19.4.13

Briefly Noted: Beautiful Alices, Bookshops, and New Books

I'm of the school that believes you can't be too rich or own too many copies of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  I know I'm not alone in this which is why I wanted to share this beautiful edition with wood engravings by George S. Walker produced by Porcupine's Quill.  I spotted it on display last night at Montreal's Argo Bookshop,  a lovely little broom closet of a bookstore (200 square feet!) with a fantastically curated stocklist.  Argo has been part of Montreal's literary landscape since 1966 and is currently owned and run by Meaghan Acosta, Jesse Eckerlin & J.P. Karwacki. 


I may have to go back and pick up a copy of this for myself to keep my other Alices company.  This, however, was my purchase last night:



It's a great joy to visit the website of Lemony Snicket and be greeted with this:  "Dear Colleague, Welcome to this website.  Please leave."  You can read an excerpt on the site or you can go straight out and support a local bookseller by buying a copy.

While on the subject of author websites here are a few more you might want to check out.  Betsy Bird, children's librarian and blogger extraordinaire now has taken to wearing another hat: picture book writer.  Her first book Giant Dance Party pubs this week and you can find her online here.  Oliver Jeffers, a perennial favourite around here has a great website where he talks about his picture books and other projects.  And today on twitter he gave a sneak peek of his latest book.

From bookshops to one of my other great loves: libraries.  One of the things that makes the place where I live feel like a community is our community, volunteer-run library.  To my mind, it's practically everything a library should be.  The Hudson War Memorial Library is self-supporting and actually generates enough money through book sales and weekly thrift sales to support local charities.  Pretty impressive.

Finally, you can now listen to Neil Gaiman's keynote address from this year's London Book Fair.  His advice to those in publishing: "try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago."
  



15.4.13

Picture Book News

Very happy to report that there is a new book on the way from the wondrous Sophie Blackall. It's called The Mighty Lalouche and is written by Matthew Olshan.



Read about her process here and flip through a slideshow of images.  Also click on her name above to browse around her website.  Or find her on facebook.



Also there is a new book coming from Gabi Swiatkowska this spring.  It's called Please, Papa and is a companion to Thank You, Mama.  Both books are written by Kate Banks.  Follow the links to see previews of both books.  I'm a big fan of Gabi Swiatokska's distinctive style.  


There's an article in The Atlantic on picture books about where babies come from, including books on surrogacy and alternative methods.  One of my favourite reviews of Where You Came From berated me for not including a single fact in the book.

I've been banging on a lot about empathy lately.  Wrote about it here and talked about it on CBC here then wrote about it again here where I started a reading list for promoting empathy in teens.  I've just remembered a great picture book that I would recommend for the 3-5 pre-reader set.  It's called That's Not Funny and is by Adrian Johnson.  It's all about the concept of schadenfreude (seriously) and while being joyfully non-didactic is a great teaching tool for that age group. And it's very funny.

Nothing whatsoever to do with picture books, but I wrote a review of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life for the Globe and Mail and you can read it here, if you are so inclined.  Perhaps, like me you love picture books but also love being able to immerse yourself in a good doorstopper once in awhile.

Finally, I've been thinking about Julie Morstad's beautiful board book of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem The Swing.  What other classic poem for children might we like to see her take a swing at?  Leave suggestions in the comments and I will pass along.



12.4.13

Empathy: A Reading List


from Skim
I'm interested in suggestions for an Empathy Reading List--books that we can give to teens to help them see the world from a perspective other than their own.  Really, any good fiction can do this but here are some books that deal specifically with issues around high school bullying, cyberbullying or just plain old being different (always a tough one in high school).  I will add to the list as suggestions come in through comments here or over on twitter @saraoleary.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen
Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Gillian Tamaki
Words That Start with B by Vikki Vansickle
What I Was by Meg Rosoff
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Encore Edie by Annabel Lyon
Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
Metawars Heff Norton
Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
America by ER Frank
Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
Monocerous by Suzette Mayr


I haven't read all of these but I have read and reviewed several. Here is my review of What I Was. I'll try to post some of the other reviews as I find them.
Studies have shown a direct link between reading fiction and empathy in young people. There have been a number of recent articles on the subject including this one by Keith Oately in Psychology Today.  This link between fiction and empathy seems to be a good place to start in thinking about problems of bulling and cyberbullying.
I wrote here about the Pink Shirt campaign the other day, trying to work through for myself why the idea of being Anti-Bullying didn't seem terribly useful to me.   And I'm still not at all sure about demonizing bullies as a way of instilling greater compassion in our young people.
But I have been reading up on Pink Shirt Day and to be honest I'm kind of impressed. It originates with the actions of some Nova Scotian high school students and occurs annually on February 27. Rick Mercer has this to say on Jer's Vision: Canada's Youth Diversity Initiative:
It's this failure of compassion or empathy that seems almost endemic in our society that truly frightens me.  And it's got me thinking about ways to inculcate these values in our children. There's a fascinating program designed to address these problems called Roots of Empathy.  You can read the first chapter of the book about it here.  It says: 
When students in Nova Scotia saw a younger student being harassed because he was wearing pink, they decided to do something. They took it upon themselves to buy every pink shirt in town and they did it on their own dime.  The next day they handed these shirts out at school. Suddenly the bullies who were making this young man’s life miserable were surrounded by students in pink. They learned in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of kids were not going to accept their behavior. Message sent. To me, the kindness, courage, compassion and creativity exhibited by this gesture is what being Canadian is all about.
I agree that it's a good message and that those young Nova Scotians deserve kudos for what they did.  It's good to remember when the news is full of the stories of what some other young men from that area did and the consequences their actions had.  Rehtaeh Parsons was driven to suicide by the sexual assault that she suffered and the distribution of images related to that assault.  Those were criminal actions--not anything as innocuous-sounding as bullying--but part of her suffering was to do with the the ongoing circulation of those images and the cruel comments made about her by her peers through social media.  And that kind of cyberbullying is all too common right now.
The program is based on the idea that if we are able to take the perspective of the Other we will notice and appreciate our commonalities and we will be less likely to allow differences to cause us to marginalize, hate or hurt each other.
And that seems to me to be a good place to start.  Reading fiction helps children to develop emotional literacy and that means they will be better equipped to see the suffering of others and be moved to do something about it.

I've written about empathy here before and I'd like to once again direct readers to this article by Nikhil Goyal about empathy on the Globe and Mail site. The article gives some alarming statistics:
Today, there is a dearth of empathy in young people. After analyzing data among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years, a University of Michigan study two years ago concluded that college students are 40 per cent less empathetic than their counterparts in 1979. Indeed, the most significant drop has been in the past decade. What’s more, cases of bullying and suicides are climbing at an alarming pace. That means empathy education is needed more than ever before.
Happily, empathy education is being addressed in at least some of our schools.  I learned today about The Empathy Factory which is a fantastic initiative out of Nova Scotia.   According to their site:  "The Empathy Factory was founded on the belief that by instilling empathy in our youth, injustices will be stopped, communities transformed and hope inspired."  

So there are reasons to be hopeful.  And I will be doing my best to think pink.

10.4.13

Why I'm Not Wearing a Pink Shirt


I've been trying to articulate my hesitation about Anti-Bullying and Pink Shirt Day and what it comes down to is that I don't think I really am anti-bullying.  Which sounds absurd, but the thing is that I don't see the point.  ("Bullies!  I hate 'em!  If I see one, I'm going to....")

Bullying exists. Bullies exist and wearing pink is not going to scare them away.

What I am is Pro-Empathy.  Let's have a pro-empathy day.  Let's encourage our kids to watch out for their friends and to watch out for the kids that aren't their friends too, because somebody has to.  Let's encourage them to stand up and not to be a bystander.

Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia teen who recently took her own life in response to cyberbullying following on a sexual assault, apparently made a number of plea for help type posts on her Facebook.  In one she quoted Martin Luther King, Junior: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  In a very sad story, this to me was one of the sadder elements.  

Let's do our best to teach our kids how to be good friends to others.  When we talk about Anti-Bullying, I don't think that any of us ever believe that one of our kids could be the bully.   

I've posted before about empathy and I've written a little about the link that seems to me to exist between reading fiction and empathy. Since this is a blog about reading and about children's books, I'd like to bring this back on topic by recommending once again an excellent YA novel by Susin Nielsen called  The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen.  It's an intelligent, funny novel in which a family faces the unimaginable when one of their own goes from victim to instigator of violence.  (And really, are bullies born or made?)

If, as parents, we're not capable of imagining our children as the bully then perhaps we can do them a service by helping them to imagine what it is like to be one of the victims of bullying.  Perhaps this is the way to make a difference.

And really, apart from not liking pink, I've nothing against this campaign.  I just think that there's a lot more we need to do.  Wear pink ... stop bullying?  If only.