Healthy Living in the North

Libraries: a place for all

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

A selection of books with LGBTQ2 related themes.When youth use public libraries, they are often searching for fictional narratives with lived experiences similar to their own, or, in some instances, health information specific to their needs and lifestyles. But, health information is not all that LGBTQ2 youth search for when visiting libraries.

Young Adult novels focused on LGBTQ2 characters and narratives are currently some of the most popular titles among all youth. Novels and feature films such Becky Albertalli’s Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda are dominating bestsellers lists this year. Narratives featuring relatable LBGTQ2 characters, including storylines around how they make it through difficult times, can help the reader normalize their sense of self-identity. In a research study from the University of Northern British Columbia, it was found that LGTBQ2 youth, when searching for [health] information, sought not only validity in information, but also a feeling of safety when searching and accessing this highly sensitive information in their lives.[1]

Public libraries are welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2 youth. Youth programs are created without sexual orientation or personal identity in mind. Instead, the focus is on engaging, educating and making sure that youth are having fun, meeting others their own age, and interacting in a friendly and safe environment.

A sign welcoming all cultures, beliefs, orientations, genders, people.Did you know that LGBTQ2 youth are at a higher risk for suffering from issues related to mental health than others their age? LGBTQ2 youth face greater stigmatization and societal pressure to conform to perceived heteronormative expectations and, in turn, are more likely to internalize their struggles, putting their mental health at risk.

This stigmatization is generated by a variety of factors, including:

  • Popular culture perpetuating heterosexual norms – e.g. boys and girls dating, getting married, etc. – and sensationalizing non-heterosexual experiences.
  • Lack of mental health and general health information directly oriented toward LGBTQ2 members in communities.
  • Fear of coming out and concern about not being accepted by friends, family, and social groups.

By providing inclusive spaces, like the public library, that are accepting of everyone, regardless of their personal identity or sexual orientation, we can support their mental and physical safety.

Safe and inclusive spaces prevent stigma, by providing youth with a neutral ground where they can be themselves. These spaces can exist anywhere, whether it’s a school classroom, workplace, or the family household. Creating these spaces is achievable as long as the adults and mentors in the lives of these youth take the time to advocate for their basic needs.

These principles are applicable in any environment. Public libraries are a great example of how these values can be applied to a diverse and complex environment, as the mandate of many public libraries is to meet the basic needs of each and every patron.

Encouraging LGBTQ2 youth to embrace safe and inclusive spaces all around them ensures they have areas of solitude where acceptance of all identities is guaranteed, and where they can be themselves.

Contact your local libraries and see what resources and information is available for LGBTQ2 youth; you may be surprised what you’ll find!

Here’s how you can help!

When creating inclusive spaces, it’s important to recognize some general principles that help establish the space as welcoming for LGTBQ2 youth, including:

  • Using inclusive language and proper gender pronouns (e.g. they/their rather than he/she)
  • Encouraging open and accepting attitudes
  • Providing basic education & understanding of various gender identities and sexual orientations
  • Providing youth with opportunities to explore the lived experiences of others like them via books, television, web, or guest speakers

 

[1] Hawkins, Blake. 2017. Does Quality Matter? Health Information Behaviors of LGBTQ Youth in Prince George, Canada. Presented at 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Washington, DC. Oct. 27-Nov. 1, 2017.

About Christopher Knapp

Christopher Knapp is the Teen Librarian at the Prince George Public Library.

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First Nations books: Children’s books exploring the Northwest Coast

Library bookshelf

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge! When you are next searching, be sure to check out the collection of vibrant, beautiful books featuring local First Nations stories!

The hunt for the perfect children’s book can be a challenge. The number of options available can be overwhelming. In British Columbia, especially in the North, we are lucky enough to have access to culturally diverse reading material to offer our children.

Where I live, books featuring the Northwest’s vibrant First Nations cultures provide an opportunity for members of these communities to share their culture with others. In addition, for First Nations children, having materials that feature their local culture allows them to see images they are able to identify with and relate to. While it is also important to expose children to topics and subjects outside of their culture (broad background knowledge is important to later reading comprehension) having relatable materials can be a great way to transmit important information to the next generation.

The problem? Sometimes these books are not quite at the level that we need for a particular child. Rather than writing them off, though, try adapting the books to make them “just right” for your child’s level of development!

Garfinkel Publications has published a lovely series of books about exploring the Northwest Coast. Titles include Where is Mouse Woman?, Goodnight World, and Learn & Play with First Nations and Native Art. The images in these books are beautiful and very eye-catching for young children. Many of these stories are great for toddlers as there are lots of labels and not too much text.

How to adapt for the older preschool child? Try describing the pictures in more detail, or have the child make up a story for the images on the page. The picture provides them with a topic and allows them to practice using different kinds of sentences. It also gives the adult a chance to provide additional information that might not be in the book.

One of my personal favourites featuring a Northwest story is the book Raven: A Tricktser Tale from the Pacific Northwest, by Gerald McDermott. This book is a recounting of a traditional Haida story of how the sun came to be. The story is beautifully written but can be a bit long for some preschool children. Try simplifying the story, sticking only to the key elements (this means you will have to preread and do a bit of planning). As your child grows, you can add in more of the story or choose just a few pages (whichever ones your child is interested in) to discuss.

The great thing about books is there are many ways to read them. Feel free to be flexible in your story time to make whichever books you like work for you and your child.


Learn more about Northern Health’s Speech and Language Program.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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Wordless picture books and pre-literacy

Grandmother reading to grandchild

Make book time even more valuable by reading with your child rather than to your child. Some of the best books to promote conversational book reading are actually books with no words at all.

In this day and age, every parent of a preschooler has heard about the importance of reading to his or her child. These moments between caregiver and child are an important first step in a child’s literacy journey. Before learning to read, a child has to develop a variety of skills in the following three areas:

  • alphabet knowledge,
  • phonological awareness, and
  • vocabulary and oral language.

Alphabet knowledge is the ability to name and distinguish the shapes of letters. Phonological awareness refers to knowledge of the sounds of language, independent of the letters. This includes tasks such as rhyming and determining what sounds a word starts or ends with. Finally, vocabulary and oral language refer to the number of words the child understands and uses, as well as their ability to understand and use different kinds of sentences. All of these skills can be developed through shared book time.

Caregivers can make book time even more valuable by reading with your child rather than to your child. Some of the best books to promote conversational book reading are actually books with no words at all. The last skill area mentioned, vocabulary and oral language, is especially easy to work on when using wordless picture books. By not having written words limiting you, the story can become anything you want it to be! A child’s imagination can take centre stage as they provide their own dialogue for the story. You can help them tell their story by providing them with a model (“I think …”) or sometimes a question (“What’s happening on this page?” “What might happen next?”) Simply describing the picture on each page can be a great activity to develop oral language skills.

Because there is no print, it can also be easier to work on phonological awareness as your child can concentrate on just the sounds and not the letters. Try to think of some rhyming words for pictures on the page.

Wordless picture books are a great way to enjoy a slightly different kind of story time with your child. By turning reading time into a conversation, you are able to better promote those essential pre-literacy skills.

Wordless books to explore!

  • A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog (by: Mercer Mayer); age level 0-3; reading level: pre-reader
  • Good Night Gorilla (by: Peggy Raithmann); age level 3-6; reading level: pre-reader
  • Find the Kitten (by: Stephen Cartwright); age level 2 and up; reading level: pre-reader
  • Good Dog Carl (by: Alexandra Day); age level 3-6; reading level: pre-reader
  • Pancakes for Breakfast (by: Tomie de Paola); age level 3-6; reading level: beginning reader
  • Inside Outside (by: Lizi Boyd); age level 3-6; reading level: beginning reader
  • Banana! (by: Jonathan Allen); age level 3-6; reading level: preschool

Find books at your local library!

Learn more about Northern Health’s Speech & Language Program.

Jackie Taylor

About Jackie Taylor

Jackie is a speech and language pathologist living and working in Queen Charlotte, Haida Gwaii. She grew up on the opposite coast (Saint John, New Brunswick) and graduated from McGill University in 2011. When she isn’t working, Jackie enjoys running and taking her dog for swims in the ocean.

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