Molly of Denali!

Source: AK Public Media

I’m always looking for media, in all formats, that authentically reflects Alaskan families’ experiences. Today, a new show produced by WGBH in Boston for PBS Kids does that and more. I’m excited about the show and the advanced screening we offered at the library earlier this summer was a great learning experience. Here’s why.

The show

Molly of Denali, like other PBS Kids shows for young children, is an animated, entertaining show that supports early learning; in this case the idea of informational text. The producers define informational text as “any text created for the main purpose of providing information. Informational text can be created using written words, oral language, visuals, or a combination of these forms.” (PBS Kids) Examples include recipes, signs, maps, websites, text messages, podcasts, songs and more. Informational text is all around us and provides another entry point for supporting early literacy, but it is rarely given so much attention in early childhood entertainment.

The show also aims to address cultural representation and it does this well. The story, ways of knowing, and setting details are authentic. Each episode also features a live action piece featuring Alaskan kids sharing about well, Alaskan life. How does a producer in Boston, get that right? She had help. From the script writers, voice actors, and song writers to the cultural advisors, Alaska Natives were involved in the production and the result is what I dreamed of when I was working on the Diverse and Inclusive Checklist with KIDMAP. (Watch out, Pamyua‘s theme song is catchy and you’ll be singing it all day long!) The show is silly, entertaining, enriching and even serious at times.

Listen to a story about the making of Molly of Denali on Alaska Public Media here.

The Event

While Molly of Denali is set in a fictional town, Qyah, kids from all over rural Alaska can see themselves reflected in the show. But no, this isn’t just a show for Alaskan kids. (Let’s face it, that would not be an easy sell for a producer.) Kids from elsewhere can relate too! Families will connect with the characters and learn much about what it is like to be a kid in rural Alaska. Molly Mabray is a young Athabaskan who is adventurous, strong, curious and kind. What a great role model for all kids!

We were excited to be one of several Alaskan communities to host an advanced screening of the show. We wanted to bring families together at the library to celebrate what the show and its creators had accomplished. It was also a great media mentorship opportunity. I knew we could model how to practice Joint Media Engagement, or Co-viewing, while watching a tv show together, introduce tips on evaluating media and talk about how quality tv can support early learning.

I started the afternoon family event by quoting from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s piece “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors”; introducing many grownups to her name, words and ideas. I have wanted to do this for a long time and Molly of Denali offered great examples of all three for families in my community. It also gave use a foundation for talking about the show during the event (in between the two episodes we watched). Dr. Bishop’s idea is not strictly a book-related concept, but applies to all media and we can use it to evaluate media in the library and at home.

I then introduced the show and some of the characters, talked about what informational text is and why it is important to talk about, and shared some of the backstory and why it is a landmark creation. The intro was not too long, just several minutes, but planted a seed that got grown-ups thinking. The questions I got after the program- about recommendations, the show’s creators, when the show would air, etc. – were evidence.

We showed two episodes (animated portions only), with a short conversation and popcorn break in between. The in-between episodes chat was prompted by questions like “What did you recognize in that episode?” (high tunnels for growing food, mountains, trees dirt roads, traditions, rivers, the library, the kids and more), “What is different about Homer (where we live) and Molly’s community of Qyah?” (no ocean, no boats, the language, the stores) and “How did Molly and her friends learn about canoeing?” (YouTube, the coach, practice) Many kids enthusiastically chimed in with their observations.

Afterwards I mentioned that families who enjoy podcasts might like to add Molly of Denali to their listening list. Several families asked me how to access podcast episodes and if I could recommend others. Alaska is big and even casual road trips are long. Podcasts are a perfect fit for the Alaskan family!

About 65 people showed up for the program held in our children’s library. After the screening families stayed in the library to chat with each other, do some of the activity sheets connected to the show, and look for books. (I made sure a display of Alaskan picture books was prominent.) The event was simple, but meaningful.

I hope you enjoy the show!

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Making Music

Activity: Making Music with Makey Makeys

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: Laptop computer (1/station), Makes Makey (1/station), 4 pieces of Play-doh, different colors (1 set/station), internet access for digital piano

CT Skill: Decomposition is the CT skill that involves breaking larger actions into smaller, easily completed steps. We do this when we sing and clap words to break then down into syllables.

In a music storytime, among other books, I shared I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison which follows a young girl and her mother on a walk around their community. On the mini-adventure, the girl creates individual moves that become a dance accompanied by the music created by neighbors.

Afterwards, families visited stations that included: music-making with Makey Makeys, building rubberband kazoos or egg shakers, instrument exploration and mixing music with the app Loopimal on one of the library’s mounted iPads.

At the Makey Makey station, the computer was connected to the pieces of Play-doh with several wires, each going to a different clump of clay, via the Makey Makey. Young musicians touched a clump of Play-doh with one hand and held the “ground” with the other, creating an electrical circuit, and then a corresponding note was played on the digital piano. Once they figured out which Play-doh piece made which sound they created songs to their liking. (The Makey Makey tricks the computer into thinking the Play-doh clumps are keys and creates an electrical circuit. So if the Play-doh, which is conductive, is pressed or tapped, something happens on the screen. In this case a key on the digital piano is played.)

Both the book and making music with a Makey Makey exemplify breaking down (decomposing) music and dance into its components, but they also demonstrate how to build something back up, songs or dances, using other CT skills like pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Want to learn more about CT for you children? Paula Langsam and I will be talking more about the CT and early literacy connection at ALA Midwinter in Seattle.

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).

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