truth about Grandparents by Elina Ellis (Little, Brown & Co.; September 2019).

This picture book was originally published in Britain as The Truth about Old People.

 

 

 

AND—also Grandparents by Chema Heras; illustrated by Rosa Osuna (Greystone Kids). These are two important books, definitely about more than grandparents and grandkids. Here we have picture books that tackle myths and age stereotypes with humor!

Both books begin with the visible physical changes to our bodies that come with age. This makes it relatively easy to open conversations with kids around our society’s misconceptions about just what olders can do.

Grandparents is a sly delight first published in Spanish and translated into English by Elisa Amado. (It’s available May 5, 2020.)We see grandfather excited about a dance in town, but grandmother hedges, responding with multiple reasons she is no longer attractive enough to attend dances.

When told she is “as pretty as the sun,” she replies, “That’s not true. I am as ugly as a chicken with no feathers.” Grandfather pushes with ever more imaginative compliments and gradually softens her resistance. Their flirty word play is romantic and amusing.

Rosa Osuna’s illustrations beautifully convey their longtime love. She inserted tiny sketches that them in their younger days and skillfully conveys the joy found in mundane moments of togetherness. Both the author and illustrator of Grandparents live in Spain and the Spanish edition called Abuelos, won the prestigious Premi Llibreter de Narrativa Album Il-lustrat in 2003.

Editor Patricia Aldana’s imprint with Greystone Kids brings books from around the world to English-speakers everywhere. She discovered this lovely book in El Salvador at a Saturday morning library at the San Jacinto market when a young girl declared it her favorite book. (Here’s the back story.) I love that the publisher tags the book with a curriculum connection to healthy behaviors.

 

In The Truth about Grandparents Ukrainian/British Elina Ellis uses her art to directly contradict her text, thus challenging common myths about older adults.

For example, the text states, “I’ve been hearing lots of strange things about old people. Some people say they are NOT MUCH FUN. They say grandparents are SLOW…and CLUMSY…”

 

In reality the grandma and grandpa are having far too much fun. Yoga and dancing are shown, and a little romance. Yay! Smooch.

 

 

 

 

And rollercoasters, skateboards and roller-skates!

 

But I must admit that the latter two make me a tad uncomfortable. There are definitely speedy older adults, and no doubt there are a few grandmas and grandpas roller-skating and skateboarding, it seems those may not be the best examples. Am I wrong?

 

I REALLY like that olders’ alleged fear of technology is debunked here. Are there some older adults who are not tech savvy? Of course. But painting all with the same brush is stereotyping.

Parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians can certainly use these books to jump start some terrific discussions about the vast diversity kids observe in older adults. Think about asking children:

  • Do you think all Grandmas and Grandpas are the same?
  • What kind of fun do you have with your grandma and grandpa?
  • How are they different from other kids’ grandparents?
  • Do they have some special skills they might teach you?
  • Do you think they enjoy being with each other?

—Check out the thought provoking picture book Meena for another title highlighting assumptions about aging. Read more.

—Please think about supporting your independent bookstore in this challenging economic time. Feel free to use this Indie Bound link to find one near you.

Lastly, I’m so pleased to share that my own picture book Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story (Sleeping Bear Press.)has been nominated for an award from the Academy for Gerontology in Higher Education. Every two years AGHE gives an award for “the positive portrayal of older adults in books for kids.”

 

When making selections for their award AGHE considers:

  • Portrayal of meaningful aging
  • Portrayal of positive intergenerational relations
  • Diversity e.g, gender, race, ethnicity, disability
  • Appeal
  • Realism of story line

By the way, Gwen Frostic’s early environmental efforts make Nature’s Friend a great title to use for Earth Day 2020.

Stay well everyone! Warm wishes.

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Late Bloomer: Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Today’s post is by children’s author Paulette Bochnig Sharkey.

I’m a rule-follower, always have been. I color inside the lines. I follow recipes exactly. When I play the piano, I stick to the notes on the sheet music, without improvisation. When I write, I carefully attend to word count.

With all that worry about following rules, it took me a while to find my creative side. And it took me a while longer to let others see it. Classic late bloomer behavior.

 

I went directly from undergraduate to graduate school, earned a master’s degree in library science, and became a university reference librarian. The job fit me well. I loved solving bibliographic mysteries, researching esoteric topics, decoding complex journal citations. My natural attention to detail paid big dividends. Looking back, I can see that—especially in those pre-Internet days—the work also required a big dollop of creative thinking to find the information patrons asked me for.

I started writing for publication in the late 1980s. I was living in Reno, Nevada, having fun staying home with my young daughter. Every two weeks, the bookmobile parked at a nearby shopping center and we checked out as many picture books as we could carry. I became fascinated by the minimalism of the picture book form. I wanted to write one. I dabbled, but didn’t get far.

I had better luck with the nonfiction articles I wrote for children during that time, making dozens of sales to magazines like Highlights and Cricket.

Years passed. I retired and became a volunteer pianist in assisted-living and memory-care facilities in my community, something I’ve been doing now for fifteen years. Instead of the classical music I grew up studying, I play mostly World War II–era songs for the residents. Stories unfold around me as they respond to this music of their youth. I created a blog to share my volunteer pianist experiences. I’m still blogging. It’s what really got me writing again.

And I still wanted to write that picture book …

So in February 2017, I signed up for Writer’s Digest University’s “Writing the Picture Book,” and completed a draft of what turned into my debut, A Doll for Grandma: A Story about Alzheimer’s Disease (Beaming Books, May 2020. Illustrator Samantha Woo). Inspiration for the story came from my volunteer work with memory-care residents and from caring for family members with dementia.

But of course before the debut came the rejections from editors and agents, about ten of them. I entered A Doll for Grandma in contests, too, and often made the list of finalists but never won. My critique group helped me refine and revise, and I paid a couple of picture book experts for feedback.

But getting older has made it easier to give myself permission to view rules as merely suggestions.

Then in October 2018, while I was in Alaska awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, I received a book offer. I was 65 years old.

 

Developing my writing voice has been a process reminiscent of developing my distinct touch at the piano, an instrument I’ve played since the age of seven. My piano touch has to do not only with my technique, including the particular way I strike the keys, but also with interpretive elements like phrasing and expression. Put it all together and you get my sound, different from other pianists. People say they know it’s me at the piano even before they come around the corner and see me.

It was the piano that gave me a way into the story I tell in A Doll for Grandma. The piano has provided inspiration for several of my other manuscripts, too, including a picture book biography of Clara Schumann, a 19th century pianist who was definitely not a rule-follower.

Getting older has meant accepting that certain things probably aren’t going to happen for me. For example, despite a year of jazz piano lessons, I still can’t improvise.

But getting older has made it easier to give myself permission to view rules as merely suggestions. At least sometimes.

And with age has come better understanding of my own needs. Some people thrive on chaos. I am not one of them. Quiet and calm nourish my creativity and let me hear my own voice.

My grandson and my first book offer arrived together, forever linked. Two joys of my Third Age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bio

Paulette lives with her husband in the college town of East Lansing, Michigan. When life there gets too hectic, and household chores get in the way of creativity, she heads to Lake Michigan to reflect and recharge.

 

 

 

To order A Doll for Grandma: paulettesharkey.com/books/

website: PauletteSharkey.com

piano blog: PauletteSharkey.com/piano-blog/

twitter: @PBSharkey

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Find more late bloomers guest posts here.  (For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

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Top Ten reasons to read “A Map into the World”

In this beautiful new picture book “A Map into the World” we see warm friendships blossom across multiple generations, and across cultures. Author Kao Kalia Yang gives us insights into a Hmong-American family and Seo Kim‘s lovely illustrations complement her words. (Carolrhoda Books; 2019)

Below are my top ten reasons to read A Map into the World:

  1. What is most striking is that four generations are clearly delineated—the children, their parents, Paj Ntaub’s grandmother, Tais Tais—who gardens and actively assists with child care, and also their older neighbors Bob and Ruth. Here to be older is not simply “old.” All too often in picture books that is the case—“old” encompasses multiple generations.

 

  1. The author and illustrator adeptly show us a young child’s perspective of events. Paj Ntaub watches her world through the lens of the big living room window, trying to make sense of what she sees. We see the progression of four distinct seasons along with her observations of events. And from her low vantage point drawing on the sidewalk she overhears her mother and Bob talking.

  1. Growth and aging and death are shared as normal and natural. Paj Ntaub’s tiny twin brothers grow older in both the text and the lush illustrations by Seo Kim. Alongside this passing of time, Ruth’s death is gently shared and the sadness acknowledged. But to be older is not equated with death. Grandmother Tais Tais continues to help the young family in home and garden. Bob grieves, but also responds to their efforts to engage him.

 

  1. The young family reaches out in friendship and support to their older neighbor Bob as he grieves his partner of 60 years. Many people avoid mortality and sadness in discomfort, but this family shows us the way. Yet—the child does not “fix” the older adult.

  1. Paj Ntaub offers gifts of nature—first to her baby brothers—a golden gingko leaf, a ball of fresh snow, fragrant lilac flowers. Then later to their neighbor Bob, in the form of colorful chalk pictures on the sidewalk.

 

  1. We gain insights into a modern Hmong-American family as a valuable part of their community, along with hints at their ancient culture such as the beautiful story cloth.

  1. Childish observations and fun details will capture kids’ imagination. “They were like puppies, their tongues licking everything,” says Paj Ntaub about her infant brothers. And she names her worm “Annette.”

 

  1. The big sister grows visibly in responsibility for her baby brothers. At first her mother cautions her with regard to her interactions, but soon she is urged to help out, “Don’t let them eat the flowers Paj Ntaub.”

  1. This beautiful picture book doesn’t end with death and grief, but rather with hope for Bob’s reentry into his community, and the world. Too many picture books with older characters focus on illness, forgetfulness and decline. Growing old is often confused with disease and death.

 

  1. This book is based on truth. The author’s family maintains an ongoing friendship with their neighbor. She dedicated A Map into the World “For Bob, who loved Ruth.” Here we have a powerful message about community, inter-generational friendship, and longevity.

Editor Carol Hinz, author Kao Kalia Yang and Bob. Photo by Shaina Olmanson.

I’m grateful for this lovely book. In part because it shows the possibility of happiness after loss late in life. And because how we portray growing older does matter, even in picture books.

Researcher Sheree Kwong See at the University of Alberta says “We’ve been able to show that even young children have beliefs about older people’s abilities. We’re seeing what we could call ageism by about age three.”

photo by Shaina Olmanson. Used with permission.

The reality of aging is that there’s considerable heterogeneity; older people differ,” says Kwong See. “They differ a lot, and that is a more complicated story to portray, but it is the truth.”

Kwong See would like to see people be as proactive about quelling ageism as they are about issues like racism and sexism… intervention needs to start early to combat the negative stereotypes and to avoid the cycle people go through from being the perpetrator to being the target.” Read more about ageism and children.

Bob & Kao Kalia Yang at the book launch. Photo by Shaina Olmanson.

Ageism impacts our health and longevity, from an early age. Check out this fascinating research about the power of our beliefs about aging. And how it matters even for children.

Author Kao Kalia Yang of Minnesota, is also the author of award winning The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir and The Song Poet for adults. More picture books forthcoming in 2020.

A little Hmong-American History—

“The name “Hmong,” (pronounced “Mong”) translates as “Free People.”…In 1976, under the auspices of world relief organizations, the first Hmong refugee families came from Laos and Thailand to the United States, settling in California, Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Colorado, with other Southeast Asian immigrants…”

Excerpt. Read more from Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom by Dia Cha (Lee & Low Books, 1996)

Program from my daughter’s grade school, Randolph Heights, in St. Paul MN some years ago. Their Hmong New Year celebration featured a fashion show and music—it was a fabulous way to bridge cultures. Blessings on teachers!

Images used with permission. Thank you to Lerner Books, and editors Carol Hinz and Shaina Olmanson. I reviewed an ebook provided by the publisher at my request.

Find great picture book reviews every Friday at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

Find other picture books at A is for Aging about community and neighborly inter-generational friendships:  Mrs. Katz and Tush; Meena; Last Stop on Market Street; Harry and Walter; Mr. George Baker,

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Late Bloomer: Beth Anderson

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging—sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Today’s post is by children’s author Beth Anderson:

Late Blooming author Beth Anderson

The itch to write has always been with me. In elementary school, I wrote poems, plays, and puppet shows. Teachers encouraged me.

In junior high, I discovered joy in point of view, personification, and figurative language. Teachers encouraged me.

In high school, I wrote a “Canterbury Tale”—in couplets, for 24 pages. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. A teacher encouraged me, but also drilled into me the habits of good writing. Thank you, Mrs. McCullough! In college, her lessons paid off. And I had developed a love of language.

Several times during adult life, I thought about writing for children. Pre-internet—with working and kids. (I don’t know how you young writers do it!), I really didn’t know where to start.

But my life experiences were accumulating.

And as I taught ESL in elementary and middle school, I used children’s literature as a springboard for language, grammar, history, and science. I witnessed the power of story and true tales to open students’ worlds and inspire questions, thinking, and learning.

Beth in first grade

Teaching writing, I shared some of my own stories from my childhood. I was stunned by the students’ reaction. Suddenly, I was a writer. It was like a magic door—for me and for them as they began to write from the heart. When they asked what I was going to do in retirement, I admitted I’d love to write for children. They encouraged me, and I knew I had to give it my best shot.

“I think we often underestimate the value of life experience.”

In the fall of 2013 at age 59, I researched the industry, joined writing groups, and began to write. I started with fiction, tried to find my voice. And when I tackled an historical story, I immediately knew this was my path. With SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), critique partners, online groups and classes, and lots of encouragers, I found my way.

Beneath the surface, I was drawing on much more than these “writing” resources. I think we often underestimate the value of life experience. Equipped with life lessons involving rejection and criticism, success and failure, patience and perseverance, I’ve been better able to navigate the ups and downs of this endeavor than I would have at a younger age.

Knowing what kinds of children’s literature I enjoyed and valued as an educator, I’ve quickly found my passion within the field. I’m drawn to quirky bits of history, thought-provoking untold tales, and love the “accidental” learning that comes in the midst of a great story.

The teacher in me still guides my choices and telling, and the language nerd in me rejoices in well-crafted literary elements. Through the years, I’ve learned how to self-evaluate and seek out what I need.

The continual learning about the world and craft of writing feeds my brain, and I’m very fortunate to have the time to research and write, as well as the support of those around me. Age has brought a refreshing freedom.

I signed with agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill with Red Fox Literary in early 2016 and sold my first manuscript in the fall. AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET: BEN FRANKLIN AND NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION came out from Simon & Schuster in 2018. Find it here.

My second book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS releases Jan. 7, 2020 from Calkins Creek Books. And Kirkus Reviews gave it a star! It still seems a bit surreal.

Here I sit at age 65, officially a senior citizen, my sixth book awaiting revisions, a new submission being sent out into the world, and a pile of research on my desk. I credit my life experience and all the encouragers—family, friends, teachers, and generous kid lit community.

Lizzie Demands a Seat. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I read once that one of the best things to do in retirement is to be a rookie at something. I have to agree!

And I encourage you to go after your itch!

Lizzie Demands a Seat illustrated by E.B. Lewis

Beth Anderson

When she’s not writing, Beth might be weaving, gardening, exploring nature, or playing with her grandkids.  Beth’s website

Illustrators: E.B. Lewis

Elizabeth Baddeley 

Copyrighted images courtesy of Beth Anderson.

   Thank you Beth!

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Find more late bloomers guest bloggers here.

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

 

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Intergenerational History Lessons–Guest Post

Guest blogger Joanne Corrigan tells how olders are sharing rich history lessons in an intergenerational setting. Many thanks to Joanne for this inspirational way to use Positive Aging picture books!

When I discovered Lindsey McDivitt’s website, I was so excited! I knew it would be a perfect resource for my job. Lindsey was grateful to learn that it was helpful and asked that I share my work with her readers.

My name is Joanne Corrigan and I am an Intergenerational Coordinator. I work at a nursing home just outside New York City, called Andrus on Hudson.

Within the nursing home are two schools — Little Leaf, a forest preschool that celebrates nature and time outdoors, and Hudson Lab School a private elementary school using Project Based Learning and Design Thinking to guide their curriculum.

Because this triad is dedicated to the intergenerational experience, they employed me as the liaison to the children and Grands (that’s how we refer to our residents) during the school year.

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius made the world more beautiful

I already loved books like Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney, that feature older adults as strong lead characters, but I was thrilled to have so many new options for our Intergenerational Library time.

On our first IG Library day, I featured stories about Identity and Nature. That’s when the most wonderful thing happened! A book about brothers led to a discussion with the children and Grands about their own families.

As the groups paired up to read together, I continued listening to one of the Grands talk about his family. He shared many stories, but the one that really resonated was about his grandparents being on the Titanic.

His grandmother was put into a lifeboat and saved, while his grandfather went down with the ship. It’s a tragic story we all know well from movies and such, but this was an incredible personal link to history for the students.

It was on that day that I realized—we go to school in a Historical Society!

The next week the same Grand returned to the group with a book about the Titanic, and shared a picture of his grandfather standing on the deck of the famous ship before they embarked. The students were enthralled.

The teachers and I immediately decided to help the students begin work on a century long timeline from the sinking of the Titanic to present day. They will fill it with significant events, inventions, culture, etc. from history then infuse it with significant events from our own Grand population.

In November, I tapped into the fact that we also go to school with Veterans. I invited one of our Grands that served in the military to visit the upper elementary classroom and share what it means to be a Vet. He brought pictures of himself in the Army and he taught us how to salute and march. Now when the students see him in the building they stand tall and salute him. He smiles ear to ear.

 

We go to school among a corps of engineers, and men and women who kept NYC running. We interviewed one Grand engineer who oversaw maintenance of many highways and the George Washington Bridge. Another who was a toll taker on that bridge.

 

We go to school in an artist colony, a community of world travelers, and one of educators and musicians. We go to school with a choir of nuns. We are surrounded by seniors who are strong lead characters in their own stories!

How better to fight the stereotypes of old age than to get to know a Grand?

 

 

The children will tell you that they love the stories the Grands share from their long and interesting lives. The teachers and I are excited to find opportunities for making history lessons richer with stories from a Grand’s personal experience.

 

 

I will read books from Lindsey’s list, including her own.

In fact, I recently shared Bottle Houses, The Creative World of Grandma Prisbey by Melissa Etheridge Slaymaker (LOVE!), but nothing can come close to a Grandfriend sharing their own story.

If you aren’t lucky enough to go to school in a nursing home, find one near you and listen to people’s stories. They’ve all got them. And they love to have an audience and to be reminded of their value in life.

Get to know a Grand. It’s not charity. It’s symbiotic. It’s mutually beneficial and I guarantee, you won’t regret it.

Photos used with permission.

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Paul Erdos, Mary Garber and Jean-Henri Fabre thrived over a lifetime

There’s huge value in showing children that unusual people “who didn’t fit into the world in a ‘regular’ way” still forged satisfying lives for themselves. Paul Erdos, Mary Garber and  Jean-Henri Fabre truly “flew their freak flags,” so to speak, and yet thrived over a lifetime.

I’ve long appreciated how picture book biographies can show children long lives well-lived, along with accomplishments they might aspire to. (After all kids are kids for such a short time.) But today I’m excited to showcase three picture book bios that take that a step further.

            The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

(By Deborah Heiligman. Pictures by LeUyen Pham. Roaring Brook Press)

As a boy famed mathematician Paul Erdos “spent his days calculating, counting, and thinking about numbers. He couldn’t tie his own shoes or butter his own toast” and that changed little as he grew up.

However, Paul made dear friends all over the world who kindly cared for him. In return this math genius generously shared his brain, helping other mathematicians with math problems and research, and connecting others across countries. He was a “math matchmaker.”

The Boy Who Loved Math

 

“Even when Paul got very old, he still did math…He did math while he played chess. He did math while he drank coffee. Lots and lots of coffee…”

Read more about The Boy Who Loved Math here.

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber

        (By Sue Macy. Pictures by C.F. Payne. Simon & Schuster Books)

Mary Garber was a pioneering female sportswriter in the 1940’s when it was definitely not a woman’s job. As a child Mary “was tiny bit of a girl, but that didn’t stop her from playing football with the boys. Tackle football.”

Illustration in Miss Mary

Inspired by Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the major leagues since the 1880’s, Mary persevered despite struggles to be accepted in a man’s world. She was a sportswriter for 56 years, retiring when 70, but she continued to write for the Winston Salem Journal until she was 86 years old.

Mary Garber championed black children in sports in black schools—writing about them when no one else paid attention. And writing about any child, she was always as positive as possible. Mary believed, “If you can give a child a pat on the back…or you can make him believe in himself, you can make a difference in his life.”

Read more about Miss Mary Reporting here.

 

            Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects

            (By Matthew Clark Smith. Pictures by Giuliano Ferri. Two Lions Press)

“In the sunny, south of France…on the very edge of town…” lived Jean-Henry Fabre, “an old man with beetle-black eyes and a black felt hat who talked to animals. Whether he was a sorcerer, or simply a madman, no one could agree.”

In spite of ridicule over his long life during the 1800’s, Jean-Henri persisted in carefully observing insects’ behavior in their habitats. For decades he studied them and documented their lives as the small wonders they are.

As Jean-Henri Fabre neared his ninetieth year he was still working. Then the King of France visited his village to the astonishment of the villagers, and he was informed that he’d been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature for his poetic writing about the lives of insects.

Read more about Small Wonders here.

I’m hoping parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians will read picture book biographies like these with kids and point out that our individual passions and personality quirks are also our strengths. As we age we often find just the path to using our personal  strengths if we persevere.

The three profiled above maximized their enjoyment as they grew older over many, many decades.

Recently I had fun reading Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story to a group of 6-9 year olds. It really grabbed their attention when I emphasized how Gwen Frostic worked at her art for over eighty years by using my fingers for each decade of Gwen’s life. Her 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A great way to get the point across–we have years of potential in front of us.

 

Find more picture book biographies at A is for Aging.

I reviewed all three books from the library.

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Late Bloomer: Guest Post by Author Yvonne Pearson

Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes.

“Creativity keeps us fresh, keeps us alive, keeps us moving forward.”

(Rollo May, psychotherapist and author of Courage to Create.)

Guest post by author Yvonne Pearson:

I began writing books for children seriously when I was sixty years old. It’s become one of my life’s great delights.

 

I’d been writing in bits and pieces for many years, the occasional newspaper or magazine article, freelance writing for non-profits and companies, but rarely my own creative writing.

I had dreamed of being a writer for as long as I can remember. Sometime in my thirties I got up the confidence to take a community education poetry class, which launched my obsession with writing in the spaces between changing diapers and giving baths and cooking grilled cheese sandwiches.

I was thrilled when my poetry was published. I loved doing readings. But the endless rejections overwhelmed me. Before I really got started on a writing career, I gave it up.

My confidence deserted me. Instead, I went back to college for a graduate degree in social work. I loved it, I felt like I’d come home, but that writing bug still clung to me.

I had loved reading picture books to my children. My favorites were the ones that read like poetry. So I thought, “I can write poetry. What could be so hard about writing a picture book?” I dashed off a poem and was certain I’d written a beautiful picture book.

Oh my, I had no idea how much I didn’t know. Writing children’s literature opened up a whole new world of learning along with a rich community of supportive friends.

The year I turned sixty I saw a contest for picture book manuscripts through the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I was feeling a lot of time pressure: if I was ever going to do this, I had to do it now. So I submitted. I was one of eight winners in the Shabo Award contest that year and in the subsequent year’s contest.

My children’s writers’ group formed out of the second Shabo workshop with author Marion Dane Bauer. Two years later a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant allowed me to go to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) annual conference.

Then I learned something from Alison McGhee that helped tamp down my worry that I’d come too late to this effort. She taught the workshop that was my reward for winning the first Shabo Award, She told us that New Yorker cartoonist William Steig didn’t start his enormously successful children’s writing career until he was sixty.

At the monthly Twin Cities Picture Book Salon I met Minnesota Historical Society Press editor Shannon Pennefeather. She acquired my debut trade book, Sadie Braves the Wilderness.

Yvonne sharing “Sadie” at the Minnesota State Fair.

During the wait for publication I went after non-fiction books for the educational market, publishing with Red Line Press and Capstone. Some of those projects didn’t allow a lot of creativity, but they were all great learning opportunities. And some of them let me play happily with words, including five books on writing poetry and another on the 33 miners who survived being buried alive in Chile.

I also wrote a middle grade novel that’s gotten no traction and has gone back into the proverbial drawer. My newest project is a young adult verse novel, in which I’m very lucky to get guidance from Marion Dane Bauer with the help of a second Arts Board Grant.

And then there was the surprise of my life—receiving the 2018 Loft-McKnight Fellowship in Children’s Literature.

At 71, I still am visited periodically by the panic that I don’t have enough time left to make a substantial career. But I know others have proven that’s it can be done after 60 and after 70. I also find that at 71, I worry less.

Moose masks at the Minnesota State Fair!

I remind myself that this isn’t about making a big career. It’s about the lovely community I am privileged to participate in; about the pleasure it brings me to put together good sentences; about finding inside myself a book that can make a difference to another person; and about learning, always learning.

Find Sadie Braves the Wilderness by Yvonne Pearson; illustrated by Karen Ritz via all the usual sources. (Fiction; ages 3-7)

Read more about Yvonne’s experience publishing with a Historical Society Press at Cynsations, the blog of author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts at A is for Aging–sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

Bear masks activity at the MN State Fair

 

(For further resources, see books Secrets to Becoming a Late Bloomer: Extraordinary ordinary people on the art of staying creative, alive and aware in mid-life and beyond by Connie Goldman & Richard Mahler; The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life by Gene D. Cohen M.D.; What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life by Bruce Frankel.)

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, guest posts, Inspiration and Profiles, Late Bloomers | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

A is for Aging news article

Hello A is for Aging readers,

just a quick post to share the good news.

The Minneapolis/St.Paul Star Tribune newspaper published an article last week about this blog! It’s very well written by Kevyn Burger and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Here is the link to the article. If ads and solicitations to subscribe pop up, you can close them to return to the brief article.

 

Also, exciting news! “Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story” was recognized last week as a Michigan Notable Book. What a thrill to see it amongst amazing company and sporting a shiny gold medallion.

With gratitude for your support,

Lindsey

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Miss Rumphius: A Classic for Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing Miss Rumphius, a picture book beloved by many—both adults and children. Often called “the lupine lady,” it was written and illustrated by Barbara Cooney who illustrated many books for children.

 

The long life of Miss Alice Rumphius is shared by her fictional grand-niece and it included work, travel to exotic places, a beautiful home by the sea, and making a difference in the world…sigh, not too shabby.

The book Miss Rumphius has also enjoyed a long life. It was first published in 1985 and it’s still in print from Penguin Random House. I believe this book has endured, in part, because it shows us a fulfilling life from childhood into old age—something we all aspire to.

With the fairly recent advent of picture book biographies we do see interesting lives highlighted more frequently. But there is something very special and satisfying about Miss Rumphius.

Young Alice loves and respects her own grandfather, who tells her to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” I love that Miss Rumphius leaves a legacy to younger generations—sowing the countryside with the seeds of colorful lupine flowers. It is endearing also, that she is passing on the legacy of her grandfather’s wisdom.

This book realistically shares the uncertainty, even fear, of children who initially see Miss Rumphius only as a very old woman at the end of the book, but then later sit at her feet to hear her stories.

And yes, old age can include illness. (Although all too often disease is equated with aging,) It’s good to see that while Miss R.’s back problems keep her in bed for a time, she recovers to hike the hills once more to spread more lupine seeds.

 

 

Sharing this lovely picture book with children we are given the opportunity to discuss how we as humans can harm Mother Earth or help it.

It also allows us to talk with them about both positive and negative aspects of growing older, and the strength and resilience of our elders.

The author received The American Book Award for Miss Rumphius and won two Caldecott Medals for other books. This book is part of what Cooney “retrospectively called a trilogy — ”Miss Rumphius” (1982), ”Island Boy” (1988) and ”Hattie and the Wild Waves” (1990)’” in The New York Times. “They made up what she said was ”as close to any autobiography as I will ever get.’”

Lupines near Lake Superior in Minnesota

Like her character, Barbara Cooney lived a long life filled with travel. She enjoyed a career of 60 years as an illustrator who most definitely made the world more beautiful. Barbara Cooney also lived in a home by the sea—one built by her son on the coast of Maine.

Next Steps:

We can discuss with children both the goals and challenges that older adults might have, and also the fact that despite changing bodies people of all ages are really the same in so many ways.

Seize the chance to take note of just what you value in the older people you love, and share that legacy with your children. But also consider sharing it with them.

Years ago I gifted my own mother with this beautiful and lyrical book, and thanked her for teaching me to notice nature’s gifts.

***Do you know this picture book? What is it that captivates you?

More picture books to share with children on Earth Day (or any day).

 

Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt.

Gwen Frostic was a nature artist and early environmentalist from Michigan who sold her beautiful greeting cards worldwide hoping to open people’s eyes to the wonder and beauty of our natural world.

Recognized as a Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing award 2019 recommended title. A 2018 Michigan Notable Book.

 

 

 

Stretch to the Sun by Carrie Pearson.

Brand new! A lovely story about “the tallest tree on earth. For over 1200 years, this giant coast redwood has survived enormous natural challenges but its biggest adversaries—and saviors—were people.”

 

 

 

 

Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs by Linda Vander Heyden.

Mr. McGinty and his dog Sophie love checking in on the monarch caterpillars and butterflies on their walks. But one day Mr. McGinty they find all the milkweed in town has been mowed down! And monarch caterpillars can’t survive without milkweed. Can Mr. McGinty come up with a plan to save the monarchs?

A 2016 Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing Award Honorable Mention title.

 

Four Otters Toboggan by Vivian Kirkfield.

Lyrical text introduces children to ten endangered animals: river otters, Peregrine falcons, yellow mud turtles and more. Read more at Good Reads with Ronna.

 

 

 

Info on the “real Miss Rumphius” Hilda Edwards.

I reviewed my own copy of Miss Rumphius.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews for Ages 3-6, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Late Bloomer: Guest post by author Vivian Kirkfield

A Leap of Faith:

How jumping from a plane jump-started my writing career

As a teenager, I was a huge Beatles fan. One of my favorite songs was When I’m 64. And for me, when I was 64, the course of my life changed.

I’d always been timid about meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. But with our children married and my retirement approaching, my husband encouraged me to write a book—a book filled with picture book recommendations, craft projects, and cooking activities to help parents reconnect with their kids.

The process of writing Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking was fun. But the process of self-publishing was not so easy. I had to figure out how to get the book out into the world. Being timid, it was hard for me to walk into local bookstores and libraries to see if they would carry it.

A few months after the book was published, I went to Chicago to visit my son. “Guess what we’re doing tomorrow?” he said. “SKYDIVING!” And although I am not a fan of heights, I somehow went along with it. And I’m so glad I did. Because that leap of faith gave my self-confidence a huge boost. If I could jump out of a plane, I probably could do just about anything!

Returning home, I continued to search for ways to promote my book. I began blogging about picture books. I discovered that Susanna Leonard Hill reviewed picture books every Friday. Linking up with Perfect Picture Book Friday opened the door to the kidlit community—many of them were pursuing the dream of becoming published picture book authors. And I soon realized that was my dream as well.

Jumping in with both feet and my whole heart, I participated in every writing challenge that came along over the next few years: PiBoIdMo, 12×12, RhyPiBoMo. I joined critique groups. I took several online picture book writing classes. And I wrote and revised and wrote and revised.

By 2015, I was getting positive feedback from agents who had received my manuscripts. Where did I find those agents? As a Gold member of 12×12, I had been submitting on a monthly basis. I also perused the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List on Twitter) where agents and editors tweet about what they are looking for. In addition, I participated in #Pitmad, one of the many Twitter pitch challenges where editors and agents lurk about, reading pitches and favoriting the ones they would like to see.

And lastly, I sent a random submission to an agent who had just signed an acquaintance of mine because I fell in love with the about page of her agency website. By the fall of 2015, the year I turned 68, I signed with Essie White from Storm Literary Agency. And within a few months, I had a book deal for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH.

The next year was a quiet one with editors passing on all of my manuscripts. I began to doubt myself. I reached out to a critique buddy who was already published. She assured me that this often happens. She’d gotten her first book deal and a year went by with nothing new. And then…boom…boom…boom. So, I kept on writing and revising and my agent kept on submitting and at the end of 2017…boom…boom…boom. I sold three more books. And another in 2018.

And as the calendar page flips to 2019, my writing journey will be taking me around the world. In February, I’ll be flying to Sydney to speak at the Australia SCBWI conference, to Auckland to visit with a dear critique buddy and share my thoughts with SCBWI members there, to Switzerland to spend time with another kidlit friend, and then to the Bologna Book Fair.

I am jumping in again with both feet and my whole heart—but NOT jumping out of the plane, I hope!

My last thoughts to all of you are that perhaps there is a reason why the word ‘picture book’ starts with the letter P. For me, there are several key factors that contribute to turning your dream of becoming a published picture book author into a reality. 

Illustration by Vivian’s granddaughter

  1. Be PASSIONATE about what you are writing.
  2. Be PRODUCTIVE. Research one manuscript. Write another. Revise a third.
  3. Be PATIENT. This is a process that takes time. I wrote FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK in 2013—it launches on March 15, 2019. I penned PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE in 2014—its pub date is February 5, 2019. And my first book deal was signed in 2015, but SWEET DREAMS, SARAH won’t hit bookstore shelves until May 1, 2019.
  4. Be PERSISTENT. You will encounter lots of rejection. Embrace feedback. Be willing to revise, but stand firm on retaining your vision for the story. And never ever give up.

 

Vivian’s Bio:

Vivian Kirkfield’s career path is paved with picture books. She shelved them at the library during her college years. She read them to her students when she taught kindergarten. And she writes them. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, February 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); and From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020).

Vivian lives in the quaint New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite Monopoly partner. You can visit her website at Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Linkedin.

Late Bloomers are guest blog posts sharing thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age. Late Bloomers defy age stereotypes and help show us the way to tap into our creativity using life experience, energy and positive attitudes. Thank you Vivian!

Posted in Activities and Resources, Inspiration and Profiles, Late Bloomers, Resources for Writers | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments