I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Dr. Myra Bacsal of the NIE at Tanglin Trust School last night about how picture books can be used to promote SEL (social and emotional learning) and the work she is doing to bring both the “hardware” and “software” into the Singaporean school system. I’m totally in awe of the scale of this project, and suspect the slick presentation she and her co-researchers gave is but a tip of the iceberg of what it must have taken to get to this point.
First there is the creation of a framework – as any librarian, or tech person or well, anyone who is capable of hierarchical thinking knows, it really helps to be able to have large conceptual boxes to throw things into. And making it up in an adhoc fashion as you go along (looking at my resource lists I have a distinct sinking feeling that’s what I’ve been engaged in) actually just doesn’t really cut it.
Then there is the curation. Yes I have lists. I have lots of kindness books. And friendship lists, and bullying and emotion books. But “a lot of” is sometimes too much of. Instead of 100 books, one perhaps needs multiple copies of the two or three books that really make a difference and that really touch kids (and their adults).
And the dissemination. Not just presenting to groups of librarians who know some or most of the books you’re introducing, but actually integrating it into the practice of teachers who may or may not be readers, may or may not have a library / teacher librarian on hand! That I think is harder than it seems. Like most things in education (and life), a lot depends on the goodwill of the people around you. On their openness and receptiveness. This morning I was lucky enough to bump into our school counsellor and mention to him that I’d been to the presentation. He got it immediately and we quickly went into my office to discuss how best we could create resource lists together, pool our budgets to ensure that copies of the most relevant books were both in his counselling room and in the library and then, once the infrastructure was in place, start rolling out the reading and introduction of the books in a pre-emptive manner.
I’ve had an ongoing challenge to find and introduce books outside of the BANA (British, Australian, North American) realm, and have been delighted with the books that I ordered from the USBBY 2016 list – as gratifyingly have my students (double win). Dr. Bacsal pointed out that the White Raven list was also worth looking at – particularly for International schools that could justify having excellent picture books in different languages. The European selections usually push the envelope (and a lot of buttons along the way) and as this article on the translation of Elena Ferrante’s Beach at Night show. Of course a sub-optimal translation is a by-product of a generally mono-lingual (mass) reading market needing a translation in the first place. She showed a short extract of an animated movie of the book Sinna Mann (Norway) that left us gasping.
Another special book was “Migrant” by José Manuel Mateo and Javier Martínez Pedro a concertina style bilingual “codex”
Another very special thing was the interview Dr. Bacsal did with the author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sàenz – (see the details of it on her blog) – I’m so glad she’s said she wants to publish a transcript – it was one of those things where you kept thinking “what a wonderful quote” but I was too entranced watching and listening to actually take notes.
Well, my work is cut out for the next few weeks! Checking what I have, what will work in our context, what I need to put on my next book shopping list.