Sunday, August 30, 2015

Still Banning Kids' Books? Really?

We have to ask ourselves the timeless questions:  Are kids' books still being banned?  Why?  And by whom?  The answers are as varied as children themselves.  This blogger believes a couple of words could readily sum it up:  fear and ignorance.

According to the American Library Association, 2014 saw 311 book challenges. That’s 311 times that some adult decided that not only did they not want their kids reading a particular book, but that they also wanted to keep others from getting the opportunity.

Banning books give us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.
Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
 Have a look at the top 10 most challenged books of the 21st century, you see literary classics like The Bluest Eye and Brave New World alongside fun tales like Bone and Captain Underpants.
Here are some examples of banned or challenged books and the reasons given:
Winnie-the-Pooh has been banned because he has no clothes on.  No animal nudity, please!

Another banned treasure is:  Where the Wild Things Are.  The reason for banning is "that it glorifies bad behavior." 
Another example of classics banning is:  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Reason given:  The book showcases women having too much power.  In 2004 both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson conspired to get the movie banned from broadcast on public television because of “moral turpitude.”

Robertson would publicly state that “The Almighty told me that flying monkeys and witches are an affront to all good Christians.”  When asked at the time if either had ever seen the movie or read the book, they denied, saying that they “feared ungodly influence."  As recently as 2004, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell tried to have the film banned because of its "wicked flying monkeys."

Perhaps the point has been made here that book banning is an affront to freedom.  Parents do have the right to govern what their minor children read.  In a democracy, they do not have the right to actively ban books so other parents and their kids cannot make up their own minds about the books under attack.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Reading to Young Children Can Change Their Lives Forever

A remarkable, but not surprising study has revealed some concrete benefits of reading to your children.  It was conducted at the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. I thought it was important enough to repeat in my blog, something I usually do not do.

When parents read to their children the difference shows in their behavior and academic performance. And according to the study study, the difference also shows in their brain activity. Researchers looked at children ages 3 to 5 who underwent brain scans (MRI) while listening to a pre-recorded story. The parents answered questions about how much they read to, and communicated with, their children.
The researchers saw that, when the young children were being told a story, a number of regions in the left part of the brain became active. These are the areas involved in understanding the meaning of words and concepts and also in memory. The same was true when older children listen to stories or read.
This study shows that the development of this area starts at a very young age, said Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, program director and one of the authors of the study.  Horowitz-Kraus is one of the authors of the study, which was published  in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Even more interesting, according to Horowitz-Kraus, is how the brain activity in this region was higher among the children whose parents reported creating a more literacy-friendly home: 

The more you read to your child the more you help the neurons in this region to grow and connect in a way that will benefit the child in the future in reading.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents start reading out loud to their children from the time they are born.
Site TitleThe researchers looked at a number of measures to gauge whether homes were literacy-friendly, including how often children were read to and whether they had access to books and the variety of books. The research team is now looking at which of these aspects contributed the most to stimulating children’s brain activity, Horowitz-Kraus said.
Before this study, a large body of research has shown that children who are exposed to books at a young age go on to do better on a wide variety of measures, said Dr. Barry Zuckerman, professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. They have better vocabulary, higher literacy, pay attention and concentrate better, and are better prepared to go into kindergarten, he said
 Although it remains to be seen how children who have lower levels of brain activity will fare in the future, “I would speculate that it is an effect that lasts,” Horowitz-Kraus said. “The brain develops rapidly from zero to six years of age, and the more exposure, the more you enrich and nurture these brain networks that are related to social and academic ability, the more the kid will gain the future.”
There are benefits of parents reading to their children beyond the child’s performance, too. “It’s one of the most pleasurable activities that you do with your child — there’s physical closeness but it’s probably the most unhurried time that children have with their parent and it is focused on them,” Zuckerman said.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Why Are So Many Adults Reading Young Adult Fiction?

 What is the allure these days of young adult books and their crossover appeal to the adult crowd the world over?  Many YA books, in fact, are standouts with the adult community.  This industry has grown astronomically to become worth millions of dollars worldwide, with authors such as JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins.  In fact, (55%, according to a 2012 study), are actually adults. So what's the reason?
Perhaps the real mystery, then, is not why the works of the authors above have been so successful commercially, but why they, and other books like them, have appealed to so many people beyond their target audience. This in itself creates a sub-mystery, too: why do these books remain popular years after they are first published, and what is it about society today that means that their messages and values are still applicable to us?

One reason is that adults have discovered this: that young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there. Authors who write for young adults are taking creative risks -- with narrative structure, voice and social commentary -- that you don’t see as often in the more rarefied world of adult fiction.
YA books can be a vehicle for evoking nostalgia; they can often remind older readers of their childhoods and teenage years.  Society nowadays is so intricately and overwhelmingly critical of YA, and yet it is its simplicity that often provides the most pleasure for young people and adults alike.
Their universal appeal is palpable New generations of young people grow up, and they are often found reading the same books as their predecessors due to the sheer quality and sense of purpose behind the writing, making them applicable to anyone, at any time.

So to all of my adult readers out there:  Check out a few young adult books.  See if you feel nostalgic, or excited, or better for having read your choice.  You may be surprised!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Children's Books That Have Paved the Way to Legitimize LGBT

With (finally) an emphasis on LGBTQ books for young people, let's take a look at some of the ones that literally paved the way for those to come. With all the talk of needing books about diversity, this type of book along with transgender offerings, are becoming if not quite mainstream, non-squeamish and accepted by much of the population. 
Heather Has Two Mommies by LeslĂ©a Newman and Diana Souza (1989) 
This book tells the story of a child with same-sex parents. New plot points include artificial insemination and an inclusive discussion at Heather’s playgroup about different family structures. In real-life playgroups, the response to this book was far less benign: the story rocked the U.S., and the resulting controversy led to extensive parodies including a "Simpsons" version: “Bart Has Two Mommies.”
Asha’s Mums by Rosamund Elwin, Michele Paulse and Dawn Lee (1990) 
ashasmumsAsha needs to get a permission slip signed by her mother, but she is perplexed when she must decide which of her two moms to ask. While Heather was lucky enough to have an accepting playgroup, Asha confronts a far less hospitable school -- and world. It’s a tale for anyone whose family does not fit into educational bureaucracy, and Asha’s African-Canadian identity marks a decisive step away from lily-white characters
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite (1991) 
You might recognize the name from the 2008 presidential campaign when it “came out” that Sarah Palin, back in her 1995 councilwoman days, had said the book should not be permitted in public libraries. Why? There’s a gay relationship between the the father and his new roommate-actually-boyfriend, Frank. Plus it all starts off with a divorce and arrives at a pretty clear message: “Being gay is just one more kind of love.”
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell and Henry Cole (2005) 
A tale of two male penguins who are chick-less until a zookeeper helps them adopt Tango from a heterosexual couple. Animals are always one of the easier ways to discuss unconventional story lines, but that didn’t stop Singapore from banning the book along with two others last year. In fact, it’s ranked third on ALA’s list of “Most challenged books of the 21st century,” which is hard to explain considering how heartwarming these polar birds are. Did we mention it’s based on real gay penguins at the Central Park Zoo?
My New Mommy by Lilly Mossiano and Sage Mossiano (2012) 
Who says transgender identity can’t be explained to young children? Four-year-old Violet has a transitioning father who carefully walks her -- and us -- through the process. Like Daye and Johnson, Mossiano was frustrated with the lack of children’s materials, so she took matters into her own hands. She challenged herself to make the content accessible to a young audience, but the real challenge is the one she posed to traditional portrayals of gender in children's books.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Star Wars is Coming to a Golden Book Near You!

With new games, shows, and movies all on the way, watch out for Star Wars!  The series is back in a different format.  Disney recently announced that the entire saga is launching a new series of Little Golden Books for kids.
The Star Wars Little Golden Books will soon join the iconic series of children's books that have been around since the 40's. Each book is designed to capture a single movie in the six-film saga, and will feature writing and artwork from different creative teams as well as those gold spines we all grew up with.
The Star Wars franchise has woven itself into the hearts and minds of generations of fans, many of whom read Little Golden Books as children," said Jeanne Mosure of Disney Publishing Worldwide in the official release: 
We’re very excited to be incorporating Little Golden Books into our overarching strategy so parents can now introduce their own children to the wonders of the galaxy through this classic format.

Entertainment Weekly debuted the covers for all six books — adaptations of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. They all have that signature golden spine, but instead of the classic decorations of filigree, flowers, bees, vines and the like, these spins have little icons of Star Wars characters. How cool is that!

The books became available on July 28th, with a complete boxed set being released on September 1st.