Bookstores Abroad, Part 1

Leaving Washington, DC. August 2013.

Leaving Washington, DC. August 2013.

Attending the IRSCL conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands availed an opportunity to venture outside the comfort of my frequented local bookshops, Politics & Prose and Hooray for Books! Moreover, since I’ve begun to amass a collection of wordless picture books for both my teaching repertoire and current academic research on the topic of visual literacy, acquiring international titles serves these ends. I rightfully anticipated my visit to two cities in two European countries would prove fruitful. Adhering to one backpack rule, I prefer to travel light but at least I had the foresight to take a packable carry-on duffel bag for my return trip stateside. Although I didn’t anticipate the 26 pounds of hardcover books that I’d schlep for three hours through Philadelphia’s U.S. Customs & Immigration, I’m grateful to have had the occasion to explore the sights and shelves of a few European bookshops.

Tropismes, Brussels, Belgium

Beyond gardens and park benches, this was my first official stop in Brussels. As I approached the storefront, my eidetic memory flashed to a chase scene in the movie, Erased.  Indeed, it’s the same bookshop. Walking inside, I meandered through the various corridors and floors of books and stumbled upon a courtyard en route to the children’s book section.

Courtyard garden in bookstore.

Courtyard garden in bookstore.

Up a narrow flight of stairs to a top floor, I arrived.  White shelves brightened the space but the stuffy air pervaded every nook and cranny.  Determined to peruse every title, if need be, to locate wordless picture books, I finally asked a clerk for help, in French.  Now, French is the only subject in which I have received a “C”  and that was in 6th grade.  With the digital courage of Google Translate, I muttered “Excusez-moi, avez-vous un livre d’images sans paroles?” while holding up a book and repeating “sans paroles” She guided me to various shelves and within minutes I had a pile of books. Most strikingly, the size of these French titles, mainly oversized, varied from their American counterparts.

All smiles as I proudly display my finds.

All smiles as I clutch my finds.

Of all the picture books I browsed, I purchased a French Canadian title, La Mer by Marianne Dubuc.

Fast forward to September 2013. I’m teaching metacognitive reading strategies to my new class of first graders.  Using sentence frames, we’ve been practicing how to share our thinking aloud:

  • I see____.
  • I notice ____.
  • I think ____.
  • I predict ____.
  • I wonder ____.

While reading aloud La Mer, my classroom was abuzz with student-generated commentary. La Mer captured the wild imaginations of my students as they predicted the   escape of a flying red fish from the paws of its feline predator.  Did it matter to my students that the title is in French? No. Part of the wonder of this wordless picture books is how the visual narrative captivates child readers from a bevy of different cultures around the world. Returning to my travels…

Belgian Comic Strip Center, Brussels, Belgium

One of the greatest treasures I discovered in my grandparents’ attic was a box of early 1950s comic books belonging to my mom and Uncle.  From Archie and Veronica to Uncle Scrooge, I poured through every title in that box and begged my parents for more. From the late 1980s to early 1990s, I read every comic strip in the Sunday funnies, Garfield book, and Disney comic that came my way.  And my dad wholly supported this endeavor as he was the one venturing to the newsstand/comic book store on his business travels. Upon learning of a museum dedicated to comics in Brussels, Centre Belge de La Bande Dessinee (Belgian Comic Strip Center) I opted for this museum instead off Manneken Pis.  Clearly my childhood foray into comics just scratched the surface of this field. Two permanent exhibits caught my full attention, “The Invention of Comic Strip” and “The Art of Comic Strip.” The latter focused mainly on European comic strips but the former presented a general history as to the evolution of visual narratives. From Tin Tin and Spirou to the Smurfs, I walked away from the museum dumbfounded as to how entrenched European, specifically Belgian comics are in our shared culture.

Les Schtroumpfs

Les Schtroumpfs

While perusing the shelves at Tropismes, I stumbled upon a little wordless comic book entitled “Simon’s Cat On joue?” by Simon Tofield.  Laughing aloud in the store, costing 6.90 euros and measuring just shy of 6″x 6″, I just had to buy it. While browsing the Comic Strip Museum’s bookshop, I stumbled upon another Simon’s Cat title that I subsequently purchased. My laughter continued with this title too. Later in my travels, I mentioned my Simon’s Cat finds to some Children’s Literature scholars whom I had met at the IRSCL conference. Whoa! They thankfully informed me of this cartoon’s overwhelming popularity in the British Commonwealth (UK and Australia) and on You Tube videos; needless to say, I’m hooked. Here are my three personal faves…

The Five Cs: Summer Edition

Being that I’ve had an extended absence from my blog, I have a laundry list of topics to address in the coming days and weeks. Before I begin, I ought to address the reasons behind the gap in blog posts.  After all, my last entry dates back to May. Much of my silence ought to be attributed to, what I consider, the Five Cs. No, I don’t mean the 4 Cs of the sparkly diamond kind. Nor the 2013-2014 school year’s “buzz” words referring to the “Four Cs of 21st Century Learning:” Collaboration, Creativity, Communication and Critical Thinking. Rather, my time and energies over the summer months revolved around Kids (not mine, as I’m childless), Cats, Cancer, Class and a Conference. Forgive me for the letter-sound based 5Cs as I’m clearly a first grade teacher.

(1) Kids: I spent about 7+ weeks traveling this summer.  The majority of time was spent at my best friend’s home in Dallas, Texas.  I helped her and her husband care for their 3 year old and newborn as well as alleviate some household demands.  The experience not only opened my eyes to new found appreciation of parenthood but also aided me in overcoming my fear of babies.  I honed my diaper changing, bottle-feeding and burping skills as well as my ability to soothe a crying 3 year old in the middle of the night. I’m grateful for opportunity to become part of her family for a month and help them adjust to becoming a family of four.

Baby love.

Baby love.

(2) Cats: Prior to my Texas visit, I drove my beloved cat, Scooter, to my parent’s home in Florida to be cared for and loved while on my extended travels.  For the first few days Scooter appeared contented while he enjoyed the flora and fauna, mainly geckos, that South Florida has to offer. But a week after my departure for Texas, Scooter’s health rapidly declined and he succumbed to cancer.

Scooter.

Scooter.

He had been my best buddy and cuddliest feline roommate for the past 12 years. From his endless game of fetch with Q-tips to his love of water manifested by his jumping in the shower or sink at impromptu times, Scooter was quite a character.  Missing him seemed daunting as was the probable loneliness that I’d experience in my quiet studio apartment back in Virginia.  Just as I began to consider adopting another cat, there ran a local news story on overcrowding of cats in local humane shelters.  Needless to say, a few days later, I welcomed home an adorable kitten, Gretel.  Named after the Brothers’ Grimm heroine, of course!

Gretel @ 3.5 months.

Gretel @ 3.5 months.

(3) Cancer: I planned to return to my parents home for a short visit in late July but that became an extended stay. My mom has cancer, again.  In 1999, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After six months of chemo and radiation she was in remission and has remained status quo for over thirteen years.  Thankfully, modern science has tools to detect changes in tumor markers as such an elevation in conjunction with PET scans signaled metastatic breast cancer to her C5 vertebrae.  Much of my thoughts have been focused on her (and my dad) in the past few weeks as she heals from surgery removing and reconstructing the vertebrae. Radiation will soon follow in October. My mom is a warrior; she slayed this dragon once before and she’ll do it again!

Mom & Dad Visit Washington, DC (12/2011).

Mom & Dad Visit Washington, DC (12/2011).

(4) Class: Clearly grad schooling is my favorite pastime. From May to August, I completed a prerequisite course for my M.Ed–LL ED 568 Doing Research in Children’s Literature. I am amazed at the theoretical dialogue and collaborative research my classmates and I produced.  Certainly the caliber of critical analysis raised the bar for each of us in our weekly readings, discussion and online posts. Using a wikispace, we drafted a “keyword” entry on the topic of “intertextuality” to delineate how it is defined and relates to children’s literature. Of course, this entry is based on the formulaic presentation from Philip Nel and Lissa Paul’s Keywords for Children’s Literature (2011). In fact, I suggested the inclusion of this keyword to the editors, Nel and Paul at the IRSCL conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands in August. Which bring me to the final C.

Keywords for Children's Literature. Eds. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York & London: New York UP, 2011.

Keywords for Children’s Literature. Eds. Philip Nel and Lissa Paul. New York & London: New York UP, 2011.

(5) Conference: In August I traveled to Brussels, Belgium and then onto Maastricht, The Netherlands to attend the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children’s Literature.  Amazing!  This conference necessitates its own separate post. I met so many wonderful scholars in the field from all over the world and made new friends along the way.  The breadth of research presented that stems from the intersection of digital media and children’s literature has framed many future research questions for me to explore in the coming years. The hospitality of the University and the events planned around the conference sessions were delightful. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity for my attendance to this IRSCL conference confirmed my decision to pursue a doctorate in the field of children’s literature.

ID Badge from Conference.

ID Badge from Conference.

I suppose that there exists a touch of irony in the fact that I’m too busy to blog during summer vacation but have ample time to blog during the school year.  Regardless, I’m back, happily blogging about all things related to my foray into the field of children’s literature and related topics.