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 criteria 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).

Storytime and Beyond on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog

On any given day, all across the country, something amazing happens. Herds of young children, caregivers in tow, tumble through the front doors of their local public libraries. In big cities and small villages, library storytimes are highly valued and hugely popular community programs. Storytime, like the public library itself, is iconic. Ask any adult about their relationship to their local library and many will begin with their own fond memories of storytime.

Cen Campbell I recently co-wrote a blog post about media mentorship and storytimeCollaborative Art at Storytime 2016 for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s blog. Check out the post here and read the follow up post I wrote about libraries, families, and information equity here. Be sure to sign up for their e-newsletter which is always full of valuable information!

Reorganizing the Picture Books- Finally!

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This summer was BUSY! Sure we had the usual summer program hustle and bustle, but we also reorganized, or genre-fied, our picture book collection! I’ve wanted to to do this for a few years, but with limited staff it was impossible. Enter, the state library!

This year, my library welcomed one of three MLIS interns who came to Alaska for eight weeks, thanks to funding from the Alaska State Library. (Our Friends group pitched in housing.) The internship made this program happen. Period.

Families tell me they are thrilled with the reorganization because they can more easily browse the picture book collection. Some have already discovered new-to-them books as they were looking for books about Alaska and the North, for example. Kids are happy too, and quickly adopted the new system. Just the other day, a little boy, age 2, came into the children’s library and said “Claudia, where are the macheeen (machine) books?” Together we walked to the browsing bins tagged with gold stickers and the word “Go” where families can find books about things that go (trucks, cars, airplanes, hot air balloons, bicycles, etc.).

Why did we make the change

I first heard about libraries’ efforts to reorganize their picture book collections at ALA Annual in 2012 when I attended a session called “I Want a Truck Book! Reorganizing Your Picture Book Collection” led by Gretchen Caserotti, Deborah Cooper, and Tali Balas Kaplan. I agreed with all three presenters that kids, especially the youngest, struggle with the systems we’ve traditionally set up for organizing books. We make it easy for adults, not young children, when we organize books by the first letter of an author’s last name, as in our case. I want little ones to confidently select books, find ones they love, and come back for more! I also want them to help me put books away in the right bin when they are done with them. We’ll teach them the DDC and how to find books by author as they grow.

I flew home from California ready to start moving picture books! But, alas, the realities of time and staffing settled in.

What now?

Over the next few years, my library’s director and I talked about the idea of reorganizing our picture books frequently and discussed how families searched and how we could also make finding picture books pretty easy for staff and volunteer shelvers once the reorganization happened. We also needed to figure out what we needed to make the transition happen without closing the library, making staff work long weekends, or removing all of the picture books at one time.

In terms of a plan, we already had a few things going for us.

  • Our picture books (about 2,500) lived in browsing bins. We liked this arrangement because it already made the books (face-out) more accessible for pre-readers and readers than if they were on shelves, spine-out. In fact, we also bought face-out bins for our beginning readers a few years ago which makes for a friendly transition for emerging readers moving from one part of the children’s collection to the other.
  • We used a colored dot system for the picture book collection and wanted to stick with it. The colored dots helped pre-readers find sections of the collection (and the colors provide a literacy talking point for families). Although the problem we had with the colored dot system was that some parts of the alphabetically-organized collection had grown to include 16 sections of books, T-Z for example,  with 20-25 books per section and this was an unwieldy number of bins to search through for 1 or 2 books.
  • We were a stand-alone library, so we only had one picture book collection to transition.
  • Other staff members were supportive and were willing to help with the process.
  • Other libraries had transitioned their collections, shared their process in blogs and presentations, and were willing to answer my questions (thanks Mel!).

What did we do next?

Wait.

Then we found out about the internship, came up with a real plan, and applied. Our plan included a draft schedule of categories, the who, what, and when of changing spine labels, what we wanted on the spine labels, and how we were going to remove parts of the picture book collection during one of the busiest parts of the year. (The internship was only offered during the summer.)

Once William, our intern, arrived, learned about book processing, practiced assigning categories with me, and got the appropriate permissions in our ILS, we got to work. The process took about 6 weeks to complete. We did this project while the library was open, picture books were still circulating, and our summer program was in full swing. At no time were all of the bins empty and during this whole process we had good circulation numbers at the library!

Picture Book Bins and New Book section image

Reorganized picture book bins with ‘New Books’ and storytime area in background. Board books now live on bottom shelf of ‘New Books’ area (left side).

Categories

As you can see from the schedule at the top of the post, we ended up with 16 categories. We identified categories we liked (many are similar to other libraries’ categories) based on families’ search behavior and sections we wanted to highlight (Alaska & the North). Then we figured out how many bins we had and estimated how many books would be in each category. Again, there are about 20-25 books per section/bin. In this calculation, we also figured two extra pieces: we moved the board books from some of the lower sections so we had more space to work with and brought many of the folk, fairy, and traditional tales from the 398’s to the picture bins if we thought they were a better fit there. A few of the categories changed in some way (grew, changed name, etc) through the process which in our situation was pretty easy because we’re small.

Each category included at least 4 bins (2 bins on the top and two right beneath). The maximum number of bins was capped at 10, versus 16 previously. We wanted that number to be even smaller to make searching for specific titles easier, but we made this work. So far it has been fine and is much easier to find specific books than before the move. Here are the final categories and the number of bins filled with books in that category. The total number of picture book bins is 114.

  • Adventures = 4
  • Alaska = 4
  • Animals = 8
  • Celebrate = 10
  • Concepts = 10
  • Families = 10
  • Favorites = 8
  • Friends = 8
  • Go = 8
  • Growing = 10
  • Movement = 4
  • Nature = 6
  • Rhythm = 6
  • School = 4
  • Tales = 10
  • Wordless = 4

A couple of things to consider:

  • We place books in categories based on the central idea of the book, starting with the LoC Subject Headings associated with the book. Those are so handy, aren’t they?
  • We did NOT include a multicultural section. We incorporate diverse characters, settings, authors, illustrators, and topics throughout the collection.
  • We did not include a miscellaneous category. We wanted to be very intentional about the books and their placement so nothing got lost in a catch all bin.
  • We wanted the categories to be general enough to capture a wide variety of books related to the topic.
  • We did include a ‘Favorites’ category because some characters are just popular and need to be in one place (Curious George, for example).
  • We can plainly see which categories of the collection need more books and which categories have plenty or need to be weeded! The ‘Go’ category is always empty (books are always checked out) and we need more books with things that go. The ‘Families’ and ‘Celebrate’ categories have plenty for now!

Sticker, Stickers, and More Stickers

Homer, Alaska is not the place to buy a variety of dot stickers. We had a bunch on hand that we repurposed
from the previous system, but we needed more. We had to order the new colors and then had to order more. This took time and made us a bit nervous, but some colors just didn’t look as good in hand and some were too similar, less distinguishable on the books. Gold and silver were too similar, for example.

You will see on the spine label that we kept the 3 first three letters of author’s last name. This was something we wanted in case we need to fiddle with the organization at some point without having to redo spine labels. With limited staffing, we didn’t want to spend resources on reprocessing books en masse. The ‘P’ stands for Picture Books which refers to the section and replaced the ‘E’ that was there before

Weeding

A coworker and I weeded the collection pretty heavily last Spring in anticipation of the big move. However, during the move we weeded even more! It felt good to freshen up the collection. I am still ordering replacements for tried and true books that were beyond repair.

Reorganizing Picture Books Sign imageSigns

Throughout the process we posted signs, talked to families at storytime, and chatted with families as we met them in the children’s library about the move. We added “coming soon!” signs to empty bins, especially when we removed a lot of books at one time.

The schedule of categories is now posted on the end of each row of book bins for families’ reference. The colorful dots are eye-catching and often make families pause before starting their search. The signs and the reorganization are another step towards supporting successful independent searching and finding.

Everyday Early Literacy Fair

Early Literacy Fair flyer

Part of my role as Youth Services Librarian is to develop community partnerships in support of families and literacy. One partnership I love, although it meets somewhat infrequently, is the Language and Literacy Task Force. We’re a group of professionals from local early childhood organizations that meet to discuss ideas, strategies, issues, challenges and potential collaborative projects. One of the projects we developed together was the Early Literacy Fair which was held at the library in the Fall of 2015. I’m writing about it now, because we are in the planning stages of the 2nd annual event.

The fair came to be after talking to families about what early literacy support they needed and wanted beyond what I share in storytime, in the monthly Growing Readers newspaper column, and brochures, handouts, etc. What I heard from multiple parents with older children (K+), was that when their kids were little they felt like they knew a lot about early literacy, but in actuality, they discovered later, they did not. Sone parent recommended targeting kids and whole families- proposing that the kid-focused approach to the event would be more effective than a parent education class or workshop. We took that advice to heart and felt we could design an event that would include parents that were already confident, but might benefit from more information and strategies, as well as families who might be intimidated by the class or workshop format and need a lot of information. The partnership aspect also helped us target families new to the library but familiar with other community organizations and services.

We designed the successful event based on Every Child Ready to Read’s five early literacy practices and created five associated stations. Four different organizations managed the five stations (2 representatives from one organzation were included). The event took place on a Saturday in the children’s library so anyone dropping by could also participate if they wanted. Most of our programs for young children happen during the week because of limited staffing, so this was a great opportunity to support families who can’t make it Monday through Friday.

At each station, families found tips on how to support one aspect of early literacy at home. They collected the tips, printed on cards, and took home a set of five to help them remember what they learned. And more importantly to the under 8 crowd, each station also had a fun, hands-on activity for young children related to the early literacy practice.

The Stations

Reading station image #1

Reading Station 2 image

Reading Station 3 image

Reading: I organized the reading station and featured great books, in all formats. I also featured one of my “10 Ways to Explore a Book” posters . I talked about different ways to read a book to young children, depending on the child, the context, and the content. (Yes- it should remind you of Lisa Guernsey’s 3 C’s for digital media use with young children.) Caregivers could take information about getting a library card, our storytime programs, accessing the library’s digital library, and digital media with young children. Kids could play with a tray full of magnetic letters and create words, spell their name, etc. We offered free books while supplies lasted. We had some funds to purchase a small amount of books from the local bookstore and the rest were donated.

Talking Station 1 image

Talking Station 2 image

Talking: Kids were able to build a snack bag at this table and a local speech therapist modeled for families how to build a conversation around everyday activities and add vocabulary to make for rich conversation by talking about what foods they were adding to the bag, for example. We also included a sensory bin full of dried beans and an assortment of plastic fruits and vegetables. I made laminated cards with the name and image of the same fruits and vegetables found in the bins so families could play a find game and match the plastic version with the photo/word version. I’ve used these sensory bins in a food storytime as well.

Playing: A local educator from a community environmental organization brought puppets and a variety of natural history materials to play with in a dramatic play station. I forgot to take a picture of this station, but it was a nice tie-in for the many families in our community who are outdoor-oriented.

Singing Station 1

Singing Station 2 image

Singing: This station was a hit with young makers! It featured homemade shakers and a representative from the local early childhood services organization supplied plastic eggs, dried beans and rice, and colorful duct tape for the musical instruments. She provided tips on why singing is important for early literacy and shared musical books that are fun to read and might interest families. She included lyrics to fun rhymes and songs in the take home tips and featured some of the CDs from the library’s children’s music collection.

Writing Station 1 image

Writing Station 2 image

Writing: A woman from the ELL program at the local college with many years experience in early literacy and family engagement provided tips on incorporating writing into everyday activities. She talked with families on a one-to-one basis about what writing looks like at different ages and stages. She was near the library’s windows so she provided kids with window markers to draw on the windows (washes off easily), small notebooks for kids to write and draw in at the library and then take home, and a variety of coloring/writing tools like gel pens, markers, and crayons pencils.