Nameless City by Hicks – RWW Review

I’d like to draw attention to this thoughtful review of Erin Hicks’ graphic novel Nameless City over at Reading While White blog, I could not bring myself to reading most of the book, because of my own strong emotional (mostly adverse) reaction the raised concerns explored by Angie Manfredi in her review.  I did not speak up about this title because I strongly believe that one cannot critique a book without reading the book in its entirety and closely examining its many components.  (I felt the same about Ryan Gaudin’s The Walled City and Richelle Mead’s Soundless, both “inspired” and “loosely based” on an exoticized old China without the authors’ true understanding of the very real, and very much “living” culture or paying tribute to the long established literary tradition in this particular country.)

 

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Extreme Vetting

I woke this morning and looked out the window.  I saw three flying cars and two tooth fairies. I closed the blinds and SHRIEKED!  Suddenly one of the tooth fairies busted through my window and grabbed one of my teeth.  She pulled it straight out of my mouth, blood gushing, and then my house turned into a cat.

At least I made 10 bucks!

I used the money to buy another cat.  It was green and I named it Bob.  Then, with my leftover money, I bought a unicorn. The cars were still coming at one of my cats (my house!) Suddenly, my cat (the house) collapsed and it fell on me!

My unicorn bought ice cream and pizza for us so we can come back to life.  (Cause it’s yummy.)  When we were revived, we started to pass gas, used the bathroom, and barfed everywhere.  Then the ice cream and pizza came to life and said, “What’s your favorite color?”  Then we ate the cat and the unicorn.  

Next, we had a funeral for the cat and the unicorn.  It was a very sad and depressing ceremony.

Can you guess what my name is?  (Hint: DJT)

(This is an extremely silly story made up by 4th grade students as part of a “Search Engine” experiment.)

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An Average Day

This morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was snowing like crazy! Mayor Miranda decided that it would be a snow day. All the kids who attend schools were excited that it was a snow day. Then all of a sudden, a giant monster ate Mayor Miranda!!! The monster stomped around causing fear and destruction.

Everyone stayed inside all day because of the monster. Some kids could see the monster stomping around the city. The monster burped and destroyed most of the houses. Then, Bob the Builder the Assassin killed the monster with a bomb. Even though he killed the monster, he also destroyed the city with the bomb.

Then, a mutant underwear ate the bomb. But there was another assassin and the two assassins tried to kill the mutant underwear. Bob the Builder called the Pink Fluffy Unicorn to help. But Dumbledore was so mad that he started shouting the elder curse but without saying all the “beeeeeeeeeps.”

A new assassin, the Poop Assassin, came and killed the Pink Fluffy Unicorn and it called for all the mutant fingernails to kill every other underwear and toxic poop. The wizard guy trapped the people into the Underworld and killed all the people and then killed himself.

But then, since the monster that ate Mayor Miranda didn’t chew her but only swallowed her, so when the monster died, Mayor Miranda survived.

That was a Nasty Dream!

(This is a 4th grade class exercise for Search Engine efficiency, strategy, and reliability.)

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The Odyssey Experience!

This past year, I had the extreme pleasure of serving on the Odyssey Award Committee for the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults.

The following are actual numbers of time spent by me on this Listening Odyssey – including unfinished listening and also re-listening, not including note-taking or review writing and posting on the private conversation online bulletin board.

Minutes Listened: 40000
Hours Listened: 667
Days (24 hours) Listened: 27.8
Weeks (24 hours/7 days) Listened: 4
Months (24 hours/7 days) Listened: 0.9
Work Days (8 hours) Listened: 83.4
Work Weeks (8 hours/5 days) Listened: 17
Work Months (8 hours/5 days) Listened: 4

So it is with great pleasure and relief that we unveiled our selection on January 23rd. For more detailed information, please check out the official website.  I love every single one of these titles TO PIECES!  Each does something magical to enhance the already wonderful original text.  All four deserve to be listened to and be read.  I also love how we have different age brackets represented — and an outstanding Graphic Novel adaptation in the midst!

Anna and the Swallow Man written by Gavriel Savit, narrated by Allan Corduner, from Listening Library, won the Gold medal.

The three honored titles are:

Ghost written by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockard and produced by Simon and Schuster Audio.

Dream On, Amber written by Emma Shevah, narrated by Laura Kirman and produced by Recorded Books.

Nimona written by Noelle Stevenson, narrated by Rebecca Soler, Jonathan Davis, Marc Thompson, January LaVoy, Natalie Gold, Peter Bradbury, and David Pittu, and produced by HarperAudio.

 

 

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Jesus and the Passed Gas

This morning, I woke up and looked out the window. It was pouring rain.  My neighbor was practically swimming.  My eyes wandered around my backyard when they landed on something shiny.

I put my raincoat on and went outside to check it out.  It was this weird piece of rock.  I picked it up and something strange happened.  Jake Paul came by, surfing somehow in the air.  Then magically, Madeleine G. flew in the air and dabbed, whipped, and nae-nae’ed. She fell and got run over by a car.

She ran!  Something dropped out of her pocket: A POTION!  I ran to it and picked it up. It wasn’t marked poison, so I took a sip.  Two things happened: first, my eyesight got really good, and then I fell through a trapdoor!  I woke up and Jake Paul said to me, “I am Jesus in disguise.”  Then he disappeared and a cross took his place.  

I passed gas and a bomb fell from the sky to blow me up.  At the last second of my life, I thought, “How could this happen to me?”

THE END

(A story composed as part of an internet/information literacy unit by my 4th grade students.)

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Savage Meme Bird

This morning, I woke up and looked out my window.  I saw a bird that flew into my window.  There was a big crash and it slipped down the window pane slowly. The bird yelled at me, “You’re NOT MY DAD!”  I was shocked that the bird could speak!

Then the bird said to me, “Hey, I’m hungry; can you get me a block of cheese?”  I replied, “But you said I’m not your dad so why should I get you a block of cheese?”  The bird said, “You’re mean,” and started making an annoying wailing sound that broke the window!

The next thing I saw was that he called a giant gorilla named Harambe.

The next morning, I woke up my mom and I walked into the window and told my mom that I want a block of cheese. But she made me pancakes instead.  I walked down to the kitchen but the bird was following me asking for a block of cheese for a second time!  The gorilla Harambe was following the bird even though Harambe was 150 times larger than the bird.  The bird stole the cheese and said, “Cash me ousside, how ‘bout dat?”

I was confused from what the bird said.  My mom was confused THE WHOLE TIME!  Both of us almost fainted.

Suddenly I realized that the bird was totally an illuminati and I gave him some fresh-avocado.

(Made up story in a ROUND during Library Class by my 4th grade students.)

 

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A Commitment to Social Justices and Compassion

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going!” This is the time when all of us working with children, children’s books, and education must toughen up and keep on going!

It is heartening to see that hundreds of signatures by children’s book creators have been collected at The Brown Book Shelf for A Declaration in Support of Children, and that a live version of this document that allows for more signatures and support can be found on their Facebook page.

Today, I publicly echo my support for all the sentiments expressed in this document, adding here my continuing commitment as an educator, a school librarian, and a children’s literature advocate that:

I will read widely works created by a diverse group of writers and illustrators that both reflect authentic lived experiences of today’s children and offer genuine opportunities to understand and empathize with experiences unfamiliar to their own.

I will constantly highlight and promote these titles directly to my students and their families and also on social media in an effort to strengthen the innate capability of hope, courage, and compassion to bring about true social justices via the power of literature.

I will create curricula and take advantage of teachable moments both in the classroom, during casual interactions, and on social media to combat the ever-growing threat of Untruth-Telling in the digital and mass media sphere.

I will model my commitment to social justices and compassion by addressing injustices intentionally, openly, and truthfully in the classroom, during casual interactions, and on social media.

Fellow librarians, educators, and children’s literature champions, join me in our work together for a better and brighter future!

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Doctor Strange, Whitewashing, and Missed Opportunities

Whitewashing has been understood to mean film/tv producers casting white actors to portray minority characters — especially Asian American roles.

Doctor Strange, a highly entertaining and well reviewed new movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, stirred up heated discussion earlier this year over its casting of Tilda Swinton, a white actress to play The Ancient One, an “Asian” character from the comic books series.  Given the exaggerated, stereotypical, and exoticized portrayal of the original The Ancient One, it is important that the character undergoes modification and updating to reflect more contemporary and progressed mindset.

However, Marvel definitely did not hit the mark this time.

doctorstrangeposterThe Marvel Studio, a superpower in the entertainment business these days, could have easily corrected the issues from the original comics (like they did with Wong’s character) to create a respectable, mysterious, powerful, and also flawed character.  The Stuio would have then become a strong leader in providing Asian American actors better opportunities. Instead, they went with a casting choice that, after viewing the movie, I found completely unnecessary.  The Ancient One stands mostly still to deliver lines in slightly archaic language and manners.  I do believe that most working actors would have been able to give a solid performance given the script.  Having one line stating, “Oh, she’s Celtic” and yet still set most of the movie in Asia (Kathmandu and Hong Kong) with much of the “training” in some composite Asian Martial Arts style is completely inadequate in their attempts to combat the original stereotypical rendition (as a statement defending the casting choice from the movie’s creative team) of The Ancient One.

I believe that most of the people (I imagined a mix of White and no-White folks) working on this movie did not mean to actively marginalize Asian American actors with any sort of ill intent. However, in their decision (casual or deliberate) to not cast an Asian American actor or actress in this role, they perpetuate the systemic oppressive practice of taking away opportunities from working Asian/Asian American actors and thus effectively further the marginalization of such group.

What a shame! What a missed opportunity!

Here are some other articles circulating online that just came out after the movie’s release:

‘Doctor Strange’ is a really fun, whitewashed ride! by Gene Park, from The Washington Post.

Doctor Strange ‘whitewashing’ row resurfaces with new criticism of Swinton casting by Alan Evans, from The Guardian.

‘Doctor Strange’ Director Owns Up to Whitewashing Controversy by Jen Yamato, from The Daily Beast. 

 

 

 

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16th Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

This post, meant to be published on May 16th, never got posted on the 16th Day of APA Heritage Month.  I have since read (listened to) the book and edited slightly my responses to Shliesman’s review.  Since this is a book eligible for Odyssey Award and I am currently serving on the committee, I am not going to discuss the quality of the writing, nor the technical merits/flaws, etc. of the recording.

This post is about a bigger issue, with the review as a springboard.

tyranny of petticoatsMegan Schliesman, in her Reviewing While White: A Tyranny of Petticoats, points out that there are fifteen stories in this short story collection and eight of the stories feature characters of color and one of them is about a Chinese American.

The more than a dozen contributors include four women of color: three of them are of Asian Pacific heritage. Marie Lu wrote a story about an Inuit girl in Alaska. Caroline Tung Richmond and Y.S. Lee both wrote stories about white protagonists and the one story about a Chinese American girl is written by a white author.

This is not surprising since Asian American children’s and YA authors have not been known to write only about Asian American experiences. Marie Lu’s Legend and the Young Elites trilogies all feature predominantly non-Asian characters. And both Y.S. Lee and Caroline Tung Richmond write about European girls.

Schliesman also pointed out that the one story featuring a Chinese American character portrays a girl who can see ghosts and commune with spirits.  (And several other stories featuring POC characters also include ghosts or spirits.)  She wrote,

Surely there are plenty of “badass girls” who can be imagined throughout and across U.S. history and authentically grounded in a variety of cultures without resorting to the fantastic. What am I to make of these stories? Are they grounded in any authentic cultural beliefs, or simply spun from their authors’ imaginations?

I’d like to think that this is a true question and that perhaps either the authors or cultural experts might be able to offer a satisfactory answer.  However, this could also be an accusation: perhaps Schliesman already decided that the authors have not grounded their stories in authentic cultural beliefs and by “resorting to the fantastic,” they have either exoticized the cultures or rendered them “backwards.”

The only thing I can offer here is based on my own singular experience as a Chinese girl growing up in Taiwan.  And from there, perhaps readers of A Tyranny of Petticoats can make up their own minds about whether this Chinese American story’s allusion to ghosts/spirits seems authentic.

Re-reading part of Maxine Hong Kingston’s wonderful memoir The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, I was reminded how my own girlhood in Taiwan was tightly woven with the beliefs in the spiritual world: my mother had lucid dreams and could tell us about immediate future events with quite a bit of accuracy; my father’s soul was raised to Heaven by 49 days of continuous Buddhist monks’ chanting in our house; fortune-tellers are consulted by most people to find the best day to open a business, to have a wedding, and the best match for one’s daughter or son; the many offerings at various temples from parents to secure their children’s high marks on the college entrance exam… these are things we routinely did (and most likely still do.)  As recently as just a couple of years ago, after a really frightening nightmare when we stayed in a hotel in central Taiwan, I asked my older sister, who sometimes serves as an exorcist to “clean houses (eject ghosts)” for her friends and clients, to perform a ritual involving clean water and a bowl of beans.  I slept soundly after that ritual. I definitely have a strong sense of pre-destined fate and still clench my fists in a particular pattern to ward off evil elements when passing a cemetery or encountering a funeral procession.  (Actually, an upcoming book written by a debut Taiwanese American author will explore Taiwan “ghost culture” deeply, and authentically.)

Will I take offense if someone out of my culture takes these elements and insert them clumsily and stridently into a tale without truly understanding where all these beliefs and sensibilities came from? Probably.  I imagine that it is not easy for an “outsider” to grasp or present accurately my strong fear of ghosts or my sense of comfort when smelling incense – both have roots in my own self and also my connection to the tradition passed down through many thousands of years.  This probably explains my inability to finish a well received book such as The Walled City by Ryan Graudin — I simply couldn’t get past her descriptions of the Chinese Constellations and how they are used in her tale and found her supposedly in-depth research, from afar without actually living through or experiencing the culture, lacking. This is also perhaps why I have yet to be able to read past the first segment of The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks — when the location in this Graphic Novel is so glaringly a superficial copy of a Chinese traditional city.

That said, is including ghosts/spirits in a story about a Chinese American girl automatically the mark of “exoticism” or “keeping the culture in the backwater days”?  I’d say no — not automatically at all.  It all depends on how the tale is told and the world is built and whether there is a true understanding of from where such elements came.  Just because I, a 50 something Chinese/Taiwanese woman feels a certain way about a text featuring “my culture” does not mean that mine is THE way or THE ONLY way that such text would be or should be viewed by other Chinese/Taiwanese or Chinese/Taiwanese American readers.

I hope that we can all accept that, since People are complex and Cultures and Histories are complex, Books about People and Cultures the Discussions about such Books are also unavoidably complex. We do have to keep digging and thinking and sometimes even changing our minds.

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Salla Simukka, Finnish Author

At a small event hosted by the Consul General from Finland, introducing best-selling author Salla Simukka from Finland, I learned a little about Nordic Noir and Finnish Weird.

Simukka’s takes the lines from Snow White as the three titles of the trilogy: As Red as Blood, As White as Snow, and As Black as Ebony, but this is not a fairytale retelling or fantasy.  Rather they are gritty, dark, and intense crime novels for teens.

I also learned that in Finnish, the third person pronoun has no gender differentiation, so a reader of the Finnish original would have little clue as to the gender of the love interest of the main character.  (And in book 2, the full identity is revealed and it is probably going to be a surprise for most readers!)

These books’ English editions have been available in the States since 2013 but now are getting a re-release (probably some editorial revision as well) starting January 2017 by Random House/Crown Books for Young Readers.

Salla had a conversation with her U.S. editor Phoebe Yeh (WNDB) discussing her writing style and views. She’s eloquent and full of energy.

Hopefully we will see more and more translated contemporary work from other countries to enrich young people’s understanding of the world and empower them to be true global citizens.

img_20161101_205125

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Make Not The Past Rosy, Nor The Present Bleak

On September 30th, I had the honor to present, with my fellow judges Joanna Rudge Long and Besty Bird, the 2016 Boston-Globe Horn Book Awards to children’s book creators. Unlike many other awards, we were not given a set of criteria to base our reading and evaluation on.   It was simply, look for excellent books in Picture Books, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction category.

One award title for each category and up to two honored titles.  The author and illustrator both receive the award in cases of an illustrated title.  This year’s titles were announced in late May.  You can see the program description and watch the May announcement on the Horn Book site.

On October 1st, I attended the Horn Book Colloquium at Simmons College focusing on a theme inspired by the titles we chose, with talks and panel discussions based by the winning creators.  This year’s theme was Out of the Box — because, boy, did we have a hard time figuring out where to place some of our favorite books of the year!

So, the picture book winner, Jazz Day, is also poetry, and can arguably be Nonfiction, and one of the Nonfiction honored titles, Voice of Freedom, is a picture book of verses, too.   There are also other out of the box endeavors by the creators.

As part of the program for the day, I had the honor to interview Ekua Holmes and Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrator and author, of Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.

We discussed many topics about the book and about their craft and when I asked both of them what they would like to see published more for children, these are their answers – and I paraphrase grossly here:

Weatherford: I’d like to see more lesser known people of color movers and shakers profiled for children.  We probably don’t need one more book on Martin Luther King Junior or Harriet Tubman; but we definitely need to tell stories of others who paved the roads and blazed the trails for us through extremely difficult times and against all odds.

Holmes: I’d like to see more books about just the daily miracles of any child of color — their lived experiences and they can be quite bright and fulfilling, full of art, music, beauty, and happiness.  We need to tell these stories!

I agree with both of them.  Let’s have a fuller exploration of the past; don’t make it rosy, and don’t hide the ugly spots.  But let’s also fully represent the present.  There are definitely struggles and dark moments, but we must also celebrate and acknowledge the love and support that many children experience in their own families and communities.

And let’s make sure that multiple and differed perspectives and voices from the seemingly homogeneous marginalized communities are heard and honored.  There is room for the representation from the entire spectrum of experiences and values.

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My DKDK (Don’t Know Don’t Know) Moments – Or What I Learned From My Online Discussion Mistakes

On July 17th, I posted “A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS,” offering my views on a particular spread of illustration after a couple of days engaging on Reading While White, and other online interaction places (email listservs and twitter.)

During those days and ever since, I have not stopped thinking about the many different reactions I received both publicly and privately (via emails and in person.)  I also have not stopped thinking about Debbie Reese’s public declaration of how, for a couple of decades, her impression of me has been that I am on the opposing side of her convictions — which is, simply put, to have accurate, and dignified, representation of American Indian content, and a lot more of it, in Children’s Literature.

This revelation both shocked me and saddened me.  It is also a prime example of how I did not follow my own advice — to acknowledge that this could have been a case of I “Don’t Know That I Don’t Know” and to spend more time listening and considering others’ views than defending my own.  I don’t mean that I should not have expressed my views, but I think I could have done better in the “listening” and “considering” department, and less on the “defending” my views department.

So, here are some things I have been thinking about for the last ten days:

I Failed at Being A Visible and Vocal Ally

First and foremost, I realized that I have not been a vocal enough ally to Debbie.  When I agree with her views and her tireless work as an advocate, I usually sit back and agree in silence.  I pretty much only speak up when I have questions about how she interprets something, and wants her to either defend further or clarify more.  I also want her to see how I come to have my opposing views.  (An example was over The Hired Girl on Heavy Medal blog.)  These disagreements occupy a very small percentage of how I normally react to Debbie’s views: I fundamentally agree with everything she stands for and have always benefited much from her sharing of her thoughts and feelings (yes, Debbie can be very emotional when she writes about the hurt and injustices she sees in books for children).  I have based my collection development for my library on many of her recommendations.  However, since I have not been actively and visibly expressing my support, it is of course impossible for Debbie to know.

This has been a wake-up call for me to be a better ally and supporter – not just to Debbie Reese, but to others who have been taking up the banner for a better, more equitable, and authentic children’s publishing world.

Online Discourse Is Real Life, Too!

A second thing that I learned is how even when I started off trying to simply parse out a thorny issue intellectually, social media and online engagement could easily bring in emotional responses, mostly due to the quick turn around back-and-forth and the misinterpretations of tones due to the lack of physical and tonal cues.

I need to adhere to the Real Life practices that have served me well:

1. Take time to cool off and consider the others’ views and feelings before shooting off an email to express dismay or outrage.

2. Go directly to the person who I feel that has “wronged me” and find out the reasons behind any public (or private) outburst, in a way that is genuinely to solve the issue and not to express my own displeasure.

3. Do not engage emotional discourses between publicly: especially between friends and friendly colleagues.

What Should Drive Children’s Publishing?

The DESIRE to Do It Right and not the FEAR of Doing it Wrong!

A third thing that I have been considering has more to do with an aspiration for my publishing colleagues and it will be in a separate post.  Just to forecast here: I yearn for the day when the driving force of publishers, editors, authors, and illustrators to create powerful and accurate books that are accepted readily and praised by outsiders and insiders alike is a strong and genuine desire to DO IT RIGHT after lots of soul searching and professional training, and not the fear of DOING IT WRONG and being called out after the fact!

 

 

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Absence Heightens Presence

Walking down Seattle night streets, I came upon these trees adorned with Christmas lights.  My aesthetic mind created an instant division: I loved the moving lights up in the branches and had next to no emotional reaction to the static lights on the tree trunks.  What made the moving lights so much more appealing?

Could it be that each absence of light makes the presence of it more vibrant, more intense.

Could this same revelation be applied to my reading aesthetics?

Is this why I find books filled with figurative language page after page less appealing than books that only feature effective and well developed figurative language when absolutely necessary?

Like the static lights on the tree trunks, the too frequent presence of metaphors, similes, and analogies reduces my appreciation of an author’s artistry.  I need the appropriate absence of figurative speeches to fully feel the impact of their presence.

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A Tribe of Kind Souls: a closer look at a double spread in Lane Smith’s There Is a TRIBE of KIDS

There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (capitalization as part of the title/design), written and illustrated by Lane Smith (Stinky Cheeseman, The Happy Hocky FamilyIt’s a Book, etc.), was published in May, 2016 (two months ago.)

This book has received four starred reviews from major review sources and positive reviews from others. However, the use of the word TRIBE and some of the images on a particular double-page spread toward the end of the book have sparked heated debate (in which I took part) in several online places.  A short description and link to each of these reviews (with comments) can be found at the end of this post.

I read and re-read this book many times and have considered all the reviews cited below and many additional comments sprinkled throughout the internet.  Finally, I feel that I am ready to share my own take on this book.  I must stress that this is but ONE of many potential interpretations of the book which features very few words and delivers most of its “messages” with pictures that can be differently interpreted.

By no means do I want to discount Debbie’s and others’ pain when they face certain images (that they see on the second to last double spread) which definitely trigger strong emotional reactions from past and personal experiences.  (My own triggers are seeing erroneously attributed so-called Chinese cultures or imageries and boy do those get me seeing red!)

So here it is,

Fairrosa’s Interpretation of the Double Spread in There Is a TRIBE of KIDS:

I must confess that my initial reaction to the word TRIBE in the title was a skeptical one: how would it be used in the book?  to indicate some relations to Native American cultures?  to indicate something primitive?  When I finally read through the book (many times over,) I realized that, as Debbie Reese and many reviewers pointed out, it is a play on word.  Tribe is a collective noun for a group of “young goats” (kids) and Tribe is also a collective noun for many human groups that share the same cultural, geographical, or historical experiences.  The word is still used widely.  It is used by American Indians as their official group names.  It is used by the Jewish people.  It is also used by groups who need to bond over their unique identities and experiences, such as the deaf community (as found in Tribes, a play by Nina Raine from 2015.)

In the case of this book, Lane Smith used it to indicate a very specific “kind” of human beings: children. The child protagonist, after mimicking all kinds of animals, finally found his own “tribe.”  The text is all in past tense — until the very last spread which is in present tense, proclaiming the currency and the universality of childhood.

Here is my interpretation of the second to last spread accompanying the text, There was a TRIBE of KIDS (note the past tense!)

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 11.11.46 AM

(reproduced with permission from Roaring Brooks Press)

Since our child protagonist is not in this picture, so unlike the previous encounters, we don’t see him mimic or play act.  We see this child (looking a bit like Burt in Mary Poppins, doesn’t he?) welcoming the new child (our protagonist, off page, unseen) into a TRIBE.

 

tribe07

We, readers, along with the child protagonist, observe the scene with keen interest:

A TRIBE of kids from around the world and from both yesteryears and now, dressed much like our protagonist (in leaves, branches, and flowers,) being themselves and playing like all children might:

We watch, as they

swing, eat and play with their food,

tribe02 tribe15 tribe08

collect seashells and flowers,

tribe04 tribe25

play balls, crawl, balance, dance,

tribe03 tribe09

tribe11 tribe12

scout, explore,

tribe13 tribe26

take care of a younger sibling, 

tribe10

dress up like an adult (a princess, a king, a judge?)

tribe19  tribe20 tribe27

give a hug,

tribe01

dangle, slide,

tribe14 tribe17 tribe16

model, run (like an olympian with a torch,)

tribe23 tribe24

hide, and seek.

tribe28 tribe18

tribe22  tribe21

What I do not observe is the child protagonist attempting to mimic any of these KIDS, as if these are roaming animals. I also don’t see the “wildness” linked to a colonial sense of the word TRIBE (as stated by Minh C. Le and as troubling to others). I see children engaging in regular childlike and childhood activities.  And if I were to read this book with a young child, that’s how I would posit it — “Look, do you play hide and seek, just like these kids?  Do you pretend to be a king or a princess sometimes?  Do you play with your food?  Do you love going down the slides or sit on a swing?  This makes you part of the TRIBE of all children in the world.  You belong with each other and you accept and embrace one another.”

As I pointed out in the beginning of this post, my interpretation is different from some others’ views, including those of Minh C. Le’s, Sam Bloom’s, and Debbie Reese’s. All three wrote thought provoking reviews of this title — and I urge all to read them and take their concerns or potential hurt and mis-use of this book seriously.

Il Sung Na’s ‘The Opposite Zoo,’ and More by Minh C. Le (New York Times)
Le feels that the “juxtaposition of the word ‘tribe’ with the woodland utopia conjured uncomfortable associations,” and a particular image is problematic “in its echoes of the longstanding trope in children’s literature that uses Native imagery or ‘playing Indian’ to signify wildness.”

Reviewing While White: There Is a Tribe of Kids by Sam Bloom (Reading While White)Bloom finds himself in agreement with Le’s take on the book and ponders why all the reviewers for the major publications have given this book such favorable feedback when he sees even more images that are problematic.  He posits that perhaps it is due to Lane Smith’s long-time fame and status as a celebrated children’s book creator.  He also links to a page delineating the negative associations that the word TRIBE contains from the Teaching Tolerance site. Bloom concludes his essay by strongly indicating that he does not recommend this book. He writes, “If it wasn’t Lane Smith’s name on the front cover, could we more easily see the problems inherent in There Is a Tribe of Kids? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that this is a book that I personally won’t be sharing with (human) kids.”

Lane Smith’s new picture book: There Is a TRIBE of KIDS (plus a response to Rosanne Parry) by Debbie Reese (American Indians in Children’s Literature)
Reese details the picture book and focuses first on the word play and the repeated pattern of a child going through the natural world, mimicking behaviors of groups of animals, while garbed in leaves.  Reese then moves on to discuss the double spread that features a TRIBE of KIDS (children) and the specific images she finds objectionable.  She also delineates many counter-points to Rosanne Parry’s review of the book.  Reese uses words like “rolling your eyes” and “grinding your teeth” to express how irate she is with Parry’s proposed interpretation of the book’s images.

Rosanne Parry also wrote a blog post in response to Sam’s post: A Tribe of Book Reviewers (Writing in the Rain Blog). Parry writes to share her interpretation of this book and her disagreement with Sam’s take on the book as a reinforced negative portrayal of children “playing Indian.” Parry’s take on this book is in accordance with reviewers who see that there are multiple cultures represented in the book and that the book’s focus is on the importance of a sense of belonging and the warmth of acceptance in every child’s life, regardless of their origins or skin tones.  The final “snapshot” seems to encapsulate this sentiment — the kids of pale and dark skin tones locked in a friendly embrace to show their kinship and solidarity:tribehug

For those interested, here are links to all four starred reviews:

 

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Facebook Black & White

As a librarian for young people, I tend to prioritize literature, believing that introducing great books to my students will inform them and cultivate them to become reasonable, compassionate, and socially conscientious adults.  Adults who will make a difference in our world and our collective future.  And that is also why this particular blog was set up more than 20 years ago (it was not a blog then, but a “website”) to focus on no more than children’s literature.

I have, however, evolved, through the years.  I still believe in the power of books, of course, but I also realize that I have a lot more to say about the world we live in than just which books to give to the next group of 4th graders or what books should have won an award, etc.

So, officially as of today, Fairrosa Cyber Library will be a place where I toss in whatever I am compelled to write about and to open discussions on.  I welcome comments and debates and please share widely if you think the posts are worthy.

Here are two Facebook posts that I read, from former students who are young adults (in their early 20s) in regard to race relations in the United States on this July 2016 weekend.  (I have permission from both of them to publicly post their opinions as written, attaching their names to their words.)

I saw this post first thing in the morning, from Clyde Lawrence, white:

clydelawrenceI normally only post about music and the mets because they’re the only things about which I feel I can speak with authority, but I just wanna say that what’s going on across the country is really terrible and I’m filled with rage and sympathy on behalf of all the people of color affected daily by systemic racism and violence. Although I try to talk in-person about this stuff as much as possible, I have mostly remained silent on social media because I had been unsure of whether my digital voice being distributed to a community of almost-exclusively like-minded people would be productive (or worse, diluting the voices of those who know what’s up). But recently/particularly today, I’ve seen so many people I trust to know what needs to happen more than I trust myself saying that silence on the part of white people simply needs to stop, and I feel that. So here I am, saying two things: I stand with the ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ movement, but also I hope to learn about more specific and productive ways I can help. Hit me up on messages or something if you have ideas about what I, as a white person who wants to be part of the solution, can do, not that it’s the responsibility of others to figure that out for me.

This was actually from yesterday, but we just Facebook friended each other today, so it’s new to me, by Jeremy Allen, black:

jeremyallen[A friend/white] inspired me to say something. I too have a difficult time posting on social media on issues of social justice due to a mixture of finding it kind of self-indulgent and fear of the reaction it may cause. I think that the majority of my Facebook friends unanimously agree that what is occurring in our country is wrong. Radical change must happen, and fast, I think that much is clear. If you disagree with me on that, reevaluate yourself/unfriend me plz.

But what is perhaps even more disheartening to me are the comments that I continue to read that are starting a kind of race war, “us vs them,” mentality. This is especially upsetting to see among the young adults I went to school with whom I consider to be fantastic, educated, well informed, and reflective individuals. As someone who feels they straddle the line between both the “black” and “white” world, I offer an opinion to each.

To my white friends: Show support in the ways you believe are righteous, but be open to criticism if they are not well received, and adapt. You do not understand their struggles the way that blacks inherently do. I live a very privileged life, I do not try to deny that. And yet I am familiar with the discomfort of being on the street alone at night and having a police officer pull you aside to question what you’re doing, when really you’re just walking home. Or being stopped in Soho pushing your little sisters empty stroller and being interrogated about where you got it (no, I’m not into stealing strollers). It sucks, it’s awkward, it’s unnecessary, and it’s racist. Yet I have it far better than most. So, just be mindful that sometimes your words — no matter how well intentioned — come off ignorant. If you are a true supporter, you will not be disgruntled by constructive criticism but rather happy that you are able to participate in a way that is constructive to all. This is a learning process.

To my black friends: Do not silence the people who are trying to show support. Saying that it’s “not their place to comment” because of their skin color, economic status, or whatever, is only going to make the problem worse. This is us vs them. But the “US” is the educated and informed, those who strive towards true equality, regardless of race, age, economic position or gender, and the THEM is those who seek to oppose that very same spirit. To make blanket generalizations about white people, or to shame an individual for trying to express solidarity, is to regress. If the wealthy white kid feels so moved as to make a comment, despite them having truly no reason to, let them! If they make an off mark comment, inform them. But do so constructively, and inclusively. There is too much change to be made, and too many issues at stake, to alienate those who are trying to help.

I cannot be more moved by their thoughtfulness, their courage to speak up, and their willingness to continue the work to change our world.  Like Jeremy said, this world of racial bias and bigotry has to be radically changed, and fast.  We can all educate ourselves by reading and by reflecting and by learning from our peers, and those who are older or younger than us.

Please comment and have a dialog and also go out and DO something to change the world for the better.  Starting, perhaps, with reading up on information and how you can take actions here:

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Kadir Nelson’s New Yorker Cover: A Guessing Game

This image is the cover of this week’s New Yorker Magazine — by artist and children’s book creator Kadir Nelson.  It’s almost unbearably ironic that this issue comes out during a week of highly publicized, video-recorded, social-media plastered images of black men killed by the police with apparently little or no justifications and five policemen gunned down by an irate sniper at a peaceful rally for racial equality. I saw this image posted by friends on facebook and read some of the comments beneath this picture and found out how differently this picture could be interpreted by different viewers.  Someone thought that the father in the picture feels desolation and is not having a fun day at the beach; while others see this as family and harmony.  Someone questioned why there are clouds reflected in the sunglasses, and I immediately thought that the comment maker was criticizing the image.  This showed how I presumed and assumed others’ intents and how I definitely need to change the way I post on social media to build understanding and not alienation.  The comment maker wrote back to say that there might be a “hidden message” in those reflections and I can see that now — and have started to wonder, what do those clouds reflected in his sunglasses mean?

Art is like that.

So many possible interpretations.  I have a few thoughts in mind — what are yours?

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2016 ALA Annual at Orlando, Final Recap

In between the ALSC Awards and the Odyssey Award presentations, I attended the ALSC Membership Meeting and were updated on what this Division has been working on all year. I also joined everyone to celebrate the presentation of the professional awards. Distinguished Services Award recipient Pat Scales is a former school librarian and past ALSC President and she so deserves this Award for her 38 years of and continuing services to children, the library profession, and to ALSC.  Other awards and grants and this year’s recipient information can be found on this page.

ALSC Office also has gathered all the award acceptance speeches in one easily accessible page.

 

Of course, the Conference was not just about media and professional wards, it was also about professional development and teaching and learning from each other with many workshops and sessions going on in the Convention Center.  To get a broad sampling of all the offerings and what ALSC conference attendees gleaned from this Conference, visit ALSC’s 2016 Annual Conference Blog Roundup page.

Finally — but truly NOT leastly — I thoroughly enjoyed the two meetings on Saturday and Sunday (5 hours and 2 hours long respectively) with my fellow Odyssey Audiobook Award selection committee members.  We’re from many different parts of the country, with different professional duties, varied audiobook listening and evaluating experiences, and distinct personalities — and I met each and everyone of other eight members for the first time at Annual and felt completely grateful for everyone’s diligence, insights, and good humor.  I can’t wait to see everyone and have those meaty discussions about each audiobook we have all carefully listened to at Midwinter (in Atlanta)!

 

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2016 ALA Annual at Orlando – Recap, Part 2

Following the CSK Awards breakfast were ALSC awards celebrations on Sunday and Monday.  ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children) is the administering body for many well known (and some lesser known but equally high quality) Youth Media awards.   Youth Media = books, videos, and audios.  Newbery and Caldecott are the two longest standing American Children’s Book Awards, of course, but then there are also: the Belpre for Latina/o Book Creators, Batchelder for Books in Translation, Arbuthnot Lecture, Wilder Lifetime Achievements, the Sibert for Nonfiction, the Geisel for Beginning Readers, the Carnegie for Videos, and the Odyssey for Audiobooks.  All of the 2016 winners and honorees were publicly celebrated on these two days.

The Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet is always an elegant and happy affair with more than 1,000 in attendance, well crafted speeches, and a long receiving line that pushes the event way past midnight if you choose to hang around (or don’t have a choice because you work for the publishing companies!)  The three acceptance speeches are printed in this month’s Horn Book Magazine: Newbery, Caldecott, Wilder.  I also took a couple of snapshots and posted them at the end of this post.

Each year, I have also routinely attended the Monday morning award presentation of Sibert, Geisel, Batchelder, and Carnegie since ALSC started hosting this celebration and have always come away awed by the richness and dedication of writers, artists, editors, producers in creating high quality works that powerfully impact young people’s lives!  This year was no exception.  The bonus reel for me was meeting David Adler, the 2016 Geisel Award winner for Don’t Throw It To Mo.  Adler has been a beginning readers author for almost half a century and his Cam Jansen series held special significance in the Feldman household: it marked my daughter’s journey from a pre-reader to a completely independent reader back in 2006.  I had to take a picture with Adler and told him that it was Cam Jansen that made my daughter a true reader.  He humbly replied that if it were not his series, some other beginning readers would have done it, too.  But I must beg to differ here — it is because Adler not only understands text cadences for very beginning readers, but he also understands that perhaps a young and bright minded girl would want to see herself reflected in some way in the stories she encounters so there is a connection between the act of reading and the reader herself.   No, it had to be Cam Jansen and not just “some other series.”

Here’s David Adler with his much deserved Geisel Medal!

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For the first time, this year I also attended the Odyssey Award for audio book production presentation Monday Afternoon and it was simply fabulous.  We were treated to a humorous Infographs slideshow documenting the total minutes the Committee spent listening, the yardage of yarn knitted, the sacrificed one must make (not spending time with the family, not watching football on TV, not reading print books, etc.,) and the number of headphones used to their bitter-ends and many other Odyssey Committee Only Experiences!  We then were treated to the amazing live performances and speeches from the voice actors and musicians!  I especially adored the impassioned speeches by the performers and producers that sheds light on what a labor of love and how much expertise it is needed to produce a single good audiobook.

My biggest take-away from this event is that even though Odyssey is for audiobook Production and not for the Content of the original text, these two are indeed deeply intertwined.  Jayne Entwistle, the reader for The War That Saved My Life, told us that she was so deeply moved by the book and its characters, she cried multiple times at the studio while recording this book.  She teared up and pretty much sobbed just to recall how much she loved this text.  Her narration and character acting showcase not only how highly skilled she is but also why there is a certain kind of genuine gravitas and presence that a lesser text would not have inspired: the skills would still have been there, but the not-at-all-easily-quantifiable, extra LIFE would not have.  Attending this event, I gained added insights for my own task in being part of the selecting committee of the 2017 Odyssey award winners — hope to see many people joining us at this really lovely event next June in Chicago!

 

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Betsy Bird in her Caldecott/Newbery Winners library catalog cards dress especially made for the Banquet.

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The long receiving line that kept us way past midnight.  (I went out with friends old and new for a late night snack of root beer floats and apple pies that lasted until 2:00 a.m.  Feeling very indulgent, of course! Pictures are on someone else’s phone!)

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2016 ALA Annual at Orlando – Recap, Part 1

When it dawned on me that attending the American Library Association’s 2016 Annual Conference meant that I would be in Orlando not even two weeks after the massacre in Pulse Club, I felt a sense of powerlessness and loss.  Was there something I could do to make it clear, at least to myself, that I mourn the victims (not just this year, not just the LGBTQ+ community, bur all innocent lives lost to the easy accessibility assault weapons)?  Was there some way to mark the weekend in some small ways to remember the victims and to remind all those around me to continue fighting for gun control? When ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children) president Andrew Medlar posted on the members listserv that there was going to be a Memorial Service for Pulse Victims, along with other volunteer opportunities, I felt so grateful.  Thanks to ALA’s GLBT Round Table for organizing this memorial, I could at least show my respect and support for the causes.

Saturday, June 25, at 8:00 a.m., hundreds gathered in the convention center’s Chapin Theater – we listened to impassioned speeches about the work still needs to be done, including a short talk delivered by special guest Congressman John Lewis.  His powerful remarks reminded all of us the importance to ACT.

Here’s a segment of his talk, captured in close caption:

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We then stood in silence when all 49 names scrolled on the large screen — reminding us how many of them were so young and how many of them were of Latino heritages.  As a community of librarians whose goals are to better our communities with literature, literacy, and community activism, the words I heard from the GLBT Round Table chairs (both present and former) at this memorial strengthened my conviction and commitment to continue such work as a member of the Round Table.

I also belong to another Round Table at ALA: EMIERT – Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table which administers the Coretta Scott King Book Award each year to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”  Every year, during the Annual Conference, the CSK Award Breakfast on Sunday (at 7:00 a.m.) is always a rousing, powerful, and moving event.  I look forward to it and always know I will be in the strong embrace of like-minded librarians and book makers and will be exposed to significant speeches.  This year was no different.

CSK speeches are from all winners and honorees.  We had the great pleasure to hear from these book creators:

Rita Williams-Garcia, Bryan Collier, Ronald L. Smith, Ekua Holmes, Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, Ilyasah Shabazz, Kekla Magoon, R. Gregory Christie, Christian Robinson, and Jerry Pinkney for Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement.

Each speech was different, some humorous, some somber, yet all were true and inspiring. Many young folks were in the room and I saw their heads bobbing in agreement throughout the speeches, affirming the power of words and the promises to keep doing important work.  I teared up multiple times: of course, that’s not a unique phenomenon.  I attend the CSK Breakfast to celebrate and to have a good cry and to renew my faith in advancing equity and social justices through the power of literary works that channel the power of their creators.

A few of the texts of the speeches are printed in the Horn Book: Rita Williams-Garcia for Gone Crazy in Alabama, Bryan Collier for Trombone Shorty, and Jerry Pinkney for his Lifetime Achievement recognition.  (Just keep in mind, in the LIVE version of these speeches, things said are not always the same as the printed text, and the deliveries… oh the deliveries — that do make a huge difference!)

But this year, there was also the un-prepared and oh so smooth and sincere speech by Jason Reynolds, a love song to his mother, who was IN THE HOUSE!  And the exhilarating, eloquent calls to action by Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X.  Ronald Smith’s reminder that not all African American authors must or do write about realistic, historical, African American lives but they should own the full range of literary genres and themes, fantasy, science fiction, and beyond.  Christian Robinson’s love for his Nana was evident; Kekla Magoon’s sense of responsibility was energizing; Ekua Holmes is not only a wonderful artist, but an impressive public speaker — I can’t wait to hear and see more from her!

I wish everyone could have been there listening to Bredan Kiely’s on-the-verge-of-tears-oh-no-I’m-actually-sobbing-as-I-lisetn-to-this highly self-aware and conscientious white, sis-gender, straight, privileged male (as he declared in his speech for All American Boys, co-authored with Jason Reynolds) author whose heart is on his sleeve and who shares his vulnerability without qualm.  (Have you read Gospel of Winter yet?  No?  Go get it!  It was the 2015 Top 10 Best Fiction for Young Adults!)  I really would love to see all of the speeches in print somewhere (since Horn Book only publishes the winners’ speeches).

Not only in print, actually!  I want video recordings so others can witness Jason Reynolds’ raw power when he declaimed his long, audience-jumping-up-from-their-seat-to-give-a-standing-ovation spoken word poem [which is published on the brand new CSK blog, entitled Clap Clap.]

[Since posting earlier today, Sam Bloom, a member of this year’s CSK Award Jury has sent me the link for a partial video of Jason’s speech posted by Patricia Enciso.  Click on the image to watch it!]

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Here are just a couple more snapshots of that auspicious morning which will forever imprint in my mind, same as last year and all the years before.

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The Tangled Web that is Amazon, Goodreads, B&N, and Consumer Self-Education

This morning, when I looked up reviews about This Way Home by Wes Moore and Shawn Goodman, I discovered the following:

  1. On Goodreads, the book is linked to Goodreads Author Wes Moore who wrote and self-published? books The Maker and Forcefully Advancing — both with 4-and-above star ratings (with 5 and 2 ratings each.)  Upon close examination, the actual author Wes Moore of This Way Home is not tagged as a Goodreads Author and on his author page This Wawy Home is not listed along with his three other titles. This could be the reason why the book was attributed to the wrong author.  Goodreads seems to rely on Goodreads Authors’  to actively remove books not written by them from their books list.  I sent a message to the Goodreads Author Wes Moore and will report back if he takes action to correct this mistake.
  2. On Amazon, This Way Home was linked to the correct Wes Moore.  However, an author search of Wes Moore brings up both This Way Home and Forcefully Advancing.  Navigating to Forcefully Advancing page, I saw that this book is frequently bought with The Other Wes Moore, a powerful and popular book (so ironic and confusing since there is a third real person Wes Moore whose story is told in The Other Wes Moore but is not either of these two authors.)  According to the book summary of Forcefully Advancing, r eaders will “learn how to make friends, start conversations, understand spiritual background and barriers, overcome objections, and share the message of Jesus” and “see what America could be like if the Great Commission is implemented across the nation.”
  3. Barnes & Noble also show that these two Wes Moores’ books are often viewed/bought together. `

What I learned today is:

  1. Goodreads or Amazon system administrators probably would NOT easily have caught or fixed these mistakes.
  2. The big consumer sites system designers sure will not make it a priority to report this kind of “small” mistakes.
  3. Even if it were easy to report, I wonder what they can actually do about it — manually remove “bought together” or “viewed together” data? Create a warning label that says, “Hey, there are more than one Wes Moore author up here, proceed with caution”?  Probably not!
  4. What it comes down to is for me the consumer to be more aware and vigilant of what I am reading and buying.  (Which kind of applies to all the discussions over online discourses about children’s literature, doesn’t it?  We should always be vigilant about what is being said, who says what, and why they say what they say.)

Here’s what I encountered and the process of determining for myself if I were to purchase a book by Wes Moore who wrote The Other Wes Moore which my upper middle school students gobble up and find compelling:

Definitely read the book description carefully.

This Way Home is about basketball, sinister street gang, courage to take a stand against the gang and that in the end, hope, love, and courage are our most powerful weapons.  Examining the other titles by this Goodreads Author Wes Moore, I realized that there must have been some confusion.

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I also took note how the number of ratings/reviews given to each title and evaluate the true meaning of the STARS.

Here on Amazon, Forcefully Advancing has a high-flying five-star rating (with 1 review) and The Other Wes Moore that is “Frequently Bought Together” has 4.5 stars (with 773 reviews).

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The bottom line – as a librarian for young consumers of both material goods and information, I shall focus more and more on how to educate my students to be clear-headed, detail-minded, and persistent when navigating the extremely tangled and confusing world of information.

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