Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reflection #6: LGBTQ Characters & Themes

Just one article this week!? This can't be real life? I feel like there is so much more information out there on LGBTQ literature and why it matters to the library.

Although, this article was packed with good information.

I thought it was interesting that one of the first questions asked, jokingly, about an LGBTQ book is whether or not the character dies. It leaves out the possibility for a novel with these themes having a positive, uplifting ending. What does that say for our LGBTQ students or teenagers who are just looking for answers within the pages of these novels? That it always ends in tragedy? While I'm not a supporter of LGBTQ anything, I am glad that these novels have grown and evolved to give students/readers something more positive to look for in the books.

Another big evolution in GLBT literature is the inclusion of more books about transgendered characters. This was not something that anyone felt comfortable discussing until recently. These books give confused teens another resource - characters with whom they can identify.

For me, as a future librarian, I will do just what the article for this week said to do: "put them on the shelf and treat them like any other book." I'm not going to be promoting these titles and I won't be recommending them, but I'll include them in my library. I'm not censoring information because I don't agree with it. That's ridiculous.

The two novels for this week: Between Mom and Jo and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe fit perfectly into this category. In the first mentioned book, Nick has a family with two moms - his birth mother and her wife, Jo. They have marital issues and he feels completely alone throughout the struggle. He feels like he's in the middle of it. This is a book that you can identify with if your family has issues, period. It doesn't matter that he has two moms...but if you are in a situation where you have two moms, it makes the subject matter even more relatable. The book mentioned second, Aristotle...,  is going to be more helpful for those teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality in that Dante is very open about his, and Ari is not. It's a slower read, but it really makes the reader think. That's the point of LGBTQ books, I think. To make you think. To make you curious. To push you.

Bibliographic Information:

Camacho, H. (2011). Where GLBT Literature is Going and Why It Matters. Voice of Youth Advocates, 34(2), 138-139.
Peters, J.A. (2006). Between Mom and Jo. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Saenz, B.A. (2014). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reflection #5: The Politics of Book Awards

For this week, we were required to read three children's books: Dead End in Norvelt, The Lock Artist, and Tuesday. These are all award winning children's books. It is obvious why they are award winning. Dead End in Norvelt is absolutely hilarious and the characters are very real. The Lock Artist leaves you wanting to know more about Mike and his past. I didn't want that book to end. Finally, Tuesday is a very well done picture book that won the Caldecott. I actually use pieces of this picture book to teach my 7th grade students how to analyze a text.

The articles, however, were the more interesting pieces for me this week. One piece of information that caught me about the Caldecott winning books were that the authors are overwhelmingly male. The only time that the number of females outweighs the number of males was in the 1960s - a time devoted to women's rights and other controversial issues. That surprises me. I would have assumed that anything related to picture books would have been more female than male. I'm not sure why I was under that impression, but I was dead wrong.

This trend continues into the books themselves. Only 17 (or 23%) of the award winning Caldecott books have a strong female leading character. That means that 77% of Caldecott books are written with a male leading character and, on top of that, the majority of them are written by male authors.

My thought: WHAT ABOUT MY FEMALE READERS?! I know that you can identify with a male character if you are a female, but why should you have to? Why doesn't this seem like a fair competition? Hmmm...just food for thought, I suppose.

Moving on to the Newbery Award.

Patricia Gauch wrote an article called "What Makes a Good Newbery Novel?" and used it to try to define what makes a book Newbery-worthy. Her first thought: a remarkable character. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. An award winning book must have an award winning character. Stereotypical response. I wanted more. On top of a character, Gauch says that "the stage of a Newbery book is key" and that this stage must be right for the hero/heroine. Sure. Setting and situation are important. Then, she said the thing that makes it different: "one of the surest marks of a Newbery is its last moments of story. Last scenes." So you need to have a remarkable character, a stage that fits the hero/heroine, and something pivotal happening in the story's last moments. This information made me want to attempt to write a Newbery-worthy story ;)

Then, I read the last article.

So many good points were made in the article "Has the Newbery Lost Its Way?" Basically, it echoed my original thoughts on award winning books. Just because it has won an award doesn't mean it is a good read. I have always struggled to love these award winning books. Growing up, my parents would buy the Newbery winners for me to read, and I would hate them. The only one that I can remember loving was Bud, Not Buddy and I had to read that for a class assignment. So, reading this article didn't shock me at all. I'm not surprised that librarians are not vouching for these newer winners.

There needs to be new, fresh criteria for selecting what books receive the award. I'm just not sure what that criteria is.

Bibliographic Information:

Crisp, T. and Hiller, B. (2011). Telling Tales about Gender: A Critical Analysis of Caldecott Medal-Winning Picturebooks, 1938-2011. Journal of Children's Literature, 37(2), 18-31.
Gantos, J. (2013). Dead End in Norvelt. Harrisonburg: Square Fish.
Gauch, P. (2011). What Makes a Good Newbery Novel? Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 52-58.
Hamilton, S. (2011). The Lock Artist. New York: Minotaur Books.
Silvey, A. (2008). Has the Newbery Lost Its Way? School Library Journal, 54(10), 38-41.
Weisner, D. (2011). Tuesday. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reflection #4: Censorship & Banned Books

Censorship and banned books are issues that we, as librarians, will always have to deal with. This was very thoroughly discussed in the readings for this week (the four articles and two books).

First, the article on children's views of censorship had some great points. I found it incredibly interesting that Sarah, one of the children used in this study, felt that censorship as a whole was negative because "reading, like is good for people and you should be able to read whatever you want." but she then goes on to explain that some material should be available in the library, but limited to a particular audience (like older kids). The overwhelming idea from the students was that parents should not be able to place limits on what children read, even if some thought that they could stop them if it was "really bad." As librarians, we have to make the literature available to everyone, but make sure that it is in the appropriate location (this was agreed on by the kids as well).

Another article this week, "Issues and Trends in Intellectual Freedom for Teacher Librarians," focused more on labeling books for content and even having to remove them from the library because of content. The big phrase in this article was "The more things change, the more they stay the same." We have all of this developing technology, which is awesome, but our thought processes are still staying the same when it comes to controversial material. One librarian reported that they have had five titles removed from their school librarian because of content, and while that is up to the director, it still is unfair that we have to censor material.

The other two articles have to do with a book that has been challenged multiple times because of its content - And Tango Makes Three - a picture book that delves into LGBTQ themes. While the book is carefully researched, contains endearing characters, and is very well-developed from a literary standpoint, it makes some readers/patrons uncomfortable because it is targeting young children (being a picture book). When reading the article about the creators of the book, it is clear that there was an agenda in making a book like this. One of the authors, Justin, made it his goal to provide support to queer students while at Harvard and jumped on this project. While I don't agree with this being for younger children, and I'm not a supporter of the LGBTQ scene, I do not think that we should censor any material. I'm a big advocate of having all available information out there and patrons can pick and choose what they want from what we have.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is another book that has been challenged because of its content involving witchcraft and wizardry. I find this absolutely preposterous. There are tons of books that are within this fantastic world and this particular series was targeted because of it's popularity.

Censorship shouldn't happen and books should not be banned. Period. If a kid can see that, we, as librarians, should see that as well.

Bibliographic Information:

Isajlovic-Terry, N., & McKechnie, L. (2012). An Exploratory Study of Children's Views of Censorship. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1), 38-43.
Macock, A. (2011). Issues and Trends in Intellectual Freedom for Teacher Librarians. Teacher Librarian, 39(1), 8-12.
Magnuson, M.L. (2010). Perceptions of Self and the "Other": An Analysis of Challenges to And Tango Makes Three. School Library Media Research, 131-139.
Richardson, J., & Parnell, P. (2005). And Tango Makes Three. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Rowling, J.K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic.
Storts-Brinks, K. (2010). Censorship Online. Knowledge Quest, 39(1), 22-28.
Young, C.A. (2011). Creating a Controversial Picturebook: Discussions with the Creators of And Tango Makes Three. Journal of Children's Literature, 37(2), 30-38.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Reflection #3: The Debate over AR and Reading Counts

Accelerated Reader is one of those things that is debated a lot. I have never heard of or seen Accelerated Reader used in a good, productive way. That doesn't mean that it can't be done or that it isn't done in some areas. It's just usually one of those things that people seem to do because they are told to do it, not because they believe in its value.

After reading "Accelerated Reader Can Be an Effective Tool to Encourage and Bolster Student Reading," I might just be persuaded that AR can really be effective. The story in this article about Billy, the student who couldn't read on grade level, was inspiring. I wish I had a program like this that I could use with my 7th graders who don't read on grade level. I have one student in particular that I would like to sit down and work with. He's a very reluctant student who uses the phrase "I just can't understand why we have to have a reading class when everyone knows how to read good in 7th grade" all the time. I have to remind him that he is no longer in a reading class - that we are now in English/Language Arts - and we focus more on the analysis of text. He thinks it's stupid and a waste of time, even though he isn't on grade level himself. AR could really help him out.

The article "Reading Management Programs: A Review of the Research" also inspired me to want to use these programs in my own classroom. It helped me understand that it's all in the implementation of the program. They shouldn't be used punitively, but only to encourage students to read voluntarily and make progress. There are extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, which I like the ideas of incorporating in all things, not just with AR or Reading Counts! programs. Apparently, research also shows that these reading programs truly are effective in promoting student progress in reading. If research backs it up, who am I to argue?

The last article that was required for us to read this week was all about the controversy surrounding AR. In "Accelerated Reader: The Controversy Continues - A Literature Review of the Effectiveness of Accelerated Reader in Increasing Reading Achievement and Student Motivation," a lot of my original issues with the program were brought to light. For example, the quizzes are simple. They only focus on basic comprehension and don't inspire a lot of critical thinking about the text. My job as an ELA teacher requires students to think critically about a text and analyze the decisions the author has made in creating the work of fiction or nonfiction. AR quizzes are too simple and do not reflect any of my Common Core standards. On the other side of that, some students that I teach are lacking in the basic comprehension of grade level texts. I find myself having to explain things that I should not have to explain to thirteen year old students. Maybe, if they had used AR throughout elementary school, they would be closer to grade level and be able to comprehend these more complex texts. Overall though, according to this article at least, the "jury is still out" on whether or not AR and other reading management programs really do improve student achievement and increase their motivation.

After reading these articles, I'd love to give it a shot.

Bibliographic Information:

Luck, S.A. (2010). Accelerated Reader: The Controversy Continues - A Literature Review of the Effectiveness of Accelerated Reader in Increasing Reading Achievement and Student Motivation. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 38(2), 3-9.
Hansen, L.E., Collins, P., & Warschauer, M. (2009). Reading Management Programs: A Review of the Research. Journal of Literacy & Technology, 10(3), 55-80.
Solley, K. (2011). Accelerated Reader Can Be an Effective Tool to Encourage and Bolster Student Reading. Knowledge Quest, 39(4), 46-49.