Monday, June 22, 2015

Unmasked: Why Shakespeare Still Matters.

To teens, William Shakespeare is a really old dude that died thousands of years ago.   Not only that, he writes in foreign English.  Who even uses words like thou, doth and footlicker?   (Foot what?)  Yet, in almost every high school english class Shakespeare's works are still on the required reading list.  Some veteran high school teachers like Dana Dusbiber of Luther Burbank High School believes that Shakespeare is too "white and old"  to reach a diverse ethnic class.   Seriously,  how can a multi-racial teen relate to these works?  The answer is really simple.  They relate because all the emotions, trials and loves of Shakespeare's world go beyond race or time.  They speak to humanity as a whole.   There are compelling reasons  to unmask the beauty of Shakespeare then to put it out to the curb like an antique heirloom that has become trashy and outdated.

It is disturbing to say the least, that a English teacher would want her students to only read from others who are just like them.   What happened to the idea that readers  should be exposed to an array of authors  that tell their story from a different perspectives.   Ms. Dusbiber prefers that her ethnically diverse students read books from Hispanic, African and other minority authors.  Her reasoning is that the authors offer better opportunities for students to learn about their culture and themselves within the pages of their works.  In other words, hold up a mirror and see someone just like you.  Perhaps even more frightening is she may be implying that ethically diverse teens are not capable of learning the plays?    The only way to grow is to learn more about the world, not less.   Students should be required  to  read Shakespeare from the standpoint that at least they have an exposure to the plays.  If Shakespeare is not their cup of tea, so be it.  However, at least they will have a familiarity of  one of the famous plays.

 To be perfectly honest,  Shakespeare may be a white dude who died  450 years ago (not thousands)  but his works are timeless.  The characters are just as intriguing as when they were first introduced.  What bothersome about Ms. Dusbiber's blog is that she seems to be unfamiliar with the diverse characters of Shakespeare.   Here's a suggestion  for an ethical diverse class,  read Othello. Unmask the true nature of a black man so madly in love with Desdemona and so insecure of her love for him that he allows his closest confident Iago to convince him that Desdemona is unfaithful.   There are so many layers to go through here that one finds that in the end, regardless of race, as humans deep down we are the same.   We cry the same way.  We love passionately and sometimes jealousy gets the better of us.  Does one have to be a particular race to experience any of these emotions?  Not at all.

Let's not stop at Othello.  In, Merchant of Venice we find even more passion, jealousy, discrimination and yes, greed.  Oh what tangled webs were woven when Shylock feels that he has been cheated by a Christian community that has never welcomed him. He loans money to Antonio with the agreement that if the money is not paid back on time it will be paid back in a pound of flesh.  Secretly, Shylock wants only revenge.  The Christian community of Venice never welcomed him as a Jew, so Antonio must pay.   Alas, Shylock loses out on this demand in the Venetian Courts.  Add insult to injury he loses his beloved daughter Jessica in marriage to Lorenzo, a Christian.   Again, any teen of diverse ethnic background could sympathize with anyone of these characters.  If it is the language that is a barrier, then reveal the beauty of the language by using No Fear Shakespeare.

Suffice it to say, each of Shakespeare's play can be dissected and shown to be very useful in exploring raw human emotions.  Even if it is from an old, dead white guy.   This is not to say students couldn't learn from authors such as Maya Anglou.  However, why limit the students to just one voice?  Let them experience as many as they can.  From every corner of the world, not just the ones that are familiar to them.  Great literature lives on from age to age.  That is what makes them classic and timeless.  Keep Shakespeare in the classroom and in the libraries.  If a teacher or librarian takes Shakespeare away from students that would be a great tragedy.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Unlikely Heroes : The Best of the Best In Children's Literature

Who doesn't love a story about a hero who wins the day?  Superman flying in to stop the bad guy in his tracks.  Spiderman spinning a safety web to help a damsel in distress.  Batgirl racing in on her motorcycle to rid Gotham of one more bad guy. The comics have filled young minds (and adult minds as well) with images of good defeating evil.   These scenarios have led to discussion "If you were a superhero, what powers would you have?"  The possibilities are endless.  However, there are other heroes that are a little more down to earth.  They have no super "powers" to speak of yet they are able to do heroic things just by being themselves.  In children literature,  authors and publishers like to call them the unlikely heroes.  Children simply call  them their favorites.   Here are Librarian At Large's top five unlikely heroes.  If readers have not met them yet, this summer is the perfect time to get to know them.

1.  Roald Dahl's Matlida  is quite the intriguing character.  Everyone around her under estimates her, except for her observant teacher, Miss Trunchbull.  Matilda, who has been neglected by her mother and father, learns ways to get what she wants.  It isn't until meeting and befriending her teacher that she begins to want to help someone other than herself.

2.  Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux has a huge heart in a little mousy body.   Who needs a night in shinning armor when Despereaux Tilling is ready to take on a feat that no man, er, mouse has ever taken on before!  This is one mouse who reminds all readers that mighty things come n small packages.

3.  Percy Jackson of  Rick Rioridan's Percy Jackson Olympian series is the perfect example of a hero dealing with multiple challenges at once.  Not only does he find out that his dad was a greek god, but on top of that he has ADHD.  Percy goes from one adventure to the next with his trusty pals who see to it that the good conquers evil and Percy makes it back to camp in one piece.

4.  Never one to shrink away from a challenge, Katniss of Suzanne Collin's  Hunger Games has become a favorite female unlikely heroine.  With her skillful handling of her bow and arrow, Katniss proves that in a do or die situation, girls can be just a strong and tough as their male peers.   Collins brilliantly weaves a plot that has the reader sitting on the edge of their seat asking,  "What now?".  In every situation, Katniss does the unexpected and comes out the victor not the victim.

5. Gordon Korman has introduced readers to many wonderful characters.  However, in Schooled,  the unlikely hero is Cap (as in Capricorn) Anderson.   One has to admire a character that can beat the odds of growing up in a hippie commune and not only survive  middle school politics but breaks the stereotypes and wins the support of his peers.   Feel good story told in a very humorous way,  making readers wish they could unleash their power of humor to get out of sticky situations.

This is only a list of five. To be honest it was a very difficult list to put together because there are so many to choose from.  Perhaps the unlikely hero list should be expanded next time?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Who's Your Hero? Summer Reading Programs 2015

This year's theme from Collaborative Summer Library Program is inspiring.  Love the idea of using "hero's" as a way to entice children to read all summer long.   Children  love heroes of all shapes and sizes: super heroes,  military heroes, mystery solving-heroes, knight in shining armor heroes and  most of all everyday heroes.  It is really hard to pick just one type of hero. Just as the theme suggest every hero has a story and to pick just one, well that as difficult as picking which ice cream is better the chocolate or double chocolate flavor.  They are both wonderful.    In honor of the theme and to get started on suggestions for  books to read this summer, there is one title that has stood out as the "story" that should be on every middle schooler's reading list and to be honest, even on the adults list as well.  El Deafo is a quick, delightful and eye opening graphic novel that explores the world of a hearing impaired hero who imagines that her hearing aids gives her super powers.

This heartfelt yet humorous memoir  from Cece Bell will have readers cheering for a new super hero. One who does not have perfect hearing or perfect eyesight or even athletic abilities to leap tall buildings in a single bounce.   El Deafo is the perfect superhero who wants what every middle schoolers wants, to be excepted for who they are and to fit.  This type of book has been long over due for so many reasons.   Bell's illustration on what is is like to face challenges of hearing impairment are spot on and clear. Everything from watching TV, to embarrassing sleep overs  and bulky hearing aides, is dealt with a touch of humanity and warmth.   This book is for every child -- deaf or hearing --- it will without a doubt show the possibility that anyone can be a hero.  Some heroes need a little more help then others but given the opportunity they can and will "save" the day.  

It is not a surprise that this book has already won numerous awards.  Quite frankly,  it should be the "poster" book for CLSP.  Cece is a true hero and her story is worth becoming familiar with.  Will readers find out about the next adventures of El Deafo?   That would be wonderful!  Here's  to keeping the fingers crossed that there will be more stories about Cece and her true friend, Martha.

In the meantime,   there are so many heroes to meet this summer!   The list is  long and there is not time to waste! . Not to mention the  many hero crafts to do as well!  Summer is just staring and Librarian at Large is just getting warmed up !  Stay tuned there is so much more reading fun to come!

(Blogger Note: As a child of the 70's and hearing impaired as well,  many of the situations described in the memoir struck  a cord of familiarity.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Unfair" Bedtime Stories?

A philosopher and professor at University of Warwick in England has made a suggestion that should make every children's librarian sick to their stomach.  The professor, Adam Swift, suggests that reading to children before bedtimes gives an unfair advantage to children from supportive homes to achieve in their academic endeavors.  Children are not read to at night, don't fare as well.  This should be a celebration of family bonding.  Not only that but it should be encouraged world wide.  This is exactly what librarians have been advocating for decades.  Read to your child.  It is sincerely hoped that this professor is being misquoted and that there is not need to be alarmed.  However, there is a way of turning this thought around to be advantageous for all children.

Since Professor Swift correctly states that reading to children at bedtime is a good thing, the best response would be to promote this activity to every family.  PSA announcements, reminders to parents at schools, and perhaps even establishing a volunteer effort to read to children who don't have the luxury of someone at home to read to them.   These are just a few ideas but surely some of them could work to give every child an opportunity to be read to.

Additionally, librarians should continue advocating for reading to children (at any time of the day) so as to prove and persuade that this is a better alternative than not reading to children.  Which is what Professor Swift seems to be suggesting in his theory of "fairness".    It is true that it is almost impossible to be sure that every child is read to but librarians can continue to remind parents, and even neighbors, that reading to one child is better than not reaching out to any child.

Last but not least, here is a personal challenge to Professor Swift, should he really believe that reading to children is unfair.   Do your part in making things equal for all children.  Read to a child in your family, or your neighborhood or go to a local library in England and discover if there are programs just for the purpose of filling in the void for children who have no one to read to them.  If England's libraries do not have these programs then perhaps it is time that they begin.

Monday, May 11, 2015

President Obama's Library Initiative : So Close Yet So Far

There is always cause for applause when a Presdient, or political leader takes an interest in promoting reading.   Reading is the most basic of all skills that every person should be capable of doing.  If they don't know how to read,  the opportunities that could be open to them are almost non-existent.  Think about it :  jobs, health,  and legal issues all are effective by education and reading levels.  When President Obama announced a couple of weeks of ago about library initiative tied with ConnectEd,   first reactions were positive.  Until, like many of his other programs, one begins to look closely at it and sees gaps that should have been addressed before rolling out the idea/programs.

The President calls for encouraging reading though ebooks for urban children.  These ebooks would be available through an app that will be developed by the many publishers that have agreed to be a part of this project.  Wonderful!  One problem with this, how will the children access the app if they do not have a smart phone or tablet?  The research  out there which measures such things as television, computer usage and availability, all point to the fact that access to the Internet is limited or next to non existent in urban areas.  One could argue that schools have been providing tablets for their students to take home.  Again in most urban areas if the neighborhoods are failing so are the schools.  In most cases, these urban school districts lack the funds to upgrade their computer labs much less be able to afford a tablet for each student.   Sad but true reality.   Snag (and a huge one) number one for this program.

One of the biggest questions to come to mind is why President Obama seek the consultation of librarians, both in schools and public libraries.  Yes,  the American Librarian Association is working alongside the President's staff in making this initiative a success.  However, the real "war" stories are from the school librarians and children's librarians working in these urban cities who on a daily basis know the frustrations that the children and parents face.  Why isn't the ALA bringing to the President's attention that many of these urban schools have school librarians that are dismal and a staff that is next to non-existent.  Why not come out with the statistics that demonstrate the strong connection of academic achievement and access to a quality school library?  That doesn't seem to enter the big picture of this initiative at all.

Finally,  children will learn the love of reading when they are encouraged to read on a daily basis.   Let's face it,  technology is not the "answer" to every problem.  It's a tool but not ultimate answers.    An app on its own will not make a child a better reader.  A book will not do that either.  What helps a child to be a reader is a caring adult, (be it a parent, teacher, librarian or neighbor) who takes the time to share a book.  This means reading to the child, or encouraging a child to read the book and share insights on the story.  It is amazing how books can be wonderful conversations starers and the doorway to learning more about people who read the books.   Seriously, parents if you want to know what your kid is thinking,  share a book with them and discover how your child views their world.

President Obama is correct in the assessment that children in urban cities need help in gaining access to books.  However,  his method is flawed.  Librarians have been fighting the battle to bridge the digital divide and improve reading skills for years.   Just like any fight worth fighting,  it's a slow process of winning one battle at a time.  As Librarian At Large promotes:  Helping Children discover their world one story at a time.    Shouldn't that story should be averrable in any format that helps a child the most?  

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MakerSpace in the Library

In Chicago there is a library that is experimenting with the idea of a "makerspace".  What exactly is this?  It is a space within the library that is specifically for library patrons to come in and "make" or create something.  Now this idea is intriguing because it's almost as if they took  the concept of story time crafts for children  and put it on steroids.   This space is multigenerational and is breaking the rules of what libraries are suppose to do.  Which is exactly what is needed right now.  New ideas that promote libraries in a positive new light.

A library such as the one is Chicago, is just the beginning of what the future can hold for libraries.  For the past decade, librarians have been the leaders in helping their community thrive in the midst of change.   In the days of Andrew Carnegie, the purpose of the public library was to be the center of learning and growth. That ideal has survived the test of time.  This is evident in how the libbers become the place to go to when the world became increasingly digital.   If this decade has taught our society anything it is this:  learning is a life long process of discover and each library user learns in their own unique way.  This creates the need for new, bolder ideas such as the library in Chicago demonstrates.

The possibilities are endless to what libraries and their communities can do together.  At the risk of being accused of hanging on to the good "vibes" of National Library Week,  it can not be denied that communities are starting to rediscover their libraries.  The digital age may have changed the landscape of the library but it has not changed the heart.   Libraries can serve their communities in traditional or unique ways.   It's all possible when libraries and their communities work together.   It is truly another reason to love your library.

Monday, April 13, 2015

National Library Week 2015: Libraries Unlimited Possibility!

"To Infinity ... and Beyond!" What's not to love about Buzz Lightyear's catch phrase?  It is full of promise of adventure, discovery and excitement.   This week's celebration of  National Library Week,   draws upon that same enthusiasm with the theme Unlimited Possibilities.   It has been said before, the library of today is not your grandmother's library.  On second thought, maybe that should be adjusted just a bit.  The library of today is your grandmother's library but with a few more tools that  add  a lot more umph to experience of adventure, discovery and excitement.  Add to that, today's librarian is trained to help patrons explore the unlimited possibilities.

Is it silly to say that there is adventure, discovery and excitement in the library?  A bit corny?  Not at all!  As a matter of fact,   the internet has done more to help libraries and librarians in the past twenty years then most people realize.  Before the internet,  patrons came to the library feeling a bit overwhelmed in their search.  The rows of indexes, card catalogs and more indexes seemed a bit daunting.  The best course of action:  get the librarian.  Then the Internet came along to change the library landscape drastically.   Contrary to popular belief, the library didn't fold and disappear.  It thrived.     One of the good things that the Internet has done for searching information is that it gives the searcher the encouragement to seek information on their own. In the minds of library patrons', there's nothing difficult about research.  As long as there is a keyboard, screen and wifi, everything works out fine.  Well, most of the times.    There are still times when the independent searcher is in need of a little assistance.  For the record, librarians love the independent learner,  but even Christopher Columbus, one of the best explorers, never left  home without a map or a guide.  There comes a time when human interaction is needed in the search.  That is where the unlimited possibilities lies.

Libraries have adapted to the changes in information gathering not only because it was important for survival of libraries  but it is important for the survival of the community in which they serve.  Without libraries the possibilities of growth,  are seriously compromised.   Where do children go to do homework?   Where do the unemployed go to find resources to help them find new jobs?   Where does anyone go for leisure reading ?  The library offers this and so much more that to list all the possibilities it would take  more time and space then this blog can provide.  A library is only a building.   A librarian is the "keeper" of the  information.

In the age of countless technology changes and adaptations it is no wonder that patrons expect unlimited possibilities.   Everything seems to be at our fingertips.  Twenty years ago in the library,  it would have been inconceivable that  a cell phone would become an information tool.  Twenty years from now, it's anyone's guess as to how technology will change the way information is retrieved.  However,  it is safe to say that when the technology kicks it up a notch, librarians will be there to help the community use the technology to it's fullest potential.  Quite honestly,  what has been accomplished through the internet in the past twenty years is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is so much more and librarians are prepared now more than ever to help patrons realize the unlimited possibilities at the library.   In the spirit of Buzz Lightyear... "The the Library .... and beyond!"  (Okay, that was corny but it's the excitement of National Library Week that sparked it!")