International Typewriter Appreciation Month

This is my son's cherished typewriter. A Hermes Baby. Built in Switzerland, boasting a distinctive shade of mint green and and a QWERTZ keyboard.

Ron Charles writes about his appreciation of typewriters in the Washington Post.


A Pro-Empathy Reading List

I am re-posting this in honour of Pink Shirt Day. I don't have any problems with the sentiment behind wearing a pink shirt to say that you are anti-bullying but I think that it's good to look at it as an opening gambit in the conversation about way of building empathy.

from Skim

I'm interested in suggestions for an Empathy Reading List--books that we can give to teens to help them see the world from a perspective other than their own.  Really, any good fiction can do this but here are some books that deal specifically with issues around high school bullying, cyberbullying or just plain old being different (always a tough one in high school).  I will add to the list as suggestions come in through comments here or over on twitter @saraoleary.
Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby
Getting the Girl by Susan Juby
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Gillian Tamaki
Words That Start with B by Vikki Vansickle
What I Was by Meg Rosoff
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
Encore Edie by Annabel Lyon
Odd Man Out by Sarah Ellis
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Metawars Heff Norton
Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson
Holes by Louis Sachar
Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
America by ER Frank
Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
Monocerous by Suzette Mayr

I haven't read all of these but I have read and reviewed several. Here is my review of What I Was. I'll try to post some of the other reviews as I find them.
Studies have shown a direct link between reading fiction and empathy in young people. There have been a number of recent articles on the subject including this one by Keith Oately in Psychology Today.  This link between fiction and empathy seems to be a good place to start in thinking about problems of bulling and cyberbullying.
I wrote here about the Pink Shirt campaign the other day, trying to work through for myself why the idea of being Anti-Bullying didn't seem terribly useful to me.   And I'm still not at all sure about demonizing bullies as a way of instilling greater compassion in our young people.
But I have been reading up on Pink Shirt Day and to be honest I'm kind of impressed. It originates with the actions of some Nova Scotian high school students and occurs annually on February 27. Rick Mercer has this to say on Jer's Vision: Canada's Youth Diversity Initiative:
It's this failure of compassion or empathy that seems almost endemic in our society that truly frightens me.  And it's got me thinking about ways to inculcate these values in our children. There's a fascinating program designed to address these problems called Roots of Empathy.  You can read the first chapter of the book about it here.  It says: 
When students in Nova Scotia saw a younger student being harassed because he was wearing pink, they decided to do something. They took it upon themselves to buy every pink shirt in town and they did it on their own dime.  The next day they handed these shirts out at school. Suddenly the bullies who were making this young man’s life miserable were surrounded by students in pink. They learned in no uncertain terms that the vast majority of kids were not going to accept their behavior. Message sent. To me, the kindness, courage, compassion and creativity exhibited by this gesture is what being Canadian is all about.
I agree that it's a good message and that those young Nova Scotians deserve kudos for what they did.  It's good to remember when the news is full of the stories of what some other young men from that area did and the consequences their actions had.  Rehtaeh Parsons was driven to suicide by the sexual assault that she suffered and the distribution of images related to that assault.  Those were criminal actions--not anything as innocuous-sounding as bullying--but part of her suffering was to do with the the ongoing circulation of those images and the cruel comments made about her by her peers through social media.  And that kind of cyberbullying is all too common right now.
The program is based on the idea that if we are able to take the perspective of the Other we will notice and appreciate our commonalities and we will be less likely to allow differences to cause us to marginalize, hate or hurt each other.
And that seems to me to be a good place to start.  Reading fiction helps children to develop emotional literacy and that means they will be better equipped to see the suffering of others and be moved to do something about it.

I've written about empathy here before and I'd like to once again direct readers to this article by Nikhil Goyal about empathy on the Globe and Mail site. The article gives some alarming statistics:
Today, there is a dearth of empathy in young people. After analyzing data among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years, a University of Michigan study two years ago concluded that college students are 40 per cent less empathetic than their counterparts in 1979. Indeed, the most significant drop has been in the past decade. What’s more, cases of bullying and suicides are climbing at an alarming pace. That means empathy education is needed more than ever before.
Happily, empathy education is being addressed in at least some of our schools.  I learned today about The Empathy Factory which is a fantastic initiative out of Nova Scotia.   According to their site:  "The Empathy Factory was founded on the belief that by instilling empathy in our youth, injustices will be stopped, communities transformed and hope inspired."  

So there are reasons to be hopeful.  And I will be doing my best to think pink.

Let's Make Some Great Art

I spotted this book on my young pal Ezra's desk the other day and wanted to share. 

I've just looked up Marion Deuchars and she has several books available from Laurence King. They all look like great fun and I'd highly recommend for either children who like to draw or those who may not be as naturally inclined. Let's Make Some Great Art reminded a little of a book my boys had when they were small by Quentin Blake called Drawing: For the Artistically Undiscovered (Klutz Books). We all loved it and it's a nice souvenir from earlier days.

You can see inside Let's Make Some Great Art here, do online activities here and see more of illustrator Marion Deuchars work here. I think I may need a copy of my own. And maybe one for my boys.


Becoming a Children's Writer

I've found myself having a few conversations this week about how I got into writing children's books and (not un-relatedly) how I met Dimiter Savoff of Simply Read Books. Mainly this is a direct result of the lovely little profile Helen Spitzer did for Bunch Family (thank you, Helen!)  As a result of my little visit to memory lane, I've had a burrow through the archives and here is a profile I wrote about Dimiter back when I was a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. (And yes, if I were still a journalist I would have to call him Savoff.)

Are publishers born or are they made? Could you make one out of wood, say, the way you could a puppet or a little boy? This may not seem like a rational question to you, but then you probably haven't spent the past few days immersed in a remarkably lavish new edition of the classic children's story Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, with illustrations by Iassen Ghiuselev (Simply Read Books, 153 pages, $29.95), the brainchild of the newest publisher on the Vancouver scene. This isn't a new and improved Pinocchio. It's an old and improved Pinocchio -- a freshly revised and unabridged text based on a translation of the 19th-century Italian original, written by Collodi for a popular children's serial publication of the time.
The difference is like the one between thinking you know the Frankenstein story -- dead bodies, lightning, staggering monster throws girl in pond -- and actually reading the Mary Shelley original. Pinocchio is a dark and nuanced tale of the morality of being human; it serves as a reminder that all in this world is not the hum-along merriment that makes up the world according to Disney.
The adventures and misadventures that befall the little wooden puppet aren't typical of childhood. He falls asleep with his feet on a brazier and wakes to find his feet have been burned up. He is almost burned up entirely by the Fire Eater, gets robbed by a lame fox and a blind cat, and falls into the hands of murderers who string him up and leave him for dead, where he is found by the Lovely Girl with the Blue Hair. And that's just the beginning. But while this is the stuff of tales, the impudence, the pranks, the relentless curiosity and the restless imagination displayed by Pinocchio are all too typical of childhood.
Boys will be boys, no matter what the century or country, no matter whether they are made of wood or flesh and blood. And ultimately Pinocchio's innate goodness -- his love of others above himself -- allows him to become what he most wants to be ... a real live boy. Pinocchio is not a story about lying and a nose that won't stop growing: That's just a single incident. Pinocchio is a love story -- a story of filial love and its rewards.
But what, I wonder, makes a man decide that the world needs a new edition of Pinocchio? What makes him search and search for an artist capable of doing illustrations worthy of the text, and then wait until that award-winning illustrator has time to undertake the project? What makes this would-be publisher spend more than a year combing the world for a printer capable of producing work to his exacting standards for a price at which the book would still be affordable? It's obviously a case of a born publisher.
The publisher in question is Dimiter Savoff who, along with editor Gillian Hunt, has produced a brilliant debut title for a press that plans to specialize in beautiful illustrated books for readers of all ages. Savoff, a Vancouver architect who fondly recalls growing up in a home with more than 12,000 books, a member of a family of translators, editors and bibliophiles, and the grandson of a publisher in his native Bulgaria, has translated his lifelong love of books into Simply Read Books, an enterprise which one can't help but wish a long and fruitful life.
Simply Read's second title is the work of two Vancouver authors, Judith Steedman and Robin Mitchell. It's a photographic book for young children that Savoff says is both reminiscent of work of the 1960s and very modern. At 48 pages, it's longer than many books aimed at children of this age, and again the production values will be very high. The book will include instructions for building a kite (a tie-in to the story's subject matter), and it will be the first in a series.
Also in the works is an edition of Alice in Wonderland, again featuring Ghiuselev's artwork. It's bound to be a sumptuous, fascinating, provocative rendering of Lewis Carroll's imaginings, and I can't wait to see it. A sneak preview -- in the form of a poster -- should be available this year. The book is on Simply Read's lists for 2003.
So why Pinocchio? Savoff says it's one of his favourite tales from childhood and that when he was looking for a version to read to his children, he couldn't find one that satisfied him. The one he has created should bring pleasure to readers young and old for years to come. I could tell you to go out and buy a copy, but I won't. Instead, I'll tell you to go out and buy two copies -- one for yourself and one for someone you love.
(Jan 19, 2002)