Monday, August 27, 2012

Introduction to Canadian literature

1. You just met an alien from outer space. He/she/it asks what the people who live in Canada are like. Develop a list of five or more adjectives to describe the typical Canadian.
Polite Socially conscious
Courteous Law abiding
Welcoming Humble
Peaceful Tolerant

2. As a country Canada has always maintained close ties with the United Kingdom and the United States of America. How are Canadians similar to the British and Americans? How are they different?

Similarities Differences
Most speak English Accents
Language Interests
Humour Religion
Politics Wellbred
Food Bilingualism

3. How do other countries view Canada? What is our reputation on the international stage?

Canada is viewed as peacekeepers. They’re known for being one of the last army troops to withdraw from Afghanistan because they were stationed there to uphold the peace. They’re helpful and are non-threatening (as opposed to some nations). Compared to some nations, Canada isn’t seen as a major player in the world.

4. What conditions (political, economic, social) are necessary for the development of a national literature/culture?

Reading levels, interests, survival, strong economy, Canadian publishers, prizes, praise

5. How would you describe Canadian culture to your alien friend? Develop a list of five or more adjectives to describe the culture of Canada.

  • Unique - Canada has unique attractions to the country and to the world
  • Sport loving – possibly the world’s most loving ice hockey country
  • Multi-cultural – everyone is welcome regardless of who they are, where they’re from, and what their personality and background is
  • Friendly
  • Welcoming

Monday, August 20, 2012

Glossary of literary terms

Foreshadowing is the technique of referring to events (and/or information) in a story before they actually happen. Foreshadowing is used to prepare the reader for events that occur later in the story.

Imagery is the use of language to represent objects, actions, feelings, thoughts, ideas and/or states of mind. Writers use images to extend our understanding of a piece of writing. By appealing to our senses through an image, an author helps us to “see” the fictional (or poetic) landscape, to “taste” the fictional roast beef, or to “smell” the poetic rose. Many images are expressed through figurative language such as metaphor or simile. Images are also found in every day conversation. For example: the expressions “it rained cats and dogs” and “war is hell” bring vivid pictures to our minds.

Literary images are often concrete (making them easy to visualize) and condensed. You’ll notice that if you try and paraphrase an image, you will end up using more words and your version will not be as effective as the original. Literary images also tend to be very precise and vivid. By combining often literally incompatible terms, (i.e. juxtaposition) authors teach us new ways of looking at objects, people, situations, feelings, etc.

This excerpt from The Art of fiction describes a game that uses imagery as a way of describing people:

We frequently learn about fictional characters as we identify people in the game called Smoke, or sometimes called Essences. In this game the player who is it thinks of someone famous personage living or dead, such as Conrad Black, Tony Blair, Margaret Laurence, or Alice Cooper, then tells the other players, “I am a dead Canadian,” “I am a living American” or whatever. The players try to guess the name of the personage by asking such questions as “What kind of weather are you?” “What kind of animal are you?” “What part of the human anatomy?” And so on. The player who is it answers not in term of weather he/she might have preferred, etc., but what the person would be if he were incarnated not as a human being but a certain kind of weather – sunny, overcast, raining, blizzard, etc.

As they ask their questions, the players develop a powerful sense of the personality they’re seeking and when finally on the basis of the information they’ve been given, someone makes the right guess, the result is one of immense relief.

Obviously the game cannot be played with the intellect; it depends on metaphoric intuition. Yet anyone who plays the game with good players will discover that the metaphors that describes the person who name is being sought have...a remarkable precision.

Irony first appeared in Plato’s Republic (4th c. B.C.) where it has the meaning of “a glib and underhanded way of taking people in.” There are two basic kinds of irony: verbal irony and irony of the situation. At its simplest: one person saying to another: “I haven’t seen you in ages,” when in fact they meet every day. Situational irony occurs when, for example, a character laughs uproariously at the misfortune of another, while unknown to the first character, the same misfortune is happening to him/her. Some critics have stated that true irony begins with the contemplation of the fate of the world. Further developed, irony may be seen as a way of viewing our existence. For many authors, their use of irony springs from their perception of the absurdity of life.

Symbols are objects, animate or inanimate, used by an author to “stand for” or represent something else. Often symbols are used to express an emotion or an abstract idea. We live in a very symbolic world: the scales for justice, the Cross for Christianity; and the swastika for Nazi Germany are just a few of the easily recognisable symbols. Actions and gestures may also be symbolic: arms raised signify surrender; moving the head up and down means yes; moving the head sideways means no.

English literature is full of symbols. For example, the blood in Macbeth symbolizes guilt and violence; the shooting of the albatross in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner symbolizes people’s sins and their lack of respect for life and proper humility towards all living things. Melville’s whale in Moby Dick is probably the most discussed symbol in Western literature.

Modernism & post modernism
Characterized by a breaking away from the established rules and conventions, modernism is a term used to describe art that sought to break with the dominant and dominating artistic conventions – primarily realism – of 19th century culture. It includes many experiments in form and style. Some examples of modernism include the Beat Poets, existentialism, imagist writing, theatre of the absurd, and stream of consciousness.

Perhaps the best description of the modernist approach to language is found in this excerpt from Burnt Norton by T. S. Eliot.
.........Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with impression, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.......

Post modernism
The term post modernism is used in three different ways:
  1. to describe the non-realist and non-traditional literature and art produced since the end of World War II
  2. to describe literature and art which take modernist techniques to the extreme
  3. to describe the more general human condition of the ‘late capitalist’ world.
As a way of looking at the world, post modernism is generally more positive about the modern world than modernism. Post modernism accepts the changes that have (are) occurring in our world and suggests a celebration of the past. Many post modernists are fascinated with technology and do not reject the “popular” as being beneath them.

Naturalism and realism
Naturalism is sometimes used as a synonym for realism, but it is in fact, different. It is also sometimes used to refer to literary works that display a pronounced interest in, sympathy with, and love of natural beauty. Strictly speaking, it should be used for works of literature that convey a belief that everything exists as part of nature and can be explained by natural and material causes, and not by spiritual or supernatural causes.

In literature, naturalism developed out of realism. Major influences included Darwin’s biological theories. This literature focuses on the character’s social environment, its deficiencies and the character’s shortcomings. Emile Zola’s novel, Therese Raquin (1868), is one of the best examples of this literary style. Zola’s influence can be seen in such authors as Theodore Dreiser and Stephen Crane as well as in the dramas of Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov.

Realism in literature refers to the author portraying life with fidelity. This type of literature shows life as it seems to the “common reader”, making him/her think that such characters might in fact exist and that such events might well happen. Realism in literature came about partly as a reaction to the Romantic movement.

Magic realism
The term magic realism was first applied to painting. In this art the world is depicted in a heightened, more vivid, yet still realistic fashion. In writing, the author interweaves fantastic and dream-like elements into the story. Magic realism may also include experiments with form, style and the temporal sequences of a story. The Canadian short story writer, Alice Munro, uses magic realism in many of her stories. Some of the techniques she uses to achieve magic realism include irony, paradox and understatement. Other authors who have written in this style include Fowles, Grass and Borges.

Romanticism is a very elastic term applied in many ways. In English Literature it is best represented by the Romantic Poets (e.g. Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley) who presented an idealized view of people, nature and their place in the world. Today we label a writer’s style as romantic if the work presents a more picturesque, fantastic, adventurous or heroic view of the characters or their environments. Romanticism presents the world as the author would like it to be.

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of literary terms. 6th edition. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.
Barnet, Sylvan. A Short guide to writing about literature. Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1985.
Cuddon, J. A. A Dictionary of concise literary terms. London: Penguin Books, 1979.
Hawthorn, Jeremy. A Concise glossary of contemporary literary theory. London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1992.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Notes on young adult literature

Towards a definition of young adult literature

  • How adolescence has changed
  • Term first appeared in 1905
  • Puberty is an universal experience
    o But adolescence is not
  • More complex a society becomes
    o More training is required to participate fully
  • Also: emotional, intellectual and physical changes
    o Very interesting time of life
  • Young adult readers have unique needs
Developmental tasks/goals
  • Achieving an identity
  • Acquiring more mature social skills
  • Accepting changes in one’s body
  • Achieving emotional independence from parents and other adults
  • Developing personal values
  • Becoming accepted as an independent person by peers and adults
A bit of history
  • Early novels
    o The Pilgrim’s progress (1678)
    o Robinson Crusoe (1719)
  • Domestic novels
    o Women wrate
  • Dime novels
    o Cost 10 cents
    o About 100 pages
    o Small format – 7” x 5”
    o Originally aimed at adults
    * Remarketed at boys
    o Price cut to a nickel
    o 16 or 32 pages long
  • Series featuring heroes
    o e.g. Diamond Dick, Buffalo Bill
  • Many genres
  • By 1860’s – linked to crime
  • Lead to creation of paperback books
  • Cheaper to reprint hardcover books
  • Rise of literacy
  • Beginnings of public libraries
The competition
  • Pulp magazines Argosy -  1891
  • Magazines Detective story, Western story
  • Characters
    o Hopalong Cassidy, The Shadow, Doc Savage
  • First comic appeared in 1892
  • Series fiction
  • Movies – used tie-ins
    o E.g. Ben Hur, Show boat
  • 1930’s ...
  • First course on adolescent literature
  • Term “junior” or “juvenile” first used
  • Some American publishing houses established juvenile divisions
Paperbacks: an American phenomena
  • First mass paperback: 1938
  • The Good earth by Pearl Buck
  • By 1951 – 230 million paperbacks
    o Sold in U.S.
  • Slow acceptance in school libraries
    o Difficult to catalogue
    o Short life easy to steal
    o “lurid” covers
    o Concern over content
The Clean decades
  • Post World War II
    o Career books
    o Focus on “wonderful” high school years
  • Taboos strictly enforced
    o “sugar puff” stories
  • One exception: James Bond novels
    o Considered racy
Young adult novels come of age
United States: 1967
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Canada: 1978
Hold fast by Kevin Major
Characteristics of early young adult literature
  • Characters
    o Lower classes
  • Settings
    o Harsh and difficult
  • Language
    o Colloquial
    o Slang
  • Subject matter
    o Irony, even tragedy
Young adult novels: their appeal
  • Characters and plot
    o Readers see characters like themselves facing issues like they do
    o Personal problems and moral dilemmas
  • Use first person narration
Myths about young adult literature
  • Young adult literature is simplified to accommodate low reading skills
  • Young adult books are all the same
  • Young adult readers choose books with the same gender protagonist
  • Young adult literature is less enduring
    o There are no classics
Advantages of young adult novels
  • Length not intimidating
  • Bridge to adult literature
  • ‘Working model’ of how literature works
  • Provide alternative viewpoints provide some answers
  • Bibliography
    o Term first appeared in 1929
    o Wide range of activities
    o Personal insights a reader gains from a book
    o Books used in a therapist-client relationship
  • Readers’ advisory
Themes in young adult novels
  • Importance of heroes
    o Change with every generation
  • Alienation
  • Friendship (no sex)
  • Families of all kinds
  • Death
  • Suicide
  • Mental illness:
    o Teens themselves
    o Other people in their lives
    * E.g. peers, siblings, adults
  • Sex and sexuality
    o All types of relationships
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Universal theme:
    o Study of the human condition
  • Watch literary quality
  • Tells a good story
  • Includes memorable characters
  • Has well described settings
Understanding the appeal of young adult fiction
  • Show young adults who are independent (or becoming) from adults
  • Reassure young adults that they are “normal”
  • Depict role models
  • Display relationships of all sorts
  • Capture intensity and uncertainty of their lives
  • Explore lives of other young adults
  • Help young adults develop socially acceptable behaviour
Understanding the appeal of young adult non fiction
  • Like “real life” stories
  • Read because young adults are curious
  • Develop special interests
    o Into trivia
Understanding the appeal of magazines
  • Require short attention span
  • Not intellectually challenging
    o Easy going
  • Are socially acceptable
  • Provide information about “important stuff”
    o E.g., celebrities, sex, love, etc.
Young adult programming in the library
  • Develop a “cool” website
    o Provide links to other pages
  • Recognize the competition
    o Can you provide any of those activities?
  • Provide high quality customer service
  • Understand why young adults read
  • Fun and pleasure
    o female
  • Facts and information
    o male
  • Research and knowledge
  • Personal growth
  • Ask questions about what they like
    o Listen!!!
  • Learn what are current/past favourites
  • Buy multiple copies of favourites in paperback
  • Give them their own space
    o Ensure that library is open convenient hours
  • Teach research skills, how to evaluate information, critical thinking
    o E.g. evaluating information found on the Internet
  • Advisory board
    o Plan programming
    o Work as volunteers
    * Write reviews
    * Assist with reading programs/clubs
  • Younger children
    * Lead/assist with book discussion groups
    * Tutoring, homework assistance
  • Have a clear selection policy
    o Not all resources may be aimed at young adult readers
    o But contents will be interesting and useful
    • Goal: develop life long users/readers
Displays, bulletin boards and booklists
  • Collect book reviews from teens
  • Gather materials about authors
  • Provide genre based reading lists
    o Display on a reading board
    o Print in newsletter
    o Include in website
Where to shelve the books?
  • Children’s services?
    o “I’m not a child!”
    o Teens intimidate younger children
  • Adult services?
    o What is age appropriate?
    o Identify with spine labels
  • Separate section?
    o But make it appealing
  • Provide booklists of appropriate adult authors
  • Genre fiction?
    o Science fiction
    o Fantasy
    o Horror
    o Read adult authors
  • Others: identify with spine labels
  • Paperbacks are cool
    o Display with covers out
    o Cover art is NB
    o Catalogue them!
Conclusion: some general truths about libraries and their patrons
  • Both school and public libraries can provide a safe environment for young adults to explore and learn
  • Access to both school and public libraries positively affects reading ability
  • The strongest influence on what young adults read is their peers
  • Young adults prefer paperbacks to hardcovers
  • Library use increase when graphic novels and comics are made available
  • The more you read ... the better you read

Monday, August 6, 2012


The Unbreakable rules of booktalking
  1. Don’t talk about a book you don’t like.
  2. Don’t talk about a book you haven’t read.
  3. Don’t tell the ending.
  4. Don’t tell everything about the book: just enough to make the audience want to read it.
A guide for booktalkers
Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to prepare, nor be unduly concerned by preliminary nervousness.

Make sure you know how to get where you’re going to speak, unless the audience is coming to you. If the latter is true, make sure the room is reserved and set up in advance. If you are a librarian going to a school, always check in at the main office first to introduce yourself and announce the purpose of your visit.

Organize your books and equipment. Set them up in the order in which you’ll talk about them and have chosen passages marked with a clip at the bottom of the page. Hold your notes up if you have to, use a podium, or clip them to the inside or back of the book.

Do not begin to speak until the audience is ready to listen, and wait for attention with good humour, unobtrusively. Introduce yourself or allow your host to introduce you and any other team members at the beginning of the period and be sure everyone in the room can hear all that is said and understands why you are here.

State clearly the author and title of each book you talk about. Sometimes it is wise to have a list of your talk titles prepared in advance you can distribute and let the audience keep and check off as you speak. This is especially good if your charging system or the circumstances don’t allow you to circulate the books on the spot at the end of the period or visit.

Speak slowly and clearly, trying not to think too far ahead so you don’t forget what you’re saying. Talk to the back of the room and don’t be afraid to smile occasionally or to laugh with the kids at a funny spot. Avoid any gestures or tones which do not enhance the story and call attention to yourself, and don’t try to be hip or you’ll be very embarrassing to the audience. On the other hand, don’t talk down to them using phrases like “boys and girls” or “you young people,” or you’ll alienate them.

Try not to be monotonal, a quality which can be discovered and corrected if you have practiced with a tape recorder prior to your appearance and change the pace of your speaking as well as your loudness occasionally. Don’t be dramatic unless it comes naturally or you’ve been coached by more experienced people.

Stand firmly without rocking and try not to lean, or play with rubber bands or paper clips. It looks terrible and distracts the audience. If you hold a book up so they can see it or show illustrations, hold it firmly and consciously and pan slowly so everyone can see it. A book held at an unconsciously lopsided, impossible viewing angle is an all too common fault among beginning booktalkers trying to remember everything at once, and it is very annoying to an audience.

Don’t illustrate a book with an example or incident applicable to a class member. I once introduced Slipping down life to a class saying, “Evie Decker was the second fattest kid in her whole high school,” only to see the entire class, to my horror, turn in unison to an overweight member. It was awful, and I never used it again. Try to learn from your own mistakes.

Try to know the characters’ names, especially in teen novels, or they all sound alike out loud, and don’t frustrate the audience by making every talk a cliff-hanger or they’ll tune you out as the tease you are in such a case. Don’t get nervous and tell the whole story or no one will read the book. This is avoided by careful preparation and discipline on the spot if the kids beg you to tell them the ending.

Be flexible enough to wind up quickly and go on to another title or activity if the group seems restless or bored, and whatever you do, don’t scold the audience for not being fascinated with you. It backfires every time.

Try not to use difficult words they may not understand. Don’t be nonplussed if they say, “Hey, what’s that mean?” Beware of rhetorical questions. Someone may answer them. Don’t use dialect unless it’s natural to you or you’ll be ridiculed or will unwittingly insult the kids by making fun of them. And avoid profanity and double entendres because the kids usually either think it’s hilarious from you and go into phony gales of shocked laughter or are actually shocked and forget what else you’re saying. There are some exceptions to the double entres like Night to remember which always got asked about by an unwitting teen who thought it was a torrid love story. One of those is usually enough because tricking the unknowing audience is hardly the point.

Don’t oversell average books. There’s no bigger bore than a librarian who gushes over every teen or sports story as if each is equal to War and peace. The kids will peg you as a phony each time and you are guaranteed to bore them to death. Be sure of your terms and facts in technical and sports books and do not use explicit factual books on physical or sexual development unless you’re sure of both community reactions and your own ability to speak without embarrassment.

Set up the books or give out the lists and, if you’ve gained enough experience, let the audience call out titles they want to hear about or ask them to tell you any they’ve already read so that you can match them with a similar story. On the other hand, always be honest and admit when they’ve stumped you, and never pretend to have read a book you haven’t. You’ll need to have a talk prepared in case you meet only solid indifference despite your most artful efforts to stimulate comment.

Be prepared for interruptions by the kids saying “Oooo!” at scary spots and laughing at funny ones. The school PA system usually broadcasts daily announcements once or twice each day and finding out just when can save you much grief so you’re not in the middle of a talk when these come on. There is no way to avoid the more dramatic interruptions, but knowing that they do happen will keep you reasonably calm in all circumstances.

Try never to read to the audience unless in the material you’re presenting “the author’s style is the important thing and can be communicated in no other way: poetry, some essays, fine writing in general. Even then you would do well to quote rather than to read or know the book so well that you are not bound to it – your eyes can still rove over the group and take cognizance of their enjoyment. Be watchful for signs of disinterest.”

Go on to pre-arranged announcements of upcoming library events after you have finished talking. Tell how to get a card or check out a book, invite questions or browsing, distribute additional lists, etc.

Keep track of every class or group you’ve spoken to for periodic statistical reports which may help justify more staff assistance for your service speciality. Write a brief narrative report so there is a record of what you’ve done, both for your supervisor and for any possible successors.

Evaluate your success as a booktalker primarily by noting how many people read the books you discussed or come to the library asking for them or to get a card for the first time. You are often successful even when the audience seem indifferent, asleep, or incredibly itchy, although continual responses like these should make you alter your technique. Perhaps the selection wasn’t right, or you spoke too long, or over the heads of your audience, or were too monotonal or too dramatic.

School Library Journal. April 1976. P. 43
Summary for class book talks
Class visit information card

Basic information necessary for choosing books – reading level, make-up of class, etc.
Booktalks presented – use abbreviated titles

Class visit summary sheet
NUMBER OF REQUESTS TAKEN: (list titles below)
BOOK TALKS (list titles below)