Picture Books about Aging and Older Persons

 

Older Persons Booklist

The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo
Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas
Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham
Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat by Katie Harnett
Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat
15 Things Not to do With a Granny by Margaret McAllister and illustrated by Holly Sterling
Do You Know What Grandad Did? by Brian Smith and illustrated by Rachel Pank
Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds
Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki and Genevieve Sims

Populations around the world are ageing at a faster pace than in the past and this demographic transition will have an impact on almost all aspects of society.

 

World Health Organisation

 1 October, is the UN International Day of the Older Person.  I took a closer look at some of the library books I have depicting older people.

How many focus on older people who:

  • don’t go out much
  • are wrinkled and short
  • chew funny; and,
  • have heart attacks and die.

These stereotypes, captured in a study by Jantz, Seefedlt, Galper, and Serlock (1976) and quoted by Danowski (2011) set me thinking. There are indeed quite a lot of books about the death of grandparents – take a look at my list here: Picture Books about Death – that focus on happy memories rather than the inevitable. But I have never stopped to think about how older people are portrayed, so here is a very quick look.


 

The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo

“You see, it is in these lines that I keep all my memories!”

Covered in wrinkles – hence the title – a small child wonders why Nana sometimes looks a bit sad, a little surprised and slightly worried, all at the same time and Nana patiently points out each wrinkle and associates it with her memories of solving a mystery, meeting grandpa, saying goodbye etc.

I really like this book as I imagine many children enjoy sitting on Nana’s knee and gazing intently their face and listening to her precious stories and memories.


Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc

 

“But one sunny Sunday, Mrs Badger no longer has the strength to head up the mountain.”

OK, so technically this should not be on the list but it is such a good story about Mrs Badger teaching little cat Leo how to climb a mountain and enjoy all the good things to be found as they journey to the top. As their friendship grows, Mrs Badger becomes slower and tired and Leo has to help her along the way. One day Mrs Badger no longer has the strength to climb the mountain so Leo goes alone and finds things he has never noticed before. He finds a new friend, Rabbit, and promises to show him ‘somewhere splendid’.

Friendship is central to this book and Mrs Badger and Leo find so many new things to enjoy because of the time they spend together. As Mrs Badger ages, Leo matures and starts to lead the way. Gorgeous and no stereotyping at all!


Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas

“Why is she a poor thing?” asked Wilfrid Gordon.

“Because she’s lost her memory, ” said his father.

Wilfrid Gordon lives next door to an old people’s home and knows all the people who live there. His favourite person is Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper because she had four names just as he did, and so he told her all his secrets. When he finds out she has lost her memory, Wilfrid asks what is a memory? Based on the answers he is given he goes on a mission to find Miss Nancy’s and return them to her.

Absolutely charming and full of friendship, care and kindness. The personalities of the old people shine through and Miss Nancy may be old, gray and wearing carpet slippers but when her memories are triggered she is an engaging and entertaining wonderful woman.

Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten by Bob Graham

“No,” growled Mr Wintergarten.

“Clear off!”

Bob Graham’s books need to be in every library. He is brilliant! In this story, Mr Wintergarten is the stereotypical lonely old man with a scary reputation and a very overgrown and decrepit house. When Rose’s ball goes into his garden Rose must face her fears and go and ask for it back. Fortunately Rose’s Mum (wonderfully styled in flowing dress and Roman sandals) tells Rose to take fairy cakes (so he will eat those instead of her) and a bunch of flowers. Of course, when Rose meets him he tells her to ‘Clear off!’.

But, as Mr Wintergarten is left alone he gazes at the colourful bunch of flowers, pushes back his chair and for the first time in a long time he opens the curtains. You can guess the rest, as he ponders Rose’s kindness he finds her ball and kicks it back over the fence. The last page shows the overgrown garden cleared, the fences removed and his house open and exposed.

Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat
by Katie Harnett

“Most days Mrs Murray does some knitting, watches television, and warms her feet by the fire.”

The cat has a very busy life. He works his way along Blossom Street enjoying all the activities the neighbours have to offer from cooking fresh fish with Mr Green at number three to swing dancing at number six. He is even an artists model when he pops into number eighteen. Each neighbour has a special name for the cat and he certainly enjoys their friendship. But he has never visited number eleven. In fact no-one visits number eleven. Mrs Murray appears to be a lonely old lady until one day she opens the door to find The Cat sitting on her doorstep and together they share the peace and quiet. When the whole neighbourhood comes out to look for him they agree that the best thing for The Cat is if they let him stay in his new home and visit from time to time.

Brilliant illustrations of one very disinterested and bored looking cat and a great book to use about the power of community.

Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat

Sometimes you don’t need words to find common ground.

When Grandson visits Grandpa their differences are clearly illustrated. Grandpa is an old man smartly dressed in shirt and tie. Grandpa enjoys noodles for lunch whilst Grandson eats hotdog and fries. As they sit across from one another Grandpa speaks a language that Grandson does not understand. It is going to be a long day! They cannot even agree on the same television programme to watch.

But when Grandpa brings out a sketch book and inks it seems their inner characters can easily enjoy each others company. Together, through their love of art, they grow closer together so that even when ‘the old distance comes roaring back’ they can make their way across without speaking at all.

15 Things Not to do With a Granny
by Margaret McAllister and illustrated by Holly Sterling

“Don’t race her on a skateboard (she might win.)”

A very funny, easy picture book about all the things that you should and should not do with Granny. Grannies are fun and vibrant and don’t look at all old and wrinkly!

Do You Know What Grandad Did?
by Brian Smith and illustrated by Rachel Pank

“He bought us bubble-gum…the sort we aren’t allowed. It stuck in my hair!”

The children have a very busy day when Grandad is babysitting. They hang out the washing, visit the park, learn to whistle and bake a surprise cake for tea. It is a day full of fun and Grandad is a wonderful care-giver despite a broken vase and hair full of bubble gum. I love the energy and sense of fun. Sadly out of print but well worthing tracking down a copy.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

He was born a really long time ago, before computers or cell phones or television.

Great grandpa’s life is retold by his very proud grandson who tells us the most important facts of grandpa’s life. Grandpa’s wish was to study horticulture but instead he was sent to fight in a world war. Now we see Grandpa with chainsaw in hand, a little forgetful at times, but his incredible topiary helps him remember all the things he needs to know. Stunning award-winning book by the incredible Lane Smith author of It’s a Book!

The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds.

“I’m struck thinking of her as a young girl like me at this very spot.”

Nanami has two gray haired, wrinkled grandmothers: Gram from Maine and Baachan from Japan. When Gram comes for a holiday Nanami acts as translator and together they all go out to gather wakame from the sea. Nanami learns about the different types of seaweed in Maine and in Japan and how in the USA most people don’t think seaweed is very nice to eat. “Mottainai” – how wasteful!” says Baachan. When Nanami asks Baachan if she had rain pants when she was a little girl both grandmothers exchange glances but Baachan asks her to translate her life story about growing up during the war and experiencing starvation and bombings.

Nanami can’t imagine that when her grandmothers where her age they were enemies. She comes from both of them! The day brightens and finally Gram returns to Maine. When a letter arrives, Nanami translates it to Baachan and hands her the enclosed tickets for flights to Maine. Baachan has never been on an airplane or left Japan but new adventures await.

Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki and Genevieve Sims

“Mayumi and Ojiichan would sit and enjoy the results of her efforts in happy silence.”

Mayumi lives in the States and enjoys visiting her Ojiichan (Grandpa) when she goes to Japan for a holiday. Ojiichan has a Japanese garden made of stones. There are no tulips or daffodils but it still a beautiful garden and some of the stones look like turtles and mountains. When they have done their garden work, Mayumi and Ojiichan sit in a spot by a stone lantern and a persimmon tree and share onigiri bento.

When Ojiichan becomes ill/too old and can no longer stay in his home Mayumi is angry and very upset. After a while she picks up a rake and calmly arranges the gravel until she gets an idea. She presents Ojiichan with a small bento box filled with stones neatly arranged into a zen garden.

When she returns home she unpacks her treasures and adds a pine cone and a leaf to her very own bento box garden and then she closes her eyes and listens to ‘the pebbles’ soothing chatter.’

 

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