Alligators Overhead Trailer

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teen Bookfest and Unintentional Ageism in PBs

Teen Bookfest

This has been a Wowaful weekend. The Teen Bookfest organizers were fabulous, the readers we met equally so. And then there were the writers. I finally met Yvonne Ventresca, my long-time crit partner. And she's as great in person as she is on paper. Here she is at one of the Panels.



Beth Feldbaum and A. Formento at the book signings.





Our host state! It was delicious.












We read blogs and forums about disliking sexism and racism in literature, but I haven't read too much about ageism there. Did I miss it? Let me know. 

Anyway, I stumbled on an interesting study of picture books (Ansello, 1977) and how they included and depicted old people. Here's a quick summary of that study, which included 549 books.

Characters were classified "older" if they were described physically, verbally or occupationally as older. They had to have at least two of these mentions to be tabulated in the study. What they was that "older characters are only present in 16.03% of those 549 picture book. When "older " characters were included they were most likely White (66.1%). Blacks were  represented at 3.4%, Hispanics 1.7%, Native American's  0.8%. 

The thing that caught my eye in the 1977 data was that 75.5% of "older" characters were described by only three adjectives: old, little and ancient

Well, I thought, by now that's all different, so I searched Mr. Internet and found another study (Hurst 1981). This study included books made up of Caldecott Medal winners.  "Older" characters in this sample of picture books were only shown interacting with children 3% of the sample and 48% of the "older" characters were described as old. Still? Well, one book used nice and in two others wise. The rest of the adjectives were funny, small, little, grumpy, lonely, poor and weak. 

It seems "old" was used so frequently that in another study by Dodson and Hause, they concluded that "no other generation is so completely described by the use of a single word" (qtd. from McGuire, 1993).

Hmm. So I kept looking. There had to be a study that showed an enlightened change somewhere.

And I found one by Dellmann-Jenkins and Yang (1997). This study compared a total of 95 award winning books (1972–1983 and 1984–1995) for the presence of older people in main or secondary roles. They used 11 books and found that "older" characters appeared in 12%; however, the descriptions were now words like "clean, healthy, happy, good, caring and interactive with others." Also the illustrations had a much more positive depiction of these characters. 

Now I'm a bit happier, but I keep digging. I've found another study that was done even more recently. I'll read it carefully and let you know what that one says next week. 



Do you enjoy going to book events? Have you ever paid attention to how the elderly are depicted in young people's literature? 


Quote of the Week: "Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person that you always should have been." David Bowie

82 comments:

  1. Glad the book event was a big success! The cake looks awesome.
    Ironically, to a young person, anyone over thirty is old. I've found the older I get, the higher the age I would call old.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks about the event. It was perfect.

      Delete
  2. Hi Lee - good that you met up with Yvonne - that will cement your relationship even more. Old - what is old? Interesting isn't it - but back after the war - old was 60 ... now not so much .. 60 is the new middle age ...

    Also depends on your attitude, your health and what's going on in your life ... Bowie's quote is quite right .. cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. YV is a great person to have on my side. And meeting her in person was a treat. Loved that Bowie quote, too.

      Delete
  3. Glad you had a good time in Texas! I saw some of the pictures on Facebook. I've done many events with Alison and Yvonne, so I know they are great company!

    Interesting study. "No other generation is so completely described by the use of a single word." That ... is very thought-provoking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They were both great companions, and they mentioned you.

      This study has me thinking and looking more closely at PBs.

      Delete
  4. Looks like an awesome time indeed. Old seems to be the go to word still, all depends on age of the person saying it as ones perspective changes along the way.

    ReplyDelete
  5. How awesome you met your critique partner. Glad you had a good time.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I just finished reading a MG grade book called Out of Nowhere in which there were two "elder" people. Overall, I liked the book, but how the adults were portrayed had me scratching my head. The woman seemed kind of selfish and the man was a hoarder... Both of them change by the end, but still...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess being older is often portrayed as negative. I'd never thought about it until I started reading this study. Now I am.

      Delete
  7. Sounds like a wonderful bookfest.

    As Pat said above, one's perspective changes over time. Old is something different to everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sounds like a fantastic time! I'm hoping to get out to one book event this year. *knocks on wood* Ageism is a bigger thing than a lot of people realize. I've not really paid attention, but thinking on it, it is true. We need more positive portrayals of the elderly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the reason portraying the elderly in a more positive light in PB's is that sets the tone for how people perceive aging. So important.

      Delete
  9. As we baby boomers get older, we'll make up the difference as we are so use to having everything focus on us... Glad you enjoyed your bookfest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) Boom then bust?

      Thanks for stopping in.

      Delete
  10. It looks like a fine event indeed. And great thoughts and perspective too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm going to look a bit further into the issue.

      Delete
  11. I so envy you attending that event, but my life as a rare blood courier prevents me from doing but one event a year. Sigh. I believe that to most "old" is 15 years older than they are!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 15 heh? I'd never thought about that, but you may be right.

      Delete
  12. Book events are great. It looks like you had a good time.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Looks like it was a fun event! Glad you enjoyed it. Never thought much about "ageism" in these terms. Interesting to think about. Love that quote!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And that quote came from Bowie! That's what was so interesting to me.

      Delete
  14. I'm glad the event went well and you met your final crit partner. That's great!!!

    I haven't really noticed ageism; I'll have to look for it more in books!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we all need to be more aware of what we read, especially when we're buying books for our young children.

      Delete
  15. I haven't really paid attention to how elderly people are described in children's literature. Now that you mention it, I'll have to pay attention.

    That cake sure looked good!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd love it if you'd take a look at Bubba's books and see if this study is right.

      Delete
  16. Wowaful is a very legit word!
    Knowing how uncaught today's generations are in most of the books for younglings, written by younglings, the old have 35 years and above, and if you're 50 or over you're a walking skeleton. It is really silly, indeed.
    I loooove movies with senior characters, just love them. And hate the ones with teens :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just knew that about you, DEZ. You are simpatico with the mature. I love that. :-)

      Delete
  17. Mmmm, the cake looks yummy.
    I hadn't paid attention to how elderly people are in books. That's interesting what the studies found.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Still reading more, so will let you know if there's an improvement in more recent times.

      Delete
  18. It's so great that you enjoyed your book event and got to meet someone you knew! Authors in the pics look busy and happy. I'm not really surprised at the depictions of seniors in PB books. The nuclear family is "complete" with just parents and kids now, and neighborhoods tend to have families in the same age bracket too. (Almost all the people around me are middle aged with kids.) While you research ageism, I'm researching helicopters, guns, and toxic gasses. My new WIP has 5 main POVs and one is a 10-yr-old girl. She's so much fun to write! At least those years of writing MG and YA that didn't sell eventually paid off by teaching me how to write a young voice in an adult book. (It bugs the heck out of me when adult writers put in young characters and get the voice all wrong - either too old or too young, and often using big, old-fashioned words and no slang. Dopes.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an interesting take on ageism. The nuclear family is mostly Mom, Dad and kids with very small percentage of grandmothers and grandfathers in the picture.

      Good that you're writing those kids with kid voices.

      Delete
  19. That's fascinating. And I think that way age is looked at is going to be very different, depending upon genre. MG is going to look at someone who's really middle-aged as "old." As I get older, old seems a lot younger than it used to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember thinking how old my grandmother was. Egad! She was old at all. At least not to me these days.

      Delete
  20. I love book events. I need to be rich, so I can fly all over and make a habit of them.

    I think we treat the elderly very shabbily in our culture, and it shows up in our literature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we might have a chicken and an egg issue here. Does our literature reflect the culture or does the culture reflect the literature?

      Delete
  21. I never thought about it that way. It's been a while since I read any children's books but I will pay attention from now on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I certainly am going to take a closer look from now on.

      Delete
  22. So pleased the book fest was successful loved the pics especially the one at the end.
    Yvonne.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Yvonne. It was this year's highlight so far.

      Delete
  23. Fun! Yum, Texas does look delicious. I do hope the language and mentality is changing for the good with our elders. I mean the cutest, most vibrant, 106-year-old woman just met the president and she was adorable!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 106? Now that is a senior. She has to be the oldest woman in the U.S.

      Delete
  24. The cakes looks amazing and it's wonderful meeting writer friends in person. There's a wide variety of depictions of older people that I haven't really paid attention to them. When I was young, my concept of old was different. Now "older" people seem younger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm definitely paying more attention to how elder people are treated in picture books.

      Delete
  25. Interesting. I really haven't noticed how "old" people are shown in books. Must take a look at that. I don't feel "old" but would if I was described that way. I'm glad Texas treated you well. We're noted for our hospitality. (I think.)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Glad you had a good time at the bookfest!

    I have noticed how old people are described in children's books. They're usually small and grumpy, or small and funny.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So this is how our children are being taught about aging. Not very positive.

      Delete
  27. As I don't write picture books, and no longer have cause to read them, I don't have experience to comment. But if you want to be brought down to earth, ask a child how old they think you are :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not on your life. I don't want to hear that answer. :-)

      Delete
  28. I'm glad 'old' changed with the times, since I'm no longer young. hehehe

    Anna from elements of emaginette

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's merely a state of mind. I ignore the body part!

      Delete
  29. How society views our elders is distressing in general. No wonder people worry about getting old!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly why these studies caught my interest. If we continue to depict aging as something negative and to be feared, we're perpetuating that in our culture. More next week. Hope it's better news.

      Delete
  30. Sounds like you had a blast. And this post was such an eye-opener for me. I keep thinking about it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would like to have people think about this, especially writers. They have a lot of influence on how people think.

      Delete
  31. Meeting you in person was a wonderful part of the festival. I'm lucky to have you as a crit partner!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel the same! Let's meet more often.

      Delete
  32. Pat Bertram wrote a lovely book, a mystery, called Daughter Am I about feisty octogenarians. I enjoyed it a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think they're a lot of great books that depict aging in a positive way. I'm just wondering if PBs could do a better job. Will keep researching.

      Delete
  33. I'm glad the teen bookfest went well. I hadn't really thought much of ageism in books, but it's definitely there. That's good you found some positives in your search. Getting older means you're still alive, and that's a good thing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Interesting studies about the elderly in children's literature... It seems to me, though, that there are many examples of positive older characters: Harry Potter series, Going Vintage (Lindsay Leavitt), and your book, Sliding on the Edge.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do like to depict the older characters in a positive light if the story needs that. Maybe I should write picture books. :-)

      Delete
  35. Wait, is this the next evolution in political correctness? *sigh* See, I've never had a problem with older characters in literature because I ADORED my grandparents and great grandparents. I think some people grow up with a fear of their seniors, and that's a shame. A true shame.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love to see different generations interacting in stories for young readers, but the point is there is often none or when there is, the elderly are portrayed in a negative or pathetic light.

      Delete
  36. Great post, Lee. I've not thought about ageism in books before but I've experienced it in reality AND I'm only 46. Aparently in the 'normal' working world, once one has hit 40 we become unemployable - too expensive, too experienced, too OLD! Blah Blah Blah! But, I look to all the more experienced people around me and can only look on with admiration. My mother is still working full time as a manager of a group of nursing and residential homes and she has no intention of retiring - ever!! She is the most wonderful and vibrant person I know and I just hope I can be half the woman she is when I reach her age. With age comes wisdom and that is a gift we should all aspire to.
    So pleased you had a lot of fun at the Bookfest. Enjoy the rest of your week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love your comment because it strikes to the heart of the issue. If we tell young readers that old is the same as useless, we perpetuate the attitude that once you're not 20, you might as well find a corner and watch the young people enjoy life. Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

      Delete
  37. Interesting studies. I love reading about older people and their experiences, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think all but one of my books has multi-generations, but I never thought about how important that is until I started reading these studies.

      Delete
  38. It looks like you had a great book event! I enjoy them when I can get to them, and they don't cost nearly $500 (I'm not making enough from my writing to justify that price tag).
    I'm so glad you are looking into ageism. I just read a post recently about how nice it would be to have a few protagonists in their 70s getting a call to save/change the world. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did have a one of those in Sliding on the Edge. But she only saved her granddaughter. Gotta start somewhere! :-)

      Delete
  39. I wonder if the terms used for older people have less to do with what the young readers are thinking and more about what the older writers "think" the young readers are thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Sounds like you had a great time at the book event. That state cake looks delicious! Interesting findings from those studies. I never really thought about it before. Love that David Bowie quote. So true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awareness is all. We never thought about how different races were stereotyped in the past. I still get the shivers recalling the Harriet Beecher Stowe respelling of black dialect. Yet her intention was to show the blacks plight.

      Delete
  41. I love book events and this one sounds like such fun. So glad you went and shared some of the event with us.

    I hadn't thought about ageism in books before, but you certainly found out some interesting facts once you started researching. Can't wait to hear what the latest study shows!
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
  42. I haven't done the research you and these others have about ageism in children's books, but I am glad to see someone has been doing it. I just have my personal observations. "Old" is pretty much associated with negative stereotypes. It is encouraging if people are being aware and trying to remedy that in their books. :)

    ReplyDelete

Please say something to me, anything. Well, not anything, but a kind word will do.