Books offer a healing retreat for youngsters caught up in a pandemic


Johnny McClung/Unsplash

Margaret Kristin Merga, Edith Cowan University

Parents at a loss to find activities for their children during COVID lockdowns can encourage them to escape into a book. New research shows how reading books can help young people escape from their sources of stress, find role models in characters and develop empathy.

Recent media reports have highlighted a concerning rise in severe emotional distress in young people. Isolation and disruption of learning in lockdown have increased their anxiety. Given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and lockdowns in Australia, parents and educators may look to connect young people with enjoyable activities that also support both their well-being and learning.

A lot has been written about the role of regular reading in building literacy skills. Now, my findings from a BUPA Foundation-funded research project on school libraries and well-being provide insight into how books and reading can help young people deal with the well-being challenges of the pandemic.

The findings suggest books can not only be a great escape during this challenging time, but also offer further well-being benefits.

Escaping from a world of stress

We know that adults who are avid readers enjoy being able to escape into their books. Reading for pleasure can reduce psychological distress and has been related to mental well-being.

Reading-based interventions have been used successfully to support children who have experienced trauma. In a recent study, around 60% of young people agreed reading during lockdown helped them to feel better.

My research project confirms young people can use books and reading to escape the pressures of their lives. As one student said:

“If you don’t know what to do, or if you’re sad, or if you’re angry, or whatever the case is, you can just read, and it feels like you’re just escaping the world. And you’re going into the world of the book, and you’re just there.”

Young girl reading book on couch next to window
‘You’re going into the world of the book, and you’re just there.’
Josh Applegate/Unsplash

Connecting with role models in characters

If you enjoy reading, there’s a good chance you have favourite characters who hold a place in your heart. The project found young people can find role models in books to look up to and emulate, which can help to build their resilience. A student described her experience reading the autobiography of young Pakistani activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai:

“I thought it was incredible how no matter what happened to her, even after her horrific injury, she just came back and kept fighting for what she believed in.”




Read more:
Nobel Peace Prize: extraordinary Malala a powerful role model


Other research has linked connecting with characters to mental health recovery, partly due to its power to instil hope in the reader. Building relationships with characters in books can also be used as “self-soothing” to decrease anxiety.

Young people also celebrate their affection for book characters in social networking spaces such as TikTok, where they share their enjoyment of the book journey with favourite characters.

Young people are taking to TikTok to share their love of books with millions of others.

Developing empathy through reading

Research supports the idea that reading books builds empathy. Reading fiction can improve social cognition, which helps us to connect with others across our lives. My previous work with adult readers found some people read for the pleasure they get from developing insight into other perspectives, to “see the world through other people’s eyes”.

In the project, a student described how reading books helped him to understand others’ perspectives. He explained:

“You get to see in their input, and then you go, ‘Well, actually, they’re not the bad guy. Really, the other guy is, it’s just their point of view makes it seem like the other guy’s the bad guy.’ ”

Your teacher librarian can help you

If parents are not sure what books will best suit their child’s often ever-changing interests and needs, they can get in touch with the teacher librarians at school. Even during lockdown they are usually only an email or a phone call away.

The library managers in the project played an important role in connecting students with books that could lead to enjoyable and positive reading experiences.

For example, a library manager explained that she specifically built her collection to make sure the books provided role model characters for her students. She based her recommendations to students on their interests as well as their needs. To support a student who had a challenging home life, she said,

“I recommend quite a number of books where we’ve got a very strong female character […] in a number of adverse situations and where she navigates her way through those.”

Fostering reading for pleasure is a key part of the role of the teacher librarian. They create spaces and opportunities for students to read in peace. They also encourage them to share recommendations with their peers.

In challenging times, many parents are looking for an activity that supports their children’s well-being. And as reading is also linked to strong literacy benefits, connecting them with books, with the support of their teacher librarian, is a smart way to go.The Conversation

Margaret Kristin Merga, Honorary Adjunct, University of Newcastle; Senior Lecturer in Education, Edith Cowan University

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

Growing up with trees: new books use story and science to connect kids with nature


Unsplash/Pat Whelan, CC BY

Kathryn Williams, The University of Melbourne

When I tell people I’m an environmental psychologist, they often assume that means I am a “tree hugger” and they are not entirely wrong. But it really means I spend a lot of time thinking and finding out about people’s relationships with the natural world, trees included.

So when I dropped in at my local book store and saw a whole collection of new books for children about trees, I found myself wondering: What kinds of books help kids connect with trees?

The question was prompted by a recent publication, The Book of Australian Trees by Inga Simpson and Alicia Rogerson. Its not the only tree book published this year, but it’s notable for its focus on Australian trees.

The last few years have seen the publication of some remarkable books about trees for children, for example Peter Wohlleben’s Can you hear the trees talking (a 2019 young reader’s edition of his book The Hidden Life of Trees) and Piotr Socha and Wojciech Grajkowski’s The Book of Trees (2018).

I love both these books, but they also illustrate why books about Australian trees and plants are needed. When Socha and Grajkowski declare: “In winter, the only green trees are coniferous trees”, or when Wohlleben suggests young readers go outside and find a birch log (likely in in their family’s store of firewood) kids in the southern hemisphere might feel lost.




Read more:
People are ‘blind’ to plants, and that’s bad news for conservation


A researcher measures a Mountain Ash in a forest in Victoria.
Australian National University

Learning to love plants and trees

Having books that help children learn to love trees really matters to me. There is increasing concern that people are less connected with the natural world than in the past. Plants are of particular concern, as there is evidence of lower appreciation, knowledge and concern for plants compared with animals. Various writers have noted the negative implications of these trends for human health and well-being, environmental action, and conservation.

Direct experience of nature is often seen as essential to building connections, but it’s not always possible and might not be enough. Books can help children connect with trees, for example by:

So how are recent children’s book authors going about this important task?




Read more:
Where the old things are: Australia’s most ancient trees


The Book of Australian Trees

The introduction to Simpson and Rogerson’s book echoes some of these pathways for connection. “Trees tell stories about places,” Simpson writes and while trees may all seem the same, “if you look more closely, they are each a little different, like people”.


Goodreads

The book introduces just 16 different trees, most from the eastern mainland states of Australia. Each species is introduced with a single painting by Rogerson, often showing the trunk and lower canopy but sometimes just a part of the trees such as a Bunya Pine nut or a flower.

Simpson’s text is brief. It includes visual characteristics of the tree, the kinds of soils or climate in which it grows, and usually a an insight to cultural associations with the tree. Some entries refer to “famous trees”, for example Centurion, the tallest mountain ash tree found in Tasmania. Others refer to Australian literary references to trees, like the “Old Man Banksias” of May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories.

I enjoyed Simpson’s evocative description of trees, particularly of bark and the ways it differs across trees and seasons. These often emphasise the links between visual attributes of trees and familiar human characteristics. Brush box branches “grow out like arms, with crooked elbows, then wrists and long fingers”. But while Simpson describes the kind of environments in which the trees typically grow, there is little sense of story or sense of place in these descriptions.

Books on trees and plants often focus purely on ecological qualities. Simpson incorporates cultural aspects of trees as they offer an important means of connection. But these are not always well considered. Linking magnificent Flame Trees to Cold Chisel’s 1984 song about “lost loves or old flames” seems unlikely to resonate with younger readers. Only a single entry (Bunya Pine) references relationships with First Nations peoples that have been maintained over many thousands of years.

The book is beautifully illustrated and celebrates the beauty of trees of this land — the flyleaf paintings of leaves, bark, cones, seeds, and blossoms lend themselves to a plant-rich conversation with younger readers.

The cone from a Bunya Pine.
Australian Botanic Gardens

4 more to choose from

Other recent books about trees make great use of stories, emotion, science and tree-related activities to help children connect with trees.


Goodreads

The Forest in the Tree (by Australian team Ailsa Wild, Aviva Reed, Briony Barr and Gregory Crocetti) skilfully weaves story and science to explore symbiotic relationships between trees and fungi. Characters include Broma the Cacao tree and We, Gloma the fungal network that connects the forest system. It is sure to fascinate and inform older children.


Goodreads

Little Sap (by Jan Hughes and Ruth Hengeveld) is written for a much younger audience. It tells a moving tale of a mother tree and a young sapling who eventually takes her place in the canopy. The authors note they found inspiration in the science of Suzanne Simard and Monica Gagliano among others.

Peter Wohlleben has also published a book for younger children. His book Peter and the Tree Children is a tale about Peter the forester and Piet the squirrel, and all they learn while walking in the forest.


Goodreads

I found it less engaging than his earlier book Can you hear the trees talking which is structured around curious questions like “How do trees make babies?” or “Is there a forest internet?”.

Finally, Plantastic! A new A-Z to 26 of Australia’s most unique and incredible native plants by Catherine Clowes and Rachel Gyan deserves a mention. Its not only about trees, but suggests some great activities that will encourage Australian kids to get out into nature and explore the wonder of plants.The Conversation

Kathryn Williams, Professor in environmental psychology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne

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

Writing from 130 years ago shows we’re still dealing with the same anti-Asian racism


Community members gather for a vigil in memory of the victims of the Atlanta shootings and to rally against anti-Asian racism in Ottawa.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Mary Chapman, University of British Columbia

In March, when a white man targeted and killed eight women in Atlanta, six of whom were Asian, mainstream media and police initially refused to categorize it as a racially motivated hate crime. But for Asian people, across North America and globally, this tragedy was one more episode in a long history of anti-Asian violence.

Over 150 years ago, white settlers in the United States rounded up Chinese merchants and miners and put them onto burning barges, threw them into railway cars and even lynched them. But this story is not limited to the U.S. — early Chinese immigrants were not welcome in Canada either.




Read more:
Asian Americans top target for threats and harassment during pandemic


This is documented in the life and works of Chinese-Canadian author and journalist Edith Eaton (1865-1914). While researching Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism, and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton, I discovered numerous accounts of early Canadian anti-Chinese racism in her work.

Memoirs from the past show similar hatred

In Eaton’s memoir Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian, she recalls being called “Chinky, Chinky, Chinaman, yellow-face, pig-tail, rat-eater,” after moving to North America with her family — a white father, Chinese mother and five siblings — in 1872.

Soon after the family’s arrival in Montréal, locals would call out “Chinese!” “Chinoise!” as they walked down the street. Classmates would pull Eaton’s hair, pinch her and refuse to sit beside her.

These taunts and torments were felt deeply by Eaton throughout her life. She wrote:

“I have come from a race on my mother’s side which is said to be the most stolid and insensible to feeling of all races. Yet I look back over the years and see myself so keenly alive to every shade of sorrow and suffering that it is almost a pain to live.”

Eaton published a book of short stories depicting Chinese immigrants’ encounters with racism under the pseudonym “Sui Sin Far” (Cantonese for narcissus). And her advocacy was appreciated by Chinese people in Montréal who erected a memorial beside her grave with the inscription “Yi bu wang hua,” which means “The righteous one does not forget China.”

Since the Atlanta shootings, Asian women have been assaulted and even killed. Asian people have been accused of causing COVID-19, stealing intellectual property and more. What Eaton described in her fiction and memoir continues to happen today.

1896 newspaper article titled 'The Chinese Defended'
In a signed letter to the editor, Edith Eaton defends Chinese people in Montréal who have been the target of hate.
Montréal Daily Star

1890s headlines interchangeable with today’s

Eaton also documented anti-Chinese violence and championed the rights of Chinese immigrants in stories published in the Montréal Star and the Montréal Witness throughout the 1890s.

At the time, white men were convinced that Chinese immigrants were taking their jobs away and that Chinese men — many of whom lived alone behind their shops (because of the Head Tax — had an unfair advantage over white men with families.

In the Montréal Star, Eaton published A Plea for the Chinaman, in which she called out politicians for mistreating Chinese men in Canada:

“Every just person must feel his or her sense of justice outraged by the attacks which are being made by public men upon the Chinese who come to this country.… It makes one’s cheeks burn to read about men of high office standing up and abusing a lot of poor foreigners behind their backs and calling them all the bad names their tongues can utter.”

Anti-Chinese violence was so common in 1890s Montréal that Chinese men carried police whistles in their pockets. In an 1895 article, titled Beaten to Death, Eaton noted that even when they blew their whistles, no one would come to Chinese men’s aid. Bystanders often refused to identify their assailants and police told the men who had been assaulted that they should be arrested for bothering them.

The recent reports of a security guard’s refusal to act when a Filipino woman was brutally beaten uncannily recall the anti-Asian violence Eaton documented 125 years ago.

My research leads me to suspect that Eaton published other unsigned articles documenting anti-Chinese racism in Montreal newspapers at this time. She may have written a Gazette article reporting on youth who would gather nightly in Montreal’s Chinatown to throw stones at passing Chinese men and through the plate glass windows of their businesses, or those describing Chinese men being punched, kicked or beaten to death.

What was written when?

Looking at literature and journalism of the past such as Eaton’s can help illuminate the challenges of today. Her observations about people’s motivations — ignorance, jealousy, suspicion, competition — invite us to reflect on the motivations of today’s perpetrators of anti-Asian violence and conclude that not much has changed.

The anti-Asian racism recorded in Eaton’s work and journalism across Montreal persists today. Recent reports of racist violence, hate crimes, verbal harassment, opaque policing and passive bystanders could have been written more than a century ago.

We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to make up for over a century of treating Asian people like they do not belong.The Conversation

Mary Chapman, Professor of English and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub, University of British Columbia

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

After a year of digital learning and virtual teaching, let’s hear it for the joy of real books


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Kathryn MacCallum, University of Canterbury

We know COVID-19 and its associated changes to our work and learning habits caused a marked increase in the use of technology. More surprising, perhaps, is the impact these lockdowns have had on children’s and young people’s self-reported enjoyment of books and the overall positive impact this has made on reading rates.

A recent survey from the UK, for example, showed children were spending 34.5% more time reading than they were before lockdown. Their perceived enjoyment of reading had increased by 8%.

This seems logical — locked down with less to do means more time for other activities. But with the increase in other distractions, especially the digital kind, it’s encouraging to see many young people still gravitate towards reading, given the opportunity.

In general, most children still read physical books, but the survey showed a small increase in their use of audiobooks and digital devices. Audiobooks were particularly popular with boys and contributed to an overall increase in their interest in reading and writing.

There is no doubt, however, that digital texts are becoming more commonplace in schools, and there is a growing body of research exploring their influence. One such study showed no direct relationship between how often teachers used digital reading instruction and activities and their students’ actual engagement or reading confidence.




Read more:
There’s more than one good way to teach kids how to read


What the study did show, however, was a direct, negative relationship between how often teachers had their students use computers or tablets for reading activities and how much the students liked reading.

These findings suggest physical books continue to play a critical role in fostering young children’s love of reading and learning. At a time when technology is clearly influencing reading habits and teaching practices, can we really expect the love of reading to be fostered by sitting alone on a digital device?

young boy using touch screen tablet
Reading alone on a digital device is no substitute for the real thing.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The limitations of eBooks

In schools and homes we often see eBooks being used to support independent reading. As teachers and parents, we have started to rely on these tools to support our emerging readers. But over-reliance has meant losing the potential for engagement and conversation.

Studies have shown children perform better when reading with an adult, and this is often a richer experience with a print book than with an eBook.

Reading when we’re young is still a communal experience. My own seven-year-old is at the age when reading to me at night is a crucial part of his development as a reader. Relying on him to sit on his own and read from his device will never work.




Read more:
Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions


This is not to deny the usefulness of eBooks. Their adoption in schools has been led by the desire to better support learners. They provide teachers with an extensive library of titles and features designed to entice and motivate.

These embedded features provide new ways of helping children decode language and also offer vital support for children with special needs, such as dyslexia and impaired vision.

The research, however, suggests caution rather than a wholesale adoption of eBooks. Studies have shown the extra features of eBooks, such as pop-ups, animation and sound, can actually distract the learner, detracting from the reading experience and reducing comprehension of the text.

The book as object

Captain Underpants book cover

Real books may lack these interactive features but their visual and tactile nature plays a strong role in engaging the reader.

Because books exist in the same physical space as their readers — scattered and found objects rather than apps on a screen — they introduce the role of choice, one of the big influences on engagement.

While generally a reluctant reader, my child loves to flick through books and look at the pictures. He might not necessarily read every word, but books such as Dog Man, Captain Underpants and Bad Guys have provided a fantastic opportunity to engage him.

We have even managed to link reading with our children’s favourite online games. Their Minecraft manuals have become valuable resources and are even taken to friends’ houses on play-dates.

Many of our books are not in the best shape, evidence they are lived with and loved. Second hand shops and school fairs provide a cheap option for adding variety, and libraries are also valuable for supplementing the home shelves.

Keeping it real

But cuts to library budgets and collections, such as have been announced recently by Wellington Central Library, threaten to further undermine the role of the physical book in children’s lives.

School libraries, too, are often the first space to be sacrificed when budgets and space restrictions tighten. This encourages the uptake of digital books and further reinforces a reliance on technological alternatives.




Read more:
Do we really own our digital possessions?


Of course, digital technology plays an important role in supporting children to engage and learn, often in powerful new ways that would otherwise be impossible.

But in our haste to adopt and rely on “digital solutions” without clear justification or consideration of their effective use, we risk undervaluing the power of objects made from paper and ink.

As we emerge from a pandemic that has accelerated digital progress, we can’t let these developments obscure the place of real books in real — as opposed to virtual — lives.The Conversation

Kathryn MacCallum, Associate Professor, University of Canterbury

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

More on 2021 Public Domain Arrivals in the USA


The links below are to further articles reporting on this year’s additions to the public domain.

For more visit:
https://teleread.org/2021/01/02/get-1925-lit-classics-for-free-fitzgerald-dreiser-hemingway-woolf-kafka-among-authors/
https://bookriot.com/public-domain-books-2021/

Works Now in the Public Domain in the USA


The links below are to articles that take a look at what works are now in the public domain in the USA.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/everything-published-in-the-greatest-year-for-books-ever-is-now-in-the-public-domain/
https://ebookevangelist.com/2020/12/31/public-domain-day-2021-works-from-1925-are-in-the-public-domain/
https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/these-are-all-of-the-new-ebooks-that-are-in-the-public-domain