Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Come join us in the Wallace Collection on November 13th, 2012

The Eileen Wallace Children’s Literature Collection at the University of New Brunswick is pleased to announce its 2012 Fellowship Lecture, “Banning Magic: The Fairy Tale Under Lenin and Stalin” to be presented by Dr. Megan Swift, Associate Professor, University of Victoria. The fairy tale was a highly contested genre under Lenin and Stalin, becoming so embattled over the course of the 1920s and 30s that school children conducted trials of Cinderella, Father Frost (the Russian Santa Claus) and other folk and fairytale figures accused of being ‘anti-Soviet elements.’ This lecture will explore the attempt to ban magical content in children's literature after the Russian Revolution of 1917. A selection of books used in Dr. Swift’s research will be on display outside the collection. Please join us in the Wallace Collection (Room 413, Harriet Irving Library, UNB) on Tuesday November 13th at 1pm. Admission is free. Members of the public are welcome. Dr. Swift is an Associate Professor of Russian Studies at the University of Victoria and the 2012 Wallace Research Fellow. She specializes in modernist literature, art and culture and is currently working on a book called Fairytale Nation: Illustrated Children's Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1917-53.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Written by a kid

When I was a very young child, my mother would watch Art Linkletter interview children on his show, House Party. The segment was called "Kids Say the Darndest Things" and my mother thought it was round about the funniest thing going. I didn't. I thought the kids were being made fun of. I was embarrassed that I might one day be one of those kids. Heaven forbid someone should laugh at my pronunciation of "lellow" or at the collision of my naïveté and my rapidly increasing vocabulary. I didn't have the words for it then, but my young self found the show precious and, worst of all, patronizing.

Fast forward 40-some odd years to the age of YouTube. Kids are saying the darndest things all over the place and most of the Internet is laughing along in much the same way they laughed with Art in the 50s and 60s and then again with Bill Cosby in the 90s. The only trouble is now a child who makes a funny gaffe can be laughed at by millions of people around the world in just a matter of days. Most of the time I'm still not laughing along. I am a mother now, though, and I can see the humour in most of these videos. The ones I tend to like, however, are the videos that respect the imaginations and burgeoning intellects of children.

It's a fine line, I will admit, and I'm not always sure that as an adult I can tell exactly where that line is drawn anymore. 

For example, when this video was all over Twitter and Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't taken in by it even though I found the story told by the children quite imaginative and funny. I even thought the dads were good sports; and yet, there was just something about it that felt a bit off to me.

I'm not keen on Kid History either. It feels as if the adults are simply using the kids as a vehicle for their own mugging kind of humour.

A couple of days ago my friend, Christina, sent me a link to the relatively new Written by a Kid series that's part of the greater Geek and Sundry online video community. With ten episodes under its belt, Written by a Kid is proving itself distinct. The producers audition young children and listen to them tell their stories with minimal interference. The videotaped storytelling session is then assigned to a director who brings his/her own vision to the project. The results are varied, wildly creative, and definitely funny. Most importantly, the notion that the child is a storyteller worthy of respect is never lost.

The first episode, "Scary Smash", brings in a shocking amount of talent (watch the video--I don't want to spoil the surprise), but the series doesn't serve simply as a vehicle for high-profile cameos. Each story and video stands on its own. Celebrity cameos are rare. Here are a few of my favourites. Tell me what you think--about Written by a Kid specifically or about the cute-child-on-YouTube phenomenon in general.

Episode 1: Scary Smash

Episode 3: La Munkya

Episode 10: Ginger Potato

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Circle Game

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live long-year, like the highest seat on a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." --Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

In my house there are a handful of gold-standard picture books--books that my daughter and I come back to hundreds of times over, books that make us sigh with deep contentment and whose pictures and words we know by heart. Roxaboxen is one, so is The Day the Babies Crawled Away Pumpkin Soup, Gifts, The Seven Silly Eaters, Sheila Rae the Brave, Mirette on the High Wire, and Blueberries for Sal all disappear and resurface with the tides. Sometimes these books even change the language of our daily lives. "How goes the work?", I'll ask at the end of the school day? "Quack" is the inevitable response thanks to Farmer Duck.

Sheree Fitch's Sleeping Dragons All Around is firmly on our list. Fitch's language, it is Pop Rocks on our tongues. "You bold and brutish bursten-bellied beasts!", my daughter will yell at the robins who sometimes nest over our back door. Fortunately for young readers, this book and a couple of Fitch's other classics have been republished by Nimbus and are now once again in print. For the last 8 years, however, it looked as if Fitch had moved on from the picture book genre altogether, choosing to focus on writing for babies, children, young adults and adults instead--anyone but the picture book crowd, it would seem. But hey ho! Fitch is set to release a new picture book, Night Sky Wheel Ride, at the beginning of June and I just happen to have a copy of it to hand.

Night Sky Wheel Ride (Tradewind Books) tells the story of a girl and her brother as they take their first ride on a Ferris wheel. The story itself is based on a memory from Fitch's own childhood and the book serves as a poignant tribute to the sibling bond. The book is also magical in its use of both language and illustration.

"First stop--
cotton candy shop
       round round round
a sugar cloud's spun
melts sticky quick
on the tips of our tongues"

This book is definitely a read-aloud, but make sure you do your mouth warm-ups first. Fitch's wordplay and affinity for onomatopoeia and assonance mean that your lips, teeth and tongue will get a full workout. My 7-year-old daughter was so enamoured with the book's language she insisted I videotape her reading it in full expressive style. She was "fizzy with the dizzy reeling / fuzzy with the Ferris wheel feeling."

But a picture book is not simply about language; it is about the marriage of language with illustration, and it is this marriage which makes Night Sky Wheel Ride soar above the fairgrounds. Fitch has been paired with some very good illustrators over the years but I've never seen one get her in the way that Montreal-based Yayo truly gets her and what she does with words. His illustrations for this book are imaginative, colourful, and associative; they draw in the cosmos through the lens of daily life. In Yayo's hands, a fair can be anything from a laundry basket and dryer to the seasonal cycle of an apple tree. Cotton candy becomes trees and flower seeds float off as balloons.

A favourite word and image pairing for me is this one: 

As mermaids and children descend in a paddle-boat Ferris wheel with bathtub carts, the text reads:

"See out to sea, Sister.
Can you hear the mermaids murmur
beluga whales sing
feel the whirling stir
of every little humming phosphorescent thing?"

This is no ordinary Ferris wheel ride, nor is this an ordinary book. Like so many great children's books, it tells a simple tale well; yet bubbling throughout and beyond is the story of joy, of memory, of life, love and loss, and of imagination and the reaching for all that lies beyond. This book makes me cry when I read it but not in a way that feels manipulative or negatively nostalgic--the tears are those I shed in the presence of fulsome beauty. I know that's high praise for a review, but there it is.

When I first read it, my mind leaped to the opening image of a Ferris wheel in Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting. I pulled out that book, reread the prologue and realized it all fits together--whether one is talking about image and illustration, sky and ground, youth and age, or fate and conscious choice:

"But things can come together in strange ways. The wood was at the center, the hub of the wheel. All wheels must have a hub. A Ferris wheel has one, as the sun is the hub of the wheeling calendar. Fixed points they are, and best left undisturbed, for without them, nothing holds together." -- Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pioneer, Founder and Mentor

The Collection I have the honour to curate was founded by an inspiring woman, Miss Eileen Wallace. An alumnus of UNB (Class of 1944), Eileen furthered her education as a librarian, drove one of the first bookmobiles in Canada, and single-handedly took on the task of getting books into schools throughout New Brunswick during the second half of 20th Century. She has provided decades of invaluable support to educators and librarians alike. Although she retired in 1988, her collection of books continues to serve education students locally and scholars worldwide.

Her story has been featured on CBC television news in the past and a brief write-up about her can be found here. More recently, she's participated in a video spot for the university's development office. Enjoy:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

YA Hotline

The YA Hotline, produced by the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University, has gone online. You can read the press release here, jump into current content here, or mine the archives here. The YA Hotline is a fun resource produced by library science students for practitioners and young adults alike. It contains reviews, resource lists, bibliographies, and topical articles. Having this information online is a boon. Congratulations to all those who worked to make it available via the web and to those who contribute regularly to its content. Link

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lewis, lewis bo bewis

In our house we play a lot of word games. A typical dinner-hour will find us enumerating one food/drink/family member/friend/song/dinosaur/you-name-it for every letter of the alphabet.

A is for Argintinasaurus
B is for Brachiosaurus
C is for Compsognathus ...

A is for cousin Amy
B is for uncle Brian
C is for cousin Carrie...

You get the point.

(Note: if your name begins with "O" or "Q" "W" or "Z" could you please marry one of my relatives? Dating or common-law marriage would suffice. Thank you very much.)

My daughter likes to make up a lot of games of this sort. Last night's was called, "What's your food of heaven?"--except that she said it more like "WHAT'S - YOUR - FOOD - OF - HEAVEN-en-en-en-en!" We then had to, in turn, list ingredients in our favourite dishes while the rest of us guessed what the dish was.

Often this type of game then turns into an exercise in creative rhyming or extempore song composition. "Presto pesto! Eat the rest-o. Lest-o we're left-o with lunches."

This morning my friend Maggie posted a link to a super-duper word game invented by none other than that master wordsmith himself, Lewis Carroll. The game is called doublets and it involves taking a word, changing a single letter to make it another word and continuing on down the line to create quite another concept altogether. From what I can glean, doublets is like a clever, intentional version of telephone.


The link Maggie directed me too is Bookmaking for Kids, a fantastic site rife with all sorts of creative ideas. In today's post they've paid tribute to doublets by posting a handy-dandy pdf that lets you print out a version of the game in small book format. I've now got mine sitting by my desk to play later. Getting from point A to point B in this particular version of the game may be too much of a challenge for my newly minted 7-year-old, but that doesn't mean we can't start at any old point A and see where it takes us.

HEAD-HERD-HARD-LARD-LARK... What a lark, I say!

What about you? Do you play word games at home? If so, tell me what your games are like. Do you play math/numbers games? Please share because we sure could use some pointers in our wordy house on that front.