Gender Imbalance in Children’s Books

Recently there have been a few articles written about the lack of female characters in children’s books. One article published by The Guardian, says “The messages conveyed through representation of males and females in books contribute to children’s ideas of what it means to be a boy, girl, man, or woman.” Thus, it is important to present positive images of females in children’s books.

A study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, looked at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, and found that males were central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.

To make matters worse, even in modern classics many of the male and female characters are stereotypical and out-of-date.

While there may be more children’s books directed at male audiences, there are some great books for girls out there as well. The website http://www.amightygirl.com/ has some great book ideas to share!

Read the full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature

 

Our Library is Waiting to be Discovered

Tucked away in a corner of a light industrial business park in west Edmonton is a gem of a library for beginning adult readers and their tutors. This small, specialized library (3,522 items) is cosily housed at the Centre for Family Literacy (CFL). In it you will find a section of workbooks, specifically written for adult learners, that explain and offer practice in phonics, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, composition, comprehension and fluency – all of the skills that must be mastered in order for one to learn to read fluently. These particular workbooks are not found in the Edmonton Public Library.

Especially good is The Active Reader, a series of workbooks from Foundations to Level 5 focussed on reading and writing, written by Linda Kita-Bradley and published by Grass Roots Press in Edmonton. Each book contains articles, with photographs, on five broad subjects – people, relationships, health and safety, the environment and significant Canadian historic events and people. They are up to date, relevant and engaging.

Across the aisle from the workbooks is the fiction section. We have over 1,330 novels on our shelves. The reading levels of the books range from F1 to F9 (approximately equivalent to grade levels). Most of the novels have been specially written with the adult literacy learner in mind. Vocabulary is basic, sentences are short and the page count is lower than mainstream fiction. Good Reads and Rapid Reads books are well-written, engrossing mysteries for the middle level reader. Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Louise Penny, Deborah Ellis (Good Reads) and Gail Bowen, Richard Wagamese, and Medora Sale (Rapid Reads) are just a few of the writers in these series.

I love what Neil Gaiman says about fiction and why he thinks it is important:

“Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end . . . that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.”

The second thing that happens when we read fiction, according to Gaiman, is that it builds empathy. When we read fiction, we see through others’ eyes; we experience events that are worlds away, far from our own experience, our own time, place, and gender. Reading fiction changes us, he says. Read the whole article:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

There are also sections on mathematics, science, the trades, life skills, and resources for tutors. One shelf is devoted to workbooks written for English Language Learners. Workbooks and audio tapes geared to the GED, IELTS, and TOEFL exams are popular. The non-fiction section contains a little of everything.

You will even find a small Aboriginal section. Books on the Métis people are currently highlighted, as this is Métis Week (November 11-16). For more information about the Métis in Alberta, link to: http://www.albertametis.com/MNAHome/Home.aspx

How the Library Works

Tutors and learners are given library cards. Both get a tour of the library when they come to the CFL for their initial interviews. As well, during the tutor training sessions, tutors learn how to access the library on the computers at the Centre.

When a new tutor and learner have been matched, they meet in the library at the CFL. The tutor has a sheet with information about the learner and some suggestions about what workbooks might be appropriate. But these are only suggestions. Over time as the tutor and learner come to know each other, as conversations become easy and trust develops, learners explain their reasons for wanting to learn and their goals. Sometimes the goals are specific; a learner may want to be able to read the Alberta Driver’s Handbook in order to get a driver’s license. Others may want to upgrade and work toward their GED. Perhaps the goal is to speak and write English clearly.

Together learner and tutor take the beginning steps towards the goal. And there, right next to them is the library, filled with hundreds of adventure stories and mysteries just waiting to be read. Workbooks that build the skills underlying fluent reading, or explain the basics of mathematics, are within reach. They are all doorways to knowledge, to expanded horizons, and to the sheer pleasure and escape of getting lost in a book – of being someone else, of being transported to other worlds and other times.

The library, the whole world, is waiting to be discovered.

Sharing Books Creates Memories

Do you have a favourite memory of sharing a book with a child?

    

I have a favourite memory of my son’s love for these two books in particular. When he was nearly three years old we read them every day, often two or three times a day. It was never boring or dull to read the same stories over and over with him! His face would light up as if it was the first time every time. The stories he loved were easy to animate with their words that rhymed and great illustrations. What I didn’t realize was that he absorbed every word – memorized each phrase for each page. Then one day I needed to be away at his bedtime and his father did the bedtime story routine. After he read the first book with our son he called me to ask “when did he start to read?” I didn’t understand and said “he can’t read yet! What are you talking about?” Apparently my son knew exactly word for word the book my husband had shared with him – with such accuracy my husband thought he could actually read!

I was proud my little guy was able to fool his dad. I was also encouraged to continue to read with him every day, no matter what story he chose, no matter how many times he chose it. He began to “read” his stories to me as well, and even years later we would take turns and read chapter books to each other. We still enjoyed our story time together.

What Brings Your Family Together?

Our Tree Named Steve is a story about a family who comes together and grows together around a tree in their yard. The parents build the family’s house and leave the tree standing for their family to enjoy. The youngest child isn’t able to pronounce the word “tree” initially, so instead she calls the tree “Steve.” The name sticks and the tree is referred to as Steve for the remainder of the story.

Steve is a constant figure for the family as the children grow up. Through happy times and through tough times, Steve is there.

As I was reading Our Tree Named Steve, I was reminded of the various objects and events in my childhood that brought my family closer together. I lived in five different towns growing up, which always meant changes in houses, schools, friends, etc. However, no matter where we went we had our family dog. This family dog lived for 16 years and was a constant companion for us — no matter where we were living.

My parents also tried to make sure we sat down and had supper together as much as possible. As much as I grumbled about eating together with my family (as I would have rather sat in front of the television), I am thankful for our mealtimes together. It was a consistent event every week that helped us to know what was going on in each other’s lives and get to know one another better. In fact, some of the biggest laughs I had with my parents and my brother growing up were at the supper table!

What brings your family together? Is it a weekly family games night? Do you take a regular family trip to the grocery store? Is it a swing set or a sandbox in the backyard where you can play? Do you have a favourite book that you like to share before bedtime?

Whatever it is, enjoy the things and events in your family that bring you closer together!

Our Tree Named Steve is written by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow.

Reading, Then and Now

We have started a sort of a competition in our house to see how creative we can be in places to read. We have the basics covered: in bed, on the couch, on the floor, at the kitchen table, etc. But creativity has us thinking outside the box; we have read in a few spots in the yard, on the patio, in hammocks, at the pool, while grocery shopping, at our local coffee shop, and even upside down. It feels like a Dr. Seuss book many of us have read before…

It was always a special feeling when my children would bring a favourite book to me and ask if we could read it. We got extra time for cuddles, and it offered an extended discussion period of the stories we read and what we thought about them. I appreciate that these opportunities have allowed me glimpses of who my children are and who they are becoming.

Although they are all independent readers now, we still enjoy book sharing. Many times a good picture book is just too inviting to be read quietly or alone. Chapter books can still be shared as well: we take turns reading aloud a chapter each. It is one of my favorite times with my kids, as I hear how, as they read, the stories in their minds come to life. There is also something very peaceful about sitting together in a room, each enjoying our own books, just sharing in our presence as we have our own stories unfolding and our own adventures awaiting on each turning page.

Summer Reading Club

I have always thought that summer meant reading all the books that I didn’t have time for during the school year – ones that I wanted to read just because. One summer I got a box of books from a family friend who was closing their bookstore. I devoured 45 paperbacks while waiting for my next bunch of swimmers to show up for class or sitting in the truck waiting out a thunderstorm. I read everything in that box from autobiographies to how to guides, quick romances to epics, history to self-improvement. I even used a bunch of comic books for my Bronze Medallion class to read aloud while they swam on their backs and practiced their legs-only kicks.

When my girls were young, summer meant joining the summer reading club at our local library. Even before they were able to read on their own, we would go to the library once a week to take part in the games, crafts, and activities that were part of the program. Can’t forget about borrowing the books! My girls couldn’t wait to choose their books and get their game card stamped. Each week we would try and get at least one book that related to the theme for the summer.

This year’s theme is GO! I suggest you go to your local library and sign up now or head to the TD Summer Reading Club 2013 website http://tdsummerreadingclub.ca to check out all the book lists, games, and activities posted there that will challenge and inspire you. You might even get a surprise or two!

There is still plenty of time to join before heading back to school. Who knows, you might find a new favourite author or read a book that you would never have thought you would like. Take some time to read – you’ll be surprised where a book can take you.

Family Favourite Books

One of my favourite books as a young child, and also as an early reader with three younger siblings was The Monster at the End of This Book.

I loved how silly this book was, and how each page had something we could point at and talk about with even the baby of the family. No matter how many times we read it, it still seemed incredibly hilarious that Grover could be afraid of a monster, the irony we understood even as small children. That family book was so loved it was read and ripped and taped and mended and sticky with fingerprints and probably drool. I got a lot of practice changing my voice for different characters when I read it aloud to them.

As an adult, my sister and I were given a box from our parents garage when they moved. It contained our Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls and other miscellaneous things from our childhood. At the bottom of the box was the book! We both went for it at the same time and fought over it. We tried to arrange custody of this book in order to share it with our children. Then we realized you can still buy the book today! It even comes in different formats – I’ve seen it in board book style, paperback style, even with buttons that make Grovers voice. To this day, I still fondly remember time spent with this book 😉

My seven year old daughter has a well-loved book that she will read over and over again to herself, to the cat, to the dog, to anyone who will listen: Harold and the Purple Crayon. She secretly wishes for a purple crayon of her own, I am sure. Its a classic. I had forgotten all about this book until she brought it home from the school library over a year ago. SInce then I have found a complete collection of all the Harold stories for her. I had no idea that Harold had more than one story to tell, but then there is no end to what a boy can do with a magic purple crayon, now is there? Does anyone else remember Harold?

A favourite author of mine in childhood was Roald Dahl. Known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, BFG, The Twits, and Fantastic Mr. Fox to name a few.

Every year I volunteer to read to a variety of age groups in my children’s schools during wonderful Read In week (the first week in October). One year stands out to me because of the special gift I received afterwards. I had read The Twits and Esio Trot to a grade 5 class. They howled with laughter at the stories. This is not unexpected when reading Roald Dahl. What was unexpected was a few days later I received some thank you letters from the children in that class. In true Esio Trot fashion, each one was written completely backwards. What fun that must have been for the class to have to write their thank you’s and their favourite parts all backwards, and even more fun for me deciphering each one. I reflected back to when I was in school doing a book report on this author. If only I had been clever enough to compose the entire report backwards for my teacher!

 

A “Hug” for Family Literacy

Every year in March I have the pleasure of doing a presentation for students in the Library and Information Studies program at the University of Alberta.  Dr. Margaret Mackey brings her students to the Centre for Family Literacy to help provide a real, practical connection for all the theory her class has been learning.

I am very passionate about family literacy and this type of situation – where a solid link can be made between the student’s learning and our practical experience – it provides an amazing opportunity to raise awareness and get others excited about it too.

During this year’s presentation, I talked specifically about a book called “Hug” by Jez Alborough.  It is mainly a picture book with just a few words, the most significant being the word “hug”.  The amount of words allow this book to be shared by a family in many different ways – in their own language, making up a story to go with the pictures, acting out the hugs and emotions together.  It is a wonderful and versatile book.

I have a fondness for this book in that it was one I shared with my children.  My son and I read this book together many times and I remember one day he was showing it to his sister.  He got so excited and came up to me afterwards to show me how he had “read” the book to his sister. He was three years old, but he knew what that book said and how it sounded. It was a proud day for him and for me.

Today, I received a thank you card from the students at my presentation. Inside were some amazing comments of thanks and excitement about what they had learned with me. The power of family literacy in helping adults who struggle with literacy was evident and they had seen the passion and care with which we work. The seed of knowledge about family literacy was planted within their learning and awareness was built.

Within all these wonderful comments, one stood out a little. One of the students had gone out and bought the book “Hug” after hearing my story for her new niece. I hope she is able to get as much out of it as I have!

Books You Can Play

Let’s say that you’re walking through the woods on your way to school. All of a sudden your lunch box is yanked out of your hand, and you spin around to see a wolf running away with your lunch in one direction and a friendly looking bear with a picnic basket in the other direction. You hate to skip lunch, so you’ll have to choose: will you chase after the wolf, or will you stroll over to see what that bear is up to?

It’s one thing to read about a character making a decision, but when you get to choose which path the story takes you have a lot more invested in finding out what happens next. It’s a simple idea, and some might even dismiss it as a gimmick, but it‘s a powerful motivator. I read every book like this that I could get my hands on in elementary school. I also loved puzzle books (they usually had more visual problems to solve), and books that posed mysteries for me to solve based on the clues in the text.

I would bet that many teachers have passed these sorts of books to the more reluctant readers in their classes over the years, but I think they have a lot to offer for even them most avid reader. For example, they are great for:

  • Introducing a genre of story: mystery, romance, adventure, fantasy, horror, and science fiction are all represented
  • Practicing important skills: problem solving, math, logic, and reading comprehension
  • Bonding: read them together for fun, they are a kind of game after all.

I could go on and on about the “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Two-minute Mysteries” that I read as a child, and these books are still out there. Some are even in electronic form, and I recently discovered that there are many written for adolescent and even adult audiences.  Some of them even offer an experience closer to playing a board game than the “turn-to-page…” adventure stories that I remember. There are even tools to help people write and create their own game books online. So, if you do want to play with your stories, there are lots of options out there for you to choose from.

         

Story in a Box

There are so many ways to engage children with books. One example is our “Story in a Box” craft. We have used the board book “Barnyard Banter” by Denise Fleming, as our starting point for this activity. We created the barnyard setting in the box, as well as the animals found in the story, using materials from a local craft store. This craft provides opportunities for children to interact with the story, or make up their own.
*This craft would work with other children’s books of your choosing as well.
 
Materials Used:
– 1 Pizza box
– Various colours of felt
– Animal pictures found online
– Hot glue gun and glue
– 1 Permanent black marker
– 1 Pair of scissors
Directions:
– Take your pizza box (or a box of your choosing) and make sure it is clean and empty.
– Cut out the pieces of felt according to the scene you are creating.
– Using the hot glue gun, glue the pieces of felt into the box. It is best to glue the background colours on first and then glue the smaller felt objects on afterwards.
– Using the animal pictures you found online, glue them onto pieces of felt. It is a good idea to cut and leave a small edge of felt around the animal picture. *You may want to use pictures from flyers, newspapers, magazines, old photographs, etc. instead of pictures found online. Or you could always hand-draw the characters yourself.
–  Using the marker, draw in any extra details you would like.
Now you and your child have created the setting of the story and its characters. Have fun interacting with the story together as a family!