Sunday, October 23, 2016

Librarians as Human Hyperlinks Rather Than "Search Engines"

When reading for my INFO 254 Information Literacy and Learning course this week, there was an article about advocacy in which the author shared her personal favorite marketing slogan of: "The ultimate search engine is your librarian." I have seen this before, and it always makes me cringe. I also wince when seeing librarians proudly recite the Neil Gaiman quote: "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one."

Don't get me wrong. I love libraries and I love librarians. I work in a library. I am a librarian, I am married to a librarian, and many of my friends are librarians.

But, I also worry when I see advocacy efforts that appear to be self-congratulatory or pre-emptively defensive. To me, the slogans above fail because they play into the false binary that people must choose between technology OR libraries rather than technology AND libraries.

I worry, because I feel that non-library observers may interpret these slogans as librarians being dismissive of technology rather than as embracers and champions of positive and wise use of technology. I think these statements do not recognize the true value of librarians as humans who additively complement technology rather than replace or compete with it. And, to be frank, if we choose to compete with Google, we will lose.

I strongly feel that we librarians will fail if we insist on selling ourselves as “all-knowing” or at least more knowledgeable than others. While I hope people may find helpful the unique training I have and purpose that I serve, I think that it is important to find messaging that simultaneously respects the expertise and capacity of others in a way that teachers are similarly shifting from roles as “sages on the stage” to “guides on the side.”

I'm still thinking about what I would propose as alternative marketing, but one idea that comes to mind is libraries and librarians as embodiments of hyperlinks rather than as search engines. Instead of being gateway keepers to information or the sole or "best" means for access, how may we emphasize the way libraries facilitate unique opportunities for connection and librarians as humans who help other humans discover and develop connections?

What marketing slogans do you like?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exploring a Youth Literature Trend: My Intro to Wattpad

In INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, our challenge this week has been to explore a trend that we do not have much experience with. We could, for instance, read a graphic novel or an e-book, or try out a book-based app.

My immediate thought was to pick a graphic novel from my reading wish list. But, having taken a course on graphic novels just this summer, I decided that since I already have a collection of reviews about various graphic novels, I should challenge myself to explore something else.

Racking my brain about what to look at, I then thought about my recent interviews with teens regarding reading and was reminded of Wattpad! Although I have had basic awareness of Wattpad as a way for students to share their creative writing works and read those of others, I have not previously spent time exploring it in depth, and so I used this week's assignment as an opportunity to do so.

First of all, check out this "Did you know?" blurb from the bottom of the Wattpad website. I'd say it is definitely about time that I check it out!

For my exploration, I looked at both Wattpad's website on my computer and also the app on my phone. When logging in, I noticed that there are a number of ways to browse and search for content:
  • Browsing by genre/category
  • Searching by tags - Below are currently trending tags. I have traditionally thought of Wattpad in terms of fan fiction related to anime and manga, science fiction and fantasy, and popular entertainment. It was fun to discover there is such variety, including how the election has caused #politics to trend with stories such as Dernie~ A Donald Trump x Bernie Sanders FanficHillary Clinton X reader, and Fifty Shades of Republican.
  • Following specific users - Of note, there is no delineation between who is a reader and who is a writer. A user's profile features lists of what they have read or are reading, plus works that they have written. As an educator, I find it exciting that students may simultaneously participate as consumers and creators. This makes me think about my students who are aspiring writers. They can write now and share their works now. They do not need to simply aspire.
  • Exploring lists - The sheer volume of content may be overwhelming, but Wattpad helps by including lists of what's new, recommended reads, related reads, user reading lists, and more.
  • Considering user rankings - Stories may "rise to the top" based on the number of people who read them and how many times they are starred. Below is a story that has been read 47 million times and has 1.7 million starred ratings!
  • Checking out Watty Award winners - Notice "She's With Me" pictured directly above is tagged #Wattys2016. The Wattys are annual awards that recognize works entered into the writing contest. To enter this year, writers simply had to tag their stories with #Wattys2016. The winners haven't been announced yet, but you can check out the 2015 winners who were selected out of over 75,000 entries. Works were recognized by genre (e.g., LGBT+, Urban, Fanfiction) and category (e.g., Hidden Gems, Best Use of Visuals, Cover-to-Cover), and there are even international winners (e.g., Filipino Winners, Turkish Winners, Russian Winners). In addition to the Watty Awards, Wattpad also encourages writing throughout the year by featuring shorter-term writing contests and challenges

When actually reading a story, what I found to be most striking is the way that they are so conversational. Besides connecting with an author on their profile's Conversation page or in club discussion boards, the story text itself facilitates embedded opportunities. As you read, you may make comments and read the comments of other readers. Reading thus becomes a shared, social experience.

The screenshots below show what it looks like when reading a story on the Wattpad app. The comment icons located in the right column may be tapped to reveal reader comments.

Now that I've entered the world of Wattpad, I can definitely see how addicting it can be as both a reader and writer; and as a teacher librarian, I want to start thinking about possibilities for integrating it into my programming and literacy efforts.

Even if I don't immediately integrate Wattpad, I am glad to be reminded that my students may be reading and writing in ways that I am not as familiar with. As adults, it is easy to assume that students are not actively engaged if we only look at traditionally prescribed channels. However, this exercise illustrates how, if we take the time to explore our teen's worlds with more curiosity, we may be pleasantly surprised - if not humbled - to learn that they are involved and innovating in remarkable ways on their own. If you haven't checked out Wattpad before or recently, I recommend you try it out!

NOTE: If you are not familiar with Wattpad, check out some concerns about it such as those shared in these Common Sense Media reviews. To balance concerns, though, also check out The Guardian article "The Tales Teens Tell: What Wattpad Did for Girls."

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Original Cinderella Was Chinese! And a Bilingual Version, Too

Cinderella is one of those fairy tales that has likely been written about a lot since there are countless versions of it, and so I wouldn’t have chosen it on my own. But, after reading and writing about Captain Underpants in honor of my son, I decided to dedicate this INFO 268 History of Youth Literature assignment to my six-year-old daughter. I asked her what her favorite fairy tale is, and she immediately answered: Cinderella. As I have learned, she's not alone in her love of Cinderella.

In order to identify two different Cinderella versions to compare, a resource that I found helpful was “Multicultural Cinderella Stories” by Mary Northrup. Northrup (2000) cites “more than 500 versions have been found--just in Europe!” and her look at this is nowhere near new since, as far back as 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox published the book Cinderella: Three Hundred and Forty-Five Variants. While there is a preponderance of Cinderella versions from Europe, it was interesting to learn that the original version is generally considered to be the tale of “Yeh-Shen” from ninth century China. Learning this, I decided to start by reading a modern retelling of Yeh-Shen.

Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China 
Retold by Ai-Ling Louie
Illustrated by Ed Young
Originally Published in 1982

In this book, Ai-Ling Louie has adapted the Chinese tale of Yeh-Shen, which is believed to have originated during the T'ang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). As is common to Cinderella stories, the protagonist Yeh-Shen is a stepdaughter who is subjected to abuse by her stepmother. Yeh-Shen shows kindness to a fish, sharing her meagre food portions with it until her stepmother finds out and ends up killing and eating the fish. All that Yeh-Shen has left are the bones, which grant her wishes. Yeh-Shen wishes for humble things such as food until there is a spring festival where people meet to marry. This time, Yeh-Shen wishes for nice clothes to attend the festival and is provided with an outfit, including beautiful golden slippers for her tiny feet. Unfortunately, at the festival, Yeh-Shen's stepsister recognizes her and so she must run away, and in doing so, she loses one of her slippers. The king, while not having seen Yeh-Shen, is intrigued by the slipper that was left behind, and he becomes intent on finding out its owner. He conducts a search and eventually discovers it belongs to Yeh-Shen. He believes he has found his true love and asks Yeh-Shen to marry him, but he forbids her to bring along her stepmother and stepsister since they had been unkind to her in the past. The story abruptly ends with them left in their cave home where "they were crushed to death in a shower of flying stones."

As with the Disney version of Cinderella that my daughter is accustomed to, there are similar familial relationships, magical wishes, a party, a lost shoe, and a wedding at the end. The story, however, is darker with the fish getting killed and eaten and the family members being stoned at the end. It also stood out to me that when Yeh-Shen comes to retrieve her shoe, the king initially thinks she is a thief. It is not until "he caught a glimpse of her face" that he is able to see past the rags that she is wearing. His interest is piqued by her tiny feet, "the tiniest feet he had ever seen," and then when she is transformed into her beautiful outfit once again, it is "her loveliness" that "made her seem a heavenly being" and "the king suddenly knew in his heart that he had found his true love." Much like the Disney version of Cinderella, it is Yeh-Shen's beauty that causes the king to fall in love.

My six-year-old daughter's review: [Thumb's down] Bad, because it's creepy that people get killed at the end.

My nine-year-old son's review (since he ended up listening in as well): It was darker, but it was a good story. Some parts didn't really resemble the Disney version of Cinderella, but the fish was an interesting addition.

NOTE: While Ai-Ling Louie retells one version of Yeh-Shen, Smith (2013) traces variants of the story of Yeh-Shen, and even cites research that a Tibetan version may predate the ninth-century version commonly referenced. Smith also interestingly connects Yeh-Shen with validating the practice of footbinding.

Also inspired by my daughter, I selected the second Cinderella version Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro: A Cinderella Cuento Retold in Spanish and English since she is currently studying Spanish at a full immersion school, and the story is a bilingual retelling.

Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro: A Cinderella Cuento retold in Spanish and English
Retold by Joe Hayes
Illustrated by Gloria Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez
Originally Published in 2000

In Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro, Joe Hayes tells a version of Cinderella that evolved from Spanish settlers in the Americas. Told in both English and Spanish, this version "that is popular in the mountain communities of New Mexico" features Arcía as the Cinderella character who convinces her father to marry stepmother Margarita, who initially seems to be "sweet," but turns out to be "bitter." The story departs from the Disney version of Cinderella much more since there is no lost slipper, and instead what distinguishes Arcía from her two stepsisters is a gold star on her forehead that she is given by a hawk after acting respectfully toward it. In contrast, her rude stepsisters are marked by the hawk's alternative gifts: a donkey ear on one stepsister's forehead and a green horn on the other's. Like the Disney Cinderella, there is a prince who hosts a party to find a bride, but Arcía does not transform herself to attend. Instead, she dutifully helps her stepsisters prepare for the party and only ends up sneaking there to peek in at it from outside. Marked by her goodness, though, Arcía's gold star on her forehead shines brightly and catches the attention of everyone, including the prince. Arcía runs off, and the prince goes in search of her. Like other Cinderella tales, he eventually finds her, falls in love immediately, and asks her to marry him. Unlike Yeh-Shen, though, even the stepmother and stepsisters are invited to the wedding party.

When looking up information about Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro, I was pleased to be introduced to its publisher, the independent small press Cinco Puntos, which was started in 1985. I enjoyed the following statement on their About Us page:
We come to publishing as writers. We aren’t educators. We think it’s important to note that. Manuscripts are really interesting to us when the writing is amazing or the voice of the author is unique or the book opens up a door into a culture or a people that hasn’t been opened before. Or when the writer is someone whose work we’ve just plain admired over a long period of time. There are so many fine publishers who understand the educational needs of children and what kids should be learning at what age, but that’s not how we approach publishing.
Also linked on their website was a teacher's guide, which included a moving story about the co-illustrators, mother and daughter pair Gloria Osuna Perez and Lucia Angela Perez. Mother Gloria started off creating paintings for the book, but as she had ovarian cancer, she only finished three. Her daughter who was caring for her ended up finishing the rest:
While Lucia was taking care of her, Gloria talked to her about the colors she was using and what she wanted for each of the scenes she had sketched out. After her mother died, Lucia painted the twelve remaining scenes, always with her eye on the work her mom had begun, always remembering her mother’s words. The result is truly remarkable, a tribute to the powerful relationship between a mother and her daughter.

My six-year-old daughter's review: Good! Since they [the stepsisters] were always making her [Arcía] do all the work and she thought of helping her dad first, she got a star and the others got a cow horn and a donkey ear. They really did deserve that.

  • Hayes, J. (2000). Little gold star / estrellita de oro: A Cinderella cuento retold in Spanish and English. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos.
  • Louie, A. (1982). Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella story from China. New York: Putnam.
  • McMillie, K., & Rivera, L. (n.d.). Teacher's guide: Little Gold Star / Estrellita de oro. Retrieved from
  • Northrup, M. (2000, May). Multicultural Cinderella stories. Book Links, 9(5). Retrieved from
  • Smith, T. S. (2013, May). Cinderella's lessons on footbinding: How tiny feet found their way into the Chinese Cinderella story. Transnational Literature, 5(2), 1-8. 
Further Reading

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Etisalat Award and Emerging Arabic Children's Literature

As part of this week's assignments for INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, we have been tasked with going on a virtual visit to an international children's literature exhibit, collection, etc. We were provided with a list of options organized by country and region, and I was immediately drawn to exploring information related to the Middle East.

Living and working as an educator in the East County region of San Diego, I have been aware of the growing community of refugee immigrants from the Middle East, and I have realized how sorely uninformed I am about this region's history and culture, other than war-related narratives told from an American perspective. As a result, I have been making efforts in recent years to learn more in terms of the history of the region, and I was excited to get this chance to look at children's literature since I have never done so before.

The award that I chose to explore is the Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature. which was established recently in 2009, thanks to an "initiative of Her Highness Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al-Qasimi, President of the United Arab Emirates Board on Books for Young People and Founder / CEO of Kalimat publishing house" [source]. The award is managed by the UAE's Board on Books for Young People, which is part of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), and has quickly filled a void in recognizing and promoting growth in Arabic children's literature.

Since its launch, the award has added more categories and expanded to include young adult fiction. Currently, the total monetary amount awarded annually is 1,000,000 AED, which is about equivalent about $270,000 USD. This amount is divided among winners of different categories, including:
  • Best Text: 100,000 AED
  • Best Illustration: 100,000 AED
  • Best Production: 100,000 AED
  • Best Children's Book of the Year: 100,000 AED to author, 100,000 AED to illustrator, and 100,000 to publisher
  • Best Young Adult Book of the Year.100,000 AED to author, 100,000 AED to publisher
The remaining 200,000 AED is allocated for Warsha, the Etisalat Award Workshops for Children's Books. The Warsha initiative features programs in illustration, writing, and publishing to encourage continued growth in Arabic children's books.

As I explored the Etisalat Award website and did more related searching online, it became apparent to me that the Warsha program is truly important since children's book publishing in the Middle East is still just emerging. For instance, a Video Gallery clip (see below) that I found interesting features Ahmed Al Amri, Director of the Shrajah International Book Fair, which a large literary exhibition fair hosted annually in the Arab region. He explains how the Etisalat Award has "add[ed] a new dimension to the fair by encouraging the development of better quality children's literature and showcasing it on a global platform."

As he mentions, showcasing works is just one element, and the other is encouraging development. This is where Warsha seems to be making a valuable impact, as can be seen in a 2015 documentary (see below) of participants who were provided with the opportunity to attend the Bologna Children's Book Fair

Abdulla Al Sharhan, an illustrator from the Emirates, explains how attending the fair was "a turning point in my life," because gaining access to look "at different illustrations from different countries highly expanded our horizons." He suggests that this will enable him to "make a quantum leap in my coming work." Hanan Kai, illustrator from Lebanon, similarly expresses that "the most beautiful thing about Warsha is that our aim is not just to see the things of high standards, but to move these standards to the Arab world to have stories not only like the stories we see here but more beautiful."

Fortunately, it appears that the Etisalat Award is already making an impact. As reported within the past month, the award's eighth year has reaped the biggest participation yet, with 151 submissions coming from 13 Arab countries. It will indeed be exciting to see who the winners are when they are announced at the Sharjah International Book Fair on November 2nd!

In the meantime, though, I have attempted to find more information about last year's winners and my findings are telling. The 2015 top award (and also Best Production winner) went to The Judge's Mule by Shafeek Mehdi. While I recognize that some of my difficulty in finding information about the book may be due to differences in translation, I found it disappointing that I was unable to locate the book to purchase via any traditional American online booksellers when searching by title, author, and ISBN. Searching American Google by ISBN, I was only returned 9 search results total!

Searching for other award winners proved to be just as challenging. When searching for the 2015 Best Young Adult book of the Year, Getting Out of the Bubble by Taiba Abdullah, an American Google search by ISBN only returned 6 results, although it was interesting that one link was to Goodreads.

All of the Goodreads reviews are written in Arabic, and out of curiosity, I checked out the user profiles of reviewers to determine where they live. Their profiles all note that they live in Arab nations, although I suppose this should not be surprising since it seems to be difficult to purchase even these few award-winning titles in the United States.

Only after a bit of searching did I manage to find 2015 Best Illustration winner, Noor Runs Away by Abeer Ali Al Kalbani, for sale on Amazon through a third-party seller and Me and My Granny by Ibtihaj Al Harthi for sale on Barnes & Noble's website under the title Mah and Me.

In terms of library collections, when searching (by ISBN) using WorldCat, which "connects you to the collections...of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide," I found the following meagre results:
  • The Judge's Mule was not available at any library;
  • Getting Out of the Bubble only showed as being available at 3 libraries, two in Denmark and one in Australia;
  • Me and My Granny was only available at 2 libraries, one in Scotland and one in Sweden; and
  • Noor Runs Away was only at 1 library, although finally one in the United States: the UCLA library.

As a Teacher Librarian working in a region with a number of Arabic-speaking students, I am glad to learn about the Etisalat Award since it may be helpful when it comes to identifying quality children's literature in a language that I do not personally know. I had no idea that this is in fact such a unique period of creative growth for authors and illustrators in Arab nations, and I look forward to seeing an increase in high quality Arabic children's books being created and made readily available for young readers around the world. It will be exciting to follow what continues to emerge!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

On Reading Captain Underpants and Validating Our Children's Interests

I have looked at portions of the Captain Underpants books in the past since it is my nine-year-old son’s favorite book series right now, but I’ve never actually read through one...until now. I decided that I would use this week’s INFO 268 History of Youth Literature "series" assignment as an opportunity to connect with him, and so I asked him to recommend a book to read from any of the series that he likes, which also includes Magic Treehouse, Goosebumps, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Without pause, he said that I had to read Captain Underpants, and when I asked if he would recommend a particular book in the series, he identified book ten “the one with the boxer shorts on the cover” as the one I must read.

And so I did. Here are my thoughts on Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers.

Overall, the book details the story of two fourth grade - the same grade as my son - boys named George and Harold who go to school with a grumpy principal Mr. Krupp who turns into Captain Underpants. In this particular volume, George and Harold must protect Captain Underpants from nemesis Tippy Tinkletrousers, who is a “mad professor”-looking little man who rides on the top of giant trousers. Throughout the book, the characters time travel into the distant past and then into the future using ridiculous-sounding technical contraptions. They encounter different versions of themselves as they time travel, change in physical size from teeny tiny to gigantic, and they come across dinosaurs and cavemen, as well.

In terms of format and style, I think the book is appealing due to the creative use of cute drawings throughout, whether they are simple illustrations that accompany text or when they appear as sections of full-page comics or interactive “flip-o-rama” pages. It is also interesting how Pilkey directly addresses “you” as the reader, making conscious acknowledgement of the book format. For instance, near the beginning of the book, he writes: “By the time you get to page 210, you’ll know it all” (p. 18). In a similar spirit, Pilkey provides fan service for his devoted readers by referencing previous books: “...Captain Underpants destroyed it back in chapter eight of our last epic novel!” (p. 64).

In terms of language, the book opens with a comic that was enough to make me cringe since it features a number of misspellings reflecting the authentic work of a child. Once I got past that comic, though, I was pleasantly surprised to note the high level vocabulary that is used. Some of it is intentionally over-the-top to sound scientific-like to a silly degree (e.g., molecularly modified, carbonite-and-tibanna-gas-infused ice, electrified ozone, polarity on the emulsifying sossiflange inhibitor). But, there are also a number of vocabulary words that would be useful for children to encounter: misdirection, ferociously,  petrified, delinquents, disintegrated, despicable, maniacally, refuge, nemesis, peevishly, treacherous, engrossed, emanating, devious, doppelgängers, primeval, rivets, tempestuous, diabolical, stratosphere, detonate, incredulously, colossal, haughtily, bemoaned, and predicament.

Pilkey makes an allusion to the Tortoise and the Hare and a jab at Sarah Plain and Tall, which I know that my son knows nothing about. When time traveling, the characters visit the Mesozoic, Cretaceous, Cenozoic, and Pleistocene periods; and at one point, they geographically span North America from the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. These references sound academic on the one hand, but they are of course balanced with plenty of scatological humor such as: “My name is no longer Professor Poopypants. I changed it to Tippy Tinkletrousers” (p. 38). There is no doubt that the book caters to its young audience.

Beyond humor, Pilkey shows value for young people’s feelings, opinions, and experiences. Here are a couple of examples that stood out to me.

  • Near the beginning of the book, the pages below had me cracking up. I asked my son if he could relate to this, and he nodded in emphatic agreement. I took pictures of the pages so that you can catch a glimpse of him, too.

  • Later, at the end of the book, George and Harold vow “We need to quit making comic books and start paying more attention to our schoolwork” (p. 169). But, they then travel into the future and see that this vow results in them becoming just the types of adults that they hate and so they then “vow a new vow that unvows the old vow we just vowed” (p. 181). This is the one serious moment in the book. “George and Harold shook hands and promised to always be themselves” (p. 183). They successfully reverse their future of becoming grumpy adults and George proclaims: “You mean it’s that easy? All you have to do is make up your mind and stick to it, and you can change the future?” (p. 183). For all of the silliness and wacky adventure, it was nice to come across this more thoughtful moment, even if it is then paired by Harold’s response that keeps the scene from becoming overly sappy: “Yeah, I guess so” 

Reading this book was a nice chance to enter a world that my son loves so much. I’m not sure that I will read more of them, but I do think it is a good exercise to validate the interests of children by trying them out. He was so happy to see me reading and that made it a worthwhile experience.

Student Research Habits, Social Justice in Information, and Balancing Concepts and Skills

In my INFO 254 Information Literacy and Learning course, we were given a menu of discussion board prompts to respond to this week, and I was immediately drawn to one regarding a 2010 Inside Higher Ed article "Searching for Better Research Habits" by Steve Kolowich. The discussion in this article resonated with thoughts I have been considering lately regarding research instruction.

For instance, the initial portion of the article mentions how students do not understand the way a Google search functions and how they practically suggest that it works like “magic.” This reminds me of a session that I attended during the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. The UCLA professor Safiya Umoja Noble spoke on the topic: Toward an Ethic of Social Justice in Information. In her remarks, she brought up how people commonly and falsely assume that Google searches are unbiased. She provided a number of examples that shed light on how we might critically regard the search results that we are returned (to read more, check out Noble’s dissertation “Searching for Black Girls: Old Traditions in the New Media”), and challenged the assumptions and stereotypes that are perpetuated through corporate algorithms.

In a Research Toolkit resource that my Teacher Librarian colleagues and I have created (and plan to continue to refine), we feature a Searching Google Smartly page that includes technical tips about how to use search filters and an advanced search. However, we also include a section on “Understanding How Google Works,” which links to two resources that I have found to be interesting and helpful: an infographic Learn How Google Works: In Gory Detail and video How Search Works.

Along the lines of trying to help students focus more on concepts, I also developed an infographic regarding looking at types of information. Here is the toolkit page on it and the standalone infographic. The reason I was prompted to create this was because I had a difficult time finding resources that did more than look at information in terms of A) primary, secondary, tertiary or B) book, magazine, newspaper, journal, etc. While I may show students the technical skills of filtering search results in an online database by book, magazine, newspaper, journal, etc. - I feel that they also need this conceptual context.

Overall, though, my personal approach to instruction and the level of conceptual background that I delve into with students is not something that I consider to be a rigid formula. To me, it depends on their specific learning need, the scope of the assignment, the proficiency level of students, and the amount of time that I have with them. I hope to include conceptual information to some minimal degree no matter what, but sometimes I think that hard skills in terms of “click here” is necessary for them to experience success.

The end of the Kolowich article is a bit dismaying - although relatable - with some scholars determining that we are unlikely to change student search behaviors and need to work instead on improving our interfaces. While I think there is some truth to that, I still hope to influence my students to be skeptical and open to the information that they encounter (I love the idea of “skeptical and open” from our previous readings). Furthermore, acknowledging concerns raised by Noble, I believe we all must be vigilant when developing and using interfaces so that we may not only improve search effectiveness, but do so with mindfulness to identify and address biases in our systems.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Time Traveling to 1909 Through The Youth's Companion

This week in INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, we are looking at the history of juvenile series and one activity involves exploring a historical children's magazine. As our professor makes good use of jigsawing, each student only needs to focus on a particular journal and issue. For me, this happens to be the February 11, 1909 "Lincoln and Washington" edition of The Youth's Companion.

Personal Note: I picked this issue since my mom's birthday is February 11th!

Advertisements as a Window into the Times

As described in the magazine itself, "The Youth's Companion is an illustrated weekly paper for all the family."

Given the context of our current times, it is hard for me to imagine children enjoying a publication like this today; but then again, reading the scanned magazine makes it clear that life was quite different then. What illustrates this best to me are the advertisements. Here are just a few.

Kellogg Corn Flakes! Here is a product that is still around today,
but the "sweetheart of the corn" is long gone.

You sure don't find ads today with children polishing stoves! I also love how they highlight:
"It is absolutely safe for a child to use - not inflammable or explosive like some inferior so-called liquids"

This is just the top portion of a full quarter page ad about a vacuum cleaner.
There are seriously a lot of ads related to cleaning products.

Prophylactic has a whole different meaning today.

The early version of Cutco knives sales?

This pen ad most reflected the theme of the issue by highlighting that the company's
"Quarter Centennial Anniversary" just so happens to coincide with the
"Centennial Birthday" of Lincoln, "the emancipator of a nation's slaves."

The advertisements provide an interesting backdrop for the main content. This reminds me of a listserv message that I recently read (I can't find it again!). A teacher wants to study magazine advertisements, but the online databases with magazine content only provide standalone article text. This is an interesting point that sometimes we may think about information as simply what is conveyed through words without considering the impact of layout and the context of the overall publication.

Oh, The Variety of Content

Ads aside, the content in The Youth's Companion spans a wide range of topics and forms, from fictional stories to short news blurbs and scientific updates. To give you an idea of the array, here are a few snippets that I found amusing.

This article gives serious attention to the technology of the umbrella.

It is newsworthy that flat-top desks are surpassing roll-top desks,
and even back then, the Fourth of July prompts safety warnings about explosives.

Discussion regarding the death penalty hasn't necessarily progressed much today.

While the magazine largely features shorter informational writings, it opens with a more substantial headline feature, which is chapter ten of Homer Greene's eleven part serial "A Lincoln Conscript." The author does not spare any drama, starting off the piece - and thus also the entire issue - with graphic detail. In the first paragraph, the character Bob Bannister is described with his scalp "torn loose."

Later in Greene's piece, after Lincoln has been shot, the president's body is described as an "unconscious burden" and he dies.

As this is the tenth installment of the serial, I am now curious to know what happened in the previous nine parts and how it ends!

Evidence of Existing Cultural Norms

Throughout the magazine, cultural values of the times present both a striking contrast with today, as well as eery parallelism. 

As if the ads were not telling enough with women doing all of the cleaning, the articles echo rigid gender stereotypes. In "A Life-Preserver," it is asserted that "one of the tragic facts of life" is "the midde-aged, untrained woman suddenly left without means of support." These women are labeled a "melancholy, struggling army of the unfit" and their position in life is deemed to be a "catastrophe." 

The "pathetic" woman is meanwhile contrasted with what is being considered to be the ideal in articles such as "Just Like Teacher." In order to be successful, all that a girl has to do is "marry a man that'll always have a steady job. And when I'm cookin' and washin' dishes I'll be smiley in my eyes all the time, just like my teacher."

The idealized female teacher is also portrayed in the short story "Maddalena Bottesini American" by Mabel Nelson Thurston. In this piece, the model American teacher is to be "worshiped" by her subordinate - and "dirty" - immigrant students, which include Italian American Maddalena.

Patriotism is extolled through a lesson about taking good care of the American flag.

And, in fact, proving oneself patriotic is celebrated, even if the results are one's own tragic death, as is the case with little Maddalena.

Cultural stereotypes may also be seen in the editorial piece "Slaves of Superstition." While the authors opens with an acknowledgment that some people of the times promote religious tolerance, he warns "against this easy theory" in favor of what he considers to be the "facts" of "the honest student of civilization."

The author uses fear tactics, suggesting that it is common that Hindus engage in a "frightful ceremony" of burning wives alive with their dead husbands. Although, what is perhaps most telling is the emphasis on equating anything that is "unchristian" as being "unscholarly." 

One final clipping that I'll share is a news brief regarding anti-Japanese bills in California. As a Japanese American living in California, this immediately caught my eye. I am used to finding information about Japanese in America during World War II, but it was interesting to see this antecedent from 1909.

It could be easy to read these clips from the past with judgment. However, as much as I'd like to hope that our American society has progressed in terms of being more open-minded, this recent political season has generated language that is immediately reminiscent, whether demeaning the role of women or setting bars for proving one's patriotic worthiness. If we were to time travel another century into the future, I wonder how our current day may appear just as antiquated.

My YA Milestone Read: Intersectionality, Marginalia, and the Secrets of the Universe

In INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, our unit on the history of teen lit required us to read a milestone YA book and I chose to read a Michael L. Print honor book: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

On Monday morning of this week, I checked out a copy of the book from the high school library where I work, and I immediately fell in love. I woke up earlier than normal the next day so that I could read it before work, and I managed to get to the satisfying ending by the same evening.

From start to finish, Aristotle and Dante is a beautifully poetic read that traces the friendship and love experienced by two high school teenagers named Aristotle "Ari" and Dante. Narrated through Ari's first-person perspective, Sáenz masterfully explores layered issues related to identity, family relationships, trauma, sexuality, and healing.

Regarding identity, I appreciated that the characters articulate and inhabit intersectionality. Ari and Dante are both Mexican American, and as we come to learn, they are both boys who fall in love with one another. The thing is, they are not just simply "Mexican," but express uncertainty about being considered or feeling Mexican enough. In a similar way, the words "homosexual" and "gay" are never used in the book. The expression of their love defies labels. They defy labels.

What makes this book so universally relatable - and "normal" - is the idea that there are "secrets of the universe." Ari considers himself weird and thinks that others must have life figured out more than him since he feels so lost. He struggles with being vulnerable with others and even with himself. He comes to see his parents as flawed, but comfortingly human. He feels alone, and yet learns to let others into his life. These are such typical struggles that any teen - or adult - goes through.

As the physical book that I read was from my library, a bonus treat that I discovered was artwork that a student had added to the pages, expressing their reaction at two points in the book. See below.

While drawing in library books is generally frowned upon, it was fun to see evidence of a student’s reading of and engagement with the copy. This is the second book I’ve come across in my collection with art from the same student. The first time was when I read I am J back in November 2015.

I never did speak to the student about the art (it seemed like too private a thing to comment about), but I know who it was and they have since graduated. I have left their marks in these books, because I regard it as a touching imprint that captures the student’s reading experience like a time capsule. It provides a special glimpse into their thoughts and feelings, and to me, this tangible evidence illustrates the power that stories can play in the emotional lives of students.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

INFO 268 Teen Interviews Regarding Reading

This week's adventure task for INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, "Teenagers in the Mist," charged us "to track down a teen or tween in the wild and observe their reading habits" by interviewing them. Since I work in a high school library, this one was an easy one for me. All the same, it prompted me to seek out conversations with different students that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

While we only needed to interview one youth, I had so much fun that I ended up talking with four different students, two males and two females. I spoke with each of them separately and tried to seek out students who are in different social circles to see what differences I would get with their responses. Below are some of the most interesting findings.
  • All four of the students I spoke with said that they read for pleasure as time allows with their studies. They deeply enjoy their personal reading, but rarely enjoy assigned readings for school. In fact, the only assigned reading that was talked about in a positive light was two students agreed that they liked Of Mice and Men.
  • In terms of what the students choose to read on their own, there was a range of responses. One student likes popular titles such as Perks of Being a Wallflower and works by John Green and Rainbow Rowell. Another student prefers manga and comics, and yet another discussed liking fantasy novels and recently enjoyed The Last Dogs: The Vanishing, which is an animal-based fantasy.
  • Three of the four students said that they enjoy reading series. The ones they named are: a manga series Tsubasa, Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and the Twilight series.
  • The students varied in terms of their ideas about what influences their reading. Most said that they don't read reviews, except one said he reads them on Amazon. Two said that they generally rely on recommendations from friends, both in-person and online on social media. One, though, mentioned that she actually avoids books recommended to her by peers, because she is skeptical of what other people like. Three of the four said that they don't choose books based on the covers, but that they are influenced by titles and summaries on the covers.
  • All four said that they have a personal collection of print books at home and that they enjoy buying them from physical bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. All four said that they read print "regular" books, but that they will also read on electronic devices. One uses a Kindle, one uses an iPad, and two use their phones. They use a mix of apps including iBooks, Open eBooks (thanks to our school library setup!), and Wattpad, although only one student said he reads mostly on an electronic device.
  • Two of the four student regularly check out books from the school library, but none of them said that they use the public library. One student explained that she prefers the school library books, because she has found that the public library books are often in poor shape with pages missing, etc. Along these lines, one of the non-library using students explained he is very particular about reading books that are pristine and so a book that is "used" makes him cringe while reading - he is also the student who reads mostly ebooks.
  • Regarding Wattpad, three of the four students spoke about having read extensively on Wattpad. One student, in particular, is a heavy Wattpad user and engages as both a reader and writer. This student explained that reading serves as the foundation for worlds that she creates in her head for her writing. I know of Wattpad, but I haven't done much reading on it. Now I am inspired to check it out more. I was particularly intrigued by a student mentioning how she likes "reader-insert" or "x-reader." Having never heard of these terms before, I asked her to explain the idea to me, and she detailed how it is writing that places the reader as the protagonist. There are conventions that have developed such as using "Y/N" to indicate when the reader should insert "your name." I find this interesting and exciting that young writers are creating new narrative techniques and forms!
  • Finally, the answer that really touched me was when I asked "How would you describe your perfect book?" One student immediately replied that it would be the description of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. She explained how these are personal favorites that she read "during my days of solitude." The books helped her during this time, and to me, this so powerfully demonstrates the meaningful impact that reading can make in people's lives.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

INFO 268 Picture Book Depictions of Family: An Unexpected Comparison Across Decades

This week, in my INFO 268 History of Youth Literature course, we have been tasked with locating two picture books from different decades that depict families. I looked through my family's bookshelves and have selected an unlikely pair. Separated by roughly four decades, the two books that I will be comparing are the following:
  • The Stupids Step Out, written by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall, copyright 1974
  • Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson, copyright 2015

From the outset, the two titles appear to be very different. The Stupids Step Out is intended to be ridiculous and comical, whereas Last Stop on Market Street is beautifully thoughtful and inspirational. The recognition garnered by each title similarly falls on opposite ends of the spectrum, with The Stupids Step Out securing a position as the 62nd most frequently challenged book of the 2000s decade and Last Stop of Market Street earning countless accolades including the 2016 Newbery Medal, a 2016 Caldecott Honor, and 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. All the same, I found the two titles to be an oddly perfect pair to look at in tandem.

First of all, I want to acknowledge Professor Melba Tomeo for starting out this week's video message to our class as she did. You may not be able to tell from this screenshot, but she has a pipe in her mouth to go along with her mustache. She explained that it is her "impression of every father in every children's book probably right up through the 1980s. Dad's always in his chair, smoking his pipe and reading a paper." Now cut forward to my analysis...

Published in 1974, and even though it is farcical at its core, The Stupids Step Out plays out this exact stereotype, featuring the father Stanley Stupid in his chair and with his pipe on the first page. While there are ridiculous features on the page such as a picture of a tree labeled "flower" and Stanley is wearing a tacky palm tree tie, I don't believe that the stereotypical father imagery is intended as farce.

In terms of family power dynamics, I also think it is telling that the story starts out only showing the father and that the first line is: "One day Stanley Q. Stupid had an idea." The punchline is that "This was unusual," but still, he is established as the thinker of the family and the one who leads them on their journey.

In contrast, check out the opening pages of Last Stop on Market Street. Rather than prominently featuring a solitary man planted stationary in his resting chair, there is a mix of people, including people with different skin tones and hair colors, who fluidly move as they are connected in community. Regarding "connection," just notice many people are holding hands! 

The first pages of Last Stop on Market Street also happen to feature a tree, but it is a living one and not just a mislabeled representation of a tree. In addition, as if there couldn't be a greater difference when it comes to agency, Last Stop on Market Street's opening lines are with: "CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps. The outside air smelled like freedom..." In this way, we are introduced to the main protagonist, the child CJ. CJ has power to "push through" and the joy to "skip." He is free.

Moving along. When turning the first page of The Stupids Step Out, we meet the entire family, which is a stereotypically nuclear Caucasian family. Father Stupid is married to Mrs. Stupid and they have a son Buster Stupid, a daughter Petunia Stupid, one dog, and one cat. They are undeniably ridiculous in terms of how they dress and do things like stand upside down, and yet the family itself is completely conventional in terms of societal norms related to family structure. 

Regarding plot, Stanley announces, "The Stupids are stepping out today" and the rest of the family is "delighted." Looking at the illustrations, it is interesting to note that Stanley stands alone with his finger triumphantly pointed in the air while the mother and daughter are mirror images, with perfectly feminine bows in their hair and their hands touching their faces, as if in glowing admiration of Stanley.

Turning the first page of Last Stop on Market Street coincidentally echoes this plot. We meet the central family of the story. But, in this case, the family unit that is depicted is simply CJ and his nana. There is no indication in the book as to whether or not Nana is CJ's sole caregiver or just taking her grandson out on a Sunday afternoon. Regardless, the family unit that is highlighted is markedly unconventional when compared with the Stupids.

You can also see in the illustration above that, as CJ and his nana step out, there is rain falling. CJ asks, "How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?" Rather than disparage the rain, CJ's nana values it: "Trees get thirsty, too...don't you see that big one drinking through a straw?" Getting wet is not an inconvenience. Instead, the rain is acknowledged as life-giving.

Meanwhile, as Mrs. Stupid announces that it is "Bath Time!" - note how she is allowed to provide leadership when it comes to a conventional women's task related to cleaning - there is no water. Daughter Petunia asks, "But where's the water?," and father Stanley answers, "Don't be stupid...if we fill up the tub, our clothes will get wet." This is surely silly, but it is also interesting to see how wetness is an inconvenience, even when it is warranted and expected. The page also ends with Mrs. Stupid telling her children, "Listen to your father." Even when the father is being absurd, and when he chides his daughter to not be "stupid," he is to be listened to.

The image of the Stupids self-contained in their waterless bathtub is interesting to juxtapose with CJ and his nana after they board the public bus (they don't travel in a personal car like the Stupids). Rather than closing themselves off physically, the two are depicted with openness, inviting others into their lives as they shake hands with a blind man and are surrounded by other diverse passengers. Parallel to Petunia, CJ asks a question, "How come that man can't see?" and Nana answers, "Boy, what do you know about seeing?" This is strangely reminiscent of Stanley's "don't be stupid" comment, but rather than continuing with a punchline explanation, Nana finishes philosophically: "Some people watch the world with their ears."

Returning to the Stupids, we learn that their journey has taken them to visit Stanley's parents, Grandfather and Grandmother Stupid. In line with the male patriarchy motif, Grandfather Stupid is the one who answers the door and Grandmother Stupid is relegated to residing the the closet "where she always is." This is certainly meant to be ridiculous, but it is also somewhat cringeworthy to me when doing this analysis. 

Also cringeworthy, the main joke is that Grandfather Stupid doesn't recognize his own family. Having had a grandmother with dementia who did eventually come to not recognize me, I can unfortunately see this joke falling flat for some people, even though this was obviously not how the author intended it to be read.

The theme of "recognition" is played out in the total opposite way in Last Stop on Market Street. In this case, even when all of the passengers are essentially strangers to one another, the music of a guitar player is enough to bring them together such that when his song ends, "Everyone on the bus clapped, even the boys in the back." We are shown how even strangers can recognize the value and humanity of one another.

Finally, as the journeys and days end in these two books, there is food. Of course, just as the books have starkly contrasted as much as they have exhibited parallels, the Stupids indulge in ridiculously decadent mashed potato sundaes with butterscotch syrup while CJ and his nana serve meals at a food kitchen. 

As luck would have it, both books even feature dogs in the illustrations at this point. The Stupid family's dog sits at the dinner table, wearing a Native American headdress, which is painfully insensitive when you think about the fact that it is intended to be as "stupid" as Mrs. Stupid hearing a cat on her head or Mr. Stupid wearing socks on his ears. Meanwhile, in Last Stop on Market Street, the smiling dog pictured is a homeless man's companion as they wait in line for their meal.

This is how CJ's journey ends. While he had demonstrated some resistance earlier in the book, he comes to feel "glad we came." Upon admitting this, he worries that "his nana might laugh her deep laugh, but she didn't." She is simply glad, too.

In the world of the Stupids, there is also a tidy resolution with the Stupids going to sleep upside down, with their feet on their pillows. The conventional gender roles also close out the book with Mrs. Stupid kissing her husband on the cheek and thanking him for the day. The final line is "It certainly has been fun," and the book indeed functions for the purpose of plain and simple fun. 

While I have provided some serious critique of the Stupids, I can still appreciate it for its silliness. My son, whose favorite books are the Captain Underpants series, spotted the cover and was immediately interested based on the title and cute drawings. I don't worry about his ability to spot what is silly, and I am definitely not someone who would ever propose banning the book. Still, I am glad - and believe that it is essential - that the title shares our family bookshelves with plenty of other stories such as Last Stop on Market Street so that my children may meet a variety of families who go on a number of different journeys.