Archive for March, 2011
>A Child’s Adventure in the Swedish Countryside: Scandinavia House NYC feature at Playing By the Book
>Zoe Toft’s blog Playing by the Book has just posted my short feature on A Child’s Adventure in the Swedish Countryside, an installation designed by Sarah Edkins for the American Scandinavian Foundation at Scandinavia House, New York City.
|Scandinavia House, NYC (c) Jonathan B. Ragle|
You can find my piece on this exciting children’s book exhibit here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2011/03/21/a-child%E2%80%99s-adventure-in-the-swedish-countryside-children%E2%80%99s-literature-installation-at-scandinavia-house-nyc/
>New Zealand Book Month: Interview with Lincoln Gould of Booksellers NZ and Jo Ockey, World’s Smallest Library, Whanganui
>While I prepare to move my next literacy project with Domingo Savio school in Peru, on the other side of the world New Zealand Book Month continues.
On February 22nd, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Among the many people left in need of assistance after the quake were booksellers, some of whom had been hit by the previous tremor in September 2010.
At the close of 2010, New Zealand had already begun to address the legacy of the previous quake through initiatives like Scholastic’s special picture book Quaky Cat, designed to help children cope with the shocking events they had experienced. Now, the city finds itself once again recovering from a natural disaster, and a number of bookstores have been badly damaged.
Zoe Toft at Playing By the Book was one of many bloggers who drew our attention to various relief schemes and aid programmes being run by the children’s book world, here: http://www.playingbythebook.net/2011/03/02/books-for-families-in-christchurch-new-zealand/
Lincoln Gould, CEO of trade association Booksellers NZ, joined Books and Adventures for an interview.
He told us by e-mail that international booksellers’ organizations have been quick to offer their support: ‘In particular, the American Booksellers’ Association has not only donated generously to the Relief Fund but has also offered help based on their experience in providing assistance to Members following the Katrina disaster.’
‘Every effort is being taken to restore the availability of books to readers,’ Lincoln explained. ‘One group, Paper Plus, have established a special scheme to allow customers in other parts of the country to donate books for distribution in Christchurch. The Board of Booksellers NZ will administer its own relief fund, used to assist member booksellers in practical ways. One idea is that the expenses might be met for Christchurch members to attend this year’s annual conference, which by necessity has been moved from Christchurch to Wellington.’
Details of the relief fund can be found here: http://www.booksellers.co.nz/book-news/christchurch-booksellers-relief-fund
Based on an idea piloted in the UK, the project sees a working telephone booth in Whanganui transformed into a tiny book-swapping venue.
‘We’ve got stuff for all ages – everything from books for wee ones right though to the oldies,’ Jo told us via e-mail. ‘I have been trying to get folks to swap their favourite, not just any old book! There’s a real mixed bag: To Kill a Mockingbird up next to hand-bound books.’
The World’s Smallest Library is also the World’s Smallest Publishing House. Poet David Merritt will be taking up a residency at the micro-library during New Zealand Book Month. There’s a method to David’s madness as he perches on a park bench with a pile of old Reader’s Digests and Jeffrey Archer potboilers. Jo explains: ‘David makes new books from recycled ones – he cuts and stamps and in about 6 minutes creates these beautiful new editions with his own poems inside. David’s a very quiet man but every so often he may recite from the books too!’
The phone booth library is a bit of fun for local residents, but there’s also a serious point for Jo and the rest of the Open Studios team of community artists. ‘NZ Book Month gives us a chance to show the rest of the country a good side to our city. Over the past 6 years, we’ve had some bad press, but I want our town to realize how clever we all are – and understand that sharing is caring! Whanganui is a beautiful town with some spirited folks, and tons to do!’
For more information on the scheme, visit http://www.openstudios.co.nz/
Up next on Books and Adventures, more NZ news from the Create a Superhero project in quake-stricken Christchurch itself, interviews with Wole Soyinka prize winner Nnedi Okorafor and Finnish education minister Henna Virkkunen, plus charter schools and the future of US education. Stay tuned!
>So, I’m in Chicago for 36 hours, mostly to interview the great Nnedi Okorafor, and I’ve finally reached that point where there’s no time for exploring.
When a teenage photography apprentice picked up a 25-year-old fantasy novel to while away a long train journey through New Zealand, he could hardly have known that his choice of reading would lead to a knighthood and a piece of Kiwi cinematic history.
>Busy times here at Books and Adventures. Caught up in the celebrations for World Read Aloud Day, I managed to turn in a photo story for local Manhattan news website DNAInfo.
You can check out the great work of New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read program at http://www.dnainfo.com/20110310/washington-heights-inwood/waiting-rooms-become-reading-rooms-on-world-read-aloud-day
Next – New Zealand Book Month’s Nikki Crowther joins us to discuss book token giveaways, Kiwi lit culture, and her own life-changing reads…
Continuing our interview with Pam Allyn, founder of LitWorld, we moved on from World Read Aloud day to the wider work of her non-profit organization in fighting illiteracy around the world.
Are literacy challenges the same in developing countries as in a place like New York City?
In some significant ways, literacy challenges are far more extreme in developing countries. In other ways, they are more alike than you might care to think.
In terms of differences, the developing world has only just come to the idea of mandatory primary education. It is only in recent years that the expectation that all children must attend school is adhered to (and in many cases, still not completely). This is of course a good and great thing, but most of the developing world was not prepared to handle all the children who then poured into schools. As a result, there are far too few teachers per child (in Liberia, the average ratio in a classroom is 90:1), hardly any classroom supplies at all, and not nearly enough structures in place to train teachers on an ongoing basis or to provide state of the art learning that will help children move forward and stay in school. The conditions are grueling and difficult, for teachers and children alike.
In the developing world, we have access to extraordinary resources, especially literature written specifically for children, that teaches children how to read and conveys important big ideas. In fact, the materials used to teach reading can be too dense: they’re not written at a level children can understand and don’t do enough to draw a child into a world of words.
Even here in the United States, we do not guarantee equity of access to all children. High poverty districts are far more likely to have fewer books and computers in the classroom. And this is 2011! We still use outmoded forms of teaching in classrooms all over this country, and sad to say, the testing mania has driven us back to some terrible teaching practices that I haven’t seen since I was a child.
Just when we have to teach innovatively and creatively, we are all across the world teaching out of fear and insecurity, and that is not going to raise children to be the innovators and creators we hope and know they can all be.
Do your literacy schemes like use a particular approach to teaching and learning literacy? Are you subscribers to a particular philosophy of education?
I am a fierce advocate for what I call a “toolkit” approach to the teaching of reading. There are skills every child needs to learn to read; these include phonics, but also include fluency, stamina and comprehension. One without the others is a waste of time.
I believe in an integrated approach that will both help the child decode words but also beyond that help him to soar through them and transcend the work on the page to see reading as a joy, an art, a pleasure.
One of my heroes is Paolo Freire, who famously asked women in rural villages to tell their own stories as a way to learn to read and write. He was convinced that narrative is the force that drives us in everything we do and that was how he taught women how to read, was by asking them to tell the stories of who they were. I advocate this in my work with children; if they write about their experiences, both imaginative and real, and then read them back, they have a far better chance of becoming lifelong readers. They understand the power of story.
When I started LitWorld, I was thinking a lot about the most vulnerable children I had met, especially those who had been displaced or traumatized, and I wondered if teaching writing could actually HELP to build resilience. Teachers of such children often focused on their trauma. I wondered if by writing narratives that told the stories in ways that would give hope and strength, we could teach the child how to read and write, but also how to grow strong.
I developed the Seven Strengths model in response to that: learning based around Belonging, Compassion, Esteem, Friendship, Confidence, Curiosity, and Hope. We end up raising healthier children emotionally because they can use literacy as a tool for their own sustenance.
In much of the world, literacy and education are not seen as a priority for girls and women, but is this really true of the USA, where you also run your Girls’ Clubs?
At first we thought it would simply be fun for the girls here to join our worldwide network. We thought that the needs of girls here are more taken care of, and there wouldn’t be such a demand for the Clubs in the USA. What startled me here is how necessary they are HERE too. The girls we work with in Harlem tell us that the Clubs have been lifesaving. They feel very vulnerable and isolated in their communities, and find it difficult to talk in class. Here in the Clubs, we provide a sanctuary.
Next time on Books and Adventures, we head down under for the opening days of New Zealand Book Month!
Today is World Read Aloud Day, an event which draws attention to the 774 million people in the world who cannot read or write.
The event is run by LitWorld, an international non-profit organization based here in New York which seeks to cultivate literacy initiatives around the world.
At 1am I will be reading in Times Square from my prize-winning children’s story ‘Shark with the Mind of a Rabbit’ in support of World Read Aloud Day. LitWorld’s goal is for people around the world to read aloud for a grand total of 774 million minutes on 9th March, drawing attention to the challenges faced by those on the planet who cannot enjoy their right to literacy.
In just 4 years, LitWorld has managed to extend its work in literacy advocacy across 35 countries. With initiatives including Girls’ Reading Clubs, workshops for literacy leaders in developing countries, family reading initiatives and book supply to low-income communities, the non-profit takes on literacy challenges wherever it may find them.
I was joined by Pam Allyn, director of LitWorld, on the eve of World Read Aloud Day.
She said, ‘World Read Aloud Day is an advocacy event for all people, to really raise our voices together through the act of reading aloud itself. This is where WRAD is special. We have children and adults all over the world on March 9th reading aloud with the idea that their voices are going to matter for each other.
‘Literacy is the linchpin for all the UN Millennium Development Goals. The statistics are staggering and untenable. Women who are educated even to fifth grade are sixty percent more likely to vaccinate their own children. High poverty areas have higher rates of illiteracy worldwide. Children who are not in school have poorer nutrition and girls who drop out get pregnant earlier. But beyond the plain facts that a literate person can read a medicine bottle, navigate a subway, apply for a job and keep one, there are more spiritual benefits to literacy.
‘A child who can read can comfort himself, make himself laugh, find refuge in a good story and discover the magic of the imaginative universe. It should be a human right to be happy, and reading makes us happy.
‘Literacy is democratizing. When we have access to information, we know ourselves and the world far more deeply. We can take action and stand up for what is right. We can advocate for ourselves, our children and for each other. And we can connect with all humanity.
‘If I could not read or write, I would miss the way I can connect with others, with friends and even strangers who have touched my life in so many ways through notes, emails and messages. It’s an extraordinary power, literacy. Someone once asked, what is the opposite of fear? And the answer was love. With all this talk about data and accountability in schools, at the end of the day, being literate teaches us how to love. Love of people, love of ideas, love of story. And that’s what I’d miss most.’
You can find out more about World Read Aloud Day and the wider mission of LitWorld at http://www.litworld.org/.
Pam joins us again for a Q and A session on Books and Adventures next time – click here for the second part of this interview.
‘When your children are growing up, you suddenly realise – I’m not Batman, I’m Batman’s Dad!’
Comic creator, writer and educator Alex Simmons’ main community endeavour these days is the international Kids Comic Con, which gives children their own comic book event at a time when so much of the industry seems focussed on marketing to geeky adult males.
The Comic Con originated when Alex provided a children’s activity area at Wizard World’s Chicago Con around 1998. Many visitors used the area as a babysitting service while they toured the convention, but that small side event was enough to provoke Alex’s creative streak.
‘That experience validated what I already suspected – that we needed events specifically for kids. Overall, the comic book industry is geared towards selling to guys in their thirties – and in economically depressed times, they’ll continue to follow the money.
‘It’s another symptom of the way we are short-changing our children in society at large. We keep giving them failure, anger and frustration. They are the future – and that doesn’t just mean training up a new generation to look after us in our old age – it means giving them their own lives, their own opportunities and choices.’
Alex’s yearly Comic Con brings together artists and publishers, librarians and educators, to give children and their caregivers just such opportunities to explore the world of comics. Attendees participate in workshops and meet with the men and women behind the adventures of their favourite characters. In 2010, the Convention went to Senegal to bring their brand of fun along with an art exhibit called, ‘The Color of Comics‘ to an African audience of children, fans, educators and – hopefully – future comics creators!
Alex couches his sense of mission and personal responsibility in terms of comic books. ‘I love sidekicks like Robin from Batman or Short Round from Indiana Jones – as a kid, I was inspired by junior heroes who were an integral part of helping the hero win. Later I went through the stage of life where you identify with Batman. And then your children are growing up and you suddenly realise – I’m the parent that gets killed now! I’m not Batman, I’m Batman’s Dad!’
Alex’s acceptance of his role as a parental figure and mentor is part of his unique success as the mastermind of Kids Comic Con – ‘How come it was me of all people who set this up? It wasn’t that i was the only one on the planet who could do it… But i was the one committed to making it happen. Obsessed, even. I had the contacts in the comic book industry and the connections with educators too.’
Alex didn’t do this alone, though. ‘Much of what we’ve achieved would never have happened without Eugene Adams, Director of Collaborative Education at Bronx Community College. Working with him is endlessly remarkable, endlessly rewarding. He’s been a kindred spirit who gave the Comic-Con a plan, a venue, and a staff of volunteers. If we hadn’t made it happen with all that support, then we’d have been asleep at the wheel.’
A large part of the work of Kids Comic Con involves empowering young creators with the latest technology, using free workshops and outreach sessions to give a taste of the software used in modern comics production. My recent interview with Cody Pickrodt showed how hard it can be for young creators with no computer skills to work in this medium.
Kids Comic Con offers a wide range of opportunities for young people to develop such technical skills. Even the convention website was originally designed by students at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Alex says, ‘The future is in danger of separating us into technological haves and have-nots. People need access to the means by which they can make a living, and more and more that means technology. Not every child we work with may grow up to be a graphic designer, but they’ll surely need more from a computer than just Facebook.’
Kids Comic Con brings together many strands of Alex Simmons’ work over the past 20 years: a sense of social and historical consciousness, seen in his 1930s adventure stories; a duty to empower young readers and writers with critical thinking, as found in his Archie-meets-Obama story; and above all, a sense of wonder and desire to explore and engage with the world around us.
‘No child is born with a desire to fail. It’s our mission to fire their sense of wonder and of possibility. To empower them to believe in the thoughts which occur to them, and give themselves time to consider the value of their own ideas.’