The Early Childhood Development Industrial Complex in China

I would say I’m just back from this year’s tour, but it’s been almost three weeks. My lungs are still a little tender from the pollution, and I haven’t organized all my notes yet, but all of my pictures are sorted, and I think I have downloaded all of the photos that others shared with me during the trip.

After my first two trips, falling back into the regular work routine was always the first step of perpetually procrastinating transcribing recordings, asking follow-up questions, and sharing all of the information that librarians and parents shared with me. This tendancy to procrastinate is also the reason that after 6 years of knowing about the phenomenon of private children’s libraries in China, I only completed my first article in December.

Gogo Polly Storytime

This time, I have managed to carve out a little bit of time almost every single day since returning. Yes, sometimes I was just sorting photos, but I have also touched base with quite a few people who I met along the way. I have made a careful list of each interview, and I’m pretty sure I know exactly which WeChat contact was at each place—as opposed to all of the people from 2014 and 15 that I have no idea where I met them.

Setting aside a few minutes a day is good practice. Another good practice is to share out notes as I compile them. This is the natural next step to the live field notes that I shared on Instagram along the way. I won’t claim that those were spontaneous thoughts. Some of them were—I stopped dead on the street after taking the photo. But more often, there are perplexing questions in my private notes. Moving forward, I want to share observations, but also some of those perplexing questions.

So here is the first shot.

What am I doing out there? What is the point of this whole endeavor? While the macro goal of ReadingEverywhere is to encourage recreational reading, and I firmly believe that my very presence does at least a little bit of this (‘What did you learn in school today honey?’ ‘This weird American librarian visited my class and read a book about stinky poop and told us it doesn’t matter what we read as long as it’s fun.’), my personal goals for these trips is constantly shifting as the Chinese people I meet tell me more about their lives. I talk to a lot of parents and small business owners (who are mostly parents of young children themselves). They present an every more complicated picture—rapidly changing economic situations; limited room in public kindergartens; a growing array of private education options; an overwhelming number of private businesses advertising in every subway station and on the side of every mall.

The average Chinese parent is flooded with marketing pitches from what I have taken to calling the early childhood development industrial complex.

Baby spas. Behavioral consultants. International-style schools. Private kindergartens. It’s amazing the picture book libraries are able to squeeze in there at all.

Yet there they are. With many of them devoting quiet corners to parent-child co-reading. With many of them offering a social environment with organized activities, in clean, well-lit places where you can take a pile of books home with you after each visit. Every library I visit offers some new complication. Every conversation teaches me that beyond storytime, there are an infinite number of cultural differences and an infinite number of similarities in child rearing between China and the West.

Guangzhou neighborhood reading room

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Again! This time with homework.

I’m pleased to announce another visit to China!  This time we are going to try something a little bit different.  We would like to organize small groups of children’s library enthusiasts to gather together after reading the same essay.  Call it an international book club!

We are currently looking for engaging essays that are available in both English and Chinese.  Comment below or contact us directly if you have a suggestion or would like to participate.  I will be traveling in late March and early April to the following cities:

  • Beijing
  • Wuhan
  • Chongqing
  • Chengdu
  • Xi’an
  • Guangzhou (tentative)

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We bring gifts for discussion.

I swore I wouldn’t post until I polished off a piece for publication, but it’s been months and months and the authors deserve this.
During my trip last November, I brought two books as gifts for the my librarian and parent friends.  I wanted to discuss the themes of the books with them and get some perspective on how Chinese parents and librarians feel about body books and non-Euro-American themes.
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I was partially inspired by seeing 故事的小鸡鸡 in a whole bunch of libraries and stores in 2014.  At the Poplar Children’s Republic bookstore (蒲蒲兰绘本馆), I learned that it was a Japanese import, and I amused and embarrassed my translator by translating it out loud: both little boys and little girls like to play ball.  Both little boys and little girls play with dolls.  Little boys look different than little boys with their clothes off.  Through her giggles, she said my Chinese was way better than I let on, but I explained the story was pretty self explanatory via the pictures.
In one library, a little boy clung to it possessively through my whole presentation.  It was a charming book, full of pictures of naked babies.  Lots of little penises.  When I returned to the States, I sought out an equivalent American title.  Pretty much the same story, but not a single cartoon of a naked baby.  On the last couple pages were cutaway anatomical diagrams.  I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t make any sense to a 4 or 5 year old.
So when I found Sex is a Funny Word, I was entranced.  It’s for an older crowd yes, but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a fun, cartoon-style book explaining sex, sexuality, and body morphology in such an open, fun, and accepting way.  That’s the whole point of the book.  Some people are fat.  Some skinny.  Some are hairy in a wide variety of places.  Most women have certain parts, most men have others, and there are a host of people who have parts in-between.
The second book was a reaction to the kinds of English-language literature I was seeing in a lot of the libraries.  Most of it, like a lot of stuff you’ll see in American libraries, was by and about white people.  And almost every English school I saw in China advertised with photos of happy blonde children.  The Chinese overwhelmingly equate American culture with white culture.  I wanted to bring something a little bit different.  Celebrating a part of America that my Chinese friends might not otherwise be exposed to.  A friend-of-a-friend had just published Lowriders in Space, a sci-fi graphic novel about an octopus, a mosquito, and what I think is a sexy Chihuahua and their Spanglish adventures.
Overall, both books were received warmly.  One person expressed a distaste for the graphics of  Lowriders – which uses a line style reminiscent of ball-point ink drawings.  Another thought Sex was drawn too crudely.  When I explained that I brought Lowriders to emphasize that not all American culture is white, people acknowledged the point, but did not express much enthusiasm for exploring a wider variety of American culture.  On the other hand, one mother and library owner said of Sex: ‘of course, some of these things are new to us, but we have a transgendered daytime TV host — like Oprah or Ellen.  My daughter asked me to explain why that woman looked and sounded different when she was 6 years old.  We just accept her.’ It did seem to help that Jin Xinh is ethnically Korean, so is already a little bit different than the dominant Han supermajority in China.
sex-is-a-funny-word
I’m super behind compiling notes from the trip.  But I definitely want to shout out my thanks to Lowrider’s Cathy Camps and Sex is a Funny Word’s Cory Silverman for putting me in touch with their publisher’s for a bulk discount.  Your books are now in the collections of 5 Chinese libraries!

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A Quick Shanghai Update

My whirlwind travel schedule has prevented detailed updates on this year’s trip to China.  However, a very successful and well attended presentation was given at the China Children’s Book Fair, and this morning, 臭㞎㞎came to Shanghai.

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Connectivity issues and travel have prevented me from making detailed updates, but please do stay tuned!

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ReadingEverywhere 在北京

Just one week until we gather again in Beijing!

This year we hope to host a small gathering of librarians from around the Beijing area for a little sharing of best practices.  Jon will demonstrate a very popular American method for training those new to working with young children.  A method perfect for getting comfortable being silly in a group and encouraging librarians to help each other.

Please join us!

brown_gorilla_8

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China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (中国上海国际童书展)

With pleasure I will be returning to China this fall to take ReadingEverywhere to the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair.  We hope to hold two events at the fair, and continue to visit libraries and meet with members of the children’s library community in China.

The trip is scheduled so far as follows:

11月3日: 到北京

11月7-8日: 参观农村图书馆

11月10-11日: 到上海

11月13-15日: 儿童书展

11月17日: 到广州

11月19日:到香港

11月21日:离开中国。

We will try to meet up with as many people as possible before the book fair.  The days that do not list a specific event are currently unscheduled.  If you would like to meet on one of those days, please contact me.

 

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Reading Everywhere @ ALA 2015

On the final day of this summer’s American Library Association conference, Lao Meng and I had an open chat with librarians in the conference’s Networking Uncommons.  The conference was winding down, but people were excited by the prospect that children’s libraries arise spontaneously–even without the intervention of the government.

A private, non-government sponsored library that operates as a business is a very foreign concept to American librarians.  Sure, we have private schools that have libraries that are not open to the public.  Public university libraries don’t provide equal services to all comers–they concentrate on their students.  And corporations and other sorts of institutions have libraries devoted to their own constituents.  But a consumer choosing to pay for a membership in a borrowing library is a difficult concept for Americans–even though everyone knows that we pay for our libraries through our taxes.  Government libraries–whether for the general public or in schools–are so much the norm that they seem like the only way to do things.

Also at the ALA conference, I attended sessions organized by the Association of Library Services to Children for the first time.  Guerrilla Storytime gave him some great tips on interacting with kids, and he hopes to translate this training program into Chinese.  Stay tuned!

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Chinese librarians want to interact with YOU ALAAC15

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!

We are especially interested in meeting with folks from the Association of Library Services to Children and the Chinese-American Librarians Association.  To the best of our knowledge, we haven’t seen any of the people from these groups in the same room so far at this conference.  Think of it as a blind date.

waiting

 

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lowriders2

Relevant reading for kids

A recent book review by US Pacific Northwest librarian Max Macias starts off asking the question, “How do we get kids to read–especially those that appear to not be interested in reading?”

最近美国太平洋西北地区的图书馆员Max Macias在书评中问了这样一个问题:“我们怎样才能让孩子尤其是那些看起来不太喜欢阅读的孩子去阅读?”

If I had a kuai for every time a Chinese parent has asked me that question…

如果我有一块钱几乎每次中国父母都会问我这个问题。。。

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.

Max回答这个问题给了同样的建议,那就是ReadingEverywhere正在努力给中国父母答案:寻找到好的、适应文化地域性的文学作品来激发小读者,或是给他们一次很好的阅读体验。

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.

我们继续寻找这些文学作品。存有私心地说,我们希望有些人能将这些翻译成英语,那样我们的人就可以知道中国青少年的每一天了。

San Mao reading a book.
China’s 80 year old San Mao reading a book. 80岁中国的三毛看书。

 

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