Saturday, July 26, 2008

New rules coming to get Canadian literature in schools

Vancouver Sun: 2008 July 26

It won’t just be teenagers reading Canadian literature this fall when a new curriculum requires B.C. high school English teachers to assign at least one Canadian book per year, says the new chairman of the Writers’ Union of Canada.

Wayne Grady, a much-published nature writer who lives near Kingston, Ont., says that when a book lands on a course reading list, “it stays in print longer, and so it’ll be available in bookstores longer. There are all kinds of spinoff effects.”

The 1,600-member writers’ union rallied behind Vancouver’s Jean Baird when she lobbied B.C.’s education ministry to make Canadian books a mandatory part of the English language arts curriculum in Grades 8 to 12. (The Sun reported on the success of her effort July 5.)

Grady notes that this was a battle Canadian authors fought in the 1970s, so when Baird started drumming up support for her campaign, the first reaction of Writers’ Union members was, Do we still have to do this?

“Apparently, we do,” Grady says, and Baird “did a great job.”

She’s the mother of a recent graduate of Lord Byng secondary school. She says her son got a great education there from passionate teachers but wasn’t assigned a single Canadian novel.

Instead, he read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and other British and American novels — books that baby boomers read long ago in school.

Baird is married to George Bowering, who was Canada’s first poet laureate, and she may well have wondered why teens aren’t given his books to read or those of their talented writer friends.

In work she did for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, she has been championing this cause — or, as she puts it, “pushing this boulder” — for years.

Recently, she refined the idea, deciding to focus on B.C. schools, rather than the whole country’s, and to push for a little CanLit in each grade, rather than a stand-alone course that would end up being an elective.

The literary establishment lined up behind her — her list of signatories “ran to over 50 pages” — and, with B.C.’s English language arts curriculum undergoing a review, the education ministry went for it.

“The original English language curriculum was revised in 1995 and it encouraged the use of Canadian literature,” Education Minister Shirley Bond said in an interview.

“What this has done is taken it one step further and simply said, ‘Now it is required.’ I do think that’s an important step forward.”

Bond said school districts should be able to afford new sets of Canadian books. “We make curricular change all of the time, and boards accommodate that within the funding they receive.”

Dave Ellison, who teaches in Surrey and is president of B.C. Teachers of English Language Arts, notes that “some of the fantastic [Canadian] literature that’s available is edgy” and, to be taught in schools, will have to go through an extensive approval process weighing swear words, references to sexuality, and so forth.

He believes one reason teachers have stuck with standards like Lord of the Flies is that “no one is going to dispute your right to teach it.”

Terry Taylor, who teaches in the West Kootenay village of New Denver, already emphasizes Canadian literature with her Grade 9 to 12 students.

You’ll find Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient in her school’s book room and Polite to Bees, by New Denver poet Diana Hartog.

Taylor says small school districts know how to stretch limited resources. “There are some amazing poets on YouTube — you can get everybody from Al Purdy to Shane Koyczan.” She also links with other B.C. schools so that her students reading Anne Michaels’s Fugitive Pieces can discuss it online with kids in Nelson, Nanaimo and New Westminster.


Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and other prominent writers are urging publishers not to specify age groups on the covers of children’s books

Vancouver Sun: 2008 June 26

Reviewers of children’s books are often asked to indicate the age range for which particular books are meant. It’s usually parents who request this, or childless people wanting to buy books for their friends’ children.

It’s easy to see why they feel a little lost in the kid-lit world, but they’re asking us to do something that doesn’t come naturally. We want to share the titles that excite and delight us, but we fear that by steering a particular age group toward them, we could be steering others away.

Pinning reading ability to age level is an inexact science, as any teacher knows.

An exceptional book won’t stay within an agedefined straitjacket, anyway. A clever, humorously illustrated picturebook gives as much pleasure to the parent reading it aloud as to the child listening and looking.

As for chapter stories, the same themes have entranced us, with age no barrier, since the first stories were acted out by cavemen around the fire.

Children read largely to learn about the adult world, and adults sometimes still choose books for their “inner child.” What varies is vocabulary level, and vocabulary comprehension grows at no set pace. Who, child or adult, doesn’t read better when hungering to find out what happens next?

A group of children’s authors in England (see feel so strongly about this that they have signed a formal statement against mandatory age labelling in the book trade.

“You simply can’t decide who your readership will be,” argues Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy. “Nor do I want to, because declaring that it’s for any group in particular means excluding every other group, and I don’t want to exclude anybody.

“I avoid giving the age of my characters, for that reason. I want every child to feel they can befriend them.”

This opinion seems to have struck a chord. More than 3,300 people — librarians, teachers, editors, booksellers, readers and authors — have signed the British statement to “disavow publicly any connection with such ageguidance figures.”

Some British children’s writers have taken the issue to an almost metaphysical level. “The space between the young reader’s eyeballs and the printed page is a holy place and officialdom should trample all over it at their peril,” declares Terry Pratchett. And to Alan Garner, age banding “insults both book and reader, and attacks the root of literature.”

How do their Canadian counterparts feel about “attacking literature” with age labels on book covers?

“Good for Pullman!” says Sandy White of Victoria’s Kids In Print bookstore. “I prefer not to have age suggestions on covers. When parents come in looking for books by age, I point out that they have to go by their child’s own interests.”

Children’s author Nikki Tate, who is also a bookseller and a publicist for Sono Nis Press, agrees. “A very young child with a strong interest in a topic may devour a book intended for adults, whereas even the simplest, most attractive book on the same subject won’t tempt someone with no interest in the content. A good book is a good book is a good book.”

She acknowledges that buyers new to children’s literature may need help but says, “That’s what knowledgeable booksellers and children’s librarians are for. A competent children’s-book person should be able to place just the right book into the hands of every child reader.”

They’ll look at the inside, the blurb, the cataloguing data and the length. So why do publishers put age labels on covers?

One reason is that competent children’sbook people aren’t always around, even in schools. After budget cutbacks were imposed on B.C. school districts a few years ago, qualified library assistants were often replaced with general clerical staff.

Also, books are increasingly sold in places other than bookstores. As fantasy writer Neil Gaiman notes, “In the U.K., more and more books are being sold through supermarkets. People in supermarkets don’t have to know anything about what they’re selling. They just need to know where to put it on the shelves.”

Authors, of course, are glad to have their books sold anywhere and everywhere, so most are happy to put up with whatever aids the untutored vendor may need.
What the British campaign is attempting to do is stop a mandatory, standardized age band being used across the publishing industry.

Just how prevalent is age labelling at present? Labels are still in the minority.

Penguin Books and its children’s i mprint, Puffin, sometimes suggest an age range beside the price, as do HarperCollins, Scholastic and Simon & Schuster, but selectively.

Books designed for school use, such as Scholastic’s various fiction series and Dorling Kindersley’s large-format non-fiction titles, make the most use of age guidelines.

Orca Book Publishers in Victoria usually shows not age but discreet “reading level” designations on covers, in response to requests by teachers and school librarians. The company’s Andrew Wooldridge says these levels are calibrated minutely by the Fry computer program, which measures words per sentence and paragraphs per page, as well as simplicity of construction.

Do authors write to fit this program? No, says Wooldridge. “The reason our books are popular is that story always comes first.”

Phyllis Simon, co-owner of Vancouver Kidsbooks, also feels that what educators want to know is not the age, “since every child is so different,” but the reading level a title is aimed at. But even that is just a guideline and “should not be used as gospel.”

Judith Williams, the Alberta author of several prize-winning youth science books, recognizes the usefulness of age designations in linking to grade and curriculum levels. Yet she also feels labelling doesn’t let children “judge for themselves what they want to read. I believe children are keenly aware of age designations, and putting that on the book itself will discourage some readers on either end of the scale.”

Let that information remain in catalogues and on websites like Amazon, she suggests. Book lovers pick up all sorts of clues about a new title or author practically by osmosis.

Age designations highlight the gap between book professionals or book lovers and people who don’t know their way around books.

With more than 1,200 new titles published annually in B.C. alone, the latter understandably want some way of narrowing down the choices.

Age labelling may be most misleading when it comes to the “young adult” designation.

A generation ago, kids were meant to go unimpeded from the felicities of Charlotte’s Web to those of Jane Austen. Now they may be steered into a ghetto of “issues” plots heavy on crackheads and dropouts, homelessness and shoplifting.

It’s a niche for which many writers write specifically, and they find followers.
But as downbeat subject matter, this fare may create as much reading reluctance as it overcomes.

Sandy White, of Kids In Print, gets around that ghetto by instead recommending contemporary fantasy-historical-adventure stories — a sub-genre that has taken off on the coattails of Harry Potter.

Let’s consider that biggest youth seller ever. J.K. Rowling’s tales enticed small children to stretch their comprehension abilities. Those who leapt into reading with Book One of the series were grown up by the time Book Seven came out, but many still read it as avidly as they did the first book.

So much for age categorization, we might conclude.

Yet, on occasion, buyers and sellers alike appreciate a guide, and marketers will do whatever makes a product shout, “Choose me! Choose me!”

Book lovers and reviewers simply respond with yet another reading skill: We learn not to see age labels. To us, it’s unwanted information and we filter it out.

Barbara Julian is a Victoria writer and former librarian.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Loss of Harry bitter pill for U.S. publisher

EARNINGS DROP: Scholastic Corp. faces job cuts and rising costs

Province: 2008 July 25

NEW YORK — Scholastic Corp., the U.S. publisher of the Harry Potter novels, reported fourth-quarter earnings that missed analysts’ estimates and said it would cut jobs.

The shares fell the most in almost four months.

Profit dropped to $28.9 million US, or 75 cents a share, from $45.3 million, or $1.04, a year earlier, New York-based Scholastic said today in a statement.

Analysts on average had projected profit of 81 cents a share, based on three estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales in the period ended May 31 dropped two per cent to $536.1 million.

Scholastic CEO Richard Robinson, facing a future without new Harry Potter books, shut the unprofitable school-based subscription business in May and expects to complete a sale this quarter of its direct-to-home subscriptions unit.

While job cuts in fiscal 2009 announced today will save as much as $35 million, fuel, printing and paper costs may rise as much as $20 million, Robinson said.

Scholastic fell $2.03, or 7.2 per cent, to $26 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading yesterday, the most since March 27. The shares have dropped 25 per cent this year.

Scholastic had a fourthquarter net loss, including writedowns for the businesses it exited or plans to sell, of $13.1 million, or 34 cents a share, compared with net income of $40.4 million, or 93 cents, a year earlier.

Revenue in the current fiscal year that began June 1 will increase as much as five per cent to $2.1 billion, the company said. It forecast earnings from continuing operations of $1.75 to $2.10 a share, short of the $2.18 average of four analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Scholastic, which published the last of the seven Harry Potter novels in J.K. Rowling’s bestselling series last year, said fourth-quarter sales from children’s book publishing were little changed at $263.6 million.

Operating profit at the unit, Scholastic’s largest, fell 18 per cent to $35.9 million.
The company said revenue from Harry Potter titles in the current fiscal year will be $10 million to $15 million, down from about $270 million in fiscal 2008, when it released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The company initiated a quarterly dividend of 7.5 cents a share to be paid to on Sept. 15 to shareholders of record as of Aug. 4.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Google site will compete with Wikipedia

Knol will allow people to write about their areas of expertise under their own names, and users will need permission to edit entries

Vancouver Sun: 2008 July 24

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc. opened its website Knol to the public on Wednesday, allowing people to write about their areas of expertise under their bylines in a twist on encyclopedia Wikipedia, which allows anonymity.

“We are deeply convinced that authorship — knowing who wrote what — helps readers trust the content,” said Cedric DuPont, product manager for Knol.

The name of the service is a play on an individual unit of knowledge, DuPont said, and entries on the public website,, are called “knols.” Google conducted a limited test of the site beginning in December.

Knol has publishing tools similar to single blog pages. But unlike blogs, Knol encourages writers to reduce what they know about a topic to a single page that is not chronologically updated.

“What we want to get away from is this ‘last voice wins’ model, which is very difficult if you are a busy professional,” DuPont said.

Google wants to rank entries by popularity to encourage competition. For example, the first knol on “Type 1 Diabetes” is by Anne Peters, director of the University of Southern California’s Clinical Diabetes Programs.

As other writers publish on diabetes, Google plans to rank related pages according to user ratings, reviews and how often people refer to specific pages, DuPont said.

Knol focuses on individual authors or groups of authors in contrast to Wikipedia’s subject entries, which are updated by users and edited behind the scenes.

Knol does not edit or endorse the information and visitors will not be able to edit or contribute to a knol unless they have the author’s permission. Readers will be able to notify Google if they find any content objectionable.

Knol is a hybrid of the individual, often opinionated entries found in blogs and the collective editing relied on by Wikipedia and other wiki sites.

The service uses what it calls “moderated collaboration” in which any reader of a specific topic page can make suggested edits to the author or authors, who retain control over whether to accept, reject or modify changes before they are published.

In its early stages, Knol remains a far cry from Wikipedia,, which boasts seven million collectively edited articles in 200 languages.

Google signed a deal with Conde Nast’s New Yorker, giving Knol authors the rights to use one of the magazine’s famous cartoons in each Knol posting. Google will allow Knol writers to run ads on their entries and will share income with them.

DuPont said that rather than competing with Wikipedia, Knol may end up serving as a primary source of authoritative information for use with Wikipedia articles.

“Knols will fill gaps on what we have on the Web today. That is what we hope,” DuPont said.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Libraries all over Canada thrive in Internet age

Membership and circulation on the rise

Vancouver Sun: 2008 July 22

Business is booming at Canada’s major public libraries, which credit everything from the high price of buying books to social networking, vampires and a new social acceptance for frothy bestsellers.

“People say libraries are dying because of the Internet,” said Beth Barlow, chief librarian at Surrey Public Library.

“But we’re finding a lot of growth in people who get library cards, and a continual growth in the circulation of our materials.”

Surrey’s growth in library membership has seen a 15-percent jump in the number of people getting new library cards from 2005 to 2007.

Toronto boasts the busiest public library system per capita in the world, with 1.2 million cardholders and 28.9 million items in 40 languages circulating each year.

In Edmonton, 385 people are on the waiting list for Fearless Fourteen, the newest offering from romance-turned-crime writer Janet Evanovich. Halifax public libraries have 240 readers on a waiting list for Kathy Reichs’ newest forensic mystery, which won’t even be published until the end of the summer.

In Surrey, Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, a vampire novel written for young adults that is still on order, has 220 members on its waiting list.

The story is a little different in Vancouver, where libraries are still hurting from the threemonth-long civic workers’ strike last summer.

While 2006 saw 10 million items circulated across the system, the strike saw many readers defect to suburban branches, particularly Burnaby, said Corinne Durston, director of youth services and community relations for the Vancouver Public Library.

However, Vancouver library administrators are looking to the future: a new library is planned in a community centre complex at One Kingsway in January, the Kensington branch will be moving to the King Edward Village complex in September, and a Hillcrest branch is scheduled to open within two years near in the Riley Park area.

The VPL sees a foot-traffic count of about seven million people a year and the system’s annual budget of $4.5 million “stretches across lots of interests,” said Durston.

“We’re finding there’s a lot of attention on political books related to the U.S. election. Cherie Blair’s autobiography and books about the Clintons are hugely popular,” she added.

Kaiser said books used to be viewed as a highbrow literary pursuit that obliged readers to seek out hidden gems and choke down ponderous classics even if they didn’t enjoy them.

“People want to read what Oprah recommends, they want to read what [is] on bestseller lists, they want to read what TV shows and celebrities promote,” he said.

Barlow sees the same trend in Surrey.

“I would say that libraries are trying to reach everyone in our population in a different way. While an academic might find a good literary novel to read, they might also enjoy the latest murder mystery.”

The importance of showing off a library’s wares has started to influence renovations and placed more emphasis on space for promotion and special displays, said Susan Caron, acting director of collections management for the Toronto Public Library.

“The ideal library would look like a bookstore because that is the best way to merchandise books,” Caron said.

Olivia Anderson, branch head of the Bruce Hutchison and Central Saanich branch libraries in Victoria believes the ups and downs of book prices and the Canadian dollar affect library circulation, but Caron thinks people are either buyers or borrowers.

“Some people only buy books, some people only use the library and then there’s that middle ground where depending on what they’re buying or what they’re reading or how fast they want it, they’ll buy them,” she said.

In Surrey, library membership growth is up with the population, “but it does have a lot to do with the economy,” said Barlow.

“When people aren’t doing as well [financially], they tend to think, ‘ There’s a library, I don’t have to buy that CD. Maybe I’ll just listen to it first.’ Or they say, ‘We can’t go to a show tonight, but the library has some DVDs.’”

Monday, July 21, 2008

All a Twitter: Want to Try Microblogging?

Want to try microblogging, but don’t know how to get started? Read on.

By Ellyssa Kroski -- School Library Journal, 7/1/2008

While sitting before a presentation at a recent library conference, I was able to broadcast my whereabouts, my mood, and my desire to connect with friends for dinner to over 150 conference attendees simultaneously, using my mobile phone. I managed this feat of hyper-connectivity through a service called Twitter, which enables social butterflies like myself to instantly publish brief messages to a network of contacts.

Although not quite as substantive as reporting the May earthquake in China before any of the major news services, as did blogger Robert Scoble and other “Twitterati,” my use of the service is just one of many ways in which people are discovering the benefits of Twitter. In an especially dramatic example, a graduate journalism student at UC Berkeley was arrested in April while photographing a public demonstration in Egypt. As he was taken into custody, the student managed to twitter one word: “arrested.” His network of followers contacted the U.S. embassy and the university, resulting in his release the following day...

Vancouver librarian honoured for promoting literacy

Province: 2008 July 21

Vancouver librarian Janice Douglas has won British Columbia’s fourth annual Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

Douglas, who began her career as a librarian in 1967, received the award for “her dedication and her commitment to literacy” and for bringing “books and reading to thousands of people in British Columbia in her lifetime,” Premier Gordon Campbell said in a statement.

Douglas helped found both the Word-on-the-Street festival and Family Literacy Week in B.C. She also created several successful literacy programs for kids in Vancouver.

Thirteen Council of the Federation Literacy Awards are given annually to one recipient from each province and territory who are nominated for their contributions to promoting literacy.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


BC Govt: 2008 July 17

VICTORIA – Premier Gordon Campbell congratulated librarian Janice Douglas today as the recipient of British Columbia’s fourth annual Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

Douglas was a founding member and past chair of the Word-on-the-Street festival, and a founding partner in establishing Family Literacy Week in British Columbia. She has created several successful literacy programs for children in Vancouver, including the Mother Goose program and Man in the Moon. She is also an advocate of adult literacy.

“Through her years of dedication and her commitment to literacy, Janice has brought books and reading to thousands of people in British Columbia in her lifetime,” said Premier Campbell. “Janice has made a difference in the lives of so many people, and it’s fitting that we honour her contributions to the community today.”

The Council of the Federation, which comprises all 13 provincial and territorial premiers, created the Council of the Federation Literacy Award on the initiative of Premier Campbell in 2005. Each province and territory chooses a recipient to receive a Council of the Federation Literacy Award medallion and a certificate signed by the premier of their province or territory.

“Literacy is the foundation of a civil society and it all begins at birth. It has been an honour and a privilege, as a librarian, to work with so many to help make this a reality in B.C.,” said Douglas. “To paraphrase the African proverb, Read children a story and make them happy for a day. Teach them to read and equip them for life!”

“The Province believes that lifelong learning is one of the keys to a successful life,” said Education Minister Shirley Bond. “Janice Douglas’s exemplary dedication to literacy is helping British Columbians of all ages reach their full potential and improve their quality of life.”

The Council of the Federation Literacy Award selection committee considers nominees’ history of commitment to excellence; community and peer recognition; leadership in the promotion of partnerships and public awareness; and the introduction of new ideas in promoting literacy. Nominees have to be B.C. residents for at least two years and consent to their nomination.

“I want to thank those who contribute to B.C.’s literacy programs for their tireless efforts to improve literacy skills throughout our province,” said Premier Campbell. “The nominations we received this year speak to the high-quality work that volunteers and professionals are doing every day to help people improve their reading and writing skills.”

Since 2001, government has invested more than $137 million in new literacy initiatives, including pre-literacy and early learning programs such as $9.5 million to operate the kindergarten readiness program Ready, Set, Learn and $2.7 million for the ActNow Literacy Education Activity and Play (LEAP BC) program that encourages literacy, physical activity and healthy eating in preschool-aged children.

For information on the Council of the Federation, visit

Media contact:
Bridgitte Anderson
Press Secretary
Office of the Premier
604 307-7177
Public Affairs Bureau
Ministry of Education
250 356-5963

For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at