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Looking Past the Cover • Children's Book Publishing • Diversity and Race • Conversation
The blog of independent children's publishing company Lee & Low Books, The Open Book talks about publishing, books, library and school news, race and gender, discrimination and diversity, and more.
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Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 18
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”—from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)
At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.
LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?
Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.
Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”
We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)
We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.
Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.
The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.
LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?
The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.
LEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?
We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.
Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:
“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family”
Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.
Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:
Celebrate International Jazz Day with these seven books about Jazz from LEE & LOW BOOKS:
Rent Party Jazz, written by William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Sonny Comeaux has to work in order to help his mother make ends meet. Mama loses her job, and Sonny is worried: How will they make the rent? A jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack helps Sonny have the world’s best party, and raise the rent money in the process. Buy here.
i see the rhythm, written by Toyomi Igus and illustrated by Michele Wood – This book is a visual and poetic introduction to the history of African American music, including Jazz music. Buy here.
Jazz Baby, written by Carole Boston and illustrated by Laura Freeman – This book is a celebration of music and movement. This story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz. Buy here.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison – This award-winning biography follows the life of legendary jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston. At the age of 7, Melba fell in love with the trombone. Later, she broke racial and gender barriers tobecome a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Buy here.
Sweet Music in Harlem, written by Debbie Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison – C.J. needs to act fast. A photographer from Highnote magazine is on his way to take a picture of his Uncle Click, a well-known jazz musician. But Uncle Click’s signature hat is missing! C.J. must find it before the photo shoot. Buy here.
Rainbow Joe and Me, by Maria Diaz Strom – Eloise likes colors and so does her friend, Rainbow Joe. Since Rainbow Joe is blind, Eloise tells him about the colors she mixes and the fantastic animals she paints. Rainbow Joe tells Eloise that he can also mix and paint colors. Buy here.
Ray Charles, written by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by George Ford – This award-winning biography follows the life of world-renowned jazz and blues musician Ray Charles. It includes a new introduction by author Sharon Bell Mathis and updates his life to the present day. Buy here.
Released last fall from LEE & LOW BOOKS, The Story I’ll Tellis a gentle and moving story of adoption and parental love that is sure to touch the hearts of readers everywhere, no matter how they came to be a family. It has received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which called it “an unabashed love letter, one that many families will treasure.”
We asked illustrator Jessica Lanan to take us behind the scenes of her art process bringing The Story I’ll Tell to life:
The process for illustrating The Story I’ll Tell started with research and brainstorming. I read books about adoption and collected evocative images from magazines and the internet that I thought might be useful references. There were a lot of questions to investigate as I tried to piece together the identity of the characters and the overall look and feel of the artwork.
As I researched, I also began sketching thumbnails. My art director and editor provided feedback on these, and through several rounds of revisions we worked to get the concept and flow of the art just right. The thumbnail sketches were also essential in order to work out the composition of each page. For each round of revisions I made a printed dummy in order to simulate the flow of the book.
After the thumbnails were ready, I worked on more detailed drawings, using reference images and models as needed. Here you can see a rough clay model that I used as a reference image for one of the drawings:
Once the drawings had been approved, it was time to move on to the final art. I was using watercolor for this book, which is a rather unforgiving medium, so, I made a miniature version of each painting first in order to get all the mistakes out of the way. Then I transferred my drawing to the watercolor paper and started painting!
Each final piece was done with watercolor and colored pencil on 300lb watercolor paper.
Jessica Lanan has been in love with illustrated books since an early age. Besides The Story I’ll Tell, she has also illustrated Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth from the Shen’s Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she enjoys thunderstorms, crunching autumn leaves beneath her feet, and leaving footprints in freshly fallen snow.
You can purchase a copy of The Story I’ll Tell on our website here.
Poems in the Atticis a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.
In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?
Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words as possible. Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that. I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story. Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.
Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?
Start with word play. I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses. Take the word “lemon”, for instance. What is its shape, its scent, its color? Does it make a sound? Does it have a taste? How would you describe that sound, that taste? Where is a lemon to be found? What does it do or what can you do with it? In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.
Is there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?
There are a few answers to that question.
Read poetry voraciously. If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
Play. Build your vocabulary. Experiment with a variety of forms. For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default. But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry. It is merely one element of it. Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry. Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words. These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.
Have you ever wanted to take a trip to the cloud forest? Explore the Andes of Ecuador? Discover a new species? Well, you’re in luck.
With¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito from A to Z! travel to the unique world of the cloud forest and discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as you help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there. Anyone can learn to be an explorer in their own backyard with the FREEOlinguito Activity Kitand Teacher’s Guide. Learn more about the cloud forest and other ecosystems, including all of the important animals and the adaptations that help them survive in their environment with the many interdisciplinary ideas, projects, and engaging activities.
Content themes and subjects covered:
ecosystems and habitats
animal classification and adaptation
vertebrates and invertebrates
competition and predation
Here’s a preview of the types of engaging projects and activities you can find in the Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide:
Observe an Ecosystem!
You will need:
a pen or pencil
a thick, old paperback book
Make note of the time of day you are making your observations. Is it morning, afternoon, or night?
Record all the plants and organisms you see, including trees, shrubs, bushes, grasses, ferns, mosses, and lichens.
Record all the animals you see in the area, including insects, arachnids, mollusks, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Gather fresh leaves of different shapes from trees and shrubs and put each separately between two pages of the paperback book. You may also gather small, colorful flowers or flower petals and put them between pages of the book.
Take photos of any animals you see.
Once you are back inside, place the paperback book under a pile of heavy books for a week or two to let you pressed leaves and flowers dry.
Design a Cloud Forest Travel Brochure!
Have students research cloud forests in the Andes and create an informative and persuasive travel brochure. Include headings, subheadings, pictures, maps, and informative captions.
Where are the cloud forests located?
What plants and animals live there?
Why are cloud forests valued or important?
What is the climate like?
What will people see there?
What environmental and human threats do they face?
Why should someone make the cloud forest his or her next vacation destination?
Create a Cloud Forest Alphabet or Glossary Book:
string or twine
art decorating supplies (crayons, colored pencils, markers. etc.)
Alphabet Book: include the featured letter, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and the name of the plant or animal.
Plant/Animal Glossary Book: include the name of the plant or animal, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and an informative description of the plant or animal: where does it live? what does it eat? how is it classified (plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, etc.)?
For more fun and exciting activity ideas, including I-Spy Fun and learning to create you own pressed leaf print, check out and download the FREE Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide.
You can purchase a copy of ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest on our website here.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
“Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho. Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come”
– Rabindranath Tagore
Growing up in a home filled with the rich culture of my Muslim and Bengali heritage, I was fortunate enough to take part in multiple New Year celebrations. Every year, April 14 celebrates the arrival of the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh, part of a unique calendar system determined by the seasons. It’s one of my favorite holidays, filled with a blend of colorful traditions and communal reflection. My relatives back home in Bangladesh celebrated the holiday with elaborate festivities that include going around town visiting family and friends, dressing up in traditional garb, and attending parades showcasing talented Bengali artists and performers. Here in America, the celebrations are not quite as elaborate but the traditions are kept alive within the Bengali community. Here are three things that are always a must in my home:
Punjabis and Red and White Saris
During the holidays, we typically show off the snazziest fashion trends from South Asia. On Pohela Boishakh, however, it’s customary for women to wear simple traditional white saris rimmed with red and for men to don the Punjabi. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, my friends and I exchange saris as gifts so they’re extra special!
2. Panta Bhat and Illish Maas
There’s no end to the delicious savory and sweet treats on this day but a simple dish of Panta Bhat (rice soaked in water and salt) and Illish Maas (fried Hilsa fish) are staple meals to share with the family. It goes really well with pickled Mango Achar! This type of food is a reminder of our agricultural roots and the sustenance provided by the natural world around us.
Reading Rabindranath Tagore
My love of literature stems from a heritage that places significant value on the arts. Bengalis boast an array of writers, poets, artists, and performers, most notably poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- western author to be awarded the Nobel Prize. On this day the Daiyan family revisits his timeless song, “Esho, he Boishakh”, by doing a reading as a family and reflecting on the words that pay tribute to the earth.
Pohela Boishak is a celebration of Bengali roots and culture, unblemished by modernity. It asks that no matter where we are, we should seek to gather, reflect, and marvel at the coming of a promising New Year. Today I encourage you to celebrate Bengali culture with me by reading Yasmin’s Hammer, a beautiful moving story set in Bangladesh with illustrations that capture the sights and smells that engulf you as you walk the streets of my country.
As we say in Bengali, Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year)!
Mitul Daiyan is a former LEE & LOW intern who recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.
The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is next week and we’re so excited to meet everyone! The conference takes place in the George R. Brown Convention Center and LEE & LOW will be Booth #1746!
See below for our signing schedule as well as a few other events that our authors and illustrators will be participating in:
Wednesday, April 20
Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Shame the Stars), 11:30 AM-12 PM, Authors Area Aisle 3
Shame the Stars is set to be released Fall 2016! We’re excited to share a first look at the cover with you today.
Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.
As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.
Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.
Thanks to YA Interrobang for hosting the cover reveal! We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover.
At the end of the panel discussion, all attendees will receive a FREE, ready-to-go toolkit with tips and strategies from American Immigration Council, MommyMaestra, Spanish Playground, and LEE & LOW. Additionally, proof of attendance and participation is available for professional development credit.
Title: Celebrating Día at School
Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 04:00pm Eastern Daylight Time
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for: Educators, Caregivers, and Community Coordinators teaching K-5 students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For today’s Poetry Friday, we chose a poem from Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.
We are always excited to hear about unique ways in which our books are being used, and were thrilled to come across this review of Under the Mesquite that outlines how to use the book in a very special way: to help medical students gain cultural awareness and insight into the experiences of patients from different backgrounds. Author Mark Kuczewski kindly gave us permission to cross-post this review from the Reflective MedEd blog.
Helping medical students to gain cultural awareness and insight into the experience of patients and families from backgrounds different than their own is no small task. And the search for poignant materials that are easily fit within the demanding environment of a medical school curriculum is never-ending. The good news is that I can unequivocally recommend Under the Mesquiteby Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books, 2011). This narrative will help students to gain insight into the meaning of illness within families, especially within the context of a particular contemporary newly-arrived Mexican-American family…
The author, known as “Lupita” within the story, recounts experiences from her high school years when her mother suffered from cancer and underwent extensive treatment, sometimes for long periods at a medical center far from home. Because the author’s father accompanies his wife on these journeys, Lupita, the oldest daughter, takes on responsibility for the family. We are treated to her perspective in coping with her mother’s illness from spy work to find out the secreto that the adults guard in their hushed whispers to the difficulties that come when her parents are away such as being unable to keep order among her siblings. Lupita paints a portrait of a prudent family that begins a savings account with the birth of each child but whose resources are exhausted by the medical bills leaving her struggling each day to procure food to put on the table. And we come to know the importance of the arts, acting in school plays and writing in journals, as means to channel her anxieties and craft something beautiful.
Of course, the particular flavor of the narrative comes from the perspective of one who has significant roots on both sides of the border. She simultaneously gives us a window into the challenges of growing up bicultural and navigating the conflicting demands of loyalty to la familia that nurtured her and pursuing the dream of achieving a different kind of life that is available in the new world. The author lets us taste the bittersweet nature of this ambivalence both in her day-to-day growth as she is accused by her adolescent peers of trying to be something she is not as she loses her accent and in the more profound and cyclical heartbreak of separation. She relates her grief at abandoning her precious sunflowers when her father uproots her from her familiar home in Mexico and she in turn must break his heart as she heads off to college to pursue her dreams.
In sum, this book is among the most usable I’ve found with medical students for two reasons. First, it meets the main requirement of being an enjoyable and quick read. This autobiographical account is most likely to be devoured within a single day. The author is a superb writer and some of our medical students repeatedly commented that they wish she said more in most passages. Second, she enables us to easily identify with her struggles. Because all adults were once adolescents, we have a framework regarding the struggle for self-discovery and identity into which her cultural context is infused. She enables us to access the different through the familiar. Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a first-rate guide and mentor to those of us who seek insight into the Mexican-American experience and the particular strengths and means of coping that a family steeped in this hybrid culture might possess.
Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Medical Education and the Director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Purchase Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall here.
While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event, #DVpit, created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors. The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s website.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST
What is #DVpit?
#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.
What kind of work can you submit?
The participating agents and editors are looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the paragraph above.
Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.
How do you submit?
Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.
Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags in your pitch.
We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc.
These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you box your experience. If you’ve already perfected your pitch and/or simply don’t see the value in including these codes, please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.
Please pitch no more than once per hour, per manuscript. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.
Please do not tweet the agents/editors directly!
The event will run from 8:00AM EST until 8:00PM EST, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time.
What happens next?
Agents/editors will your “like” your pitch tweet if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply with compliments.
Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.
All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), you are encouraged you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).
If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same group have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy, or reach out to Beth Phelan who can help you find out.
Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!
Who is participating?
Over 50 agents and editors will be participating, and since this is a public event, more are likely to join in on the day! Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating. See the full list here.
Please be sure to research any agent or publisher that “likes” your pitch. There is no obligation to submit your work to anyone you don’t want to.
For more details and a list of resources to help with your pitch, visit Beth Phelan’s post. Best of luck and happy pitching!
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger R. Joseph Rodríguez, Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, shares strategies on teaching Guadalupe García McCall’s novels in middle and high school English Language Arts, as well as discusses the impact of culturally responsive and relevant literature in the classroom.
What inspired you to write about GuadalupeGarcíaMcCall, her literature, and classroom applications?
Guadalupe García McCall’s writings create many connections and destinations in my life, crossing many geographies and memories across time—from my growing up to today. As I read her books, I travel in conversation with her characters.
In literature, we enact the elements of storytelling and literacy by becoming involved with all the facets that make a story readable, understandable, relatable, and enjoyable.
The worlds García McCall creates in her literary works mirror my childhood and journeys. Specifically, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México, where García McCall was born, is the home of my maternal aunt Cristina, uncle Andrés, and cousins. While growing up, my parents, siblings, and I traveled from Houston to visit them.
Like in García McCall’s novels and poems, many families and cultures are before us—en vivo and in print—with storytellers and cuentos crossing the national grids of the U.S. and México borderlands.
For teachers interested in using Summer of the Mariposas and/or Under the Mesquite—what would you recommend they use the texts for? What part of curriculum? What could they pair this with—any literature or primary source documents?
The novel in verse Under the Mesquite meets various standards in English language arts that include poetry and various literary elements as well as other disciplines. The book presents an adolescent female who creates poetry and dramatic performances, supports her siblings as a caring problem solver, and seeks ways to keep her mother’s memory alive. The text can be paired with other novels in verse that feature characters with dilemmas and choices that lead to trials and triumphs.
Several primary sources can be considered such as the literary works within the novel, diaries and ballads with historical and personal accounts, and excerpts from classics and contemporary classics that feature first-person point of view such as A Good Long Way, American Ace, Brown Girl Dreaming, CrashBoomLove, My Own True Name, Locomotion, and Republic, among others.
As teachers, we can welcome diverse voices in our classrooms and students’ lives by allowing characters to move from the page to other media: performing and visual arts. Reading García McCall’s novels and poetry remind us of the varied stories we carry with our families and in our interior—alive and in memory.
We carry these stories beyond our own biological families to the literary characters and families we meet through the mirrors, windows, and doors of their lives created by our author and medium García McCall and our very own lives. Student can write about these memories with an image that launches the conversation to a recording that can create a collage of storytelling with varied techniques and improvisation for the classroom stage.
There are no required texts for the Common Core State Standards, but we still see that schools and districts can be shy to branch out from more classic texts (“classics” as in texts that seem to appear in every high school year in year out as well as many that are Caucasian and European American literary canon). Why do you think that is? What can teachers do to include more contemporary and/or culturally responsive and relevant texts with limited time and flexibility in the year and curriculum?
Becoming aware of the civic communities that border our schools, the cultural resources and references that inform ideas and decisions, and students’ everyday resilience are key insights to create community through literature and even transport readers to other places in time, to the present, and toward the future.
As teachers, we can also plan literary experiences that create dialogue across borders, cultures, and migrations. Our lessons can reflect adventure, drama, choice, conflict, dilemma, and triumph experienced by characters through literature from diverse experiences, places, and realities. This requires deliberate planning with concepts and competencies for culturally responsive and sustaining instruction that places classics and contemporary classics in dialogue with deeper learning, thinking, and questioning.
Lastly, through the guidance of their teachers, many students are book borrowers who experience libraries in classrooms, schools, homes, and civic communities. As a result, students are permitted self-selection of both print books and e-books.
Is it enough to select a “culturally responsive” book for the curriculum? What does culturally responsive and relevant instruction look like? How can high school teachers make the whole process from book selection, introduction, instruction, and student work/output culturally responsive and relevant?
When I found García McCall’s novels, which were recommended by Pat Mora, I heard the familiar voices come alive and the stories speak to me from the print and digital pages of our national and binational literary canons. Culture is really about imagination and knowledge and how these sustain us as communities. Thus, as teachers we must be in conversation with our teaching colleagues as well as readers who are among us: our students, their families, librarians, and critics.
There are several book awards that can inform our literary selection and introduction. For instruction and student work, we can rely on resources from the American Library Association, Edutopia, ReadWriteThink.org, and publications from ILA and NCTE. Moreover, the process for selecting a book can take into consideration teaching standards and student learning outcomes that promote growth with interdisciplinary thinking and learning.
Teachers interested in the inclusion of diverse literary traditions understand the role of reading, writing, authorship, and representation in the literacy classroom. The research informs us that students seek literary characters and favor reading and writing experiences that reflect their life choices and questions in both public and private spaces. These choices and questions can be explored through both classics and contemporary classics.
What is at stake if educators do not include culturally responsive and relevant works like GarcíaMcCall in middle and high school classrooms?
What is at stake here is our democracy and shared efforts for global world understanding. Like García McCall and her characters reveal, we barter through world languages and literature. As a result, we have examples of human cultures meeting and sharing in the making of civilizations, languages, and stories. My earliest memories of family gatherings reflect bilingualism and biculturalism with biliteracies bringing us the warmth and energy to express ourselves so freely and with laughter and occasionally some of life’s sorrows.
Partly driven by fear and also by limited access to print and marketing, diverse voices were missing in textbooks and shelves across the country. This is changing as the U.S. mirrors more who its inhabitants have been: a country of diverse citizens with shared values about literacy and learning. We cannot succumb to fear with non-publication and non-participation if we are to keep our reading public alive for democracy to survive.
I remember the great importance placed on attendance in my schooling. In retrospect, many went uncounted and unaccounted for in my schooling: the literary characters who could forge new ways of seeing, reading, and interpreting adolescent life and thought, yet remained absent. That need not happen any longer as we rethink language arts and literacy education. Our teaching profession calls us to be committed to social change, reflection, and action by bringing more literacy opportunities into the lives of our students—of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, colors, and reading interests—and their diverse communities.
Joseph Rodríguez is Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. His research interests include children’s and young adult literatures, socially responsible biliteracies, and academic writing. Catch him virtually @escribescribe or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today is Wangari Maathai’s birthday! Wangari Maathai was the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, which tells Wangari’s story, continues to be one of the most popular books that we publish!
In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday and upcoming Earth Day later this month, here’s a list of the many fantastic resources and ideas available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace:
Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.
What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Over the last few years, we have seen the number of panels about diversity skyrocket. It wasn’t long ago that an all-white BookCon lineup inspired the creation of We Need Diverse Books; now, a few years later, we constantly come across conference lineups with multiple diversity-focused panels (take the upcoming YALSA Symposium for young adult librarians, as just one example). Many regional and national conferences have adopted diversity as a conference theme, and we have been invited to speak at multiple Diversity Summits, Diversity Days, and more.
This is a terrific thing. Panels are an important way to keep the focus on this topic and to educate the movers and shakers within all different industries about why diversity matters. The high number of panels focused on diversity is a good indicator that more people are thinking about these issues than ever before.
But here’s the thing about panels: just putting the word “diversity” on a panel and hoping it does the job isn’t enough. In fact, when diversity-focused panels are put together carelessly, they can do more harm than good. As in all other situations, diversity on panel programming must be approached in a nuanced and thoughtful way. Here are a few things to consider before you put together diverse programming for a panel:
Do you have any diverse people on your Diversity Panel? This seems like a no-brainer, but I have on more than one occasion seen panels focused on diversity that feature only white speakers (in fact, all-white panels are still so common that they inspired this hilarious satire, Rent A Minority). If your panel has a specific focus, such as LGBTQ diversity or racial diversity, you should aim to have multiple people on the panel who can speak with
authority on that topic. If your panel is more general, you should still aim to populate it with people who can offer a diverse array of perspectives. When marginalized people are in the minority – or missing completely – even on panels that focus on them, it sends a poor message about whose voice matters.
Have you only invited diverse people to be on your Diversity Panel, or are they also part of other programming? If your panel on diversity has a great lineup of authors of color but the rest of your programming is totally white, you have a problem. This pigeonholes authors of color and reduces them to tools for understanding without allowing them to promote themselves or their work. It also goes against the idea that diverse books are for everyone. For every author of color you put on a diversity panel, try to find several others to put on panels that are not focused on diversity. A mantra I saw recently on Twitter put it best: “Diversity on panels, not diversity panels.”
Who should your panelists be? Accept that not every diverse author will want to represent his/her community on a panel.For some, the issue may feel too private or personal. For others, this simply may not be their area of interest or expertise. Don’t simply assume all authors of color are interested in being on panels about diversity; not every person of color needs or wants to be an expert in diversity issues in publishing, and the same goes for people from other marginalized groups. Seek out authors who have made this conversation a part of their professional life, spoken about it publicly, and positioned themselves as leaders in the movement.
Do you actually need a “diversity panel”? Because so many groups have put together so many panels on diversity in the last few years, the topic can begin to feel redundant–in fact, some argue that even the word diversity itself is starting to lose its meaning. Questions like “Why is diversity in books important?” don’t necessarily move the conversation forward. This great article argues that it’s time to move on from Diversity Panels completely. One thing is certain: your audience will get more out of your panel if you can focus it on a specific topic that will resonate with your audience instead of just sticking with “Diversity 101.” Consider what your goals are beyond just general awareness and build a panel around that.
What do you want people to leave with? Leave time for concrete suggestions and takeaways.Panels are a great way to broaden the conversation, but they can only do so much. In order for real change to occur, people must leave panels inspired to take action. Often the idea of concrete takeaways is left for the very end of panels, as a last question. But by building in time for it and asking panelists to come up with concrete suggestions beforehand to share, you can help ensure that the panel will serve as a building block for the movement.
Here are a few thoughtful articles on the topic for further reading:
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people after they’ve witnessed a shocking or traumatic event. People experience shock after traumatic events, but those who don’t recover from the initial shock are more likely to develop PTSD. After a distressing or upsetting event, it’s important to seek support.
While literature cannot take the place of a support group or therapy, it can help us process grief and trauma. Teens are not immune to PTSD, and several YA novels explore this disorder in different ways: through fantasy, dystopia, or realistic fiction. Some are from the perspective of the person suffering, while others explore what it’s like to be a family member or friend.
Here is a list of four young adult books that deal with PTSD:
Trail of the Deadby Joseph Bruchac – In the follow-up to Killer of Enemies, Apache teenager Lozen protects her family and friends as they travel in search of refuge in a post-apocalyptic world. Though Lozen has only taken the lives of others to protect herself and her family, the killings take a toll on her spirit and Lozen finds herself with what her people call “enemy sickness,” another name for PTSD. With the support of her friends and family, she is healed in a ceremony that reflects the traditional healing of her Apache ancestors.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Hayley Kincaid and her father have moved around a lot in the past five years due to his job working on the road. They return to his hometown so that Hayley can have a shot at a normal life. However, after her father’s tours in Iraq, he developed PTSD. Hayley isn’t sure if being in her father’s hometown will help with his PTSD, or push him over the edge.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce – Evvy and
Rosethorn are sent to the island of Starns to help residents with a dormant volcano. While there, Evvy has flashes of a war from which she recently escaped.
Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers – After his dreams of attending college fall through, Perry, a teenager from Harlem, decides to volunteer for the service and joins the Vietnam War. Perry and his platoon are sent to the front lines and come face-to-face with the horrors of war. Perry begins to questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments and why the U.S. is in Vietnam at all.
It’s been just over a month since the results of our Diversity Baseline Survey came out, quantifying diversity among the book publishing workforce. Since then, we’ve been thrilled to see the many turns that this conversation has taken: different ways of considering the problem, different ways of interpreting the data, different solutions offered. Here are ten of our favorite responses that offer thoughtful commentary and ideas on how to look at the problem of diversity in publishing from a new angle:
“’Just because you are a woman, that doesn’t make you an expert in the marginalization that people of color face or people with disabilities face,’ says Ehrlich. ‘Do not assume that because women are successful or are in positions of power that it means that success or power will automatically be offered out or shared with other marginalized groups.’
That sentiment is echoed by Tamara Winfrey Harris, the Indianapolis, Indiana–based author of The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America.
‘Straight, white, cis-women are as susceptible to bias as anyone else. Bias toward our own experiences is sadly human. And racism, sexism, and other ‘isms’ are sadly an ongoing feature of our society,’ says Winfrey Harris. ‘So, if we want the universe of books to reflect the rich diversity of humanity, then the publishing industry must proactively work toward looking like humanity rather than a privileged slice of it, as well as making a real effort to find and nurture projects by writers with varied backgrounds.’”
“As Kait Howard, a publicist at Melville House, points out, male representation increases to 40 percent at the executive levels of publishing, suggesting that men and women are still being promoted at different rates. A Publisher’s Weekly survey last year also found that the pay gap persists, citing an average salary of $70,000 for men versus $51,000 for women. In other words, while white women have clearly amassed a great deal of power in publishing, that power is in many cases concentrated at the lower and middle levels of the ranks, suggesting it’s too soon to declare total hegemony. But the survey is an essential, depressing reminder of the extent to which the feminist movement has swept in new opportunities for primarily straight, white, and affluent women while excluding others, especially women of color.”
“‘I think the biggest thing is: What is your comfort zone as an editor? What are the stories that you feel are your speciality? Your expertise — often it’s not going to be across race,’ de la Pena said. ‘With my case, in 2005, I had a Caucasian editor who said: ‘I want this book on my list.’ So she took a great risk.’
Dahlen said the issue extends further, into libraries. Librarians play a key role in deciding which books to stock and which to promote to readers, but librarians are still a ‘fairly homogenous’ group.
‘If we are a fairly homogenous profession, how do we know the books we are evaluating are or are not authentic?’ Dahlen said.”
“Diversity does not mean that women should dominate, any more than it means that men should dominate. Diversity means that we need to share power, share advantages, share opportunities and wages and respect and cultural development together. Parity, while it will always be elusive in its purest state, is the goal of actual diversity: hegemony for no one.”–Charlotte Abbott
“But there’s no ‘white guy shelf.’ There’s no ‘Lads Who Write About Gentrified Brooklyn’ shelf. And every author needs the space to write about things other than their identity moniker ascribed and recognized by wider society. We need to actively expunge the premise that the only [identity] writer on the list can write about [identity] and nothing else. I think this is a fundamental right for the life of a writer.”–Linda Z., Literary Agent
“I worked at a library and there are a lot of gatekeepers that are not those grumpy dudes from the Muppets. Everyone just needs to investigate themselves. White supremacy and the heteropatriarchy are pervasive. Even down to librarians and the people on residency committees: maybe at the top there’s a white man but there’s also a lot of white women. This is controversial to say but white women need to look at themselves. Equality can’t just stop when you get in. It can’t be trickle down. It feels that way. ‘Wait a minute when we get everything settled, then we’ll bring more of you up.’”—Angela Flournoy, novelist, The Turner House
“You will be tokenized. Even when you get to write about your own experience of being a minority in America—you know, even that can be turned against you. Are you going to be used later on as leverage against an accusation of racism? Will you then be seen as a collaborator? In most cases the answer is yes.
Hiring is a crucial step, but it is reformist. It’s not going to really fix anything, just sand off the rough edges, right? Because there is far more concern about appearing racist rather than not doing racist things. It’s not just a publishing thing. What else can I say but dismantle capitalism? And I don’t know that anything radical enough to do that wouldn’t hurt a lot of the people that we are trying to save. Barring world historical change, I don’t see really anything happening but a new paint job. It is systemic racism for a reason, it’s so essentially wound up with the system upon which everything is built. You can ameliorate it. You can palliate it. But you can’t cure it. This is what I sound like when I’m optimistic.” —Tony Tulathimutte, novelist, Private Citizens
“Despite the challenges, we’ve seen some excellent progress. Anecdotally, I can tell you we’ve recruited over 150 new reviewers, many of them from a rich diversity of backgrounds. We’ve reached out to organizations like REFORMA and local chapters of the Black Caucus to recruit new reviewers. We created a website, forum, and a monthly newsletter for SLJ reviewers, which contains resources, training material, and best practices with a large focus on how to evaluate literature with an eye towards diversity and representation. We hold monthly online chats with our reviewers, often using those informal discussions as a way to talk about diversity and evaluation of literature. And, this summer, editor Shelley Diaz (recently promoted to lead the SLJ reviews team), will be organizing a free online course for reviewers centered on examining how we look at ‘diverse books,’ how we recognize our own blinders or prejudices when it comes to book evaluation, and how we clearly articulate both praise and criticism in professional reviews.” – Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal
“People of color can effort all they can to get published and to change this industry, but the change has to come from within the dominating white culture first. White editors, agents, marketing teams, and executives have to be willing to admit that they might not know what’s best for audiences they don’t understand or are not identified with. These people also have to open their eyes. It’s probably too kind to say that the lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Awards nominations line-up is a result of blindness. Seeing this year’s sea of white nominees makes Jackson’s use of the word ‘stupidity’ somehow seem tame.”–Brooke Warner, President, She Writes Press
“But for too many writers of color, it’s a herculean task just to get into a crowded auditorium where just one of those men might be lecturing, let alone being able to publicly claim those five literary lights as your professional support system. Merely getting to the point where your writing consciously panders to those kind of men would represent a victory of sorts. From the margins, the sound of writing sounds like nothing at all. You’re a mute in a black hole, hearing nothing but braying in your head.
The critique of institutional whiteness is everywhere now. However reluctantly, there is a growing awareness that it’s not just one professional venue but an entire cultural system that’s softly seeding doubt bombs in broody crevices where dark thoughts coalesce and swirl. A glass ceiling would be an improvement on this feeling of running everywhere into invisible electrical fences shrugged off as paranoid delusions by those who aren’t shocked every time they attempt pass through them. We regret that your manuscript is not a good fit. Of course we welcome the work of diverse writers, but please don’t revise and resubmit. We’re sorry, we already have one Black writer on our list. You’re Ojibwe? But we already have one Black writer on our list. How many times must I repeat this?”—Paula Young Lee
“Farhana Shaikh from Leicester-based publisher Dahlia, which focuses on diverse writing, agreed. ‘It’s been evident for too long that the publishing industry is overwhelmingly white here in the UK,’ she said. ‘The fact that things are no different in the US is unsurprising. As publishers, writers and editors we seem to have embraced technology to champion new voices and build links globally – and yet, as an industry we’ve failed to recognise the talent and potential emerging from these diverse communities. The industry is in a state of flux, print sales are down, and yet globally, markets like India are thriving. It’s time to stop talking, and start investing in creating a more equal balanced workforce which reflects the modern, multicultural society we’re living in.'”
What are we missing? Share your favorite links with us in the comments.
Today we are pleased to share this guest post from Librarian and Diversity Coordinator Laura Reiko Simeon. Welcome, Laura!
On a shuttle bus at the ALA Midwinter Conference, I overheard a conversation between two librarians who had also attended the event where Journey around Our National Parks from A to Z by Martha Day Zschock (Commonwealth Editions, 2016) was showcased as an example of inclusivity, portraying as it does ethnically diverse individuals enjoying the great outdoors. I was disturbed to hear these white women chuckling over what they saw as the ridiculousness of this book’s presentation in a session about diversity. They made it clear through snorts of derision that just having pictures of children of color didn’t count as making a book diverse, and that the effort itself to show diversity in this book was just plain silly.
Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about this. Zschock’s illustrations are important topically, as the New York Times piece, “Why Are Our Parks So White?” makes clear. Showing a dream for the future of these precious spaces is no small thing. But Zschock’s choice to include only visual diversity also has broader significance as Christopher Myers wrote in “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”:
Children of color remain outside the boundaries of imagination. The cartography we create with this literature is flawed.
A book alone may not literally bring a child of color into a National Park, but it can plant a seed that may one day bear fruit. For a child to see someone who looks like them enjoying nature amidst a sea of books that show absolutely no one like them doing any such thing – to me that is most definitely not laughable.
White characters in books are allowed to grapple with issues that have nothing to do with their racial identity. Often they simply have fun adventures without any heavy personal issues to resolve. Yet all too often diverse characters, when they appear at all, are merely a tool to teach about a particular problem – or they are the best friend, existing to validate the goodness of the white main character.
One tip for more inclusive reading is, “Think about the subject matter of your diverse books. Do all your books featuring black characters focus on slavery? Do all your books about Latino characters focus on immigration? Are all your LGBTQ books coming out stories?” Similarly, diverse books are frequently relegated to specific, short-term units, such as Black History Month. But the “observance month can easily lead to the bad habit of featuring these books and culture for one month out of the entire year. Ask yourself: Have we ever taken this approach with books that feature white protagonists?”
Children notice this. Books about people of color risk being labelled Not Fun. Continually choosing books in which people of color are victims communicates that not being white means living a life of misery and suffering. While learning about injustice is crucial, only focusing on oppression reduces the rich complexity of people of color’s lives to a source of pity.
Fortunately there are an increasing number of books out there that show diversity without making it “the problem.” Unfortunately they can be hard to find: the whitewashing of book covers often disguises diverse contents, and these books are frequently not given library subject headers that indicate their diversity since they’re not about race, but something else entirely. Given these difficulties, here are a few Lee & Low titles that deserve a shout out.
Amazing Places, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, takes readers on a journey around America to classic landmarks including Niagara Falls, the Mississippi River, the Texas State Fair, and Denali National Park. Poems by authors such as Alma Flor Ada, Linda Sue Park, and Joseph Bruchac are gorgeously complemented by Chris Soentpiet’s and Christy Hale’s illustrations showing racially integrated communities and people of many ethnic backgrounds. Whether the backdrop is a stunning wilderness scene or a cultural attraction, this book celebrates the diverse natural and human beauty of this nation.
Maya’s Blanket/La Manta de Maya by Monica Brown is a bilingual English/Spanish retelling of a classic Yiddish folktale. This charming story of the love between a little girl and her abuelita is firmly rooted in Latino culture, while David Diaz’s lively illustrations show Maya playing with a multiracial group of friends. Scenes of cross-racial friendship such as these have a positive impact on children’s behavior, yet are so rare that in one study the researchers had to create their own materials!
In Sally Derby’s Sunday Shopping, a grandmother and granddaughter let their imaginations run wild as they use the Sunday paper to inspire flights of fancy. Evie’s mother has been deployed, and her loving presence is a constant backdrop to the daydreams they indulge in as they browse the colorful ads. Shadra Strickland’s vibrant collages bring to life this universal story of strong family bonds. Evie and her Grandma are black. Why? Well, why not? Children from all racial backgrounds can connect to this warm and playful story, and making the characters black when they don’t “need” to be allows their humanity to shine through first and foremost.
Do you have favorite titles that show diversity through the illustrations without making it an issue in the text? Please share them below!
The daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over the US and the world. An alumna of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding, Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle where she is the Diversity Coordinator and Library Learning Commons Director at Open Window School.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up ten of our books that feature some amazing women of color! From a baseball player to an American politician, these women have helped pave the way for many others.
7. Patsy Mink, How We Are Smart – an American politician from the U.S. state of Hawaii
8. Hiromi Suzuki, Hiromi’s Hands – one of a handful of women in the male-dominated world of sushi chefs
9. Rosa Parks, Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth – Mrs. Parks changed the course of history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, sparking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement
When asked for a list of key contacts who will support their upcoming book, many debut authors panic. “I don’t really know anyone,” they will say. But the truth is that most authors already have a large network of people at their disposal who will gladly assist in promoting their upcoming book: their friends and family. While these people probably can’t purchase a whole print run alone, a book can benefit from their support in some essential ways. Knowing the best ways to approach this group and maximize their impact is the key.
The most important thing to remember is that friends and family want to be supportive. This bears repeating as many authors, particularly introverts, can feel a little skittish about self-promotion, even–or especially–to the people with whom they are closest. The key is to approach things in a professional and organized way, so that friends and family feel empowered to take small steps that will help support your career. Here are some concrete ways that you can leverage your community to promote your book:
Start building your contact list early. Create a list of email and snail mail addresses for your friends, family, and professional contacts–anyone who you think would be interested in the release of your book. Beginning your list early allows you to spend time making it as comprehensive and accurate as possible, so you don’t have to scramble to put it together when your book is released. It’s also helpful to let your publisher know that you have this list ready and how large it is, since it may impact whether they order promotional materials like postcards for your book launch.
Give people an opt-out. Once your contact list is ready to go, send an email to everyone a month or more before your book is released. In the email, let people know that you are excited about the release of your upcoming book, and you will be sending periodic email updates. End by saying that if anyone does not wish to receive your updates, they can email you to be taken off the list at any time and you won’t be offended.
Create a separate Facebook page for your Author account. Many authors worry about spamming Facebook contacts with news of their book. The best way to address this is to create a separate Facebook “Fan Page” for your author account. Once you have created the page, invite all of your Facebook friends to like it–and then invite them a few more times, for anyone who missed it. This way, you can share news of your book freely with a group that you know is interested. Even so, you should periodically share author news with your personal feed for anyone who may not have carried over.
Send more than one email. Many authors will send an email to friends and family when a book is released, but won’t follow it up with anything else. This isn’t enough, since one single email can easily get lost or forgotten. Mark in your calendar to send a follow up email 2-3 months after your book is released. This is a great time to remind people it’s available, and to ask those who have already purchased the book to write reviews. You can also send an email if your book wins a major award, goes into paperback, or receives a big publicity hit. Don’t overemail, but remember that your friends and family want to know when great things are happening!
Encourage contacts to leave reviews. One of the biggest things that friends and family can do to support your career, besides purchasing your book, is to leave reviews of the book on major book review and purchase sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. Building up reviews on these sites can go a long way in improving the visibility of your book. Tell your contacts that if they loved your book, you would appreciate it if they could take a few moments to write a review on one or more of the sites above. Most people will be happy to do so, they just need to be asked.
Mine your contacts for their contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends for help connecting with the right people, especially if you are new to publishing. Want to connect with a journalist at your local paper? See if you know anyone who might have a contact. Interested in doing local school visits to build up your experience? Let your friends with children know you are willing to visit local schools, and ask them to pass the word on. You’d be surprised at the people your friends and family may be able to connect you to, if you ask them.
Remember that knowing a published author is exciting, and your network of family and friends will want to help get the word out about your book. By asking for their help in small, organized ways, you can maximize their impact without putting them in an uncomfortable position or making them feel burdened. And that way, everyone wins.
Artist: Allen Say. Allen Say was born in Japan and moved to the United States as a teenager. Having trained in both Japanese and Western styles of art, after a successful career in commercial photography, he became a full-time writer and illustrator of picture books at 53. His exemplary and award-winning children’s books explore many aspects of his bicultural experience.
Mentor: Regina Hayes. Regina Hayes served for 30 years as publisher and is now
editor-at large at Viking Children’s Books, long known for innovation and dedication to quality. A champion of picture books and picture book art throughout her distinguished career, she has worked with such well-known authors and artists as Barbara Cooney, James Marshall, Simms Taback, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, John Bemelmans Marciano and Sophie Blackall, and Rosemary Wells.
Bridge: Steven Heller. A visionary in graphic design and illustration and the recipient of the 2011 Smithsonian National Design Award for “Design Mind,” Steven Heller is the co-chair of the School of Visual Arts MFA Design/Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program. The author or co-author of over 170 books on design, he writes for Wired, Atlantic, Print, Design Observer and The New York Time.
According to the Eric Carle Museum, “the Carle Honors Angel award recognizes those people and organizations whose resources are critical to making picture book art and education programs a reality. Lee and Low Books has inspired so many people with its dedication to multicultural books and to a new generation of artists and authors who offer children both mirrors and windows to the world.”
The Eleventh Annual Carle Honors will awarded in New York City at Guastavino’s on Wednesday, September 28, 2016!
Lee & Low Books truly appreciates this honor. Our warmest congratulations go out to the other honorees.
World Water Day is March 22nd. It’s an internationally recognized day to celebrate water and those who labor in water, started by the United Nations in 1992. The first World Water Day was celebrated in 1993.
Explore the importance of water with LEE & LOW’s Water Collection:
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life by Jan Reynolds – On the island of Bali in Southeast Asia, rice farmers follow the cycles of the water and the soil in order to plant rice.
Giving Thanks, written by Chief Jake Swamp and illustrated by Eric Printup – For as long as anyone can remember, Mohawk parents have taught their children to start each day by giving thanks to Mother Earth. The Thanksgiving Address has been adapted for children by Chief Jake Swamp.
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun/La mujer que brillaba aún más que el sol, written by Alejandro Martinez and illustrated by Fernando Olivera – In this Zapotec legend, Lucia Zenteno walks into a village in Central Mexico. Some of the villagers say that her long, dark hair blocks out the sun; others say that it outshines the sun. The frightened villagers banish Lucia and the river goes with her.
The Mangrove Tree, written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, illustrated by Susan L. Roth – People in the small village of Hargigo in Eritrea were unable to grow enough food for themselves and their animals. With the help of Dr. Gordan Sato, a scientist, they plant mangrove trees and transform their impoverished village into a self-sufficient one.
Looking online for resources as a new writer can be confusing. If you google “how to get a book published,” many of the first results you see are ads for resources that are sketchy at best—pay-to-play publishing, self publishing, vanity publishing. (While self publishing is a valid route, it’s important to know all your options before deciding self publishing is the right way for you.)
Change the query to “how to get a children’s book published” and the results aren’t much better. Eventually you may stumble on the helpful Frequently Asked Questions page for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an excellent resource for new writers looking to improve their craft and figure out the publication process. But navigating all the resources out there, good and bad, can be tricky.
Sometimes, you need to cut through the layers of information overload and just learn from publishing professionals directly. This is where writing conferences come in—which offer this and much more.
There are many good writing conferences across the United States (and the world). The SCBWI has local chapters that host monthly events, and the regional chapters tend to host at least one writing conference a year to which they bring editors and agents from New York City and elsewhere to teach, network with attendees, and critique their work. Many writers come away from conferences having met multiple like-minded writers with whom they can start a critique group. Other organizations also host more intensive workshops, such as Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, a conference that has gained national acclaim.
While these conferences are excellent general resources—and many of them are working hard to become more welcoming spaces for writers of color—we also recognize that without meaning to, sometimes general spaces don’t give writers of color the support they need in an industry dominated by white editors, agents, and authors. There is something to be said for a conference that begins with a mission to connect writers of color with information about publishing—from publishing 101, to improving craft, to networking with publishing professionals.
One such conference is Kweli Journal’s children’s book writing conference, which is holding its second annual writing conference on April 9 at Scandinavia House in New York City. The conference is only $100 for a full day’s programming (this is a really good price for a conference like this) and more than 25 authors, editors, and agents will be on panels and teaching workshops throughout the day.
The keynote speaker will be Edwidge Danticat, author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Breath, Eyes, Memory and the YA novel Untwine, among many other acclaimed titles. Our own Joseph Bruchac, author of Quick Picks Top Ten title Killer of Enemiesand more than 120 other books, will be there, as will Stacy Whitman, the publisher of our Tu Books imprint. Jessica Echeverria will be at the conference representing our picture book editorial team.
In the morning after the keynote, authors will learn from publishing professionals about how the publishing process works, and what their options are (self publishing, small presses, large publishers, whether you need an agent), and then the afternoon will break out into roundtables and critiques.
For a full list of publishing professionals who will be at the conference, check out the Kweli Journal website. We hope to meet you at the conference!
When: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 8 am — 8 pm
Where: Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016
These are only a small sampling of the excellent writing conferences out there. If you’re going to Kweli, let us know so we can look for you! If you can’t make it, feel free to recommend your favorite writing conference to learn about writing for children and teens.