Saturday, April 25, 2015

Interview with Linda Salem- Children’s Literature Subject Specialist at the SDSU Love Library (Part 1 of 2)

In exciting recent news, the NCSCL was fortunate enough to speak with Linda Salem, the Children’s Literature subject specialist and Bibliographer at the San Diego State University’s Malcolm A. Love Library. She was extremely generous with her time, and it was vastly rewarding to pick her brain for information on just how multifaceted the children’s books collection really is. We also were able to converse about how this collection inspires a unique approach to the way kids are reading these days.

Because this interview provided us with some great and unique ideas, we will post it in two parts in order to give our children’s books the respect they deserve.

Apparently a lot more goes on in the arrangement of children’s books at the SDSU Love Library than one might assume. If you haven’t been up to the fourth floor’s children’s book section recently, the remodel of new   Dr. Seuss-like furniture is a must see, but the best part is the rows of children’s books, everything from picture books to young adult literature. There are also display cases featuring children’s books and artwork from the SDSU’s Children’s Center.

According to Linda Salem, this is a unique space that combines old books and new books through the thread of storytelling and is continuously growing as a collection. For scholarship, she tell us, it is important to look at several variations of stories, like Perrault’s and the Grimm’s fairytales, in order to bring together the contemporary collection with historical collections. This combination allows not just the NCSCL’s brilliant scholarship on the subject of children’s literature, but also plays a role in the School of Teacher Education and Children’s Center at SDSU.

Storytelling and read-aloud books develop and promote literacy in readers and also provide methods of exploration for how teachers can draw in new readers. So do these new children readers participate in this process at our library? Linda explains this is very much the case. Specifically kids from the SDSU Children's Center directed by Robin Judd visit the library to select and read books with their parent and student interns from the College of Education.

She says, “The power of story and storytelling is that it connects all these communities,” unlike any other subject area. This book collection connects research and story, activity with children and story, activity with adults and story, theater performance in story, art in story, visual images, [and] visual language.”  The redesign of the children's book section in Love Library is a project that has taken place over many years, intended to be a common meeting place for these communities. And we are very honored to say many of the children’s books that call the SDSU Library home, have been donated by the NCSCL and the amazing directors that run it now and in the past.

Another amazing new addition to the children’s book collection at the SDSU library, which should be arriving soon, is a variety of children’s texts intended to support Common Core lessons for current elementary school classrooms. These Common Core lessons are designed to assist teachers develop children’s text such as stories and even poetry. It is never too early to introduce children to poetry, and what a great way to have it be adapted into the classroom. 

Another amazing part of our children’s books collection, is found separately in Special Collections area on the fourth floor of the Library Addition, located above the dome (can be accessed by taking the elevator in the 24/7 study area). Many of the books that make up both collections of children’s books, have been donated from the Library of           Dr. Peter Neumeyer. Dr. Peter Neumeyer achieved a giant milestone by being one of the first to teach a literary course about children's books in the United States, and his irreplaceable contribution to SDSU’s English Department, was creating the largest Children’s Literature Program in North America.  But of course he did not stop there. Dr. Neumeyer has donated a large number of high quality books, which were able to refresh the SDSU Library’s main book collection.

In addition, signed copies of children’s books, rare copies of picture books, special editions, and even unique Young Adult books have been added to the Special Collections section now available to students and faculty. The Edward Gorey Collection, which is the personal library of Edward Gorey himself, is made up of over 5,000 titles of unique and important contributions to children’s literature. Field trip anyone?

So what does this sort of collection inspire? Well for starters, we asked Linda to define what high quality children’s and YA books would be and the influence of pop-culture. She said, “I think that the question you just asked makes this collection and this program in the university, in the country, a really great place to ask those questions. You know, these are the kinds of questions that are inspired by our collection, by the classes that are taught here, and the students who work for [and study in] this program.” She continues to point out, importantly, that quality is subjective to what the book is being looked and judged for: A book intended to teach literacy to a bilingual student will not be regarded in the same light as a book that is judged for its artwork and creativity alone.  She continues, “And in that way we do look at some of those popular culture issues, especially in terms of this concept of meme, which is just idea really.”

So since story and storytelling is also considered a cultural artifact, and these days transcends into our media and technology, this is an interesting topic that will be discussed in greater detail in the part-two blog post.

Special thanks to Linda Salem again for taking the time to talk to us about the San Diego State University’s Children Books Collections at the Malcolm A. Love Library and about children and books and the bigger picture of them in the future.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Unplugging" Children from Learning

Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged is the story of a little boy robot who veers off track from his parents’ “plugged in” lifestyle in order to experience a new kind of learning based on experiences than facts.
The book begins with:
“This is Doug. He’s a robot.
Each morning his parents plug him in to fill him up with lots and lots of facts. They love their little robot and want him to be the smartest robot ever.”

In this story, Doug’s parents can be seen as a representation of the contemporary parents who emphasize the importance of education for the betterment of their child’s life. They show their affection for him by providing him with the opportunity to fill up with “lots and lots of facts.” They even tell him, “Happy downloading” as they go to work, leaving Doug at home to learn on his own by “plugging in.”

Yaccarino’s text reminds us of the state of the 21st century family in this technologically driven culture, where television, computer games, and phone apps dominate the free time of the young child and adolescent. Assuming the children’s TV programing they are exposed to is educational, it still requires the child to be able to absorb the lessons being talked about in an abstract manner and apply it in real world experiences.

Doug’s absorption based learning is interrupted by a pigeon that lands on the windowsill of his apartment that day. Doug recognizes that the bird is a pigeon, but “he didn’t know they made such a funny cooing sound!” Doug is intrigued by this new information that isn’t told to him but rather experienced by him personally. Preferring this method of learning, he leaves home and goes out into the city to learn in a different manner.

In this adventure, Doug encounters a little boy that asks him to play. Unfamiliar with the concept, Doug is intrigued by the simple child games of “hide-and-seek” and “tag” that are both socializing aspects of childhood, but also a great form of exercise!

Once Doug’s newfound friend returns to his parents, Doug likewise returns home to his own parents, only to return in the second Doug book: Doug Unplugs on the Farm

Doug and his parents are on their way to visit “the grandbots” when Dad tells everyone to “plug in” so they can learn about the country on their drive. Doug learns “bushels of facts about farm things,” like “a baby pig is called a piglet” and “horses can pull plows.” But once again Doug’s downloading is interrupted when a flock of sheep runs across the road and causes their car to fall into a ditch, but “worse—the whole family came unplugged!”

While the parents try and fail to pull the car back up from the ditch, Doug wanders and explores the surrounding area, helping a local farm girl do her chores. Like his first experience with unplugging, Doug is able to learn not just facts but sensations such as smelly pigs and bossy roosters.

This experiential and sensory type of learning appeals to Doug and at the end he chooses to stay unplugged. I applaud Yaccarino’s text not just for the message to children to live an unmediated life rather than plugging in, but also for his use of a young robot for his protagonist as a critique of the modern child. The pressures from parents and school officials on children to memorize and spit back out information like a computer forces children into this life as a robot. The fact that children appeal to his robotic nature shows the correlation of our own cybernetic nature.

I leave you with Yaccarino’s message on the end cover of Doug Unplugs at the Farm: “Have you unplugged?”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Space as the Product of Society in Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s PIG PARK

In the introduction of Exinct Lands, Temporal Geographies, Mary Pat Brady claims that space is produced “in the everyday, in the social,” and as a result, the factors of race, gender, and sexuality become relevant to the making of space (6). This approach to space as a social construct upends the notion of it as “the grand manifestation of natural terrain” (Brady 6). With changing cultural values and social demographics, space can be modified to reflect the changes society has gone through. The most prominent of these changes in our society is the incorporation of a capitalist ideology in our interactions with space.

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez’s Pig Park explores the after effects of capitalism on a town that is no longer able to produce capital once The American Lard Company, the major contributor to their economy, relocates to another country. In a desperate attempt to save their neighborhood from turning into a ghost town, fifteen-year-old Masi Burciaga and her friends help the adults build a giant pyramid in Pig Park to draw in tourists.

In true capitalist notion, the people believe that if they build the pyramid, the visitors will come, and once again their stagnated town will be invigorated by the capital these tourists will bring. Rather than seeing the cultural association of the pyramid as a burial monument and sacrificial platform, the adults only see its symbolism for the capitalist system, and a symbol of their salvation.
Masi even points out that the people of their neighborhood “weren’t Egyptians or Aztecs to be building pyramids,” but as one of the adults states, “[N]o one this side of North America has a pyramid. Building a Gran Pirámide right here is the opportunity of a lifetime” (Martinez 17). Taking advantage of the lack of a certain commodity and capitalizing on its production for consumer use has been the most popular way that people have participated in the reconstruction of space. Just as the industrial age brought with it the fetishization of consumerism by making it accessible to more people, here we see the use of a cultural icon, the pyramid, being used for capitalist purposes for a town and society that does not have the historical or cultural ties to the creators of the great pyramids. To them the creation of the pyramid is not about building an icon of their culture, rather the marketing of a known tourist trap for their own benefit.

The map Martinez includes in the book shows their town to be surrounded from all sides by the American Lard Company buildings and railroad, reminders of the capitalist system that could not perform in this society. When the big business fails to be successful, so do the small businesses. As the land is transformed from a successful capitalist hub to a ghost town where people cannot make a living anymore, we see the transformation of the social aspect of space. Unable to afford the land that they lease for their businesses, the strain of the capitalist market seeps its way into the familial bonds that threaten to break up Masi’s family. As the only existing “natural” part of the town, Pig Park, is transformed into a shrine to capitalism, it shows that at the heart of the town, the success of its people will be ever dependent on the success of business.

As “space and social relations (re)constitute each other,” we see a different perspective on space as the mere setting for a story, some background image that is extra to the story rather than a crucial part of the story as a factor in the socio-cultural makeup of a town. Just as people can have an effect on space, then space, too, can create a change in people, as the possibility of a new town attraction brings with it the dangerous capitalist entrepreneurs that wish to exploit the common people for their company’s benefit. The ritualistic consumption and recreation of capitalist ideology shows people’s interpellation to a dominant culture that uses space as a means to an end. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Brief Review to Dr. Griswold’s Audacious Kids

So this is what the last weekend of Spring Break feels like… Well at least time slowed down enough to get in a good reading. No, that doesn’t mean binge reading the rest of the Hunger Game Series or seeing what this Insurgent thing is all about. It was just enough time to take a trip back into some childhood classics that Jerry Griswold talks about in his latest edition of Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story (2014). If one holds any interest in discovering what children’s literature is all about, this text, can definitively overcome the desires to indulge in other silly Spring Break festivities.

Griswold’s book was a fantastic and insightful piece of literature that discovers the mapping of what children’s literature really holds, beyond what many were first able to see. It was revolutionary for its time and still continues to be through this newest edition. While Griswold’s work on American childhood classics, between the years 1865 to 1914, was enticed by a sort of psychoanalytic theory, as he suggests, it is merely a starting place for the child character from these text to discover more about the American society and culture. Children’s literature is a part of the American identity and even American history as a “pervasive notion of ‘America-as-Child’ shaped the way Americans saw themselves and their history” (27). It’s no wonder these children’s classics ensue those feelings of nostalgia unlike any other. Even Sunday-School books are considered children’s text and remain a collection of formulaic and didactic stories. The Golden Age of American children’s literature, however, really allows space for a “… literary boom [of children’s text to] reflect the era’s particular attention to The Child” (6). Here is the time where picture books rose and allowed more controversial topics to be covered in a more complicated way to engage parent readers and children in a new way (1-11).

Children’s stories are unique in the sense that they open a space for complete freedom to mask large social issues and discretely reach all parents who read to their little ones. In a space where the image of a mighty king may be ridiculed by a child character and the adult is left with a more independent minded approach to social constructions, but the adult is also left with the inquisitive young mind listening to the story that may ask some curious questions.  At the heart of many American childhood classics, a message calls to its audience intrinsically cultivating positive thinking, a psychology often replaced by religion. For example, this can be seen through Pollyanna’s positive shenanigans all over town that ends up being a “contagious and redemptive effect in her community” (33).

Both introductions, the original and the 2014, are included in this intelligent work opening the doors of discovery and uncovering a thread found throughout these childhood classics. Some of the famous works include: Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, The Prince and the Pauper, The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan of the Apes, and not to be forgotten, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Even though the list continues, what is most fascinating, are the similarities Griswold highlights as a “basic plot” that creates uniformity into the childhood classics of this era. This “basic plot” begins with a child who is separated from his or her parents at a young age, leaving the child orphaned. Once orphaned, the child begins a journey in which he or she must explore a different socio economic lifestyle. Then, the antagonist adult figure enters the story and begins treating the child badly or creating tension for the child, forcing the child character to work to overcome the antagonist, who is often a parental figure of the same sex. Once this pragmatic situation is resolved, the child character encounters a combination effect of his/her past life to the life they now harness, creating a new and present life as a meeting ground between both worlds, and ultimately leaves the antagonist ultimately apologizing to the child or dying (16-30). Griswold provides various examples to support this claim, making it seems uncanny to never have noticed it previously.

Griswold truly expands on what he defines as “The Three Lives of the Child-Hero” and analyzes the psychological appeal that this “basic plot” holds a deeper level of influence and awareness. Griswold adapted the Oedipal connection these stories contain, where variations of the “lost child” expose the process of growing up as psychologically complicated. The search for identity can now be defined as the adaptation of two lives when analyzing these children texts and their characters. Today the “lost child” in many YA novels is left dealing with the end of the world he/she knows, and the main character’s struggle, while still combating authority, is capturing the evidence that children’s text can create a unique and continuous “phenomenon of stories shared by the young and old [as] a hallmark of our own era” (11-15).

With clever chapter titles like: “There’s No Place But Home,” “Ur of the Ur-Stories,” and “Imposters, Succession, and Faux Histories,” this book is a perfect read for anyone harvesting curiosity into the realm of children’s literature. These chapters will intro
duce complex ideas into childhood favorite tales, so the next time you come across the latest kid movie, you won’t be able to resist searching for the moral indications of the children of our current era.

Interesting points:
- “If historical and regional books emphasized verisimilitude and facts, another kind of fiction sent America’s young readers spinning in the opposite direction of fantasy,” and three of these texts which stand out are: Charlotte’s Web (1952), The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), A Wrinkle in Time (1962).
- “Oedipal emotions are a normal part of every child’s life. They involve not only an antagonistic relation with the same-sex parent but also a special affection for the opposite-sex parent. It is not surprising, consequently, that the child-heroes of American children’s books often find a special helper in an adult of the opposite sex…” (25).
- “What cannot be ignored is how much the land of Oz is a reflection of actual circumstances in the United States at the turn of the century… as in fairyland… Immigrants believed that streets were paved with gold, only to discover, perhaps, that they were really made with yellow bricks” (44).
- In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “the nocturnal floating of the raft [connects to the dreamlike and unconscious by] the powerful unconscious flow of the river, Huck’s essential passivity as wide-eyed floater and voyeur, an atavistic and irrational world of superstitions and freakish happenstance, a story full of disguises and lies and revelations and childhood memories… seems to have a description of the very essence of the dream state”(59).

- In Tarzan “Burroughs’s ‘doubtless’ and ‘unquestionably’… is nothing less than a return to the Ancestral, the Source… And that means loincloth nakedness! ... And that means apocalyptic truth! Frank admission that, at bottom, we are basically animals… beneath politics and good manners lie sex and the wish for dominance… And that means freedom! ... from office politics and civilized bureaucracies. Here is unchecked and untrammeled egotism…” (129).