Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Banned Books Week 2010

©American Library Association, Banned Books Week 2010

This week is Banned Books Week in the US, and a great opportunity to learn more about (not to mention contribute to) the ongoing battle against censorship that readers, librarians, educators and authors across the continent and around the world are engaged in every day. Since last Saturday (September 25th), and ongoing until this coming Saturday (October 2), members of the American Libraries Association (ALA), libraries (and the people who love them), book sellers, book clubs and other fans of intellectual freedom play host to a variety of activities, including read-outs, displays, and even a few events in Second Life. Just like Freedom to Read Week (the Canadian equivalent), one of the primary aims is to raise awareness about the surprising pervasiveness, arbitrariness and absurdity of censorship and book banning campaigns, and to spur a broader debate and discussion about the implications for both individual rights and for the democratic health of our culture(s) as a whole. Since children and youth are so often the ones who pay the price, this issue and event is of particular relevance to young people, child/youth advocates, librarians, educators and parents.

This year, much of the coverage and discourse around Banned Books Week has focused on a recent spurt of book bannings down in Missouri, and the related controversy around an associate prof who dismissed three popular YA novels that deal (apparently quite sensitively) with themes of sexuality as "filthy" and "soft-core porn." The Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA was quick to rally support for the targeted authors, a number of whom spoke out quite forcefully against the ban and the larger implications for youth in that area.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, wrote an opinion piece, blogged a response and call for action for fans of the book, in the form of letter writing campaigns and other activities aimed at both protesting the ban AND countering the misrepresentation of the book by the associate prof., the school board and the media. The book has also inspired a Twitter campaign, #SpeakLoudly, which has evolved into a broader discussion about banned books, book banning, intellectual freedom and social justice.

Similarly, Sarah Ocker, whose book Twenty Boy Summer was also singled out for criticism and banning, responded in a number of formats, including a blog post, published opinion piece, as well as a Youtube video. I love, love, love that these authors are not only addressing heavy issues in their books, but also fighting back and taking a very vocal and well articulated stand against the book banners. It's not often the most popular thing to do, and it's never easy, and kudos to them for taking the ban so seriously.

Another key text/target being discussed this year is Sherman Alexie's highly acclaimed, award-winning YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has also been banned by school boards in Missouri and Oregon, among others. And, refreshingly, a number of media outlets have also given special attention to the large number of banned graphic novels, such as Bone, which I wrote about briefly last spring.

For more info, updates, or to find events in your area, you can check out the Banned Books Week website, follow the #bannedbooksweek Twitter stream, check out the OIF's machinima contest, or simply make an effort to pick up and read a book on the banned/challenged list (for instance, one of the books listed on the ALA's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009). Or you can pass these books along to others, as this awesome teen started doing last year, or through the Freedom to Read Week/BookCrossings "Free a Challenged Book" initiative.

Just a little reminder that Canada has its own sorted history of book banning, as well as our very own Freedom to Read Week, which takes place every February. Which means that we all have two excellent opportunities a year to take part in the movement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Upcoming Public Lecture on Pinocchio, Representations of Childhood and Fairy Tales in Contemporary Culture

Check out this upcoming, free, public lecture by Children's Literature professor Laura Tosi - to be held at the Lillian H. Smith Branch (which also houses the The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Booksof the Toronto Public Library on September 30th. I've reproduced the entire announcement from the Italian Cultural Institute website below - I think it will be a great talk, as well as a wonderful opportunity to (finally) visit the Osborne Collection. See you there:

The Fourth Annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture

A talk by Laura Tosi


On the occasion of the fourth annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute is proud to present the lecture: Once upon a Puppet: Pinocchio and Fairy Tales in Contemporary Culture by Professor Laura Tosi.

The conference is related to the exhibition "A name that will bring him luck": Pinocchio and the Italian Fairy Tale Tradition that is on view at the Osborne Collection from September 13, 2010 to December 13, 2010.

September 30, 2010 – 8.00 pm 

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books 
Toronto Public Library Lillian H. Smith Branch 
239 College Street , Toronto 
Free admission 
Call 416.393.7753 for info 

In her lecture, Professor Tosi will give a lively review of the context in which Pinocchio was written, its narrative and stylistic features, and its inspiration of drama, cartoons, film and prose narratives addressed to child as well as adult audiences. Collodi’s Pinocchio is a subtle and multifaceted book that has broken new ground with its subversive representations of non-model children, but pays tribute to the fairy tale tradition. Professor Tosi discusses Pinocchio as part of this canon of Western children’s literature, but possibly not the “original” that dominates collective imagination. Collodi’s book may be considered only one version among many (The Friends of the Osborne Collection, Gryphon newsletter).

Laura Tosi is Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Venice- Ca’ Foscari. She has taught courses and conducted research on British children’s literature, especially on the history of the literary fairy tales in its socio historical context in England and in the English speaking world. She is interested in exploring the social values and role models offered by the fairy tales as historical documents and vehicles of dominant cultural patterns. On these issues in particular, she has lectured extensively at several Italian and foreign universities. In 2000 in Venice she organized an international conference on children’s literature in the English-speaking world, entitled “Hearts of Lightness. The Magic of Children’s literature.” 

The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books belongs to the Toronto Public Library and had its beginnings in a large donation of children’s books made in 1949 by Edgar Osborne, a British librarian. The Osborne Collection has grown to over 80,000 rare and notable modern children's books.

The annual Sybille Pantazzi Memorial Lecture has arrived at its fourth edition and it was created to celebrate beautiful children's books in memory of Sybille Pantazzi (1914-1983), who was a noted Canadian librarian, book-collector and a pioneering scholar in the area of Victorian book design.

Date: Thursday, September 30, 2010
Times: 8:00 p.m.
Venue: Toronto Public Library Lillian H. Smith Branch
Presented by: Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Book
In collaboration with: Italian Cultural Institute
Free admission

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Putting Games on the Reading List

Screenshot of Rule of Rose, © 2006 Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. 

A colleague of mine has added Portal to the reading list of one of his grad seminar courses this year, which is oh-so-awesome. It's a wonderful game, with mind-blowing gameplay mechanics and a deep and multilayered story that has a surprisingly lot to say (given the game's short length and puzzle-solving focus) about surveillance, corporate control, institutions, gender relations, paranoia, human behavior, and human-technology relations. Coincidently, this is the second time in less than a month that I've heard about a humanities-type university course incorporating Portal as a required reading. The first was announced on Michael Abbott's blog Brainy Gamer, wherein he describes how Portal came to be included alongside Gilgamesh, Aristotle's Politics, and  Shakespeare's Hamlet on the reading list for a core course at Wabash College on "Enduring Questions" in the humanities. If you read the comments section following Abbott's post, you'll see an unfortunate rehearsal of the whole ludology/narratology debate (are games "really" texts, etc.), which is so past its expiry date it's not even funny anymore. When people challenge the idea of games as texts, I think that we can point as much to the players themselves as to the mushrooming body of literature addressing them as such in terms of evidence supporting the notion that games contain important experiential and narrative dimensions (among many, many others), all of which can be analyzed and thought about. But for the most part, the idea now seems sufficiently accepted/normalized that it's generating a thoughtful discussion of how, rather than eternally focusing on why.

As Abbott points out, there are various unexpected logistics involved in putting a digital game on the reading list - from securing licenses and access, to grappling with whether or not one should or can assume a certain level of digital literacy among the students themselves (or will they need tutorials in basic gaming skills first, or is playing the games firsthand required, etc.). Having attempted to incorporate games as recommended readings in some of my previous courses (not required, just recommended), along with my experiment in using Metaplace as a teaching and learning tool last fall, I have a small idea of some of the unexpected challenges and assumptions that arise when bringing games into an otherwise not-game-based curriculum. As I plan on incorporating even more games in my future courses, in exercises and as required readings, I think that I should probably start looking into this a bit more seriously, and potentially try to delineate some guidelines or best practices for points/issues that may need to be addressed.

I've got to say, though, so far I'm finding a lot more support for the theory behind games as learning tools, as well as instructions on how to use games for teaching, rather than practical advice about things like logistics, copyright, which game companies might be willing to offer an educational discount, and what to do about varying literacy/gaming skills. Though for this latter item, I'm sure a bit more delving into the following sites will yield some good advice. Anyway, all this to say that for now, what I've got is primarily a short list of resources that would be the obvious starting points for finding tips and established entry points for games in/as teaching (e.g. great for formulating learning objectives, developing in-class strategies, etc.):

Future Lab: UK non-profit (but surely industry funded) group dedicated to facilitating the incorporation of games and other digital apps into the classroom, enabling tech-based innovation in the development of tech curriculum & pedagogical tools.

Katie Salen's Institute of PlayQuest to Learn: An entire think tank dedicated to harnessing play for education, along with an entire school based around digital interaction, gaming and play. Salen has also written (& edited) key texts within game studies, and both organizations are based on theory grounded principles (as well as, no doubt, intentions to write some new theory).

McDaniel, R. and Telep, P. (2009). Best Practices for Integrating Game-Based Learning into Online Teaching. MERLOT: Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2). Link

Max Lieberman, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, is generously sharing his in-progress research (from proposal to lit review to findings) on the use of games in humanities. He has also launched a resource for educators, called The Educational Game Database/'s still in the early stages, but hopefully will produce some good material soon. In the meantime, check out his slide presentations on his Research Proposal (examining the use of and outcomes of using digital games "as texts" in college English courses), and his Lit Review on the use of games in humanities education.

Additional possible sources of interest:
Adams, M.G. (2009). Engaging 21st-century adolescents: Video games in the reading classroom. English Journal, 98(6), 56-9. Link (subscription required? not sure)

Clayton, J. and Hall, M. J. (2008). Worlds of Warcraft: class audio and video (Podcast). iTunes U.

Games as writing/narrative tools (rather than texts):
Colby, R.S. and Colby, R. (2008). A Pedagogy of Play: integrating computer games into the writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 25(3), 300-12.

James Paul Gee's copious work on games & learning (e.g. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy).

Jolley, K. (2008). Videogames to reading: Reaching out to reluctant readers. English Journal, 97(4), 81-6.

I've also found this massive list of resources exploring topics related to games in and for education/learning, which you can find here.

Not that I've lost sight of my original mission - I think that potentially some discussion with people who have done this before is the best way to proceed - learn from their mistakes and triumphs, as well as keep a good record of any admin and/or logistical hurdles my colleague (and later on myself) might have to clear this semester. I'm not sure though - was Abbott's experience typical? Have any of you who have incorporated games into a not-otherwise-or-entirely-games-focused course bothered to draft up established procedures for this, or have you even had to? Or has it been quite easy to bring games into a course reading list...both in terms of the associated admin and student response???? Any and all advice on this would be deeply appreciated (in comments or through email/DM).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Job Opportunities in Children's Studies - Pass it on!!!!

Via the Childhood Studies mailing list, as posted by Peter Cumming, an announcement and call for applications for TWO(!) tenure-stream faculty positions at York University's Children's Studies Program. Very exciting news for those of you currently or soon-to-be on the academic job market. I'm so glad to see this program expanding, and am really looking forward to seeing who they get!!!! 

Here's the info, as posted by Cumming earlier today:

It is my pleasure to draw your attention to two new postings for Full-Time Tenure-Stream - Assistant Professor positions at York University in Toronto, Canada, in the Children's Studies Program in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.  One position is in Children's Studies (Contemporary Children's Culture) and the other is in Children's Studies (Children's Literature).  Both are for a start date of July 1, 2011, with an application deadline of October 30, 2010. 

Here are links to the two complete postings: 

Children's Studies (Contemporary Children's Culture): 

Children's Studies (Children's Literature): 

The posting also notes that they are conducting a broad search for both positions, and welcome applications from scholars from a range of specializations and backgrounds. Also, while all qualified candidates are encouraged to apply, priority will be given to Canadian citizens/permanent residents.