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!