The Drama about Drama

Drama, a popular graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, was recently ordered removed from Catholic elementary schools in Ottawa. The decision was swiftly reversed amidst much criticism.

The removal of Drama came after complaints from parents about LGBT content; Drama, which centers around a middle-school theatre production, features a panel where two boys kiss onstage.

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The School Board had asserted that the choice was made to remove the book not necessarily because of LGBT content, but because of relationship content:

“It is not a book we really need younger kids reading without guidance.”– Robert Long, Ottawa Catholic School Board

I’ve read Drama, and I feel confident that if the LGBT characters were instead presented as a boy-girl coupling there would have been no perceived “issue” and no censorship of this title by the School Board.

Drama features young students, some of which have crushes on other students (shocking, I know), but the book isn’t heavily focused on romantic relationships- it’s also an intensely readable comic featuring diverse characters who are excited and passionate about theatre. The students are busy addressing all of the intricacies of designing a set, planning the lighting, creating the costumes, rehearsing and getting ready for their big performance.

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Scholastic recommends Drama for ages 10-14, which covers about grade 4-9. Age recommendations aren’t set in stone though, and I take them with a grain of salt- readers often enjoy titles above and below their “reading level”, especially if the content is relatable to them. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was involved in several school plays, and this is just the kind of comic I would probably have enjoyed.

While the decision to ban Drama was thankfully reversed due to the pushback, we can still learn a lot from this act of censorship.

What does it say when we remove a book like Drama? The School Board had claimed that the book’s relationship content was age inappropriate, but the book was originally contested because of LGBT content (a gay character, a kiss). If the school was truly concerned about relationship content and kisses they would have a lot more titles to ban, including heaps of classic fairy tales, bestselling kids’ novels, and tons of picture books.

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Take a look at the cute picture books up there created for young readers- why does society readily accept the love and affection of entire menageries of animals and creatures in a children’s picture book, but as soon as a boy kisses another boy in a comic people become uneasy?

Sadly, comics and graphic novels are subject to hyper-vigilant scrutiny on a regular basis. There’s something about the visual nature of comics that gets people all riled up, and this controversy over Drama is one more story showing that censorship is alive in Canada.

By purposefully removing Drama from a school library collection, the school board was effectively removing representation of LGBTQ+ characters. This removal insinuated that board members had concluded gay crushes are problematic and can only be handled by more mature readers. It implied that it’s unnatural for boys to like boys, it’s unmentionable for a boy to kiss a boy, that kids shouldn’t see LGBT relationships as normal, and that school libraries shouldn’t contain these types of content.

Representation isn’t trivial- it’s vital. Statistics show that in Canada, as in many other parts of the world, LGBTQ+ people are targeted at disproportionately high levels when it comes to violence, sexual assault, and discrimination.

We need stories with LGBTQ+ content to normalize LGBTQ+ people and relationships if we are to stop the violence that is directed toward them.

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This book wasn’t being used for a class- it was available in the library, where students had the choice to read it or not read it as they liked. Parents can control what their own kids read, but when a book is banned and removed from a school library it eliminates EVERYONE’S chance to read it.

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Drama could be the book that sparks a love of reading for a child. It could be the book that makes them feel less alone in the world, the book that they see themselves reflected in. It could inspire them, comfort them, entertain them, educate them, and more. It could do all of these things or none of these things, because every person is different and every reader brings their own ways of knowing into what they are reading. When the book is available, at least they have the chance to read it- if they don’t want to read it, nobody is forcing them to.

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I’m glad that Drama is back in the elementary school libraries. Telgemeier’s graphic novels are popular for a reason, and kids read them voraciously. Drama could be just the book that a student needs.

 

 

 

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Mini Review: A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

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As posted on my Goodreads:

With A Pocketful of Crows, Joanne Harris has proven to me yet again why she deserves many spots on my meticulously curated bookshelves.

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This is a quick read, but full to the last page with poem, prose, wild imagery, and earthy illustrations by artist Bonnie Helen Hawkins.

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It has all the trappings of a classic fairy-tale, but with a protagonist who is strong-willed and true to herself even as she falls into the clutches of a deep and all-consuming infatuation (and especially as she rises out of it).

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This tale is charming, witchy, gorgeously written, and sometimes as cruel as nature itself.

Not only is it lovely between the covers, but the hardback edition is sumptuously bound with golden lettering.

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Do video games have a place in libraries? (Yup!)

Yesterday I came across this article about Hamilton Public Library, which is currently about to review their policy on video game lending. A board member brought up the question- should the library be in the business of lending video games? 

Every library is different, as a library should support the community it serves, and every community has its own needs and wants. As such, asking whether a library should be lending video games is a valid question, and comes down to does the community want video games?


 

I am not familiar with the specific demographics of Hamilton, but video games have become a huge part of mainstream culture, and I imagine that HPL’s patron base would reflect that. A quick look at the public library’s mission statement and values  shows that video games could indeed fit well with HPL’s mandate:

Freedom to discover (would your patrons enjoy discovering video games? Remember, video games can potentially be enjoyed by all ages)

Providing access to all expressions of knowledge and creativity (video games are definitely an expressive and creative format for immersive storytelling, and many games provide creative modes for designing and sharing)

Connecting with diverse communities (this includes patrons who are interested in video games- at my public library the video games attract patrons  to the library who otherwise may not frequent our doors)

Anticipating and responding to changing needs. (Are video games in demand/ high circ at Hamilton PL? What societal trends might show an increase in interest for video games in your community?)

Embracing a diversity of opinions and protecting the dignity of individuals. (Are video games important to some of  your patron base? In questioning the importance/validity of video games as a format, are you acting on a biased or preconceived notion of what video games are and can be?)

Ensuring that library services are vital and relevant. (Video games may not be relevant to all of your patrons, but certainly could be very important and valued resources for some of them)


 

My public library began lending video games a few years ago, and they have become one of our most circulated collections, with lots of checkouts and holds on new titles as soon as they become available.

I’m a library worker of nearly 8 years, current MLIS student, and geek who enjoys video games. I have a few more thoughts on video games and why they could definitely be an excellent part of a library’s collection:

  • Many libraries, especially public libraries, have a mission of providing entertainment as well as information. Video games are a format, not a genre, and they can provide entertainment, interaction, creativity (and yes, even information and education) to users.
  • Video games are misunderstood by many people. Some see video games as either mindless fluff or bloody violence and nothing in between. However, video games are a format for expression just as books and movies are. 
  • Teens love video games- teens are often a difficult demographic to attract to the library. Including video games in your collection, as well as gaming related programs and services, is a great way to ensure your library is relevant to this demographic.

 

More To Explore

http://www.beyondliteracy.com/gaming-as-a-literacy/

http://games.ala.org/games-in-libraries/

http://gaming.ala.org/resources/index.php?title=Games_and_Gaming_Resources

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/aug/13/video-games-are-political-heres-how-they-can-be-progressive

https://nowtoronto.com/lifestyle/class-action/are-video-games-literature/

http://www.techsoupforlibraries.org/planning-for-success/innovation/gaming-in-libraries

http://www.videogamelibrarian.com/

https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/words-thought/video-games-developing-new-narrative-randy-joly

 

What makes an awesome librarian?

I wrote this personal essay for the final assignment of my LIS 501 class (Foundation of Library and Information Science). My professor based the assignment on the This I Believe essay project, and the intent is to explore what we currently believe about libraries and librarianship.

I’ve just completed the first semester of my Master of Library and Information Science. While I’m continually learning and changing, this is what I currently believe makes an awesome librarian.


 

When I first transferred from my bookstore job to the public library about eight years ago, I thought I was staying in the book business. I believed that my love of books and knowledge of their contents would be my greatest asset at the library. However, these were false assumptions of mine, based on a simplified, inaccurate, and outdated view of what libraries are. Libraries, I soon learned, are dedicated to far more than books. Libraries are not in the book business — they are vessels that professionals use to support and empower their communities, and books are but one powerful and conspicuous piece of that large and complex puzzle. Each library serves a unique community, and so each comes together a bit differently. Some libraries are small and specialized, full of niche items and specialized services, while others are colossal structures that serve masses of the public each day, offering broad services, programming, entertainment, diverse book and media collections, and access to technology. Some libraries offer quiet study spaces, while others are noisy and animated places full of collaboration and activity. Libraries can be all of these things and more, and everything in-between.

When the designs and missions of libraries vary so greatly, it’s understandable to question what makes a library a library, and more importantly what makes a library an awesome library. However, behind every awesome library is an awesome librarian (or librarians). The real question is, what makes an awesome librarian? While our title is often romanticized and praised amongst ourselves and our supporters, our profession is not immune to complacency and shallow thinking. We cannot ever rest on our laurels and must constantly and actively embody what we want to see in our profession. While I will proudly call myself a librarian, I don’t only want to be a librarian — I want to be a critical librarian. I believe that critical librarians are professionals who work passionately every day with and for their communities, providing indispensable services that support intellectual freedom, social justice, and critical information literacy.

To be a librarian is to be a professional. I reject the idea that the cookie-cutter version of a professional (a smartly dressed person with a polished look and businesslike manner) is the only model of professionalism; to me a professional is an individual who is authentic and dedicated to their profession. Librarians are trusted sources of information and resources because they have proven their dedication to their communities. Librarians may have a degree, diploma, or other accolades to acknowledge steps they have taken to learn and build library knowledge, skills, and values, but the most essential marker of an awesome librarian is what they do with their library and their community. As an educated professional, I acknowledge that I have privilege, power, and social responsibility that comes with my knowledge and position. I strive to be an approachable, ethical, and helpful steward of my community. I will dedicate myself to lifelong learning and continual skill-building that will support me in critical librarianship. I will think like a librarian, and that involves checking facts, citing sources, respecting privacy, fighting censorship, and being literate in the various forms of literacy.

Critical librarians have passion for what they do. Not only are they excited by the privilege to work alongside and for their communities, they are also forward-thinking, embracing with open arms all of the possibilities that might come with purposeful change and adaptation. In my goal of becoming a critical librarian, I will immerse myself in my curiosity. I will be always listening, searching, conversing, and learning. I will not be deterred by “that wouldn’t work here” or “well, we’ve always done it this way”- critical librarians know that the best way is the way that works best for all, whether that’s an old trick or a radical new idea. I am not perfect, but I must not be afraid of failure or embarrassment- rather, I will harness my passion and use it carefully, proactively, and concentratedly toward my goal of innovating and improving to better meet the needs of my community. When I take the time to truly listen to and wholly understand the needs of my community, I will ultimately support and empower my community by providing life-changing services inside and outside of my library.

Librarians are indispensable because they provide immense value and support to their communities, facilitating their communities in a wide variety of pursuits, problem solving, learning goals, life-enriching endeavors, and serendipitous discoveries. As a librarian I will constantly strive to provide these services in an inclusive and accessible environment that forms a sanctuary for everyone in my community. As a critical librarian, I will teach and empower my library members to be critical consumers of information themselves. I will not chase an illusion of neutrality, but I will think critically as I work for social good, supporting equity, democracy, social justice, and human rights. I will fight censorship, oppression, and marginalization through the services, resources, programs, and outreach I provide. I will empower my library members and support them in using their voices and being heard. I live in a time when so many people, especially marginalized communities, are relying on libraries, and librarians are providing more services and value than ever. At the same time, library budgets are being slashed and the very existence of libraries and librarians is being questioned by people who are ignorant to the realities of our immense worth. I believe that all librarians and their partners and friends must be loud and proactive in shouting the true value of libraries from the rooftops- I’ll be shouting with them through my words, my art, and most importantly, my actions.

I believe that a library’s worth is dependent upon the work of its librarian(s). A library can be big, beautiful, and stocked full of resources, but without a dedicated and passionate librarian it is just a building with some stuff in it. I know now that libraries are vital to a thriving and democratic community – not just as a place for books, but as a safe and inclusive space and a hub for learning, literacy, sharing, questioning, confirming, cooperating, experiencing, and creating. I will advocate for the truth of libraries as I work towards my goal of becoming the kind of critical librarian that builds awesome libraries with and for her community.

Tis the Season for Creepy Christmas Recommendations

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If, like me, you find that this cosy season lends itself well to curling up on the couch with a frightfully fascinating read, or hosting a Netflix Noel binge that will haunt your holiday memories for years to come, I have some recommendations for you to consider!

The following are some spooky and recent(ish) seasonal titles that I’ve enjoyed:

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Boasting two lovely cover variants, this book is part of my favorite mystery series, featuring young sleuth/chemist Flavia de Luce. While it’s the fourth in the series, this title holds its own as a standalone story as well (but I bet if you read it you will be swiftly enticed to tag along on Flavia’s other adventures!)

This is a quintessential cosy Christmas mystery set in England in the 50’s- the de Luce estate is being used as the setting for a…

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Bill Maher Needs to Read Comics

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Brace yourselves, this is something I’m realllllllly passionate about, so here comes another one of my blog posts that is pounded out in an uncontrollable flurry.

Bill Maher knows how to kick up a firestorm online- his recent blog post disses the recently deceased legendary Smilin’ Stan Lee and challenges the legitimacy of comics as a format. It closes by laughably implying that the people who view comic books as important are the ones who voted for Trump. Sure, Bill… yeah no.

Firstly, on dissing Stan Lee- even if you don’t appreciate comics, Bill, there’s no need for that low blow (other than shoehorning it into an intro for a controversial blog post that will get you lots of views, I guess?). It’s undeniable that Mr. Lee’s creative genius has touched the lives of many people, and suggesting that art, literature, and entertainment are not vital to life paints a…

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