Chinese entrepreneurial children’s librarians and their member parents want to know how our libraries work, and want to share their work with us!
At 4:00 on Monday, June 29, we’ll be hosting an open discussion at the American Library Association Annual Meeting’s Networking Uncommons. ReadingEverywhere invites everyone with an interest in the promotion of recreational reading, international exchange, what libraries look like in a different context, and just the curious to come participate in a discussion, give us advice on how we can help Chinese children’s libraries, or just to listen!
If I had a kuai for every time a Chinese parent has asked me that question…
Max answers the question by giving the same advice that ReadingEverywhere has been trying to give to Chinese parents: find good, culturally appropriate literature to inspire your young readers. Oh–and give them a good adventure.
Kids will want read if they have access to books that grab their attention. For Max, writing as a California native, this means diving into lowrider culture–a Chicano sub-culture in Southern California which has spread around the world. He argues that Cathy Camper and Raoul the Third’s Lowriders in Space goes beyond the good-for-you (my words not his) tales of gangs and immigration into an area that is purely for fun. And it’s in space!
孩子会爱上阅读如果他们获得了能够抓住他们注意力的图书。Max作为加利福尼亚本地的一个作家，就意味着要写有关低底盘汽车文化的图书——这是南加利福尼亚奇卡诺人的亚文化，已经风靡全球。《太空中的第三个低底盘汽车》（the Third’s Lowriders in Space）作者Cathy Camper和插图者Raoul已经不是为这个帮派和移民者创造好、单纯有趣的故事。它发生在太空里！
Max has thrown down the gauntlet to Chinese parents and librarians: is there an equivalent graphic novel in China? Is there a contemporary and authenticly Chinese book that adopts something like a Mao aesthetic? Would that be the graphic version of Camper and Raoul’s red and black palette that Max considers reminiscent of ballpoint cartoons from his own youth? Or would a Chinese cartoonist instead adopt the style of 1930’s 三毛 (Three Hairs)? Is there a book that captures dialect in the same way that Max describes Lowriders as being filled with “characters who speak much of the vernacular I grew up with as a 3rd generation Chicano in CA.” How about you 2nd generation urban migrants in China?
Max已经向中国的父母和图书馆员发出了挑战：在中国是否存在同样文笔生动的小说？有没有同时代、准确继承毛泽东诗词特色的中国图书？有没有像Camper and Raoul创造的红黑色面板让Max想起他小时候的圆珠笔漫画的图书？有没有中国的漫画家采用30年代三毛的风格？有没有一本书像Max在低底盘汽车一书中描述的那样，人物使用的是在加州成长的第三代芝加哥人使用的方言？你们中国的2代移民有没有相似的图书？
We continue to be on the lookout for these literatures. And selfishly, we hope someone can translate them into English so that 为国人 can be exposed to the everyday lives of Chinese youth.
It’s been three weeks since the end of our tour of private children’s libraries (绘本馆). Now what?
To start with, two photographs and a brief note for each library have been publicly posted on Facebook and on Jon’s WeChat. While doing that, all of their addresses were confirmed (except for one–still working on that), they were placed on Baidu’s map (and a screenshot made of the streetview, where it was available), and I made sure I know each library’s name in both Chinese and English. I have chatted a little bit with a few of the individual librarians who we met along the way.
Although I counted 18 libraries when I arrived back in the United States, this closer examination showed that I visited a grand total of 21 libraries, plus a bookstore, in three weeks. I have started to compile notes for each library and naturally have many follow up questions I want to ask the librarians. My lack of ability to converse in Chinese makes this that much harder, but Zhang Li and Fang Liu have offered help keep the conversation going.
The fantastic group of enthusiastic, engaged librarians we met in Beijing, Wuhan, Nanchang, and Shanghai expressed a desire for advice on three fronts: business management, second language acquisition, and library programming. As we compile our notes and correspond with the librarians in China, we will try to confirm that these are really the three basic needs of the private children’s library community in China. One emerging goal is to find an appropriate venue to have a face-to-face workshop sometime in the next twelve months.
On January 4th, 2015 a small group of people will gather in Santa Barbara to look at photographs from the trip, hear the story of how it happened, and what we hope to accomplish next. For an invitation, please contact Jon Jablonski (email@example.com).
In November, Jon Jablonski (叶步岚) traveled to Beijing, Wuhan, Nanchang, and Shanghai. Future Meng (孟繁永) made arrangements for Jon to visit 19 picture book libraries and a children’s book store over the course of three weeks. For two days, they were able to make visits together in Beijing.
In the coming weeks, we will be compiling the information gathered on this trip, confirming facts with the people we visited, and posting more and more information here and in other forums. If you are interested in the continuing work of ReadingEverywhere, please contact us.
In advance of the trip, the following note was sent:
I am an American librarian with an interest in the privately run 儿童图书馆 in China. I was introduced to them by 孟繁永.
I am very interested in the development of these libraries because nothing like them exists in the West. In America, library services for children are almost exclusively offered by public and school libraries.
In 2011, I was lucky to visit three libraries in Wuhan. Next month, I will return to China to visit as many libraries as I can in three weeks. I plan to visit Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, and one other city (should we decide before sending this out??? Felicity says maybe Xiamen—that is a convenient plane ride after Wuhan, and there is a hi-speed train 从厦门到上海。OR: We can send 2 or 3 different versions of this note to different cities to see who sends us the best response? Is that a fair strategy?).
I am interested in speaking with librarians who run the libraries, and also with parents who use the libraries. I would especially like to visit while your library is open in order to observe the library in operation. If you would like, I am prepared to offer one of two programs for your users.
First, I can give a simple storytime for children under 7. I have two picture books that I can read, “小狗在哪儿？” and 啊very simple phrase book. 温暖的阳光, 清澈的小河, 洁白的云朵, 懂懂懂 (is that the right character for etc.? dong,dong,dong) This is labeled as “小笨熊认知书” —I’m not quite sure what the little bear is. It’s billed as a ‘year zero book’ —so I’m presuming it’s totally for very, very small children.) I would end this storytime by letting the children pick a book from your collection for me to read. Most likely I will need help with this third book, so I will explain to the children that I am very slow and started to learn Chinese very late. I will give praise and positive reinforcement for any characters that the children know. The important lesson for this storytime is that foreigners are very interested in Chinese, and knowing characters is fun and important.
Second, I have a motivational presentation that speaks directly to parents about strategies to make read meaningful for both the parent and the child. I will talk about American books that resonate with adults and children, and ask the Chinese parents to share stories about their own childhood reading experiences. During this conversation, I will cite important scientific research about the importance of reading out loud to children, and stress that the more words children hear, the faster and better they will learn to speak and read.
Please let 孟繁永 and I know if you are interested in a visit from me. And if you have an idea for a more productive idea, share it with us! Most importantly, do not let me be a burden or interrupt your normal operation. I can make myself available during the day or in the evening, or just come and quietly observe your library. Whatever you think is the best way to share your 绘本馆.
I’m constantly questioning my personal goals for ReadingEverywhere—especially since it’s been more than three years since setting foot on China and one of my original goals was to provide a structure for more frequent return trips. That hasn’t happened, and my language skills have suffered. I simply don’t read enough characters each week.
After studying the Chinese language in Beijing for a while, I set a personal goal for myself that eventually I would like to be able to pick up a random children’s story and read it. Simple Chinese. For babies. The goal was set while visiting bookstores, and realizing the only thing I could hope to read at that point, still in my first year of study, was a children’s book. I’m still at that point, and still fascinated by the idea that I’m something like a 5 year old with a bad vocabulary. I can speak a bit about certain matters (food, the weather, street directions), but I can’t carry on an extended conversation, and I can’t read. Except for the handful of picture books on my shelf. All along I’ve been identifying with the pre-readers.
Recently, I read a reflection of a 40-year-old mom re-reading Beverly Cleary books for the first time since childhood. She was touched by the career-angst of Ramona’s father and the economic uncertainties of the Quimby household—both of which she was completely unaware when she read them as a child. The author of the piece, Stephanie Lucianovic, realizes that she’s not just reading the books from the point of view of a 40-year-old, nor from the point of view of a mom. Instead, she is projecting herself into the mind of her 5-year-old son, who experiences all of the same emotional trials and tribulations that Ramona does. (For those of you who haven’t read the books, only one is from 4th grade Beezus’s perspective. The rest of them are from the younger Ramona’s. Of course, the difference was lost on my when I was growing up—the reading level of the books is 4th or 5th grade, yet the central character is much younger. Unusual I think for an ‘independent reader’ book.)
So the question becomes: how does a parent get into the emotional headspace of a 5-year-old? Or a 10-year-old like Ramona or Henry Huggins (who was my own introduction to Cleary)? Is it even desirable for anyone to do so (except for the author herself, who I presume would agree that she is sort of required by her job to enter that headspace)?
All these questions lead me to ask myself how much hubris must I have to imagine that I can enter into the headspace of a Chinese parent, yet alone think I have anything in common with a Chinese 5-year-old? It’s impossible, yet their lives fascinate me and I want to understand them.
These are some of the questions I find so interesting about China at the individual scale. More specifically: what sorts of social and cultural changes at the individual scale have been wrought by the rapidly changing economy and odd political system? The story of the private libraries is fascinating from a cultural geography point-of-view, but the stories of how young parents are raising their children; the stories of college students who struggle for individual identity inside a pressure cauldron of competition for jobs in first tier cities; the stories of parents pouring expectations into their single children — these are the stories that suck me in to China. Is there children’s fiction in China that has told these stories over the past 35 years that someday I’ll be able to read? Did my students (all in their mid-twenties now) read as children? (I know many of them read Harry Potter in translation, and a small handful read them in the original in late high school and early college.) Do my friends with young children have books that help everyone understand the emotional experiences of young children?
The oldest books in the West are hand-written on animal skin pages. Many are prayer books, and all show interesting signs of their history. All of them show many physical signs of being used–if not always well-cared for. Today, these books are studied not only for what the words inside them say, but for what the physical objects tell us about the times they were made. One such project takes place at the University of Leiden.
It’s impossible not to think about your Chinese friends during Spring Festival. How many of them are on the road? How many crossing oceans? Who gets to take a month off, and who only gets a few days?
They say it’s the largest annual human migration. Hundreds of millions inside the country. Millions visiting from overseas. There’s an app for looking at it, via the mobile Baidu map’s 200 million users. I think the conventional wisdom is that the bulk of travelers are factory workers and students who have relocated away from their hometowns. These are the millions fighting in the train stations to get home–whether that’s across a province or across the country.
This gets all the attention, but a lot of people have been in the same cities for several generations now, and all their family is local. There’s also a lot of people who don’t get to travel: all the restaurant and hotel workers, migrants or not. You don’t hear much about them, but they are certainly there. There’s tons of parties to cater for all those travellers!
Still, red envelopes really do criss-cross the country. And a lot of the money in those envelopes gets spent by kids on special treats. How big is the post-Spring Festival bump in sales for books and e-readers? Or increasingly, cellphones and tablets that serve as all-purpose education and entertainment machines?
No matter where you are for year of the horse, travel safely friends. And read a book to your nieces and nephews and little sisters when you get home!
Lisa Bu talks for 6 minutes on reading books in pairs–comparing two books on a topic. In a lovely moment, she flashes up Christopher Moore’s The Lamb next to the bible. She is lucky enough to be able to read books in multiple translations, and shares how the practice gave her insight into the base meanings of some 2-character words in her own native Chinese.
Recently I was in a meeting and we were asked to name our favorite library when we introduced ourselves. I thought it was a charming exercise, and was even more charmed by the number of people who told stories of personal libraries–either their own or others’. For the record, I wasn’t able to choose a favorite, but I offered up the most interesting library I’ve ever visited. It was this one:
The monks use the Chinese word for library do describe the building, but it might also be described as a print shop with a very large storage area for plates. The collection was the wooden printing blocks. Most of the work being done was printing prayers on very thin sheets of rice paper, which are burned in the temples as they wear out.
I tried to ask how the blocks are organized on the shelves, but the language barrier was too big. I did hear that the blocks last for several years before they have to be remade.
What’s the most interesting library you’ve ever visited?