Saturday, 16 January 2016

The right to write

One of the most difficult aspects of my last assignment on multicultural and diverse literature (MCD) was coming to grips with the extent to which all literature, including MCD literature is dominated by white and/or western based authors.  When I have more headspace I'd like to write an article on what kind of criteria one could apply to assess the legitimacy of authors to tackle MCD themes - aka "the right to write". It would be a set of guidelines that librarians and even teachers and students could use to critically look at existing literature and to use when deciding what books should be purchased and/or included in curricula activities.... (read more)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Power and Potential of Multicultural Diverse Literature


This article explores how multicultural and diverse literature contributes to a school library collection through its unique ability to inform, provoke socio-emotional responses and stimulate social justice and reform, while validating the experience and identity of a multicultural and diverse student body. Examples of recently published notable books are provided. Themes and conceptual tools of the genre are introduced and the role, challenges and responses of the teacher librarian are examined.


Schools around the world are seeing an substantial influx of diverse students due to migration, immigration and globalisation (Boelens, Cherek, Tilke, & Bailey, 2015), a trend that has long been the norm in international schools. Within international schools, those under the umbrella of the International Baccalaureate (IB) are expected to go beyond literacy and numeracy to equip students with attitudes and values that allow them to become socio-emotionally balanced global citizens (International Baccalaureate Organisation, n.d.).  Focusing on the upper years of the IB primary years program (PYP) how can the inclusion of multicultural and diverse (MCD) literature support both the academic and socio-emotional curriculum to meet those ambitions and what can other schools learn from this?

Key issues

MCD literature is defined as works “that reflect the racial, ethnic and social diversity that is characteristic of our pluralistic society and of the world” (Bishop, 1997, p.3 cited in Hinton & Dickinson, 2007). Cai (2002) expands the definition to cover issues of diversity, inclusion, power structures and the ability to transform society by the inclusion of marginalised people of all races.

Conceptual tools

Tschida, Ryan and Ticknor (2014) combine two conceptual tools for an understanding of MCD literature - texts as mirrors, windows and sliding doors (Bishop, 1990) and the danger of the single story (Adichie, 2009). Using these tools, one can be critical towards what has passed as MCD texts (Botelho & Rudman, 2009; Duren, 2000; Robinson, 2013) with many questions raised about the legitimacy of authors who publish MCD works – including the “insider / outsider” debate (Ehrlich, 2015; Mendoza & Reese, 2001; Short & Fox, 2003; Singer & Smith, 2003). Carefully translated books can overcome some of these issues if not overly ‘localised’ for the market into which they are being translated and there tend to be fewer stereotypes (Kimmel, Garrison, & Forest, 2015).

To ameliorate the dangers of the single story, MCD literature needs a substantial volume of works of quality and legitimacy. O’Sullivan (2004) provides a sober history of MCD literature, commencing with the post-war idealistic creation of institutions such as International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and the International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich and ending with damning statistics on “how international is international children’s literature?” – hint – it’s not. Facts that are echoed by annual tallying of books in the USA by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (2015).

Power to change

Cognitive literacy theory using scientific research suggests that literature contributes to the socialisation of students, promoting the development of theory of mind through the association of emotion through visual and textual stimuli in a reciprocal relationship between social development and academic performance – MCD literature can play a significant role in this (Biwu, 2014; Elizabeth & Selman, 2012; Nikolajeva, 2012; Rider, 2013). Although many primary school libraries have a multitude of books that portray Begler’s (1998) five F’s – food, fashion, fiestas, folklore, and famous people, these have a touristic superficial view of culture do not provide the mirror or window perspective that sophisticated MCD books provide (Doll & Garrison, 2013).

One of the differentiating factors of education in an IB school is the hope that: “our students will help to build a better world through intercultural understanding and respect” (International Baccalaureate Organisation, n.d., para. 2). Equity, social justice and reform is at the heart of multicultural education (Gorski, 2011; Cai and Bishop, 1994, cited in Short & Fox, 2003). Intrinsic to the inquiry cycle of the PYP is “taking action” – students are expected to go beyond researching and understanding to making a difference in the world. However in order to fulfil its literary and pedagogical potential, MCD literature needs to simultaneously be at the right developmental level, to emphasize desirable attributes, be honest and authentic while fulfilling the other usual criteria for quality including well developed plot, skilful illustrations, appealing characters and connection with the reader (Cai, 2002; McNamee & Mercurio, 2007; Nikolajeva, 2012; Oswald & Smolen, 2011).


The dominant themes in MCD literature can be summarised as: stories from the original culture; bridged cultural experiences: adoption stories; identity or image stories and refugee, migration or immigration stories (Masuda & Ebersole, 2011).

This article focuses on the latter due to topical relevance; pervasive current media coverage; curricula relevance; the fact that most students in international schools have personal experience of relocation; and the reality of schools as “the most public environment in which diverse student populations come into contact with each other” (Tanners, 1997, cited in Lowery, 2011, p. 268). In addition, migration literature has evolved as a unique genre (Bersh, 2013; Hope, 2007; Kimmel et al., 2015).

Value to the collection

MCD literature provides many benefits to a collection. Three of these will be highlighted – the ability to educate, to develop socio-emotional and meta-cognitive skills and to provoke social transformation.


Students in primary school may be unfamiliar with the history of the countries and regions that their multicultural peers are from and unaware of differentiations between groups, while being affected by public media portrayal (Lowery, 2011). MCD can serve as a conduit for learning and scaffold enquiry provided it is authentic and accurate. Deepening media presentation with personal factual research is highlighted in Drita my Homegirl (Lombard, 2008) where Maxie researches the Kosovo war, and A Long Walk to Water (Park, 2010) which personalises the “Lost boys of Sudan” story. Julie spontaneously researches Mongolia and presents her findings at every opportunity in Unforgotten Coat (Cottrell Boyce, 2011) and even Shocky learns about Chingas Kahn. Heart of a Samurai (Preus, 2010) weaves in historical information about the early isolation of Japan and the mutual distrust, ignorance and fear between Japan and America whereas The Journey that saved Curious George (Borden & Drummond, 2005) gives an account of fleeing Paris in the second world war.

MCD literature has been shown to enhance the reading comprehension of language learners through its culturally familiar material and creating a window to view others engaged in language learning in a non-trivial manner (Hadaway & Young, 2011).  In nearly all the texts highlighted the learning of English forms a central theme: “Until you children master English, you must think, do, wish for nothing else” - Inside Out and Back Again (Lai, 2011, p. 132); “the boys weren’t just learning English; they were hiding themselves inside English” - The Unforgotten Coat (Cottrell Boyce, 2011, p. 38). Kasienka’s initial low level of English holds her back academically in The Weight of Water (Crossan, 2011); and Maxie has to grapple with Drita’s poor English in Drita my Homegirl (Lombard, 2008) while for Manjiro, Heart of a Samurai (Preus, 2010), learning English is a matter of survival.

Besides the power of story, illustrations contribute to character depth and enhance understanding (Broadway & Conkle, 2011). The use of primary source material to illustrate Heart of a Samurai (Preus, 2010) and The Journey that Saved Curious George (Borden & Drummond, 2005) contributes to the authenticity of the story as well as allowing a segue into aspects of research and information literacy.

Socio-emotional and meta-cognitive skills 

One of the unique aspects of reading is its dual role as an emotional and intellectual act and as such it can perform the function of scaffolding children’s ability to care about people, events and concepts outside their current existence (McNamee & Mercurio, 2007).

 The development of resilience, empathy and theory of mind is articulated as an educational goal by most educational systems and the importance of vocabulary (Bosacki & Wilde Astington, 2001; Figueroa-Sánchez, 2008) and literature in developing theory of mind is well documented (Djikic & Oatley, 2014; Kidd & Castano, 2013; McTigue, Douglass, Wright, Hodges, & Franks, 2015). Although bibliotherapy is a distinct specialisation, from its research we are aware of the power of literature to provoke a socio-emotional response and empathy and to reach individuals who may not be open to other forms of intervention (Djikic, Oatley, Zoeterman, & Peterson, 2009; Gomm, 2012; Johnson, 2012; Montgomery & Maunders, 2015; Riahinia, Azimi, & Seify, 2010).  Both William her boyfriend-in-spe and Konoro – her “too black” immigrant-doctor-who-is-a-cleaner neighbour tell Kasienka she has the resilience to save herself - Weight of Water (Crossan, 2011), Manjiro’s mettle is tested on the whaling boat, in America and when he attempts to return to Japan - Heart of a Samurai, (Preus, 2010) and Hà survives fleeing Vietnam and settling in Alabama – Inside Out (Lai, 2011).

The deployment of virtual reality (VR) tools such as Clouds over Sidra (Arora & Milk, C., 2015), where one not only observes but is immersed in the experience takes situating students inside a story further, with many authors hailing the ability of VR to enhance empathy. There is some debate around the problems and potential of VR, to promote empathy through mirror neurons (Constine, 2015; Hamilton, 2015; Sutherland, n.d.) as well as its suitability for children (Lewis, 2015).

Social transformation

Good MCD literature promotes higher order thinking and engages students cognitively emotionally and motivationally in order to provide socio-emotional support, and foster bonds and peer relationships between students (Triplett & Buchanan, 2005). Migration themed books can provoke thought and discussion about the respective roles and responsibilities of the ‘incumbent’ versus ‘incoming’ characters. The more successful books show the complexity and ambivalence of these relationships. In Weight of Water (Crossan, 2011) Kasienka, when not being bullied by Clair, is met with exclusion and indifference. Julie, becomes the “Good Guide” to Chingis and Nergu in Unforgotten Coat (Cottrell Boyce, 2011) and finds their presence fascinating but confusing and disruptive to her understanding of the world she lives in. The contact between Maxie and Drita in Drita (Lombard, 2008) is initially enforced by their teacher and gradually evolves into authentic friendship while Hà and Manjiro find friends outside their peer group. Hà is relentlessly bullied by a “pink-colored boy” but taken under the wing of an elderly neighbour, Miss Washington, - Inside Out (Lai, 2011) and Captain Whitfield befriends Manjiro - Heart of a Samurai, (Preus, 2010).

Role of the teacher librarian

The role of the teacher librarian (TL) in selection and promotion of materials and creating an literary environment is well documented (Claasz, 2014; Hinton & Dickinson, 2007; La Marca, 2003), however the curation and provision of MCD literature places unique demands on the TL (Colbert-Lewis & Colbert-Lewis, 2013; Marcoux, 2009; Mestre, 2009). MCD materials in the collection should validate a student’s home cultural experience and language; use technology to facilitate learning and self expression including students’ own writing; create cooperative, interactive learning opportunities and encourage home / school collaboration (Hinton & Dickinson, 2007; Kim, Greif Green, & Klein, 2006).


The existence of MCD literature faces three substantial barriers. In the first place it does not get published at all, secondly, if it does, it is from an outsider’s perspective and finally once in existence it may not get into the school library or the classroom (Ehrlich, 2015; O’Sullivan, 2004; Tschida et al., 2014). Besides the usual lists and awards such as the Batchelder, Jane Addams or Stepping Stones awards, the TL committed to MCD literature needs to tap into international librarian, author and publisher networks as well as the school learning ecosystem – particularly the parents of non-English speaking students. In addition books may not be available through the usual procurement channels requiring creative solutions.


MCD curation involves ensuring the cultural authenticity of the collection including literary qualities, believability, portray of power relationships, response by insiders, origin of the book, accuracy of details, authenticity of values and attitudes, providing the audience personal connection to the story, authorship, perspectives, being at the correct socio-emotional developmental level and relationship to other books in the collection (Masuda & Ebersole, 2011; McNamee & Mercurio, 2007). Combining Selman’s theory on interpersonal understanding with an understanding of the types of books that fit in with cognitive developmental stages, the TL can ensure suitable MCD books are available at every age and stage (Cornett, 2007; Elizabeth & Selman, 2012; Selman, Jaquette, & Lavin, 1977).

The TL needs to constantly be vigilant as the criteria of suitability changes with increased cultural awareness and as research into MCD literature is published. Fortunately today more sophisticated and relevant MCD works are being published that can replace dated and unsuitable material. Part of the role of the TL involves the diplomatic ‘re-education’ of teachers who may automatically reach to favourites from their youth that have subsequently been condemned by cultural insiders as prejudiced, or portraying stereotypes or negative cultural images (Short & Fox, 2003). Extreme sensitivity should be shown towards ‘insider’ readers of books in the collection and the TL needs to make teachers aware of ‘insider’ reviews of the books included as curriculum resources (Doll & Garrison, 2013).


In the past, literature was relegated to language / arts programmes. Due to its multi-faceted benefits to inform, enhance understanding and critical thinking and to change perspectives and encourage social action, it is now infused through the entire curriculum. Besides encouraging reading and ‘evangelical outreach’ TL’s need to be embedded in curriculum development (Loertscher, 2002 cited in Hinton & Dickinson, 2007). A five phase model of integration of MCD literature into the curriculum is suggested, commencing with traditional literature moving towards contemporary fiction, biography and poetry (Smolen, Oswald, & Jenkins, 2011) while Bersh (2013) and Barone (2011) and all the authors in Multicultural Literature and Response: Affirming Diverse Voices (Smolen & Oswald, 2011) encourage the creation of literature sets along MCD themes to enhance the curriculum as well as suggestions for response activities and give excellent examples of these.


The role of the librarian goes beyond identification and acquisition of books, to ensure the promotion and accessibility of books in this genre and their integration into the curriculum and pleasure reading opportunities of students. In addition to curating lists of books that meet the criteria for the learner profile or attitudes, matched to the unit of inquiry (UOI) these books need to be selected and distributed to classrooms in time for the relevant UOI, or put on display as appropriate in the library. Teachers’ limited time and experience in selecting literature or ambivalent attitude to reading (Cox & Schaetzel, 2007; Cremin, Mottram, Bearne, & Goodwin, 2008) should not be allowed to form an additional access barrier to MCD books for students. Besides books in the collection, virtual curation of books, multimedia texts, materials and resources should be made accessible through the online learning platform, curriculum planning system, library blogs or library guides.

A small collection of books that meet the MCD criteria is no longer sufficient – every book should be scrutinized in order to ensure its potential to: validate experience and identity; appreciate other cultures; understand socio-political factors; critically examine the society we live in and prevent and reduce prejudice (Hinton & Dickinson, 2007).


The provision of MCD literature in a school library can be likened to an exciting quest - the librarian as the hero surmounting the barriers of accessibility and availability while warding off demons of the single story, stereotypes and negative portrayal.  Ensuring suitability and reaching for the holy grail of a learning community of readers embracing the benefits of global citizenship, and ultimately the creation of the next generation of diverse multicultural authors and illustrators.


Adichie, C. N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story [Video talk]. Retrieved 15 December 2015, from

Arora, G., & Milk, C., (Directors). (2015). Clouds over Sidra [Virtual reality film]. Vrse. Retrieved from

Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom engaging lifelong readers. New York: Guilford Press. Retrieved from EBook Library

Begler, E. (1998). Global cultures: The first steps toward understanding. Social Education, 62(5), 272–275.

Bersh, L. C. (2013). The curricular value of teaching about immigration through picture book thematic text sets. The Social Studies, 104(2), 47–56.

Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3). Retrieved from

Biwu, S. (2014). Cognitive literary science: Developments and perspectives. Style, 48(3), 411–424,449–450.

Boelens, H., Cherek, J., Tilke, A., & Bailey, N. (2015). Communicating across cultures: Cultural identity issues and the role of the multicultural, multilingual school library within the school community. Presented at the ‘The school library rocks’ IASL 2015, Maastricht, Netherlands.

Borden, L., & Drummond, A. (2005). The journey that saved Curious George: the true wartime escape of Margret and H.A. Rey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Bosacki, S., & Wilde Astington, J. (2001). Theory of mind in preadolescence: Relations between social understanding and social competence. Social Development, 8(2), 237–255.

Botelho, M. J., & Rudman, M. K. (2009). Critical multicultural analysis of children’s literature: mirrors, windows, and doors. New York: Routledge.

Broadway, F. S., & Conkle, D. M. (2011). The power of illustrations in multicultural picture books: Unfolding visual literacy. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 67–94). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Cai, M. (2002). Defining multicultural literature. In Multicultural literature for children and young adults: reflections on critical issues (pp. 3–8). Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Claasz, A. (2014). Contemporary realistic fiction for young adults. ACCESS, 28(2), 50–57.

Colbert-Lewis, D., & Colbert-Lewis, S. (2013). The role of teacher-librarians in encouraging library use by multicultural patrons. In C. Smallwood & K. Becnel (Eds.), Library services for multicultural patrons: strategies to encourage library use (pp. 73–81). Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Constine, J. (2015, February 1). Virtual reality, the empathy machine. Retrieved 14 December 2015, from

Cooperative Children’s Book Center. (2015, February 24). Children’s books by and about people of color. Retrieved 17 December 2015, from

Cornett, C. E. (2007). Integrating the arts. In Creating meaning through literature and the arts : an integration resource for classroom teachers (3rd ed., pp. 94–134). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice-Hall.

Cottrell Boyce, F. (2011). The unforgotten coat. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press.

Cox, R., & Schaetzel, K. (2007). A preliminary study of pre-service teachers as readers in Singapore: Prolific, functional, or detached? Language Teaching Research, 11(3), 301–317.

Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Bearne, E., & Goodwin, P. (2008). Exploring teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature. Cambridge Journal of Education, 38(4), 449–464.

Crossan, S. (2011). The weight of water. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Djikic, M., & Oatley, K. (2014). The art in fiction: From indirect communication to changes of the self. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 8(4), 498–505.

Djikic, M., Oatley, K., Zoeterman, S., & Peterson, J. B. (2009). Defenseless against art? Impact of reading fiction on emotion in avoidantly attached individuals. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(1), 14–17.

Doll, C., & Garrison, K. (2013). Voices of experience: Promoting acceptance of other cultures. In J. C. Naidoo & S. P. Dahlen (Eds.), Diversity in youth literature: opening doors through reading (pp. 3–15). Chicago, Ill: ALA-Ed.

Duren, E. B. (2000). Critical multiculturalism & racism in children’s literature. Multicultural Education, 7(3), 16–19.

Ehrlich, H. (2015, March 5). The diversity gap in children’s publishing, 2015 [Web Log]. Retrieved 13 December 2015, from

Elizabeth, T., & Selman, R. L. (2012). The role of social development in elementary school curricula: Past, present, and future. Saperstein Associates. Retrieved from

Figueroa-Sánchez, M. (2008). Building emotional literacy: Groundwork to early learning. Childhood Education, 84(5), 301–304.

Gomm, R. J. (2012). Content analysis of 50 picture books for Latino immigrant children: Implications for supportive bibliotherapy. Brigham Young University. Retrieved from

Gorski, P. C. (2011, May 20). Equity and social justice from the inside-out: Ten commitments of a multicultural educator [Web Log]. Retrieved 15 December 2015, from

Hadaway, N. L., & Young, T. A. (2011). Supporting English language learners’ literacy development with culturally relevant books. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 286–308). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Hamilton, R. S. (2015, August). Generating empathy through virtual reality [Web Log]. Retrieved 14 December 2015, from

Hinton, K., & Dickinson, G. K. (2007). Integrating multicultural literature in libraries and classrooms in secondary schools. Columbus, Ohio: Linworth Pub. Retrieved from EBook Library

Hope, J. (2007). Flightlines: exploring early readers for children about the refugee experience. FORUM, 49(3), 289.

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (n.d.). How IB is different. Retrieved 17 December 2015, from

Johnson, D. R. (2012). Transportation into a story increases empathy, prosocial behavior, and perceptual bias toward fearful expressions. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(2), 150–155.

Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literary fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156), 377–380.

Kim, B. S. K., Greif Green, J. L., & Klein, E. F. (2006). Using storybooks to promote multicultural sensitivity in elementary school children. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 34(4), 223–234.

Kimmel, S., Garrison, K., & Forest, D. (2015). ‘Immigrants of us all’: Experiencing migration and movement through Batchelder Award-winning translated books. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 21(2), 113–132.

Lai, T. (2011). Inside out & back again. New York: Harper.

La Marca, S. (2003). The enabling adult: The role of the teacher-librarian in creating a reading environment (PhD Thesis). University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia.

Lewis, T. (2015, February 3). Samsung Gear VR: Virtual reality tech may have nasty side effects. Retrieved 14 December 2015, from

Lombard, J. (2008). Drita, my homegirl. New York: Puffin Books.

Lowery, R. M. (2011). Representations no representation: Exploring Middle East children’s literature. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 267–283). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Marcoux, E. (2009). Diversity and the teacher-librarian. Teacher Librarian, 36(3), 6–7.

Masuda, A. M., & Ebersole, M. M. (2011). The journey continues: Exploring the literature of Asian and Pacific Island cultures. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 154–193). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

McNamee, A., & Mercurio, M. L. (2007). Who cares? How teachers can scaffold children’s ability to care: a case for picture books. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 9(1).

McTigue, E., Douglass, A., Wright, K. L., Hodges, T. S., & Franks, A. D. (2015). Beyond the story map: Inferential comprehension via character perspective. The Reading Teacher, 69(1), 91–101.

Mendoza, J., & Reese, D. (2001). Examining multicultural picture books for the early childhood classroom: possibilities and pitfalls. Early Childhood Research & Practice, 3(2).

Mestre, L. (2009). Culturally responsive instruction for teacher-librarians. Teacher Librarian, 36(3), 8–12.

Montgomery, P., & Maunders, K. (2015). The effectiveness of creative bibliotherapy for internalizing, externalizing, and prosocial behaviors in children: A systematic review. Children and Youth Services Review, 55, 37–47.

Nikolajeva, M. (2012). Reading other people’s minds through word and image. Children’s Literature in Education, 43(3), 273–291.

O’Sullivan, E. (2004). Internationalism, the universal child and the world of children’s literature. In P. Hunt (Ed.), International companion encyclopedia of children’s literature (2nd ed., pp. 13–25). London ; New York: Routledge. Retrieved from EBook Library

Oswald, R. A., & Smolen, L. A. (2011). Introduction to multicultural literature. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 1–15). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water: based on a true story. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Preus, M. (2010). Heart of a samurai: based on the true story of Nakahama Manjiro. New York: Amulet Books.

Riahinia, N., Azimi, A., & Seify, S. (2010). Librarians’ participation in bibliotherapy treatment of distressed students. In M. Kocójowa (Ed.), Biblioteki, informacja, książka: interdyscyplinarne badania i praktyka w XXI wieku (Vol. 7, pp. 484–491). Kraków: Wydaw: ePublikacje Instytutu INiB Uniwersytet Jagielloński. Retrieved from

Rider, N. A. (2013). The perils of empathy: Holocaust narratives, cognitive studies and the politics of sentiment. Holocaust Studies, 19(3), 43–72.

Robinson, J. A. (2013). Critical approaches to multicultural children’s literature in the elementary classroom: Challenging pedagogies of silence. New England Reading Association Journal, 48(2), 43–51,88.

Selman, R. L., Jaquette, D., & Lavin, D. R. (1977). Interpersonal awareness in children: Toward an integration of developmental and clinical child psychology. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 47(2), 264–274.

Short, K., & Fox, D. L. (2003). The complexity of cultural authenticity in children’s literature: Why the debates really matter. In D. L. Fox & K. G. Short (Eds.), Stories matter: the complexity of cultural authenticity in children’s literature. Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English.

Singer, J. Y., & Smith, S. A. (2003). The potential of multicultural literature: Changing understanding of self and others. Multicultural Perspectives, 5(2), 17–23.

Smolen, L. A., & Oswald, R. A. (Eds.). (2011). Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Smolen, L. A., Oswald, R. A., & Jenkins, S. (2011). Integrating multicultural literature into the curriculum. In L. A. Smolen & R. A. Oswald (Eds.), Multicultural literature and response: Affirming diverse voices (pp. 17–57). Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved from EBook Library

Sutherland, A. (n.d.). The limits of virtual reality: Debugging the empathy machine. Retrieved 14 December 2015, from

Triplett, C. F., & Buchanan, A. (2005). Book talk: Continuing to rouse minds and hearts to life. Reading Horizons, 46(2), 63–75.

Tschida, C. M., Ryan, C. L., & Ticknor, A. S. (2014). Building on windows and mirrors: Encouraging the disruption of ‘single stories’ through children’s literature. Journal of Children’s Literature, 40(1), 28–39.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Diversity and "multicultural" literature

Deep into my readings on this topic and it's not making me feel particularly cheerful.  The statistics are appalling.
On the one hand one should be glad that there are enough people who care enough to keep count. On the other, it doesn't appear that the counting leads to any measurable improvement.

Here are the statistics from 2002 to 2014 from Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  And to take note of their criteria - it's only the diversity of the United States that is counted - i.e. African / African Americans; American Indians; Asian Pacifics / Asian Pacific Americans and Latinos. The diversity in the rest of the world? Well who is counting? Who cares? Or are we just not able to access it?  What about the glory of the international librarian networks? Or are we really just still in our bubbles?

Looking at the translation scene in the USA via the Batchelder Awards; Garrison, Forest and Kimmel (2014) remark how:

"A brief skim of the most recent winners and honors shows that most of the books derive from European languages including French, German, and Dutch. The story settings show somewhat broader geographic diversity including places throughout Europe as well as Asia, Africa, and South America. Garrison and Kimmel (in press) found that a composite Batchelder Award winner or honor from the years 1997-­2013 would be a realistic fiction novel set in Western Europe featuring a male protagonist and dealing with a serious topic like World War II." (Garrison, Forest & Kimmel, 2014, p. 72).

The absolute skewness in publishing is highlighted in this (dated, but probably still relevant and apparently not recently updated) dichotomy:

"While children’s literature from so-called developing countries hardly ever reaches European and American readers, a recent survey revealed that 80 per cent of books for children set in non-European and non-American cultures are written by European and American authors (Fremde Welten 2001) (O'Sullivan, 2004, p.20)...Alongside these countries which only export children’s books while almost failing entirely to import any are those which provide a market for the global corporations – 70 to 90 per cent of books available to reading children in non-European/American cultures are by European or American authors – but whose own books rarely cross the linguistic, political or cultural divide to partake in the Western market (O'Sullivan, 2004 p.22)."

Other low points include the depiction or even existence of racially / culturally mixed children or people (Chaudhri, 2013) - a reality that is strikingly obvious the moment you walk into any (international) school. 

Onwards and upwards... it can't get any worse after all.


Chaudhri, A. (2013). Growing up mixed/up: Multiracial identity in children’s and young adult literature. In J. C. Naidoo & S. P. Dahlen (Eds.), Diversity in youth literature: opening doors through reading (pp. 95–123). Chicago, Ill: ALA-Ed.
Garrison, K. L., Forest, D. E., & Kimmel, S. C. (2014). Curation in translation: Promoting global citizenship through literature. School Libraries Worldwide20(1), 70–96. 
O’Sullivan, E. (2004). Internationalism, the universal child and the world of children’s literature. In P. Hunt (Ed.), International companion encyclopedia of children’s literature (2nd ed., pp. 13–25). London ; New York: Routledge. Retrieved from EBook Library

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Conversations and thoughts about diversity in literature

I’ve plunged into the abyss of reading 1,000’s of articles for my current course and next assignment. Well, not 1,000’s – my Evernote count tells me 333.  Nice number.  I’m also engaged in conversations, in real life with colleagues and ex-colleagues and online with my peers and people I’ve been introduced to by people who know I’ve entered this specific rabbit warren.  Not that I know what this specific rabbit warren is or where it’s leading to.   I have but a vague notion of where I think I’m directed, and until I’ve waded through those 333 thoughts that are other’s takes on 10,000’s more thoughts may I have an inkling of what my own thoughts may be.... read more

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Picking the locks one-by-one

A few months ago a tradesman came to the door to fix something. Here in Singapore such people are often Muslim and therefore petrified of dogs. So my helper put the dog in a separate part of the house and closed the door, not knowing that it was one of those doors that lock themselves if the button is pressed in, which it was for some inexplicable reason. And although that part of the house has two doors leading to outside which are usually open all day every day, they'd been closed and locked due to a late afternoon rainstorm accompanied by a lot of wind.  Before calling the landlord's agent for a spare key, I did what every other independent woman would do, I googled "how to pick a lock". The instructions, video and otherwise all boiled down to the same simple steps.

Since I could access the garage and all the tools and assorted things like paperclips and hairclips (grateful for once for stuff lying around the house instead of being tidied up) - I set to work. In the process I discovered that the lock was "the wrong way round" to my sensibilities - do you notice that - doors and locks having to be turned "the other way" to what you're used to in your home country?

Needless to say, there is a good reason why I'm not a burglar, nor a locksmith and the spare key had to be called into action. If you want to find out more about locks and security - here's a great episode of 99% invisible.

After that huge digression to come to my point. As I wrote earlier, I have a large population of ELL students who come through the library and I'm always trying to find "that" book that will unlock their desire to read in English (actually I'm trying that for everyone, just this population seems to have the highest and most immediate needs.

Sometimes things happen quite by accident. 

My G4 classes have been doing a unit on poetry as part of "how we express ourselves" and besides some great activities with spine poetry (much to the horror of my library assistants who are not used to such free-wheeling attitudes to taking books off the shelf) one day I decided to promote verse novels.   

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert on any aspect of children's literature, but I'm a keen learner, so I looked for some lists of verse novels for elementary students and then tried to see how many I had on hand. I'd read "inside out and back again" which is a fabulous book, so I felt it may work.

For each of my next G4 classes I had a pile of verse novels and I picked out one page to read from each.  Since my darling dog had just been put down the previous night, it was with a chocked voice I read from "Love that Dog" and luckily I had a whole pile of those to dish out since one of my predecessors had the foresight to order them in duplicate.

After the lesson a few of the books were borrowed and I didn't think that much of it. Then a week later one of my Chinese students sidled up to me during lunch time and asked me for a book "like that dog" book, and I gave him "Hate that cat", and yesterday he came to me and said he'd finished it and wanted more books like that.  I said "more about animals, or more like poetry" and he affirmed more like poetry, and I passed on "Inside out and back again" and told him it was one of my personal favourite - he quickly scanned inside the book and happily said "yes". 

And yes of course it would work.  I've not studied this stuff and I'm feeling my way along, but sometimes our students just help us to discover what it is they want and need.  Coming back to it rationally - verse is short and beautiful and evocative and free. And now it's just one more tool in my arsenal of lock-picking equipment. 

Here are some resources:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

English Language Learner (ELL) resources

One of the wonderful things about the school I'm teaching at, is that they accept ELLs up to Grade 6 at any level of English.  It is also one of the challenging things.  It impacts me slightly as I try to help them with making choices for reading books each week, somewhat more when I'm teaching a unit for example Information literacy to prepare G6 students for their PYP exhibition and I see that a few students in each class just cannot engage with the lesson as it is moving too fast and at a too high level for their comprehension. It impacts our teacher a LOT all the time.  And out of all the challenges and considerations that keep my brain buzzing overtime, this is one that concerns me the most.

Free resource from:

I'm looking to order some books for classroom libraries and the main school library, so I reached out to my networks asking for books for pleasure that would be suitable for our ELL students. I also did internet searches for ELL suitable books, books for reluctant readers (even though they often are NOT reluctant readers).

I would very much like to distinguish between reading to learn to read and reading for pleasure, because I believe (and research appears to back me up) but it is the pleasure and interest reading that will take my students both into the next level of reading and also help them to create, maintain and sustain a love of reading. Yes I know there is a plethora of resources for teaching reading to ELL students and that English as a language is richly blessed with a wide variety of graded readers. But that's not what I'm looking for. I want books that they will WANT to read for the sake of the content or story or character. Not because it's level D or 14 or 2.7. (Here is a great article with good resources on motivating ELL student readers).

It would also be very nice when all the students are reading literature circle books that there are also books available to ELL students to read.  Of course if you have two or three ELL students who share a language, there's no reason why they shouldn't read a book at the appropriate level in that language - however it does lead to some complications for teachers interacting with them if the book isn't also available in English.

Here are a few of the suggestions / ideas:

With thanks and gratitude to the iSkoodle library folks and to Asia School Library Connection:

A few of the books in my catalog that I and our ELL department recommend to parents and teachers including wordless books.  Here are some suggestions for using wordless books. They are also useful for the interlingual classroom as Eithne Gallagher suggests.

Graphic novels and comics are a great bridge for ELL students, although this article deals with use in High School, the principles can be transferred to Primary (see "great comics for early readers" above).

And don't forget AudioBooks - some great resources have just been released including a very good infographic on using listening by the Audio Publishers Association. I attribute my childrens' large vocabulary and working knowledge and love of the classics, including poetry to Naxos' Spoken Word library and CDs.

Accessing lessons and other material

Up to now, all I've been doing is ensuring that the Information Literacy classes I do are also on my libguides with all videos and links so that students can access them in their own time and go through them at their own pace at home or revisit them as and when needed. It would be helpful to have resources in multiple languages - UNESCO has such a guide with resources in many languages. The challenge would be to access and use these as appropriate in our environment.

Any comments or suggestions?  When I have time I'd like to try and "level" this list but I need to start reading some course work for my next M Ed. study unit.

Friday, 23 October 2015

State of School Librarianship - Selected Asian Countries

Four of the speakers at the International Conference on School Librarianship of Asian Countries spoke about the "State of School Librarianship" in their relevant areas:

Since you are all perfectly capable of reading the presentations I am not going to repeat what was said, but rather to say what my key take-aways were in general.

Firstly I was super happy that I chose to come to this conference (at my own cost, although the conference itself was free ...) instead of going to the EARCOS workshop in November at Taipei American School. "Tech-Integrated Libraries: Building the Future One Service at a Time". The reason is that the longer I am in the field of teacher librarianship, the more I feel that we are operating in a number of little echo chambers where we keep on encountering the same people with the same things to share.  This view probably doesn't make me very popular amongst my peers, however I do think that it has contributed greatly to the current state of school librarianship. Of course this conference was also an echo chamber, but it wasn't one which I usually find myself in (mine is the "international school librarian" one).   And I think for all of us participating, we got to at least hear (if not share due to the time restrictions and presentation format) about what is going on elsewhere. And that is always incredibly interesting.

Next - it was comforting but disheartening to hear that school librarians everywhere suffer from the same "needed outsider" status.   In all the presentations we heard that the existence of the school library and its staffing by a tiered levels / qualifications of librarian almost always needed an act of legislation - at least in the public sector.   (In the private sector it is up to the budget of the individual school, and part of a long legacy personal and cultural, but that's a whole other story).   Within the legislated necessity of a school library, there is a huge variation in the requirements - in Australia this is determined by state-by-state for example.

It seems that generally it is much easier to find funding for library buildings and the initial "hardware" - the problems arise with the ongoing budgeting for staffing by properly trained teacher-librarians who can make a difference in both the literacy and information literacy of the students. But those effects are hard to measure - it is easier to come up with statistics concerning collection size and ratios of materials to pupils - the quantitative data is more readily found, and definitions are more robust than the qualitative data. That is one of the "academic / research" criticisms I'd have of some of the presentations - a lot of data but what about the "so what" and "why" and "what now" - particularly when comparing one country to another.

Even Australia - who has long been seen as one of the bastions of school-teacher-librarianship -appears to be in decline due to all sorts of (mainly) political and funding issues. And there's the rub. School-librarians just don't seem to be political animals - up to now I have only ever met one Head of Libraries who has a seat-at-the-table by which I mean is considered part of the senior management team of a school.  The rest seem to dabble around the edges, cajoling, convincing, offering, pleading, giving, trying, quietly adding value as and when possible on an invitation basis, if not plain forgotten.

There is a distinct difference also between where school librarians are seen as partners for information literacy instruction versus their role in encouraging reading - or alphabetic literacy. The distinction is very important, because it can be argued (and is argued) that a librarian can provide the former, so it is not necessary to have a teacher-librarian. In fact, a passionate library technician with a love of books and reading would even suffice (sadly to say, a love of reading is not on the 'necessary qualities" in the job descriptions of most library staff that I've encountered - nor, may I add of teachers.). It was interesting to see that the contribution from Singapore was an extremely excellent presentation on "Interactive Reading Activities" but since public schools here generally don't have libraries or teacher librarians there was no-one to present on the "state of the nation" in this regard. It begs the question what this otherwise progressive nation-state is doing to raise the standards of information literacy in its schools.

At this point, for a bit of light relief, I want to put in one of those corny "what xx think I do" pictures

(sorry no citation - it was on Pinterest and the original link was dead)

What I really wish was I could say is "these guys are really getting it right - that's the way to go and here's the proof". In reality all I can say is that it seems that we all share the same struggles and issues and that's why I worry so very much about our librarian echo chambers.  Because we all agree with each other, and we all have similar stories to share - stories of triumph and success, of making a difference in the lives of individual students and in (school) communities as a whole - the second afternoon where teacher librarians from 3 schools presented the fantastic work they'd been doing in Taiwan - particularly in the field of inquiry learning was very inspirational.

But how do we get out of this loop and spiral upwards?  I'm one of the 407 librarians participating in the "Ideal Libraries Project" of the IBO. Even in that (private) organisation nothing is mandated or agreed around teacher-librarians. Yes there are recommendations, but judging by the responses from the cohort the interpretations are wide.

I have meandered far I fear. But to my colleagues in Asian countries I would say, fear not, you are not alone, we too struggle with ratios of 1:1,500 (TL:Students), even in private schools. We too would like to feel our voices are heard and that literacies are integrated into the curriculum.  But I think there is hope, if we can just get out of this quick-sand - perhaps when the hype around EdTech and Makerspaces is over we will have our turn - or perhaps it is time to rise up and take a seat at the table, because it is not about us. It's about sending literate people out into the world, and we can't faff around the edges and not send fully multi-literate students out into the world.