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Personal Views

PaperTigers' 10th Anniversary
by Peter Coughlan

Peter Coughlan Ph.D. is the Founder and Executive Director of PaperTigers: Books+Water

PaperTigers 10th Anniversary Poster designed by John ParraIn the course of the last month, beginning on October 10, we have been celebrating the 10th anniversary of PaperTigers: Books+Water. It has been a celebration full of color and vitality. Thanks to so many who have joined us in this celebration, it has been characterized by the blend of cheerful playfulness and rich content that the different editors have made a hallmark of PaperTigers in the course of these ten years.

At the heart of the celebration, as you can see by browsing through the recent blog posts, has been the series of Top Ten multicultural children’s books. These have been chosen by editors and contributors who have been responsible for creating PaperTigers over the years and who have enriched the site and blog with book reviews, illustrations, interviews, personal views, and hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts, Tweets, and Facebook entries that stretch across the wide range of children’s and young adult literature. The Top Ten choices spotlight a fascinating variety of multicultural children’s books including Deborah Ellis’ Books that Open Windows (a theme especially dear to us all at PaperTigers), right through to two Top Ten multicultural children’s books about food – a double helping from Grace Lin and Jama Rattigan – featuring tasty and enticing recipes for boys and girls young and, perhaps, not so young!  There is ample fare in all of our Top Ten selections. Take a look if you have not had the chance up to now.

You will also find entries from the three principal editors who, alongside so many colleagues, friends and contributors, have developed PaperTigers over the years. The three articles of these editors, Elisa Oreglia, Aline Pereira, and Marjorie Coughlan, express the wishes and hopes, the ideals and spirit of PaperTigers. They convey the why and the what of these ten years, and point to milestones – “smilestones” as Aline calls them – along the way.

First Phase

As I mused on our three editors' articles, my mind went back to the beginning. PaperTigers was launched in 2002, which Elisa’s essay describes well. It was three or four years earlier, however, in our experience offering the Kiriyama Book Prize, that PaperTigers had its origins. The prize focused on adult fiction and nonfiction books with two panels of judges that sought outstanding works which contributed in a significant way to greater understanding of, and empathy with and among, the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia. Given the goals of the prize, the WaterBridge Review website was also established alongside it. This complimented the prize by offering adult book reviews, interviews, and numerous other features to do with adult literature relating to the Pacific Rim and South Asia.

As the prize grew rapidly, publishers began to send in children’s books in increasing numbers. In itself this was welcome, but it raised a problem for the judges. For the most part, as is evident, the authors and illustrators of children’s books have a different audience in mind to the authors of books intended for adults. It is not a question of books for adults being considered “better than” or “superior to” books for children, or vice-versa, but of the language, style and shape of books for children or adults deliberately taking into account and being written for different age groups. The judges felt, reasonably enough, that for this prize as for similar prizes it was unfair to the books concerned to attempt to compare them side by side.

What to do? Bridging cultures, opening minds was the motto we had adopted. If overcoming cultural stereotyping and prejudice, and making at least a small contribution to global harmony and peace were central aims in what we were doing, then the importance of presenting books that could touch the minds and hearts of children, books that of themselves would encourage children to become “hungry readers”, was obvious. Bearing in mind that we would be reaching out to the teachers and librarians, parents and guardians who introduce books to children rather than doing so directly ourselves, I set about looking at what we could do in regard to children’s literature. In 2000 I invited Elisa to join me in this and thus began what could be described as the first of four phases in the life of PaperTigers up to the present.

After considering whether to develop a prize or a website, we chose the idea of the PaperTigers website and Elisa’s recent personal view describes the early period well, including the inspired design contributions of Rolf Mortenson and Eun-Ha Paek. While some features have been discarded in the course of time, central features have remained and Elisa must take the credit for that. When Elisa, as agreed, headed for China after three years, the baton passed for a short but valuable time to Anthony Dwyer in Sydney, and then for a while became a shared operation between Laura Atkins in London and Alissa Chadburn in San Francisco, with Elisa still contributing from Beijing! We can all be grateful for what each of them contributed in carrying PaperTigers forward at that time.

Second Phase

The second stage in PaperTigers’ journey began in 2004 when I invited Aline, originally from Brazil but long since in San Francisco, to become managing editor of PaperTigers. Aline worked closely with Marjorie, who lives in North Yorkshire, UK, and who joined as associate editor in 2005. Together, they brought PaperTigers to a new level. While continuing to give particular attention to the Pacific Rim and South Asia, it was decided to open PaperTigers up to children’s books from anywhere in the world, provided they were in English or at least bilingual with English.
Every aspect of the site was developed further in this period. At the center of Aline and Marjorie’s efforts were the bimonthly themes in which the reviews, illustrators’ gallery, interviews, personal views and everything else were gathered in abundance. These bimonthly themes, which continued into the third phase (described below) and have continued bimonthly or otherwise since then, have covered a fascinating variety of topics and countries. They give the site wide scope and a truly international and trans-cultural flavor. Some of the themes have presented and celebrated children’s literature in particular countries. These have included, for example, Canada, India, Korea, Mongolia, and the Philippines – and I would hazard a guess that not many English-language websites have focused on children’s literature in Mongolia! Other themes have considered topics such as Refugee Children(a particularly moving and important issue), Water (a theme covered earlier this year), How Children Play around the World, and subjects as different as the sobering War, Peace and Social Justice in Children’s Books and the heart-lifting and joyful Music in Children’s Literature. You can delve into all these themes and more by visiting the past issues archive on the site’s home page. Once there you will find many opportunities to browse and, if this is your first time there, you might be surprised by the site’s depth and breadth.  
The work achieved by the editors has been recognized by many, including recognition by the American Library Association of the PaperTigers website as one of the “Great Websites” for Teachers, Librarians and Parents, and by the world-renowned Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award which invited PaperTigers to become a nominator for the award in 2009 – a role it has been proud to carry out.

Third Phase

In 2006, the second phase blended with, and continued into, a third phase in PaperTigers’ pilgrim path. This phase can be summed up in one word: the blog. I had felt for some time that alongside the impressive bimonthly themes that Aline and Marjorie were producing, we also needed something that would allow PaperTigers to be more immediately engaged and topical, responsive and interactive. The idea of a blog was chosen to meet this need for the back and forth of dialogue, local and global. I invited Janet Brown (Seattle, and subsequently Bangkok), Sally Ito (Winnipeg), Charlotte Richardson (Portland), and Corinne Robson (Vancouver) to work alongside Aline and Marjorie in bringing this into being. The blog was soon up and running, and it has proved a wonderful way of reaching out to, learning from, and working with so many other people who, in their sites and blogs and multiple initiatives, are deeply engaged in and committed to literacy and literature for children and young adults.

In her 10th anniversary article Elisa remarked - in regard to the “whole wonderful tribe” of people engaged in children’s books - she had “never, ever encountered, before or since, such a welcoming, friendly, and passionate community.” I would certainly second that. “Passionate” is the right word. In my experience incentives matter far less than motivation for those participating actively in this world of children’s literature. And they not only see it as really and truly important, they have great fun engaging in it too!

The blog continues to blossom and flourish and this is thanks to the creativity, dedication and energy of those engaged in it – principally now Marjorie as editor and Corinne as associate editor, but always depending also on so many reviewers, friends and participants who share and dialogue with them from around the globe. Alongside the reviews and posts, long and short, a whole host of other fun initiatives has grown up around the blog and you will find these highlighted on the blog sidebar: Corinne’s Calendar of Children’s Literature Events; Around the World in 100 Bookshelves; The Tiger’s Bookshelf; Reading the World Challenge; and so on.

Fourth Phase

The most recent development in the PaperTigers story is - alongside the main site and the blog, which continue through from the second and third phases - WaterBridge Outreach, as summed up in the phrase Books+Water: Nourishing the Mind and Body. This springs from the desire firstly, to put books into the hands of children, especially in areas of need around the world - multicultural books that children can enjoy and that help open young minds and hearts to the world beyond their immediate experience. Secondly, I have been lecturing for some time at a college of the University of London in the area of applied ethics and, specifically, about the challenges facing our world at the nexus of water, food and energy in the context of climate change/global warming. Literacy and reading yes, but the lack of clean water and basic sanitation is a significant impediment to education, especially the education of girls, in too many parts of the world. Thinking about this led to the decision to expand our programs in 2009/2010 under the banner of PaperTigers: Books+Water, thus including not only the PaperTigers site and blog but also the practical WaterBridge Outreach programs – books and water here being specific expressions of the insight that education and the meeting of basic human needs must move forward together.

Dr Barbara Bundy, Theresa Gee and Gail Tsukiyama are closely involved in the development of this program in different ways, and it owes a very great deal to their input. As in every phase to date, the imaginative work of our talented web designer Eun-Ha, working from Brooklyn, is also evident: our new PaperTigers: Books+Water logo is her work!

As you will see at the WaterBridge Outreach site, we have been sending out books to different parts of the world. Over the previous three years we referred to this as the Spirit of PaperTigers Outreach. The PaperTigers inspiration or spirit continues with the new name, but WaterBridge was chosen for a number of reasons. The “bridge” continues the Bridging cultures, opening minds theme I mentioned earlier, and it conveys, as our WaterBridge Review sought to do at an earlier time, the idea of making connections across all the seas and lands of our globe. In a sense one could say that making connections is what PaperTigers is all about!

Since water is one of the two central planks in our PaperTigers: Books+Water mission, WaterBridge conveys that too. In particular areas such as La Gonave in Haiti, Nagaland in northeast India, and Tamil Nadu in southeast India, we already have, partnering with other nonprofit organizations, various forms of water projects under way and we want to develop our water projects further in these areas. We are also looking at the possible development of similar projects in Guatemala and South Sudan, and working with Navajo and Hopi colleagues in education about water and water needs in Native American areas of Arizona. These are early days but, following up earlier visits, I will be going to Nagaland and Tamil Nadu in December this year to develop our projects, and Theresa will be going to Arizona. Writers Gail Tsukiyama and Mary Roach will be with me in India – the beginnings of an initiative that Gail hopes to develop as Writers for WaterBridge Outreach. We have a long journey ahead of us, but at least we have taken the first few vital steps!

In her delightful personal view for our 10th anniversary, Aline speaks about having helped raise the Tiger from cub to young adult and adds, “I raise a glass of fresh, clean water” in honor of PaperTigers. Thoughts and heartfelt thanks go out to Aline, to all who have visited our site, blog and outreach pages, and as Marjorie said in the article with which our anniversary opened, to “all those people who make PaperTigers possible: the team, past, present and even future; authors, illustrators and contributors; teachers, librarians and literacy advocates; publishers; the kidlitosphere and reading/literacy organizations – all with a shared purpose of opening the world to children through books and reading.”

In my mind’s eye I have often thought of each book review, illustrators’ gallery, personal view, blog post as stones skimming across the waters of the oceans and sending out ripples upon ripples to people and places we will never know. All of these PaperTigers items have touched each of us who have been engaged in this project, but who knows how many other hearts and minds will also have been touched by these ten years of PaperTigers’ ripples? As PaperTigers continues to reach out, its ideals are rooted in the hope and belief that a harmonious human community is worth aiming at and that, to some extent at least, it is even possible to achieve.

Thank you for joining us in this celebration of our 10th anniversary. These ten years have been an exciting and worthwhile experience and we look forward to moving toward the next ten years!

Posted November 2012

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