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!

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Late Bloomer: Amy Losak on “H is For Haiku” & preserving her mother’s legacy

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 Amy Losak

Back in my careless and sometimes self-absorbed childhood and young womanhood, it never occurred to me that one day I would be writing short poetry—haiku and senryu – like my mother, Sydell Rosenberg. If anyone had told me at the time that I would follow in Syd’s footsteps, I probably would have laughed.

As a youngster, I didn’t have the capacity to focus with a sense of wonder on my daily surroundings or try to make something special out of my observations and impressions. I did dabble a little, but eventually indifference won out and I stopped. I loved words, reading and the arts, but I lacked an ability to mine those small moments. Syd had this gift, and she avidly cultivated it.

But I’m much older now. I’m within a few years of my mom’s sudden death in her mid-60s, and for the past several years I’ve been writing haiku. No one is more surprised than I. And Syd, wherever she is, must be wide-eyed with surprise. I hope she is pleased with my efforts to honor her and preserve her literary legacy. My life has been enriched in unexpected ways.

illustration in “H is for Haiku”

Syd was a New York City teacher and published writer and poet. Mom studied and wrote haiku for decades. In 1968, she became a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in NY. She also wrote and published other poetry, short stories, word puzzles and literary. Even in my disinterest years ago, I and others who loved mom knew how much her writing meant to her.

Syd’s death, on the morning of October 11, 1996, was a horrifying shock, a wake-up call to life’s unexpected, often cruel turns. And in retrospect, it turned out to be a call for action. As we were leaving her funeral, I remember my sister-in-law Debbie saying that somehow we would publish the children’s poetry book Syd had long wanted. We would find a way to realize her dream.

Over time, it dawned on me that I would have to do this. I was terrified to the point of paralysis. The grief that gripped me over our loss compounded my fear and lack of self-confidence. It became my enemy.

The ups and downs of daily life inevitably got in the way – finding care for our dad Sam, who suffered from dementia; closing up their apartment, starting a new job as a healthcare public relations executive, moving, etc., all kept me from getting started. As the years flowed by, the knowledge that time might be running out weighed on me. It became its own burden, to be honest.

Around 2011, I finally began to organize, in my own haphazard way. As a PR executive with years of experience, I’m used to generating program ideas and creative collaborations. So I brainstormed ways to revive mom’s work for today’s audiences, especially children.

Illustration in “H is for Haiku”

I established a rewarding partnership with a fabulous New York City nonprofit, Arts For All , to develop programs using some of mom’s haiku to teach the basics of art, music, and theater. I’ve also worked with the Poets House, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Children’s Museum of the Arts — all in NYC.

But a children’s book was always the ultimate goal, and the ticking of the clock has been relentless. I debated self-publishing versus a traditional publisher and decided to shoot for the latter. At last, in April of 2015, I began mailing out a version of mom’s old picture book manuscripts I had titled, H Is For Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from to A to Z.

Of course, I received no feedback at all or rejections. Some of the rejections were kind, even complimentary. In 2016, thanks to a haiku editor and poet, Aubrie Cox Warner, I learned about Penny Candy Books, a wonderful new independent press founded by two poets, Chad Reynolds and Alexis Orgera.

Penny Candy Books loved mom’s simple but striking style her way of celebrating small moments in daily life. H Is For Haikugorgeously illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi, was released April 2018– almost 22 years after mom’s death.

Along this long and daunting journey to revive my mom’s legacy, something kind of marvelous happened — I started to slow down and pay attention to small moments. I began to write my own short poetry. I’m learning from the work of other fine poets, and I’m growing.

I am an eternal beginner, which is just fine. It’s the process that matters most (though I’m proud to say that some of my micro-poetry has been published). Writing haiku has bolstered my confidence and helped me to believe that I’m “doing right” by my mother – and by young audiences. I’m grateful for the support of a legion of people: my husband Cliff and family, friends and colleagues; poets, children’s authors, teachers, librarians – many people.

Amy Losak

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to pursue a dream – but you can’t always wait for the perfect moment to start. This rarely happens. At some point, you have to take the first steps, come what may. Now that H Is For Haiku is out in the world – where I hope it brings joy to young readers and the adults in their lives — I’m thinking about a second poetry picture book, one that combines Syd’s haiku and my own. We will see what blooms next!


Some of Amy Losak’s own haiku poetry

(The first one is written in the old “traditional” syllabic format of 5/7/5. The others are not. Today’s English-language haiku are no longer regularly written using a total of 17 syllables.)


Awake in deep night

a black cat’s body tenses …

somewhere, a cricket.


sun-clock …

my day unwinds

with low-flying sparrows


breeze on my face …

I let go the weight

of the world

     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.

Thank you so much Amy!

(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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Nature’s Friend: The story behind the story

At the age of 60, after seven years of writing, and at least 20 drafts of the story, my first picture book was published this summer—Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story. (Sleeping Bear Press; Ages 5-9.) I find it fitting that Gwen, the nature artist, enjoyed a long career—working into her 90’s in her shop in the woods.

I’ve saved ideas for books for years, like a squirrel hoarding acorns for winter, and I have two additional publishing contracts. But I thought I’d share a little back story here, as this one surprised me.

While growing up in Minnesota in the 1970’s, my friends and I embraced the new environmental movement as teens by energetically smashing glass at the recycling truck and gifting each other with Gwen Frostic’s gorgeous nature themed greeting cards. Awareness of air and water pollution was rising and we dreamed of finding our own pristine corner of the woods one day.

Fast forward 45 years–I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when like a hawk spying a tiny mouse, I spotted a brochure up north about Gwen’s shop and studio. It’s a fairy-like spot in the forest near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore on Lake Michigan. (Are you noting my nature similes yet?)

Gwen died in 2001, but happily Gwen’s shop remains open under new owners. They sell Gwen’s beautiful nature inspired cards made from linoleum blocks carved by her hardworking hands. Her nephew Bill Frostic continues to operate her Heidelberg printing presses as he has for more than fifty years.

My initial research revealed what a pioneering woman Gwen was in her era–a strong role model for young girls. Gwen Frostic lived with physical challenges caused by an unknown childhood illness, perhaps polio, but it was never diagnosed.

Yet Gwen never believed she was handicapped. It frustrated her that others did—that they noticed mainly how she was different and made judgments about her.



Gwen was no scared chipmunk hiding under the woodpile. She built a successful business around her art and consistently challenged stereotypes of disability and also of women. In the later years of her amazing life she tackled the low expectations of old age. “Just because a person is older doesn’t mean they don’t have new ideas,” she said.

Fairly late in her life Gwen became both rich and famous—all due to her own efforts. She wrote and illustrated 22 stunning books and sold her greeting cards via mail order around the world.

An astute business woman, Gwen donated 13 million dollars to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The college’s art school is now named the “Gwen Frostic School of Art.” Her generous bequest funds scholarships, awards and facilities benefiting students in art, creative writing and environmental studies.

pic courtesy of Paul W. Hankins

My research also revealed the depth of the environmental challenges America faced in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. The Cuyahoga River that flows into Lake Erie famously burned in 1969 and it regularly emptied its oily sludge into the Great Lake. But it was not the only polluted waterway in America. River fires and massive fish kills were common occurrences then.

Gwen never called herself an environmentalist, but she was one of many who raised the profile of the environmental movement so new back then. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was widely credited with igniting the movement in 1962. Like Rachel, Gwen believed people would protect only what they noticed and appreciated.

People who valued nature pushed Congress for change. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and made a vast difference to water quality, and the plants and wildlife dependent upon it. Something for us all to recall with today’s environmental challenges. People have accomplished great things before.

I revised my story of Gwen’s life at least 20 times—I carefully carved away words like Gwen chipped away at her linoleum printing blocks. I finessed all 32 pages with feedback from fellow writers and the help of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators).

As a picture book biography for ages 6-9, it is all true, but written in a lyrical read-a-loud format. I recall having a hard time letting go of my initial beginning, but finally had to “kill my darling” as they say.

An early draft of my beginning that you won’t see in the book—

In 1906, a small child with a fierce fever often did not survive. On Christmas Eve in Croswell, Michigan the worries loomed large. But this tiny girl, Sara Gwendolen Frostic, would never do just what folks expected. This girl had toughness and spirit, and a talent to share. Live she did—for a very long time.

     The fever that raged through Gwen’s body had changed it forever. Mama and Papa knew coddling their curly-haired girl wouldn’t help. They had a hunch about hard work, along with a little luck. And Mama possessed a talent for finding lucky four-leafed clovers by the bunch.

My manuscript caught the eye of an editor at Sleeping Bear Press when I paid for her critique through the online Kidlit College. SBP makes beautiful books and they’re located in Michigan so I’d hoped they’d be aware of Gwen’s work. But I had no way of knowing the editor had a tiny tattoo of Gwen’s art! (Talk about luck!)

A few more tweaks and a book contract followed the talented editor’s suggestions. What a thrill when Sleeping Bear Press selected the amazing Eileen Ryan Ewen as illustrator. Her pictures evoke the magic of nature and skillfully show Gwen Frostic aging over her long life.

Our book debuted in July 2018, along with a billboard celebrating the book and the 20th anniversary of Sleeping Bear Press. My story, Gwen’s story, is now in beautiful book form.

If you are interested in purchasing* Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, you can find it in all the usual places. Or perhaps you’d consider asking a local bookstore or library to order it.

*In appreciation for spreading the word about the need for positive images of aging in books for kids I’m offering to send you a signed bookplate via regular mail if you’ve purchased my book. (Just message me through my contact page here at the website.) Thank you and Happy Holidays!

Purchase via Sleeping Bear Press, IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

View a brief book trailer on YouTube.

Illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Photographs by Lindsey McDivitt. 

Posted in Book Reviews, Book Reviews for Ages 6-9, Interviews, Late Bloomers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Late Bloomer: Author Cynthia Surrisi


I’m pleased to present the first in a series of guest posts at “A is for Aging, B is for Books.”

     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


Late Bloomers: Cynthia Surrisi on launching her writing career:

I was fortunately born with an indomitable creative spirit. I believe we all are. Mine has survived every attempt to douse it. By that I mean long days, months, and years of attention to what can be the dry details of legal contract negotiations at work; house management, billing paying, and other domestic matters at home; personal losses, and far too many air miles of business travel.

But these years were also enriched by flourishing children, wonderful relationships, successes of many kinds, and warm sun on my face.

What I didn’t have all those years were hours to dedicate to creative writing, which I longed to do. I have a BFA, a law degree, and finally now, an MFA.  While technically I can say I retired from law, I really just stopped doing it in favor of returning to a more creative life.

Because I learn best in a structured environment, and I felt I had a relatively short horizon to really learn to write, I entered an MFA program. I chose the low-residency, Vermont College of Fine Arts and it worked splendidly for me.


I’m a hard worker and an over achiever. I gave it all the attention it demanded and more. I thoroughly enjoyed being back in graduate school. Within weeks of getting my MFA I got a book deal that led to a three book, middle grade mystery series and a picture book.

Perhaps because I knew I wasn’t seeking a thirty-year, fifty-book writing career, and I never fancied myself chasing the Newbery Award, I have not felt pressured by my late start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m acutely aware that a late-blooming career naturally has limitations. It takes a good long while to write the books, and they are two years from contract to publication on average. But I have a greater ease about it, I think. 

When I get feedback from my editor or agent that something needs to change, I’m all about the change. Not because I’m not invested in principle, but because I trust their judgment. If they don’t like one book, I’ll come up with another and another.

There are some obstacles to navigating this business as an older adult. I’m sixty-nine. I was fifty-seven when I first joined the Society for Children’s Writers and Illustrators, sixty-four when I started the MFA program; and sixty-six when my first middle grade mystery was published.

Four books and three years later, I’ve done book launches, library conferences, book festivals, writer’s conferences, blog tours, maintained two critique groups, and taught at the university level. I’ve passed on many opportunities to promote the books because I am wearied by the promotional aspects of the business. I would rather spend the time writing new things. I have to make hard choices about where to put my energy these days.

Frankly, I don’t know how long this will last. I’m not worried about it either. Because I’ve written three mysteries it has earned me membership in the Mystery Writer of America and the Sisters in Crime. I’m now enticed by writing adult cozies. You see, there goes that indomitable creative spirit with a mind of its own.

Cynthia Surrisi’s website


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.

(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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Using Picture Books to Change Attitudes to Aging

Back in 2013, when I first began blogging about images of aging and older adults in picture books, I believed it to be a rather lonely effort. Awareness of the need to diversify those images in both text and illustrations was largely lacking. But there are others out there—individuals concerned about ageism blossoming in very young kids.

And people aware that research shows we all age more healthfully when we hold positive attitudes to growing older.

Also, those long dedicated to promoting aging education for kids using children’s literature.

They all inform my own efforts in different ways as I refine my message. Below are brief insights into the educators who point the way—I’m honored to follow in their footsteps:

  1. Sandra L. McGuire, who has published and presented on aging education for children for over 25 years, believes strongly that children’s books should help promote positive attitudes about aging. Our society bombards both kids and adult with negative stereotypes and myths about aging. Read her article in Creative Education Journal.

    Groundwood Books/House of Anansi

    Dr. McGuire has compiled an extensive list of children’s literature with only positive portrayals of older adults rather than books that “mirrored our society’s ageist attitudes.” Her criteria eliminate, “Books that focus on death, dying, dementia, illness and disability…These topics are not synonymous with aging.” You can find her list here and also on my website. I’m truly honored that Dr. McGuire has lent her expertise and experience as an advisor to my website and “A is for Aging” blog for several years now.


  1. Barbara M. Friedman’s excellent book, Connecting Generations, shares strategies for integrating aging education. She advocates that educators expose children to all types of books, while recognizing that “…many intergenerational trade books have examples of ageism, stereotyping, and age-related negative attitude portrayals.”

Lee & Low Books

Ms. Friedman further states, “Students often believe that what they read in books is true and right,” but she believes children should be helped to develop the critical-thinking skills needed to assess the value of the books. Her book shares many excellent ways to teach kids about growing older and to develop those skills.

(Connecting Generations: Integrating Aging Education and Intergenerational Programs with Elementary and Middle Grade Curricula. Allyn and Bacon, 1999.)

  1. A 2013 issue of the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships reports on related research in “Images of Old: Teaching About Aging Through Children’s Literature.” Recognizing teachers’ reluctance to teach about aging—unsurprising given our society’s mixed messages—researchers Elizabeth Larkin, Ed.D. and Patricia Wilson, Ed.D. asked the question—- “…how do children build a nuanced understanding of what ‘old’ means?” Teacher interns in culturally diverse K-5 classrooms selected books thought to appeal to students and critical thinking was encouraged. (Vol. 11, No. 1, 2013. Pages 4-17)

    Picture book “Harry and Walter” celebrates inter-generational friendship

Key findings included “…children can be helped to recognize older adults in the school and the community as role models for growing older so that their understanding of the aging process includes a wide range of capabilities and interests…”


The article added, “Children’s literature with likeable, realistic older adult characters offers an effective doorway into conversations about how we are all aging from the moment we are born.”


Current developments are very encouraging. Numerous organizations and individuals that advocate for older adults are campaigning against ageism. Two to definitely check out: Ashton Applewhite, activist and author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto against Ageism.

And Dr. Bill Thomas’s Changing Aging efforts—this recent guest post calls on teachers to change the focus of “100 days of school” celebrations. (Read my thoughts on ideas for celebrating 100 Days of School here.)


In the world of kidlit we are fortunate to have the powerful winds of change brought by the We Need Diverse Books organization (WNDB), a grassroots organization advocating for changes in the publishing industry.

They are pushing for “A world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book.” The WNDB website states: “We recognize all diverse experiences, including) but not limited to LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities.


In addition, NYT bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith has been a strong supporter on her blog Cynsations since the inception of “A is for Aging.” Cynthia also teaches her students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program that avoiding a reliance on age stereotypes is essential to showing a diversity of older characters in our writing.

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Here at “A is for Aging, B is for Books” I’m looking forward to adding more voices, including those of teachers and librarians sharing strategies for engaging kids in conversations about growing older.

Watch for a fascinating guest post soon by Joanne Corrigan, librarian for a school located in the same building as a long term care center for older adults.

Also, “Late Bloomers” guest blog posts will begin here next week and share thoughts and insights from individuals who have launched notable creative efforts in the arts in their Third Age.

The inaugural post is by Cynthia Surrisi, author of picture books and middle grade mysteries. She was 66 when her first mystery was published.


Please consider joining the conversation—what do YOU think is vital in teaching children about aging? How do you envision using picture books for kids in that effort?



Read my post “5 Stereotypes Positive Aging Picture Books Avoid.

Nature's Friend The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivittPlease look for my new picture book from Sleeping Bear Press about an amazing older role model, Gwen Frostic.

(My own ever developing list of picture books with positive and accurate images of aging began in 2013 with a list used with permission of the SEA Change project. It was initiated by Dr. Gene D. Cohen at the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at The George Washington University.

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The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Retires

By Letty Sustrin; illus. by Thomas H. Bone’ III

Blue Marlin Publications 2017 (Ages 4 and up)

In The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Retires, twenty years have passed in the life of teacher Mrs. Belle since the School Rules forced her into reluctant retirement. It is the final book of a fun series that chronicled those decades.

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Goes to Camp

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Becomes a Movie Star

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Discovers a New Planet

The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers

First book of the series

In the first book, the gray haired first grade teacher donned creative disguises and slipped back into school—as a window washer, the lunch lady, and finally as the fire inspector. Her beloved students always recognized her distinctive ballet slippers.

Then Mrs. Belle volunteered weekly in her former classroom. I can count on one hand the number of picture books I’ve found portraying an older adult being of service to their community. Yet the “…the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009) estimates…that 23.5% of adults aged 65 years and older volunteered in 2008…”

In this final book Mrs. Belle decides it’s finally time to retire and she launches her new stage of life with an exciting cruise. She is accompanied by friends featured throughout the series—Mr. Rivera, Kitty Belle the cat, and Magic the dog.

Illustrations for the series are by cartoonist-animator Thomas H. Bone III. For me the pictures are reminiscent of The Jetsons, a much loved futuristic cartoon once enjoyed on Saturday mornings with a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs.

Five things I love about this book:

  • Belle’s friends and former students in Laurelville Town planned the trip as a gift in return for the joy she has given them over the years. She is a valued member of her community.

“There she is, our Mrs. Belle.

As she retires, we wish her well.

The Dancing Lady is her ship.

We all know she’ll have a great trip!

  • From the moment Mrs. Belle is ushered to a seat at the Captain’s Table we see her recognized. Captain Scott announces—

“On this trip, we are honored to have a very special person with us. Her name is Mrs. Belle, and not only is she celebrating her retirement, but many years ago she was my first grade teacher. She’s still wearing her colorful ballet slippers!”

  • The intergenerational friendships in this picture book are warm without a hint of condescension. At every stop on the cruise Mrs. Belle is welcomed by a former student and now in their twenties they enjoy fun times with her.


  • Retiree Mrs. Belle is not sitting on the sidelines! Author Letty Sustrin portrays her as game to try anything from cliff diving to dancing and the Limbo.
  • Older adults authored this series—Letty and Sheila Sustrin, twin sisters both retired from teaching, enjoyed a long second career as writers for children. Sadly, Sheila Sustrin passed away in 2015 and Letty completed this book in honor of her sister.

Let’s talk about aging and retirement with kids—

It’s important not to treat talk about aging as taboo. Kids, like many adults in our culture, then view getting older as a negative looming in their future according to Elizabeth Larkin Ed.D. and G. Patricia Wilson Ed.D in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi & Krysten BrookerBooks like this seem the perfect way to open conversations with children and encourage them to see aging as “…including a wide range of capabilities and interests.” We can help kids build upon their pre-conceived notions of “old” for a more nuanced understanding of what it really means to grow older beyond the teen and adult years.

—First, dig a little deeper into modern retirement possibilities—

The article Finding Success Well Past the Age of Wunderkind offers inspiration about olders’ creative pursuits. “Maybe they are not making millions, or wielding a brush like Rembrandt.

Still, many people are discovering that the latter part of their lives can be just as (or even more) rewarding creatively, emotionally and spiritually.”

In another fascinating article an older adult dubs her adventures “rewirement,” (“…an alternative twist to the usual retirement story of rest, relaxation and occasional grandparenting duties.”)

Ask kids a few simple questions after reading some books in this picture book series (be sure to include the first book).

  • Do you know what retirement means?
  • What kinds of things might older people do after they retire from a job?
  • Do you think older people can learn new things?

“Teachers…can include the idea of aging in the curriculum simply by introducing children’s literature with older adult characters so the topic is comfortably discussable,” say Larkin and Wilson. I would add—we need to avoid age stereotypes and expose kids to a diverse array of older characters.


Find more picture books avoiding age stereotypes, including the fabulous    My Teacher by James Ransome.

Nature's Friend The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivittAnd please look for my own brand new picture book biography from Sleeping Bear Press—Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

You will LOVE the gorgeous illustrations by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Available in all the usual places, and in case you’re wondering how you might help a new author promote her first book 😉

—check out these ideas in Thirteen Ways to Support an Author Without Ever Spending a Dime. (As simple as requesting your local library or bookseller carry it.

(Source of journal article information and quotes: Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. Vol. 11, No. 1, 2013. Pages 4-17)

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.


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Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods

By Mary Quattlebaum; illustrated by Laura J. Bryant

(Dawn Publications 2013;     ages 1-4)

Dawn Publications has been “Connecting Children and Nature since 1979” and the Jo MacDonald series of picture books definitely fits that mission. Far fewer children grow up roaming the woods and fields freely like award-winning author Mary Quattlebaum  (and me). All three picture books use inventive text and bounce to the familiar tune of Old MacDonald had a farm.

Like many of us who grew up before electronic playthings, the author places tremendous value in early years spent out in the natural world, often with little adult supervision. The majority of today’s kids don’t have that freedom or easy access to nature. In fact we might even apply the term “nature deficit disorder” to far too many of them.


Another author, Richard Louv, shares fascinating research in his book for adults titled Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder. Problems in both physical and emotional health have been linked to a lack of direct exposure to nature. Grandparents can actually play an important role in rectifying that by introducing kids to ways in which they enjoyed the outdoors growing up.



In the delightful picture book titled Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, a young girl named Jo hikes with her fit and active grandfather. They encounter all manner of wildlife including a snake, skunk, moth and owl. The sense of adventure will captivate kids. The camaraderie and affection between the intergenerational duo shines in the lovely watercolor illustrations by Laura J. Bryant.


Four pages of back matter share terrific information on the plants and animals of a forest community. There are also related and fun indoor activities. (scroll down on that page.)



There are two other picture books in this fun and informative series—

Jo MacDonald had a Garden and Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond. Both also portray young Jo exploring nature and she has the help of a young boy with the garden. The pond is a farm pond filled with noisy and interesting critters.

These books include extensive information on garden and pond communities that is sure to prompt kids to look more closely at their environment. Terrific resources and indoor activities are included. I found it exciting to find the author took it to the next level for children with how to be a naturalist and a citizen-scientist.

Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods is a lovely picture book depicting positive aspects of aging. The other two in the series show far less of Grandpa MacDonald unfortunately, but the illustrations are very engaging with an active child and equally active creatures. I highly recommend all three books as ideal for inspiring kids to notice, enjoy and protect their natural surroundings. (They are also available as board books for younger kids.)

Many thanks to author Mary Quattlebaum for the review copies. Images other than the covers are my own photographs.

Consider checking out these picture books with a nature theme:

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa (are you also a long distance grandparent?)

Honey Bee Man

Miss Rumphius


Mr. McGinty’s Monarchs  (I adore this book!!)


  Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story

Northwoods Girl    

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps

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Resolutions, Role Models, Big Changes and News!

2018. I like the sound of that. It seems somewhat auspicious. But perhaps it’s simply that I’ve just turned 60, and personally I’m in transition—on many levels. From child raising to empty nest. From Michigan to Minnesota. From married to unmarried. I know 2018 will be a momentous year in my life. A new chapter.

As I moved officially into the life stage of “young-old” I’ve been thinking of friends, family and mentors who made big changes successfully. Those who faced down huge challenges and joyfully embraced a different life. The realization of how fortunate I am to have so many inspiring me is very heartening. Role models matter.

At times they waded their way through the muck of hard times, and naturally there was pain involved—heartache and sorrow and fear. But very few individuals reaching the age of 60 or 70 do so without challenging years. In honor of those survivors, I’m adopting the mantra “You must navigate the narrows to get to the open waters.”


Those of you who read this “A is for Aging” blog on a regular basis realize this post is far more personal than most. I started this website and blog because I believe strongly that it’s important we show even young children strong role models of every age. Choosing to highlight Positive Aging picture books made sense. Presently I am fully realizing the importance of older role models in a very personal way.

Our beliefs around the possibilities in each life stage drive our decisions, also our attitudes to ourselves and our confidence that we can transcend tough times. Knowing deep down that happiness is possible in later life strengthens me. I’ve seen with my own eyes—careers continuing into the 80’s, 90’s and beyond. Satisfying new work found—either paid or unpaid. New friends made and new love embraced. Relationships strengthened. Each day enjoyed.

Split Rock Lighthouse

Like a lighthouse on my beloved Lake Superior, I have a bright spot beckoning me ahead—the excitement of my first picture book to be published this June 2018 by Sleeping Bear Press. And the thrilling news that a second picture book biography will be published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers in the near future.


You might not be surprised to learn that both books shine a spotlight on the lives of those who lived long—real people who made a difference to the world in the last third of their life.

My picture book bio coming out in June features Gwen Frostic, a Michigan nature artist and early environmentalist. For most of her 95 years she strived to open people’s eyes to the importance of our natural world. Gwen fought negative stereotypes of people living with disability in addition to the low expectations assigned to women of her era.

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius made the world more beautiful

So, if I’m blessed with continued good health…I’m determined to not only survive, but hopefully to make a small difference somewhere.

Gratitude to stroke survivor friends met in my past career encourages that aim. People like Judi, Herb, Marion, Justin and Dave whose lives were turned upside down overnight. They proved it’s possible to do more than survive.

These stroke survivors thrived—despite physical abilities that changed drastically, jobs that evaporated, and important relationships that disappeared. These stroke thrivers made the lives of others better.



Life isn’t Candyland, all sugarplums and lollipops. You and I know that the vast majority of people must stand up to difficult days, months and years in their lives.

I’m holding an image in my mind—one of stones worn smooth by the waves and polished by tiny pebbles and sand.


So join me in resolving to enjoy each day as much as possible? I think that’s a most important resolution for 2018. (I also resolve to post to A is for Aging more frequently!)

What about you? Are there fresh challenges to face? New goals on the horizon? Are you inspired by an older role model? Please feel free to share in the comments.

I’m wishing you all the very best life has to offer in this New Year.


For writers—Please consider seeking inspiration from author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s series of blog posts by longtime writer survivors. Find them here at Cynsations. (Special thanks to Cynthia who has been a tremendous champion of this blog and of avoiding negative age stereotypes in our writing.)

Also, check out a few older role models in these fantastic picture book biographies. Read about:

Jane Goodall

Julia Child

George Moses Horton

Henri Matisse

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Thomas Jefferson

And more! 

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Gus & Me

Gus & Me: The story of my granddad and my first guitar

By Keith Richards with Barnaby Harris and Bill Shapiro; illustrated by Theodora Richards (Little Brown and Company, 2014.)

We all get our start somewhere, even legendary rocker Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, and he credits his grandfather. Long considered one of the world’s best guitarists, he says,


“Every time I walk onstage, every time I write a song, every time I reach for a guitar and play a few dinka-plinks for my own grandchildren, I say to myself, Thanks Granddad Thanks Gus!”

Gus & Me is the true story of Keith Richards and his beloved grandfather Theodore Augustus Dupree (Gus). Gus played violin, saxophone and guitar. He had been a soldier, a baker and a leader of a dance band.

Personally I love that this picture book reminds kids that grandparents lived other roles in life prior to becoming grandpa or grandma. It also shares the key roles grandparents can play in a child’s life–including those of role model, mentor and favorite companion.

Keith shares the happy anticipation he felt while growing up in Dartford, England not far from Gus.

“There was nothing like visiting Gus. The closer to his house I’d get, the bigger my smile would grow. By the time I landed on his doorstep, I was all teeth.”

Gus, Keith and the dog Mr. Thompson Wooft would dodge the “honey-do list” presented by Gus’s wife and make a bee-line for the door. They walked miles and miles through towns and countryside, Gus humming tunes all the while.

One such ramble took them too far to return home for the night, so they slept under a tree.

Another took them all the way to London and an instrument shop churning with activity.

“Violins hung from the ceiling by wires.

Horns clung to the walls.

Men in long brown coats

Fixed broken instruments and built new ones.”

All the hubbub and excitement of the shops seemed to flip a switch—Keith Richards was in love with instruments.

As promised, Gus handed Keith his first guitar just a few years later when he was deemed big enough. “When you learn how to play ‘Malaguena,’ you can play anything,” he said.

Dinka-plink dinka-plink dinka-plink.”

(An audio CD is enclosed that includes a brief excerpt of the song “Malaguena” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.)

The illustrations in this picture book are by Keith Richards’ daughter Theodora Dupree Richards, named after her great-grandfather Gus. They are an interesting mix of deep black line drawings and bright washes of color. Theodora interviewed her father, traveled to England and consulted family photos in her research.

Keith Richards has five children and five grandchildren. (And a collection of over 350 guitars!) It’s great fun to see this non-traditional grandfather in loving photos with his grandkids. At the end of the book he shares—

“The bond, the special bond, between kids and grandparents is unique and should be treasured. This is a story of one of those magical moments. May I be as great a grandfather as Gus was to me.”

Your comments are always welcome–Did you have a special bond with a grandparent in your life? Was your life influenced in some significant way?

This book review was of my own copy of the book. Images from book were photographed by me. The majority of Positive Aging picture books reviewed here are donated to literature projects in the city of Detroit.

Read another review at Rollingstones magazine here.

Find more grandfathers in Positive Aging picture books:

Babu’s Song

These Hands

Betsy’s Day at the Game

A Respected Elder

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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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