The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

show cover of book The Oldest StudentThe Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

By Rita Lorraine Hubbard; illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Oge More

Schwarz and Wade Books; 2020. (Ages 6-10)


We know that Mary Walker lived through twenty-six presidents. That her precious Bible waited 101 years before she was able to read it. That she learned to read at the age of 116. There’s little doubt this intriguing picture book about her life will impress young readers with the possibilities of later life.

illustration by Oge Mora in The Oldest Student

Art by Oge More


In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read.

From Rita Lorraine Hubbard and rising star Oge More comes the inspirational story of Mary Walker, a woman whose long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who—with perseverance and dedication—proved that you’re never too old to learn.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read has garnered starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

illustration in The Oldest Student

Art by Oge More

Read more–

For more on this lovely story certain to provoke conversation with kids about aging please read author Beth Anderson’s blog review here.

Child-friendly book activities like this are included in Beth’s post.

illustration in The Oldest Student

Art by Oge More

Interview: Choose an older person you know such as a grandparent. Write down 5 questions you’d like to ask them about what life was like when they were a child. Report back or write what you learned about their life. How does it compare to your life?

Beth also has a post with some background from the author of The Oldest Student, Rita Lorraine Hubbard, at this link.

Learn more about Beth Anderson:

Read her Late Bloomer guest post at A is for Aging. 

Beth’s second book, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT: ELIZABETH JENNINGS FIGHTS FOR STREETCAR RIGHTS released Jannuary 2020 from Calkins Creek Books. Kirkus Reviews gave it a star!

Art by E.B. Lewis

Thank you Beth!

Please come back to “A is for Aging” for more:

Positive Aging picture books

and posts by Late Blooming writers.

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Late Bloomer guest post: Angela Verges

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.

Dear Diary

by author Angela Verges



Dear Diary

Today is New Year’s Eve and I am at my great-grandmother’s house in Alabama. They light firecrackers here…

That was the beginning of the first entry in my new diary in 1976 and I was ten-years old. As a young child that diary whet my appetite for writing. I continued to journal throughout middle school, high school, and periodically during college.

In my early adult years, I filled journals with words, organized thoughts, and ramblings, only to tuck them away on a shelf or in a storage tote. Eventually I realized I needed to stop being a curator of words, collecting them as a child collects stuffed animals. It was time to assemble them into a polished manuscript.

I always enjoyed reading picture books to my children when they were young. After many readings I believed, “a picture book shouldn’t be that hard to write. They don’t contain very many words.” Ha, to be young and naive. I had not yet learned about the rhythm of a story, the rule of three, nor the significance of page turns. Fewer words do not equate easy.

Like a character in a story, as I learned, I grew, and I transformed. I was a consistent writer. I contributed to a parenting blog for my city’s local newspaper, and later created my own blog.

While picture books are my first love, it’s not where I first published. My writing took a turn I didn’t see coming. It was the birth of my book Menopause Ain’t No Joke. A hot flash and an appearance on stage, caused me to “warm up” to the idea of this book.

At the nudging of my mother, I participated in a pageant for women 50 years old and older (no swimsuit required). Contestants were required to perform a talent. I’m a big fan of humor, and a great deal of my collection of words and phrases included situations I found funny. I chose to perform comedy.

Since the pageant’s focus was mature women and their families, that was my approach for the comedy. Menopause Ain’t No Joke was the title of the two-minute performance, which later became my book title and a turning point in my writing career. The book is a collection of my personal essays related to parenting, fitness, and faith, topped with menopause, and sprinkled with humor.


One of my favorite memories with my son, is a conversation we had while riding in the car together when he was around fourteen years old. He was going through puberty while I was experiencing menopause. He was excited about this new stage in his life, his voice was getting deeper and his facial features were changing.

Sitting in the passenger seat, my son pulled the sun visor down, flipped the mirror up, and rubbed his chin. In his deep voice he said, “Ma, my mustache is growing.”

I glanced over at him and said, “So is mine son, so is mine.”

Now 54 years old, I understand what my mother meant when she said, “some things take time, enjoy each stage in life.” I enjoy sharing stories, making people laugh, and encouraging others to use humor as a stress relief.

Flip open my book Menopause Ain’t No Joke Blending Faith and Humor in Perfectly Imperfect Situations, and you will find stories of hair growth, hair loss, eating disasters and more.

Along my writing journey there were days of writing while sitting on hard plastic bleachers in a gymnasium, as my son played basketball.

There were also evenings spent sitting on metal bleachers, near the 50-yard line as my other son played high school football. Beads of sweat bubbled to the surface of my forehead as I sat with my spiral notebook and ink pen just in case a story idea hit me.

I was determined to write between the cracks of parenting, wherever I could find a block of time. I’d write, rewrite, enter contests, then engage in more research than writing, but not moving forward. I was stuck. I didn’t want to give up on writing for children, instead I took a detour and worked on a project in a different genre, non-fiction inspirational.


There are still spiral notebooks filled with stories started from writing challenges, waiting for me to rework. I remain engaged with my children’s writing friends and our local SCBWI chapter (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators).

If there is one piece of advice, I would give a fellow late bloomer, it would be to follow your passion. Do what you love doing and enjoy each step of the process. It’s easier to nourish your creativity when you love what you’re doing. Journaling is a process I continue to use to stimulate creativity.

Recently, I’ve started another Gratitude Journal. Here’s my latest entry.

June 2020

I am grateful for

…lazy days, sitting in the sunshine and daydreaming

…opportunities to share stories with others

….healthy enough to enjoy all of the above

It’s never too late to bloom where you are planted.


For more about this Michigan author’s book & humorous presentations visit her website. Follow her on social media:

Instagram – writermama223

Facebook – Angela.Verges

All photos provided by the author and used with permission.

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

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

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

How did you become interested in ageism affecting children?

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

I wondered—what is this ageism?

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

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

What was your motivation for beginning your book list?

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

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

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

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


What are your favorite type of picture books?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

*Formerly the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.

What is your biggest frustration?

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

Can you recommend any anti-ageism resources for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.














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:


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