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In this guest post, Taun M. Wright, CEO of Equal Read, lays out some of the arguments for using diverse books in all schools, regardless of student demographics.
DeAvian was a disengaged student, more interested in socializing than academics. Her school had well-known books like Ramona but it wasn’t until her Big Sister gave her a book with an African-American girl on the cover that suddenly, “DeAvian’s eyes opened wide with excitement and a smile filled her face. She held the book tightly, looking up as if to say: ‘Here I am, at last!’” Now, DeAvian continues to read, and her academic performance has improved dramatically. The impact of representative literature can be profound.
In a year with so much important attention to discrimination, the call for diverse children’s books is clear. However, diverse books aren’t just essential to students from minority or marginalized backgrounds. We need diverse books in schools with students representing fewer racial groups just as much as we need them in more diverse schools.
Research shows that the less contact students have with people from other racial groups, the more likely they are to retain higher levels of prejudice. While equity and inclusion are necessary, especially for those of us too long without them, social change is more likely to happen when everyone understands how they will benefit directly from increased diversity and, what’s more, why their ability to embrace the benefits of diversity will be a key determinant of their future success. Here are a few key benefits to adding diverse books to a collection, regardless of the demographics of students:
INCREASED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: In their book Identity-Safe Classrooms, Drs. Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas show that “Identity-Safe Classrooms” result in increased achievement for all students, not just those from marginalized groups. Stereotype threat – anticipating being negatively stereotyped based on negative attributes associated with an identity group you represent – has a direct impact on achievement for students from all identity groups. Having many diverse books can offer a “density of cues” to counter stereotypes and reduce stereotype threat, increasing identity-safety for all students.
ENGAGEMENT IN READING: Everyone agrees reading ability is a key predictor of future success. The key route to engaging kids in reading is to offer them books they find interesting and kids want to read about what they don’t know, not merely what they know. As part of its Classrooms program, Equal Read assesses students’ interest in diverse books, as well as their feelings of identity-safety and other measures. Students overwhelmingly answer, “I like reading about people that are different than me” and say that “books about kids that are different than the kids in my class are interesting.”*
BETTER PROSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: In 2012, Loris Vezalli and his colleagues demonstrated that adolescents who read a book concerning intercultural topics showed not only a reduction in stereotyping and more positive feelings about students representing identities other than their own, but also an increased desire to engage in future contact. Clearly, diverse books are a powerful tool for improved prosocial development.
COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS: Educators at all levels recognize the need for students to develop key “21st Century Skills.” While their lists may differ around the edges, all include collaboration and communication as essential 21st Century Skills. As the total number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students will be over 50% this fall, all students will need to be able to collaborate and communicate with people from multiple identity groups, if they are to succeed. Businesses are well aware of research that shows diverse teams are more creative, innovative, and productive than homogenous teams. Silicon Valley companies, for instance, are now investing significantly in recruitment efforts geared to diverse employees. A recent study by professors from Cornell, UC Berkeley, Washington and Vanderbilt Universities even demonstrated that “political correctness” has a positive influence on creativity. Students accustomed to respectfully collaborating and communicating with people from many different identity groups will be better prepared for college and career success.
Just because a school’s population is not very diverse, does not mean it should be similarly restricted in the books available to its students. Kids like great stories. All kids deserve to read the most engaging books available, books that expand their imagination of what’s possible by telling a wide variety of stories, featuring characters with differences beyond phenotype (observable differences) to include different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, gender expression, family structures, abilities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, religions and beliefs, ages, body types, learning styles, and experiences.
Through its Classrooms program, Equal Read creates broadly diverse book collections that are balanced for gender and representative of all of a classroom’s learners, offering teacher professional development and parent education about the role diverse books can play in increasing cultural competency.
Because every child deserves an equal read.
*Note: Equal Read also surveys parents and teachers, and overwhelmingly, both groups say they want to know more about diverse children’s books. Clearly, they already recognize the benefits of diverse books to the students they serve, yet it is difficult for them to find these books – this is no surprise considering how few children’s books feature diverse characters. We’re also working on ways to help parents and teachers more readily find the most outstanding books featuring diverse characters through Equal Read’s Books program.
Taun Wright founded Equal Read in 2013 as a nonprofit organization to increase diversity in children’s literature, so all kids can “see themselves and a world of possibility in the books they read.” A former teacher, nonprofit consultant and administrator, and a parent and grandparent of a multi-racial family with multiple and varied abilities, nationalities, ethnicities, family structures, socio-economic backgrounds, languages, sexual orientations, ages, body types, education levels, learning styles, and experiences, she has first-hand appreciation for the wonders of different identities and the value of diverse children’s books in sharing them.
Every writer – fiction and nonfiction -- understands that the library is an essential tool to her craft. It’s more than a repository of information, or a quiet place to gather one's thoughts. A library is a place where ideas are born, and where the impossible becomes possible.
After surviving a horrific act of betrayal, teenager Lilianna suffers from post-traumatic stress. As Lil struggles to find her way “back to life,” imminent danger presses upon her home and neighborhood. An outbreak of a strange new flu is spreading quickly with deadly results. Her parents out of town on business, she finds herself alone as tragedy strikes. The plot is fast-paced and thoroughly engrossing as Lil struggles to find hope and trust amidst a terrifying life and death ordeal. It so happens that the Ebola outbreak was striking its own terror as I was reading this book. The realism depicted in this dystopian tale hit strikingly close to home. I had to ask Yvonne how she achieved this:
“Reading nonfiction books. Conducting interviews. Checking government websites. These might sound like typical tasks for a nonfiction writer, but they were actually all part of the research I conducted for my young adult book, Pandemic, which is a work of fiction.” – Yvonne Ventresca
Yvonne read books about contemporary and historical diseases: “For several months I had a rotating pile of disease-related books on my nightstand. Since Pandemic is about a contemporary illness (fictionalized bird flu), I read a lot about emerging infectious diseases, and I learned that because of airplane travel, germs can be transmitted almost anywhere in the world within 48 hours. I also researched the Spanish Influenza of 1918, which served as a model illness for my story. I discovered that the sanitation measures almost a century ago included blow-torching water fountains, hosing down streets, and locking public phone booths. Despite these measures, the Spanish flu killed more Americans than all of World War I.”
Like Yvonne, I write fiction but I depend upon research to bring it depth. My favorite library is the U.S. Library of Congress.
It is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. While it serves the U.S. Congress, it is also the national library, and the world’s largest library. James Madison proposed the idea of a Library in 1783. But it wasn’t until April 24, 1800, that the library was established. This library brings to life the American story. And it proved unequivocally fundamental in bringing my story, Girls of Gettysburg, to life.
As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.
The Library of Congress archives original photographs and newspaper artwork taken of the battle of Gettysburg. Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words!
Library of Congress
This includes a photograph of the Unidentified Soldier wearing a confederate uniform. Doesn’t this look like Annie?
Library of Congress
The home of the real Abraham Bryan, where my protagonist Grace Bryan lived.
“A library is … a place where history comes to life!” – Norman Cousins
Yvonne is happy to send free bookmarks to public and school libraries in the US. Librarians can email her at Yvonne @ YvonneVentresca.com (remove spaces) with the librarian’s name, library, and address where the bookmarks should be sent.
Over the past year the number of questionable police use-of-force incidents has been ever present. The deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Missouri, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Ohio, are but just a few tragic cases.
Most writers will get the “where do you get your ideas?” question at least once in their careers. Probably many, many times. Short of tossing out a snarky response like “J.C. Penney” or “the Idea catalog,” I usually reply, “From everything around me.” Helpful, right?
I’m not kidding though. I’m actually not the most observant of people and I have a terrible memory, which is why I became a writer instead of a consulting detective. (I know, these aren’t good qualities for a writer either, but I figure in the digital age everyone is going to carry their memories in their pockets or on their wrists one day, so I’m just ahead of the curve.) Truth is, I get ideas from all sorts of places: overheard conversations, misread words, images, other books, TV shows, etc.
My short story “All the Lonely People” (Shimmer #13, 2011), came from a billboard for a sports drink with the slogan “Don’t Fade,” which inspired a story about a woman who can see people who are literally fading from life and can either help them stick around or disappear entirely. The “Eleanor Rigby” references came in later.
I heard a friend refer to winter as “the time when everything dies,” which inspired me to write a story called “The Dying Time” (forthcoming) about a village where everyone becomes temporarily undead and hibernates during the winter, which is bad news for the guy who stumbles into town just as autumn is ending. Meanwhile, a fantasy short story mashup of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural began life as a Tweeted pun which led to “The Grimoire Girls” (also forthcoming). You get the idea. This is why I carry a notebook and pen everywhere; I write down anything that triggers inspiration in my brain, because you never know what it can turn into.
Naturally, the internet is also fertile ground for ideas. Online research (and books!) inspired and informed a lot of the hacking that appears in The Silence of Six, because I was striving for authenticity and plausibility. But one big plot point originated from a web article I read years ago — probably back in 2010, well before I started working on the book — about USB flash drives embedded in walls. These “dead drops” were in public so anyone could transfer files to them or copy files off with their laptop, as long as they knew about them. (Not really a good idea when you think about it, but still.)
An interesting thing about inspiration is you often can’t trace it back to the source. Minds are complex and ideas have a way of taking over and growing, so it’s difficult to untangle where it all came from. Everything I’ve ever written has essentially grown out of the books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, my favorite TV shows, and so on. How can I acknowledge all of those influences? It’s one reason why some copyright theft and plagiarism accusations can be difficult to prove, because it’s possible for someone to unconsciously copy someone else’s work or ideas — to a degree. Again, do your research!
Where do you get your ideas?
By the way, if you’re fascinated by dead drops too, you can win a special The Silence of Six USB drive this week (through March 15, 2015) in Adaptive’s #ChallengeofSix digital scavenger hunt, with online puzzles and clues inspired by the book. Grand prize is an Xbox One! Watch this video for more info and to get the first clue.
and SPRING to arrive, it's a great time to enjoy READING!
I usually highlight story books, but today I'd like to celebrate some fun research sites.
DK Publishing has a free online encyclopedia: FIND OUT The site is for simple searches on a variety of science-related topics. Results provide a colorful illustrated page with brief explanations and related topics. Of course, if one of the topics interests you, check at your local library for a corresponding DK book on the subject.
Another free online site, available through public and school libraries, is EBSCO Kids Search. This is a more in-depth database of magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, web articles, biographies, books, newspapers, and photos. A handy tool to have at your fingertips.
Kids Info Bits from Gale/Cengage Learning is search resource available through some libraries as well. It's a more simplified database of sources, including magazines, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and maps. It includes advanced search capabilities and is geared toward elementary school students.
So during this month focused on READ ALOUD time, choose a topic of interest (I know my grandson would pick Monster Trucks); use one of these kid-friendly sites or a book and read together for 15 minutes.
Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter--every season is just right for READING!
Strategic committees are a great way to get involved with YALSA, as they are virtual committees. Or, if you are a new member and looking to try committee work for the first time, the strategic committees are a great way to learn about YALSA, connect with teen service professionals from around the country, and help you develop your virtual work skills and teen expertise. So, if travel and conference attendance aren't an option for you this year, please take a minute to fill out the volunteer form here and send it in before March 1st!
My Appointments Taskforce and I will begin the process to fill the over 200 open positions that help YALSA accomplish the work of the strategic plan and the work that moves the association and members forward immediately after March 1st, so please be sure to get your application in before then.
I strongly encourage all YALSA members to apply - it is an easy and great way to get more involved in this amazing association, especially if you are interested in joining a YALSA selection or award committee in the future.
Please feel free to contact me at candice.yalsa (at) gmail.com if you have any questions!
Jack Webb as Joe Friday in Dragnet, from Wikipedia
But... is this really true?
Well...I DO tell my students that real details bring fiction to life, and have them listen to the following short audioclip from StoryCorps. Talk about bringing a subject to life! The details Laura Greenberg shares with her daughter are priceless--not to mention hilarious.
Still, I struggled to write poems for The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books). By "struggled" I mean I read science articles and wrote tons of stinky poems about rocks, astronauts, materials science, the expiration dates on seed packages,electricity, science experiments...and on and on and on.
But...I dread gettting facts wrong--my worst nightmare. (Confession: writing these blog posts scares the bejeebers out of me.)
In fiction, I can fly my fairy-self to Planet Bodiddley and make up all the materials science by myself. But if I have to convey facts? And then somehow bake them into a tasty poetry pie? I get tied up in knots. My writing becomes stiff as a board. I'm afraid of...
But finally I stumbled on this fascinating fact, in a review of The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman:"The water coming out of your kitchen tap is four billion years old and might well have been sipped by a Tyrannosaurus rex."
Wow. Think of the water you drink. Think of the water you take a BATH in!!!! Ten versions of "Space Bathtub" later (with considerable coaching from the ever-patient anthologists, Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell) this fact became a poem for kindergartners:
OLD WATER by April Halprin Wayland I am having a soak in the tub. Mom is giving my neck a strong scrub.
Water sloshes against the sides. H2O's seeping into my eyes.
The wet stuff running down my face? She says it came from outer space!
The water washing between my toes was born a billion years ago.
from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (c) 2014 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved If you're a K-5th grade teacher, this book is so immediately useful, you'll cry with relief when you open it. Trust me. For details, and to watch under-two minute videos of poets (Bobbi Katz, Kristy Dempsey, Mary Lee Hahn, Susan Blackaby, Buffy Silverman, Linda Sue Park and me) reciting our science poems from this anthology, go to Renee LaTulippe's No Water River. Again, trust me. (A little foreshadowing: Pomelo Books' newest anthology, Celebrations! comes just in time for Poetry Month this year--stay tuned!)
First off, a big Teaching Authors welcome to our latest TA, Carla McClafferty. Not only did Carla and I meet and bond some fifteen years ago at an SCBWI retreat in Arkansas, we once shared an editor. Greetings, old friend, and welcome aboard. For the next couple of posts we are going to be talking about your genre, non-fiction, and what it shares with fiction.
I have always wanted to be a Carla-sort of writer, a non-fiction writer. "Write what you love" is one of those things writing teachers (like me) tell their students. I love non-fiction. My "adult" reading consists almost entirely of biographies and history. If I read two adult novels a year, that's a big deal for me.
So why don't I write non-fiction for children? The reasons are endless, so I'll boil it down to one. I just can't stick to the facts.
Both of my novels, Yankee Girl and Jimmy's Stars began life as memoirs. YG was about my life, JS about my mother's family. Because they both took place in other times and places...Mississippi 1964 and Pittsburgh 1943...I did a boatload of research to make sure I had the details right. For the World War II world of Jimmy's Stars, I made a timeline of what battles occurred where and when between September 1943 and September 1944, and when news of those battles reached the States. I compiled a radio schedule for the Pittsburgh stations. I studied streetcar routes. I poured over the various rationing schedules for gasoline, food, clothing.
You would think that Yankee Girl would not require quite so much research, since after all, this was based on my own elementary school years. I even had my 5th and 6th grade diaries. Still....do you remember what week the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" reached number one on the charts? Neither did I. Since the main character is a huge Beatles fan, there is at least one reference to a Beatles' song in every chapter. In addition, this the height of the Civil Rights Movement (the Selma March to Montgomery occurs about three quarters of the way through YG). I had to know exactly what date this protest or that bombing occurred. I remembered that these things had happened but that wasn't enough. I had to know exactly when. I spent a dismal five months in the microfilm room of the Jackson Mississippi library, going through a year's worth of newspapers, reliving a sad and scary time.
By now you are thinking, "Well, with all this research, why didn't she just go ahead an write those memoirs?" Good question. All I can say is that my mind refuses to march in a straight line . Yes the facts are there, because they are part of the story. But once I start writing, my "real" character refuses to stick to their own "real" story. I start thinking "but wouldn't it be more interesting if this happened instead? Or if her best friend was this kind of person?" Before I know it, I am off on a completely different story than I had first intended. The only thing that remains the same is the structure of historical fact and detail that makes the story "real" for me (and hopefully for the reader as well.)
I am just beginning to write contemporary fiction for young people and guess what? There is no less research involved. Next month I will have a story in a YA anthology called Things I'll Never Say. I live in Georgia. My main characters live in Georgia. I have lived here for fourteen years. Yet, for a 3,000 word story here are just a few story points I needed to find out to make the story real: price of admission to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, driving times between different towns, the academic school year of Emory University, the most popular spring break towns with Georgia teens...well, you get the point.
My point? Getting the details right is one of the ingredients for making a story real. Editors care about details. I spent weeks nattering back and forth with my Yankee Girl editor over the dates of those Beatles songs. Readers care. I had an adult write me that if the mother in Yankee Girl used a steam iron, then she didn't also need to sprinkle her clothes before ironing. I was a little miffed that someone could read a 225 page book and this is what she chose to write me. It never occurred to me look up that sprinkling/steam iron detail. That's the way my mom always ironed. (I still probably need to look that up.)
I once read a Big Time Award Winning Book that took place in a state where I had lived and knew very well. This author had placed four major cities within an hours drive of each other. In reality, they were in different corners of the state and hours away from each other. Whatever affection I had for the book died right then. Good grief, anybody could look at an atlas (this was pre-Internet) and see where those cities were. I later read an interview by the author and discovered that she had never visited that state (or apparently done any research) but she "knew" somebody who "used" to live there. That was one of those moments when you want to scream and throw the book across the room.
That was the moment when I decided that for me, getting the details "right." Facts are front and center of a non-fiction, but they are no less important in fiction.
A while back I wrote a blog post about research tools for writers, and I thought it was time to include some new ones to the list.
One of things I like to do is read up on a certain subject before I write about it. I may use Wikipedia for a brief overview (yes, librarians use Wikipedia), but then I may want a book for a more in-depth view. And if I don't want to spend money to buy it, or my
YALSA sponsored a variety of programs and events at this year’s ALA Midwinter Conference held in snowy Chicago. On Saturday morning, the YALSA Past Presidents held their Trends Impacting YA Services session. This year’s program featured Dr. Mega Subramaniam, assistant professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland. Dr. Subramaniam’s research focuses on participatory design and connected learning; in an ALA press release she states:
“Surveys, interviews, and forming a youth advisory council are no longer sufficient when designing programs for young adults. This paper calls for a substantial paradigm shift in how librarians are trained and how libraries can be used to serve diverse youth. It is time to involve the young adults themselves as co-designers.”
Mega’s presentation slides from the session can be found here. She discussed the transition from traditional, “in-situ” learning experiences (such as formal education) to a new landscape of “learning in the wild.” Librarians can bridge this transition, especially in a profession newly shaped by the Future of Library Services for and With Teens report. So, how do we design FOR teens, WITH teens?
Enter participatory design; Dr. Subramaniam shared seven methods that get teens directly involved with planning, other than the traditional “librarian asks what we should do next.” These methods include use of sticky notes to shape idea processes, “bags of stuff” where teens build and create with provided supplies to see what ideas bubble up, a big-paper approach to teen-led brainstorming, layered elaboration, fictional inquiry, “the cool wall,” and storytelling. At the end of the program Mega asked each table in the room to think about a current design process we use when working with youth and how we might reshape that in the lens of participatory design. I came away from the session with a whole new idea of how to work with my TAB as we plan future events.
On Sunday afternoon YALSA members gathered for the Moving YALSA Forward session. This program was planned in conjunction with the YALSA Board’s strategic planning process which was also taking place during the midwinter conference. The board’s strategic planning facilitator, Alan Brickman, also facilitated this member session. Instead of tacking the full strategic plan, Sunday’s discussion focused on the area of advocacy. While advocacy can mean many things, Brickman framed it for this purpose as “a direct effort to impact policy, impact public awareness, and build libraries’ capacity to further both these impacts.”
Attendees were divided into four groups, each with an advocacy area of either awareness or capacity building. The groups brainstormed what the optimal outcomes would be and what direct actions would lead to those outcomes. As we worked our way through the still relatively new idea of planning with outcomes as opposed to activities, several great ideas rose to the surface. After working together, each group posted their ideas on the wall and with sticky dots in hand attendees chose their five priorities. Brickman will be consolidating the results of this session and sharing with the YALSA Board as they continue their strategic planning process.
Both of these programs felt very much in line with YALSA’s current work of assisting members to redefine their teen programs and also be advocates for the valuable services we offer our communities. Check out YALSA’s page on advocacy to find useful resources, and the Future of Library Services for and with Teens report to see how connected learning can fit into your teen services.
It's been a while since I got the fantastic news that I have been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust, to spend a year working with The Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives at Manchester University, shadowing their research projects with my sketchbook in hand.
Unfortunately, because we wanted the project to span a single academic year, we set the start date as October 2015 - ages to wait when I'm so excited! In the meantime, we can at least start planning, so Professor Heath from The Morgan Centre came to the studio this week, for a meeting.
I have learnt that the main project I am working on is studying the effect the weather has on us Brits - more painting in the rain perhaps! Plus there is also a project around 'Dormant Things': objects we all own, which we don't need or even really want, but can't quite bear to throw away. Cellars, attics and bottom-drawers everywhere are packed with them.
Another couple of bits of research I might dip into are going to involve interviewing people on the streets of Manchester. One is about how people interact with public spaces and the other is looking at street fashion. That should be quite a challenge - my speed sketching will come into it's own!
I've also been commissioned separately to shadow their conference in July. The theme is 'Atmospheres' and they have some fantastic presentations booked in. It sounds like it is going to be fascinating, over and above the fun I am going to have recording it in my sketchbook. I will be co-delivering a presentation with Prof. Heath about our project and, as with the ASCEL conference, I will have a short slot on my own near the end, for showing what I have been drawing during the event and talking briefly about Urban Sketching.
In September 2014, YALSA blogger Jaina Lewis began a series on the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet 2014 report entitled Learner at the Center of a Networked World. Lewis’ post focused on 24/7 learning and how libraries and librarians can help keep the learning going outside the walls of school.
As Lewis says, the report is comprehensive, clocking in at 116 pages. This report is full of excellent resources and websites to explore. The Aspen Institute feels that our youth today need to be fully connected. In order to do that, we need to rethink our current models of education and technology infrastructure so that we create an environment of connected learning.
I particularly liked the definition of connected learning the report gave saying that “connected learning...is socially embedded, interest driven and oriented toward educational, economic or political opportunity” (34). In this definition, not only are we making sure the learner is at the center, but we are also taking into account the various things that surround our learners. In order to prepare youth for being smart, savvy, and critical citizens in our digital age, we have to remember the influences, histories, and cultural values that shape our youth.
As I read through the report, I was most drawn to the section on cultivating literacy skills. While the infrastructure is important, I believe in using technology as a tool and that people come before the tech. Not only do we want our youth to be both consumers and producers of media, but we also want to make sure they are critical thinkers and that these skills stay with them throughout their entire life. Of course, then the question becomes, how do we as libraries help to cultivate these attitudes? And do we as libraries have those critical thinking skills to make sure good consumers and producers of media and users of technology? Because while the report is about the learner, the youth, they look to us for guidance and support. We also have to feel empowered and confident about using technology to help us do “projects that matter” (connected learning that is interest driven). When we invest in using technology as a tool, we share a purpose with the youth we work with even though they are not our peers.
The report talks about youth being in a “whitewater learning” environment (27). This means that they acquire skills and learn new knowledge in the middle of practicing these skills as the technology environment changes around them. This is a type of learning we as librarians can also take. We can dive in, helping to create new knowledge to share with other librarians and expand our learning network. I believe by doing this, we give ourselves the agency we need to help the youth to our best ability.
This is a report that I will continue to mull over. My first read got me thinking about my role as a librarian in helping ensure our learners are at the center of their network. I hope in a future reading, my focus shifts and I can expand on this initial blog post. If you have a chance to skim the report, I recommend it; just seeing the various ways in which institutions across the United States in helping create exciting environments that use technology as a tool was exciting. The report gives you a lot to think about and I think this will continue to be a report we look at in 2015!
There are two things about writing that never get any easier for me. . .coming up with a good title and naming characters. I still have a hard time with titles, but I have developed strategies to give my characters good names.
I spent most of my pregnancy struggling to come up with just the right name for my daughter, a name that would be all her own. In writing, I do not have the luxury of spending eight months on one character name.
I believe that name is the single most important aspect of a character. It is usually the first thing a reader learns about him. The name should reflect the character's personality is some way, however subtle. Sometimes that is a mysterious process that goes on in the author's head, unexplainable to anyone else. I do not know how E.B. White decided on Charlotte and Wilbur, but can you imagine them named anything else? A book called Barbara's Web? A pig named Bob? No, somehow Charlotte and Wilbur, along with Fern and Templeton and Mr. Zuckerman are so right, they could not be anything else.
Since I write historical fiction, I have a second barrier to finding just the right name. My names need to fit the time period. The characters in Yankee Girl were pretty easy. The book was about my sixth grade class. I used names that were popular in 1964, as well as names that were popular in the South. Jimmy's Stars, which takes place in 1943, was a little more difficult. I knew that my main character was born in 1932, and would have graduated from high school in 1950. I scoured libraries and second-hand stores for 1949-50 high school annuals. (There were an awful lot of girls named Betty.)
Contemporary fiction isn't much easier. Names change as quickly as any other fashion. Some names scream a particular decade. I am a baby boomer, and I was usually the only Mary Ann in a class full of Debbies, Karens, Cathys and Sharons. When I was a middle school teacher in the late 80's, I taught more than a few Farrahs. My friends who had babies about then named them Ashley and Kate (not after the Olsen twins!) When I had my daughter in 1994, I was the only one in my childbirth class who did not name their child Tyler or Taylor (regardless of sex).
Then there are adult names. In children's books, they are usually not a central character but occasionally they are. (Miss Gruen and Reverend Taylor in Yankee Girl come to mind.) How do you name adults?
Here is a list of sources I have compiled that help me with The Naming Game.
1. Baby name books. These often reflect the popularity (or lack of popularity) of a name, as well as give a cultural origin. (Warning: I learned not to carry one of these in public unless I wanted to start rumors about a possible new addition to my family.)
2. School annuals. These work for both contemporary and historical fiction.
3. School directories, websites, newsletters, newspapers, class lists. Schools in my neck of the woods generate an enormous amount of student information. If you don't have access to your own personal student, read the school news pages online or in your neighborhood paper/website.
4. Obituaries. Yeah, I know it's kind of morbid, but I have collected a number of "old-timey" names from them. Around here, they usually include the person's nickname as well.
5. Observation. I live a mile away from the fastest growing immigrant community in the country. Call me nosy (or a writer), but I notice workers' name tags. I ask the employee where they are from and how they pronounce their name. No one has been insulted (yet), and I have collected names I would never have thought of on my own.
6. The Social Security Index of Popular Baby Names. This site is unbelievably cool. It lists the top 200 names for boys and girls for each decade, from 1880 to 2010. Not only is it searchable by decade, but by each state as well. (Apparently Mary and James were the hot names of my decade.) http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/decades
What do I do with all these names? I list them in a notebook, separate from my regular journal. Right now, the 1910 Social Security list is getting a heavy workout from me. My characters are named.
Now if I could just think of a title...
Don't forget about our current book giveaway. For more information click here.
I used to make elaborate New Year's Resolutions with 20, 30, even 40 things I was going to change, do, fix. I would be thinner and a better friend, run faster and pray more.
Often, the only thing that changed on that list was the year at the top.
This year, my resolution was a single word: risk. I'm increasingly aware of my own mortality. Time is flying by and I don't want to say "If only I had."
I got a chance to act on my resolution only a few days into the new year. A man I don't know well but respect often uses a series of funny accents as he makes his points: New York. Russian. Etc.
And one is a big campy gay voice.
That day, I looked around the room, trying to see if it made anyone else as uncomfortable as me. But I felt like I was alone. Still, I waited until everyone else had gone and told him how I felt.
The conversation took some interesting turns I hadn't expected. I think it was eye-opening for both of us.
And afterward I was glad I had taken that risk.
In a few months I'm going to be taking a class called Urban Escape and Evasion (I snagged the photo from their web site). You spend two days learning how to survive in a dangerous chanotic urban environment (say after a terrorist attack or being kidnapped in a foreign country), then on the third day you are “kidnapped: hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You will be expected to escape, find your own transportation legally using your social engineering skills, and make your way to the first cache location, where directions for a series of tasks using all your new skills await.Meanwhile, expert trackers will be hunting you down, and if they catch you, you will have to start again from a more distant location."
I know this is going to stressful. As a writer, I'll be an outlier, surrounded by preppers and ex-military. My guess is I'll be older and one of very few women.
But for the risk, I'll have the reward of having so much amazing writing material. So it will be worth it.
Young Children, New Media, and Libraries: A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5. 2014
Campbell, Cen. Koester, Amy. Chapter One: New Media in Youth Librarianship.
Prendergast, Tess. Chapter Two: Children and Technology: What can research tell us?
In the first chapter of this free professional resource on the topic of young children and new media, Little eLit Ladies Campbell and Koester make a case and a call to action for librarians to become media mentors to support families. Young Children, New Media, and Libraries, the book, is unfolding in monthly releases, a chapter at a time and that can only increase its value. These dynamic thinkers in chapter one describe challenges to be met, such as “[t]he proliferation of digital content for children, and the mainstream interest in media consumption by young children.” They recognize opportunities to seize like inviting families to “break the paradigm of children interacting by themselves with a mobile device” by showing “parents how they can support their children’s engagement through joint use of media”.
In the second chapter, doctoral student and energetic children’s librarian, Prendergast, summarizes several key studies on children and technology. Over twenty studies and resources are profiled offering an easy way to gain background knowledge of important research completed on this topic. Here are a few studies to give you a flavor of the chapter:
Lankshear and Knobel (2003) reports on their review of research prior to 2003 focusing on new technologies and early literacy
Karen Wohlwend (2010) emphasizes the concept of open-ended, purposeful play using digital media
the American Pediatrics Association (APA) statement (2011) concerns itself with new technologies and early literacy
the position statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center (2012) is a thought-provoking report
Prendergast is spot on as she challenges readers to conduct library-based research to help move the profession forward.
If chapters one and two are any indication of future chapters, Young Children, New Media, and Libraries, in my opinion, will become a classic book on librarianship. This resource should help the profession reduce confusion by broadening our knowledge of the topic. However, it goes further by demonstrating a potential to tap our problem-solving skills by asking thoughtful questions and increase our understanding of and capacity to fulfill the purpose of a library in society.
You can find the chapters at Littleelit.com – and you won’t be disappointed.
In California, where you can have up to 8 characters, it would read:
So do you know what it means?
Although I like to think of it as "genuinely interested in people."
I'm starting on a sequel to Girl, Stolen. When I wrote that book, which is about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom's car, I was working full time and had a kid in middle school. I had zero free time. So I read books about what it's like to be blind and did research on the Internet.
Now I have the freedom to talk to people. Today I'm interviewing someone who is blind and here are some of the questions I want to ask:
Do you know Braille? How important is it? How many blind people really know Braille?
What apps do you use/what do you they do? Can you show me?
How has your life changed in the last five years in terms of technology?
Do you cook? How do you see how fine the pieces are when chopping or know if things are done?
Open the freezer - how do you know what’s in it?
How do you sweep or keep floor clean and know it is?
How would you walk in straight line across crosswalk without the cues of the sidewalk?
How would you find the bathroom in a strange building?
How would you find your locker at school and spin it?
Do you do any sports?
What smells do you notice the most?
Are there sayings people say all the time, like Love Is Blind or getting embarrassed about “see”?
What’s one thing people always get wrong about what it's like to be blind?
Happy New Year, readers. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season that included reading some of our favorite books from December. (Too much to hope that much writing went on. At least not at my house.)
So we are starting off 2015 with a discussion of plotting a story.
Uh-oh. Houston, we have a problem.
I don't plot my stories. Ever, So if you are hoping to learn how to plot in this post, you can stop reading now. One of the other TA's will tell you everything you need to know in the following weeks.
I'm here to tell the rest of you still reading, it's OK to not plot.
I have visceral reaction to anything requires plotting. Anything that has to be done in specific sequential steps, sends me over the edge. Cooking, math, putting anything together with instructions. I'm awful at all of those things. A couple of years ago, when educational testing discovered that my daughter has the same difficulty I learned this had a name...something like "difficulty with executive reasoning." (Which I suppose means I'll never be President...but I digress.) Sometimes dessert should come first. I almost always read the end of a book first. Working from step A to step B to step C just doesn't work for me. Never has.
I was the student who wrote the term paper first, then the outline. When I was first trying to be a real writer (as opposed to that seat-of-my-pants writer I had been as a teen and young adult) I discovered that some real writers outlined everything they wrote as a first step. This news was so discouraging I stopped writing for several years, because obviously, I had been doing it wrong.
Of course, that didn't last forever. I went back to writing in the same old any-which-way-I can (including out of sequence) method. I did learn a few things. I learned to plan before I wrote.
Planning and plotting are not the same thing. Plotting is knowing what happens first, then next, then next and at the end. I never know more than one of those things before I start writing. I've stopped worrying about it. Planning is knowing what you need to know before you type that first word.
I've mentioned before that writing the minute you get a good idea is not usually the best thing to do. You need to know your characters before you write about them. Who can you write about more successfully? Your best friend or someone you talked to for five minutes at a party? You should know your characters as well as you do your friends before you write about them. That's the first step in my Plan.
Because once a librarian, always a librarian at heart, I think about what I don't know but should for my story. Do I need to research a geographic area? A time period? Speech patterns and slang for a particular area? A disease? A career that I know nothing about? Now is the time to get as many of those answers as you can, before you start writing. What is more frustrating than reaching page 100 and discovering you are missing a chunk of important information. (This will happen anyway, but not as much if you do it upfront.)
This is also the time I pick my Imaginary Reader. Imaginary Reader is the kid I envision reading my book. Imaginary Reader sits next to me while I write. Is IR a girl or a boy, or both? How old? Do they like to read or not? What about my story would interest them? (Actually, I should probably come with my IR first. See? That old executive reasoning problem.)
So if you are not a Plotter, fear not. You can be a Planner. It's worked for me so far.
Then, best of all, earlier this month I learned that Razorhurst has made the shortlist of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (Young Adult), which is one of the biggest YA prizes in Australia.3
So, yeah, I’m more than happy with how Razorhurst has been received. Pinching myself, in fact.
Books Out in 2015 and 2016
I will have three books out in 2015. Two novels and a short story in a wonderful new anthology.
In India this month my story, “Little Red Suit,” was published in Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy, but I’m going to pretend that’s 2015, as it will be published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin in February. Isn’t that cover divine?
The anthology is an Indian-Australian collaboration with half the contributors from each country. Some of them worked in collaboration with each other to produce comics as well as short stories. I was partnered with Anita Roy and we critiqued each other’s stories. Hers is a corker. I can’t wait to see the finished book.
“Little Red Suit,” is a post-apocalyptic retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Fairy tales were the first stories I ever told so it was lovely to return to the form. As I’ve mentioned, once or twice, I am not a natural short story writer. They are much more of a challenge for me than writing novels. So much so that I kind of want to turn this story into a novel. (Almost all of my short stories are secretly novels.) I hope you enjoy it.
In March Soho Teen will publish the US edition of Razorhurst. I am very excited and will be over there in the US doing events in California and New York and Texas and possibly some other states. I will keep you posted. Yes, the Soho Teen edition will be available in Canada too.
Then in October I’ll have a brand new novel out with Allen and Unwin.
Let’s pause for a moment to digest that: in October there will be a brand new Justine Larbalestier novel, only a year later than my last one.
I know, brand new novels two years in a row! I’ve become a writing machine!
The new novel hasn’t been formally announced yet so I can’t tell you much about it other than it’s realism set in New York City, told from the point of view of a seventeen-year old Australian boy named Che.
The new novel will be published in the USA by Soho Press in March 2016.
What I wrote in 2014
I spent this year writing and rewriting the new novel. As well as rewrites, copyedits and etc. of Razorhurst. My novels, they go through many drafts.
And, me being me, I started a brand new novel out of nowhere, inspired by . . . you know what, it’s still a tiny whisper of a novel. I’ll wait until there’s a bit more before I start talking about it in public.
Then just a week or so ago I got the idea for yet another novel. So who knows which of those I’ll wind up finishing this year.
I continued blogging and managed to blog roughly once a week for most of the year. The most fun I had blogging this year was doing the Bestselling Women’s Fiction Book Club with Kate Elliott. I was very bummed when deadlines and travel forced us to call it quits. Here’s hoping we can get it started again some time in 2015.
I plan to blog even more next year. Er, tomorrow. Blogging, I love you no matter out of fashion you are. *hugs blogging*
Writing Plans for 2015
Well, obviously, there’ll be more rewrites and copyedits and etc for the new novel.
Then I plan to finish one of the novels that came out of nowhere. After that, well, who knows? Will I finally get back to the New York Depression-era novel(s)? The snow-boarding werewolves? The fairy godmother middle grade? Or one of the many other novels I’ve been working on for ages? Or something else that comes out of nowhere? Given that my last three novels came out of nowhere that would be the safest bet.
All of this writing is possible because I’m still managing my RSI as I described here. I’m continuing to be able to write as much as six hours a day. The few times I’ve written longer than that I have paid for it. It’s good to know my limits.
Travel in 2014
I was in the US briefly in June and then again in Sept-Nov, accompanying Scott on his Afterworlds tour. It felt like we went everywhere. Both coasts! Or all three if you count Texas as the third coast. Also Canada. It went fabulously well. Scott’s fans turned out in great numbers and many book sold and I met heaps of wonderful librarians and booksellers and readers and writers and some of them had already read Razorhurst thanks to my wonderful publicist at Soho Press, Meredith Barnes. It will be fun to go out on the road again in March.
Reading and Watching in 2014
My favourite new writers are Brandy Colbert and Courtney Summers, who both write realist contemporary YA, which I’ve gotta be honest is not my thing. That’s why I read a tonne of it this year: to learn and to grow. Both Colbert and Summers are dark and uncompromising almost bleak writers. Their books made me weep buckets. But there’s heart and hope in their novels too. I’m really looking forward to more from both of them. Courtney’s next book, All the Rage, will be out in early 2015.
I also read heaps of non-fiction this year. A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs is a wonderful history of passing in the USA, which centres those who chose not to pass as much as those who did, and looks closely at the reason for deciding either way and how they changed over time. African-American family life is at the centre of this excellent history.
One of my fave new TV shows is Faking It because it’s silly and funny and kind of reminds me of my high school days at an alternative school though, you know, more scripted. I also love Cara Fi created and written by a dear friend, Sarah Dollard, who is a mighty talent. It’s set in Wales and is sweet and funny and feminist and touching and you should all watch it.
2014 was awful but there’s always hope
Although 2014 was a wonderful year for me professionally it was an awful year in both of my home countries, Australia and the USA, and in way too many other parts of the world. I would love to say that I’m full of hope for change in the future. I try to be. The movement that has grown out of the protests in Ferguson is inspiring and should fill us all with optimism. But then it happens all over again.
In Australia we have a government actively undoing what little progress had been made on climate change and stripping money from all the important institutions such as the ABC, CSIRO and SBS. This is the most anti-science, anti-culture and, well, anti-people government we’ve ever had. The already disgraceful policy on asylum seekers has gotten even worse and Aboriginal Australians continue to die in custody.
Argh. Make it stop!
May you have a wonderful 2014 full of whatever you love best and may the world become less unjust. Speaking out and creating art that truly reflects the world we live in goes part of the way to doing that. At least that’s what I hope.
Yes, here in Sydney it is the 31st of December. I’m sorry that you live in the past.
Yes, I had a co-edited anthology and a co-written novel in those five years but you would be amazed by how many people do not count collaborations as being a real novel by an author. I don’t get it either.
If you’re from the US think Printz or National Book Award only plus money. That’s right in Australia if you win a literary award they give you money. Bizarre, I know.
The Afterschool Alliance just published a study regarding after school programs in the United States. This is the third study of its kind, following in the results from the 2004 and 2009 studies. The group wants to document where and how children spend their time between 3 and 6 PM. The previous studies, along with this one, show that there is a demand for after school programs. However, more programming is needed to help reach the approximately 11.3 million children who are unsupervised after school.
The study is full of facts and figures. Such as: 18 percent (10.2 million) children participate in some after school program. This is an increase by nearly 2 million children when the study was conducted five years ago. We can only hope that number will continue to rise. Parents enroll their students in after school programs because it allows them to feel that their children are safe and also in an nurturing and creative environment. Parents that were polled were satisfied with their after school programs when the organization provided a snack, opportunity for physical activity, an environment to complete homework, and also a space for enrichment activities, such as STEM programs.
Income and ethnicity also played a role in the study; students from low-income families make up 45 percent of the students enrolled in after school programs and the most demand for after school programs is highest among African American families. This study confirmed that yes, we as a country are beginning to provide the after school programs our communities need, but a gap still exists.
So what does this mean for libraries and us as librarians? This is an opportunity to us to help out our community and potentially reach the population of people who feel underserved by after school programs. Of those 11.3 million children who are unsupervised, the majority are teens in middle and high school. For libraries, it can mean two things. The first is that we can either create some sort of informal (or formal) after school program or space for our teens to come to. If we foster an environment of learning and fun, we can help create a space the teens will flock to (at least, that’s what we hope). Our other option is reach out to after school programs in the area. We should ask ourselves, Where could the library fit in to their programming? Perhaps we could visit the program, or even just give them information about the library and events you offer. Regardless, establish some connection that says, “Hey, we’re the library and we are here for you.” If we can make our presence known, through establishing a place in our library or through outreach, we have the potential to make connections, ones that will last a long time. The study cited that students were more likely to continue the program into the summer. Hey, we do summer programming and wouldn’t it be great to get more kids involved? After school programs are our “in.” And in the process, we have the potential to do a lot of good.
So let’s get the conversation going. Are your libraries an after-school spot? What has worked for you? What has not? Since the study does not explicitly cite libraries as a spot for after-school program or programming, I’m curious to know what our librarians are already doing from that 3-6 PM time zone.
The Internet has changed so much about how I write. In the old days, I relied on my faulty memory, things I had seen on TV, and trips to the library where I consulted these green volumes called The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and then tracked down the relevant magazines.
Now if I want to know a character to give the Boy Scout salute and I don't remember what it looks like, it's right at my fingertips. Then again, so is a bunch of other distracting stuff.
Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something - something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)
To research Girl, Stolen, I started by reading autobiographies of people who had gone blind. The more I read, the more I realized how having a guide dog can change your life if you're blind. Not only can you walk much faster, but if you have a cane people are worried they might get in your way or you might hit them, so they tend to stay away. But if you have a guide dog, people are much more likely to talk to you.
I had sort of thought guide dogs were like a GPS with fur, but it turns out you have to know where to go and direct your dog.
I also interviewed people who had gone blind and later asked them to read the book.
I even talked to an ophthalmologist about what happens when you go blind as the result of an accident.
I bought a cane and learned something about how to use it. Once I brought it on a school visit with me in Detroit. My phone fell behind the motel bed, which was fixed in place. Thanks to my cane, I was able to get it out.
Once I took the cane with me to a signing about 45 mints away. The cane unfurled itself as I walked and the woman at the register looked at me and her mouth fell open. "How did you manage to drive here?" she asked. I was tempted to tell it I stuck it out the window and pointed it straight ahead.
Right now, I'm working on a sequel to Girl, Stolen, and researching new technologies that might allow my character to regain at least some of her sight.
I just wanted to thank our members for the 537 volunteer committee applications that were submitted and to give everyone an update on the award and selection committee appointments process!
The appointments task force was finalized in October and award and selection committee chairs were selected. The appointments task force and I are still working on filling all of the award and selection committee member vacancies, but rosters should be finalized soon.
Appointing the local arrangements committee for Midwinter 2015 is the next priority.
ALA Appointments: There has been one ALA Appointment call to review the general ALA appointment process. The slate for the nominating committee has not been officially presented, but does include one YALSA member.
ALA President Elect Sari Feldman has put out a call for volunteers for the ALA committees listed below. Please let me know if you are interested in being recommended for any of them. The ALA application form closes this Friday, November 7, 2014.
There are tons of committees, task forces and areas to work in YALSA. Everyone knows about the book award committees and some of the major task force, but there are a lot of smaller, less glamorous and flashy committees that are a part of YALSA as well. Did you know that YALSA has a Research Committee? Well, I didn’t either, until I decided to volunteer for YALSA and became a member of the research committee, which I currently chair. So what is the research committee? What exactly do we do?
The Research Committee has actually been around since 1968. The Research Committee’s purpose is “To stimulate, encourage, guide, and direct the research needs of the field of young adult library services, and to regularly compile abstracts, disseminate research findings, update YALSA’s Research Agenda as needed and to liaise with ALA’s Committee on Research & Statistics.” So what does that entail? Well for starters, the Research Committee developed the YALSA National Research Agenda, which helps guide the direction and express needed research to “help guarantee that librarians serving young adults are able to provide the best service possible as well as advocate for funding and support in order to ensure that teens are served effectively by their libraries.” The Research Committee also keeps this document up-to-date, which is one of this year’s current tasks. We are using The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action to ensure that the Research Agenda is up-to-date and on track.
The research committee works to disperse information through the YALSA wiki and monitors YALSA’s Network for Research on Libraries and Teens, and contributes to the YALSA blog. The committee often holds research forums at Mid-Winter conferences as well. Last year, we worked to determine if there was a need for a new Harris poll. We examined what research was currently out there and available to librarians and researchers, and brought our findings to the board to help them decide if a poll might be necessary.
Of course this is just a brief overview of what the committee has worked on, there have been many more tasks and projects. The Research Committee works to develop and improve library services for teens by helping to bridge the gap between existing research and applying that information to teen library services to help ensure their needs are being addressed. So when you decide to you fill out your volunteer form, consider signing on to help the Research Committee.
Two years ago, I wanted to write a story set in Campinas, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
I had never been there.
I only knew the name of two people who lived there.
Yet, I could convincingly write about the setting. Here’s the secret.
The free app, Google Earth, is immensely helpful to writers. I use the free, desktop version.
View satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, galaxies far in space, and the deepest depths of the ocean.
In 2011, Google Earth added the street view. They send out cars that drive along a certain road and take a 360 view of the landscape. That means you can put Google’s orange man on the street and look around. Today, the street view is available on all seven continents. See more on the background, scope and how to use Street View.
WhereisTheGoogleCar.com asks people to take a photo of the Google car when they see it and post the picture. It’s a “social experiment” to track the location of the car(s) on any given day.
Thank You, Google Earth, for Helping Me Write!
GPS Coordinates: Context.
When I wrote Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, about a mother puma who died in a chicken coop trap near Campinas, Brazil, I was lucky enough to have an incident report that included GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates. Google Earth immediately zoomed me into the right position, so that I was visually hovering right above the chicken coop. The context of the coop was crucial: Brazil has increased sugar cane production for use in making ethanol for automobile fuel, and the coop was nestled amidst the sugar cane fields. Pulling out some, though, it was also apparent that the sugar cane plantations were very close to large urban areas. This wasn’t a remote rural area. Instead, the pumas lived within sight of skyscrapers. How did I know this?
Abayomi was recently named a 2015 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Book.
Google Photos: Visual Details.
Google allows users to upload photographs that are marked with GPS information. On the maps, these are shown as tiny rectangles that when clicked open up the photos. Very near the chicken coop was such a photo that showed a skyline of skyscrapers of the city of Campinas.
Google Street Man and Maps: Topography
Google Earth also allows you to see the topography, or the terrain, of a setting. Is it hilly, flat, or somewhere in between? You can use the Street Man or simply fly around. We have a friend from India who flew us–through the miracle of Google Earth–over his parent’s house in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Distances: Measuring the Earth
I love the extra tools of Google Earth,too. For example, you can use the ruler to measure distances in kilometers or miles. I learned, for example, that a drone in a story would have to fly about 5 miles–as the crow flies. Very valuable information! I can then answer so many questions:
Is that within a drone’s range? Yes.
How long would the flight take, figuring 50 mph? 6 minutes.
That gives my hero a very narrow time window to locate the villain and disable the drone.
Google Earth has in impressive area of other specialities: historical maps, Mars, the Moon, 3-D buildings, favorite places, maps about climate change and much more. See the range of services at their showcase.
I’m researching Mt. Rainier for a story: through Google Earth, I’ve gotten context, followed trails, found fantastic photos, and almost feel like I’ve been there. No, I haven’t felt the wind on my face or heard the chatter of birds. I’m adding to the Google Earth info such things as the flora/fauna of the region. I’ve hiked other areas in the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve hiked in mountainous areas. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to recreate this landscape for a reader. It won’t hurt to have a beta reader from the area vet it for me, but I think it will be close. For me, Google Earth is the next best thing to being on-site myself. Add to that Flickr Photos that are Creative Commons licensed, and my story take on an added weight of reality.
(Click the photos to go to the original flckr.com sites.)
I’d email first drafts of my chapters for “Strong Inside” to my mom and dad, and I soon discovered why the messages I’d get back only contained suggestions from my mother: my father understood from the very beginning that I’d feel a whole lot better about my book if I knew I did it without major input from him.
Which isn’t to say that he had no influence. His fingerprints are all over it, but more in the sense of lifelong lessons on reporting and writing: avoid clichés and unnecessary words; find the universal in the particular; do the reporting.
Growing up, the people who came to visit our house for dinner or picnics were mostly journalists—I’d sit around on the periphery of the conversations and listen to the joy everyone took in describing great lead paragraphs, or scooping the competition. (I also remember the time Bob Woodward brought my sister and I some 45-RPM records, including “Safety Dance,” and the time Sarah and I tried to trick John Feinstein into eating a dog biscuit). Growing up in the home of a Washington Post journalist meant reading a great newspaper every morning—and reading great writing is the best way to learn to write. (Another childhood memory: Each morning, I’d spread the Post out on the dining room table, read the sports section first, and our family sheepdog, Maggie, would hop up on the table, park her body on top of the rest of the paper, and then lap up the milk from my cereal bowl when I was nearly done. Wow.)
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My father did not become a published author until after I graduated from college, but one of the lessons I’ve picked up from him in this later stage of his writing career is the concept of “go there.” For him, that meant traveling to Vietnam for one book, moving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the winter for another, and flying to Kenya, Indonesia, Hawaii and Kansas for his bio of Barack Obama.
In my case, going there meant two things: seeing my adopted hometown of Nashville through the eyes of my subject, Perry Wallace, and trying to travel back in time to the 1960s in as many ways as possible. On the time-travel side, I set my satellite radio to the 1960s channel and spent my 45-minute commutes to my “day job” listening to the songs Wallace and his contemporaries would have heard while he was making history as the first African American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. I watched movies from the period, and read books about the Sixties that had nothing to do with Wallace’s story but shed light on the culture of the times in interesting ways (in addition to my dad’s many books that are set in the decade, one of my favorites was Mark Harris’ book, Pictures at a Revolution, on the five movies nominated for Oscars in 1967).
It was seeing Nashville through Perry Wallace’s eyes that produced the most valuable anecdotes for the book. I’ll forever remember the afternoon we spent driving around the town he left 44 years ago. He showed me the houses he grew up in, the parks he played in, the schools he attended. Driving past one house, he saw an old friend sitting on the front porch and jumped out of the car to say hello. Driving past a street corner in a now-fashionable part of town, he explained that in 1955, standing on that same corner, he had been stunned by a carload of white teenagers who pointed a gun out their window at him, pointing it, pointing it, pointing it, as the car slowly made its way around the corner. And as we drove past a baseball field, he asked me to stop the car. We got out, and he pointed to a thicket of rocks and trees behind the outfield fence. “See that rock?” he asked. “That’s where I sat and meditated over my decision whether to go to Vanderbilt.”
Suddenly I was standing next to Perry Wallace in the present, but also sitting next to him on that rock in 1966.
Today, we often take for granted how teens use technology. It seems to be embedded into their every day lives and something they pick up easily. But have we ever wondered how teens use technology to help others every day, especially others who do not understand technology as well? A group of researchers at the University of Washington’s iSchool are investigating these teens, whom they refer to as “info-mediaries” (InfoMes). Karen Fisher, Philip Fawcett, Ann Bishop, and Lassana Magassa are working with mainly groups of ethnic minority teens in the Seattle area to gain a better understanding of how teens, as information mediaries are using information and technology to help others.
My group working on our app. We are in the visual stages where we are drawing out what our problem is.
To gain this insight, the research team created Teen Design Days (see video link for a longer explanation). This is a three-day workshop where the teens gathered to discuss, learn, and explore how they help people in their social networks with information and technology. The teens are paid for their time and by the end of the workshop, will have created a design project that would help them. The design days are structured around the developmental needs for teens, identified by J. Davidson and D. Koppenhaver in their 1992 publication, Adolescent Literacy as “physical activity, competence and achievement, self-definition, creative expression, positive social interaction, structure, and clear limits.” This means that along with the learning, the teens take an active role in shaping the outcome of the workshop. From designing the rules and expectations, to participating in “light-and-lively” activities (physical activity component), the teens are truly front and center. As they begin to move from discussing their role as information mediaries to more fully fleshing out designs and solutions to improve their InfoMe work, the teens talk with each other, share ideas, and revise their design.
From a research point of view, these design days allow the group to collect large amounts of data in a short time, create friendships with the youth they work with and the larger community as a whole, and get an insight into what the teens are facing on a daily basis and what ideas they have to solve these problems.
One of the researchers, Ann Bishop, made a visit to University of Illinois in early October to share InfoMe. I attended one of her presentations in which she gave an outline of their research. At the end of the session, the group expressed interest in participating in the “train-the-trainer” workshop model. We hoped that a session like that would give us ideas on how to design similar programs for the teens we currently serve.
Telling the story of our problem (the stress of going home and visiting family and friends).
Our train-the-trainer workshop took place over a three-and-a-half hour time block at the Champaign Public Library. Bishop led us through a condensed design workshop, which included brainstorming problems we encounter daily and then splitting us into three groups based on the type of problems we identified. My group looked at the problem of visiting family and the hassles and stress that we confront. Through critical thinking, some storytelling, and using our limited drawing abilities (see photo, complete with stick figures), we more clearly defined our problem and then moved into thinking about what could help us out. My group created the beginnings of an app; one that would allow for family and friends to see your schedule when you’re visiting, for you to track your flight or train, and also a spot for stress relieving activities such as calming music or cat photos (whatever floats your boat). We created a prototype and if we had more time, would have continued to refine the app based on feedback from the rest of the group. When I left the workshop, I was energized and excited about the possibility of this for the future.
I believe the ideas behind InfoMe can be applied in our libraries. Not only is there potential for new designs to be brought forth, but also for teens to collaborate, and for librarians to gain insight into the teens they serve. I’m looking forward to following InfoMe and seeing what other insights they uncover with future Teen Design Days. For more information, make sure to visit their website, and read their various publications.