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CultureGrams: New Dominican Republic Interviews!

Boca Chica beach, Dominican Republic

Boca Chica beach, Dominican Republic [via CultureGrams Photo Gallery]

We’ve added three new interviews from the Dominican Republic to our CultureGrams Interviews collection! Each interview captures different viewpoints about life in the Dominican Republic from people of various ages living in the northern coastal city of Puerto Plata:

These interviews by country natives are not only interesting and fun to read, but they also give students insider knowledge into what life and culture in the country are really like.

Here’s an example from the interview with Alfonso, in which he describes what being a citizen of the Dominican Republic means to him:

AlfonsoBeing a citizen of the Dominican Republic means living in an amazing country. You get to enjoy the beautiful scenery, food, and people. The views are amazing. There is a little bit of everything for everyone. If you like the beach, there are amazing beaches all around the country. If you like the mountains, there are gorgeous peaks in the north and center of the island. If you like hot and dry, the south and west areas are just the right place for you. Also, the food is amazing. The seasoning and ingredients used in the variety of traditional dishes are amazing. Whether its eggs for breakfast or a five-course meal, it’s always amazing. And the people are amazing and kind—always happy and ready to have a good time. Being with Dominican people is never boring.

Find more interviews from countries all over the world in the CultureGrams Interviews gallery!

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We Are ProQuest: Jean Ward

Dexter the Very Good Goat, Jean M. Malone, Jean Ward, Children's Picture Books

Photo with permission to use from Jean Ward

We Are ProQuest: ProQuest is only as successful as its staff. The ProQuest difference is people behind-the-scenes using their skills to create products and features to provide the optimal research experience from kindergarten to post-graduate to life-long learner. We Are ProQuest features profiles of some of our talented team members. Today let’s meet Senior Product Manager, Books for the OASIS/CIS products, Jean Ward.

Jean Ward has made a name for herself as Jean M. Malone writing children’s books and has a novel in the works. Her children’s picture book, “DEXTER the very good goat” was mentioned in a ProQuest newsletter when Jean was praised for her work. While Jean has recently changed roles to become Senior Product Manager, Books for the OASIS/CIS products she also balances that job with her writing career. Jean shared with me her journey, challenges and what she dreams to accomplish in the future.

How did you come to work at ProQuest?

I came to ProQuest through the Coutts acquisition from Ingram in 2015, and it has been a very positive experience.

What is your educational/professional background?

I double majored in English (Creative Writing concentration) and Motion Pictures (Screenwriting concentration) at the University of Miami, and then after graduating I started working in a bookstore. It was a small, family run shop where half the charm was the serendipitous discovery, but the lack of Dewey Decimals or a catalog actually drove me nuts. From there I went to work in my local public library for a few years, and then I joined Ingram as an assistant cataloger, which was the perfect outlet for my organization-starved self.

While working at Ingram I went back to school to earn a Master’s of Library and Information Science at the University of Alabama, and eventually transitioned from cataloging to a collection development position within Coutts, first as a title selector and then as the department manager. Recently I left that department to become the Senior Product Manager for the OASIS product at ProQuest.

I understand you’re a writer. When did you start writing?

Gosh, I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember. I guess I’m not embarrassed to admit that I started out as I think probably many writers do, writing fan fiction when I was a teenager (Star Trek). Then I did a heck of a lot of writing in college, and after college, I wrote my first novel, which will never see the light of day.

What do you enjoy best about writing?

That’s a really hard question! I think what I love, even though I also hate it, is the revision process, and once I learned to embrace that, it really freed me because it allowed me to write truly terrible drafts so that I could just get things out on paper and see how they worked, and then go back to them. I think the most beautiful thing about writing is how it’s like a painting, and this is what I realized a few years ago when I finally learned how to revise. It made me think of The Girl With A Pearl Earring movie, where you actually see the way Vermeer would have painted: first there is a shape. Just a shape. And then you come back and you add more textures and more colors and the shape turns into a blob. And then you come back and add another layer–and after several layers, you have this beautiful amazing piece of art. But it didn’t start out as a beautiful, rich, textured work–it started out as shapes and blobs. And I think writing is exactly the same.

How do you balance work and writing?

When you find out, you tell me. It’s basically having two jobs, right? There have been long periods of time where I really burned the candle at both ends, but I have not been very good at this lately, and by lately I really mean for about the last two years. As I have taken on greater levels of responsibility at work, I have less and less energy to devote to writing, and I go through long dry periods where I just don’t write at all. Or it comes in fits and starts which are too sporadic to be useful.

But what I have found is that the best way to write is to have a routine. If I can manage to get myself into a routine for awhile where I sit down and write for an hour or two every day, then I find it much easier to stay in that routine. But life happens, it gets in the way. We moved this year, I have a longer commute, my husband’s schedule changed, my work schedule changed–so I have not been in a routine for awhile. I’m working on getting back into one right now. I’m not really like some writers. I don’t write to stay sane like my sister does. I actually watch TV to stay sane. I write because when I don’t write, I feel very disappointed in myself.

You’ve been published. How did you get published?

Every single path is different, right? I had a screenwriting classmate in college who got a job at Penguin, and she put out a call when she became an editor–send me writing samples if you ever think you might like to write for Penguin. So I did, and one day she called me and said all her writers were busy and she needed a book about flamingos on a short deadline–I think she needed the first draft in about 10 days, could I do it? And I said “Of COURSE I can do it!” and promptly went to the library to learn everything I could about flamingos. I ended up doing 2 more books for Penguin, and what I learned is that you always say yes when presented with an opportunity, even if it’s a little bit scary.

What has been your proudest moment?

I think my proudest moment on this journey has been to do with my latest book. It is a picture book, and the text actually began as my writing sample for that Penguin editor. I loved it so much that I asked my dear friend JJ, who is an amazing young artist, to illustrate it for me, and she breathed life into it in a way that I hadn’t even imagined. Since this book wasn’t an assignment or publisher request, but was all of our own making, it has been incredibly exciting. My proudest moment was finding out how much my–let’s see–she would be something like my cousin-in-law once removed? Anyway, she is the most adorable little girl, and she is Dexter’s biggest fan. Hearing about how much she loves Dexter, how she keeps her book in a special spot in her play kitchen and how she knows all the words by heart–that is definitely my proudest moment so far. Knowing that something about the book struck a chord with her and makes her so happy.

What is a dream you have in life?

I want to continue to write picture books because they are so much fun, but my dream is to be a novelist published by a mainstream publisher. I’m currently revising my third novel, and have been for an embarrassing number of years now. I dream big–I want to touch people’s lives–especially young people–through my writing. I want to win the Printz. And then I also have this nerdy obsession with Hallmark Christmas movies, and I have several Christmas novels that I want to write–and then write the screenplay adaptations for them as Hallmark movies of my own.

CultureGrams: New Kosovo Interviews Added!

kosovointerviews

In November, we added interviews from Kosovo to our CultureGrams Interviews collection! There are four interviews, and each captures different viewpoints about life in Kosovo from people of various ages living in diverse parts of the country:

These interviews by country natives are not only interesting and fun to read, but they also give students insider knowledge into what life and culture in the country are really like.

Here’s an example from the interview with Blerona, in which she talks about what being a citizen of Kozovo means to her:

kosovobleronaBeing a citizen of my country means that I belong somewhere. I’m from Kosovo, a country that has suffered a lot from wars and poverty. There is a lot to fix here. I still believe that one day I will be truly proud of my country. For the moment, there is a lot of corruption here, and the youth have problems finding jobs. As a future student, I want my studies to not be worthless, and I want to be able to have good work prospects.

Find more interviews from countries all over the world in the CultureGrams Interviews gallery!

CultureGrams: New Interviews Added!

Interviews Gallery

Over the past month, CultureGrams has added 8 new Interviews! And there are even more coming soon! The 8 we added are

These interviews by country natives are not only interesting and fun to read, but they also give students insider knowledge into what life and culture in the country are really like.

Here’s an example from the Thailand interview, in which Saichai, age 51, talks about general Thai attitudes and how she feels about being Thai:

Saichai, ThailandI’m proud of being Thai. I like the way of life here, the way people usually deal with each other, and that everyone tries to be easy going. Of course, that’s not always possible, and there are many problems as well, but it’s the way people deal with that. Sometimes people complain that many things go wrong in this country, but isn’t that the case in every country of the world? Our culture is also a lot about accepting the circumstances and not letting them get you down. Because the only thing that will happen is that you feel bad about things you cannot change anyway. I have never been abroad, but when I see foreigners who come to Thailand, I feel that sometimes they worry too much about little things.

Find more interviews from countries all over the world in the CultureGrams Interviews gallery!

CultureGrams: New South Sudan Interviews!

One of the great resources CultureGrams provides is Interviews with people from all around the world—from Morocco to Papua New Guinea to Tajikistan and beyond. From these interviews, you can learn all kinds of things about what it’s like to live in a different country through the personal experiences of real people who live there, including their daily routines, their favorite foods, their roles in their families, their biggest worries, and more. So far in 2016, we’ve added more than 30 new interviews!

Our newest interviews are four from South Sudan. Check out the excerpts below to get a glimpse of what life is like in this young country that gained its independence from Sudan just 5 years ago. Click the links to go to the full interviews.

Mawa; age 28; Juba, South Sudan
“I speak Madi as my primary language, a language with clicking sounds that is widely spoken in the Eastern Equatoria state. I can also speak Acholi. This all comes as a result of my experiences as a refugee in Uganda, which helped me to understand people from different backgrounds. […] Additionally, I learned Arabic, which is the national language, and English in school. I use these languages for communication with locals and foreigners.”

Mary; age 28; Juba, South Sudan
“I strongly identify with my ethnic group, the Nuer. Our culture is different from other ethnic groups in South Sudan. Both my mother and father kept their culture and traditions. They don’t have knowledge about school or church. Both parents believe in only the traditional god. […] As the second-born child, I follow my mother’s activities, such as cooking food and fetching water.”

Gatwech; age 17; Juba, South Sudan
“All young men want to go to school so they can have a better future. Most of my friends don’t go to school, and this is what I hate the most because I want them to share in the same activities as me. Sometimes, I try to talk to them about the importance of school and they tell me that they understand, but later they disappear. Some of them explain that they can’t join me at school because their parents don’t have enough money to pay for their education and that hurts me.”

Nyakuma; age 10; Juba, South Sudan
“My favorite food is our local food called walwal, sorghum porridge, mixed with either milk from a cow or powdered milk; it may also be eaten with meat sauces. Walwal is a major part of our diet at home. We sometimes change what we eat once in a while when we want lentils and bread. I also love kebabs (skewered meat) and fruits. I like apples better than all the other fruits. My daddy knows this, so he brings me an apple when I want it.”

To learn even more about life in South Sudan, check out the CultureGrams South Sudan World report, Kids report, slideshows, and videos!

Whatcha’ Reading Now?: An Interview with Jill MacKenzie

whatcha-reading-now-mission

From left to right: Jill, Michelle and Kerry (photo used with permission by Jill MacKenzie)

Whatcha’ Reading Now? is a community website that offers author interviews and book reviews for kids and teens. The reviewers on the site–Jill, Kerry and Michelle–review only books that they love and pledge “to bring you books for kids and teens that will make you think, cry, laugh out loud, or keep you at the edge of your seat.”

All three reviewers are children’s and young adult writers (Michelle publishes under the pen name Shel Delisle) and, as such, their enthusiasm and love for the craft shines through in their posts.

As a fellow avid reader (and writer!) of children’s lit, I’ve been following this site since its inception in 2010. (Disclosure: Jill was my critique group leader of a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s chapter I used to attend in South Florida.)

It’s been a while since I’d seen Jill, so I caught up with her for this interview.

Q.    How did you become interested in children’s/YA literature?

I’ve actually always been interested in children’s literature. I read voraciously as a child. When I grew up, I found that I still loved kid’s books just as much as I always had (maybe even more.) Lucky me, right? 😉

Q.    What are some unique topics addressed in the books you’ve reviewed?

I’m definitely a fan of “issues books.” That means I like reads that aren’t afraid to cover the tough subjects but present them in unique ways. In my opinion, the issues teens face today haven’t really changed since I was young(er), but the way in which we accept them and deal with them certainly have.

Q.    Do media specialists or teachers use your e-zine? If so, how have they used it in their classrooms/schools?

Lol, I hope they use it! No, in all seriousness, I have met teachers and media specialists who have told me that the e-zine is one more way to make reading cool again, which really is awesome, (because we think it is cool.) Also, it’s a resource; When I look at the reviews my partners have written, I’m always like, “wow, I’ve never heard of that book but I definitely want to read it now!” And I like to think kids use it to stay on the up-and-up on what’s hot in book-world. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know that?

Jill MacKenzie

Jill MacKenzie (photo used with permission by Jill MacKenzie)

Q.    Issues such as self-esteem and bullying are often addressed in schools. Have you ever done (or would you consider doing) a special feature in which you review books on such topics? If so, what was that feature?

We dedicated our eighth issue entirely to the topic of bullying, actually, because we all felt that this is one subject matter that can’t be over discussed, in any capacity. Not to mention, there is soooo much great literature out there written about bullying. And the topic of self-esteem enters our issues a lot, actually, although we haven’t centered a whole issue around this particular theme (although you may be on to something…)

Q. Today’s students have so many distractions, from social networking sites to cell phones and video games. What are some ways that parents and educators can help young people develop a love of reading?

I have kind of a golden rule with this one: kids learn by example. If they see their parents plunking down in front of the television or tapping away on their iPhones night after night, that’s what they’ll learn to do too. But if they see their parents taking an active interest in books themselves…well, you get the point. Same goes for educators: if kids see their teachers passionate about something they’re reading, they’ll want to know what it is, and why it is.

Q.    I recently read a statistic stating that a quarter of all public school children in the U.S. are Latino but only three percent of children’s book are by or about Latinos. Can you recommend any books or authors that reflect the experiences of this demographic?

Oh my gosh, yes! My absolute favorite YA author of all times is Mexican-American. Matt de la Pena, is his name. I will forever read anything he writes.  Anything. Others whom I especially love are Rita Williams-Garcia, Pam Munoz Ryan, Gary Soto, as well as Florida authors Christina Gonzalez and Gaby Triana. All of their works, I believe, reflect some aspect of this demographic.

Q.   Whatcha’ Reading Now?

Right now, I’m reading three books I love! The first one that I’m almost finished, is IF YOU FIND ME, by Emily Murdoch. The second, is WHAT ALICE FORGOT, by Loraine Moriarty, and the third is Gayle Forman’s JUST ONE DAY. All of them are fabulous!

Thanks, Jill!

(Readers, you can access Whatcha’ Reading Now? and other editorially-selected book review websites and more in SIRS Knowledge Source. Just type in the subject heading Books, Reviews in the search box.)

Special thanks to ProQuest Editors Michelle Sneiderman and Sarah Ruggles for contributing interview questions for this post.