Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Youth Media Awards Therapy™

A couple weeks after the Youth Media Awards announcements and the buzz and conversation continues to grow. I'm also still gleeful from my first ever YMA viewing party with my students, declaring the importance of children's literature together in the midst of finals. So, no, YMA Therapy isn't about debating the winners or questioning the committees. There are plenty of blogs and resources to discuss all the feels, especially if you want to talk about the 2016 Newbery award going to two picture books (Lookin' good, Roller Girl! I knew these Trading Cards would come in handy!).

I had the privilege of reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, to a group of 5th graders and they blew my mind with their keen insights. One of my favorite moments was when one student connected the rush of the city to the city of Reality in The Phantom Tollbooth, which disappeared when people stopped noticing it. Last Stop on Market Street calls us to notice the beauty in everyday life and ordinary people, to find wisdom in the journey, and see the world with fresh eyes. I am excited to hear how these conversations are happening across all grade levels. I can't wait to read it to my college students during our storytelling class. And can I just say how excited I am for Jacqueline Woodson's May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture? I am determined to road trip it to the library lucky enough to host this incredible storyteller.

My kind of YMA Therapy is inspired by the Third Coast International Audio Festival's Podcast Therapy, their listener's advisory service that matches people with audio wonders that meet their moods and interests (and solve their problems) during fantastic live events. According to TCIAF's explanation, "Our Third Coast Podcast Therapists ™ - highly trained listeners with a vast trove of audio delights – are here to help. We work with listeners (individuals and couples) in all stages of life: from those who confuse podcasts with peapods, to the self-assured ear-bud wearer in search of new sonic horizons. Bring your problems, your smartphone, and your ears, and leave with the perfect podcast prescription." As librarians, we're all about connecting people with material they're interested in and helping them find that next great story. (I can't be the only one who immediately thinks of a podcast to share when someone comes to me for a reading recommendation or research project.) Thinking about those who have diligently and selflessly served on the committees, after intense, magical, perhaps heated, but always thoughtful deliberations, after months of reading (and re-reading and re-reading...) and note-taking and taking notes on the notes, they may want to take a break from books or at least have more time to explore media beyond what's eligible. I offer my YMA Therapy™ services to help suggest podcasts to some of these committees. Whether you are a podcast aficionado or just starting to explore this Best-Thing-Since-Sliced-Bread, hopefully there's something in these recommendations that you'll enjoy. And if you mocked like a rock star, are eager to dive into audio storytelling, or just enjoy bookish things, these suggestions are for you, too. Feel free to share your own YMA Therapy™ suggestions for various committees in the comments. Which podcasts would you recommend? Like the YMAs, they are just some of the phenomenal stories that we can share with our reading communities.

                     Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

The Printz focuses on the literary merit of teen literature using open-minded and flexible criteria that allow committee members to think outside the box. The best young adult literature takes risks, tries new things in format, style, and narrative structure, and offers innovative and fresh voices. This year's award winner, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, was one of the most original and captivating stories I have ever read, one that lingered in my mind long after the last page. It's a book that made me desperately want to talk about it with others. For a podcast that leaves a long-lasting impression, using extremely well-crafted writing and superb plotting, my YMA Therapy™ recommendation is The Truth, produced by Jonathan Mitchell.

With the tagline "Movies For Your Ears," The Truth offers radio drama as you've never heard it before, so headphones are definitely a must. When you listen to The Truth, you are there, whether it's an underground city, the campaign trail for Santa, an alien planet, or spin class. Artfully playing with the conventions of storytelling, The Truth always has twists and turns that leave me guessing - just like the best YA. Excellent episodes to begin with are False Ending (A satire within an enigma within a film within a radio story), The Extractor (The sounds we make don't just fade away; they're embedded in the wood around us), and Chaotic Neutral (A game of Dungeons & Dragons is thrown into chaos, in this story about fantasy, reality, and a chaotic neutral wizard named Nicholas Cage). But my all time favorite The Truth episode is Silvia's Blood, based on Philip K. Dick's short story "Upon the Dull Earth." In it, "A young couple performs a strange blood ritual to invoke angels." Whenever I walk down by the street when I first listened to this story on my way to Skokie Public Library, I am back in that foreboding forest with an impossible choice to make. Such is the power of immersive storytelling that engage all of our senses. For teens, The Truth episodes could also be great mentor texts to help them create their own audio dramas or short stories. Who knows what innovative literacy programming will be inspired by binge-listening The Truth? You'll have to try it to find out.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal & 
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults 

The Sibert and YALSA Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults committees understand the craft of carefully organized informational texts and how well-designed nonfiction stands out. True stories told well can stir the imagination and make us see the world in new ways or worlds we didn't even know existed. Podcasts helped me realize that I love informational texts, that I constantly consume nonfiction and relish documentary storytelling, which made challenge my own genre preferences.

 If you're craving more informational materials that pursue the truth, there are many incredible podcasts for you! For those working with youth, I think Radio Diaries' Teenage Diaries Series, founded by Joe Richman, should be required listening. Young people were given tape recorders and the space to create documentary accounts of their lives. It's an intimate window into teens' lives that is rarely shared. There are even accounts from some of the teenagers as adults showing where their lives have taken them. Teenage Diaries reveals the incredible gift of giving someone the tools and opportunity to tell their story. 

Another exceptional podcast that shows the power of giving someone a forum to be heard is Strangers, produced by Lea Thau. She describes each episode as "an empathy shot in your arm, featuring true stories about about the people we meet, the connections we make, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that WE aren’t even who we thought we were." Listening to Strangers feels like eavesdropping on a deeply personal conversation that somehow is connected to you. It feels like Humans of New York - actually Humans of the World - for your ears. I recommend starting your journey with The Teacher who Couldn't ReadHenry and Jane, and the very first episode, A Father's Story

If you're in the mood for something scientific in your informational media, check out the Hidden Brain podcast, hosted by Shankar Vedantam.  From switchtracking, resolutions, compassion, and motivation, Hidden Brain offers fascinating commentary on how we work (or epically fail). I particularly enjoyed the Students and Teachers episode and the Christmas episode about the science of generosity. 

Another incredible podcast that is a must-listen for nonfiction fans is Invisiblia, co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, which examines "the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.. interweav[ing] narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently." As that old MTV Diary tagline goes, You think you know... but you have no idea. Listening to Invisiblia is like discovering a new country that you never heard of, yet makes perfect sense that it would be there. It shakes ingrained beliefs and pushes me to examine new ones, like how thoughts work.

But if you're burned out on nonfiction and want something completely different, like stories that blur the lines between truth and fiction, podcasts are the perfect medium for these narrative adventures.

One of the best podcasts that stretches the art form is Serendipity, produced by Ann Heppermann and Martin Johnson, which deliberately play with reality and offer stories as I have never heard them before. They also encourage new radio creators through the Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award, aka The Sarah Awards. I've been listening to Ep. #3: Sleeping Girl, which was written and produced by Eliza Smith and Mark Ristich, on repeat.

Another fantastic podcast that makes me think differently about what's possible in audio is the Radiotonic podcast from RN’s Creative Audio Unit in Australia, offering documentaries, radio dramas, meditations, and more. You know you'll have to listen to The Search for Tiny Libraries in New Zealand. Equally satisfying are the radio serials based on real events, Highway of Lost Hearts (A woman, a dog, a campervan and 4,500 km of wide open road. What do you do when your heart goes missing?) and A Thoroughly Wet Mess (Sophie and Marc have been invited aboard a replica of the Mary Celeste, the famous ghost ship whose captain and crew disappeared into thin air in 1872. Now they’re about to recreate their ancestors’ fateful voyage, with other descendants of the original crew. What could go wrong?) Each piece offers something entirely different, which makes each listening experience a new adventure.

The Randolph Caldecott Medal

I expect things never look the same way again after serving on the Caldecott committee. I wonder if after their deliberations, committee members feel like Dorothy entering Oz when they spot new picture books, their understanding transforming it into technicolor. They appreciate the hidden language of design, the important choices illustrators make to convey meaning, and the power of visual storytelling. 

So my YMA Therapy™ recommendation for Caldecott committee members and picture book enthusiasts must be 99% Invisible, hosted by Roman Mars, "a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world. Each episode is a sound-rich deep dive into a single topic." If you want more Dorothy moments that make you see the world in a new light, 99% Invisible will blow your mind with its revelations about the built world. Think of it as Molly Bang's Picture This for your ears. It illuminates the ways design shapes our lives and impacts our society, with both an individual and global scope. Picture book advocates appreciate the power of a visual experience on young minds and its far-reaching effect. They also recognize the power of wonder - and 99% Invisible operates on a steady diet of curiosity. Warning: You will want to dig deeper after each episode and dive into research mode after listening, but I think that might be your jam as information professionals. But it's also the beating heart within each episode, the larger social themes of the story, that compel me to keep listening. Everything around us is made up of story - and we just need someone willing to discover what it is. Like a beautifully made picture book, each episode is expertly crafted and sound-designed to make you visualize the world. Even places I've seen most of my adult life became new after listening to 99% Invisible, so I'd recommend starting with Purple Reign, the fantastic saga of the famous/infamous Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood, IL with many different stories to tell. I was lucky enough to purchase a purple brick that benefited Lincolnwood Public Library - and it means so much more to me because of this story. My understanding of cities and the urban landscape was transformed after listening to The Arsenal of Exclusion and Names vs. The Nothing. And if you are in the mood for a scrappy undergrad students' research saving the day through math story, you must listen to Structural Integrity. A fellow nerdy librarian and I agreed it's 99% Invisible at its best during a conversation about the design of Australia's capital, as you do. I also appreciate the episodes focused on moments that are magnified like Game Over, the story of the end of The Sims Online/EA Land and the community that formed around this massively-multiplayer online game. I often play the episode for my students and we talk about how stories inspire empathy.

Note: This episode originally aired on Snap Judgement, which is another exceptional podcast that you should definitely check out. Also, you should listen to every episode that discusses Vexillology (and also watch Roman Mars' TEDTalk). Picture book fans can dig a well-made flag.

For all of you who searched for the best of the best, the literature that will engage and inspire young readers, including all of the extremely dedicated people who put together the incredible selected book and media lists, like YALSA's Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Best Fiction for Young Adults, Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and ALSC's Children's Notable Books, Recordings, and Videosone final recommendation about a podcast that seeks out distinguished stories too.

The Third Coast International Audio Festival collects the best radio stories from around the world and shares it on their show, Re: Sound, produced by Dennis Funk, hosted by Gwen Macsai.  I have discovered some of my favorite podcasts and audio producers and developed my appreciation for this art form because of Re:Sound. You will love listening to The Stories from Childhood Show with stories about Dr. Seuss, L. Frank Baum, and Margaret Wise Brown. You may think about childhood in a new way after listening to The Kids' Secret Places Show, produced by Katie Mingle. I am particularly fond of The Quiet Show, which offers a meditative treatise on whispering that shows how loud we can be when we listen. With an infinite assortment of stories shared each week, you're bound to find something pleasing to your ears. And when you find something you adore, please share it and continue the YMA [Podcast] Therapy™. After all, that's what we do as librarians.

Happy listening!  

A YMA Therapy™ Extra....
I love when podcasts have extra content or previews at the very end of their episodes, filling in the minutes with as much excellent content as they can, so I figured I'd list some of my favorite children's literature podcasts. It's incredibly exciting to see the growth in this field over the past couple years and I hope more people decide to make the podcast of their dreams. Podcasts led me to where I am now, so I know firsthand how powerful they can be.

All the Wonders with Matthew Winner
Episode to start with: Kwame Alexander (Episode 226)

The Yarn Podcast, co-hosted by Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker
Episode to start with: Episode 9: Fact or Fiction 

Brain Burps about Books, hosted by Katie Davis
Episode to start with: What is Literacy? The First Three National Ambassadors for Young People’s Literature

Kids Comics Revolution, hosted by Dave Roman and Jerzy Drozd
Episode to start with: Zita the Spacegirl (Book Club) 
Episode to start with: A Conversation with Kazu Kibuishi
Episode to start with: Tim Federle 
Episode to start with: The Little Mermaid 


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