Monday, April 25, 2011

But they know it's an ad.

Parents, teachers and librarians often worry about how the commercials on TV and the internet are affecting their children, but many companies contend that children recognize ads and know what they do. Obviously the age of the child has a lot to do with how much they understand about advertising, but even middle-grade children are still confused according to research reported in the NY Times Fourth grade children were invited to play a game called "Be a Popstar" on a site sponsored by a cereal manufacturer. Even though a disclaimed appeared at the top of the screen telling kids that the screen was advertising, the majority of children did not notice or pay attention. Children who played the game on a site with the banner or one without it appeared equally oblivious to the sponsor of the site or the intention of selling cereal rather than offering a chance to become a pop star. What does this have to do with libraries? Well, it suggests that a lot more media education is needed--at home, in classrooms and in libraries. We should try to explain to children that games and TV shows and even some books are designed to sell products rather than provide information.It's not that the games or the products are necessarily bad, but everyone ought to be clear about what the inspiration for sites and shows may be. Only by providing the truth to children can we really fulfil our roles as guides to information.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some days bring despair

For many of us who have spent years trying to bring books and reading to children our calling has become almost a religion. We encourage each other with stories about how children's lives are enriched by the books we introduce them to and the stories they enjoy in our libraries. Now along comes the scandal of Three Cups of Tea the "true story" of a man who devoted years of his life to raising money for schools in Afghanistan. A "60 Minutes" broadcase recently revealed this as not quite the story we thought it was. The schools were not enriched by all the money spent on the book--the author was. A dedicated blogger in Publishers Weekly has expressed the feeling that many of us had when hearing this story. As Barbaara Vey points out, not only were adults fooled by this book, but they bought numerous copies of it for children's collections and school libraries. Many teachers assigned it to their classes (many of whom, according to Vey, found it boring) and now all this pushing of the book only reveals the naivete of adults. Children forced to read it are learning not compassion for third world peoples, but scorn for the adults who can't distinguish between truth and fiction. That's a sure way to turn young readers away from books. We stand revealed as false guides in the world of truth and education. It's enough to make us weep. Let's hope it is also enough to make publishing companies push a little harder to determine the accuracy of what they are publishing, and reviewers to be a little more sceptical of do-gooders who write "memorirs" of their good deeds. We owe it to our children and to the future.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New futures for nonfiction

Ebooks have made a dramatic entrance into the picture book field now they are becoming more important in the nonfiction arena. This month School Library Journal has an excellent roundup called "Pick me! Pick me!" of new nonfiction series available for public and school libraries. Choosing ebooks to be read on computers or mobile devices poses new challenges for librarians used to dealing with print. It's important to know the kind of equipment available in the library, in the school, and in children's homes. SLJ makes some excellent points about the importance of testing these products before purchase and, if possible, having children of the appropriate age try them out. The books are exciting--offering opportunities for vivid graphics, sometimes speech, translation and note taking. We are entering a new era of making information attractive and intereting to children.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Good news from Bologna

The annual Bologna Book Fair draws a host of publishers of childen's books from around the world and a fair number of librarians. American librarians, however, pay less attention to the international children's book market than do their counterparts in other countries. Every year Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal cover events at Bologna, so their is no excuse for American librarians to continue ignoring the international publishing outlook. The report in PW about the fair this year contains mostly good news.People are upbeat; sales are rising; and their is hope that the worldwide depression is gradually lifting. Now is a good time for American libraries to take seriously the global links that will enable our children to share the varied outlooks of artists and authors from all over the world. The publishing industry in Eastern Europe is vigorous and growing. Russian publishing is booming. Although few African countries were represented at the fair and most of the Arab countries were missing, reprentatives from Europe, Australia, and Korea were much in evidence. Many librarians have a difficult time keeping up with American publications and are reluctant to pay attention to other countries, but authors and illustrators from other lands have much to offer to American children. Our patrons of today will be living in an ever more global world as they grow up, so we ought to make a point of looking for the best materials from around the world and offering them on our shelves. Who knows how many kids imaginations and dreams will be stirred by reading about the lives and dreams of children far from them? We owe it to our children to help them look outward and scan distant horizons.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What do the numbers look like?

Most people have difficulty visualizing statistics. Rows of numbers strike many people-especially young people--bored and distracted. Now the statisticians have come up with graphics that make statistical information look startlingly new and much more understandable. According to a NY Times article today a new nonprofit based in Sweden, has formed a group to educate the public about differences in health and wealth in nations around the world. The Gapminder World shows brightly colored dots representing different countries on different continents. The viewer can follow the growth of population and wealth from the 1600s up through 2000s. The information can also be displayed as a map of the world. Think how much more young people could learn if they can view data in this way rather than plowing through number comparisons in textbooks. There's a great future for curricular develpment using these new tools for displaying statistics. Teachers and librarians ought to encourage their colleagues to search out and use examples of this vivid new way of seeing the world. The children will thank you.