Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What can we learn from Sweden?

This weekend I got to present some of my findings from my summer research trip to Sweden at the Washington state librarians' conference. My co-presenter was a high school librarian friend who studied Finnish libraries on a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. Here we are in Yakima!
So, what did I learn? Far too much to cover here, or even in a one hour conference presentation! But one major take-away that impressed me was Swedes' fundamental respect for children, summed up beautifully in this recent statement from the Swedish Arts Council. It was their message to the world when Sweden was - for the first time ever - the focus of the Bologna Children's Book Fair. I urge you to read it in full, but here is an excerpt:
Children have a right to culture. We often regard childhood as something transitory, as a preparation for real life. But when does real life begin? Is it acceptable to let people live almost a quarter of their life before they count? Children’s right to culture is intertwined with children’s right to play a part in society. To be presented with challenging art. Different perspectives. A diversity of expression. Relevant, fun, surprising, inquisitive art. Children’s right not to be dismissed as cute but unimportant. Not to be laughed at indulgently. Children are human beings, fellow citizens. Slightly shorter, slightly less experienced. But they are living in the here and now. They are not simply waiting to grow up. We cannot predict their needs 20 years hence. But we can listen to them and find out what their needs are right now.

How does this relate to children's literature? This mindset helps Swedish writers, artists, teachers, librarians and parents remember that books are about exploring ideas, sometimes ideas that are uncomfortable for adults. I noticed how many Swedish children's books were free of the moralizing voice of the adult. The endings weren't always neatly tied up with everyone doing as they "should." They felt real and natural in a refreshing way. And overall they were of an incredibly high standard of literary and artistic merit - appealing for readers of all ages.
Here are a few more photos that I hope you'll enjoy! First, a tvillingpaket, or twin packet, containing the same book in Swedish and Arabic. Swedes believe strongly in supporting children's fluency in Swedish and their hemspråk, or the language spoken at home.

Here I am holding Nutte Nervös (aka Scaredy Squirrel) in the children's section of Husby library. Husby is a Stockholm suburb that experienced rioting in May - but was the site of a vibrant multicultural festival three months later!

If you have three minutes, watch this video from TioTretton (or TenThirteen) a library in Kulturhuset (The Culture House) in Stockholm that only kids ages 10-13 may enter!
Finally, a few photos of some of the very lovely books I had the pleasure of reading:

(From Babo pekar by Eva Susso)


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