Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lindsey McDivitt, Ageism in Picture Books, and a GIVEAWAY ~ by Patricia Toht


Author Lindsey McDivitt's welcome page on her website sums up the ABCs of a cause that is near and dear to her heart:

As Lindsey says, "I'm passionate about tackling the issue of ageism -- particularly in picture books. Unfortunately (and often unknowingly) we are teaching negative attitudes about older adults to very young children. Kids need realistic and positive images of old. We all do."

According to GeoBase, the estimated life expectancy of a child born in the United States in 2018 is 79.3 years. That's a lot of life! But the American culture is one that places a high value on youth. 

"Negative stereotypes about aging are baked into our culture, and they're harmful to our health and happiness," Lindsey says. "Many books for kids lead them to believe that old = bad or sad. But that is adults socializing them to believe it."

In her own writing, as well as in her blog, "A Is for Aging," Lindsey seeks to promote positive images of growing older. I asked her about her new book, NATURE'S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY, and her quest to tackle ageism.

PT: Hello, Lindsey, and welcome to the GROG! You are passionate about healthy and positive images of older people in picture books. Do you think the characterizations of aging are improving these days?

LM: I do think it's improved somewhat, particularly with the popularity of picture book biographies perhaps. They often show kids long, satisfying lives and many accomplishments in late life. I love that!


Lindsey's new release, NATURE'S FRIEND, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, is the story of renowned nature artist Gwen Frostic.
Gwen suffered a debilitating illness as a child, but turned to nature and art for strength. Her persistence and independent spirit led her to study mechanical drawing and work in a bomber manufacturing plant during World War II. After the war, she started her own stationery company in Michigan and built the business by creating and selling her own linoleum block prints.

PT: Gwen Frostic worked until a few years before her death, one day shy of her 95th birthday. What do you think might have been her secret for a long, fulfilling career?

LM: Since childhood, Gwen refused to take in society's stereotypes telling her how she should live her life. She stayed focused on her goals and pursued them with dedication. So age simply wasn't a reason to stop.


PT: Her specialty was lovely linoleum block prints of nature. Have you ever tried your hand at linocuts or other art media?

LM: I recall trying linocuts way back in junior high school and enjoying them. They require slow, careful work! My main artistic endeavor is creating mobiles from driftwood I collect on the beaches of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.



PT: You've mentioned that you're drawn to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. What do you think attracts you to them?

LM: I believe it's their vastness. There's something about standing on the edge of an enormous body of fresh water. It's awe inspiring, much like the ocean, and gives me a sense of where I am on our beautiful planet. 
Lindsey's photo of Lake Superior


PT: In addition to NATURE'S FRIEND, what books can you recommend that show healthy and realistic examples of aging?


LM: A recent book that I love is HENRI'S SCISSORS by author/illustrator Jeanette Winter. It zeroes in on famous artist Henri Matisse near the very end of his life, when he discovers his art anew and creates some of his most well known works.


Another absolute favorite is HARRY AND WALTER by author Kathy Stinson and illustrator QinLeng. The two main characters are the best of buddies separated by almost eight decades, and this picture book avoids every possible cliche!


Here's a link to five more picture book biographies that highlight older role models - http://www.lindseymcdivitt.com/2017/05/26/5-picture-book-biographies-highlight-older-role-models/

PT: Thank you, Lindsey! Many happy writing years to you!

As Lindsey says: "Role models matter!" Books that portray vibrant older people who continue to live full lives and pursue their passions are important for young readers. KidLit authors and illustrators can help by being thoughtful in our depictions of aging. 



Find Lindsey's website here and her blog here. On Twitter, her handle is @AisforAging. On Instagram, mcdivittlindsey. Connect on her Facebook page at lindsey.mcdivitt.3.


And now...

** Readers, what's YOUR favorite book with older characters? Comment below for a chance to win a copy of NATURE'S FRIEND! **

47 comments:

  1. All of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales books!
    digicats {at} sbcglobal {dot} net

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  2. Great interview and I can't wait to read this book!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I know you'll like it!

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  3. I agree with Lindsey that biography is shining a much needed light on the richness of life across the age spectrum. Huzzah to bio, Gwen as a perfect subject and Lindsey for sharing the story of her life!

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    1. I'm loving this golden time for picture book bios, Carrie. And they're not just for early elementary kids...

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  4. What a wonderful post! I so agree about ageism and the value of older people. I haven’t found many books including older characters, and have looked for them for my students! So, I’ll instead humbly point to my own manuscript about a grandmother sharing herlove for baking with her granddaughter. Working on the 2nd in the series now! 😉

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    1. I'm glad your adding to the options. Good luck with your books!

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  5. These kind of books are so needed. Hopefully, more will soon be on the shelves. Thanks for a look at some of these that we can recommend to others. Thanks to Patricia and Lindsey.

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    1. I agree, Sherri. My granddaughter calls me "Nana" so I'm glad that NANA IN THE CITY has a great portrayal of a spunky grandma. :)

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  6. It's only been in the last 50 years or so that extended families - 3 generations living together -with all contributing to the benefit of households, has gone away. Kids learn so much when they get to spend time with grandparents and their peers. I was surrounded by "older" folks as a kid and learned so much. "Youth" is highly overrated...

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    1. It is amazing to see the differences among cultures regarding the view of older people, Darlene, and those with multiple generations in the same household do seem to have better attitudes toward aging, I think.

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  7. "Baked into our culture" indeed - let's make it a recipe for positive role modeling! One of my favorite titles with an older character is MR. GEORGE BAKER by Amy Hest and Jon J. Muth - a treasured book in my collection! So excited that Lindsay has put Gwen's story into the hands of so many readers. Congrats!

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    1. I haven't seen this one yet, Cathy! Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Wonderful interview! And I love Lindsay's concept.

    My favorite older character picture book is MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH by Anne Isaacs and for YA I loved UNBECOMING by Jenny Downham.

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    1. Another one I haven't seen, Kelly. Thanks!

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  9. great post, Patricia! My (so far) favorite PB featuring an elder is A Morning with Grandpa, by Sylvia Liu - but I haven't read Lindsay's book yet...

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  10. My son and I always loved Miss Rumphius. This is an interesting aspect of picture books that I have not thought about, but it's now on my radar. Thank you, Patricia and Lindsey!

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    1. I love, love, love MISS RUMPHIUS, Jilanne!

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    2. I'm so glad to have older character s returning to favor in PBs. My favorite is Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.

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  11. I just read a book called Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg. Did you know that the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel was a sixty-year-old woman?

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    1. This sounds like a wonderful book, Jen! I'll check it out!

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  12. One of my favorites is, MISS RUMPHIUS, by Barbara Cooney.

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  13. I have a book in my collection called My Teacher by James Ransome, which is told from the POV of one of her students. The teacher is elderly and the story describes the influence she's had on her past and current students. It's a small book but it's stayed with me not only because of the teacher's impact but also because the book deals with different types of families (I wish they'd included LGBT but it's from 2012 and LGBT in PBs may have been ahead of its time.) The students are primarily POC as is the teacher who is portrayed as a multi-faceted educator still creating change in the later stage of her life.

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    1. I must look this one up, Joyce! Lindsey says it's a favorite of hers, too.

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  14. Thank you, Patricia and Lindsey, for highlighting the need for ageism in picture books. I grew up in a household with an aging grandmother. My time with her is one of my most treasured memories. I never felt like she was old because her heart was always young.

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    1. I'm glad you were able to spend those wonderful years with your grandma, Charlotte. Those sweet memories are priceless.

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  15. Congratulations, Lindsey! We took Kristen Fulton's class together several years ago, and I remember critiquing one of your mss. I look forward to reading your published book!

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    1. I love the writing community! Everyone is so supportive and helpful!

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  16. A wonderful interview & such an important topic. I can't wait to read Nature's Friend! My favorite picture book featuring an older MC is Miss Rumphius. I also love Benji Davies' Grandad's Island, and Sylvia Liu's A Morning with Grandpa - both wonderful intergenerational stories.

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  17. Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful comments on this post. Blogger is not playing nicely with Lindsey, so I'd like to pass this message along from her:

    "Just want to say I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments and lovely book suggestions. Some I know and love, like Mr. George Baker, Miss Rumphius and My Teacher. Fabulous books!"

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  18. Great post! I love my copy of Miss Rumphius. Thanks for sharing NATURE'S FRIEND: THE GWEN FROSTIC STORY.

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  19. Great interview. I will certainly think harder about how I portray older characters in my own writing.

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    1. Me, too, David! Thanks for stopping by.

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  20. "Last Stop on Market Street" and "Leave Me Alone!" are two recent celebrated books about mature women.
    Some readers might take issue with "Leave Me Alone", since the protagonist is a bit of a curmudgeon, but I think you need portrayals of all types to do people justice. The book is funny, clever and a gentle reminder that we all need a bit of personal space!

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  21. This is an amazing post about an often overlooked theme in picture books, Patty. Thank you for introducing me to Lindsey McDivitt. I look forward to reading her books.

    Two of my favorite picture books that portray positive older characters are: THE PATCHWORK QUILT by Valerie Flournoy; illustrated by Jerry Pinkey and SUPER GRANDPA by David Schwartz; illustrated by Bert Dodson.

    I always admired my Gma who lived to be 101. As an Oma to seven grands I hope I share a positive image of a Gma.
    Suzy Leopold

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    1. How wonderful to have your grandma in your life for so long, Suzy! Thanks for the suggested titles.

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  22. What a great post! As a "mature" (ha!) person, I look to books and articles that remind me it's not too late to do something new! Thanks!

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    1. Mature writers unite! I'm in the club, too, Ellen.

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  23. Though not ancient, THE LUMBERJACK'S BEARD by Duncan Beedie is pretty funny! Angelecolline at yahoo dot com

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