Media Literacy for Young Children: Accuracy Matters

11278910216_20a85bc557_o

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.

13958342330_e4463a539d_o
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

Becoming a Media Mentor: The Book is Here!

Becoming a Media Mentor book cover

We just got word that our book, Becoming a Media Mentor: A Guide for Working with Children and Families is now ready to ship! Cen Campbell, the Association for Library Service to Children, and I are happy to finally be able share the book with you.

Librarians are lifelong learners, experienced researchers, and excellent communicators- all skills we can use to mentor families as they navigate media and literacy in the digital age. The book is full of useful information that will help library staff as we evolve our roles as children’s librarians and continue to support families in new ways.

Are you interested in a recent webinar, Media Mentorship and Family Engagement in the Digital Age, that I led with Chip Donohue from the TEC Center at Erikson Institute and ALSC ? Find the link to the webinar and resources we discussed here. Find my Media Mentor’s Reading List here.

You can find out more about the book here, order it here, or contact me to ask questions, comment about the book, etc.

Review: Music Together’s Two Little Blackbirds & Hey, Diddle, Diddle

I recently received copies of a few new books created by the folks at Music Together. Known for their music classes for young children and their families, they have also been retelling traditional songs in picture book format, called Singalong Storybooks. Along with the books, Music Together includes recordings of the songs. Each book comes with a code for a free MP3 download or the songs can be listened to online here. What a great way to support the early literacy practices of reading and singing! Two of their latest books focus on songs familiar to many and the accompanying quality illustrations bring valuable context and meaning to the lyrics.

Two Little Blackbirds (Music Together, 2015)
Two Little Blackbirds is a simple and repetitive song from the 18th Century about a couple of birds, perfect for sharing with young children. In this retelling Jack and Jill are parents with young birds at home in the nest. Jack and Jill “fly away” to get food and “come back” to feed their babies. The text is easy to read and is nicely nested in the cheery illustrations that feel like collage, but are most likely digital. The images, many of which are double page spreads, offer both intimate views of the birds in the tree and a broader look at the surrounding landscape.

Two Little Blackbirds by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Two Little Blackbirds (by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

The beauty of this book is found in the pages at the back which are as valuable as the actual story. At the back of the book, readers will find tips on how to share books, and in particular Two Little Blackbirds, with young children. These suggested activities extend the enjoyment and learning experience that the book offers and provide opportunities for families to explore the book in a variety of ways beyond reading the text or singing the lyrics. This addition to the book reminds me of the “10 Ways to Explore a Book” posters we’ve been making at our library.

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Two Little Blackbirds Activity Pages (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

The variations tip reminds me of the many additional verses to this song Dana and Lindsey, the Jbrarians, have recorded for librarians looking for storytime songs. Need suggestions for variations? Check out Jbrary’s YouTube recording.

Hey, Diddle, Diddle (Music Together, 2015)

Did you know that the fantastical song about a cow jumping over the moon first published in the Tales of Mother Goose (1765) is actually about a troupe of characters including a cow, a little dog, a dish and a spoon practicing for a play? So goes the Music Together retelling and it works, well in fact. The catchy song is made more memorable with colorful and humorous illustrations played out on mostly double-paged spreads. The text fits nicely into spaces purposely left in the images and is again easy to read in this book, demonstrating Music Together’s consistency.

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Hey Diddle Diddle by Music Together (Photo Source: Amazon.com)

Many of the activities at the back of this book are designed to get families moving and connecting with the story and song in a physical way, perfect for many preschoolers. Pretending to fiddle when the lyrics describe the cat fiddling, for example, is a simple way to engage young children. Along with the tips, each book includes the origins, or what is known of them, for each song which may be of interest to adults.

Verdict: These two new Singalong Storybook titles would be good additions to home and library collections for their high early literacy value.