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?

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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?

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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?

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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).

Preschool: Bears and Earth Day

It’s Earth Day!

Our opening activity was the beloved Song Cube this week. I asked one of the volunteers to give the cube a roll and the image on top when the cube stopped was of an open sign. The open sign, is a symbol for the song Open, Shut Them, so I asked the group of kids what song has open in it to see if they remembered. An older boy said “Open, Shut- Wheels on the School Bus!” I explained what the text said on the cube (under the image of the sign), but we would sing wheels on the school bus first. I let the kids pick the verses by asking “what does a bus have on it?” “Wheels!” Then we sang about the door that goes open and shut… We also sang about the driver, kids, monkeys and then one of the kids said ‘bears!’ How perfect! Here’s what we sang for each of riders on the bus

driver- move on back (point thumb backwards as you sing)
kids- go crazy (wave hands in the air)
monkeys- eat lots of bananas (pretend to peel a banana)
bears (grr grr) perfectly anticipating the theme.

Next we sang Open Shut Them and by that time most families were settled in for storytime. So, I quickly talked about our storytime rules and then moved on to this week’s theme. I started by asking questions about bears like how many kinds of bears live in Alaska? Which ones? (Brown, black and polar)

Fingerplay: Two Little Black Bears 
Two little black bears sitting on a hill,
One named Jack and one named Jill,
Run away Jack, run away Jill.
Come back Jack, come back Jill.
Two little black bears digging in the snow
One named Fast and one named Slow…
Two little black bears feeling very proud
One named Quiet and one named Loud..
Credit: Jbrary
Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson Photo Credit: www.harpercollinschildrens.com

Baby Bear by Kadir Nelson Photo Credit: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com

Book: Baby Bear (Harper Collins, 2014)
Kadir Nelson’s newest book features his masterful illustrations, but instead of telling the story of an African-American leader, he tells the story of baby brown bear the family he discovers in the woods around him. It’s a touching tale that is made strong by the powerful images that accompany the text. The book provides a great opportunity to talk about illustrators with children and caregivers and what they bring to picture books. I particularly like this book because for kids here in Homer this books offers animals that they know from the environment around us (for the most part).

While reading this book, a little guy kept “asking questions” aka sharing comments during the story. He patiently and politely waited for a break, so we listened to what he had to say. It generally had to do with hugging a bear. I told him he was really going to like a song we were going to sing after this song! And then moved on to the next page…

Have you met the Jbrarians? Drum roll please…

Song: Grrr Grrr Went the Big Brown Bear

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Over in the Arctic: Where the Cold Wind Blows by Marianne Berkes Photo credit: dawnpub.com

Book: Over in the Arctic: Where the Cold Win Blows (Dawn Publications, 2008)

National Poetry Month is coming to a close, so I decided to read this one with the Tuesday storytime group. The rhyming text and the rhythm accomplished my goal:
kids could anticipate the next number because of the rhyming text, hearing the ending sounds of words. One of the other reasons I shared this beautifully illustrated book is that even kids who live in parts of Alaska need to know more about the Arctic. For example, on the page which features wolverines the ground is brown to represent the Spring/Summer tundra. When I showed kids this page, one said “That’s not the Arctic because it is brown.” I assured him it was and explained why. The snow melts off the tundra in summer. Wolverines live on land not on the ice that covers much of the ocean in winter, the source of white many associate with the tundra.

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Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown Photo credit: 100scopenotes.com

 

Book: Children Make Terrible Pets (Little, Brown, 2010)

Peter Brown’s books are perfect storytime humor. The mixed-media art, lovable Lucy the bear, and the idea of a bear keeping a child as a pet inspire lots of giggles.

After reading together, we brought Jim Gill to storytime for parachute play. We shook that parachute up and down and all around to the song Alabama, Mississippi. I got the idea from So Tomorrow. Check it out for more great parachute play ideas.

Activity:

In honor of Earth Day, we brought out the shaving cream and made marble painted Earths.

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Materials:
cardstock (with circle drawn on it using a sharpie)
scissors
marker, pencil or crayon for kids to write their names on the back of their Earth
shaving cream
food coloring (I chose blue and green for the earth project)
aluminum baking trays or other trays to contain the shaving cream and food coloring
cut squares of tissue paper (again I chose blue and green for this project)
glue
hole punch
yarn for Earth hanger
scraper for removing excess shaving cream
old t-shirts for aprons for kids to wear while painting (optional)

Each child picked out a piece of card stock with a circle already drawn on it. They cut out the circle and wrote their name on the back of it so we could identify their Earth later on (they all start to look similar when they are drying next to each other).

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The kids then brought their cut circle over to the painting station or to the tissue paper station. I offered the two so that kids who were waiting to paint or didn’t want to paint had another option.

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At the painting station I had bottles of shaving cream that kids and parents sprayed into the trays. Adults then put 3-4 drops of blue and green food coloring on to the shaving cream. Kids used popsicle sticks to make patterns in the shaving cream, careful not to spread the shaving cream like cake icing (makes for a solid color instead of a pattern if they do this). Once they were done making the pattern, they laid the circle on top of the shaving cream and gently pressed it on down.

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Their circle looked something like this when they lifted it off the shaving cream. The final step was to bring me their Earth. By our children’s library sink, I scraped the excess cream off of the Earths and laid them out to dry which took less than 10 minutes. This wait gave families a chance to look for books or play together.