Start a tradition of choosing picture books to share with children in your life



More recently, the study of reading has turned to examine the social and emotional benefits of storybook reading.
(Shutterstock)

Sandra Martin-Chang, Concordia University and Stephanie Kozak, Concordia University

It started with Frederick, by Leo Lionni — a beautifully illustrated story about the importance of the arts.

‘I am gathering words,’ Frederick the mouse tells his harried mouse community.
Penguin Random House

Or it began with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski — an exquisite storybook about a sullen carver who is transformed by the love of a little boy.

These are some of our own first favourite books. That was before we understood the benefits behind storybook reading. But we gave the books to our nieces and nephews based on our pure appreciation of the stories themselves. And thus began family traditions of carefully selecting, signing and gifting cherished books to one another.

Social and emotional benefits

For educators, the importance of storybook reading in the home is well documented. Reading to children is associated with a heap of benefits, including more expansive expressive and receptive vocabularies, better language comprehension and better early math abilities. More recently, the study of reading has turned to examine the social and emotional benefits provided by storybook reading.

Different themes explored by storybooks can develop aspects of socio-emotional understanding, because a well-written story can transport the reader into fictional worlds and let them experience emotions by proxy.

Parents who are more familiar with storybooks (presumably through reading them with their children), have children who are better at identifying and separating their own emotions and desires from the emotions and desires of others. Such social and cognitive skills are part of developing towards what psychologists call a “theory of mind” — gaining the ability to understand that other people’s thoughts and beliefs may be different from your own, and to consider why.

Books may help children develop such skills and insights because the plots often focus on social relationships between characters and contain rich language related to feelings and identity formation. Books can also encourage children to think of ways to enrich the lives of those around them, thereby enriching their own.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply own many books; it’s the frequency of shared storybook reading with the quality of time that matters. But whether books are borrowed from the local library, or part of your own collection, having access to them in your home is a good place to start.

Here are some of our favourites.


I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love by Nancy Tillman.
(Macmillan)

Books that explore themes of love and community: Porcupine’s Bad Day by Emilie Corbiere is an English- and Ojibway-langugage account of how porcupine’s friends help him move beyond his grumpy mood as he tries to sleep in the daytime — and to understand they all share the forest. Nancy Tillman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love explores how intimacy and love are tied to recognition and acceptance, told through the delight of animal disguises and a woman narrator. Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper narrates the love of a boy and his grandpa against the backdrop of the moon’s ever-present mystery.


‘The Book of Mistakes,’ by Corinna Luyken.
(Dial Books)

Books that celebrate the occasional misstep in creativity: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, and Ish or The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. The Dot is about a schoolgirl, Vashti, who goes from believing she can’t draw to a celebration of self-expression and creativity — beginning with a dot. These books would make wonderful gifts for the creative but cautious children in your lives.


‘Ada Twist, Scientist’ by Andrea Beaty.
(Abrams)

Books for young budding professionals: Andrea Beaty’s books, including Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect would make wonderful presents that showcase new worlds opening up through science and design, and that show children the road to success is often littered with road blocks that can be overcome.


‘What Do You Do With An Idea?’ by Kobi Yamada.
(Compendium)

Books that embrace challenge: What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada is an encouraging book suitable for all ages. After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat contains themes of perseverance and overcoming fears.


‘A Child of Books,’ by Oliver Jeffers.
(Candlewick Press)

Books that celebrate themselves: The Good Little Book by Kyo MacLear, and It’s a Book by Lane Smith are stories about the love for reading, and the value of a good book. These support the message that reading is a beautiful thing. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is a lyrical celebration of a childhood filled with books.


‘Chester,’ by Mélanie Watt.
(Kids Can Press)

Books that don’t take themselves too seriously: Chester by Mélanie Watt,
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, Oddsockosaurus by Zanib Mian and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen all provide a shared giggle between adult and child. Books like these reinforce the value that reading is a fun and intrinsically enjoyable activity.


Above we’ve included some of our favorite titles, but there is no one perfect book. We encourage you to spend some time talking to your local bookshop staff or librarians to find titles that will resonate in your family.

The psychosocial and educational benefits from shared storybook reading do not depend on whether the books are bought or borrowed or whether they’re new or used. All you need are books with convincing characters, good conversations and a place to snuggle up and read.

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Sandra Martin-Chang, Professor, Department of Education, Concordia University and Stephanie Kozak, PhD Candidate, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From the Iliad to Circe: culture’s enduring fascination with the myths of Troy


Jan Haywood, The Open University

The story of the epic war fought over a woman has been told many times. It now lies at the heart of an exhibition at the British Museum opening on November 21. Troy: Myth and Reality introduces audiences to the history of the archaeological site of Troy (modern-day Hisarlik, Turkey), many of the different individuals caught up in the Trojan War, and various later responses to this powerful legend in drama and literature.

That the story of the Trojan War should be the subject of a blockbuster exhibition comes as little surprise. Ever since classical antiquity, audiences have been consistently telling and retelling stories about the site of Troy and the heroic war that was fought there between the Trojans and the Achaeans (later conflated with the Greeks). The most famous telling of all perhaps is the Iliad from the eighth century BCE, composed by Homer, a figure shrouded in mystery.

The Homeric poem captures the story of a dreadful, ten-year war fought between two nations. It shows the major influence of powerful men on the battlefield, such as the Trojan prince Hector and the commander of the Myrmidons, Achilles. For these individuals, deeds performed in war will secure them “everlasting fame” (κλέος ἄφθιτον in ancient Greek).

But the poem also illustrates the horrendous impact of the war far away from the battlefield. In one memorable passage, Briseis, the captive prisoner of Achilles, laments the slaughter of her husband and children. It is a heartbreaking account that shows acutely the universal misery brought on by the bloodshed of war.

Troy after Homer

Ever since Homer, people have looked to expand on and retell different aspects of the Trojan War in light of their own circumstances.

The fifth century BCE Athenian playwright Euripides produced several plays that depicted the aftermath of the conflict. In his Trojan Women, Euripides centres the widows of Troy and the hardships they endure at the hands of their Greek oppressors, who divide the women like booty between themselves. It is an uncompromising account that many have read as a biting commentary on the civil war fought between Athens and Sparta at the end of the fifth century BCE. The play does not glorify war and instead highlights its horrors through Troy’s displaced women.

Of course, the creation of refugees through warfare and the transportation of human bodies across geographic boundaries is a profound concern for audiences today. The ongoing Syrian civil war has created around 6.7m refugees, who have been dispersed across the globe. And the recent shocking discovery of 39 Vietnamese nationals’ bodies in a lorry in Grays, Essex on 23 October, 2019 is a ghastly reminder of the terrible conditions that many refugees have faced past and present.

Troy Today

In contemporary culture too, there has been a spate of interest in the stories and myths of Troy. The exhibition shows clearly the impact it has had on the visual arts. Highlights include a 1978 collage by the African-American artist Romare Bearden, titled The Sirens’ Song, which recasts Odysseus’ journey home after the war with African-American subjects. Bearden’s work employs the familiar story of Troy to give the African-American experience a universal and classical representation.

Another notable work is a print called Judgement of Paris (2007), pictured above, by the conceptual artist Eleanor Antin. The photo, which riffs on Peter Paul Ruben’s Judgement of Paris (1639), highlights the powerlessness of Helen who sits looking outwards, forced to the margins of the image. Antin’s work turns this on its head. Featured as part of a series called Helen’s Odyssey, the photo challenges a tradition that has often vilified the Spartan queen Helen for her involvement in the war.

A recent significant development has been the growing number of English-language fictional accounts about Troy written by women. These works retell and expand on various aspects of the Trojan War story from the perspective of the women involved. They range from Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, which retells the Iliad from the perspective of the story’s women, to Madeline Miller’s bestseller Circe, a feminist exploration of certain events from the Odyssey. Such works offer a potent challenge to a tradition that has been wholly dominated by male authors and male-centred stories.

An especially impressive entry in this burgeoning group of women writers’ works on Troy is Alice Oswald’s 2011 poem Memorial, an idiosyncratic translation of the Iliad. The poem evokes various contemporary war memorials, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, in its opening which lists the names of almost all the men whose deaths are reported in the Iliad.

What’s more, the poem records moments in which the soldiers of the Iliad die on the battlefield. In doing so, as in the Iliad, Oswald repeatedly draws attention to bereaved parents, widowed partners and fatherless children. In an age where technology has changed the methods and image of warfare, desensitising us to such violence, works like Memorial are a timely reminder of the human costs of deadly conflict.

It is clear, then, that Troy and the stories that surround it continue to shape culture thousands of years after the Trojan War ostensibly occurred. This is what makes the British Museum exhibition so relevant for audiences today. The story of the Trojan War is a story of universal suffering that stretches past the battlefield. It is a story that highlights the absurdity of war, which at its core holds sentiments that ring as true today as they did in antiquity.


Troy: Myth and Reality is on at The British Museum from November 21, 2019 – 8 March 8, 2020The Conversation

Jan Haywood, Lecturer in Classical Studies, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate change novels allow us to imagine possible futures – read these crucial seven



Hitoshi Suzuki/Unsplash, FAL

Adeline Johns-Putra, University of Surrey

Every day brings fresh and ever more alarming news about the state of the global environment. To speak of mere “climate change” is inadequate now, for we are in a “climate emergency”. It seems as though we are tripping over more tipping points than we knew existed.

But our awareness is at last catching up with the planet’s climate catastrophes. Climate anxiety, climate trauma, and climate strikes are now all part of many people’s mental landscape and daily lives. This is almost four decades after scientists first began to warn of accelerated global warming from carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere.

And so, unsurprisingly, climate fiction, climate change fiction, “cli-fi” – whatever you want to call it – has emerged as a literary trend that’s gained astonishing traction over the past ten years.

Just a decade ago, when I first began reading and researching literary representations of climate change, there was a curious dearth of fiction on the subject. In 2005, the environmental writer Robert Macfarlane had asked plaintively: “Where is the literature of climate change?”. When I went to work in 2009 on one of the first research projects to attempt to answer this question, I found that some climate change novels were only beginning to emerge. Ten years later, the ubiquity of cli-fi means that the question of how many cli-fi novels there are seems irrelevant. Equally irrelevant is any doubt about the urgency of the climate emergency.

But the question of how to deal with such a complex challenge is paramount. The climate emergency demands us to think about our responsibilities on a global scale rather than as individuals, to think about our effects not just on fellow humans but on all the species that call this planet home, and to think about changing the resource-focused, profit-seeking behaviours that have been part of human activity for centuries.

Novels allow us to imagine possible futures from the comfort of the present.
Maria Cassagne/Unsplash, FAL

This is where literature comes in. It affords us the headspace in which to think through these difficult and pressing questions.

Cli-fi has a central role in allowing us to do the psychological work necessary to deal with climate change. I am often asked to identify the climate novel that is the most powerful and effective and, just as often, I reply that no one novel can do this. The phenomenon of cli-fi as a whole offers us different ways and a multitude of spaces in which to consider climate change and how we address it.

Here, then, is my list of a range of novels that offer just such a diverse set of perspectives. These books provide readers with a range of thought (and feeling) experiments, from dystopian despair to glimmers of hope, from an awareness of climate change impacts on generations to come to vivid reminders of how we are destroying the many other species that share our planet.

1. The Sea and Summer, 1987

Australian novelist George Turner’s book is one of the earliest examples of cli-fi and is prescient in more ways than one. Set in Melbourne in the 2030s, skyscrapers are drowning due to sea-level rise: a setting for a stark division between the rich and the poor. Like many cli-fi novels, this novel’s dystopian future provides a sophisticated thought experiment on the effects of climate change on our already divided society. Turner’s book deserves to be reread — and reissued — as classic and still relevant cli-fi.


HarperVoyager

2. Memory of Water, 2012

Water has become a precious commodity in this cli-fi dystopia by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta. In Nordic Europe in the distant future, a young girl must decide whether to share her family’s precious water supply with her friends and fellow villagers and risk being accused of “water crime”, punishable by death. This tender coming-of-age narrative is thus also a meditation on the value of resources taken entirely for granted by the contemporary, westernised reader.

3. The Wall, 2019

At first glance, John Lanchester’s novel could be a comment on the rise of anti-refugee sentiment in Britain. In a not-so-distant future, every inch of British shoreline is guarded by an immense wall, a bulwark against illegal migrants as well as rising sea levels. But through the experiences of a young border guard, the novel shows us how this national obsession with borders not only distracts from the climate emergency at hand; it diminishes our responsibility to fellow humans around the world, whose lives are threatened by climate change and for whom migration is a desperate solution.


Titan Books (UK)

4. Clade, 2015

Australian author James Bradley’s novel chronicles several generations of one family in an increasingly devastated world. The day-to-day detail of their lives, as relationships hold together or break apart, unfolds against the backdrop of environmental and thus societal breakdown. The novel contrasts the mundane miscommunications that characterise human relations with the big issue of global warming that could rob future generations of the opportunity to lead meaningful lives.

5. The Stone Gods, 2007

Jeanette Winterson’s stab at cli-fi offers, like Bradley’s novel, a long view. The novel ranges over three vastly different timeframes: a dystopian, future civilisation that is fast ruining its planet and must seek another; 18th-century Easter Island on the verge of destroying its last tree; and a near-future Earth facing global environmental devastation. As readers time travel between these stories, we find, again and again, the damage wrought by human hubris. Yet, the novel reminds us, too, of the power of love. In the novel, love signifies an openness to other humans and other species, to new ideas, and to better ways of living on this planet.


Constable

6. The Swan Book, 2013

This novel by indigenous Australian author Alexis Wright is unconventional, fable-like cli-fi. Its protagonist is a young indigenous girl whose life is devastated by climate change but most of all by the Australian government’s mistreatment of its indigenous populations. Weaving indigenous belief with biting satire, Wright’s novel is a celebration of her people’s knowledge of how to live with nature, rather than in exploitation of it.

7. Flight Behaviour, 2012

Unlike the other novels on this list, this one, by Barbara Kingsolver, is a realist novel set entirely in the present day. A young woman from Tennessee stumbles upon thousands of monarch butterflies roosting on her in-laws’ land, the insects having been thrown off course by extreme weather events brought about by climate change.

From the scientists who come to study the problem, she learns of the delicate balance that is needed to keep the butterflies on course. Kingsolver’s rich descriptions of an impoverished Appalachian community are combined with her biologist’s training, so that reader empathy is eventually shifted from the likeable heroine to the natural wonder that is the butterflies. We are reminded of how climate change risks not simply human comfort but the planet’s ecological complexity.The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

African literary prizes are contested — but writers’ groups are reshaping them



Best-selling Nigerian novelist and literary superstar Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Armando Babani/EPA-EFE

Doseline Kiguru, Rhodes University

Literary prizes do more than offer recognition and cash to writers and help readers decide what book to choose. They shape the literary canon, a country’s body of highly regarded writing. They help shape what the future classics might be.

But what if Africa’s biggest prizes are awarded by foreign territories; former colonial masters? Or what if African-born writers in the diaspora are routinely chosen as winners over writers living and working in Africa?

Debates have been raging over these issues in recent years, especially relating to the lucrative Caine Prize for African Writing.

The words ‘award’ or ‘prize’ imply that there was a selection process and the best emerged as winner. The awarding of value to a text through the literary prize industry involves selection and exclusion in which some texts and authors are foregrounded, becoming the canon.

The scholar John Guillory argues, in addition, for the need to

reconstruct a historical picture of how literary works are produced, disseminated, reproduced, reread, and retaught over successive generations and eras.

The issues are complex and the landscape is changing. My research covers how prizes create taste and canon – but also the increasing role played by literary organisations to shape those prizes and hence the canon.

Writers’ organisations mainly provide a social space for writers. There are dozens across the continent. Sometimes they include a publishing avenue, workshops, fellowships and competitions. In general, they have aimed to fill gaps left by mainstream literary bodies such as publishers, universities and schools, and book marketers.

To understand the process of creative writing on the African continent it’s useful to focus on the interrelationship between prize bodies and writers’ organisations in contemporary literary production.

The Caine, the Commonwealth and writers’ organisations

The Caine Prize for African Writing and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize are two major awards for contemporary Africa that have been cited as significant in promoting up-and-coming writers to become global writers. Both trade in the short story.

The Commonwealth, an initiative of the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society, awards unpublished fiction. The Caine, a charity set up in the name of the late literary organiser Sir Michael Caine, only accepts already published work. The cash reward that comes with winning these prizes is a major factor in their popularity on the continent.

But they are also significant in the growth of the short story genre. This is why I am interested in the partnerships that have emerged between prize bodies and writers’ organisations. Together they are influencing literary production structures from creative writing training to publishing and marketing texts.

Both the Caine and the Commonwealth prizes have partnered with African based writing organisations – like Uganda’s FEMRITE and Kenya’s Kwani? – to organise joint creative writing workshops.

The Caine holds annual workshops for its longlisted writers. These mostly take place in Africa, working with local writers’ organisations. Sometimes the resulting writing is entered into competitions and in this way, the prize body both produces and awards literary value.

Many of these writers’ organisations are headed by people who were canonised through the international prize, and sometimes the writing trainers and competition judges are also previous winners.

With such links it then becomes important to analyse the literary texts produced within these networks with the awareness of the importance of a text’s social, cultural and political context. The literary product becomes a reflection of the different systems of power at play.

Power at play

A good illustration of this power play can be found in best-selling Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story Jumping Monkey Hill. It tells of a fictional creative writing programme for African writers run by the British Council. The story, set in South Africa, narrates the experiences of the writers, who are all expected to write about African realities in order to have their stories published internationally. The writers come to the workshop ready to learn how to improve their skills but encounter setbacks mainly because the trainer has a preconceived idea of what ‘plausible’ African stories should be. These writers have to understand the power play in place and then make a choice.

Jumping Monkey Hill acknowledges the role played by the creative writing institution in the production of literature as a commodity that must fit market demands. For this reason, the increasing investment of African based writers’ organisations in the literary production scene can also be understood as a political move. It is also an effort to influence the literature coming out of the continent and shape the canon.

An advert for a workshop run by writers’ organisation Short Story Day Africa.
SSDA

Why writers’ organisations matter

Contemporary African writers’ organisations are deliberately involved in canon formation by taking an active role in the production and distribution of literature. They understand that the uneven distribution of economic and cultural capital results in misrepresentations, or lack of representation, within the canon.

Writers’ organisations such as FEMRITE, Kwani?, Farafina, Writivism, Storymoja and Short Story Day Africa, among others, are active in the literary industry through publishing, creative writing programmes and providing access to major award organisations and international publishers.

They are, in the process, contributing to canon formation.

Short Story Day Africa, for instance, pegs its yearly competitions on the promise that the winning stories will be automatically submitted for the Caine Prize. In fact, the 2014 Caine winning story and one other shortlisted story were initially published in its anthology Feast, Famine and Potluck (2013).

In the African academy, creative writing is usually offered as a single course within a larger programme or is available only at selected universities. This has resulted in a market gap that has been quickly filled by writers’ organisations. They fill this gap by offering short term courses on various aspects of creative writing. This is in part because the local literary organisation possesses the cultural capital necessary to link writers to prize organisations and publishers, and therefore to global visibility.The Conversation

Doseline Kiguru, Postdoctoral research fellow, Rhodes University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Like ‘Little Women,’ books by Zitkála-Šá and Taha Hussein are classics



Louisa May Alcott has delighted readers for generations.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

Sheila Cordner, Boston University

I’m a scholar of literature who spends a lot of time thinking about why certain stories continue to be revisited, and what works can be considered classics today.

So I’m looking forward to seeing Greta Gerwig’s film version of “Little Women,” even though I’ve seen similar movies before. Gerwig’s film is the eighth film adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel that lets readers escape into the 19th-century New England world of witty Jo March and her three sisters. It will arrive in theaters on Christmas Day.

But I believe in a broader notion of what counts as a classic than books which are most widely recognized. That is why I’ve written a children’s book that introduces kids to an array of famous authors including ones you may not have heard of.

Greta Gerwig’s ‘Little Women’ is the eighth movie based on the classic novel.
AP Photo/Steven Senne

From one generation to the next

Gerwig, an actress and filmmaker, has talked about how the issues facing the women in Alcott’s novel feel modern and urgent to her. Her passion for the story told in “Little Women” gets at the heart of what makes something a classic: a tale generations of readers can relate to.

Other examples include Lewis Carroll’s story about an imaginative young girl who learns to find her own way in “Alice in Wonderland” or Charles Dickens’ tale of financial hardship, family and personal redemption in “A Christmas Carol.”

These books are beautifully written, of course. But the reason they are told and retold in countless adaptations is because they express themes that people relate to.

This Alice in Wonderland statue is in New York City’s Central Park.
Gzzz, CC BY-SA

An expanding range

In my view, what counts as a classic today must come from an ever-expanding range of authors.

This is especially important for children. Parents, teachers and librarians are demanding more representation in the books that children read because reading more diverse books can benefit readers from all backgrounds.

Diverse books can help all readers develop empathy for other people’s experiences. And opening the gateway to a broader spectrum of books can lead to reading experiences that are rich, stimulating – and just plain fun.

The author, musician, composer and reformer Zitkála-Šá.
Gertrude Kasebier/Smithsonian

By all means, go ahead and read – or re-read – Alcott’s “Little Women” and similar classics.

In addition, kids and readers of all ages should also become familiar with works by authors like Sui Sin Far, who wrote about the lives of Chinese immigrants in the United States, and María Amparo Ruiz de Burton, one of the first Mexican-American novelists.

They should also, pick up a volume of poems by African-American poet Langston Hughes and sway to the blues in his haunting lines. Read the accomplished Native American musician and writer Zitkála-Šá’s raw account of a young girl who leaves her Indian reservation to start a new school and is nervous about making friends. Learn about the dreams of the young Egyptian writer Taha Hussein, who was nominated 14 times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Sheila Cordner, Senior Lecturer of Humanities, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.