Evaluating Kids’ Media (of all kinds)

If you could see my office and house these days you would immediately recognize that I IMG_0943have a deep interest, okay maybe a passion, for illustrated books. This year the picture books, graphic novels, biographies, and illustrated nonfiction, each with colorful sticky notes peeking out like antennae, are piling up in even greater numbers than usual. The tall stacks and long rows of large and small books may seem half-hazard, but the spreadsheet and notebook that go along with them tell a different tale.

This year my work reviewing and evaluating books has taken on a new significance. I’m honored to serve on ALSC’s 2018 Caldecott Award Committee and that means I not only have to believe a book is exceptional, but I have to be able to talk about why the book and, in particular, the illustrations are worthy of the prestigious award. Those sticky notes have purpose! Each book in my growing collection is methodically evaluated using a rubric of sorts that draws on award criteria, research, and my experience working with children and teens.

My work evaluating media doesn’t stop with the paper book. While my book shelves and almost every nook and cranny of my office and home are filling up with Caldecott submissions, I continue to reserve space, virtual and real, for the apps, movies, video games, and programmable robots that all play a role in the daily lives of my community’s kids. As a media mentor, finding high quality media, in all of these formats, is an essential part of my work supporting the information, literacy, and media needs of my community’s families.

Along with serving on the Caldecott Committee, I have been collaborating with KIDMAP (Kids’ Inclusive & Diverse Media Action Project) this winter on a new checklist for evaluating children’s digital media. KIDMAP is a coalition “of media creators, producers, researchers, educators, and parents (that) support the creation of diverse and inclusive children’s media through research, best practices, and collaboration.”

KIDMAP DIG Checklist Overview

KIDMAP DIG Checklist Overview

The KIDMAP Checklist is designed to help reviewers, educators, librarians, and caregivers find and create digital media that is high quality and relevant to families with a variety of experiences. And while being glitch-free, entertaining, and age-appropriate is important, high quality also means being inclusive and rich in diversity. As with paper books for kids, digital media should provide a mirror, window, and sliding glass door; allowing kids to see themselves reflected in the stories told and learn about worlds beyond their own.

The extensive checklist, made possible with the financial support of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, includes sections addressing digital media’s content, art, audio, audience, purpose, functionality/navigation, support materials, and creative teams. The checklist can be used as a rubric or guide in both selecting digital media and designing it. New media is, well, new, but many elements of high quality traditional media can be applied to digital content and formats. Traditional media’s slow progress to broaden diversity and be inclusive does not need to be replicated however.

As with any rubric or evaluation tool, a specific app may not meet every criterion on the KIDMAP checklist and that is ok. Some elements may not apply to every type of media or title. The checklist is meant to be as all-encompassing as possible so that families, educators, designers, and decisions makers can consider inclusion and diversity alongside other elements of high quality digital media.  Each question draws attention to an aspect of digital media that impacts both kids’ ability to access the content and how positive the learning experience will be once they delve into it.

The checklist will eventually be available as a download and we expect to update it. Please use the checklist as you evaluate, select, and create digital media for kids and feel free to send your comments and questions about the checklist to KIDMAP.

Note: As a librarian and media mentor, I am especially excited by the ALSC Board of Directors decision in 2016 to recognize high quality digital media for young children (Excellence for Early Learning Digital Media) and I look forward to seeing the product of their first year’s work!

The checklist was inspired by the work of many including Nova Scotia’s Bias Evaluation Instrument (Canada), Reading Diversity (from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance), Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s The New Coviewing, Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, the Bias Screening Instrument for Interactive Media crafted by Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review) and Kevin Clark (Center for Digital Media, Innovation and Diversity), and Evaluating Apps and New Media for Young Children: A Rubric.

Thanks go out to Sandhya Nankani (Literary Safari), Amy Kraft (Monkey Bar Collective), J. Elizabeth Mills (University of Washington), Tamara Kaldor (TEC Center at Erikson Institute), Kevin Clark, Ph.D. (Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity, George Mason University), Chip Donohue, Ph.D. (TEC Center at Erikson Institute), Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review), Carissa Christner (Madison Public Library), and Daryl Grabarek (School Library Journal).

Media Literacy for Young Children: Accuracy Matters

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Emperor Penguin by Christopher Michel via Flickr

Many people have no idea how much discussion and debate children’s librarians have about topics like books, programming, library organization, awards, digital media use, inclusion/diversity, holidays and more. We are a passionate, caring bunch! Even in my small, rural library we analyze, critique, and evaluate the merits and missteps of kids media on a daily basis.

Recently, our in-house discussions have focused on media that reflects the Alaskan/Arctic experience. Finding any content that includes Arctic animals, cultures, landscapes, etc. can be hard. When we do come across media with Arctic references, we pay special attention.

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Walrus by USGS via Flickr

Three titles, two picture books and one app, came across my desk late in 2016 that made me let out a deep sigh; Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith, Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson, and LumiKids Snow by Lumos Labs. (See more info below.) At first glance they had nothing to do with the Arctic, but then…

Why does some children’s media continue to feature, incorrectly, penguins living in the Arctic and walruses in Antarctica?

What’s the big deal, you ask? Accuracy.

I am calling attention to the penguin/walrus issue here because I think it represents the broader accuracy/authenticity issue that is sometimes pushed aside as minor because the media is otherwise high quality. Some might say I am exaggerating or being overly sensitive. Should I overlook penguin/walrus issue?

While I am a true fan of the fantastical, fictional, and imagined, I do think that kids and their families learn a lot about the real world in fictional media. In all media for kids, books, apps, etc., I think accuracy matters. Incorrectly associating penguins and walruses may seem like a silly example of accuracy issues, but authentic representation supports kids by allowing them to see themselves, their environment, and their culture in the media they read, watch, and explore. All types of media also feed all types of kids’ curiosity about other people, places, and times. Inaccuracy- stereotypes and misinformation- can have lasting effects. I know writers, illustrators, designers, and developers can create high quality experiences that entertain, challenge, represent, and teach.

Interestingly, the Annoyed Librarian posted about scientific accuracy in children’s picture books on the Library Journal blog (November, 2016). While there are several comments to consider on the blog site, check out the additional conversation over on the Storytime Underground Facebook page. Whether or not Eric Carle’s caterpillar makes a chrysalis or a cocoon may not seem connected to the current discussions about fake news, but it might be. Kids and their families take away information from all reading experiences.

As media mentors, it is important for librarians to help families think about what the book, app, video, and website is telling us and whether or not the content is factual (and accurate), fantastical, or a hybrid. Media literacy is not new to librarians and this aspect of our work continues to be fundamental across formats. Intentionally including critical thinking skills in programs for even the youngest patron and conversations with families will have a long term impact. These skills will be invaluable as young children become adult readers and expand their media consumption. I and several others talked to Linda Jacobson about this for her article, “The Smell Test: Educators can counter fake news with information literacy. Here’s how,” in the January issue of School Library Journal.

The examples:

Problem: Walrus in the Antarctic?
A walrus appears late in the story clearly about Antarctica and told by a penguin. There is no explanation why and how the walrus appears in a marine world filled with otherwise authentic Antarctic animals. Was this a mistake or did I not get a joke in the otherwise humorous story?

penguin problems

Penguin Problems by Jory John and Lane Smith

 

Problem: Walruses and Penguins?
Again a walrus appears in this book about penguins, but in this case the walrus is a subtle addition to a book not as clearly about Antarctica, except for the presence of penguins. The generic types of animals, other than penguins and walruses, can be found in both regions. Maybe the penguins have immigrated? Maybe the walrus did?

little penguins.jpg Material Life

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and Christian Robinson

 

I read both books with preschoolers on different occasions and asked kids to help me decide. I asked the two different storytime groups to help me find the issues. One or two kids were able to recognize that walruses (native to Alaska and the Arctic) and penguins (native to the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere) do not coexist. That was ok- we all learn something everyday. They liked the books for the most part, but were a bit puzzled why the walruses were there given that all of the other animals were appropriately connected. Even the adults had the “huh!” expression on their faces.

With information literacy on my mind, I then used the books as starting points for media literacy conversations. We briefly discussed whether the book was  a pretend story or a real story (pretend- penguins don’t talk or live in igloos, they were sure) and tried to figure out if the authors and illustrators added the walruses as a joke (not sure). We also used nonfiction titles and images on my iPad to help us take stock of where the other animals in the books live in real life (all in Antarctica except for the walrus, they were sure) and to decipher if the illustrations looked like northern Alaska and the Arctic or Antarctica (not sure- both regions can be snowy, icy, and have water).

Problem: Penguins in the Arctic?

lumikids snow

LumiKids Snow, Early Learning Play for Kids by Lumos Labs

 

App Description (iTunes, 3/10/17): “Explore an arctic adventure in LumiKids Snow! In this frozen playground, meet new LumiKids friends while you toss snowballs and sled around then warm up with some cozy s’mores!”

The app I reviewed for inclusion on my library’s mounted iPad, but I will not be adding it until the description is updated. (I contacted the developer in early January).

Libraries Are For Everyone: Check Out These Posters!

Have you seen the very cool :”Libraries are for Everyone” posters Rebecca at Hafuboti is making in many, many languages? They are so very inclusive and welcoming. We are going to follow the lead of many other libraries and hang up a variety of the posters in multiple languages (with labels for each language) as a learning opportunity.

Rebecca’s project gave all of us a well-needed resource to use in our libraries, but it also offered me an opportunity to connect with two new people. I first contacted Rebecca to send her kudos and then asked her if she’d be willing to make a version of the posters in Sugs’tun, the Native Alaskan language traditionally spoken in this region of Alaska and still spoken by some members of my library’s community. When she said “yes!” I contacted a local Sugs’tun speaker, Sally Ash, for help translating the “Libraries are for Everyone!” phrase. Sally is one of several Sugpiaq elders involved in language preservation and Sugs’tun is one of twenty-one official Alaskan languages.

Here is one of the posters created by Rebecca and Sally! All of Rebecca’s posters can be found here.

Libraries Are for Everyone (Sugs’tun)

This poster will hang at the library’s entrance next to posters in Russian and English, the other two predominant languages in my community.

Thanks, Rebecca and Sally!

Professional Development Opportunity: Media Mentorship and Family Engagement

Are you a librarian looking for opportunities to delve deeper into the connection between Media Mentorship, New Media, Media Literacy, and Family Engagement? Formal lifelong learning, aka professional development, can be tough to squeeze in when you work, have a family and/or other commitments. Consider MEDIA MENTORSHIP AND FAMILY ENGAGEMENT IN THE DIGITAL AGE, the 5-week continuing education course I’ll be teaching in March and April at the University of Washington-Madison’s School of Library Science (online)!

UW-Madison SLIS’s continuing ed. courses are affordable and the online format makes it easy to do from anywhere in the world, on your schedule! Join us for in-depth discussions with other librarians and hands-on projects that are relevant to your library and community.

Have questions about the course? Contact me or the iSchool at University of Wisconsin-Madison!

 

Toddler Storytime: The Snowy Day

I share a lot of new books in storytime to highlight what has been recently added to the library’s collection, but this past week I wanted to share a classic with families, many of whom are new parents. With snow on the ground, a good mix of play and stories planned and a small dose of storytime magic, it was time to include Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (along with Nicola Smee’s Jingle Jingle) in the toddler/baby storytime line up. The clear, colorful images, the kid perspective, the gentle flow of the story, and the wintertime theme made the book a good fit for the slightly older, mostly 20-30 month old, crowd that showed up. The book also includes a few features that demonstrate how books can be both mirrors and windows (or doors) for children. Including books with a variety of characters that reflect diverse families and their experiences helps create an inclusive storytime environment.

  • Snow, which is on the ground here in Homer, is a very relevant concept for Homer kiddos and helps them connect the story with the world around them.
  • The family is African-American, an underrepresented group in children’s books.
  • The young boy lives in an apartment, instead of the stand alone house often found in stories, and represents one of the many types of loving homes.

I talked about the idea of windows and mirrors in storytime and in the December installment of monthly early literacy article I write for a local newspaper. The article is part of a broad outreach effort to connect families with literacy information wherever they are.

Have you seen the animated, digital version of the book on the Ezra Jack Keats site, the animated short video (Amazon Prime) based on the book, or Andrea Davis Pinckney’s new book about Ezra jack Keats and  the creation of The Snowy Day neighborhood, A Poem for Peter?

The storytime line up (approximately 25 minutes)

Early Literacy Tip:

Books can act as windows and mirrors. The variety of stories, characters, and settings found in books can show that your child’s story matters and help your child learn about and appreciate the experiences of others.

Welcome Song: The More We Get (Read) Together

Book: Jingle Jingle by Nicola Smee

Jingle Jingle by Nicola Smee

Source: Amazon.com

Action Song: Bumping Up and Down In My Little Blue Sled

Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.

Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.

Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.
Source: Jbrary

Book: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Source: mhpbooks.com

Source: mhpbooks.com

Bubble Break!

Fingerplay: Three Little Snowmen

Three little snowmen, all in a row.
Each with a hat and a big red bow.
Out came the sun and it shone all day,
One little snowman melted all away.
(two and one little…)

Closing Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

…twirl around
…jump up high

Activity: Indoor Snow Exploration Bins