Jennifer Orme, a doctoral candidate in the University of Hawaii at Manoa English department, will be discussing "The Wolves in The Walls" written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean.

Youngsters will grow
as they find literature

Opening a window into
other worlds is the goal of
a Hawaii children's conference

Books transport readers to wonderlands of imagination and fantasy. Youngsters who explore literature find their worlds broaden and become richer.

Giving children that window into other worlds is the aim of "Seeking Wonder and Wisdom," the 12th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii's Children.

"The goal of reading for children should be the same as it is for adults who read -- the joy and pleasure of the tale -- even if, parts of that story make us uncomfortable or cause us to think in new and challenging ways," said Jennifer Orme, of the English Department at the University of Hawaii. "We explore our world and the world of others through stories."

Orme will speak about the "Interpretation of Literature: Handling the Horror in the House" at the conference. She will be discussing Neil Gaiman's "The Wolves in the Wall" and how the characters apply problem-solving and play rules to face up to danger lurking in their homes.

Other workshops will also focus on using and creating literature as a tool for learning and expanding one's mind-set. Special professional sessions will feature Nancy Willard -- author of "A Visit to William Blake's Inn," "Cinderella's Dress" and "The Marzipan Moon" -- and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky, who won a Caldecott Medal for his book "Rapunzel" in 1998 and is the illustrator of three Caldecott Honor books: "Hansel and Gretel," retold by Rika Lesser in 1985, "Rumpelstiltskin" in 1987 and "Swamp Angel" by Anne Isaacs in 1995.

Zelinsky's latest book -- "Knick-Knack, Paddywhack!" -- is more elaborate than one of his best-selling books, "Wheels on the Bus."

"The patterns and details are so wonderful," said Karen Thompson, curator of education at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, which is featuring a concurrent display of Zelinsky's work. His illustrations are inspired by the Renaissance Era. "He uses Oriental rugs and a full marble inlay.

He picks up on a lot of the devices used during the Renaissance," Thompson said. Zelinsky's works that are displayed feature a complete monochrome underpainting that is sealed in an acrylic medium. The actual paintings were done using oils. Interactive labels are also displayed in the exhibit to encourage questions.

The exhibition also features illustrations from "Rapunzel," "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Hansel and Gretel."

Talking about stories can be as important as reading them, Orme said. "When we talk about the stories we read, we are actively engaging with them," she said. "It is one thing to allow ourselves to be pulled into the world of the tale, but when we come out again -- when we talk to each other about what we found in those worlds -- we are able to keep those worlds alive a while longer."

Most adults can relate to a story that stays with them long after the last page has been read.

"In discussing the stories we read with children, we teach them that stories have lives of their own within us, as well as within the pages of a book," she said. "If adults ask children about the book, it empowers them and lets them know that their opinion matters.

"We teach them to explore the areas of the text they find exciting, confusing or downright silly. Talking about stories can be a learning experience for both parties."

There is no wrong interpretation for a story because all readers bring their own interpretations to the texts they read.

"I would be very reluctant to ever encourage any reader to attempt to nail down the meaning of a text," Orme said. "Part of the magic of literature is its variance, the way a story changes for readers over time as well as the ways different people read different stories."

When readers attempt to limit interpretation of a tale, "we diminish the story, we suck a little of the life out of it," she said.

A "wise" adult must show children that there are many ways of looking at a story and that these interpretations can all be "right," providing that they are borne out by the text.

"And then, surprise, surprise, one day you find that the child is interpreting, too," said Orme.

Stories serve to teach us about what we value as a culture ... what we think is important, she added. "We learn about the world we live in -- whether the story is biographical, fantastic, realistic or absurdist. They help us look not only at the world around us, but at ourselves. They ask us to ask questions."

Books can also serve as a resource for discussing real-life events such as divorce, death, the first day of school or moving to a new place. "But not every book one reads need be a practical life lesson. All reading is an education. There are millions and millions of stories out there. There can be no reason to limit ourselves to just a few that accomplish a set goal."

Orme suggests reading a serious story and then turning to something more lighthearted. Read a story that discusses a specific problem or issue, and talk about it. Then turn to another story that is full of absurdity and fun, and wonder about the magic you find there, she said. "One need not ever worry that the stories will run out. ... They are the ultimate renewable resource."


"Seeking Wonder and Wisdom"

The 12th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawaii's Children

Where: Campus Center, University of Hawaii at Manoa

When: Opens 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday with a free event at Campus Center, continuing 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday

Admission: Fees vary depending on sessions

Call: 956-7559 or e-mail; for schedule, see

Also: "Wisdom and Wonder: Children's Book Illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky" on view at Honolulu Academy of Arts through July 11 in Education Gallery II.

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