what to read in 2012

The best books of 2011 of course!  It's a great time of year to place hold requests, add things to to-read lists, and generally revel in the book awards spectacular.  Of course, BCCB Blue Ribbons and Newbery/Caldcott/Printz/CorettaScottKing/Notables/etc. aren't out yet, but some of the big lists are already available:

Horn Book Fanfare

SLJ's Best Books of 2011

So far, from the above two lists, I've added these novels to my to-read list: Chime by Billingsley (who is an accomplished author), Dead End in Norvelt (I love Jack Gantos' work!), and new sci-fi Glow by Ryan.  I'm also very excited to see picture books Heart and Soul, Spirals in Nature, and Press Here.

SLJ's list includes a section I'll be perusing heavily for my own reading, the Best Adult Books 4 Teens, and of these I'm especially interested in:

Ready Player One (sounds surreal),
The Language of Flowers (fiction about foster children),
The Magician King (fantasy),
The Night Circus (getting attention on other adult lists),
Swamplandia! (set in FL, humor),
and Robopocalypse (mostly for B).

Amazon's best and bestseller lists which I like to peruse for comparative purposes.  Did the literature and youth services experts converge upon the same things as the customer stats from Amazon?  Always fun to speculate why or why not, of course.

all the Tiffany Aching books

I promised myself some real fantasy escape time this holiday season, and I got it with the help of Terry Pratchett and his 4-book series that starts with The Wee Free Men.  Tiffany Aching is our heroine who becomes the witch of the chalk after a series of adventures that have her defeat enemies ranging from the fairy queen to winter himself.  Her last battle is with with a long dead sorcerer whose hatred for witches seethes out in vile stench across the ages.  Pratchett is at his best when he's most inventive, and pairing of the peculiarly verbally intelligent Tiffany Aching with her hilarious little blue defenders, the Nac Mac Feegle--whose curses are as blue as their tattoos--is highly inventive and leavened with humor throughout.  Don't tell the Feegles they're hilarious, though, or they're liable to drink and fight you to death.  Although they're easily defeated by the Pursing of the Lips and the Tapping of the Feet, at least if you're their kelda.

Personally, I find that Pratchett is less successful when he falls back on Discworld tropes, encouraging insider-y jokes rather than inventing anew.  That's part of why my favorite book remains Nation, where he starts entirely from scratch.  But these Tiffany Aching books are darn good too.  Rather than give full-forced recaps, mustering up the energy for which would surely put a damper on my holiday relaxation, here are my favorite quotable moments from each title (in series order):

The Wee Free Men
--Tiffany Aching:  "Yes, I'm me!  I am careful and logical and I look up things I don't understand!  When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy!  I am good with cheese.  I read books fast!  I think!  And I always have a piece of string!  That's the kind of person I am!" (p. 217)
--Tiffany Aching, speaking to the Fairy Queen:  "The secret is to wake up.  Waking up is harder.  I have woken up and I am real.  I know where I come from and I know where I'm going.  You cannot fool me anymore.  Or touch me.  Or anything that is mine." (p. 240)

A Hat Full of Sky
--The hiver:  "What power!  What wondrous power!  You can take a billion trillion tons of flaming matters, a furnace of unimaginable strength, and turn it into a little song for children!  You build little worlds, little stories, little shells around your minds, and that keeps infinity at bay and allows you to wake up in the morning without screaming!" (238)
--The teacher has been a little bit crazy, even for a teacher, but what he'd said had seemed to make absolute sense.  One of the most amazing things about the universe, he had said, was that, sooner or later, everything is made of everything else, although it'll probably take millions and millions of years for this to happen.  The other children had giggled or argued, but Tiffany knew that what had once been tiny living creatures was not the chalk of the hills.  Everything went around, even stars. (243)

--Nanny Ogg changed the way people thought, even if it was only fro a few minutes.  Shel left people thinking they were slightly better people.  They weren't, but as Nanny said, it gave them something to live up to. (p. 215)
--About jealousy, Lucy explaining Annagramma to Tiffany:
   "You can do stuff she can't even attempt!  Like that thing where you go invisible... you do it and you make it look easy!  But you come along to the meetings and act like the rest of us and help clear up afterward, and that drives her mad!"
   "Look, I don't understand what you're going on about."
   Lucy picked up another towel.  "She can't stand the ideal that someone's better than her but doesn't crow about it."
   "Why should I do that?" said Tiffany, bewildered.
   "Because that's what she'd do, if she was you," said Lucy carefully, pushing the knife and fork back into her piled-up hair.  "She thinks you're laughing at her.  And now, oh my word, she's got to depend on you.  You might as well have pushed pins up her nose." (p. 224)
--There are times when everything that you can do has been done and there's nothing for it now but to curl up and wait for the thunder to die down. (p. 310)

I Shall Wear Midnight
--There's always something, she thought, and then there's another something on top of the something, and then there is no end to the somethings.  (p. 93)
--About taking away grief:  "I'm sorry," she replied quietly.  "Everyone asks me.  And I would no do so even if I knew how.  It belongs to you.  Only time and tears take away grief; that is what they are for." (p. 187)
--Granny Weatherwax on pride:  "If you have let pride get the better of you, then you have already lost, but if you grab pride by the scruff of the neck and ride it like a stallion, then you may have already won." (p. 311)

race and fandoms


This is an editorial, and so of course hard to read out of context, but you get a good intro to article in this issue as well as a broad swath of a lot of cultural studies theory that is just now being productively mobilized to get at issues of race in fantasy media contexts.  There are some gaps; you get a sense that "Racefail '09" involved a lot of people, but it's hard to tell exactly what motivated them or what they did; then again, cultural events that are an "imbroglio" is by definition tough to do.  Still the cases of whitewashing are interesting specifics to visit, and the range from Avatar the Last Airbender to World of Warcraft makes this a fine touchstone piece.

JM, thanks for the heads up!

when I'm not reading, I notice that it's fall

I started taking pictures on trips and of special events, as people do, but then awhile back noticed that I could create desktop art for myself from my walks and adventures.  Here's some of what I found outside yesterday at my house, just me and my camera:

The one of pine needles shows where the squirrels are stashing stuff for winter.  It takes a lot to get through winter, and it's certainly a perennial midwestern metaphor.

national book award

Loving the diversity of this honored group of authors!


I've just requested Inside Out and Back Again by Lai, the young people's winner, from the library.  That plus a few recent YA novel to come.

a handful of young adult novels

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler 

It's 1996, and when Emma gets a computer, something weird happens.  Within her AOL account she finds a strange place called Facebook.  In it, there's a page showing that she is fifteen years older and in trouble.  So, along with her neighbor and lifelong friend Josh, she starts to change the future, to write a better ending for herself. And things really begin to change.  She and Josh have been estranged ever since he tried to kiss her a few months back, and of course that changes dramatically.  Josh is perfectly happy with his future, but when Emma changes hers it impacts his as well and causes renewed tensions in their relationship.  Somehow, Asher and Mackler manage to stay on the relatively light side of how decisions today impact one's fate tomorrow, and it makes for a fun and engaging read.

Although marketed to young adults, this is a book best suited for my generation, for people who came of age in the 90s or so and and are in their 30s now-ish, who will get the AOL and scrunchie jokes.  (I got this one as a galley, so it may not be released yet.)

Fire by Kristin Cashore

I thought Graceling was a feminist novel, but Fire takes it to the next level, engaging directly with the female experience of being looked at and insatiably hungered for without regard to one's inner being.  Fire is the name of the only human monster known in a world where there are monsters of every species.  Monsters are visibly different from others of their kind.  Fire is marked by the radiantly bright colors of her hair, which she must keep covered to keep from being devoured by other monster creatures, who crave monster flesh like nothing else.  As a human, however, other humans are quick to spot her even if her hair is covered, and since she's the only daughter of Cansrel who was notorious for debauchery and cruelty, she is exposed almost everywhere she goes.  In addition to mesmerizing physical beauty, monsters also have the ability to control minds, and although Fire shies away from this ability after seeing her own father exploit others endlessly, she is treated with suspicion everywhere she goes.  And she goes many places, after a mysterious archer attempts to kill her, and the attempt to solve this mystery sweeps her into kingdom-wide politics.  Recommended without reservations, even if you don't get the feminist metaphors.  It's a fantastic fantasy story and quite adult.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Lai just won the children's national book award with this free-verse novel about life in Vietnam, fleeing from the Vietnam civil war, and landing in Alabama where she is teased, ostracized, and feels "stupid." She's not, though, and she fights her way through learning English with all its absurdities.  The most poignant part (spoiler) is when her family finally lets go of the hope that her father, missing these 9 years in war, will come back to them alive.  This is a brief but beautiful book detailing the life of a Vietnamese family who is displaced suddenly through the eyes of sensitive protagonist Ha.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This starts as realistic fiction, but then becomes a dystopian novel.  When as asteroid of unprecedented size hits the moon, the immediate effects are dramatic:  part of the moon is knocked off, the moon is closer to earth, and the tides are out of whack.  Miranda lives in rural Pennsylvania, so she is emotionally rather than physically affected by the loss of huge chunks of both the east and west coasts.  Masses of people are dying, and Miranda is slow to understand how it impacts her.  At first, summer goes on as usual.  But then the infrastructure of power breaks down.  As it gets colder, heat breaks down, although fortunately they have a woodstove.  Miranda's mother thought to stock up on food, but even that becomes scarce.  This is a well-told what-if story that would be eye-opening to young Americans who have never stopped to think about how fortunate, protected, and deeply vulnerable they really are.

explicit instruction in the culture of power

Professor Emeritus Chip Bruce wrote/compilled the following graduate student survival guide awhile back, in 2008, but it's relevant again thanks to another engaging discussion at the Reading Around Race group today (Thanks to Sharon Irish for pointing Chip's blog post out to me!):


The discussion centered around two articles that I selected as early works of two major scholars on race and education, Lisa Delpit and Beverly Daniels Tatum.  Delpit in particular pointed out in her 1988 article in the Harvard Educational Review that there's a real need for direct instruction in how to engage with academic institutions as a student and attain the highest levels of success.  As she put it:  "If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier."  When issues of race are at hand, it's worth remembering that students deserve direct instruction in how to gain power.      

Delpit, Lisa.  "The Silenced Dialogue:  Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children."  Harvard Educational Review 53:3, August 1988.

The other article dealt explicitly with how to deal with varying levels of fluency with or development in talking about and/or dealing respectfully with race as a concept.  Being able to speak respectfully came up as key for all of us who are instructors, for ourselves and perhaps even moreso for our students.  Our students of color have been silenced over and over again.  But just wanting one's classroom not to be a place where that happens again is simply not enough.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel.  "Talking About Race, Learning About Racism:  The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom."  Harvard Educational Review 62:1, Spring 1992.  

My favorite Tatum quote was from the last paragraph:

     "It has become painfully clear on many college campuses across the United States that we cannot have successfully multiracial campuses without talking about race and learning about racism.  Providing a forum where this discussion can take place safely over a semester, a time period that allows personal and group development to unfold in ways that day-long or weekend programs do not, may be among the most proactive learning opportunities an institution can provide."

That was back in 1992.  I was in college then, trying to figure out why my study of feminist theory had to be an independent study and why so few women of color were represented in any of our assigned readings.  Looking back, I wondered at the time why, in my philosophy of science class, the one woman that we read--and whose critical work made immediate sense to me, unlike the rest of our readings--was the subject of critique by the professor.  Now, here in 2011 (almost 2012!) it is perhaps as hard as ever, or maybe hard, to talk about race, gender, and class.  As one of our reading group participants pointed out, the retreat from multiculturalism at the K-12 level in favor of standardized testing means that some of our students are coming up to graduate level education without having had any meaningful conversations about race.

So.  We start where we are, and dig in.

The First R

The First R:  How Children Learn Race and Racism by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin

Ausdale and Feagin together do a nuanced job of analyzing interactions among young children related to racial identity, showing that children as young as three years old see how racism operates in their worlds.  They show how these children learn to avoid the topic of race around adults, just as adult avoid the topic around them.  And yet young children are willing and able to engage in discussions of race among themselves, as long as they are outside of the earshot of adult authorities.  They find that white children will be insistent about regulating how black children define themselves, looking at an example of an African-American girl who chose to represent her skin color with both brown and pink paint, which was met with vocal protest from several White girls.  The African-American girl, however, was painting an image of both sides of her hands, and so defied the typical self-representation system of skin color by taking a more detailed approach to representing herself (pgs 58-62).    That is just a snippet of this book that will be of great interest to anyone hoping to theorize preschool social behavior.  

Two recent blog posts from Coloring Between the Lines related to this:


CCB Brownbag Recap: Fantasy and Race

On Thursday 11/3, I gave a Brown Bag presentation on Fantasy and Race.  This interest stems from at least two directions.  One of those is the relative lack of authors of color writing fantasy literature for youth as well as character of color represented as more than tokens in fantasy and sci fi.  A big shout-out is in order here to the ways that former students have called that syllabus out for these big gaps.

So I used the word "represented" above, and it the idea of "representation" that was key to my talk yesterday.  I take it as a given that youth advocates, librarians among them, want youth to know that they belong in all things literature, literacy, and library-related.  One way to assure this is to be sure that racially and ethnically diverse authors and characters are represented in library collections and if you're reading my blog at all you probably ascribe this notion as a fundamentally good idea in library services.  Of course there are limits of the publishing world as well as of what authors write in the first place.

But, when we're talking about fantasy, the idea of representing race takes on two intersecting dimensions.  The first is, as discussed above, representing real people in fantasy books, racial and ethnic groups that constitute lived identities, whether chosen or foisted upon us.  Renowned authors writing this type of representation of African American people are Octavia Butler (for adults), Virginia Hamilton (for children and young adults) and some works by Julius Lester (mostly for children).

The other kind of representation of race is the representation of imagined races that may or may not correlate to any lived human identities.  So good old J. R. Tolkein comes to mind, representing hobbits, dwarves, elves, and humans working together.  Although orcs and trolls are another story.  At any rate, in that kind of case, and there are many examples in children's literature of animal fantasies that work this way, race operates as an imagined aspect of a world.  Part of the narrator's world-building work is to make it clear what is going on between and among groups of people defined by characteristics that, basically, add up to various fantasy versions of what operates in our society as "race."  (Though that, too is a kind of fantasy, but one backed up by the U. S. Census, among other things).

At my talk yesterday, I tried to give some sense of the books I was presenting in terms of how they represent.  The two categories are not entirely distinct, and in some cases they overlap in ways that trouble the distinction itself.  That's okay with me, but just a heads up to readers that I know this isn't an iron clad binary.  But I do think it gets at some of what is complex about thinking about fantasy and race in the first place.  So now you enter the book-talk-like part of this blog entry, although I can't really recreate the face-to-face booktalking without making this waaaay too long.  So I'm going to be brief, and just give the salient aspects of each title in relation to representations of real or imaginary racial identities.

Books Representing Real People in Imagined Situations

  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
  • The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton
  • Time's Memory by Julius Lester
  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

That's the quick list.  Now I'll do a little title-by-title description of who is represented and how...

Akata Witch:  Perhaps the most inventive of the real people representations.  Set in Nigeria, the four children who come together to learn magic and fight evil are, respectively: Orlu, an African boy; Chichi, an African girl; central protagonist Sunny, an Albino African girl who has lived in the United States until recently; and Sasha, an African-American boy who has been sent over to Nigeria to clean up his act.  Sunny's emotional journey is central here, and part of that journey is her frustration over how she is treated because of her lack of pigmentation.  She knows she is African, but she is constantly teased by other kids for being "white."  This is probably the most complex representation of race as a lived experience and as a range of social constructs that I've yet seen in a book of fantasy or science fiction for young people.

Skeleton Man:  The main character is a contemporary Native American girl, whose father comes from the Mohawk Reserve of Akwesasne, and the story of the "skeleton monster" features heavily in the themes of the book.  Spooky events ensue.

The House of Dies Drear:  The main character is a contemporary African-American boy whose family has just moved to Ohio to an old and mysterious house that was once a major stop on the Underground Railroad.  Creepy events ensue, with both supernatural and everyday social conflicts.

Time's Memory:  I keep describing this as Beloved for 5th Graders.  It's really for high school and up.  Lester starts from a disaffected slave ship captain's perspective, moves to an African woman that he rescues, and then follows the journeys of an African spirit who has come over to America in her belly to try to heal the wounds that slavery is creating.  Beautifully written, if requiring suspension of disbelief at a higher level than most YA books.

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm:  Unlike the above authors who represent groups of which they are part, Farmer is white.  She lived in Africa and did do solid research for this futuristic Zimbabwe depiction, complete with privileged children who move outside of their comfort zone and are almost trapped in a village that tries to recreate the past.  At the talk, I described my complex sense of the importance of paying attention to who writes what by asking *how* they come to know what they write about.  I can't champion only representative authors writing about whole imagined futuristic countries any more than I can defend anybody writing about just anything.  Each situation deserves careful examination for how the author came by the cultural knowledge they represent in their fiction.

Magic or Madness:  This one is possibly the most problematic of the bunch, but an interesting problem.  Reason's father is characterized only by his absence and his Australian Aboriginal origins.  Reason's biracial identity is not deeply developed, and the significance of her father's ancestry is, in great part, that it is from outside her mother's family's realm of magical control.  Reason's "otherness" becomes vital when she learns that her mother's family is magic, but in a way that can lead to madness, and provides symbolic hope that she may escape the family curse.  This race-as-other trope appears in lots of cheesy ways in fiction for young people, and while this is less cheesy than some I've seen, it's still worth thinking about critically.

Books Representing Imagined Races (that may function as metaphors for real people or the power relations they inhabit)

  • Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott
  • Black & White (previously published as Naughts and Crosses) by Malorie Blackman
  • City of Fire by Laurence Yep
  • Dust City by Robert Weston
  • Voices by Ursula Le Guin

Watersmeet:  this has become my favorite of the imagined-race-society books, simply because it tackles both human skin-color-based racism *and* races of dwarves and centaurs too.  Abisina's mother is a healer in a Vranian village, Vranians being obsessed with light skin and light eyes.  Abisina herself is biracial, and has only survived to her teens because of her mother's local power and outsider nature as a healer.  When racial violence comes to the village yet again, Abisina barely escapes.  She is grudgingly  rescued by a Dwarf, who hates humans generally but listens to his grandmother's more accepting views.  They travel together to Watersmeet, where Abisina finds that her darker-skinned father is a leader of this place where the barriers between all the races have been overcome and led to a place of refuge and peace.  However, Abisina, who was attacked by Centaurs on her journey, is utterly overcome by the idea that Centaurs roam free here, and has to overcome internalized racism.  Especially when her father turns out to be a Centaur in disguise.  This book may be overly simplistic in its good-versus-evil battle at the end, but the emotional world that Abisina inhabits is convincing.

Black and White:  Imagine a world in which black-skinned people ruled over white-skinned slaves for hundreds of years, and the white-skinned people are only now beginning to achieve the right to schooling.  This is the world in which wealthy black-skinned Sephy falls in love with white-skinned Callum, the son of her family's maid.  This simple reversal does amazing things in making the reader have to rethink again and again the tropes of racism in our contemporary society.  It's an effective reversal for disrupting the usual metaphors that operate around "black" and "white."

City of Fire:  Main character Scirye comes from "an area where many cultures and people had mingled," and her ancestry is defined by a tradition of fierce women warriors, one of whom Scirye is in training to become.  Yep sets this in a steam-punk-like imagined 1941, and dragons and other mythical creatures appear throughout the story, making references to Norse, Hawaiian, and other mythologies.  Although he borrows from real people, Yep is creating a fusion fantasy that draws from too many different traditions to map into any one group of real people.

Dust City:  The characters here are wolves, foxes, ravens, and hominids, and it hasn't escaped the notice of the animalia that the hominids always have all the good luck.  Henry is a wolf, the son of the famous Big Bad Wolf, and his life in the Home for Wayward Wolves is really little better than being in prison.  When he begins to investigate the real story behind his father's arrest, he stumbles across a murder victim, and flees rather than stay and explain that he didn't do it.  When he does, he runs into the city's seamy underbelly of Dust dealers, and slowly uncovers the truth about fairydust.  This is a lot darker than initial perusal might suggest, with plenty of gore and violence and even one tragic genocide at the frightening resolution of the many mysteries introduced here.  Being a "wolf" operates as a loose but compelling metaphor for race, and in particular for the kinds of prejudices and judicial-and-prison system injustices faced by generations of African-American young men in the United States.

Voices:  One culture has conquered another, and now the dark-skinned Alds rule over the city of Ansul.  Memer is the product of both, as the child of a previous wave of conquering Alds and her own Ansul mother, making her visibly bi-racial in a world defined by tensions between these two imagined races.  

The discussion afterwards was great and wide-ranging, as we talked further about the complexities of representation, including the fact that young people struggling with racism in their lives may not want to read about it in their fantasies.  Then again, maybe they will.  The way that fantasy represents real and imagined races to young readers is certainly an area and an issue that is ripe for more debate, and I can only hope that these descriptions of books are thought provoking and, perhaps, reading-provoking.

this sure looks interesting...


reading in the thick of race

Our reading group, which I help to facilitative every other Friday, is called Reading Around Race.  The "around" here means mobility as opposed to stasis.  But, really, we don't go around any of it, we go through it all, as together as we can be given our different positions in society, life paths, and roles within the university that brings us together.

This week, we read Honma's article "Trippin' Over the Color Line," which is a resounding critique of LIS as a discipline that doesn't acknowledge its own whiteness.  While I can pick at his conflation the academic side of LIS with the ALA (that demonstrate to me that his knowledge of the field is partial, though he is as well-informed critic as any field might hope to have), basically, his argument that silence around whiteness causes trouble in library and information science education and professional work is sound.  I think of the hundreds of local projects that contradict the overall characterization made here, but the overall characterization is not totally off base.

So, if I take seriously that whiteness is the issue, and that I am constructed as a white subject in this society... then what have I missed in my research and teaching?  I've worked on teaching quite a bit, but research has been slow to catch up.  Here's what I see:  while I do touch on race, class, and gender in all of my historical articles about children as readers in the U.S. from 1890-1930, I notice that my method, focusing on surveys or anecdotes collected by librarians or teachers, has some gaps.  Namely, in none of the articles about "Negro" children (from the 1920s) contain *any* quotes from these young children, in striking contrast to the articles about children being "Americanized."  Which really does suggest that the historical trend of creating "whiteness" was at work.  Italian and Jewish children, who were being Americanized and would soon be considered white, are quoted.  Negro children, who were not being Americanized (because they were already American, because of prejudices lingering from slavery, and more reasons no doubt) were not quoted.  And that means I have to do some more reading...

"African American Children's Literature:  The First One Hundred Years" by Violet Harris (who is right here at the U of I!) appeared in Journal of Negro Education in fall 1990.  When I was just starting college.    Harris writes about historical trends and shifts, creating some very useful categories, including the period from 1940-1978 which she calls "The Shift to Assimilation."  (Since my previous study stopped in 1930, I have work to do on this era.)  The valorization of prolific author Arne Bontemps makes me wonder:  what was the reception of Bontemps' work in Horn Book or among established children's literature experts?  Anyhow, the idea of "The Shift to Assimilation" itself raises questions related to the Americanization model that Honma critiques above.

I can raise a lot more questions than answers....  I have questions about why, when May Massee was editing Rebecca Caudill's writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, she suggested that Caudill take out not only The N-Word, but all the references to people who were referred to by that word.  This is another, smaller research project I'm developing.  Which led me to read...

Randall L. Kennedy's article "Who Can Say 'N-----' And Other Considerations" tackles uses of The N-Word, the "nuclear bomb of racial ephithets," and answers by saying that the word itself is flexible in meaning and shouldn't be entirely censored.  And that it should be generally frowned upon, but its speaker should be able to defend his or her use of the word, using example of commedians or African American people speaking among themselves and reclaiming the word (much like "queer" has been reclaimed).  Still, it's a tricky topic, and you'll note I'm not using the word itself in this blog post, because, as a white woman, I don't want to participate even accidentally in the harm caused by racist name-calling.

An interesting blog post, by Emily Bernard (whose book I hope to read soon, about interracial friendships) gives some examples of when she, as an African American female professor, uses the N-word in a classroom situation, as a tool for teaching.  Which, she admits, does sometimes cross from intellectual to emotional ramifications, however hard she strives to keep it entirely intellectual.  She talks honestly about being defended and defensive in ways that are refreshing to read.

And finally, I read Willett's article on "Rifles for Waitie:  Rollins, Riley, and Racism" which is the story of African American librarian Charlemae Rollins urging editor Elizabeth Riley to urge author Harold Keith to change insulting and stereotyped depictions of African Americans in his book Rifles for Waitie, right after it won the Newbery Medal.  Keith changed some things, but kept other characterizations.  Willett points out that Rollins surely had more objections than she raised, but doesn't speculate about the choices Rollins made to such a degree that it's a little unclear whether the reader should think of Rollins as making choices.  Which she most certainly did.  There's also an odd "declaration of no ill intent" (p. 489) that just reads as weird, maybe because Willett is trying to defend Rollins and Riley as "not censors."  Later, Keith is also let off the hook ("should not be construed as overtly racist in intention" p. 493) in a way that, basically, predates the availability of Critical Race Theory as a tool for understanding that the idea of who is "racist" isn't an individual issue but is a social and structural one.   At any rate, Willett's article deals with a similar publishing incident to the one I'm curious about, and so there are all kinds of parallels I'll want to make when I'm writing about Massee and Caudill.

When I raise issues of race with my colleagues, I sometimes watch the discussion stay just this side of contentious and defensive, only because we know and trust each other to have good intentions.  So I need something about intentionality to be there, to assure that we talk at all and don't simply fragment into multiple segregated communities.  But even abstracting it like this is difficult if not impossible.  All I know for sure is:  these topics of race, racism, and the role of whiteness as a hegemonic cover story for racism are very hard to talk about.

in the thick of fall

Radway's article, read but not blogged.  Readings on whiteness, including all of Jensen's book, read but not blogged.  Ranma 1/2 and other texts for the fantasy class, read but not blogged.  I'm tempted to say, YOU try being a children's librarian-untenured professor-researcher-faculty member-storyteller-reading group leader-spouse-mom to an ailing cat...  But then I see this quote, and I realize:  Why explain?
"Life is short, even for those who live a long time, and we must live for the few who know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us, and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence. The rest I look upon as a mere crowd, lively or sad, loyal or corrupt, from whom there is nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions, either pleasant or unpleasant, which leave no trace behind them. We ought to hate very rarely, as it is too fatiguing; remain indifferent to a great deal, forgive often and never forget."
- Sarah Bernhardt

I'll be back to blogging when the maelstrom lets up...

cross-dressing in children's literature

This is a case of, despite having drafted a really serviceable paper in about 2004-2005 and having gotten positive feedback from a major journal on the draft, I'm just wanting to set this project aside.  And so I turn in two books related to it: The Queer Child by Stockton and Ways of Being Male ed. by Stephens (chapter by Flanagan).  I already turned in (but xeroxed the last chapter of) Out of the Closet by Flanagan, which was the main text that the editors referred me to in considering my paper.

So, when I get back to this project (I won't say "if," but it's obviously implied by the relentless rigors of my schedule), here's what I want to do:  a listing paper.  Not English scholarship, but LIS.  An analytic approach that nonetheless really scopes out what has happened in the field in the last however many years.  I'm still very interested in the main premise of the paper:  that children's cross-dressing in children's literature is often accompanied by a strong emphasis on heteronormativity.  You could almost say "disciplined" by (good morning Foucault!), but however you say it, I want to look across multiple books to establish these patterns.  Flanagan's whole book really only takes on a few texts, and The Queer Child looks to be about the same.  It's tough to clear out the old to make space for the new, but the new must come.  And the old must go.

The paper I am focusing on is "Editing Race:  the case of May Massee, Rebecca Caudill, and the "N" word in children's publishing."  With hopes of both ChLA and SHARP this year.  Fingers crossed!

Just for the record, here are abbreviated chapter titles from The Queer ChildOr Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century by Stockton (which, interestingly, cites very few texts from children's literature as sources, but a lot of sources from English canons):

Part 1:  Sideways Relations
1. The Smart Child is the Masochistic Child
2. Why the (Lesbian) Child Requires an Interval of Animal
Part 2:  Sideways Motions
3. What Drives the Sexual Child?
4.  Feeling Like Killing?
Part 3:  Sideways Futures
5. Oedipus Races, or the Child Queered by Color
Conclusion:  Money is the Child's Queer Ride

the everyday life turn

I remember talking in college about "The Linguistic Turn" in academic perspectives that had occurred some 30 years before we got to academia.  These articles/chapters all make me think that perhaps there has since been an "Everyday Life Turn" of equal importance (as Sheringham, below, argues).  From the everyday information behavior of children and tweens to the everyday significance of racial micro-aggressions (more coming soon, as I prep for the second Reading Around Race group), it seems to me that there's something to this argument that the everyday has become at least a major rhetorical part of the direction of research in many disparate fields.

First, here's an example of the kind of "everyday life" research that I often read, related to children and libraries:

"Leisure and Work in Library and Community Programs for Very Young Children" by Roz Stooke and Pamela J. McKenzie (Library Trends 57: 4, Spring 2009)
After observing children in multiple Canadian settings, Stooke and McKenzie come to some intriguing conclusions about the differences between programming approaches from library traditions vs. other traditions.  They draw on feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith for a nuanced definition of "work" as the social order which is the product of coordinated (every day life!) activities.  They spend pages 657-664 on their theoretical underpinnings, while, while all great citations, may belie some concern over the validity of purely observational data.  (I myself have mixed feelings about this as a researcher, but I'm willing to go along with it for the sake of the article.)  They did have fifty observations at eight sites to draw from, so not an insignificant pool of data.
     The most salient findings, from my vantage point, were the differences between the value of language play in library activities (books especially) while only one community program leader that they observed used any books.  Library program leaders also used physical artifacts (puppets, books, feltboards) while community programs used interactive toys at informal times but "only words and gestures" during formal programs.
     This, of course, led me to wonder about what they didn't see from their observations, such as:  what role does storytelling or narrative play in the "words and gestures" programs?  What kinds of literacy are children learning in such environments?  
     They also discussed the importance of inclusivity and the need to avoid overly rigid approaches to programming, noting that "a rigid commitment to any mandated program, however research-based, can function as a barrier to inclusive and ethical practice." (p. 667)  This may be part of why program leaders "presented themselves as friendly elders or peers rather than as experts."  (p. 669)  A strong sense of hierarchy in this kind of environment may inhibit the optimal combination of planning and flexibility that a really good program requires (and deserves).  However, they also brought out some flaws, including that leaders worked to "diminish social gaps between themselves and participants, but tended to ignore social and cultural differences among participants." (p. 671)  Differences like who does or does not have a romantic partner, which cultures people come from (no tofu was served--but meat was--as part of a "healthy foods" program despite the presence of Chinese participants).  Overall, this is an intriguing and well-researched set of snapshots of what programming is today.

Here's the scholar who argues that there's an intellectual tradition hiding in all this...

Everyday Life:  Theories and Practices from Surrealism to the Present, by Michael Sheringham (Oxford, 2006)  
This introduction brought me the idea that, at least in French scholarship, investigations of the "quotidien" or everyday have taken on new prominence since the 1980s.  Sheringham goes on to argue throughout the book that there is a "real tradition rooted in cultural and intellectual history, where the period between 1960 and 1980 is a phase of active, if often invisible, invention, and the period from 1980 to 2000 (and beyond) a phase of practice, variation, and dissemination." (p. 6)  He notes that scholars like Lefebvre and Certeau are frequently cited in Cultural Studies venues, from the visual to the ethnographic. (p. 7)  He goes on to argue for various associations in this tradition, from Certeau back to Lefebvre, and from Lefebvre back to humanist Marxism, to Barthes and Structuralism (to post-structuralism and postmodernism), to Perect and the Oulipo group of literary experimentalists...  it's an interesting intellectual path to explore.
     It won't surprise some of you that I wanted to check out the chapter on Barthes, which he introduces on p. 10 with a succinct but fairly accurate overview of Barthes' work, especially its last phase which he describes as "governed by a renewed vision of subjectivity rooted in affects and pleasures at large in the everyday." (p. 10)  And it was worth it for me, as it would be for scholars of historical trends in scholarship, which is really what this book is about.
      *Cited here and worth exploring:  an article by Rita Felski (scholar of feminism and phenomenology) called "The Invention of Everyday Life" in New Formations, 39 (1999-2000), 15-31.

Here's a theoretical piece that connects some aspects of thought of two rarely juxtaposed "everyday" theorists:

"Theorizing White Consciousness for a Post-Empire World:  Barthes, Fanon, and the Rhetoric of Love" by Chela Sandoval, in Displacing Whiteness, ed. by Ruth Frankenberg
     Sandoval does this really interesting project of unpacking some of Barthes' views of "oppositional consciousness" in Mythologies about theorizing the limits of colonialism, from inside a country that was a major colonial power (France), and comparing those to Fanon's views, from a viewpoint within being colonized by an outside power.  Both scholars, Sandoval argues, are involved in "decolonizing" projects, only Barthes' project is lost in loneliness and, ultimately, in a kind of dispersion of effort amidst the distractions (and pleasures) of the society built on colonizing power.  Sandoval also argues that Fanon, on the other hand, escapes through his allegiance to revolutionary forces and his commitment to transforming the world around him.

For later:  I have Certeau's book The Practice of Everyday Life with its chapter on "reading as poaching," first mentioned in the post about the Ross article a month of so ago.  Need more time to read!

Article Amassment

This post is the first of what I hope will be a regular feature, a quick look through my recent Article Amassment.  Be they print journals or citations emailed me by colleagues, Article Amassment is all about fast skimming/reading a bunch of articles related to some aspect of youth services librarianship and blogging them here.  I expect entries to be more like abstracts or even annotations than summaries, with my own slant, of course.  So here goes, my first ever Article Amassment:

Large, Andrew, et al.  "Developing a Visual Taxonomy:  Children's Views on Aesthetics"  JASIST 60(9): 2009, pp. 1808-1822.
Bring together visualization and usability testing/design, with seven 6th grade young people as collaborators.  Includes children's prototype drawings of taxonomies, and uses them to suggest six aesthetic characteristics that should characterize such browsing interfaces for children, including "maplike metaphor."  They come up with six aesthetic dimensions (from earlier work by Ngo et al. 2003) that are important to consider in children's taxonomies.  It's a bit tough to see the connections from the children's drawings to the aesthetic measures, but it makes for a provocative piece.

"Dramatic Interpretations: Performative Responses of Young Children to Picturebook Read-Alouds." By: Adomat, Donna Sayers. Children's Literature in Education, Sep2010, Vol. 41 Issue 3, p207-221, 15p; DOI: 10.1007/s10583-010-9105-0
This is a qualitative study of young readers' responses to picturebooks.  Uses five kinds of responses, a framework developed in a previous study:
     "Sipe (2008) developed five types of responses that are indicative of five facets of literary understanding. In summary: (1) Analytical responses include discussions of narrative elements, such as plot, setting, characters, theme, style, and use of illustrations; (2) Intertextual responses are the links children make to other books or texts, broadly defined; (3) Personal responses involve connections children make to their own lives or the experiences of others; (4) Transparent responses indicate a deep involvement with the story world; and (5) Performative responses show that children are ‘‘manipulating the story for their own creative purposes’’ (p. 183)."
      The teacher read the story and encouraged participation throughout, and the article focuses on one child's responses, including vocalizations, physical responses, and responses that took on acting out the character's perspective.  Recommended to anyone who wants to see an updated version of The Braid of Literature.  Fun to read!

"Studying" and "Making Sense Of" Tweens
"Making Sense of An Information World:  The Everyday-Life Information Behavior of Pre-Teens" by Eric Meyers et al. in Library Quarterly 79: 3, 301-341.
"Studying the everyday information behavior of tweens: Notes from the field" by the same team:  Eric M. Meyers, Karen E. Fisher, Elizabeth Marcoux, in Library & Information Science Research 29 (2007) 310–33, doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2007.04.011.
       These two articles by Meyers et al. describe the same project, so I'm blogging them together.  Perhaps the most interesting part in both, but especially in the L&ISR piece is the "play-date" format of the data collection time, a "five hour research 'play date' combining social interaction, creative play, and multiple data collection methods" with the hopes of doing research with youth, holding a central service philosophy.  They blended focus groups with other activities to structure a fun and stimulating session, and it sounds like it worked.  They used three locations:  a university, a church, and a school (why not a public library?).   The bulk of the LQ paper, appropriately, is devoted to qualitative findings, written in accessible and descriptive form.  Ending with a section on "Applicability of the Research to Practice:  A Guiding Framework" is very smart, and while the general LQ audience may skim, I'm glad to see a focus on practitioners in this level of research.  This is NSF funded research, and the lit review places it squarely in LIS, which makes this an inspiring set of articles that I'm sharing with doctoral students as I type.

Hughes-Hassell, Sandra et al.  "Through Their Eyes: The Development of Self-Concept in Yount African American Children through Board Books" in Children and Libraries  9:2, p. 36
This is a call for real representation and cultural relevance in board books, with an exceedingly valuable list of good board books to promote and purchase (pp. 40-41).  A few sample authors/titles:  Asim Girl of Mine, Baicker I Can Do It Too!, Hudson Good Morning, Baby, Pinkney, Shake Shake Shake and many more.

Roman, Susan and Carole D. Fiore "Do Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Achievement Gap?" in Children and Libraries 8: 3, p. 27.
In short, yes, but there's more work to do.  Study relies heavily on librarians and teachers, with just one survey for student input, but has the advantage of a timespan of over a year.  But the findings are positive, and the ending call to action is about publicizing these findings and doing more outreach to populations not as well served by public libraries.   

Prendergast, Tess, "Beyond Storytime:  Children's Librarians Collaborating in Communities" Children and Libraries 9:1, p. 20
Describes a Vancouver based program in which librarians go to a variety of sites and serve children at those family service agencies, from specific language groups to addiction recovery and other service sites.  Qualitative evidence of efficacy is given in parents' own words. 

Rothbauer, Pauletter.  "Exploring the Placelessness of Reading Among Older Teens in a Canadian Rural Municipality."  Library Quarterly 79:4, p. 465
Explores "role of reading and libraries" in lives of older teens, with a focus on a particular rural geography.  Based on interviews with 27 young people, and quotes are sprinkled throughout.   Found libraries to be lacking for older teens, defined by what they offered them as younger children.  Discovered large impact of spatial factors:  proximity of reading selections, internet as default reading, public library as childhood space (not for them), lack of time for reading.  "Nonactive teen readers" pose a host of challenges to rural public libraries, and only some of them are listed here.


Lauren Oliver's Delirium follows the months before Lean is scheduled to be cured of deleria, the disease of love.  Everyone goes through it, and society is seemingly peaceful and calm as a result.  No falling in love means no insanity, no wars, no troublesome partner squabbles.  At eighteen, everyone is surgically operated on to remove the part of their brain that can love and matched with a suitable heterosexual partner for life.  And assigned a number of children to have. 

But sometimes it goes wrong, as it did with Lena's mother, on whom the operation was not successful.  Despite four tries, they never did cure her of love.  As a result, Lena grew up first in a household full of love and games, and then, after her mother was said to have committed suicide, in her aunt's cold household, their whole family shamed by the blemish of her mother's failure.

Very slowly (sometimes a bit too slowly for the pace of the story) Lena begins to understand that the world of safety constructed around her is built on a backbone of violence and deception.  She realizes it when she meets Alex, who has the scars of the cure behind his ear, but in fact grew up outside Portland as an Invalid in the Wilds.  And he hasn't been cured at all, and they fall in love.  And she realizes it when she sees her best friend Hana change, suddenly and dramatically, into someone who goes to secret music concerts.

Finally, it all breaks apart when (SPOILER!!) Alex shows her that her own mother was alive this whole time, kept in the endless prison of the Crypts, carving the word "love" over and over into her cell.  And then Lena knows:  she has to leave.  All the safety of her society comes to seem like a cage, and she'll do anything to get out.  Unfortunately, as she and Alex are planning their escape, things get very difficult and it's ultimately impossible to have a grand happy ending.  But the ending is happy in smaller ways.  Lena will survive, intact, and keep her ability to love.

Favorite quotes:

"You may think the past has something to tell you.  You may think that you should listen, should strain to make out its whispers, should bend over backward, stoop down low to hear its voice breathed up from the ground, from the dead places. [...] But I know the truth:  [...] I know the past will drag you backward and down, have you snatching at whispers of wind adn the gibberish of trees rubbing together, trying to decipher some code, trying to piece together what was broken.  It's hopelss,  The past is nothing but a weight.  It will build inside of you like a stone."   (p. 176)

"One of the strangest things about life is that it will chug on, blind and oblivious, even as your private world--your little carved-out sphere--is twisting and morphing, even breaking apart.  One day you have parents; the next day you're an orphan.  One day you have a place and a path.  The next day you're lost in a wilderness.
     And still the sun rises and clouds mass and drift and people shop for groceries and toilets flush and blinds go up and down.  That's when you realize that most of it--life, the relentless mechanism of existing--isn't about you.  It doesn't include you at all.  It will thrust onward even after you've jumped the edge.  Even after you're dead."  (p. 303)

job hunting advice

Personally, I like to read websites or blogs about a sequence of events.  With a beginning, middle, and end.  Oh, that sounds a bit like narrative, doesn't it!  Funny how story creeps up as a defining element of all that I'm into even when I don't think it's the main point.

So this blog, http://modernhypatia.info/2011/08/job-hunt-index/, is all about a particular person's job hunt in librarianship, but written in ways that so many folks will recognize.  I personally know several people, most of them recent former students, who are finding the same stories of successes and pitfalls.  It's out of season for our semester cycle, but well worth reading if you'll be job hunting as a librarian or information professional of any sort in the next year.

just listen

Sarah Dessen has a steady hand at writing emotionally involving YA books with female protagonists.  Her stories are usually about coming of age in one way or another, and this story is about Annabel Greene, whose two sisters have been in so much trouble lately (one nearly dying from anorexia) that she has stuffed her own problems deep out of sight.  Problems like the fact that she was raped by her best friend's boyfriend last summer, and her best friend Sophie dumped her over it because she blamed Annabel for being a "slut."  Now school has started, but Annabel still hasn't told a soul what really happened, and endures Sophie's stream of verbal abuse in silence and alone.  Until, one day, she starts to really talk to the guy who also sits alone at lunch.  Their friendship blossoms into romance, but then screeches to a halt when Annabel goes into total shut-down mode and can't tell him why she's so upset.  It's many things, but the main one is that Sophie's new best friend Emily was also attacked by her creepy boyfriend but has told the police and is pressing charges.

There's a history of friend-dumping behind this story... Sophie dumped Annabel, but back when Sophie first moved to town Annabel dumped her then life-long best friend Clarke for Sophie.  But Clarke begins to reach out to Annabel, and Emily makes a shrewd guess about what happened and approaches her as well.  Annabel stays silent for awhile, but she watches Clarke and Emily with their new friends.  Emily especially, with her seemingly unshakable confidence, makes an impression on Annabel.  So Annabel finally reaches out to Owen, and then to her family.  They rally, the trial is a success (Sophie's ex is put behind bars), and Annabel really begins to move on.  She even considers reaching out to Sophie, but all the time she has had to reflect makes her realize that this particular bridge isn't hers to mend.  As Owen said, if people close to you can't get over being upset with you then "'...maybe you weren't as close with them as you thought. 
     'Meaning what?'
     'Meaning that if someone is really close with you, your getting upset or them getting upset is okay, and they don't change because of it.  It's just part of the relationship.  It happens.  You deal with it.'
     'You deal with it,' I said.  'I wouldn't even know how to do that.'
     'Well, that makes sense,' he said.  'Considering you never let it happen in the first place.'" (p. 151)

Dessen is a go-to author for me for good reads during busy times.  I'd recommend her work generally, and while some of her books have won awards, I find them all to be similar enough in tone that, if you like one, you generally like them all. 


And speaking of reading in general, I came across this press release about a study by Shira Gabriel at SUNY Buffalo that shows that readers identify with characters like vampires and wizards.  It suggests that readers feel such a sense of belonging when they are reading that the experience actually alters their self-image somewhat, making them feel like the characters they read about.  I don't seem to have full-text access to the article itself (quick searching goes back to 2009 for recent articles in Psychological Science) so I'll have to wait to read that.  But it's an interesting tidbit, and makes me think of some blog post this past year when I wrote about my own sense of belonging that comes from reading fiction or, in some cases, memoir.

Author Shel Silverstein and persona Uncle Shelby

Joseph T. Thomas Jr. has finally written the article I've been curious to read for ages.  Though it is certainly part celebrity gossip, Thomas' "A Speculative Account (with Notes) of the Development and Initial Deployment of Shel Silverstein's Persona, Uncle Shelby, with Special Care to Articulate the Relationship of Said Persona to the Question of Shel's Ambiguous Audience(s)" finally makes a coherent connection between Silverstein's work for Playboy magazine and his writing for children.  Thomas focuses extensively on the satirical (and very funny) book Uncle Shelby's ABZs, which is a spoof on alphabet books, where the joke is on the absent gullible child who would follow instructions like, for instance, giving daddy a haircut while he sleeps on the couch or eating the paper in the book because it claims to be made of candy.  But any present reader who would persist with the book and not simply abandon it in complete puzzlement would be a child sophisticated enough to laugh at the ways that adults routinely manipulate children.

And I bring this up because that sense of the savvy child reader is underemphasized in this article.  That said, the adult Playboy reader has not been taken enough into account.  Thomas makes a compelling argument that the persona of Uncle Shelby was a production in itself, and the deliberate obfuscation of Silverstein's own identity behind that person was part of the production not only of the author's celebrity, but of the books.  In famously difficult interviews with Silverstein, he responded to questions about why he shaved his head with statements like "I don't talk about my head."  Evasive, sly, humorous, the only thing that can be said for certain is that Uncle Shelby is subversive.  And yet his parody of sincere language is not entirely insincere either, as we see from his later books.

This piece focuses almost exclusively on Playboy and Silverstein's early books, ABZs and Lafcadio the Lion Who Shot Back.  I find it interesting to speculate about the persona of Silverstein/Uncle Shelby in or on the other books, jacket flap pictures and text, etc.  This is possibly because I was alternately disturbed and fascinated by the pictures of Silverstein as a child, sitting glowering, barefoot, and with the neck of what appeared to be a guitar propped in his hands.  He was as mysterious as one's childhood uncles often are, both affable and very remote.

I'd recommend the article, with the caveat that if you're a hardcore children's lit scholar, this falls somewhere between scholarship and an in-depth Playboy interview.  But it's worth it, so I'd say put aside stylistic issues on the writing (which you can infer from the title) and dig into an interesting analysis of how the author isn't dead after all.

from Children's Literature Association Quarterly  spring 2011, v36, n1, pp 25-46

collaboration, diversity, and metaphors of reading (in LIS)

Just finished reading two articles from JELIS and one from Library Trends:

1) "Finding that Special Someone:  Interdisciplinary Collaboration in an Academic Context" by Gunawardena, Weber, and (my wonderful colleague and ALISE Youth Services co-chair with me this year) Denise Agosto.  This exploration and literature review of models of collaboration is a good thought piece, with real highlights in the two tables.  The material here comes from several disciplines, and these authors synthesize it well.  The first table compares three kinds of connections along a spectrum:  coordination, cooperation, and collaboration, looking at how issues like authority and rewards vary along this spectrum.  True collaboration requires deep sharing, of authority and rewards, in mutually beneficial actions.  Table two lists types of research:  multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and trans-disciplinary, having to do with how the methods and perspectives of two or more disciplines come into play in a project.  This article won't tell you whether or not to collaborate, but it will suggest issues to consider if you do.  [Fall, October 2010, 51:4, 210]

2)  "Diversity and LIS Education:  Inclusion and the Age of Information" by Paul T. Jaeger (fellow New College alum) and Bertot is a call to action, with two specific exemplar program suggestions, for building diversity into the LIS curriculum.  The most significant point I read here was on p. 169, where they point out that diversity approaches have typically focused on the *people* (students, faculty) rather than on the content of the *curriculum*.  "...[E]ducational initiatives have focused on trying to increase the presence of underrepresented, disadvantaged, and underserved groups without changing the curriculum to better reflect the needs of these groups or to prepare all librarians to be culturally competent." (169)  This is true, and this is exactly what our school is working on at this very moment.  It's a strong and important call to arms, and one that I hope will be met.  I wished slightly that the authors had brought out more of the pressing intellectual reasons for including diversity in the curriculum, and I also think about the ways that Critical Race Theory poses significant challenges to "business as usual" in any academic context.  [summer, July 2011, v52 n3]

And the one from LT, by one of my all-time favorite LIS researchers and writers:

"Reader on Top:  Public Libraries, Pleasure Reading, and Models of Reading" by Catherine Sheldrick Ross.  What I love about Ross' work is that she's always seeing the underlying metaphors that guide the work of libraries and librarians.  Here she calls them "competing metaphors" (633) used to describe the reading experience.  From various fields, she identifies the following orientations to reading, each of which suggests a particular set of configurations of the "power of the text, the role of the reader, and the effect on the reader of what is read." They are:
  • "Reading with a Purpose" (the argument for public libraries as educational, popular from the 19th century to at least the 1930s, but still relevant today)
  • "Only the Best" (text-centered, related to children's reading in the 20th century, and eschewing series books)
  • "The Great Debate" (in education, between "code-emphasis" decoding skills and whole-language "meaning-emphasis" and implying competing research methodologies:  experiments vs. ethnographic observation)
  • The Reader as Dupe (from cultural studies, "An odd feature of this model is the way it silences the class whose interests it claims to promote." (p. 647))
  • The Reader as Poacher (from Michael de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, emphasizing that "readers take back a degree of power from texts by finding nooks and crannies of resistance" (p. 648))
  • Blueprints for Living (from Oprah and many other who look to reading as personally transformative of the "mind and heart," "books as a source of models for living, examples to follow, or rules to live by" (p. 649))
  • The Reader as Game Player (from books like Johnson's recent Everything Bad is Good for You, which emphasizes that popular culture, from movies to games, is a "cognitive workout" involving complex codes that require practice to "play" effectively, and puts the reader entirely in charge)
With three citations and possibly a project idea emerging from this article, I feel both excited and mildly exhausted after reading it!  Like the best academic writing, this utterly stimulated my researcher brain with nearly every paragraph.  Oodles of notes to follow up on, and still one more article in this issue of Library Trends to read!  [this one:  Library Trends, issue title "Pleasurable Pursuits:  Leisure and LIS Research, editors Crystal Fulton and Ruth Vondracek, 57: 4, Spring 2009]

[p. 635 also has a list of "trashy" romances that might be worth reading on vacation.  hee hee.]

pomegranates and letting go

Mother Sue Monk Kidd (author of The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and The Secret Life of Bees) and daughter Ann Kidd Taylor team up in Traveling with Pomegranates.  It's odd to imagine a travel memoir about women's spirituality (and representations of women in spiritual traditions) being something that could come from two authors' viewpoints in alternating chapters, but it works beautifully.  Though occasionally I was distracted by imagining the editing to make it so, most of the time I was immersed in their two complementary journeys.  Sue is transitioning into an acceptance of old age as she turns 50, and Ann is transitioning into adulthood in her 20s.

As they travel to Greece and France and in their home lives as well, both are delving deep into what makes them who they are.  After college and breaking up with her fiance, Ann is discovering the triadic symbolism of Athena, Joan of Arc, and Mary as the iconic women who inspire her to be true to herself.  Sue is looking at images of Mary as not only the mother of Jesus, but also as the hag, the crone, the old woman who lived long past the famous manger scene and into old age.  Her reading of Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror is astonishing, seeing "The aging mother reaching for her own grown daughter.  The way she tries to make a lap for her younger self."  (p. 151)  She describes the "ricochet" of the feeling that deep knowledge of mortality brings (p. 163), and how "One day I will have to forgive life for ending." (p. 169)  She describes the feeling of sending off part of a novel:  "...I should lay down my ego and let happen what will happen.  It is just life.  It's time to settle more fully into my own condensed truth and find my strength and boldness in that." (p. 215)  She feels "the curse of my own introspective nature, and its obstinate demands, how it wants to be allowed, wants my unhurried and undivided attention, how the moments of life insist on being metabolized and given expression." (p. 218)

Sue Monk Kidd has gift of making the long arc of life seem like a dance, but Ann Kidd Taylor is pretty good herself at capturing the raw honesty of a 20-something in search of meaning.  Along the way, Sue further embraces her mother and the Hestia-like goddess of the hearth that she has always been, while coming to accept herself and her own ambitions as a writer.  And Ann finds her vocation as a writer, at least for now, though impending motherhood and all of life could change anything.  Here's hoping for more books from her.  She pointed me to this beautiful quotation from the poem Sweet Darkness by David Whyte:  "Give up all the other worlds/except the one to which you belong."  The poem continues and concludes:

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong. 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Mother-daughter relationships can be a fraught subject, and there are moments of tension.  But it's a joy to read about Sue refraining from invading Ann's private world, even when she knows something is wrong, out of respect for the young woman that Ann is becoming and needs to become on her own terms (p 118).  It's good to see Ann becoming herself while seeing her own mother more fully.  It's a delight to image the three-generation trip of grandmother, mother, daughter that ensues.

Ultimately, this is a book about peace between the generations.  One need not have experienced that joy in one's own family to appreciate it in written form.  In fact, I think there should be a special word for taking joy in someone else having what you cannot or have not chosen.  The opposite of jealousy.  Jealousy-free joy for someone else's delightful path.  That's what this book inspired, for me.

I spend longer than I wish to on the simple task of letting go of expectations about how I thought "now" would be, back when "now" was still "then," in the future.  It's hard to inhabit now when I'm doing this.  Yet, of course, that also is what's now, whenever it's happening.  So here I am, letting go of the true last of the summer memoirs...

Cherry by Mary Karr is a follow-up to The Liar's Club, and I know I want to read it sometime, because it's about her adolescence.  The Liar's Club was amazing.

The Stations of Solitude by Alice Koller looks good except for its insistence on stripping oneself of all social contact in order to achieve "real" solitude.  Her earlier memoir, An Unknown Woman, might be better, as it seems to be what brought her acclaim and is about post-phd uncertainty and wandering.

Too Late to Die Young by Harriet McBride Johnson is about a muscular dystrophy survivor who has, against the odds, lived to have a full adult life and become a renowned disabilities activist.  Her voice and spirit shine in the first chapter.

last of the summer memoirs

I'm sure these won't be the last memoirs I read, but they are for this summer, because school is starting!  With a fresh year before me, I'm planning to be back at semi-weekly meetings for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.  It's the first time back in several years, and I'm looking forward to being once again immersed in rowdy and highly informed (and opinionated!) conversations with my colleagues in academia and children's librarianship.  I first came to the Bulletin in 1997, so those review meetings at the big long tables are sort of like family dinners to me, with people who have become my dear friends as well as aunts I'm fond of and a new crop of cousins every year.  So all this is to say that, after the last of the summer memoirs, I expect I'll be back to full-on children's and young adult lit for many months to come. 

The memoir I'm Proud of You:  My Friendship with Mr. Rogers by Tim Madigan, Mr. Rogers makes a point that sounds a lot like my previous post about Brene Brown's work:  "anything mentionable is manageable."  When life is moving at breakneck speed, during times of crisis or transition, it can seem like there will never be time enough to manage it all nor even to mention it all.  Madigan shares a traditional Arabian proverb that Fred Rogers shared with him as their friendship developed in correspondence:
A friend is one to whom one may pour
Out all the contents of one's heart,
Chaff and grain together,
Knowing that the gentlest of hands
Will take and sift it,
Keep what is worth keeping and,
With a breath of kindness,
Blow the rest away. (p. 82)
That's what Madigan and Rogers create, as the real-life Mr. Rogers coaches and supports Madigan through a nearly devastating crisis in his marriage.  This is a tender story of a grown man coming to be in touch with his feelings.  It's also the story of the later years of Mr. Rogers, whose kindness was the real deal.

This next book is both silly and searingly honest.  I'm the One That I Want by Margaret Cho is her memoir of coming to be a successful comic, forged in the fires of painful stand-up flops and a failed t.v. show.  It's comedy, yes, but Cho's life has had its bleak moments.  She finds ways to laugh, and so the reader does as well, but it's an intensely emotional ride.  And I love this kind of raw honesty. She tells the story of failing out of high school twice.  She talks about the joys of being a "fag hag" and the gay men she has loved, in addition to harrowing tales of dungeons, drag queens, and a whole lotta drugs.  Cho also gets deep into struggles with Korean journalists whom she in equal parts expects to support her and despises when they don't, all through a lens of hard-won understanding that neither she nor they could be expected to "represent" an entire people to each other.  Favorite quotes include...

When she finally ditches the boyfriend who was just no good to her:
"I had, for once, stood up for myself and stuck to what I knew was best for me, even though I wanted to please Bob and not be the bad guy.  I did not stop laughing for a long time." (p. 62)

On trying to find love and acceptance outside of yourself first:
"I thought if I could get the job, get noticed, maybe even become a star, then I would stop hating myself, and adore me just like the rest of the world.  Self-love doesn't work like that.  Life doesn't work like that.  [...]  I think we all have our own messages, the tapes that play over and over in our minds, that weaken us, that desecrate the holines sof our lives, that come disguised as a way to motivate ourselves, when really they are all about self-sabotage. [...] Let's not hate ourselves.  We are all we have.  We cannot change anything until we accept that." (p. 90-91)

On people being stupid:
"People are stupid and will say what they say.  It's not just [physical] weight [issues] either.  It's everything.  The challenge is learning not to give them the power to dictate how I will feel about myself.  Learning how to love myself from within, to make my opinion count the most, knowing that no one and nothing is going to save me except myself--these are the lessons I have been forced to learn.  That is what my life now is all about." (p. 207)

Those are my favorites, but believe me when I tell you that much of the joy is in the more raw moments that the ones I've quoted here.  Strong women with fierce voices occupying the celebrity stage are still a rarity in our odd entertainment culture.  I hope Cho takes the stage over and over again.

The last couple of years I haven't posted as much as I before that stressful time.  But these days the reading energy and creativity are back!  Stay tuned for posts about recent articles related to gender issues in children's literature, the history of children as readers, great new resources for youth services librarians, and a smattering of general-interest LIS-related pieces.  It's going to be a great year.  Best wishes to all those who go back to school, as students or otherwise, in the next few weeks!

social work and authenticity

I read pretty widely, and, unless I'm honed in on investigating a research project, my tastes are free range.  Like the best chickens, my reading brain will at least peck at whatever looks tasty.  So a PBS special on "The Gifts of Imperfection" led me to Brene Brown's work (her blog is called Ordinary Courage), interesting in part because she has a Ph.D. in social work.  And, since I'm teaching a new class called Youth Services Community Engagement this fall and drawing on some social work research, it seemed right to pursue the threads a little further.  So I found the textbook, Contemporary Human Behavior Theory (2nd ed) that holds a summary of Brown's research work.   Which is based on interview after interview with women (though recently men have factored in as well) and is formalized as Shame Resilience Theory.

The theory goes a little something like this:  depending on your place in life, your social support, and a host of other internal and external factors, you are more or less resilient to an episode of shame.  This might be an internal overreaction or it might be a public humiliation, characterized by the burning sense of personal unworthiness, rejection, or lack of belonging.  Same things apply in any case to come out of it:  1) "ability to recognize and accept personal vulnerability," 2) "level of critical awareness regarding social-cultural expectations," 3) "ability to develop mutually empathic connections with others, and 4) "ability to 'speak shame'" by which Brown means the emotional vocabulary to name what's happening to us (emphasis added).  As another researcher notes, "women's sense of self and of worth is most often grounded in the ability to make and maintain relationships." (p. 230-232)  There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and some women thrive on work or on one deep relationship.  But many women--I'd guess many people, certainly many of the children we serve in libraries and other institutions--thrive when they can celebrate the network of long and short, deep and shallow, casual and serious relationships and their place in it as someone who, as Brown says, belongs

This is a social work textbook, and I'd ultimately recommend skimming Brown's blog over the few pages in this text, but there are a few books and articles cited and recommended in the back that I list here for future perusal.  Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a familiar title to me, but I'd like to re-read it in light of thinking about shame and the role it plays in adults and child lives.  Articles of interest by L. M. Guitierrez include: "Empowerment and the Latino community:  Does consciousness make a difference:" and "Working with women of color: An empowerment perspective" and finally "Understanding the empowerment process:  Does consciousness make a difference?"  I'm guessing these might explore the difference/relationship between thinking and acting, and I'm curious.  I'm also curious about bell hooks' article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about "Learning in the shadow of race and class."  And the book by J. B. Miller and I. P. Stiver from 1997, The healing connection:  How women form relationships in therapy and life.  

vacation reading

I don't know why I actively avoided reading Bossypants by Tina Fey for so long.  Maybe, like your average high-school-aged person, I shrank away because it just seemed too popular.  But it's a memoir!  And it's funny!  And Mean Girls remains one of my favorite ever movies (for whatever that does or doesn't reveal about my twisted mind).  So I read it, and it was worth it.  It's not the best organized memoir ever, but Fey's musings on growing up weird in summer theater programs are totally worth it.  (I've always wanted to do everything, usual at once, and so I read this wistfully wishing that I had been a summer theater program kid.  It's like my periodic longing to have been born Joni Mitchell instead of, well, you know, me with moderate guitar-playing abilities.)  And so are her feminist observations on the impossibilities of women's fashion, totally worth it.  I laughed out loud at her impeccable use of the word "asshat" and, frankly, have still been laughing for days.  I can't explain it, quotes won't do it justice, as comedy is never as funny the second time around.  So just go read it already!

Also read by beautiful Lake Michigan in Chicago this past week:  Radio Shangri-La:  What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli.  Interesting memoir about a woman who is a successful professional journalist for NPR, but is nonetheless harboring the usual mid-life doubts (did I take the right path?  do enough?  create the right family, or not?) and struggling to find what it means to her to be happy.  When she is asked to be a radio consultant in the country of Bhutan.  Bhutan is a tiny country of about 650,000 people right between India and China that has only recently modernized enough to embrace radio and other outside (read: Western) influences.  It's famous mostly for being the only Buddhist kingdom on earth, and for having a commitment to "Gross National Happiness" rather than the usual GNP.  So Napoli goes, almost on a whim, to help them "professionalize" the station, and her readers are taken on a tour of the country and culture from a slightly inside perspective.  Napoli's story reads like the tale of a hard-headed realist and so is of an entirely different flavor from Gilbert's more famous and more fable-ish Eat Pray Love.  Napoli deliberately eschews the happy romantic ending, but what she gives instead is lovely.  I've been recommending this to my media activist friends already.  My only hesitation was her rather knee-jerk negativity toward her young friend who wants to emigrate to the U.S.--why?  yes, it's tough to do, but why not at least support her curiousity?--and said young friend runs off and tries it anyway, landing back in Bhutan and pregnant a little while later.  Still.  Very fun beach read, and one that touches on life's meaning in ways that make you feel solid, in the hands of an author with both feet on the ground.

reading plans for fall 2011

Summer isn't over, but it's drawing to a close.  School starts 8/22, in about 3 weeks.  And I've knocked out articles and book chapters and focused my scholarly reading on primary and secondary historical sources for a long time now, related to each of those projects.  Today I send off the last article for awhile (on evolution).  Then there's one more article-in-progress (accepted!) that needs minor edits this fall (on the historical uses of evaluation in public library children's services).  I have a next project in mind (on race and children's publishing in the mid 1940s) that's on the list for spring.

But for this coming fall, I'm planning to read articles on race, racism, and whiteness from a variety of perspectives.  Some will be assigned for my new Youth Services Community Engagement class.  Others will be from K.L.'s stack that she gave me in spring.  Still more will come from the emerging reading/research group on Critical Race Theory/Critical Theory/research perspectives that I'm facilitating into existence in early fall.  But I'd like it to be a bit more focused than Everything.  So, in addition to that focus, here are a few other threads I'm thinking of:

--fantasy and other children's/YA fiction from the Bulletin meetings  (probably starting with Return of the Dapper Men recommended by DR via fb)  as well as fantasy-related scholarship in the journal Marvels and Tales
--Storytelling-related scholarship (article from CB in email which looks like one of the first sensibly skeptical pieces on digital storytelling I've seen yet)
--General youth-services-related articles (in paper form in my office) and catching up with listservs

So my goal for fall is to read and blog something, book or article, once a week-ish. 

And I'm out!  Off for vacation.  I may or may not blog for fun before school starts in fall, but whatever I'm doing the aim is to maximize the fun for the next couple of weeks.  Back in the office starting 8/15!

visualizing evolution, done!

Or at least done for now.  At the SHARP conference in D.C. last week, I presented on a panel I created with two wonderful colleagues, Loretta Gaffney and Debra Mitts Smith (don't miss her book Picturing the Wolf in Children's' Literature from Routledge), about the "struggle for survival" of controversial books in children's literature.  Loretta talked about sex, Debra talked about predators, and I presented on "The Art of Evolution:  Images of Geological Time in Science Books for Children, 1921-1956.  I'll most likely upload the powerpoint to my website soon.

The 1921 date is important because that's when the first Newbery medal was awarded to a rather hulking book (not as long as some of Rowling's, but still) called The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon.  Here's how he visualized human evolution:

The text reads: 
“The ascent of man.  The world was millions of years old when a creature appeared which was to be our ancestor.  The ascent of man was very slow.  This wild creature struggled upwards for hundred of thousands of years.  It survived hunger and cold and disease.  At last it developed into a true man. The zigzag line indicates the duration of prehistoric times. The short heavy line indicates the duration of historic times.”

So that's one example, but not the prettiest one.  My personal favorite is by Alex Novikoff (from Climbing Our Family Tree 1945), whose academic career and anti-eugenics stances are traced in the biography Stalking the Academic Communist by Holmes.  Excerpts of his work also appear in Mickenberg and Nel's Tales for Little Rebels  (a good follow-up to Julia Mickenberg's Learning from the Left which won multiple prizes).    
But the most stunning one in terms of color is definitely Bertha Morris Parker's illustration from  Golden Treasury of Natural History from 1952.

Here you see time on a left-to-right axis and the swaths of color represent predominant kinds of creatures during those times, such that the top right orange area represents "mammals."  

My main analytic framework came from a new book (2010) called Cartographies of Time by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, who argue for timelines as more than just the facts of chronology.  Their timeline of timelines attempts to understand their historical development over the last 250 years, arguing specifically that “…traditional chronographic forms performed both rote historical work and heavy conceptual lifting.” (p. 11)  I argued that these ways of visualizing evolution did the "heavy lifting" of both showing ways of visualizing geological time that were accessible to child readers and of indicating cultural beliefs about how humans are different from animals, an especially touchy topic when it comes to evolution.  In the Novikoff, above, a zoom-in might show you that the man at the top right ("top" being a visual metaphor that signals "higher development" in many of these illustrations) is holding a gardening hoe, evincing the long-held belief that humans differed from animals in their tool use (which is now known to be not as extreme a difference as previously thought). 

I got a great deal of useful background and range of scholarly approaches from the book Victorian Science in Context by Bernard Lightman (an organizer of the SHARP conference which I just attended and a really nice person), which now goes back to the library.  As do a suitcase full of great primary source texts.  I say goodbye to them to make space for class prep, writing the other promised article on evolution (with Caroline Nappo, in which we examined 244 books for their evolution content over the course of a year), and focusing on the upcoming article for Children and Libraries about the historical roots of evaluation in youth services librarianship.