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mrs c in the library

Reflections of a Teacher Librarian

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children’s literature; e-books

The difficult task of defining “Multicultural Literature”

There are three dominant views of the term and use of “multicultural literature”. The first view, multiple + cultures = multicultural, suggests that no one culture should dominate literature for fear of reverse racism. The second view clearly objects to the use of racial and ethnic issues in literature as representative of multiculturalism. The final view asserts that all humans are multicultural, therefore all literature is multicultural (Cai, 2002).

In his introduction to Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues, Cai (2002) describes the difficulties in defining multicultural literature. To be honest, I am no closer to understanding what “multicultural literature” means but there are certainly many ways to incorporate different perspectives in the school library.

Elizabeth Bluemle’s (2010) blog post, “The elephant in the room” calls for the publishing community to “stop the white-wash” of literature published throughout the world. So the question becomes: Is the over-representation of white, middle-classed, Christian families due to the volume of these types of works being published or is it due to the selection of the Librarians calling for these items?

There is no doubt that there is a large volume of ‘dominant’ culture works in our Libraries. However, there is a growing number of literature that support the third view of multicultural literacy – the stories within them are simply about humans, who are naturally multicultural.

Personally, I prefer the term, “diverse”. I believe that we are seeing more diverse charactCircle of handsers in Australian literature and it is our role as Librarians to ensure that students have access to these different stories. We must treat each story on its merits, assessing the quality of the story, its usefulness in engaging students, its ability to be developed further for pedagogical purposes and teaching and learning experiences.

We must also remember that some literature considered high quality years ago, can contain prejudices and blatant racism, excluding many of our students. Rather than weeding these, they can serve as examples for critical literacy, or sociopolitical discussion, as Cai (2002) alluded to when discussing the difficult of defining the “multi” part of multicultural. Using these texts to compare and contrast historical perspectives engages our students in discussions about ethics and politics – about what is right, fair and just. Facilitating these discussions, providing the tools for students to form their own opinions, as well as opportunities for them to articulate them with evidence – surely one of the main aims of 21st Century education.

Resources:

References:

  • Cai, M. (2002). Defining multicultural literature. In Multicultural literature for children and young adults: Reflections on critical issues. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  • Bluemle, E. (2010). The Elephant in the room. In Publishers Weekly: Shelftalker [Blog]. Retrieved fromhttp://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=700
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Wrangling worms

As a Teacher Librarian who is also a mother of three, working four days a week and studying a Master of Teacher Librarianship (M TL) by distance education, there is not much time left for reading for pleasure.

How then, do I stay abreast of Children’s Literature so that I can provide the best School Library Service to my colleagues and our students?

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‘Business, career, depressed, employee’ by Pixabay. Creative Commons CC0. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/business-career-depressed-employee-19156/

I get it when my students, friends and colleagues say, “I just don’t have time to read anymore”. BUT… I yearn to read everything that I process (and sometimes do!), I can’t pass a bookstore without popping in to see the new releases and flick through to see if I should give them a second look and take a snap of the cover so I don’t forget. Gosh, I even buy books when I’m supposed to be grocery shopping!

Besides the invaluable articles, journals and advice gained through the M TL I have a few strategies in place to help me stay on top of things:

Curation tools

Pinterest is my go-to curation tool (check out my Boards) . I like it’s visual layout because I can quickly find what I want (I am obviously a visual learner). I use Pinterest to curate websites to later insert in my weebly and our school library blog. I follow the boards of other Teacher Librarians and have developed a trusted network of like-minded teachers who share the content around.

Diigo is also great for finding new research, new approaches in Children’s Literature and learning about studies from around the world.

Social Media

My school Library has a Twitter account (@BexleyPSLibrary). Whilst it targets parent usage in the school (students are too young to have a Twitter account), it provides an opportunity to retweet from a wide variety of Publishing houses and authors that I follow. At the moment it is somewhat dormant, but I have high hopes for it once I graduate!

My school does not have a public Facebook page, but I do use my private Facebook page to connect to authors,

Publishers, Bookstores, Libraries, Museums, Galleries and professional associations who provide ongoing sources of information and inspiration for children’s literature recommendations and ideas.

Professional Networks

I am a member of the Teacher Librarian Network List Service which is a great source of knowledge about old and new children’s literature issues, research and resources. This group is interactive and provides a wealth of historical information as well as hints and tips about new and upcoming authors, events, talks and materials.

With the support of an inspiring Principal who clearly values the contribution of a professionally-run Library, I also attend Teacher Librarian Network meetings once each Term. These meetings are an invaluable source of information for our professional development on Library administration, organisation and development. Children’s bookstores or suppliers often attend these events with a wide range of new titles to peruse and discuss.

Blogs

Blogs such as ‘Hey Jude‘ and ‘Children’s Books Daily‘ are just a couple of the blogs that I subscribe to for information about the profession of Teacher Librarianship as well as reviews and news on new and old authors and their offerings.

Web

Regular visits to sites such as ‘Goodreads‘ and ‘Inside a dog‘, along with many more provide opportunities to explore children’s literature before spending that tight budget. These sites are also helpful when trying to find ‘the right book’ for those students that come into the Library but can’t find what they’re looking for (a little like me when I’m looking for a handbag – I don’t know exactly what I want but I know I don’t want the one on the shelf). By reading reviews from other librarians and readers I can get a feel for books that might be a good fit for that student. Sometimes I’ll find it on Amazon and download a Sample for them to read off my iPad before I commit to the purchase. It’s little things like this that can make a big difference with the reluctant readers or those boys who say they can’t find anything they like.

Resource Reviews

The New South Wales Department of Education and Communities’ School Libraries and Information Literacy website has a resource review tool which can search for general and/or online resources using keywords. The search can be undertaken for specific grades which I find useful when making recommendations to support classroom teaching and learning programs.

Education Professionals

Having a good rapport with other education professionals and developing those through professional networks and associations ensures current and up to date research and resources can be drawn on for my school library. Attending professional development at professional association events such as the Primary English Teachers Association Australia (PETAA) strengthens these links and takes advantage of their wealth of knowledge on children’s literature.

Local Public Librarians

Local public librarians are a great source of information on trends and popular series. They also support us with Book Week visits and competitions to generate excitement about children’s literature both in and out of the school environment.

My Kids

Discussing the books that my children are reading in class and for pleasure is always a great source of interest for me. I have found many little gems that they have been reading that I have then found hiding in my own school library to recommend to teachers for specific units. My own children also enjoy a wide variety of fiction but my youngest (Age 8) is really into information texts, particularly, as the research suggests, animal texts. In trying to meet her voracious appetite for all things cute and cuddly I have come to find some amazing texts, magazines and multi-media sites that are on my wishlist for my own school library.

Other strategies for the future

What else is on my list of ‘to do’s’ when it comes to continued professional learning about Children’s Literature? Here’s just a few:

  • MOOCs: I have had my eye on a few Massive Open Online Courses in this area that I would love to sink my teeth into;
  • Sister Library Program: Setting up a Sister Library program with my school’s local Public Library to leverage database access is one of my targets for the next three years, and finally
  • Formats: Further exploring ebooks, audiobooks and interactive children’s literature following the implementation of our new Library system in late August this year.

Hopefully, all of these activities will help me to wrangle the right book for the right time for each of my little book worms.

Is reading for meaning dead?

(Critics) are not recognising or do not want to recognise that the former traditional approaches to alphabetic literacy through reading print are not meeting the needs of young people who read texts much differently than the generations of teachers and educators who are teaching them.(p. 42)

Zipes, J (2009)

Zipes 2009 Relentless progress: The reconfiguration of children’s literature, fairy tales, and storytelling is rightly confounded by the consumeristic nature of the publishing industry and the denigration of children’s reading to elements of decoding information alone. Essentially, he laments the lack of critical literacy infused in reading programs in schools in America.

I am unable to comment on the state of the education system in America as I have only taught in New South Wales, Australia, however, in the 6 years since Zipes wrote this text, much has changed here. The Australian Curriculum was introduced in all Australian States and Territories in the last few years, with new English and Mathematics curricular now implemented and Science, History and Geography in various stages of implementation throughout the States and Territories.

One of the most significant changes in the Curriculum that poses the most challenges for implementation by teachers, aims to address Zipes concerns about the continuing focus on alphabetic literacy through reading print. In fact, I would argue that here, in Australia, teacher training and professional development has consistently aimed to embed new technologies and literacies, at least for the past five years. This is further strengthened by the Australian Curriculum’s incorporation of information and communication technologies as one of the seven general capabilities that are applied across subject-based content (Toner, 2011).

Teacher Librarians have a significant role to play in addressing multimodal and multiliteracy teaching and learning practices. We are well-placed to lead teachers in technology enhancements for their current teaching. We can improve access to a wide range of print, screen and manipulative resources and promote these for integration into teaching and learning experiences. We can locate and source multimodal resources and provide LibGuides for teachers to integrate with their own units.

However, one of the most significant areas that Teacher Librarians can impact on children’s critical literacy skills is in the general capabilities which run through all content areas. Capability ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ is really our bread and butter. The essential skills for critical and creative thinking closely match information literacy skills. As Toner (2011) suggests, these skills include:

  • “posing insightful and purposeful questions
  • suspending judgement about a situation to consider the big picture and alternative pathways
  • generating and developing ideas and possibilities
  • analysing information logically and making reasoned judgements
  • evaluating ideas, creating solutions and drawing conclusions
  • assessing the feasibility, possible risks and benefits in the implementation of their ideas
  • reflecting on thinking, actions and processes
  • transferring their knowledge to new situations.” (Page 2).
Wild Things by geraldbrazell
Wild Things, by geraldbrazell. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/geraldbrazell/6389453857

In Kindergarten through to Grade Two there is a strong focus on high quality stories from a wide range of cultural perspectives, using complex characters and motivations. This is the beginning of explicit inferential comprehension of characters, language features, story structure and ethics. It is the teacher Librarians’ role here to ensure that the school library is well-stocked and the catalogue has easy access to a wide variety of print, screen and multimedia resources to meet these aims. Similarly, as the concepts become more challenging and complex so too must the resources.

Will this refocus on ‘meaning’ and the purpose of the writer mean that the reduction in reading for pleasure as adults will be stemmed? It is too early to say. But one thing is clear. Far from Zipes suggestion that we are neglecting reading without meaning, teaching and learning practices in Australia are very focused on engaging students through their preferred modes of instruction and explicitly teach critical literacy skills.

References

The future of children’s literature

Reflecting on the historical developments of children’s literature, I am still at odds with myself as to whether I should be lamenting the solidity of printed literature or excited by the prospect of the digital age of children’s literature.  In pondering this, I am reminded of the concern of society when oral storytelling made way for print. With every change there comes some uncertainty, some level of wistfulness for the familiar and fear of the unknown. However, the developments that we are now seeing in multimedia offerings in children’s literature are probably not easily understood by non-digital natives. As an early adopter of most technology, it is difficult for me to not be excited by the prospect of the ever increasing digitisation of children’s literature. As a Teacher Librarian with limited capacity in a small school library and the ever increasing need to make budgets stretch further, there is even more impetus to want to drive some of the change towards this type of content. So then, what is my vision for the future of children’s literature? I have a few concerns about the five trends raised by McLean (2013): 1) The rise of the empowered author; 2) The rise of the empowered consumer; 3) The rise of the empowered child; 4) New patterns of content emergence; and 5) Drivers of choice are stable but delivery is not), but I am also excited by some of these. Most of my concern relates to the quality of the literature being produced as a result of these five suggested trends. Empowered authors allows direct engagement with the children reading their stories. This is a very positive aspect of social media and its benefits. Children no longer have to wait for teachers/Teacher Librarians or parents to choose the authors that they engage with through author visits, signing or Writer’s Workshops. Children can follow their favourite author’s blogs, learn about the writing process, watch illustrators and learn how to create stories and images and become involved at the level that they wish. This truly is a worthy future development to facilitate and one that is consistent with my vision for the future. The rising empowerment of consumers and children and new patterns of content emergence is where most of my concerns lie. As the mother of a teen, I have seen first hand how the developing fan-fiction genre, easily accessible to children with an internet connection or using apps such as WattPad can affect the quality of children’s writing. This new pattern of content emergence is largely pushed to children through peers and social media, including YouTube personalities. Although I am not one for encouraging restrictions on literature, caution must be taken that students’ reading breadth is wide and varied to include Eragon, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and anything by Roald Dahl, along with the many and varied other reputable children and young adult authors. This is not a new dilemma however, and can be easily tempered by being aware of popular versus quality literature, as a parent and teacher, and balancing the two with nudges in the right direction. Which of course brings us to the question of the drivers of change. We are now seeing consumer demand (and publisher support?) leading to the development of ‘like’ minded stories, particularly when they translate well onto the big screen. Did ‘SickLit’ as a genre even exist before “The Fault in our Stars”? There is now a plethora of SickLit in every book shop and Library. I believe that this will continue to be the major drive for change. The same is true with children’s reading habits. Their familiarity with devices and ability to navigate what seems to older generations, quite complex actions to access the apps they want, will continue to drive change towards e-books. Their ease of accessibility, usually lower price point, portability, the list goes on… makes e-books the choice of the future for a generation of children that have grown up with a smart phone in their hand as babes in strollers. This is where teachers need to wedge themselves in both sides of the story camp and use their influence to guide students to good quality stories and texts in the format that is best for that story or text. User preference for format will always be varied. For me there is nothing like opening a box of new books, smelling their fresh pages, feeling the texture of the words on the page and exploring the images and how they interact with the words. On the other hand, the convenience of being able to carry around a whole library of text books for study, novels for pleasure, and fiction and information texts for my children’s education and entertainment, all in one device, is immeasurable. For the time being though, e-book versions of picture books are still very sub-standard and cannot compare to print. In preparation for an upcoming author visit, one recent purchase of an e-book that I made really highlighted how poorly picture books can transfer into e-versions. Although the print version of the picture book “Marlo can fly” by Robert Vescio is a heartfelt read and beautifully illustrated, the electronic version of the same book is clunky, limited to single page spreads and requires going back and forth between each page. Although this hasn’t put me off purchasing e-books for personal use, it is definitely a consideration when purchasing for classroom use and teaching. Where this format is beginning to excel is in the more unique, interactive elements that this format supsherlock_screen1plies. For example, “Sherlock: Interactive Adventure” (HAAB, 2015) is the next level of the choose your own adventure genre, requiring not only reading and comprehension of text but also decision-making and problem solving with a strong narrative throughout. Interestingly enough though, one of the latest developments in e-books is the ‘Bridging Book’BridgingBook (“Bridging Books”, 2014) which combines both a printed book and a device to display the full content of the story along with additional story features. Will they co-exist happily like the Bridging Book gimmick? Johnathon Gunston’s (2014) article ‘Will printed books disappear? Stephen King on the future of the traditional paperback’ highlights the depth of this debate. Tim Waterstone, Founder of UK bookstore chain ‘Waterstone’, claims that print will never be dead and e-books are a passing fad, but author Stephen King argues that print fiction is dead, mainly because of the lower price point for the same story delivered electronically. What is clear is that there is a place in the world for both formats. They stand alone according to personal preferences and situations but they can equally weave and intertwine to enhance the magic of stories in ways that we have only ever dreamed of before. As Krystina Madej (2003) points out, “Each medium – oral tradition, print, radio, the movies, television, video – has added its own sound to the orchestra of storytelling as it has evolved. Each is important in its own right. Each influences, is used by, and depends on, the others.” (pg. 2).


References

teachers'hub@harpercollins

The Fat and Juicy Place

Please join HarperCollins Publishers in congratulating renowned artist Bronwyn Bancroft who has been nominated for the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen award.

Bronwyn is an acclaimed Aboriginal artist and designer and a descendant of the Djanbun clan of the Bundjalung nation. Bronwyn’s artistic career has been expansive and diverse and ranges from fashion design to children’s book illustration.

Bronwyn has illustrated a number of children’s book for HarperCollins, including the award-winning The Fat and Juicy Place by Diana Kidd, Stradbroke Dreamtime by Oodgeroo Noonuccal and The Whalers, Minah and Dirrangan.

Bronwyn also illustrated Sun Mother Wakes the World: An Australian Creation Story by Diana Wolkstein, which was published by HarperCollins US in 2004 and named in the New York Public Library’s annual list for Children’s Book – 100 titles for Reading and Sharing.

In 1994 Bronwyn was the Australian candidate for the UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats International Award for Excellence…

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