April fool for real

Will an April 1st come when pranks and their fools will go unnoticed? Maybe we have already reached this point.

In recent years, we have seen the proliferation of fake news, as well as reciprocal foreign interference through social media. Add to this the several armed conflicts across the globe, of which many say the first victim is truth itself.

We thought we would make things real this year, by sharing our April Fools image with you. The pencil drawing was made in Quebec, during World War II. It is a long standing French tradition to stick a small fish on the back of an unsuspecting victim on April 1st. Interestingly, it was not preserved by the young girl who made it, nor by her mother, but rather by her older sister. It is now part of Lisette Tremblay’s fonds in our collection.

April Fool. By Bérangère Tremlay, c1944. Source: CDIC-CIDE.


It is a vast and complex subject, as old as storytelling itself in current and past civilizations. This ability we have to project human features and qualities to non-human animals, plants and things is so omnipresent, we just have to glance at gamer avatars, or our sport team mascots to measure its far reaching impact. It can be found in basically any art form.

A short blog post cannot dive into the intricate complexity and ramifications of anthropomorphism. This post is meant to highlight the fact that some researchers with various backgrounds are increasingly questioning how the, let’s call them traditional storytellers, are making use of anthropomorphism. So, parents, writers, illustrators, playwrights, and even clerics, pay attention because a diverse group of literary critiques, cognitive scientists, social theorists and ecologists want to talk about anthropomorphism as a double edged sword.

On one hand, there are the well-known benefits, as mentioned by Nigerian researcher Helen Adhuze, in an article titled The face and phases of anthropomorphism in children literature, “Anthropomorphized characters boost empathy in children.  This relational attitude is facilitated through the human imagination operational at the various stages of human development. Essentially,  anthropomorphism  is  a  human attitude  developed  as  a  child  and  maintained through adulthood.  It is a specific human attitude, not a childish mistake.” (Adhuze, Journal of Language, Literature and Culture, Vol. 1, no. 1, 2022)

Growing up, we become experts “anthropomorphers.” Parents and educators know too well how anthropomorphic characters can be efficient attention grabbers, and motivation boosters for children engagement. For example, take this school activity developed by Creative Exchange, a collaboration project of the England Arts Council and Durham University (United Kingdom). The activity shows “How to use anthropomorphism to release children’s creativity,” to develop their imagination and collaborative skills. The vast majority of contents in elementary school libraries include anthropomorphic images.

Not everyone agrees that anthropomorphism has only benefits, and some give it a thumb down, pointing to what may loom in its shadow. We find much of these warnings in an exhibition catalogue, of Animals Are Us: Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature; Celebrating  the Peter Solomon Collection. The exhibition was presented in 2021 at the Houghton Library, in Cambridge. The catalogue by Thomas Hyry and several others, offers a great reading experience, and includes awesome illustrations. Four contributors penned the chapter “The Pitfalls and Potential of Anthropomorphism in children Literature.” It shows clearly how the practice more than often perpetuates stereotypes and demonstrates blatant lack of representation and diversity. We cannot help, it seems, but project both our virtues and flaws into whatever we want to make more human. The authors raise important red flags, and see greater awareness as an important step for better storytelling.

They close with a glimpse of optimism, saying that as fields such as childhood studies, psychology, and literacy education developed their understanding of the child reader, children’s literature also evolved to position children as more purposeful, thoughtful, and agentive”(Animals Are Us exhibition catalogue, p.23)

In 2014, psychologists Patricia Ganea, Caitlin Canfield, and Kadria Simons-Ghafari investigated and concluded that anthropomorphism will actually inhibit children’s ability to learn actual facts about the animal world. It is, they argued, as if the fantastic nature of anthropomorphic characters “may not only lead to less learning but also influence children’s conceptual knowledge of animals.” In their article Do cavies talk? The effect of anthropomorphic picture books on children’s knowledge about animals (Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 5, 2014), they explain that there is a range of anthropomorphism that goes between a completely fantastic and a partially realistic characterization. They saw that when selecting books for their students, teachers tend to favor less realistic images, and rarely choose books where animal characters are shown in their natural environment. This, they say, may bring children to a lack of understanding of biological aspects of animals. In other words, children should be told when they are exposed to anthropomorphized creatures, told that it is not factual information, even when this might seems obvious to adults.

If you think educators, psychologists and literary critics are the only ones interested in the subject, think twice. Scholars in computer sciences, as well as religious studies are also showing interest in how children go about anthropomorphism. See what some of them have to say in this amazing book When Children Draw Gods A Multicultural and Interdisciplinary Approach to Children’s Representations of Supernatural Agents, published by Springer in 2023, as part of a book series New Approach to the Scientific Study of Religion. The chapter by Gregory Dessart and Pierre-Yves Brandt, Humanness and Non-Humanness in Children’s Drawings of God: A Case Study from French-Speaking Switzerland is of particular interest. It presents a case study with a focus on de-anthropomorphization as a progressive process. According to them, children undertaking religious education could be less inclined to portrait God with human traits.

As I reflect about the scientific articles cited above, isn’t it interesting that ecologically minded educator and religion educator might each hope that children be less impacted by anthropomorphism each for a different motive, the first for giving access to biological facts, and the other for less human-like representations of the divine? The socio-emotional power of anthropomorphism is immense. Is it too strong or misleading? It is an important question.

You want more anthropomorphic images? See this quickly read, well-illustrated article by Meagan Jones, on the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies’ website: Degrees of Humanity: Anthropomorphism and its development in children’s book illustration (2013).

portrait, landscape, religion, crayons, paper, 1960s
Great (detail) as in God is Great. By Leo, c1969. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

World Children’s Day 2023

Children should mean the world to us all, but still so many are suffering, even dying, east and west, north and south. This November 20th, we join a large number or not-for-profit organizations worldwide in denouncing the neglect and aggression on children.

Let us all familiarize ourselves better with children’s rights, and take part in open dialogue and civic participation in support of children’s safety and growth. There are many good sources of information at our fingertips on Internet. Take for example the research and reports by KidsRights, based in Amsterdam. Their findings are up to date and their programs involve youth directly, in nearly forty countries.

Meanwhile, as reported from the United Nation’s meeting of the committee on Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Issues this past October, you could hear national representatives throw the blame at each other regarding children’s safety worldwide. It is certainly a positive thing that they have the conversation, but the tone and good will should definitely improve.

In Canada this November 25th, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children will host a webinar titled Youth Researchers’ Peer-to-Peer PAR Journey and Findings. For this occasion, youth researchers will discuss their work and findings. The webinar is open to children and youth who are interested. It is free and pre-registration is required.

Burning house. By Yvon, c1967. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Hold that deep thought

Pundits of so-called artificial intelligence are only starting to surprise us with demonstrations of how this new tool can change the way we look at, and think about children’s art.

Computer scientists use different apparatus to achieve classification and analysis of children’s drawings, their elements, or processes that create them. To put it simply, they use digital visual recognition and mathematical models to build deep learning machines. Inspired by observations and studies made by humans, they sometimes compare the types and number of characteristics and categories which computers can process, with that of human scrutiny, in terms of accuracy.

Researchers who aim at developing tools for ever more efficient analysis of children’s drawings, will often prefer providing touchscreens to participants, and leave aside the pen and paper. This is a bit odd because not only drawing on a screen is a far cry from drawing on paper, but also the proportion of children who have access to a touchscreen is and will remain marginal for quite some time. This raises the serious question of whose drawings they are really talking about.

Take for example a study published in Alexandria Engineering Journal (Vol. 60, issue 1) in 2021, titled Classification of children’s drawings strategies on touch-screen of seriation objects using a novel deep learning hybrid model. The article by Dzulfikri Pysal, Said Jadid Abdulkadir, Siti Rohkmah Mohd Shukri, and Hitham Alhussian is available on Science Direct. It concludes that a quantitative analysis of children’s drawing process from a computational system is both faster and more accurate than a qualitative human analysis.

So be it, but one should keep in mind that the study uses born-digital images. We would think that this gives the computer a head start over humans.

For methodological reasons, researchers who develop machine learning systems for drawing analysis often prefer when children draw on screen. Another case in point is a study by Seth Polsley, and four fellow scientists titled Detecting children’s fine motor skills development using machine learning, and published in 2022 in the International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education (Issue 32). Here again, the original drawings are created on electronic devices for the study.

There are AI scientists who dare challenge computers to “look” at and analyze children’s drawings created on paper. Ochilbek Rakhmanov, Nwojo Nnanna Agwu, and Steve Adeshina, of the Nile University of Nigeria did just that, in a study titled Experimentation on hand drawn sketches by children to classify draw-a-person test Images in psychology. Their findings were presented at the 2020 33rd International Florida Artificial Intelligence Research Society Conference (FLAIRS 2020). It would be unfair to try and summarize their detailed article here. They sure deserve our respect for offering the only presentation, out of well over a hundred at that conference, to consider children’s drawings worthy of attention. The point is, it is nice to know that children’s drawings on paper can help research on machine learning.

One of the key challenges AI researchers face is the quality and size of data set they have access to. Researchers increasingly resort to online crowd sourcing to amass significant amount of data for their work. One of most accessible such initiative is QuickDraw, created by Jonas Jongejan, Henry Rowley, Takashi Kawashima, Jongmin Kim, and Nick Fox-Gieg, in collaboration with Google Creative Lab. This game invites anyone to help machine learning, simply by drawing on screen. According to Google, 15 M people have submitted 50 M images so far. The tech giant is transparent and upfront about making these images open source material for research.

Advancements into AI seem to already outpace human ability to keep up. Yet, we must try to grasp as much as possible its potential and impacts. The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) holds its 11th Conference on Human Computation and Crowdsourcing (HCOMP 2023) at Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), this week until November 9th.

Robot. By Léo Beaulieu, c1972. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

Feet in the sand

Summer settles in over the northern hemisphere, and many of us will have the chance to enjoy good times at the beach. Below is an image from our collection that depicts a family having such a good time, feet in the sand. Family times at the beach build lasting memories.

Did you know that making sandcastles can lead to a life of travels and even earnings? There are dozens of amateur and professional sandcastle competitions, mainly but not exclusively, in the United States and Canada. They also take place in the Netherlands, Spain, Japan, and in Australia. According to the Guinness World Records, the latest world record for the tallest sandcastle is currently held by the resort Skulpturparken Blokhus, in Denmark. It measured 21.16 meters and was made of over 6 tons of sand.

Find illustrated descriptions of festivals and competitions in the United States, in Susan LaBorde’s article on her Happy Beachcomber website. She is a dedicated beach enthusiast. The Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Classic took place last week, and you can see what the masters crafted there by visiting their Facebook page. At ehCanada  you can see a calendar of this summer’s events in that country.

Sand has its own museum at the Sottori Sand Dunes in Japan. What an amazing place. See the good tips they give to encourage us to get right into the action of sand sculpting.

If you can’t make it to the beach, there are always imagination and… sandpaper to save the day. You can make amazing drawings using chalk or oil pastel on sandpaper. Stacey of Capturing Parenthood has all the sandpaper art tips for us. There is also much more to do artistically with sandpaper, as we found out from Jackie Myers’ article on the Art of Education University website.

I go to the beach. By Sahana, 2021. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

National Volunteer Week 2023

We join Volunteer Canada and all its affiliates in celebrating citizens who engage in volunteer activities around the world. Thank you to our current and past volunteers for their support and dedication in making our collection a reality.

We are actually looking for extra help on two of our standing committees this coming year, so please visit our committee mandates page and consider joining us, be it in person or virtually.

For the little ones, Volunteer Canada has this fun coloring page. Bring your colors to this week’s celebrations and share them for everyone to see you care.

In the ad below, a drawing from our collection made in 1970. It shows church goers all smiles on a bright sunny day, part of a religious class scrapbook.

Volunteer Week 2023. Sources: Volunteer Canada and CDIC-CIDE.

Ask about us at the HPL’s Locke Branch

Residents of the Kirkendall neighborhood in Hamilton (Canada) can now ask to browse our binder at their local public library branch on Locke street. It contains sample reproductions from our collection, ranging from the 1940s until now. Paper copies of our Contribution Form are also available on site, so families can add their own treasures at will. Locke street is the focal point of this friendly community, with small retail stores, good restaurants, busy cafés, and nearby schools.

We are glad to welcome the Hamilton Public Library in our Collection Partners Program. Other public and school libraries please feel free to inquire.

Locke Branch. Source: Hamilton Public Library.

World Children’s Day 2022

Every year we like to raise our voice, along with other organizations all over the world, in support of broader awareness of the rights of children. During economic downturns, ecological disasters and military conflicts, children are among the most vulnerable and suffer greatly.

We take this opportunity to introduce you to a group of university researchers who dedicate their efforts to bringing greater protection to children. Their work deserves much respect. The Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory on the Rights of the Child is based at the University of Ottawa. Their essay competition will be of interest to undergraduate and graduate students. They publish a blog in English and in French with inspiring and accessible articles.

Play. By Yvon, c1965. Source: CDIC-CIDE.

November 3rd is WDPD

The World Digital Preservation Day (WDPD) is an awareness campaign that takes place annually on the first Thursday of November. The day marks the significant and growing importance of digital information and celebrates those who have made a commitment to prevent the disappearance of digital documents.

The WDPD is an initiative of the Digital Preservation coalition (DPC), a charitable organization based in York (England), with offices in Glascow (Scottland) and Melbourne (Australia). Their WDPD blog includes articles from all over, including Canada. Of interest is also their categorization of twenty different “digital species” and risk classification for each of them. Among the categories, personal archives are considered critically endangered.

Source: Digital Preservation Coalition, 2 November 2022.

At your fingertips

Did you ever wonder if the way you hold your pen for writing is the most efficient way? This might surprise you, but there are at least four equally efficient ways to hold a pen. This is according to health reviewers Gregory Minnis and Rebecca Joy Stanborough, in a HealthLine article from 2019: A Gripping Tale: How to Hold a Pencil.

In it, dynamic and lateral tripod, and dynamic and lateral quadrupod grips are described as equally practical for writing. Their article includes simple exercises that will help toddlers progress, from a more primitive grip to one just mentioned. It also notably brings up the fact that other holding techniques are suitable for drawing, and that when it comes to drawing, one is well-advised to get creative with grip styles.

If you would like to take an art history tour of hands holding writing devices, have a look at the many examples in Howard Oakley’s Paintings of Writing 1 & 2 on his Eclectic Light Company website.

Proper way to hold a pen. The Popular Educator, Vol. 1., 1888. By John Cassell. Source: Wikimedia, 9 October 2022.
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