Friday, 8 April 2016

A short tale of grit and resilience

As a teacher-librarian who still has one foot deeply immersed in academia I spend a considerable time wondering if the things we do are the "right" things. And that's before I've opened any social media related to the profession where people are posting articles about the wrongs of everything from levelled reading to literature circles, reading competitions, to accelerated reading programs, to not 'over' encouraging reading, even down to whether we've really considered academic honesty properly.

So sure, we probably do somethings wrong. In fact daily I'm deeply aware that I'm failing some students some of the days, and a small number of students all of the time. And yet.  There are moments when I do think things come together and they allow our students to shine - and those are the tales of grit and resilience that the popular educational press love. And so too, at the danger of following the bandwagon, I'll add my tales too.

Yesterday, our school had their trials to select the students who would form the teams for the "Readers' Cup" competition.  We've been meeting weekly preparing for this competition, students have busily been reading the 6 books in their category, creating questions, quizzing each other and re-reading the books. We had about 40 students and could only choose 4 teams of 6.  At which point some educators would be crying "foul" and "no fair". But hear me out, and the tales of 3 students.

The first is an ELL (English Language Learner) student - been learning English for about 2 years. Nervous about joining at all initially, bolstered by a friend who was also taking part. Enters the library to take part in the competition yesterday with a little notebook which is promptly removed by me. Look of dismay. I explain that we only allow a pencil and the iPad for the multiple choice round.  The competition ends. She's a solid contender, right there in the middle of the pack. She's in!  While tidying up, we find the notebook we'd put aside. Extensive notes on each and every book... *

The next, a student who decides to join the competition just before the Spring break. She's read none of the books, but I tell her she's welcome to try anyway, and the library is open all holiday.  From time-to-time in the vacation I get a little email to say she's finished another book and I congratulate her. Then on Saturday the blow falls - she'd been reading the books in the wrong (higher) category and had only actually read two books at the right level... I write back to her and tell her not to panic, she still has 4 days, and I suggest a schedule whereby she reads the longest most challenging books first and leaves the picture book for last, and say if necessary I'll come into the library over the weekend to open it for her, and she can come and read in the library every recess and lunch time (usually the times are staggered by grade). She says it's OK, she'll manage. And manage she does. Not only does she finish all 6 books by the deadline, but she's the highest scorer in her category.

The third are two sisters. One a very strong reader, one a little less so, and younger. The older student is constantly encouraging the younger to keep reading. Spends time both at home and at school quizzing her on the books she's completed. Keeps me updated on their progress.  Both sisters are selected in their categories, both top scorers. But I'm pretty sure the younger student would not have done as well without the home support and encouragement.

Invariably there are disappointments. We selected two "back-up" students per category, and after attrition from conflicts with other activities and last minute dropping out for various reasons, each category had 3 students who wouldn't take part. Of the 6 students, 5 had not finished all the books, didn't take it perhaps as seriously as they could have if they'd truly wanted to take part. Didn't attend meetings or make questions or really try. But one I feel responsible for, he's a good reader. A voracious reader. He'd wanted to take part in they younger category, but I convinced him to try for the older, but it was apparently too much for him. A misjudgement on my part. And I'm not sure what I should do now. Certainly in the future I'll trust a students' own judgement more and not try to convince them otherwise.

* She was not the only student who had an ELL background, for a large percentage of our students English is a second language, but she's still in the ELL program, whereas the rest have 'graduated' over the years.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

This book must die!

Our library has just received a big shipment of books and I need to make some space so that the new books don’t get lost.  On Friday I therefore did a little exercise with my Grade 6 students that I called “this book must die”.
Since many of them had either read “The Hunger Games” or “American Sniper” or seen the movie, we discussed it in terms of “what are the survival skills needed” by a book to ensure it’s continued existence on the shelves and “which books are a library / librarian / students’ friends and which are enemies“.  The students came up with some great ideas, and showed real insight into the dilemmas and choices facing a librarian.  It was also wonderful to see how much more “literarily” mature they had become, with groups of students arguing that books such as the “Rainbow Fairies” and “Horrid Henry” series shouldn’t be in our collection, that they were formulaic with no qualities, and with other students equally passionately defending them – including some boys arguing that their younger sisters loved Rainbow Fairies and had the right to read them until they knew better!  I wish I’d video’d them to show to parents who enter long convoluted arguments with me about introducing more “classics” (i.e. the books of their book deprived youth) at a younger age to my students.  They proved the case of “free voluntary choice” of books for students and that if you trust your students they’ll rise to the occasion.
Although I asked them to focus on fiction, a couple brought some very outdated nonfiction books to my attention (think moustachioed librarians straight out of the 80’s), and one even brought a more recent book on scuba diving where all the information wasn’t current anymore to my attention.
I also let them had a go at the “hallowed hall” of literature circle kits – they did ask.  And there definitely were a very strongly felt sentiments about text that they were expected to read either as a class or in small groups.  Luckily the “class texts” passed muster (I suspect because the teachers have actually read them – either with the students or independently or even as a read-aloud), but the smaller sets of 4-6 books had three books that will need to be eliminated.  The “deal” I made with them is that if even one student came to the passionate defence of a book, it would stay.  We had a long discussion about whether or not “award winning” books had any kind of immunity from weeding – again I loved their perceptive comments about the fact that most of the awards originated in America and this didn’t necessarily reflect their world view, interests or priorities.
Besides arbitrary titles that weren’t particularly important, the following ‘text set’ books, some of which are award winning by “important” authors were condemned:
Stowaway – Karen Hesse.  60 students unanimously said they’d struggled through it hating every minute and that it had no redeeming features whatsoever in their eyes.
Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins – they found it boring, found no connection to their lives
The Heaven Shop – Deborah Ellis – I promise I didn’t say a word about this. But their sentiments echoed my privately held sentiments exactly.  It was superficial, it was written by an outsider, it had too many coincidences so they felt they could no longer suspend belief.
After 3 exhausting but exhilarating classes the exercise was completed.  Then yesterday my Grade 5 classes came for library class and their first question was ‘Ms. please can we also do “this book must die’?” – don’t you love it when a library lesson echoes in the school hallways?

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.


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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.

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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

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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: