"ishness" and other attitudes

Posted by jlubans on August 25, 2010

I’ve mentioned previously that I was impressed with the idea of using children’s literature as a way to introduce and discuss management topics. The idea comes from Frances R. Yates, Director of the Indiana University East Library; it’s one she presented at the ALA conference in DC this June. I have been thinking about that program ever since. I’ve come up with a short list of kids’ books I plan to use in my workshop on November 17 in Atlanta: “Attitudes: Changing Problem Behavior in the Work Place”.
The reader will no doubt conclude that the subtitle is on the optimistic side. Well, so are the kids’ books – that is part of their charm and facilitates the ease with which we can engage their basic ideas. Yes, it may be unrealistic to expect a Halleluiah moment where the sour employee’s gloom and doom is switched to sunshine and flowers. We can expect, if the employee is listening, a first step toward re-considering his or her attitude. Is it time to explore where the attitude comes from and perhaps to choose a different attitude or to look for work elsewhere?

Without having figured out the protocol for how I will use them (in 45 minutes or so), here are five children’s books (three were on Ms. Yates’ handout) that might lead to frank discussion about attitudes. I probably won’t use all five. Let me know what you think.

Mon. Saguette and His Baguette. Frank Asch.
Mon. Saguette is making soup. Sacre bleu! What is soup without bread? Buys baguette. “Help”, cries a little girl, get my cat down from the tree. He does with the baguette serving as ladder. A crocodile is about to eat a baby! Baguette props open croc’s jaws. No baton to lead the parade? No problem... Ah, good soup as he eats the bread. And, then, wasting nothing, he feeds the crumbs to birds.

Not only is Mon. Saguette resourceful, he remains cheerful and unflappable throughout. When faced with a challenge, humorously presented, he does not fall down and gnash his teeth in despair. Au contraire, he smiles and waves his baguette at the problem. Zoot! His is a mind set and attitude that creatively uses existing resources to meet new or unexpected needs.

Changes, Changes. Pat Hutchins.
No words. Two wooden dolls, a boy and a girl, with an assortment of wooden blocks.
They build a house, each doing his or her fair share. Fire erupts, an alarm. They refigure blocks to put out the fire, losing some, but not all. A flood ensues from the firefighting. Make a boat and sail away. Land on beach; make a truck, (albeit fewer resources, still resourceful) then a train. Disassemble train and build their house. Finis.

The book is about being resourceful and inventive, theirs is a can-do, positive attitude. They do not stop and wait for rescue, they use what they have. Challenges are overcome by reconfiguring literally; both people survive, and appear the better for it.

(I)ish. Peter Reynolds.
Ramon loves to draw. Big brother ridicules his efforts. Ramon tries to make a drawing “right”. Then, “I’m done” he declares in exasperation. (I give up!) His sister Marisol… runs off with his discarded drawing. Her wall is covered with his drawings!
“it looks vase-ish.” They do look “ish” “Thinking “ishly”, allowed Ramon’s ideas to flow freely.” Making an ish drawing, felt wonderful.
Poem-ish poetry. Ramon lives ishfully ever after.

Often close enough can be good enough. An answer that’s not the perfect answer is better than NO ANSWER. Approximation, essences, efforts, attempts, mistakes, potentials, all that. It’s more than OK to not be “right.”

“ish-ness” often happens in work places (democracies) where there are many ideas, agendas, and limitations. The result isn’t perfect for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction; it’s movement to the next “ish”. Ish is less about right than about action, and an attitude of resolve to do something and not to talk it to death.

Grumblebunny. Bob Hartman, pics by David Clark
3 sweet bucktoothed bunnies and their grumpy cousin, Grumblebunny (GB) have an adventure. GB looks depressed and that is indeed his attitude.
When the trio says, “Let’s go and do.” GB says it looks like rain, etc. He has many reasons not to do something. All go anyway. GB sees wolf tracks. Meet up with a whacked-out wolf; the bunnies wind up in his game bag. The wolf dumps bunnies into a cauldron for soup. “What fun!”, exclaim the bunnies. GB: not fun, we’ve got to get out of here. Bunnies are angry with GB. Not happy. Wolf tastes soup. Why sour? Don’t you know we are all grumpy bunnies? Others go along. Dumps pot. Bunnies run home. What fun say the bunnies. GB goes to bed.
The realist (GB) saves the day for overly optimistic bunnies. His negative attitude and suspicion save the bunnies. However, these bunnies plan to play with the wolf tomorrow. Lesson unlearned!

Terrific. Jon Agee.
Free vacation? Terrific (sarcasm)! I’ll probably get a sunburn! The cruise ship sinks, leaving Eugene on an island. Terrific, I’ll be eaten by cannibals, he worries. Nobody there but a parrot. What good’s a parrot? asks glum Gene. The parrot responds, “I am here because of a busted wing”. What’s to eat? Pomegranates. Terrific! Parrot draws plans for a boat. Terrific. Who’s going to build it? You are. He does. Good job. A sail? Terrific. Where? You are wearing it. Terrific! Cost me $30. Sail off. Drifting. Thirsty. Crash into a Ship. Eugene and parrot are hauled out of the water. Bird belongs to boat. Sailors make fun of bird and Eugene objects. Lenny talk? No, the parrot does not talk. Boat lands in Bermuda. Eugene gets off. Adios says boat guy. No parrot. Parrot stays with Eugene. A friend now. Eugene: “Terrific!” with a smile.

How attitude gets turned around. How the cynic, realist, begins to trust another creature. It takes work for that to happen. Habits born of mistrust take time and actions to unlearn.


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