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).

Simple Media Advisory in the Library

I’m always looking for better ways to provide media advisory that incorporate paper and digital resources, but that can be tricky. My library is small, has only limited resources, and is remote in comparison to many. We don’t have large monitors to project images or even good enough WiFi to keep an iPad connected 24/7. So I have to be creative. If you are a librarian or teacher, you probably know all about that.

So here is what I am doing lately. I am creating ‘Learn More’ themed signs, and accompanying displays, to provide media advisory (not just reader advisory) in simple ways wherever families look- throughout the children’s library landscape, on our website, and on social media. This isn’t a particularly new or innovative idea, but I wanted to highlight a simple example of media mentorship.

I start with the weekly storytime themes, pull in a broader array of library materials for kids 12 and under, and add high quality digital resources that relate to the theme but families might not know, or think, about. The idea is to connect families with information in multiple formats and encourage them to extend learning experiences with picture books, nonfiction books, audiobooks, movies, websites, apps, and more. The lists are not exhaustive by any means, but are a taste of what’s out there. The ‘Learn More: Penguins’ sign is part of a display in the library and is posted on our social media accounts. Again, it’s not super fancy, but media mentorship doesn’t need to be.

What does media mentorship look like in your library or classroom?

Learn More: Penguins display sign

Note: I love Jory John and Lane Smith’s latest book Penguin Problems for many reasons, but the inclusion of a walrus, an Arctic animal, in this obviously Antarctic tale was unfortunate. Alaskan kids are familiar with walrus since much of our state is above the Arctic circle, so when I read this book with kids I made sure to explain that walrus don’t actually live in the same parts of the world as penguins. Maybe that’s part of the humor? I’ve emailed Jory John to find out.

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!

Summer@HPL 2016

Our summer learning program, Summer@HPL, began on May 23rd and I have been busy putting into action a robust schedule of events for kids, teens, and their families. At the same I’ve been collaborating with a fabulous coworker, @hollyfromhomer, to get the Homer version of the Great Reading Adventure up and running. We’re piloting the digital platform for other libraries in the state of Alaska. More on that soon.

It’s been a busy Spring!

Summer@HPL headerOur program, based on the Collaborative Summer Library Program‘s theme of On Your Mark, Get Set… Read!, is focusing on the concept of “healthy minds, healthy bodies” and runs from the Monday after school gets out until the end of July. Many families spend the few weeks in August before school starts traveling, so I schedule our program during the first 10 weeks of summer vacation. It works well for us and keeps the library hopping, especially when summer reading families are combined with the many summer visitors and seasonal workers who base out of Homer (for commercial fishing, etc.) and use the library regularly.

Here are the programs I have planned for kids and teens. There is mix of inside/outside and high tech/low tech events to keep families active and engaged with the library, the community, and each other. The blend involves lots of opportunities to learn, create, and share, reflecting the needs and interests of local families.

A note on adults- My library does offer a year round reading challenge for adults that we will continue to market during the summer, but I haven’t planned any specific events for adults this year beyond the occasional author readings sponsored by the Friends. With limited resources, I had to decide where to focus what I’ve got. I’m concentrating efforts on intentional, whole family engagement at many of our kid events. I was inspired by the conversations I’ve been having with library and research friends across the country as part of the Libraries for the 21st Century: It’s A Family Thing learning community (sponsored by PLA and the Harvard Family Research Project).

EXPLORE Family Storytimes (weekly): In the summer I expand the preschool storytimes’ targeted audience and include 6 & 7 year olds. I do this for a couple of reasons. Siblings are more likely to tag along and feel included with this age range so families will return each week. We also don’t have the capacity to have a lot of separate programs for each age group and this helps include these kids in a very conspicuous way- they feel included.

We include traditional elements in the storytime and several activity stations instead of the one or two art and craft projects we offer in the Winter. These storytimes are advertised as STEAM-injected and many families respond to the STEM connection. The STEAM elements might include open-ended art projects, pint-sized engineering problems, using apps and other digital tech, and of course developmentally appropriate math (counting, patterns, and computational thinking).

In June we’ll be reading and playing with themes that include: bodies (humans, monsters and other animals), re-engineered fairy tales, simple machines, travel, and play.

Small Fry Toddler/Baby Storytimes (weekly): This is a 20-30 minute storytime for ages 2 and under and their caregivers. It is a program we offer year round, but we include it in the schedule events to help connect families with babies and toddlers in the library-wide effort. Check out some of my toddler/baby storytimes for a complete details.

Victoria Jamieson is on her way to Homer (and then Anchorage) as I write for a fun visit! We’re excited to have an amazing author/illustrator come to town, a rarity in Homer. She’ll do a program for younger kids around her book Olympig! (Dial Books, 2012), a timely tale that works well with the summer theme and the 2016 Olympic Games. In the afternoon, Victoria will lead a comic workshop for kids and teens ages 10-15. We have lots of Roller Girl (Dial Books, 2015) fans in Homer, even without a roller derby team.

Summer Maker Camp (weekly): Maker programs have been an annual summer feature for four years. We don’t have the physical space for a permanent makerspace, so we integrate a pop-up makerspace once a week and include the maker concept in many of our other other programs. We were able to expand on this popular summer series during the school year thanks to an ALSC Curiosity Creates grant and kids 8-15 are excited to hang out again. We’ll meet every Thursday starting later this month.

We’re focusing on game design (digital and board) in June and video in July to give everyone time to work on their projects instead of focusing on a new tool or skill each week. We had a chance to better understand how these young makers wanted to work over the school year and we think this will be a good fit.

To kick off the June maker sessions we’ll be Skyping with two different game designers so we can talk about what makes a great game and how games are made. We’ll chat with Brian Alspach of E-Line Media (one of the creators of Never Alone, a beautiful digital game made in partnership with Alaskan elders) and Jens Peter de Pedro of Little Frogs (a founding team member of Toca Boca and leader in the world of kids’ interactive media). I love connecting mentors and our community of young makers! Skype is our friend!

Yoga for Kids (series): We are teaming up with a local yoga instructor to offer a series of four one hour classes for 5-8 year olds. This ties in nicely with our program theme. many of our programs and events don’t require any registration, but this one does because of space.

Dog Jog (with the Kachemak Bay Running Club): We’ve teamed up with the local running club for an all ages 5K beach run during a particularly low tide. They club’s volunteers are adding a 1 mile route for Summer@HPL families to walk or run. Any families who participate will get a secret code to redeem in the reading log for a digital badge, one of many kids, teens, and adults can earn this summer. (Other secret codes are available at library programs and at city parks around town.)

Stone Soup Puppet Show: The Krambambuli Puppet Theatre will present a show and string puppet family workshop for ages 3-10. Our families love puppet shows, so we’re excited to offer not one, but two, puppet shows this summer and get kids making from a young age!

Teen Read What You Want Graphic Novel Book Club: Back for a second summer, this book club is casual! Teens ages 12-17 meet me at the library to talk about what they’re reading over pizza. The group isn’t huge, but it’s a good way to hang out and talk about books, movies and anything else on our minds.

Country Fried Puppet-Palooka: Our second puppet show will be presented by the zany puppeteers and storytellers at Mcmazing Tales who are visiting Alaska again this summer. The family show will be silly and Alaskans will recognize the puppet designs from the Moose: the Movie, created by Tundra Comics maker Chad Carpenter.

Movies: We’ll offer three movie showings at the library this summer. One for younger kids and their families and two for teens.

Scientific Illustration for Kids: National Geographic Kids author/illustrator Hannah Bonner will be visiting a friend in town and offered to be part of a program for kids ages 8-13 who love to draw and/or who are fascinated by dinosaurs and prehistoric life.

Roustabout Circus: An active summer has to include the circus! The Roustabout Circus duo is visiting Homer and making a stop at the library to entertain local families. Their shows and workshops are always a hit!

Pool Party: Instead of pool passes, this year were hosting a pool party for ages 11 and under (and their adults) at the community pool inside the local high school. Kids are SO excited for this event! Swim club kids even asked if I could make a special swim challenge at the event. We’ll have to give out tickets for this event, but we’ll include a lot of families.

Minecraft Challenge: We’ll be playing Minecraft with teens at the Chippewa River District Library! The four hour challenge is always exciting, and also a bit dramatic. This event brings a lot of kids and teens to the library that we rarely see at other summer program events.

2016 LEGO Contest: We are sponsoring the 6th annual LEGO contest this summer for kids and teens. We regularly get 50+ entries which we display at the library or a week. Local judges choose winners in three age categories and the public votes on a people’s choice winner.

Ice Cream Celebration: We conclude our summer program for kids with a big celebration that includes carnival type games, ice cream, and prize drawings. 

Sharks, Halibut, and the Zen of Toddler Storytime

Many of my Small Fry storytime littles are not so little anymore. The ratio of babies to toddlers has shifted. They are all growing into wonderful kiddos who are curious, active, social, and very emotional. It makes for crazy storytimes on occasion, as you can imagine. To keep the show moving forward, I make sure the atmosphere is as stress-free as possible. Many of these parents are first timers and watching your child snatch all of the felt pieces off the board or running and screaming through the middle of the circle can cause anxiety. I try to model “It’s gonna be ok everyone. We got this!”

Even with 40-60 people in the room, we try to make a circle. This contains the wanderers and helps the adults connect with other parents and caregivers. I sit on the floor and stand during storytime so the circle helps insure that everyone can see and makes it easier to pass out shakers, scarves, and other materials. If the crowd is big I may walk around the circle with the book to help include everyone.

Here’s what I shared this week. Just imagine squeals, a few cries, clapping, a kiddo laying on the floor kicking his legs up and down, other kids standing right in front of the book mesmerized, other kids taking off and putting the felt pieces on the board, etc. It’s all good. Kids and their adults are participating: signing (and singing) along with the songs, moving their fingers to the counting songs, talking about the pictures in the book, and inviting me to read more with them by bringing me other books to read.

Welcome Song: The More We Get Together (with ASL signs for ‘more’, ‘we’, ‘together’, ‘friends’, ‘read’, ‘big’, ‘little’, ‘short’ and ‘tall’)

Fingerplay: Open, Shut Them

Four Little Sausages felt piecesFeltboard Rhyme: Four Little Sausages
Four little sausages frying in a pan,
The grease got hot and one went BAM!
Three little sausages frying in a pan,
The grease got hot and one went BAM!
Two little sausages frying in a pan,
The grease got hot and one went BAM!
One little sausage frying in a pan,
The grease got hot and it went BAM!
No little sausages frying in a pan.The grease got hot and the pan went BAM!
Source: Jbrary (Flannel Friday)
Toddler Early Literacy Tip: Sounding out and pointing to words in your family’s environment show kids that text has meaning!

Song: Octopus aka Slippery Fish (with signs for ‘fish’, ‘octopus’, ‘shark’, and ‘whale’)
Slippery fish, slippery fish, sliding through the water,
Slippery fish, slippery fish, Gulp, Gulp, Gulp!
Oh, no! It’s been eaten by an …

Octopus, octopus, squiggling in the water
Octopus, octopus, Gulp, Gulp, Gulp!
Oh, no! It’s been eaten by a …

Tuna fish, tuna fish, flashing in the water,
Tuna fish, tuna fish, Gulp, Gulp, Gulp!
Oh, no! It’s been eaten by a …

Great white shark, great white shark, lurking in the water,
Great white shark, great white shark, Gulp, Gulp, Gulp!
Oh, no! It’s been eaten by a …

Humongous whale, humongous whale, spouting in the water,

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt

Humongous whale, humongous whale,
Gulp! … Gulp! … Gulp! … BURP!
(Cover your mouth.) Excuse me!
Credit: Charlotte Diamond
Check out the Jbrarians performing the song!
Science Tip: this song teaches about the food web!

Book: Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt (D. Fickling Books, 2002)

Song: Bubbles!

Play: Bubbles!
We always blow and pop bubbles after we read. It brings the group back together and gives everyone a movement break.

Feltboard Rhyme: 5 Little Halibut (with felt halibut and shark puppet)
There were five little halibut swimming in the sea,
Teasing Mr. Shark “Oh, you can’t catch me, you can’t catch me!”
Along comes Mr. Shark as quiet as can be, and snatched 1 halibut right out of the sea!
… 4, 3, 2, 1
(Inspired by: There Were Five Little Fish)
Toddler Tip: When kids learn to wait until I invite them to grab felt pieces off of the board during the song, they are practicing self-regulation. It takes time so we’ll keep practicing! When I want the felt pieces to stay on the board, I tell families “It’s my turn!” Then I invite (and thank) kids to remove or add felt pieces depending on the activity.

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 then your face will surely show it,
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
…stomp your feet
…wave your hands in the air

Sago Mini Ocean SwimmerDigital Media Advisory and Access:
Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer
by Sago Sago

(iPad and iPhone)
After storytime I introduced families to the featured app on the mounted iPad in our children’s library. Sago Mini Ocean Swimmer is a great example of an app that can support the learning of young children. It has no bells, coins, etc. to distract or confuse children, just open-ended play with creatures under the sea!  I love the gently action of the app and the cause and effect experience kids can have exploring the animated sea. The app is wordless, so our dual language families can tell stories and talk together about the app’s animals and objects in their home language and English.