Friday, July 29, 2016

2016 Newbery Medal Winner: Last Stop on Market Street

by Moeko Noda
Summer 2016 Intern

If you read books as a child, you’re sure to have come across a Newbery Medal winner at least a few times. If you write children’s books, it’s likely that you at some point dreamt of winning the Newbery.

The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association (ALA) to the most distinguished American children’s book published during the previous year. Each year the selection committee chooses one Medal winner and also recognizes other worthy books as Newbery Honor books. Named after the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award is the oldest children’s book award in the world.

This year’s Newbery Medal winner was awarded on the cold Monday morning of January 11 at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston. The award went to Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. The book follows an African American boy and his grandmother on their trip on a bus and centers on their conversation about the beauty of urban life. The committee’s selection was received with surprise because Last Stop on Market Street was the first true picture book to receive the honor.

De la Peña also has the honor of being the first Latino author to win the Newbery Medal. The book garnered a lot of attention for its focus on diversity, along with its author’s background. However, de la Peña writes that it was not his aim to have diversity as the central focus. His current approach to writing, he says, is to feature diverse characters, but to place them in stories whose main focus is not diversity; Last Stop on Market Street was an example of this approach. Instead of having race and diversity be the sole focus of the discussion surrounding this strikingly colorful and vibrant book, he wants the readers to frame the story in different ways. His dream, he writes, is that kids of all races read the book.

Did You Know?

Multiple Newbery Medal winners over the years have been turned into movies. The first ever winner of the medal in 1922, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon, is no exception. The book was turned into an eponymous movie in 1957, starring Hollywood celebrities such as Vincent Price and Dennis Hopper.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sustainability and Art Merge in Philadelphia Residency Program

by Christian Gibbons
Summer 2016 Intern

Where I come from in Millbrook, Alabama, people don’t recycle. The nearest recycling center is a 30-minute drive down the highway to Montgomery. But in Tacony, Philadelphia, the opposite is happening—recycling is being taken to an entirely new level.

There, artists are showing what happens when trash is treasured at a recycling center called Revolution Recovery, one of the few recycling plants to allow access to the materials it processes. The project is called Recycled Artist in Residency (RAIR), and its creators, Fern Gookin, Avi Golen and Billy Dufala, have built a 1,000-square-foot residency inside the recycling warehouse with the aid of grant money from Philadelphia’s Creative Industry workforce campaign. Similar to other artist-in-residence programs, RAIR gives artists the opportunity to work away from their usual settings for one to three months or two to four weekends. RAIR offers unique studios and workspaces for working with wood, metal and other recycled materials. Its goal? To encourage others to use materials from the waste stream while raising awareness about how much truly goes into it.

To this end, RAIR allows its artists-in-residence to experiment to their hearts content with approximately 400 tons of free materials. So far, they’ve been used in various projects by sculptors, filmmakers, photographers and printmakers. Some of these projects have been playful, such as when Mary Ellen Carroll and Billy Dufala built an amphitheater out of discarded metal and held an audience-less concert where she and other musicians made music with even more metal objects. Others, such as current artist-in-residence Martha McDonald, use the residency space to ponder provocative questions about the place of trash in everyday life. Her most recent installation, Songs of Memory and Forgetting, uses trash to evoke the memories present in the belongings that litter the dump.

These sorts of ideas continue to be a large part of what RAIR is all about. As the program continues, its links to sustainability initiatives will only become stronger. “One of our goals for 2016 is to get people here to see the trash because you don’t understand the scope until you see it,” says Lucia Thomé, the program’s coordinator. “In the next couple of years we are hoping to bolster our exhibition component and bring visibility to what can happen at RAIR to the public.”

Individuals who would like to apply to the project may do so in the fall, when RAIR opens its doors to new artists again.

Did You Know?

You can find art made of trash in museums! In the Smithsonian Art Museum, there is a sculpture titled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly. It was created over the course of more than 14 years by James Hampton, a former custodian, who used discarded materials and objects he scrounged up. The sculpture was found in his garage after his death in 1964.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Aid, Don’t Grade: New Apps That Focus on Improving Writing

by Christian Gibbons
Summer 2016 Intern

As writing is the trade with which I intend to make my (secondary) living, there’s a significant level of pressure on me to be the best writer I can be. This is also true of my being a student in college. Gone are the days of high school when building to a final essay assignment could take as long as a month. Now I, like others, need feedback for essays that are due on a weekly basis.

It’s okay that there aren’t always people who can help refine my writing in that tighter time frame, nowadays there is technology that can do that, too. One such app is called Expresso, and it utilizes different linguistic metrics to help users examine how they write and learn how to make their writing better. Currently it’s only in beta and only for English, but the software is already rather extensive. Don’t know what modals, nominalizations or entity substitutions are? That’s okay—Expresso will point those out to you and, if you hover your cursor over one of the terms, it will also explain to you what those things are. (Spoiler: modals are verb modifiers demonstrating ability or necessity.)

But why are apps like Expresso becoming more popular? WriteLab, a software recently developed by a team of expert writers, professors and engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, is another example of an online tool created to assist people with their writing. However, the people behind WriteLab see it as doing something more ambitious than simply finding issues in people’s prose. “For decades,” Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the executive director of the National Writing Project, explains, “we’ve had a range of digital tools for error detection and even auto-correction. . . . But WriteLab is unique in trying to use tools like natural language processing to provide detailed coaching feedback to the writer.”

Like Expresso, WriteLab works by analyzing the metrics of users’ writing and identifying stylistic problems. It also goes further by noting grammatical issues. But WriteLab is unique in that it works collaboratively with the user, and is intended to help cultivate an engaging authorial presence. The focus is on strengthening writing, not fixing it. In this way, the developers of WriteLab are hoping that their program will be used to complement more traditional curriculums—and it already has, both in higher education and in high schools.

It may be that apps like Expresso and WriteLab will pave the way toward more constructive review processes in the future. But, as the latter’s creators affirm, such software cannot replace teachers. If you’re looking for feedback for an essay, you still ought to speak to a real person!

Did You Know?

There are other types of writing apps that attempt to help users with their writing. However, they do so in more unorthodox ways. Apps like Write or Die, Flowstate and The Most Dangerous Writing App each work a little differently, but all aim to ramp up your productivity by forcing you to keep writing—because if you stop, everything you’ve written so far will disappear.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Pocket Library: Why 1400s Venice Was the Silicon Valley of Publishing

by Shannon Pender
Summer 2016 Intern

It’s a hot, summer day and you’ve hit the beach. On your way to the water, how many people do you see enjoying the sun with a book or e-reader in their lap? It’s a common sight—I know I never go to the beach without at least one book in my bag—but reading on the beach would be impossible without the work of a renaissance printer. His name? Aldus Manutius, and he changed the face of publishing as we know it.

Venice in the 1400s was a hub of printing revolution. Aldus and his printing press, Aldine Press, were right in the middle of it all. By today’s standards, the amount of monumental change that the printing industry underwent there would rival today’s Silicon Valley. Basically, Aldus Manutius is to modern books as Steve Jobs is to the iPhone.

Aldus’ first achievement involved font choice. He was the first to use an italic font—which mimicked human handwriting—and in doing so, replaced the heavy Gothic print most printers used at the time. He used this italic typeface for the first time to print Virgil in 1501 and countless other books to follow. It’s estimated that the Manutius family printed over 1,000 editions over the course of 100 years.

In all of these printings, Aldus kept his use of colons and semicolons consistent in each edition, standardizing punctuation for the industry.

Out of all of Aldus’ many accomplishments, however, one has impacted everything from large trade publishing to your trip to the beach.

Before Aldus, books were luxury items, kept in monasteries or collections. They were large, cumbersome and expensive—not at all accessible to the public. Aldus used his press to print books small enough to be carried around for study or pleasure, calling them libelli portatiles (Latin for “portable books”). This opened up the literary world to the general public, allowing more to be able to enjoy both classic and modern books. Aldus single-handedly shaped the sharing of ideas and communication as we know it today. 

These “portable books” were the predecessor to modern paperbacks. Without Aldus, we would have to lug a huge, cumbersome tome to the beach—or not be able to bring anything to read at all. I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of beach trip I want to have. Thanks, Aldus!

Did You Know?

Back when typefaces were set by hand and made of metal, there was an entire neighborhood in New York City devoted to type foundries. These few blocks were known as the Type Ward, which reached its height in the 1800s and thrived thanks to the newspaper industry.

Friday, July 15, 2016

To Infinity and Beyond: 3D Printing for Toys

by Shannon Pender
Summer 2016 Intern

Technology has come a long way in the past few decades—especially when it comes to 3D printers. They’re most typically used to print 3D organs or machine parts, but the technology is expanding into other sectors and becoming more common in engineering and even art.

Now, 3D printing has reached a new frontier: your living room.

Once 3D printing became a reality, printers cost thousands of dollars and were completely impractical for personal use. Recently, however, the market has expanded, making printers smaller, cheaper and more user friendly. With costs averaging around $400, the possibility of owning a 3D printer in your home has become a more achievable reality.

For families, this means on-demand toy printing.

Affordable 3D printers work just the same as larger 3D printers used in manufacturing and medical fields. Rather than ink, the printer dispenses material—such as nylon or titanium—in multiple thin layers to make up a 3D object. Anyone can design and print their own toys, accessories or gadgets with the click of a mouse.

There are even apps for 3D printing design. For instance, with ThingMaker Design, all you have to do is download it to your phone or tablet to enjoy user-friendly, interactive software that looks and feels almost like a video game. It allows you to create anything your imagination can think of: figures and dolls, accessories, and more. While you design, you can customize the color, texture and pose of your printable toys. Other similar apps that allow you to make your own 3D printable designs include 3D Creationist, MakerBot Mobile and Sculpteo.

With software and printers like these, kids and their parents can have a toy store at their disposal. The only limit is their imagination.

Did You Know?
President Obama is the first president whose likeness was captured through 3D scans. These scans were then 3D printed into both a bust and a life mask and are on display at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, along with the plaster life masks of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Education Beyond the Classroom: School Gardens

by Moeko Noda
Summer 2016 Intern

This summer, I am growing a vegetable garden for the first time in my life. The family that I am housesitting for is leaving behind a mini garden of tomatoes, cabbages, cucumbers and more under my charge. Not only do I water them daily, but a week ago I also got to participate in planting them. As I got down on two knees, hands deep in the earth to create a safe new home for the baby vegetables, I never felt more responsible for the tiny plants. It has been a week, and the peas are already shooting out of the ground. In addition to watering them in the evening, I visit the garden every morning—just to check on how they are doing. Each day I am amazed by the speed at which they grow and how responsive they are to conditions like heat and rain. I’m excited about what these plants can teach me over the summer as they grow and grow.

Indeed, taking care of gardens has proven to have many educational benefits, and schools around the country are noticing its potential in education. Studies have shown that school gardening brings both health and academic benefits, making it an attractive project for many elementary schools. In 2013, about 27 percent of US public elementary schools reported having a school garden.

John J. Pershing Elementary School in Dallas, Texas, is one of them. With the help of REAL School Gardens, a program that brings gardens to school, Pershing Elementary School planned and built their garden four years ago. Ever since the garden was planted into the curriculum, students have been scoring better on standardized tests and have become more excited about school in general.

The children of Pershing Elementary School are not alone in benefitting from the presence of a school garden. School gardens have been shown to improve access to nutrition knowledge, teaching children how to make healthier choices. Children who participate in school garden programs, when compared to others who do not, are more likely to choose fruits and vegetables when they are available. These children also spread their knowledge to their families, bringing healthy eating habits into the house. School gardens also showed health benefits beyond meals. A two-year study involving 12 elementary schools conducted by Cornell University found that having school gardens resulted in an increased physical activity level for children, both at school and at home.

Did You Know?

Thinking about starting a garden but don’t know where to start? Radishes grow only in about 20 days, come in wide varieties of size, color, shape and taste, and can be planted both in spring and in fall. They are a perfect fit for gardening beginners.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

William Shakespeare: Rockstar of the Renaissance

by Shannon Pender
Summer 2016 Intern

Like many high school students, I had to memorize Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from Hamlet in my English class. Unlike most high school students, though, I loved the challenge. Shakespeare’s work has always had a special place in my heart, and I was plenty familiar with hearing and performing his work: I’d performed as Helena in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seen Alan Cumming’s one-man show of Macbeth on Broadway and watched countless adaptations both on stage and screen.

You could say I’ve always been starstruck by the Bard.

Shakespeare might not seem like rockstar material to most, but he is to me. And now he’s even going on tour—or at least, his First Folio is.

The First Folio is the cornerstone of Shakespearean scholarship and was printed a few years after the Bard’s death. It was the first compilation of 36 of his plays, 18 of which had never been printed before—they had only been performed on stage. Without the First Folio, these 18 plays (including Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night) likely would have been lost forever.

There are around 230 surviving copies of the First Folio. Because later printers often made edits during production, the First Folio gives scholars an opportunity to see Shakespeare’s plays as close to their true form as possible.

A few months ago, the Shakespearean community received startling news: another copy of the First Folio had been found.

It was tucked away in the library of Mount Stuart House, a manor on the Isle of Bute off Scotland’s coast. The copies of the First Folio each tell a story about their owners through the notes they made and are almost like a “CSI crime scene . . . carry[ing] tiny bits of evidence about the people who used them.” This copy in particular, once owned by eighteenth-century Shakespearean editor Isaac Reed, is filled with Reed’s annotations in the margins. Each folio, then, is a glimpse into the past, carrying evidence not just about Shakespeare but also about its owners throughout history.

If you’re looking to glimpse a part of Shakespearean history yourself, you’re in luck—copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio are going on tour thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

The library holds the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, including 82 of the surviving First Folios. Its traveling exhibition First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare runs from January 2016 to January 2017 and will visit all 50 states by the end of its run.

To see when a First Folio will come to a city near you, see here.

Did You Know?

In the 1800s, Eugene Schieffelin decided to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to Central Park in New York City. He released starlings, skylarks and song thrushes, but only starlings survived—and thrived. Today, millions of starlings call North America their home, all because of Shakespeare.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

PSG Goes Local: Staff’s Favorite Museums

by Moeko Noda
Summer 2016 Intern

Coming from Tokyo and setting foot in Boston for the second time in my life this summer, I’m as far as you can get from a local of the Boston area. That is why, when asking members of the PSG staff about their favorite museums, I was excited to be introduced to a wealth of local museums. Regardless of where the staff members are from, their local museums hold an overwhelming popularity among the PSG staff.

A native of the Boston area, Alyssa’s top two favorites are both local: the Museum of Science and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). She has been to both museums many times, and her favorite exhibit to date at the MFA was the Samurai! exhibit from 2013 that featured armor used by Japanese warriors. She also loves to visit local museums on trips out of state.

Don, also a long-term Boston-area resident, shares Alyssa’s love for the Museum of Science. He remembers being hooked by everything on his first trip to the museum; especially memorable was the Archimedean Excogitation. This audio-kinetic sculpture by George Rhoads has a rolling ball inside that creates a unique listening and viewing experience for visitors as it rolls through the maze of items in the sculpture.

Two other Boston-area locals mentioned museums overseas. Tess’s favorite is the Imperial War Museum in London, which she visited a few years ago and chanced upon a great exhibition on England in the 1940s. Kate’s favorite is the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. While studying abroad, she stumbled upon this museum and saw many of her art education experiences come together in the extensive collections of the Orangerie. These two Bostonians, however, didn’t forget a nod to their local favorite; both of them mentioned their love for the MFA.

Staff members from other areas showed their local love as well. The only New Hampshire resident in office, Eileen, picked the Strawbery Banke Museum in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. An outdoor history museum, Strawbery Banke is a community based on historic buildings from as early as the late 1600s, with costumed role-players living as residents of Strawbery Banke in the past. If you are a New Hampshire native, you might remember visiting the museum for a school field trip.

Another staff member who listed his local museum was Ken. He grew up in Chicago and, as a result, his preferred museums cluster in the Windy City area. One of his favorites is the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses one of the most extensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. Ken loves to visit Monet’s works there.

No matter where the staff is from, their love for the local seems to be the norm for museum tastes in the PSG office. I’m looking forward to hitting up the MFA like a Bostonian this summer, while my status as a local resident lasts.

Did You Know?

In Massachusetts, there is a museum that defies our expectations of a museum: the Museum of Bad Art. Since 1994, the museum has been “dedicated to bad art,” and their mission is to “bring the worst of art to the widest of audiences.” One of their collections is titled Blue People, featuring a number of portraits of blue-skinned people. Whether the skin color was chosen by the artist accidentally or intentionally we may never know.