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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
Connectivity issues and travel have prevented me from making detailed updates, but please do stay tuned!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).