Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Muumibuumi, or the delights of Tove Jansson

Bewildered by the number of children's books out there? You are not alone. The Guardian column The Book Corner devoted the last year's worth of articles to "building a brilliant children's collection." Dip into them for paeans to forgotten classics as well as more modern delights.

I would particularly like to highlight the latest entry which explores the pleasures of the Finn Family Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson. A Swedish Finn, Jansson wrote her timeless and entertaining series primarily during the 1940s and 50s. It is ideal for readers in the middle and upper elementary grades, though younger children can enjoy it as a readaloud (she also created a comic strip version for teens and adults).

Moomins are gentle, lovable creatures who resemble hippos. They inhabit an idyllic, pastoral world that evokes Winnie-the-Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood with a Nordic twist.

While these books are not widely read in the United States, they are a beloved staple in Sweden and Finland and the cartoon version is popular in places as farflung as Poland and Japan. The Moominworld theme park has a website with activities for children!

If you haven't yet visited the whimsical world of the Moomins, go find yourself a copy of Comet in Moominland and by the time we're in the midst of our next snowstorm, you should be able to bury yourself in Moominland Midwinter, one of the most evocative wintertime books I know.
Oh, and what is "muumibuumi"? It is my new favorite Finnish word that refers to the huge worldwide surge in popularity the Moomintrolls experienced in recent decades!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Diversity: read your way to better understanding!

As members of the Diversity Council, second grade teacher Mrs. Palmer and I spent yesterday at a PNAIS conference on Co-Creating Inclusive Communities. We heard amazing speakers and picked up a lot of practical tips and new information to share with our colleagues and students. Inspired by the conference, today I would like to share a few thoughts on diversity and reading, followed by a list of links to get you started.

When it comes to exploring diversity through books, the selection of multicultural English language children’s books available today is richer than at any time in the past, though certain groups are still sadly underrepresented relative to their numbers (for example, Filipino Americans). Even so, if you are a looking for a book that reflects your own family’s background, you are more likely than ever to find high quality materials!

If you are looking to find books to enhance your family’s knowledge of other cultures, it can be difficult to know where to start, as it is often hard to gauge the accuracy of individual books when you are reading about unfamiliar cultures. The main guideline I would offer is that the more widely and deeply you read, the better able you will be to spot information that doesn’t ring true as well as to absorb the nuances of other cultures.

Limited exposure is your greatest enemy! When a child reads a book in which a negative character happens to be a white American, he is not likely to generalize from this character to all white Americans because this is just one portrayal out of thousands this child regularly encounters in books, on television and in the movies. But when a character comes from a group of people a child rarely encounters, there is a risk he will assume that any notable traits are typical of that group in general (“This is what they do in…” or “All people from this place are like this…”).

One way to think about it is to consider all the group affiliations each of us has, through citizenship, ethnicity, religion, profession, generation, neighborhood of residence, civic or extracurricular memberships and activities. We each play multiple roles in our lives, and we each to a greater or lesser extent may represent a “typical” member of each group we belong to. Still, there will be great variations within regions, linguistic groups and individual families so we need to remember that any one book or character should not be accepted as completely representative of an entire group of people. Instead, a body of quality materials will together help form a clearer picture of the mosaic that makes up every culture.

Open Window and Vista students and their families continually impress me with their thoughtfulness and curiosity about the world at large. Have fun as you go forth and explore and remember to take note of and celebrate the great cultural heritage in your very own home!

Here, in no particular order, are a few good places to start looking:

- Lee & Low Books – publishers of multicultural children’s literature
- The Batchelder Award – for children’s & young adult literature in translation
- KCLS children’s multicultural reading list
- Kahani – a South Asian children’s magazine (we subscribe to this in our school library)
- History & culture magazines from Cobblestone
- Intriguing article by South African reviewer Hazel Rochman, author of Against Borders, a guide to multicultural children’s & teen books – read the article & then check out the book from the library!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back from Charlotte & a great series resource!

My trip last week to the American Association of School Librarians' conference in Charlotte, North Carolina was a great success! It was so inspiring to get together with about 2500 school librarians from around the US (and even Taiwan and Poland!) to share best practices, learn from one another, and attend fascinating programs on a huge range of subjects from Web 2.0 to using the Library of Congress' online historical documents to support student learning. Thanks to the American Library Association and Bound-to-Stay-Bound Books for the travel grant that made my attendance possible! Thanks to their sponsorship I now have dozens of great ideas I can't wait to try out with our students!

The resource I'd like to share this week is a great online database from Kent District Library called What's Next. Many people love to read series and one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "What's next?" Now you can search online and instantly find out the correct series order. Give it a try sometime!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

AASL: It's not just for librarians!

Tomorrow morning very early I will take off to attend the American Association of School Librarians conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. This division of the American Library Association supports the work of school librarians through its professional journal, conferences, etc. I am excited to have this opportunity to meet school librarians from around the country, attend workshops by some of the top names in this and related fields, and pick up a lot of tips that I can use to improve our school library program.

You may not realize that AASL also has many resources for parents on its website. From the drop-down menu you can access information about Internet safety, reading with your children, information literacy and other important topics. Check it out today!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Antonio Sacre & the Tapestry of Tales

Last spring Cuban/Irish American storyteller, author and actor Antonio Sacre came to our school to tell stories to all our students, talk with grades 5-7 about the writing process and host an evening event with parents. It was a special opportunity for us to learn from and be entertained by an internationally recognized performer.

I'm pleased to announce that Antonio will be performing at the Tapestry of Tales storytelling festival which takes place in Portland from November 17-21. He will give an evening adults-only show on the 20th, and a series of performances for families on the 21st. See the schedule of events for more details!

Antonio said he would love to see anyone from OWS, so if you make it down there do introduce yourself!