Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Books without paper

Drawing on the vast popularity of its stories and films, the Disney Corporation has decided to offer its storybooks in a new format. The company is setting up a website which will make Disney books available for children to read or for parents to read to their child. Each book is reproduced on the screen and children can move through it page by page with the click of a mouse. If they encounter an unfamiliar word, a click of the mouse brings an audio definition. Books are listed in age categories so both parents and children can choose age appropriate titles. A subscription to the site will cost each family $79.95 a year. Although the company insists their website will not supplant the experience of having a parent read while the child snuggles on her lap, it is easy to guess that some busy parents will encourage their children to switch on the computer instead of asking for an individual session. Will other publishers follow this lead? None has shown interest so far, but then no other publisher has such deep pockets and such a large collection of content. It's too bad the Disney illustrations are so similar to one another. A child would benefit from a wider variety of styles. Nonetheless it seems likely this project will catch on and librarians may soon be asking for institutional subscriptions to the website.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking education home

Educational videos have been a staple of classroom instruction for years, but a new program in Indiana will now make many of these learning tools available for home use. Comcast and the Discovery Channel will collaborate to provide this material at no cost to families in Indiana. No doubt these videos will serve homeschooling families as well as those enrolled in schools. The value of the availability depends, of course, on how good the resources are and how well children are able to use them. When teachers use videos they usually supplement them with commentary and follow them up with questions and discussion. How effective the resources will be without teacher guidance remains to be seen, but for reference and reinforcement of previously viewed material, they will undoubtedly be helpful.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What do we do with films?

Many teachers show films to introduce concepts and topics in science, history and other subject areas, but as many librarians know, visual media present even more problems than print in arousing parental objections. Even a film as clearly educational as An Inconvenient Truth has caused objections in some school districts. Often school districts simply ban the film from classrooms, but students would benefit if they adopted the stance of public libraries and decided that a parent could only prohibit his or her own child from seeing a particular film--not the entire class. The prejudices of a small group should not inhibit most students from learning in as many formats as possible. As more films, both old and new, become available for download, it is easier than ever for young people view them whether adults want them to or not. Raising objections to films may cause more interest and more viewing than would otherwise occur. This was the lesson of book banning and it is likely to be repeated with films. It's probably lucky for educators that so many censorship attempts backfire.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Keeping science up to date

Librarians and teachers know that keeping a science collection current is one of the most difficult tasks in a children's collection. Books can go out of date almost as soon as they are published and certainly long before the book is worn out. Popular subjects like dinosaurs need constant updating as discoveries and interpretations change year by year. The Internet is a good place to find accurate and up-to-date science material and here is a new website to add to your list of resources ScienceNews for Kids. The language is easy enough for 8 or 9 year old children to follow and there are plenty of illustrations. The S.F. Chronicle made this their website of the week, so you can expect parents and kids to be asking about it soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Digital publishing

Publishers Weekly is an indispensable source of information about the book trade. Although aimed at publishers, it is one of the best ways for librarians and teachers to keep up with what's going on in children's publishing. A recent forum on Children's Publishing in the Digital Age offered many insights into the direction publishing may take in the future. One particularly thorny question for children's publishers is what to do about picture books. None of the e-book platforms now available are suitable for picture books, which rely on a marriage of print and graphics. The lack of color in many e-books limits their use for children's books. In recent years picture books have been turned into films and videos, but that changes the impact and emphasis. A film is not a substitute for a book, it's a different entity. No one is sure where e-publishing of children's books will be going in the next few years, but this forum gives us some possible directions to consider.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Who reads newspapers?

The death of newspapers is a favorite topic not only among journalists but among teachers, librarians and others who think reading is important. It's hard to know what the future of print newspapers will be, as subscriptions dwindle week by week. Reading newspapers online continues to be popular, and for teens it's almost the only way to get newspaper content. The problem is that newspapers haven't been able to make a profit by providing content online. Now google has come along with a service designed to make reading newspapers and other news sources online faster and easier. As this N.Y. Times article reports, getting news faster is the goal for most people. Google's new service makes scanning the front pages of newspapers and magazines faster and easier. The revenue will still come from ads, but if more people start using the tool, ads may bring in more revenue. Check out the news story and take a look at google's new initiative. This may be the future of newspaper.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Always controversy

Librarians sometimes feel it's impossible to do everything right. SLJ's report on the recent controversy in Brooklyn, NY, over a Tintin book is a case in point. The 1930s versions of many books were undoubtedly racist. Most of them have disappeared from library shelves, but Tintin is a classic, and Tintin au Congo has been a part of library collections, but has now been moved to a limited-access section of the collection. Showing Africans as childlike and dependent on white people to help them is undoubtedly unrealistic. Most of us do not want our children to see images or read stories that show such dated and unjust portrayals of Africans--or anyone else. But the New York Civil Liberty group objects to removing the book from open shelves because that is censorship. Who is right? When a book is in a restricted collection, it is undoubtedly kept from most children. Should a book like this be available only to adults who can understand the historical context? Many of us would agree that it should be, but that puts us on the side of censors and that's an unpleasant place to have to stand. But we can't have it both ways. Glib anti-censorship statements often don't cover all the situations that arise in real life libraries.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are they really going digital?

The announcement recently that a school library in Massachusetts was going completely digital, based apparently on the lack of book circulation, has caused concern. A thoughtful post on the YALSA blog raises some of the questions we librarians should be asking before we send out mournful tweets. What was the school library doing before this decision was made? Was the school librarian an important figure in the decision to make a basic change in the library collection? How many books circulate in other school libraries every day? What do the students think? Are they reading books at all? Do they have a great public library next door to the school? There are too many questions that beg for answers, and too many opinions thrown out without any facts to back them up. It's not enough to jump on a story and assume a position--pro-book or pro-digital--without asking the more important questions about the impact of any decision. In this world of easy, inexpensive blogging it's more important than ever for librarians to share their experiences, their knowledge and more especially the facts behind their opinions. That's the only way to earn the respect of administrators and the public.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Have you phoned any good stories?

Children's books have appeared in many settings so it shouldn't surprise us that some will now be appearing on the i-phone and i-pod. Instead of reading a story to their child at bedtime, a parent could click on an i-phone version. As both parents and children get more used to using their phones to meet all their entertainment needs, this development seems a natural. Many children will find the small screen idea for their viewing and the thought of keeping a pocketful of books is surely a winner. It's starting small, of course, but this is one development that librarians and teachers will want to keep an eye on.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Will the wild things survive?

Librarians often have an uneasy relationship with movie versions of beloved children's books, as well they might because the success of a movie can change the way a book is perceived. Does anyone remember what Cinderella looked like before the Disney version? Now Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are is being filmed and it looks as though the wild things may be even more changed than Snow White was a generation ago. The New York Times reports on the struggles involved in producing a film version of one of the most straightforward and effective children's books of the past fifty years. Will the simple story of Max's journey to the country of the wild things survive the transition to the screen? It's hard to say. What we can assume will happen is that to many children the film will become the "real" Where the Wild Things Are and the printed books on our shelves will seem but pale imitations. Let's hope that at least a few children will encounter Max and his buddies on the page before being subjected to the wild antics of the film.