Sunday, July 27, 2008

Aiden Chambers
Researching Children's and Young Adults' Literature

On Saturday, July 26, I attended a conference held at UBC at the Ike Barber Learning Centre and sponsored by the Departments of Language and Literacy Education, English, SLAIS, and Creative Writing, as well as the University Library and the Ike Barber Learning Centre. What a lovely setting this is for a day of new ideas. TLs Caroline and Joan were there, as were Literacy colleagues Meredyth and Heidi, and others well-known to school libraries, people like Jo-Anne Naslund, Ron Jobe, Linda Dunbar, Geoff Williams, Wendy Sutton, Judith Saltman, and more.

The Keynote speaker was Aiden Chambers, visiting professor at UBC to teach a LLED graduate course this summer. His students presentations were chock full of new and interesting critical analyses of children's and young adults' literature.

Plenary Speaker Aiden Chambers
Reading and Books in a Digitalizing Culture

An English-born only-child, Chambers began his career as a teacher and as an Anglican Monk before realizing his true calling to be a writer. His young adult fiction includes Breaktime, Dance on my Grave, and Postcards from No Man’s Land, all available at Kidsbooks. He and his wife have a small publishing company called Thimble Press and a magazine, Signal, about children's and youth literature.

Aidan, a talented writer and devoted scholar of children’s and youth literature, shared his passion with us. He began by asking if we thought that reading and books were in the throes of a revolution, being subjected to an overwhelming change, or simply undergoing a new stage of development in this age of digitization. In his view, we are simply experiencing a new development that follows easily from the history of reading and writing, the stone-papyrus-scroll-into-"the perfection of the book" continuum. We have arrived at the democratization of text and new ways of reaching readerships.

Bill Gates, says Chambers, predicts that 80% of books will be redundant in the forseeable future. Yet, he notes, as with the predictions of the end of art in the 19th century with the development of photography and of theatre in the 1950s with the arrival of TV and the popularity of the cinema, what happens instead is a kind of renaissance. People assess the values of the old art form and declare their preference for new or particular kinds of art forms; that which is art survives and flourishes. So, with the 20% of books remaining, look for the novel, the collections of poetry, the book that is meant to be spoken. This is an act of consciousness that, he suggests, will lend itself well to deeper readings, a wider and deeper range of contributory thought, drawing on the sciences, for example, and more collaborations of authors and critics to make new works accessible.

The field of Children's Literature has many untapped directions. We need to seek to know more about its poetics, its history since 1945, the little recognized writers, and the cross-disciplinary impact. In closing, Chambers reminded us of the neuropsychological impact and the importance of reading: When you are reading, your mind glows. It is the most difficult, most complex thing the brain does.

I was particularly interested in the graduate presentation entitled "Stories of Us -- The History of Trauma in Aboriginal Children's Literature." Writers such as Larry Loyie, Shirley Sterling, and Maria Campbell's niece Nicola Campbell have drawn on a cachet of secrets, writes Brianne, that some want hidden and others want to tell. Despite an agenda of eradication and experiences that have the same effect as war on young children, there is a strong core of resilience, strength, and gentle humour that braces the young reader to face the inhuman with humanity. The works of children's literature by aboriginal writers cannot work with the traditional CL formula of "hopeful lessons" so well as they can with the imperative to provide the cultural, social, historical, and political contexts of the lives of children. The works reveal the histories of trauma to kids, demonstrate resilience, and help us all understand our national story and identity.

Everyone was delighted with the day. Thanks, to everyone who worked to put this on, for the opportunity to refresh those intellectual synapses as we languish through the dog days of summer here in Vancouver.

The Changing Landscape for School Libraries
Due to keen interest in our Summer Institute, I will be opening up registration to 60 as the facilities can accommodate this size of workshop. You may or may not know that James Henri, our visiting lecturer, was not available for health reasons in July and we switched the dates of this event to August 25 and 26. He's well now!

Presently the registration on our vsb website (Current Professional Development Opportunities) shows this workshop as FULL, actually oversubscribed. I also have a waitlist! If you click onto the workshop, you can review the details and print out the flyer with the registration form. I don’t have access to the Pro D webpage to activate the online registration so here’s what you need to know to register in the interim …

We are convening at the Byng Secondary School Library (near UBC) on W 16th in Vancouver, just west of Dunbar, as per attached flyer. Registration is at 8:30 am.

Email me with your registration information and any questions you may have. I will be at the IASL conference in Berkeley from August 1 to 10. Registration will close by August 20 (or at 60 registrations, whichever comes first!) as I need to let the caterer know numbers by August 20.

If you have let me know you will be attending and have had an email confirmation, simply bring your cheque for registration with you on August 25. Diane, my utterly invaluable assistant, is not at her desk until September!
Carry on reading and basking ... AND there is just possibly going to be another offering of this same workshop in the South Vancouver Island area (Victoria or Sidney) during the week August 11-15. Watch this forum for further developments.

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