Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Community Literacy Work in a time of Covid-19: Part 5, "Accessible" Reading

Outflow (Ministry Inc.) hosts a men's shelter in the heart of Saint John. When the Covid-19 related closing began, lots of Saint Johners - especially our poorest residents - lost access to many daily supports, including the Saint John Free Public library. Sheltering in place was tough enough; sheltering in place with nothing to read was... well, bad.

Outflow spoke with us about creating an in-house library of sorts. Talking it through, they decided they wanted a shelf with good quality books, books written for adults, and books written at various levels of reading difficulty. Through a private donation, we were able to provide a 'starting kit' of mixed level reading materials, including some very popular titles by Nova Scotia newcomer William Kowalski.


Photo from bookseller Lakesidebooks.com

When we checked back in, a few weeks later, we heard that the Outflow library was still chugging along: helpful, popular, accessible.

For us, that last term is key, and means something more than just "in-house" or "libraries have re-opened." It also means books people can read, books they don't find too hard or too easy, too simple or too complex. "I like to read when I can read," someone told us long ago. That's been our rationale for proving good reads at multiple levels of reading difficulty ever since.

Easier-to-read books by Mr. Kowalski and many other top-notch authors can be found at Grass roots Press or Orca Books and, of course, your local public library.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Community Literacy Work in a time of Covid-19: Part 4, International Literacy Day (#backyardstorytent)

 Happy International Literacy Day.  :\

According to the UN 'International Literacy Day 2020 focuses on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,” especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.'  The authors note that during the initial responses to Covid-19, many in-person literacy supports and services were suspended, and communities turned to distance learning methods; online or virtual in some contexts, 'through TV and radio, or in open air spaces' in others.

In the posts below, we've highlighted shifts QLNB made in response to Covid-19: chiefly, suspending our work of hosting community learning spaces, and bumping up our work of providing tools and information to support learning-in-place.  However, we also dabbled in virtual outreach with our #backyardstorytent videos - four short YouTube videos encouraging summer-long, family-sized 'storytents.'

Backyard Storytents - Imagine Yours


Backyard Storytents - Cats


Backyard Storytents - Staycation


Backyard Storytents - Any Time


'What is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on youth' the UN asks, 'and adult literacy educators and teaching and learning? What are the lessons learnt?'  We don't claim any special insights or accomplishments.  With many of you, we are also using this International Literacy Day 'to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond.'  At this point, all we can bring to the table is our determination to not stop working in and for those urban and rural New Brunswick communities who reach out to us for support.  After all, as the UN also points out, the 'existing gap between policy discourse and reality... already existed in the pre-COVID-19 era.'  Covid-19 is a challenge, but it is neither the most widely felt, nor the steepest, barrier to increased community, family and adult literacies.

So, yeah.  Unironically. Happy International Literacy Day.  Let's go.  :)

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Community Literacy Work in a time of Covid-19: Part 3, (Rural) Little Free Libraries


In past years, the end of August would see us writing reports and sorting pictures, reflecting on a summer of storytenting at rural NB events - Canada Day spent in Grand Bay - Westfield, Campobello Island's Fogfest, Field Day in Browns Flat, Come Home Week at the Junction.  This year, event tents have been replaced by visits to little free libraries both in and out of the city.

We've already shared our kick-off visit to Redhead.  This weekend we dropped packages of books authored by New Brunswickers to little free libraries in Browns Flat (inside the Irving), Bates Landing (at the Roadside Market) and in Long Reach (at the Fullerton Corner Market).


We met up with Hon. Bill Oliver at Bates Landing (he was dropping off a couple of books at the library) and another NBer who said she regularly stops by on a weekly commute.

We met extraordinary white pumpkins of Fullerton Farms at our Long Reach stop (this one came home with Cheryl).  And we drove past acres of gorgeous Acadian forest and fields of fresh cut hay.  It's turning into a lovely autumn.

(Still, winter is coming - plan your reading now.)



Major funding for this project comes from a New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture Literacy Promotion Grant.  Additional support has come from the New Brunswick Department of Social Development, a Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick - Peter Gzowski Invitational (PGI) grant, and various private and corporate donations.

For more information on books, borrowing and libraries in the current context, check out New Brunswick Public Libraries' COVID-19 and Your Library and, from earlier this year, a CBC webstory Is it safe to borrow library books? Your COVID-19 questions answered.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Community Literacy Work in a time of Covid-19: Part 2, SRC in a Box

 


Back when we all crowded the supermarkets and bus stops with nary a care in the world, QLNB had plans to run a six-week storytent program on Anglin Drive.  We'd outreach the provincial Summer Reading Club (SRC), snack on oranges and bananas, maybe bring along a jump rope or some sidewalk chalk, and make sure everybody knew about the neighbourhood library just down the street (open Tuesday evenings by QLNB for general borrowing and Thursday evenings by workers from the Public Library for stories, arts and crafts).

Then things changed.  There wasn't going to be a Thursday night program, nor an open Tuesday night, nor any oranges and bananas to share beneath the storytent.

Plan B: “Summer Reading Club in a Box.”  If children couldn't attend the storytent, maybe we could take books to them.  If lending or returning books was deemed inappropriate (as it was during the early months of Covid-19), maybe we could give the children brand new books, packaged in plastic and "rested" for 72 hours.  Given the cost of high quality new books - and we saw no benefit in handing out less expensive but unpopular books - we calculated we could stay within budget and still get books and SRC materials to approximately 20 children in the neighbourhood.  Each child would receive two new books on our first visit, and two more when we returned three weeks later.  On our first visit, we would ask families for specific titles and authors so that we could personalize the second pair of books each child received (requests ranged from graphic novels to Robert Munsch storybooks to Diary of a Wimpy Kid in English and French).  We reworked the budget, swallowing most material costs and all staffing costs.  We talked with our partners and funders to make sure they were on board.  And we shopped as shrewdly as we knew how.

Then, one evening in early July, we walked the neighbourhood.  Always mindful of the need to social distance, we made a specific approach to those children and families who had participated in the previous summer's SRC, while also offering to support any new families who spoke to on our first delivery night.  In keeping with our established practice of signing interested children up to SRC in the storytent (this is the ‘outreach’ component of outreaching SRC) we looked after the 2020 online signup and ensured participants received their SRC certificate by summer’s end..

In all, twenty-one children registered for SRC 2020, each child receiving four new books.  In addition, one newcomer family with multiple children, who did not register for SRC due to language and cultural barriers, received ten free books. In total, QLNB was able to deliver 94 new books to 25 children from 12 families.

This project was made possible by financial support from the City of Saint John, as wel as in-kind and materials support from the Department of Social Development - Housing and the Saint John Free Public Library.

QLNB weren't the only storytenters sidelined by the impact of Covid-19 and resulting restrictions on summer programming.  The Saint John Free Public Library was unable to provide their planned Storytent in the Courtenay Bay neighbourhood.  Knowing about our Anglin Drive plans, the Department of Social Development asked QLNB to help these neighbourhood families obtain quality reading materials and access to the library’s Summer Reading Club 2020.  Once again, we talked with our partners (the Department of Social Development - Housing and the Saint John Free Public Library) and developed a budget that would allow us to support approximately 20 children.

As was the case on Anglin Drive, each child would recieve two new books on our first visit, and two more when we returned three weeks later.  On our first visit, we relied on a community representative who had spoken with families in advance and who walked us around, introducing us to her neighbours.  In the end, seventeen children registered for SRC 2020, each receiving four new books to call their own. In addition, a newcomer family with two children, a resident’s grandchild, and five toddlers out and about in the neighbourhood received two free books each. In total, QLNB was able to deliver 84 new books to 25 children from 15 families.

Financial support from the Department of Social Development - Housing, and materials support from the Saint John Free Public Library, made this project possible.



Children expressed delight (and many adults surprise) at being able to keep the books.  For our part, we believe that reinforcing personal book ownership by giving away good quality books is an important factor in children coming or continuing to see themselves as readers.  QLNB also views this project as a practical way to support community literacy while respecting provincial COVID-19 guidelines.





P.s., for more information on books, borrowing and libraries in the current context, check out New Brunswick Public Libraries' COVID-19 and Your Library and, from earlier this year, a CBC webstory Is it safe to borrow library books? Your COVID-19 questions answered


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Community Literacy Work in a time of Covid-19: Part 1, Little Free Libraries

Most summers, QLNB supports and promotes family and community literacy by showing up - tents and tarps, boxes of books to read and borrow, writing materials and singing games and healthy snacks and laying about in the sunshine (or huddled away from the rain) talking with kids and adults about stories and words and "how's your week going?"

This year, things have been different.

Our first change in plans came when we recognized there would be no New Brunswick community event storytents because New Brunswick wasn't having community events.  In place of event tents, we chose to deliver a package of books, authored by New Brunswickers, to little free libraries in or near-by those south-western NB communities our 2020 event tents would have served.

While these gift-packs vary, most include seven small picture books for children and families published by the University of New Brunswick Early Childhood Centre, an NB authored board, picture, youth fiction and youth non-fiction book, and a fiction and non-fiction book for adults (e.g., David Adams Richard's Mercy Among the Children or Nicholas Guitard's Waterfalls of New Brunswick: A Guide).

We kicked off this project by placing a book pack in Red Head's Little Free library (pictured above), as well as stocking four laundry-room libraries in the Roxbury Drive public housing neighbourhood.

Major funding for this project comes from a New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture Literacy Promotion Grant.  Additional support has come from the New Brunswick Department of Social Development, a Literacy Coalition of New Brunswick - Peter Gzowski Invitational (PGI) grant, and various private and corporate donations.

 


P.s., for more information on books, borrowing and libraries in the current context, check out New Brunswick Public Libraries's COVID-19 and Your Library and, from earlier this year, a CBC webstory Is it safe to borrow library books? Your COVID-19 questions answered





Monday, July 27, 2020

Summer Reading Club 2020


You can sign up for the NB Public Library's Summer Reading Club online at https://www1.gnb.ca/0003/src=cle/2020/en/index-e.asp 

Reading: Schooldays, Workdays

In a University of New Brunswick course named "Challenging Authoritative Texts," students are encouraged to think of “text” as more than print on paper.  That’s an interesting idea. Alas, what I learned was that taking this particular course meant ‘challenging’ near acres of print on paper. 

It begins with the two course textbooks, Stephen Brookfield’s 2005 The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching with core content spanning 387 pages (the whole text is 435 pages long), and Lois Tyson’s 461 page (487 page total length) Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide (2006, 2nd ed.).

Then there was the week-by-week reading of Power Points (“Introduction to Critical Literacy,” “Notes on White Fragility,” “Introduction to Critical Disability Theory”), a Wikipedia piece (“The Death of the Author”), and class notes “Notes and Questions about Authority” and “Liberal Humanism Notes.”  This was accompanied by a long list of articles with titles like “Bakhtin and Carnival,” “Grappling with Text Ideas,” “The Five Stages of Colonialism,” “How Picture Books Work,” “Portrayals of Class Mobility in Newbery Titles” and “Beyond Shrek” (as if!).

I read “Assimilation Ideology: Critically Examining Underlying Messages in Multicultural Literature” by Yoon, Simpson & Haag, “First Graders and Fairy Tales” by Bourke, “Children’s Literature to Support Critical Literacy Engagement” by Enriquez et al., “Slurs, Interpellation, and Ideology” by Kulla and “Chattling the Indigenous Other: A Historical Examination of the Enslavement of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada” by Erica Neeganagwedgin.

There was also, “The Colour of Supremacy” by Leonardo, “Contesting Controlling Images” by Heinecken, “Putting Read-Alouds to Work for LGBTQ-Inclusive Critically Literate Classrooms” by Ryan & Hermann-Wilmarth as well as “Learning to Queer Texts” by Nicola McClung.

I read “Books that Portray Characters with Disabilities” by Prater & Taylor Dyches, “Reading Disability in Children’s Literature” by Yonika-Agbaw, and “Respectful Representations of Disability in Picture Books” by Pennell, Wollak & Koppenhaver.

Phew!  I’m not going to deny that these readings were interesting and enlightening and challenging in the best sense.  Still, my-oh-my, it felt good to kick back and read some real literature for the course
  • Machines at Work by Byron Barton
  • I love My Hair! by Natasha Tarpley
  • How Smudge Came by Nan Gregory
  • Heather has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
  • Mi'kmaw Waisisk / Mi'kmaw Animals by Alan Sylaboy
  • Mommy, Mama and Me by Leslea Newman 
  • Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman
  • And Tango Make Three by Justin Richardson
  • Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beers
  • Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr

All this reading might have felt a little less daunting had I not been already swimming in text at work.  I remember seeing a note someplace that upwards of 90% of our daily reading is on-the-job or work related.  My day job recently included facilitating an online course for a couple of dozen future early childhood educators - more reading!

Besides, obviously, reading all the course pages, I read about 600 written assignments and responses, to which I composed 600 replies, as well as re-reading significant portions of the New Brunswick Curriculum Framework for Early Learning and Childcare document.  I composed 10 reports for (and exchanged hundreds of emails with) my manger and colleagues - in the time of COVID-19 email is at least as important as tools like Zoom or Skype for getting things done.  On the side, I’ve been reading Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Working with Young Immigrant Children by Chumak-Horbatsch for a workplace book study, and the journal Childcare Exchange.

Again, all of it interesting and enlightening and challenging in the best sense.  And I really was energized reading the written responses of my online learners.

Still…  there was some other reading I’d been looking forward to.



* At time of writing, CB began facilitating two additional online courses as well as entering another UNB course on critical literacy. The Witcher remains unread.

Cheryl Brown (@CherylAnneBrown) is co-creator of the Storytent and Bookwagon programs, QLNB's Community Literacy Coordinator, and long-time advocate for and facilitator of a variety of family literacy initiatives.  In these posts, she has been documenting and sharing snap-shots of some of her daily reading. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Reading: Wild Things!


"Children’s literature makes us fall in love with books and we never recover – we’re doomed”
- Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter D. Sieruta.  Wild Things!: Acts of mischief in children’s literature. (2014) p. 5.

I own a book series by Bernadette Gervais - That’s Dangerous; That’s Mean and That’s Disgusting - which all have Amazon descriptions that start off "Not for the faint of heart" and use descriptors like "kid-approved."  Sometime in late July, I toss That’s Disgusting into my Storytent book box to meet what we call the "mid-summer slump" - that point when kids have read the books they think they like and are looking for something new, something different.  Gervais never disappoints.

So, not surprisingly, Wild Things! caught my eye and seriously interfered with my leisure reading of The Witcher series.

Wild Things! talks about books with scary things, and weird things and other things children like, including subversive literature.  The authors remind us that Sendek’s Where the Wild Things Are was a pretty big deal at the time it was published (Max is not a pleasant, obedient little boy).  They tell us that Robert Munsch's Paper Bag Princess originally had Elizabeth punching Ronald in the nose (a scene that, after a dragon ate a whole castle, seemed a step too far for the publisher of the day).  Wild Things! includes some behind the scenes stuff like GLBT in books for children and youth, concerns about e-readers, and the ways and means of book banning (a complicated topic - I'm not in favour, but then again you won't find a Caillou book anywhere I live, work or read aloud).  Celebrity picture book writing and the lasting impact of Harry Potter's adult readership on the world of books for children and youth also come up for discussion.

One area that particularly interested me was the idea of recommended books.  I own seven different books listing “great books for kids,” included some that promote gendered lists.  I also have three children (now grown) whose strong opinions about books didn’t seem to have anything to do with these lists.  Furthermore, having read hundreds of titles to diverse children in diverse settings over the past two decades, I have some pretty strong opinions myself on what makes for a "great book."  When I'm not sure, I ask the kids around me.  That's why, despite some lukewarm adult reactions, book series like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Dave Pilkey’s Captain Underpants, and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid have so much room in our book borrowing boxes and little free library shelves.  Children ask for them, read them and, from time to time, hide them under their beds to avoid having to give them back.  Children are discerning readers - or, at least, fussy ones - and my coworkers and I have had the unfortunate experience of running low on great books and being force to watch kids look through our not-great books only to leave empty handed.

No surprise, then, that my favourite chapter of Wild Things! was "Kids Love ‘Em, Critics hate ‘Em…. And Vice Versa."  Book reviews and "recommended" lists may lead to increased sales, but, the authors point out, children "neither know nor care what the critics think" (p. 142).  Importantly, a title appearing on a book list isn't enough to write it off.  One perennial, Goodnight Moon, became my daughter’s favourite and by far most requested book even though I didn't think much of it at the time.  Why did she like it?  Was it in the way I read it, as a little song?  Was it the time we spent together reading it?  Was it the illustrations?  Was it the mouse hiding in a different spot on each coloured page?  I really don't know and now she says she doesn't remember.  In any case, it is a reminder that, as the authors of Wild Things! point out, the gulf between critics' takes and children’s tastes is only “part of the truth, part of the time” (p. 168).  The trick of it is to remember that if you can’t trust the list, you can trust the children.



Cheryl Brown (@CherylAnneBrown) is co-creator of the Storytent and Bookwagon programs, QLNB's Community Literacy Coordinator, and long-time advocate for and facilitator of a variety of family literacy initiatives.  In these posts, she has been documenting and sharing snap-shots of some of her daily reading.