I wrote earlier that the Mexican speakers were not inhibited about being politically correct...Saturday's plenary session started with a panel that talked about the current emphasis on inculcating values through literature. The speakers asserted that racial and gender equality, values and virtues must be made explicit to make it into print. Would Crime and Punishment be published today? Today, the speaker suggested, you must empathize with the landlord.
Mexico was described as "in the midst of a boom of promoting reading with anti-pleasure tools." Another speaker tackled the emphasis on literal interpretation trumping aesthetic appreciation, citing a test his son was given on the poem "La Paloma" by Rafael Alberti with very Accelerated Reader-type concerns like "how many times did the dove make a mistake?" The hollow rhetoric of slogans like "if you read, you are alive" and "I read, therefore I exist" were denounced as fallacious. Access to books and materials was described as more critical, and one speaker said movingly, "Reading cannot be a prescription, it must be a seduction."
I was especially interested in the presentation of two German studies surrounding ebooks. A 2012 ethnographic study interviewed 500 parents who were using ebooks, concluding that emedia does not replace but supplements print. It could, however, help reach underprivileged families by making material available, and ereading also tends to involve more fathers in reading aloud to children. A 2011 study was concerned with ereading and older pupils, and found that electronic formats were more attractive in the abstract to the students and increased their choice of longer books in particular. The speaker believed that sustaining the student's interest in reading involved more work and intervention on the part of the teacher. She concluded that the use of ereaders facilitates contact with books, sometimes even providing another, second chance to connect pupils with reading material, and that the electronic format's relevance to children's lives was important..
A practitioner breakout session followed, and the Mexican librarians I met were amazing committed and passionate about getting people in the communities they servev reading, and also particularly kind about translating their thoughts or those of their colleagues into English for those of us who didn't speak Spanish.
Saturday's concurrent session included a presentation from Ernie Bond and Patricia Dean of Salisbury University and their work identifying a wider spectrum of literature relating to environmental stewardship. They inaugurated the Green Earth Book Awards which focus on giving readers the license to do something and not just read about nature. The winners can be international, but must be distributed in U.S. Australia and France also have environmental book awards.
Bozena Kolman Finzgar, a Slovenian librarian, presented her unit using fairy tales to spark reading motivation and creativity. Her work with fifth graders centers around alternate re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood, including variations by the Brothers Grimm, and the French and Slovenian versions, as well as Toby Forward's The Wolf Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood and Svetlana Mararovic's The Red Apple. Finzgar's library in Radovljica circulates an impressive 20 items per person per year and offers a program for "books on holiday," distributing reading materials at swimming pools, camps, and hotels.
Sophie Hallam of the Book Trust in the U.K. spoke about her M.A. dissertation work on Pop Up Profits CIC, a nonprofit working to improve literacy rooted in schools, communities, and public spaces. Pop Up uses a two-stage model, first introducing diverse and contemporary texts into schools prior to author visit outside classrooms. Then they work with families in the Islington and Camden communities, areas where as many as sixty percent of students are English language learners, to create visual and oral responses to those stories. This culminates in a two-day public festival with storytellers, poets, and artists. Hallam spoke of the importance of literacy practice in a third space and in using non-curricular texts, without learning objectives which eclipse enjoyment. The emphasis on reading for pleasure is important as U.K. students tend to see reading as a top-down, passive activity.
Beth Cox, also from England, had spoken earlier in the conference about Inclusive Minds, her consultancy which works with publishers like Child's Play to include images of differently abled children in picture book narratives in naturalistic ways.
The congress closed with two incredible events. The first was a performance by music students in the gorgeous art deco Palacio de Belles Artes. One symphony was specially commissioned for the conference and honored Malala Yousefi, who also shared a recorded video response to the congress and the performance. The closing ceremony was held at the Franz Meyer Museum, which had three special exhibits in conjunction with the Congress -- Fifty Mexican Illustrators, Drawing the World (my favorite), and a Nami Island Concourse exhibit.
The delegates from New Zealand made an enthusiastic pitch for the next biennial congress in Auckland, and as much as I dread the flight, it IS penciled in on my calendar.