Monday, September 22, 2014

The Paying Guests, and The Lodger

I lost most of the weekend to Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests. I'd been dying to dive in since I read the first chapter online. I think it is so difficult to do historical fiction well, but Waters always pulls it off. But WHO assigned the subject heading for this one? They are really far from the mark here.

I've often worried that we as librarians are too consumed with the new-new, without realizing that, for our patrons, more *is* new. The Paying Guests reminded me a lot of something on a similar theme, but in the public domain I'd read earlier, Marie Belloc Lowndes' The Lodger, about a couple of older people trying to hold body and soul together in the midst of a crime wave.

For something a century old, The Lodger more than holds up. The suspense keeps ratcheting, until the resolution,  if it can termed that, in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussand's wax museum. Two books on one theme, written a century apart, but both are terrific.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IBBY, Part Four (Wrap-Up)

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.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What I read in Mexico City...

I stocked up on ebooks to read at IBBY, and got to some that had be languishing on my iPad, too.

11/22/1963 (2011). It had been a long time since I'd read any Stephen King, but I loved this one. Time travel, swing dancing, the 1960s -- my favorite bit was the Rolling Stones "slip" which gives "George" away to his beloved. Top notch plotting and well-researched, too.

The Dinner (2013) and Summer House with Swimming Pool (2014), both by Herman Koch I love anything about Holland, so I had been sort-of saving The Dinner. Though I loved the scene-setting, and the narratorial voices were strong, I really didn't get the hype surrounding either, but it is nice to read something in translation.

Rustication (2014) by Charles Palliser. Nicely done suspense, set on a marshy promontory in Victorian England, with a dissolute protagonist who has been sent down from Cambridge for unrevealed offenses. It's drawn out, and chilling, with revelation after revelation, and doesn't pull punches.

What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw (1957), The Body in the Library (1942), They Came to Bagdad (1951), and The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) Agatha Christie is my security blanket, and as such re-reading her is something never appreciated more than when away from home.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

IBBY, Part Three

One word that keeps coming up here is cosmovision, which in think can be translated as worldview. The Mexican speakers, in particular, don't shy away from topics that have become accepted without question in the U.S. -- didacticism, the inculcation of politically correct messages through children's literature, the many market forces guiding children's literature. The state here has been taking affirmative action to foster inclusion, which is perceived by authors and academics as trying to create a homogenous society, rather than one valuing diversity.

Hans Christian Anderson winner David Almond from northeastern England spoke about how, thanks to the exploratory minds & flexible imaginations children possess, the transferability of experience exists. "All places *are* significant, all places *are* the center of the world." You can tell children what you are intending to mean, he said, but a well-told story will convey meaning without didacticism. Almond said that by writing about tiny things as well as universal concepts, meaning comes down to incidental details, but this is subtle in a world that doesn't value that. He feels that, in observing the messiness of his own process, school inspectors would not think he is doing anything worthwhile in his writing shed.

In the concurrent sessions, I especially enjoyed learning about how multiculturalism is conveyed in children's literature in South Korea and Japan, and am now wary of reduction of culture to 5Fs: "food, fashion, folklore, famous people, festivals."

Tilka Jamnik, president of Slovenian section of IBBY, spoke on a topic closest to my own research. She asked 58 students, about 12 years old, to read paired texts, including comics and tradition narratives, to gauge their comprehension. Jamnik found that the comics format encourage children to read more, but the non-linear format does not encourage improved comprehension. "It seems pupils are more superficial or less exact in verbalizing what they have read.  Just because they reach for these formats doesn't mean they understand."

I was also really engaged with Junko Yokota's comparative study of visual narratives in picture book design, going back to nineteenth century mechanical books attempting motion. Her discussion of digital formats and how engagement and motivation can work against comprehension was very perceptive. Yokota's colleague Ruth Quiroa discussed wordless picture books, free from specific language. Three of the 2014 Caldecott honors were wordless or nearly wordless, and these are the kind of books that travel quickly from one country to the next as they require minimal translation. I have always be interested in these types of books, and in visual literacies and books promoting higher order thinking that are not text-based. I learned IBBY now has a silent book prize, which is also exciting.

There has also been a big distinction drawn between books as literature and books as pedagogical tools. Quiroa feels we need both, but I think I am beginning to see this as a tension that lives between the classroom and the library. The reading levels are so erroneous on some of the best books, students are fed grade-appropriate pablum instead. It's a revelation for me.

Friday, September 12, 2014

IBBY, Part Two

Last fall, delighted that IBBY would be so close, I bought airfare to Mexico City, before I saw the registration fees. I got a little sticker shock. $665 for the early-bird? But this is a different sort of conference. There's aren't add-ons, no ticketed events, many meals are provided, and frankly, the amenities justify conference registration fees. There is constant availability of coffee and tea (in ceramic mugs), snacks, bottled water as well as nicely branded bags and pens.

Also included is simultaneous translation. It's like the U.N.. You leave an ID and get a headset. The interpretation switches between English and Spanish depending on the language of the speaker. The distinction between interpreters reminded me of differences between translators.

This whole experience makes me cognizant we do things on a shoestring stateside. I'm guilty of it myself, planning a conference -- what can we cut? Who can we get to speak cheaply, or for little? It's our society, isn't it? I am suddenly feeling the small and false economies we relentlessly pursue in the market economy.

I've also become really aware of other countries' national engagement in reading promotion in general. The NYTimes piece about relative educational attainment seem aptly timed. I'm dogged by a persistent sense that the U.S. is behind is developing countries in particular posses this joy in education, in being an educated person, whereas we seem to have no real pride in culture, no shared culture, no interest in culture of other countries, just a ceaseless emphasis on work and satisfying the faceless corporate overlords. I think about the great library-building industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, and how he would have despised Thomas Friedman's column extolling the role of corporate mentor over educators' in shaping young people's successes, and our disappointingly offhand and cavalier president who doesn't seem to take anything seriously. I spent an unhappy night feeling down about this, but I'm returning today to be surrounded by optimists, to those whose believe in the abstract good, and that reading and education are part of that.

I used to feel very fortunate to be born where and when I was -- I'm still happy about when, but as I get older and see more distinctions between what has become American culture and that still existing elsewhere, I'm not so happy about where.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

IBBY, Part One

The last international conference I attended, Forbidden Fruit in the U. K. in 2008, was very small, so I was surprised at the scale of the International Board on Books for Youn People biennial event. There are more than 500 elegates from 65 countries, including many Mexican nationals who are attending in conjunction with an effort to jump-start intensive reading promotion as part of extensive education reform.

We went to the National Library, a gorgeous space blending old and new, enclosing the colonial courtyard with a rather industrial ceiling, the darkening sky peeking out just between. Before dinner, we saw an exhibit about Jella Lipman and the founding of IBBY. It covered her personal history first as a pioneering editor, then her fleeing the Nazis, culminating in her work in rebuilding post-War German society. I hadn't thought about the rarity of pre-Reich twentieth century German children's literature -- much of it destroyed -- or the Reich-era literature, which Lipman was sure to include in her collection but designated for "adults only." The castle outside Munich which houses the collection she began is a place I now desperately want to go...

And I also learned about the role of German author Erich Kostner in founding IBBY, reminding me of the terrific book Lisa and Lotte (the basis for The Parent Trap), which in one of those wonderful coincidences, I possessed in an Apple paperback edition. Was it the first piece of translated literature I read? Perhaps. 

We had a lovely meal there, with cream of Camembert soup with raspberries a definite highlight. After dinner, we heard the Hans Christian Anderson award speeches -- Japanese fantasy author Nahoko Uehashi, cultural anthropologist by profession, who did Australian fieldwork on aboriginal storytelling. She spoke of "multicultural coexistence," a lovely way to embody the goals of the IBBY organization and its national affiliates. Then we heard from the amazing Brazilian illustrator Roger Mello, who was raised in utopian Brasilia, in an era when a book could get you "disappeared." Lots of food for thought already...