The activity I chose to discuss diversity was attending the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference. I decided to attend two 30-minute presentations with a focus on graphic novels and gaming. The two featured speakers were Max Brooks and Stan Sakai. Max Brooks discussed the inspiration and lessons incorporated into his new novel, Minecraft: The Mountain, geared towards children aged 8-12. Stan Sakai discussed the inspiration and morals embedded in his graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo, geared towards young adults aged 12-18. Although aimed towards different age groups, these texts appeal to a male audience and integrate different aspects of the author’s culture.
As I listened to these sessions, it was interesting to learn how much research was involved. In Max’s session, he said, “When the world changes, you have to change with it to not just survive but thrive.” He explained his decision to locate his Robinsonade in the Minecraft world as Minecraft was one way to teach children real world skills, such as perseverance and problem-solving, using a fictional world and disasters. Therefore, to have as accurate and realistic world-building and character progression as possible, the author spent many hours learning how to play in survival mode. Equally, Stan’s graphic novels are grounded in Japanese samurai culture and history. He mentioned the character of Tomoe Ame and how her story was based on a female samurai called Tomoe Gozen. Having learned that both texts incorporated research, I was impressed by the paths that both books took while embodying similar lessons in self-knowledge and prosocial behaviours.
One gap that I was interested in filling was understanding why authors might choose the characters they did. Max’s character is a human that transmigrated into the Minecraft world and Stan’s character is a rabbit samurai. Anthropomorphic animals are common in children’s literature. In Larsen et al.’s (2018) article, their research found that having human main characters significantly affected whether the children internalised the lessons (p. 6). Therefore, using the Minecraft character was more effective in conveying the novel’s message to its readers. At the same time, anthropomorphic animals can work for Stan’s novel because teenagers are at a point in their lives where they are self-conscious. Hence, they can empathize with the animals being subjected to the human gaze and learning to engage in behaviours not usually associated with their animal identity (You, 2018, p. 504). Therefore, in my future career with children and young adults, I would think about diversity in the collection whether in format or genre to make sure that parents, children, and young adults have access to different ways in which to learn about a topic. I would also think about how I can engage children and young adults in library programming with games like Minecraft.
American Library Association. (2021). Stan Sakai: Featured speaker, Graphic Novel and Gaming Stage. https://www.eventscribe.net/2021/ALA-Midwinter/fsPopup.asp?Mode=presInfo&PresentationID=802248
American Library Association. (2021). Max Brooks: Featured Speaker, Graphic Novel and Gaming Stage. https://www.eventscribe.net/2021/ALA-Midwinter/fsPopup.asp?Mode=presInfo&PresentationID=802247
Larsen, N. E., Lee, K., & Ganea, P. A. (2018). Do storybooks with anthropomorphized animal characters promote prosocial behaviors in young children? Developmental Science, 21(3), e12590. https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12590
You, C. (2018). Harmony, home and anthropomorphism: Representation of minority nationalities in contemporary Chinese Ethnic Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 49(4), 499–515. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-017-9318-6