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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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1. Poetry Friday: Dreaming Up

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our final Poetry Friday post, we chose a poem from Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building, written and illustrated by Christy Hale.

One by one,

block by block,

plastic shapes

interlock.

 dreaming up

Yellow, red,

white, and black,

all connect

in a stack.

dreaming up 2
Habitat 67 in Montréal

 

Build a world

brick by brick.

Hold them close.

Hear the click.

What are you reading for National Poetry Month? Let us know in the comments!

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2. Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday with Ira’s Shakespeare Dream

Today is what historians speculate is William Shakespeare’s birthday. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, England in 1564. Shakespeare is arguably the most well-known playwright of all time, and his works have been produced and acted in for the past 400 years!

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

 

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, written by Glenda Armand and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, follows the life of Ira Aldridge, who was known as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 19th century.

As a young boy in 19th century New York City, Ira Aldridge greatly admired the works of Shakespeare. He wanted nothing more than to act in Shakespeare’s plays against his father’s wishes.

ira's shakespeare dream spread 1

Ira later set sale for England, where he ran small errands for theaters. He was also hired as an understudy. Ira got his big break acting when a fellow could not perform. However, he was not well received. He had little training and critics felt that he should not take roles from white actors.

iras

Through his determination and perseverance, Ira Aldridge went on to become one of the most well known Shakespearean actors of his time, especially for his role as Othello. Ira Aldridge’s name is inscribed on a bronze plaque in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, in Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. He is the only African American among the thirty-three actors to have achieved this recognition.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream will be out this June.

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3. Reading for the Earth: Ultimate Earth Day Resource Roundup

Earth Day, April 22nd is right around the corner, and we at Lee & Low are some pretty big fans of this blue planet we live on. So, whether you choose to plant a tree or pledge to better uphold the 3 R’s -reduce, reuse, recycle- we are celebrating and promoting awareness the best way we know how- with books!

Here are 5 environmentally friendly collections to bring nature READING FOR 1 yellowindoors & encourage “thinking green”:

Save the Planet: Environmental Action Earth Day Collection: Be inspired to be an advocate for planet Earth through the true stories of threatened ecosystems, environmental recovery efforts and restorations plans, and heroic actions. Like the individuals and communities explored in these stories, children everywhere will realize the difference they can make in protecting our planet and preserving its natural resources.

Earth Day Poetry Collection: Through rhythm and verse, float down the cool river, reach as high as the tallest tree, and search for all of the vibrant colors of the rainbow in the natural world. This collection of poetry books are inspired by the joy and wonder of being outdoors and brings the sight and sounds of nature and all of its wildlife to life.

Seasonal Poems Earth Day Collection: Travel through winter, spring, summer, & fall through a series of bilingual seasonal poems by renowned poet and educator, Francisco Alarcón.  Learn about family, community, and caring for each other and the natural environment we live in.

Adventures Around the World Collection: Explore Africa while traversing Botswana’s lush grasslands and Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest, celebrate the deep-seeded respect for wildlife in India, Mongolia and on an island off the coast of Iceland, and journey to Australia to explore animals found nowhere else on Earth.

Vanishing Cultures Collection: The 7-book series introduces readers to the Yanomama of the Amazon Basin, Aborigines of Australia, Sami of the European Arctic, Inuit of the North American Arctic, Tibetans and Sherpas from the Himalaya, Mongolians of Asia, and Tuareg of the Sahara.

Lesson Plans & Ideas:

What fun is Earth Day if you don’t get your hands a little dirty? Bring some of the outdoors into your classroom-or vice versa- by engaging students in various hands-on and project-based Earth Day lessons and activities:

Earth Day Curriculum Resources, Grades K-5 from The National Earth Day BooksEducation Council. Features lesson plans, units, useful websites, games & activities, printables, and video.

Environmental Education Activities & Resources from The National Education Council. Features lesson plans, activities, projects, games, and professional development ideas.

Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink. Features a classroom activity, 6 lesson plans for grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9 & other Earth Day resources for kids.

Nature Works Everywhere from the Nature Conservancy. Features lessons, video, and tools to help students learn about and understand nature in various environments and ecosystems across the globe.

Check out the research-based read aloud and paired text lessons for The Mangrove Tree created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org

Explore the educator activities for The Mangrove Tree and Buffalo Song, titles featured in RIF’s Multicultural Book Collections. To find other free activities that inspire young readers as well as learn more about Reading Is Fundamental, visit RIF.org

Activities, Projects, & Video:

Greening STEM Educator Toolkits from National Environmental Education Week. Features toolkits for activities based on water, climate, energy, and engineering a sustainable world through project-based service learning.

NOVA Earth System Science Collection from PBS LearningMedia. Standards-based video collection that explores important Earth processes and “ the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth.”

22 Interactive Lessons to Bring Earth Day to Life from Mind/Shift. Features informational videos, images, and other forms of multi-media highlighting research on biodegradation, climate change, waste, energy sources, and sustainable practices.

I Want to Be Recycled from Keep America Beautiful. Find out how different kinds of materials are recycled, transforming trash into new things. Students can play a super sorter game and start a recycling movement in their community.

Journey North: A Global Study of Wildlife Migration & Seasonal Change from Learner.org. Track various migratory species with classrooms across the world.

The Global Water Sampling Project from the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE). Students from all over the world collaborate to compare the water quality of various fresh water sources.

Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Learn how to begin a waste reduction program in your school or community with helpful guides and resource tool kits.

Wildlife Watch from the National Wildlife Federation. Learn about and monitor the wildlife where you live, helping track the health and behavior of wildlife and plant species across the nation.

What’s Your DOT (Do One Thing)? from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Pledge your DOT (Do One Thing) to take action and inspire others to make a difference.

Plant a Poem, Plant a Flower from the blog Sturdy for Common Things. Since April celebrates both National Poetry Month & Earth Day, why not plant a little poetry in nature?

And finally… some Earth Day treats!

Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips
Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips at tammileetips.com

 

Earth Day Cookies

Earth Day Dirt Cup

Earth Day Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

veronicabio

Veronica has 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 with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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4. Poetry Friday: Song in My Heart

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our third Poetry Friday post, we chose Song in my Heart by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Jackson from I and I Bob Marley.

i and i

Song in My Heart

I am the boy

From Nine Miles

The one sing

Like three little birds

In a reggae style

The one blessed

By Jah

To travel miles

Across the world

With my island girl

Guitar in hand

And my dreads

A twirl

With music

In my belly

And songs

In my heart

Healing the world

With my reggae art

Keeping you always

Like a song

In my heart

 Let us know what poems you’re reading in the comments section!

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5. Meet Our New Visions Award Finalists: Part III

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. In previous posts, we interviewed finalists Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang, and finalists Shilpa Kamat and Rishonda Anthony.

Below authors Yamile Saied Méndez and Axie Oh answser:

Yamile Mendez thumbnailYamile Saied Méndez, “On These Magic Shores”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

 My main character is twelve-year old Minerva Soledad Madrid and she can’t wait to grow up. The oldest of three girls, she’s a Latina who speaks Spanish and who’s proud of her cultural heritage. Her parents are of Argentine descent, and her mom (who’s raising the girls by herself) teaches the girls the Argentine traditions she grew up with. She sings the lullabies of her childhood, and most importantly, she passes on her belief in the Peques (short for Pequeñitos, the Little Ones), the Argentine fairies, who follow their families as they move around the world. Because the family doesn’t have a support system, Minerva had to step up and be a second mother for her sisters while their mother works two jobs to make ends meet. Minerva wants to be the first Latina president of the United States. She’s determined and focused. She doesn’t believe in magic, but she wants to, oh how she wants to believe the fairies take care of her and her sisters while their mom is away! In the story, Minerva learns how to be a child again (kind of like a reverse Peter Pan) because magic is really all around us!

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?   Don’t pay attention to the inner editor!

If I could send my younger self a message, it would be: follow you heart, write what you want to write, and trust your voice. I wrote my first story in the first grade, and looking for validation, I showed it to my uncle. Instead of the praise I expected, he told me a few things that didn’t work in his expert opinion. After that, I started writing with my inner editor reading over my shoulder, until I got to a point in which I wasn’t sure anyone would ever be interested in what I wanted to say. Don’t pay attention to the inner editor! Get the story out of your heart! There’s a lot of time to fix things during revision. Revision is your friend.

I also would say a big THANK YOU. My younger self was a little like Minerva: determined and persistent. I taught myself English at a young age, and I’m forever grateful to little Yamile for all the hard work. It’s paying off!

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

I wrote my first full novel during NaNoWriMo back in 2008. My goal was to win NaNo by writing 50,000 words in 24 days (I found out about National Novel Writing Month on November 6th, but I still reached my goal). Since then, I’ve learned to pour out my first draft on the page and then go back and revise. This has resulted in a lot of drafts that will never see the light of day, but it has also produced some powerful writing that came straight from my heart (like the NaNo in 2013, a few days after my mother passed away). I write every day, or at least, most days. Sometimes my ideas are born of a single word, or a person I see who makes me wonder about their lives. Sometimes the ideas simmer in my head and my heart for years, until I feel I ready to tell them. Right now I’m working on a story that was born about twelve years ago when I lived in Puerto Rico. I’ve learned that even if something I write isn’t ready for me to share with my critique group, it’s still an important piece of writing because it taught me what doesn’t work or what needs more depth. I love to do writing exercises from craft books like Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway et al, Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin, and The Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson. Even if not all of these exercises end up in my manuscript, I often find wonderful information about my characters (or myself) that helps me tell the story better.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

First of all, I feel that people should read whatever they want to read without fear of mocking or teasing of any kind. I naturally gravitate toward books by authors of color because they tell stories that mirror my experience as a person of color too. As a child, I never remembered who wrote what. I loved Little Women and Heidi because I identified with Jo March and Heidi who lived with her grandpa. But as an adult and a writer, I want to learn from the masters how to tell the stories that inhabit my mind and my heart, and there’s no better way than to read their stories to know how to tell mine.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript? 

I have hundreds of favorite books, but in middle grade I love everything by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia is my favorite), Gary D. Schmidt (Okay for Now), Shannon Hale (Princess Academy), Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy. Wow!), and Erin Bow (Pain Kate). I also love everything by Meg Medina (especially The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind) and Julia Alvarez (the Tia Lola books are the best!), and of course Pam Muñoz Ryan (Esperanza Rising). But my favorite stories ever are fairy tales, from all over the world, and of course Peter Pan has a special place in my heart.

Axie Oh thumbnailAxie Oh, “The Amaterasu Project”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

His name is Lee Jaewon (Koreans put their surnames before their given names). He’s 18-years-old. He’s a quiet, keep under the radar type of person, with a strong sense of loyalty and a distrust of hope. At the start of the book, he lives alone in a dingy apartment in Old Seoul (my future Korea is split between Old and Neo Seoul). He hasn’t spoken to his best friend in three years. He’s rejecting these mysterious envelopes full of cash, sent from his mother who he hasn’t seen since he was eight. I see him as a character with a very tired soul who longs to forgive everyone who’s hurt him in his life, yet doesn’t know how to begin, or even if it matters.

 Physically, he looks like Lee Jong Suk. If you don’t know who that is, well, you’re in for a treat: Google him! (He’s a South Korean actor).

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

You are fabulous! Keep on doing what you’re doing! Okay, maybe that’s not advice. More like ego-boosting. But every teenager needs a good ego-boost now and then, especially when writing, which is literally pouring your soul onto a page.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

My writing process is pretty linear. I outline heavily, with scene-setting and dialogue for some significant scenes that will appear in the novel. I do character and worldbuilding charts. I compile pictures/illustrations of places and people who inhabit the spirit of my characters. Then I go through the whole book, from the first chapter to the last, with heavy editing in between. Then of course more revisions. The last two steps are printing the whole book out and attacking it with a bunch of colorful pens. The more colors the better! And then reading the whole book out loud while recording it. THEN I send it to my beta readers and critique partners – this is the point where I can’t make it any better by myself. As for writer’s block, when I come up

As for writer’s block, when I come up against that particular wall, I always start with the spark that made me want to write the book in the first place. The characters. I go back to the sketches I wrote of the characters and add onto them, delving deeper into their backgrounds and psyches. And/or I’ll re-read scenes I’ve already written that contain the “voice” of the characters, which makes me fall in love with the characters all over again. It’s all about making myself believe in the characters so that I want to finish their story.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

The idea behind this, I believe – at least for avoiding white, male authors specifically – is that by avoiding this group, you will therefore seek out stories written by women, people of color or LGBT writers, enriching your perspective of the world, which is always a viable and recommended thing to do.

As a reader, I seek out stories with strong coming-of-age themes and themes of love, in all its shapes and forms. When I read, it’s about seeking these types of books in an inclusive setting.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?

Tough one because I haven’t read enough YA Sci-Fi to have particular favorites. I watch a lot of Sci-Fi dramas and anime (which heavily influenced my novel), but I don’t particularly have favorite books that are in the YA Sci-Fi genre. For example, one of my favorite anime/manga franchises is the Gundam franchise, which deals with futuristic societies, technological advancements and very human themes of love, hate, honor and betrayal.

Recently, I read the first two books in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, which were pretty awesome – jam-packed with action and strong themes of what it means to be a hero.

On the opposite end of Sci-Fi, focusing more on character, I really love the quiet strength of Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, a dystopic re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, taking place on a futuristic Pacific Islands.

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6. Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students

Guest BloggerIn this guest post, Sara Burnett, education associate at the American Immigration Council, presents strategies and resources to enrich the classroom with the legacy of César Chávez. This blog post was originally posted at the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration blog.

“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”   — César Chávez

César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rightsWhen the man who feeds the world by leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.

One group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL has done just that by writing and producing a short news broadcast “The Hands That Feed Us: A Migrant Farm Workers Service Project,” highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Their teachers are winners of the American Immigration Council’s 2014 community grants program which helped to fund this service-learning opportunity. Their project culminates with a school-wide donation drive for materials sorely needed for migrant farmworkers.

Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez? 

Start with a lesson

Interpreting the Impact of César Chávez’s Early Years

In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements.  First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy.  Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development.  This Common-Core aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels.

Use visuals and picture booksCESAR

Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California’s Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.”

First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school

Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the poet’s account of his own childhood as a migrant farmworker.  Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.

A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.

Initiate a community service project

Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families.  Take inspiration from the students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive project and let us know about it and apply for our community grants.

Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers

Read How Inaction on Immigration Impacts the Agricultural Economy (American Immigration Council) and What happens when more than half of migrant workers are undocumented? (Michigan Radio)  Ask students: What is the status of migrant labor today in the U.S.?  How much has changed and stayed the same since Chávez’s early childhood?

Read Interview with a Crab Picker (Public Welfare Foundation) and explore what it is like to apply for U.S. jobs while residing in the home country.  Pair this reading with the short film about a Public Welfare Foundation grantee: Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc. available on their website. Ask students:  How do these recent interviews and stories compare and contrast with the conditions facing Chávez and his family? How are some individuals in home countries benefitting from sending migrant workers to the U.S.?

Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students?  We’d love to hear them.  Email us at teacher@immcouncil.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Sara SelfSara Burnett is the education associate at the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to honoring our nation’s immigrant past and shaping our immigrant future. She was a former public high school English teacher in Washington D.C. and Vermont. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught a service-learning and creative writing with undergraduates and recently immigrated high school students. Additionally, she holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont, and a BA in English and Economics from Boston College. 

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7. Poetry Friday: Family Garden

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our second Poetry Friday post, we chose Family Garden by Francisco Alarcón, illustrated by Paula Barragán from Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos.

poems to dream together

Family Garden

in the backyard/of our home/there is a garden

all in our family/do our part/in maintaining

Mamá loves/to plant and nip/flowery rosebushes

Abuelita keeps/her mint herbs/in a small pot

Papá really likes/to come out hose/in hand and water

the lemon tree/the squashes/and the tomatoes

that my sisters/would grow/every spring

my brothers and I/in turn weed out/and mow the lawn

all in our family/take time to tend/each other’s dreams

even our puppy/knows how/to grow bones

in this garden/the sun shines/green smiles

What poems is everyone else reading? Feel free to share in the comments section!

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8. Meet Our New Visions Award Finalists: Part II

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here are answers from our first two finalists, Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang.

Below, authors Shipla Kamat and Rishonda Anthony answer:

Shilpa Kamat thumbnailShilpa Kamat, “Fallen Branches”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

My novel is narrated by a teen named Shloka. Her voice jumped out at me one day when I was free writing during a spare moment in a parked car, and I knew she would have to keep talking until her story was told.

Shloka’s name means “song,” but she’s shy about singing. One of her mothers is of South Asian descent and the other traces her history to early immigrants who came to the town in Northern California where her family lives. When someone is killed in their seemingly peaceful neighborhood, Shloka finds herself working in secret with her friend Dilly to solve the mystery of what happened–something she’s sure is not quite what everyone else believes…

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

Trust yourself and finish your projects. They don’t have to perfectly match your vision. In fact, they probably won’t. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one project at a time, but follow through. Take risks.

You’re already your harshest critic; learn to be an ally to your art as well. Choose to bring your writing to life rather than stifling it under the weight of your fears and expectations.

No matter how fantastical, ground your writing in real emotions and the interpersonal dynamics you witness or experience. Represent a broad range of people and centralize the communities and experiences you understand best. Be vulnerable. Let your characters have faults and forgive them, whether the other characters forgive them or not.

Rather than limiting yourself to the consciousness of current times, write with a sense of possibility. Take for granted that the seeds of positive social change will take root and come to fruition and write beyond that.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

Although some aspects of my creative writing process are pre-meditated, I don’t always know what turn a story will take or what its characters will say.

This, to me, is what differentiates creative from analytical writing. Analytical writing is relentlessly driven by a point; creative writing is inspired and emergent. While a poem or a novel may be tempered by the frontal lobes, its source lies elsewhere. It may wind up dancing aside from an initial course and taking another. I see it as my job to respect this process and allow space for it while occasionally pruning or uprooting and replanting paragraphs.

To keep myself motivated while working on one major projects, I kept a daily log of my word count and tracked the amount written. With another project, I abandoned this method entirely, occasionally checking progress on the number of pages but no longer needing a sense of production to drive me. I have no tolerance for outlines, but I am comfortable artistically representing goals or documenting completed projects–drawing the petals of a flower to write in, for instance. To successfully keep myself organized, there need to be wild elements and vibrant colors.

As for writers’ block, in my experience, it manifests as either anxiety or forcing. Whether caused by an impending deadline or a desire to plow through a portion of writing so that I can build a bridge to another, forcing kills the dynamism necessary for artistic expression. If I recognize that I am forcing, I step outside or hum or dance or stand on my head–whatever it takes to make myself relaxed and present.

Similar approaches can help to alleviate anxiety, but when I am anxious, I may distract myself endlessly or find other chores to busy myself with. On my most difficult days, I can’t manage to write until I am so tired I’m ready to sleep. Then I relax enough to channel another chapter or two.

Writing demands the cracking of idealized image, and that can be as disquieting as it is enlivening. It requires a deep intimacy with oneself, a revelation of one’s mind to others, that may be deeply uncomfortable. The cure for my writers’ block is to sit with this discomfort and work my way into it, whether in a direct or roundabout way, until the truth emerges.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

When I was in middle school, my Social Studies teacher announced that we were predominantly studying white men because they were the ones who shaped the course of history. My Language Arts teacher vehemently declared that “man” can be used not merely to describe a man but all of humankind.

The teachers were preempting challenges to those conventions, but no one can out-shout the truth: people are hungry for narratives that have been repressed throughout history. During the past two decades, the social histories of slaves, women, low-income people, indigenous communities, immigrants, and others who were not part of the elite have been increasingly sought after and have even entered courses of study in some mainstream schools.

In college, I recognized that unless I was told otherwise, if I had to imagine a character in a book, I would imagine a white person. This flattening of imagination is detrimental to everyone; when mythical imagination is constrained to the worldviews of only a fragment of humanity, literature fails to realize its potential for developing empathy for a broad range of others and an awareness of human experience.

If there are people who choose to focus on works by a specific group of authors for a period of time, I imagine that they are struggling to broaden their imaginations to include, centralize, and normalize the experiences of those who are rarely represented. For instance, if people decide to read only foreign novels for a year, they may broaden an insular lens into a more global one. As long as no group is being permanently written off, no author permanently clumped into a single category, I see no harm.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?

When I was a young adult myself, I enjoyed Cynthia Voigt’s work; A Solitary Blue, for instance, explored painful family relationships while rooting the characters in the natural world. I also enjoyed a number of other novels, primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genre, but I have not revisited most of them as an adult.

As for the mystery genre, a novel I remember liking as a child was The Westing Game, and a novel I enjoyed as an adult was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The latter left me with a lovely image of someone’s sitting at the bottom of a dry well to think.

Rishonda Anthony thumbnailRishonda Anthony, “Seraphim”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

Cassandra Rose is a former child prodigy who won dozens of trivia contests, spelling bees, and brain bowls as a girl. After having a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, she spent the next 5 years being home schooled in solitude. Now at 17, Cassandra is socially starved and desperate to fit in. But when she enrolls in a small private college, her past comes back to haunt her.

There are some autobiographical aspects in Cassandra’s character, which I believe is probably true for every author’s first book. In the case of Cassandra, I took them to the extreme. I was not a child prodigy who had a nervous breakdown, merely a gifted kid with anxiety issues. When I enrolled in a school rather similar to Cassandra’s college (in terms of size and atmosphere), I spent my entire first semester either alone in my room or going home on the weekend. This is where I formed the idea of a girl who is not an outcast due to social awkwardness, but because of a dark secret.

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

First, don’t major in English. I’ve always loved books and have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl (cliché, I know). But then I spent two college semesters analyzing deeper meanings and themes in genius level books. It gave me a complex, because I thought that if I couldn’t write anything as good as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Grapes of Wrath then there was no point in writing at all. Reading stopped being fun, and then writing became a chore rather than an escape. Even after I switched majors, it took a couple of years for me rediscover my love of writing.

Secondly, find a writing group! I’m the kind of writer who works well with a deadline, and when I’m writing a draft, my critique partners expect 10 pages a week, every week, from me. If I was writing for myself, I would procrastinate for years (see the third piece of advice). In addition, as part of the millennial generation, I crave instant gratification. Having someone review my work and give me feedback goes a long way towards motivating me to finish a project. All budding writers should check their local meetup.com and see if there is a writer’s group in their area. If not, consider creating one.

Third, keep at it! I started writing Seraphim when I was roughly Cassandra’s age. The story hasn’t changed much, but years of losing both faith and motivation quickly turned into more than a decade with nothing but a few vague chapters to show for it. I didn’t start seriously writing the story until I was in my late twenties, and only then when I found a writing group to support me.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

I’m a huge fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Both Seraphim and my latest novel started out as NaNoWriMo “Brain dumps” that got poured into a word document at a rate of about 2000 words a day. The 50,000 word result is always a mess, but at least it’s on paper. After that, I spend the next six months editing that work into a proper draft.

The best technique to get past writers block is to stop reading. I’m a big reader (I know the location of every library in my city and have subscriptions with Audible, Amazon Prime, and Forgotten Books) and I believe that no one can be a serious writer unless they are also a serious reader. But when I can’t write, usually it’s because the books (yes, plural) I’m reading are hurting the process. For example, the author’s style might rub off on me, and I’ll unknowingly change a character or my voice. Then I’ll start to struggle, because the book doesn’t sound quite right, and I’m not sure why. Or I might come across an idea that I really like, and then decide to put something similar in my book. Suddenly I’m trying to add an alien into a book about witchcraft, or trying to create an entire fantasy realm for a story that really doesn’t need it. That’s a recipe for instant writer’s block. Forcing myself to step away from other people’s work and focus on my own (usually for no more than a week or two) gets me out of most ruts.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

In doing research to answer this question, actually had to face the uncomfortable fact that that there are very few authors of color sitting on my bookshelf (as you will see in the next question). This was not intentional, as I certainly want to read more diverse authors, but considering that publishing is still a very white business (white authors are more likely to get published and more likely to get coverage for their books), these stories don’t just fall into my lap.

However, I do believe in the power of the free market, and I think that if more people buy books by diverse authors, publishers will start putting out more books by diverse authors. For me, it involves deliberately seeking out books written by authors of color and including those books in my usual reading rotation. Despite this, I don’t think I would go so far as to cut out all white male authors. Ninety percent of the books are read are adult Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Horror and there aren’t many authors of color who write in those genres. But one day, I’d like to count my name among those authors.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?  

In Young Adult, I’m a fan of Susan’s Ee’s Penryn & the End of Days series and The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. As for fantasy, I love Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. When it comes to the pinch of horror I like to put in every story, I have to recognize Joe Hill, and his father Stephen King, who I grew up reading and who wrote the first 1000 plus page book I ever read (It, age 15).

 Meet Our New Visions Finalists: Part I

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9. Book Marketing 101: What to Put On Your Author Website

This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.

In our last Marketing 101 post, I discussed what to do while waiting for your book to release. One of those recommendations was to refine your online presence. Today I’ll drill down into more detail on that point, focusing on the place where your online presence starts:
your website.

These days, it is absolutely essential for any published author or illustrator to maintain a personal website. I repeat: it is essential!Book Marketing 101: What to Include on Your Author WebsiteUsing your publisher’s website as your online home base is not a good solution for a couple reasons:

1) You may have many different publishers over the course of your career, and there won’t be one place where people can see all your books.
2) Publishers won’t have room for all the information you’ll want to include.
3) You need to be able to update your website as often as you need to, without going through a third party.

Some authors choose to create their own sites, while some choose to hire a company to design sites for them (I would advise against having a personal friend build your website unless they are able to teach you to manage and update it yourself). This blog post has some great suggestions for how to build a site yourself. Of the DIY options, WordPress is probably the most popular free option, while  Squarespace is a good paid option that provides some additional functionalities like e-commerce. The most important thing to consider when choosing where/how to build your site is sustainability: will you be able to maintain and update the website easily on your own once it is built?

Websites can range from the very basic to the very complicated, but all author websites should include a few key pages:

  • Bio and author photo. Every website should have an “About” section where people can learn who you are, where you’re from, and what inspires you. Offer more than what people can glean from flap copy alone. Some authors choose to offer both a short bio and a longer bio. We recommend also offering a link to a hi-resolution author photo that people can download for use in event promotions, reviews, etc.  If you’ve done any interviews, you should also post links to them here. Not only does this offer additional ways to learn more about you, but it’s a nice way of showing off some of the media coverage you’ve accrued.
  • Books. No author website is complete without an UPDATED list of all your books. At the bare minimum, you should include the title, cover,  and a brief description of each book. For upcoming books, include a release date – and don’t forget to change the book to available once it is released. If you have space, you should also include some of the book’s positive reviews and any awards that the book has won. Finally, always include links for people to purchase the book directly: we recommend linking to Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Author’s Website.
  • Events and Appearances. What kinds of visits do you do? What ages do you work with? If you have an education background or any special skills that make you especially good as a presenter, include them here. You may also want to ask contacts from past school visits if they are willing to write testimonials that you can share here.  You may even want to include a few photos or video from one of your visits. You don’t need to include honorarium information, but you do need to include a contact where people can learn more. If you don’t want to be your own contact, use a contact from one of your publishers for visit inquiries.
  • Social Media and Contact Information. Links to any social media channels you use should be front and center on your page, so people can find you easily. Only link to social media channels you keep updated—if you only posted on Twitter once, two years ago, it’s best not to direct people there until you begin using the platform regularly. Also include a way for people to reach you: this could be through a general email address, a direct email address, or even through snail mail sent to your publisher at your attention. You can choose to be as reachable as you want, as long as you offer some way for readers to get in touch.

Those are the four absolute must-haves for any author website. Beyond that, there are a few other elements that I’d recommend including if you are able:

  • Schedule/Upcoming Events. This is not a necessity, but some authors like to keep an updated list of the events they will be attending on their websites. It’s a great way to promote events you’ll be at and encourage fans to come out to support you, and it can also help generate additional event invitations. There’s one caveat: only add this page if you are going to keep it updated. There’s nothing worse than an author website that lists “Upcoming Events” that actually took place years ago.
  • Resources. Some authors create additional resources to go with their books, but even if you don’t create your own, it is likely that someone else will. Your website is a great place to compile these so readers can find them. You can link to these resources on your book page, or create a separate page for them. Either way, making these resources available through your website will help educators who want to use your books with students.
  • Email Collection. From the release of your first book (and even before that), you should work to build up your base of contacts. An easy way to do this is to create a place on your website to capture emails, where people can subscribe to receive updates on your work. Most website building platforms should have an easy way to do this. Building an email list can go a long way in helping you promote new titles when they are released.

Beyond these elements, the sky is the limit. Your website should reflect you, so feel free to include other pieces of information that you think readers would like. Whatever you do, your first priority should always be to keep your website UPDATED with your newest book information (even between books), so it doesn’t become obsolete.

Here are a few great posts with more information:
11 Author Website Must Have Elements (Your Writer Platform)
How to Build the Ultimate Author Website (In 1 Hour) (Tim Grahl)

And here are a few of my favorite author websites:
Pat Mora
Jennifer Torres
Paula Yoo
Monica Brown
Don Tate

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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10. 2015 Texas Library Association Conference Signing Schedule

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is next week! Will you be there? If so, we’d love to meet you. Here is our exciting signing schedule below:

TLA 2015 Signing Schedule posterWednesday, April 15

Thursday, April 16

We’ll be at Booth 2051 and look forward to meeting you!

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11. 7 End-of-Year Field Trips and Book Pairings That Your Students Will Love (but won’t break the bank)

Assessments may not feel far enough in the past (or perhaps haven’t even started!), but the end of the year is fast approaching and field trip planning is in full force!

It can feel like a scramble. For our final science unit in third grade, my colleagues and I wanted to teach our students about animal adaptions by raising trout in the classroom. It was an incredible opportunity to study the behavioral and physical adaptions of a specific species, but timing their release with a scheduled field trip was tricky. We didn’t know until a week ahead when the fish would be ready for release, which led to a mad rush to book buses.

In case you want to plan a field trip with more than a week of planning, here are some ideas with book pairings to get you ahead of schedule and your students excited!

Field trips

If your unit is…

  1. Habitats, Ecosystems, & Biodiversity

NYC field trip: Central Park Zoo

Book Pairing: Puffling Patrol

How to find puffins near you (if outside of NYC): Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo or aquarium close to your school. Most zoo and aquarium websites will list the animals they have.

Virtual field trip: Puffin burrow bird cam from Explore.org

The art and facts are stunning in this Lee & Low book where children can learn about puffin adaptations and their life cycle. After reading about the adorable creatures, fall in love with the real deal: tufted puffins at the Central Park Zoo.

  1. The Solar System & the Moon

NYC field trip: Hayden Planetarium or Hudson River Museum

Book Pairing: A Full Moon is Rising

How to embark on moon exploration near you (if outside of NYC): Go-astronmy.com has put together a national map to search for local planetariums.

Virtual field trip: Amazing Space

Alongside the science, students love to study folktales and mythology from around the world featuring and explaining the solar system and moon. Introduce the significance of the moon in world cultures, with this Lee & Low title which gives readers a world tour of diverse celebrations and beliefs regarding Earth’s only natural satellite.

  1. Plant Adaptations

NYC field trip: Queens County Farm Museum and other farm field trips from GrowNYC.org

Book Pairing: Rainbow Stew, Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué rico! America’s Sproutings, and Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

How to find a garden near you (if outside of NYC): Check out Better Homes and Gardens’ Garden Locator and the National Gardening Association’s Public Gardens Locator

Virtual field trip: My First Garden from University of Illinois Extension program


Share the joy of growing healthy food and the experiences of working the land with these Lee & Low titles!

  1. Life Cycles and Animal Adaptations

In NYC field trip: The Butterfly Conservatory at the Natural History Museum

Book Pairing: Leo and the Butterflies, Animal Poems of the Iguazu, and Butterflies for Kiri

How to find butterflies near you (if outside of NYC): Discover a butterfly house in your state. Also, the  Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo close to your school.

Virtual field trip: Butterflies and Moths of North America, Journey North with monarchs, and Wildscreen ArKive

What better way to celebrate these amazing creatures than to marvel at their incredible adaptations up close?

 

  1. Natural Resources, Human Impact, & Sustainability

In NYC field trip: Hudson River Park

Book Pairing: Water Rolls, Water Rises and I Know the River Loves Me

How to find a body of water near you (if outside of NYC): The National Park Service has created the Find a Park search tool to discover a park by location, activity, or topic.

Virtual field trip: Interactive animation, “The NYC Water Story,” from American Museum of Natural History’s Water: H2O=Life exhibit

Foster respect and a sense of responsibility about the environment with hands-on, outdoors learning and these stunning stories that pack a powerful message about one of our most precious resources.

  1. Recycling

In NYC field trip: Sims Municipal Recycling: Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility in Brooklyn

Book Pairing: The Can Man

How to find a recycling center or landfill near you (if outside of NYC): Many recycling centers and landfills offer student tours and you can find one near your school here.  It is recommended to call to see if the nearest one to you does school programs.

Virtual field trip: My Garbology from Naturebridge.org

Learn about the impact of recycling on the environment and human relationships.

  1. Physics: Forces & Energy

In NY State field trip: Baseball Hall of Fame or professional baseball stadium

Book Pairing: Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream, and Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer

How to find a baseball stadium near you (if outside of NYC): Maps are available to find the nearest major league baseball stadium and most offer student discounts or field trip tours. Minor League Baseball also has a map for its stadiums. For the most accessible option, check here and you can find a local baseball field for students to play themselves or see community members try out the laws of physics.

Virtual field trip: Exploratorium’s Science of Baseball

Long considered America’s “national pastime,” baseball has had major historic milestones paralleling societal changes and attitudes. Readers of all ages delight in learning about overlooked, but nevertheless significant, pioneers in the sport and trivia like the origins of baseball coaching signals.

Pair a Lee & Low title to your beyond-the-classroom-walls adventure to deepen background knowledge and create an interdisciplinary, multi-media experience. Young learners will never forget the time you made the book come alive with a visit to any one of these sights.

You may have a dozens of reminders set, but here is a thorough list to help you plan and execute a successful field trip from the educators at Learn NC.

Field Trip Funding:

  • DonorsChoose.org –For inspiration and proposal models, be sure to study what other teachers in your area and around the country are requesting for their field trips
  • Target Field Trip Grants—These are accepted in August and September only, but this grant option is one of the most popular for teachers around the country
  • ClassWallet
  • Every Kid in a Park—new initiative to help all fourth graders and their families explore our national parks for free
  • Ticket to Ride—National Park Foundation’s answer to transportation costs to and from the national parks and monuments
  • Student Achievement Grants—from the NEA Foundation
  • Road Scholarship from Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) Foundation—financial aid for individual students unable to afford to travel
  • PTA—your local PTA may have additional opportunities, ideas, and grants to fund your field trip

Local funding options:

Resources for virtual field trips:

Free ipad Apps for Virtual Field Trips from Edutopia

What are your experiences and tips on bridging a field trip with classroom content? What books have you used in the classroom or at home to begin or culminate a learning adventure? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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 weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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12. Poetry Friday: Hamburger Heaven

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. We’re starting off the weekend with Hamburger Heaven by Lee Bennett Hopkins from Amazing Faces.

hamburgur heaven

HAMBURGER HEAVEN

Lee Bennett Hopkins

He looks.                                She looks.

“Hi!”                                       “Hi!”

“My name is Cam.”                  “My name is Kim.”

“Been here before?”                “First time.”

“Kim?”                                    “Cam?”

Heart beats.                            Heart beats.

Love

found

among

burgers,

French fries,

and a

mile of smiles.

-From Amazing Faces, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Now out in paperback!

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13. Meet Our New Visions Awards Finalists: Part I

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here, authors Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang answer:

Grace RoweGrace Rowe, “Pure Descent”

Tell us about your main character in your novel.

Mi Sun Lee is a sixteen-year old Korean American girl who loves Skatewing and eating chocolate Heliotwixes.  She grew up in the Crates, a community of extremely poor working class people, and was raised by her adoptive parents, Agnes and Poplar.  Mi Sun is a tomboy at heart, and she has the normal self-doubts and insecurities of most teenage girls.  She’s a hacker; she consults for the Dinenuts, an elite group of child hackers, who mostly wreak net havoc for fun.  She’s pretty but that’s not important to her– she’s more focused on her main goal, which is to do whatever she can to help her parents get out of the Crates.  One of her weaknesses is also her strength– she often doesn’t know how to hold back what she’s thinking, which can get her noticed, but can also get her in to trouble.  She’s a terrible liar, a pretty ingenious escape artist, loves to eat real food (not synthetic), and hates wearing stilettos.  Her dream was to become a professional Skatewing player, but since women aren’t allowed to play in the league, she just plays it online instead.  Mi Sun has no interest in “Pure Descent,” in which she is one of the contestants, but as time goes by, she can’t help but be seduced by some of the perks that come with being considered “Pure.”  She’s definitely not perfect– she falls for boys too easily, has issues with authority, and breaks the law because she knows how to do it without getting caught.  Yet she has good motives and she’s brave and follows her instincts, which is why I think (and hope) we continue to follow her.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
Fortunately, it’s rare that I have writer’s block.  It’s not that I don’t have problems trying to figure out how a story should go, or how a story should end, it’s just that it’s my nature to tackle those problems with a whip so I don’t linger in the misery.  This is the first novel I’ve written– I’m primarily a screenwriter.  I had to discipline -It's rare that I have writer's block.myself when I started this book, so I’d make myself write at least ten pages a day before I did anything else.  (Besides eat breakfast!)  Unlike with some screenplays that I’ve written, I didn’t have a real outline– I just started writing the voices and thoughts as they came to me.  As I got farther in to the book, I forced myself to outline because I thought it was getting too long without a structure, and I know that’s what sometimes turns me off when I read a book.  But I like the feeling of writing freely, not knowing what’s going to come next— just following your characters in their story.  Their choices are what drives the plot– at least the subplots.  The main idea always comes to me first, and as a filmmaker I can’t help but think of it as a movie.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
People are busy, so I can understand why they would be picky about the books they read. I’ve never consciously taken a break from writers based on their ethnicity or gender, but I can say that I’m probably more drawn to read books from female authors, especially when it comes to fiction.  Most times that’s merely because they tend to have female protagonists, although obviously there are plenty of male authors who write about women and vice versa.  Maybe it’s because so many of the great t.v. shows and movies I watch tend to have men as their main protagonists, I often crave stories with women as the main characters.  I don’t think it’s bad, I think it’s just a preference.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I know it’s ubiquitous, but as far as similar genres, nothing’s moved me as much as The Hunger Games.  I think what makes it stand out from all the other books I’ve read in this genre, is that I feel like I really know who Katniss is.  The task of making a character truly believable is more difficult than it sounds.  I think it’s true that the more specific you are, the more universal you are.  The best writers always find the nuances of a character and they don’t coddle them.  They let their characters get in to trouble.  They let them make mistakes.  Their characters aren’t generic.

Andrea WangAndrea Wang, “Eco-Agent Owen Chang”
Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

Owen is a 12-year-old self-described animal geek. He’s also a covert eco-agent for ORCA, an environmental spy agency. He’s snarky, self-assured, and always trying to shake off his pesky little brother. When he’s not out investigating, Owen can be found watching nature shows or tending to the reptiles and amphibians in his mom’s lab (she’s a herpetologist). While being Chinese-American informs Owen’s experience, he doesn’t consider himself to be “other” based on his ethnicity. What he believes sets him apart is his job as an eco-agent and he’s both proud and fiercely protective of his secret identity.

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?
I was always told that writing was not a viable career choice. I set writing aside to study science, which my parents deemed to be more practical. I don’t completely regret it because I love science too, but I wish that I’d had the guts to study both science and creative writing. Later, when I was working, I would occasionally write in my spare time but it never occurred to me to try and publish anything. It took the constant encouragement of my husband and a good friend who was also beginning her writing journey to persuade me to take writing seriously. So I’d tell my younger self that writing is a worthwhile pursuit and that it is possible to have a career in writing, but also not to angst over choosing a different path. Because writing will always be there when you’re ready to undertake it, and whatever experiences you’ve had in the meantime will just enrich your work.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
I have a number of notebooks where I jot down ideas and notes on plots, characters, scenes, research, etc. I have one notebook for picture book ideas, and then separate notebooks for each novel. When I feel like I have enough material to work with, I sit down and develop an outline. I like to have a detailed chapter summary to guide me as I write. Having an outline is especially helpful for writing mysteries, so I can plan out where to introduce suspects, place clues, and insert red herrings. It also helps me move past writer’s block because I don’t feel like I have to write the scenes in order. I can look at the chapter summary and the ideas in the notebook, pick a scene that interests me at that moment, and start writing it. Hopefully, I can keep up the momentum and continue writing forward from there. I use Scrivener, so it’s easy to move the scenes around and stitch them together later. I also give myself deadlines or challenges so I have to sit down and produce something – the New Visions Award contest was one such deadline!

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
If someone feels like they need to “force” themselves to read more diverse books by taking such a break, that’s fine with me. I’m all for reading books that are outside your comfort zone or told from an The books that stay with meunfamiliar perspective. The books that stay with me are often the ones that I find most disquieting. Personally, I would rather expand my reading horizons than restrict it. I’m trying to become a more mindful reader, as Sunili Govinnage encouraged in her article – to be more aware of the choices I’m making when selecting reading material. What’s wonderful about the current debate is that it’s calling attention to the work of talented, diverse, authors and there are now great lists of diverse books that we can all take to the bookstore or library.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I love the mysteries by Blue Balliett, especially The Wright 3. The way that she’s able to meld art, architecture, math, and codes in a suspenseful mystery is amazing. Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret are also my favorites for many of the same reasons. I grew up watching martial arts and James Bond movies and I read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books in high school. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore take me back to those times. Before I began writing seriously, I was an environmental consultant. The books by Carl Hiaassen (Hoot, Flush, Scat) and the Swindle series by Gordon Korman really appeal to the scientist and nature lover in me. All of these books became my mentor texts for Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder.

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14. 4 Mentor Texts and Activities for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. With so many forms of poetry to explore and share with students, what will you choose? 

Here are 4 ideas for using mentor texts to guide students in poetry study.

Additional bonus: a letter to teachers from author and poet, Pat Mora, on the power of poetry.

Poetry MonthPoem type: FOUND POETRY

Mentor Text: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Activity with students: Students select words and phrases from a primary text and use those words to create their own unique poems.

As “Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month” suggests, the Library of Congress proposes an innovative way to combine poetry and nonfiction. Teaching With The Library of Congress recently re-posted the Found Poetry Primary Source Set that “supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images.” Students will study primary source documents, pull words and phrases that show the central idea, and then use those pieces to create their own poems.

This project not only enables teachers to identify whether a student grasps a central idea of a text, but also encourages students to interact with primary sources in much the same way as Etched In Clay’s Andrea Cheng. When researching Dave’s life and drawing inspiration for her verses, Andrea Cheng integrated the small pieces of evidence of Dave’s life, including poems on his pots and the bills of sale.

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: HAIKU

Mentor Text: Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Activity with students: Students write haiku using sensory language and drawing inspiration from body movement, music, and art to create their own haiku.

Check out the classroom-tested, standards-aligned lesson plan Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music by Rashna Wadia with Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! provided by ReadWriteThink.org, a website developed by the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Additional resources:

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: CONCRETE OR SHAPE POETRY

Mentor Text: Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Activity with students: Students choose a building to describe in a poem and shape the poem to look like the building.

In Reading is Fundamental’s educator activity guide for, Dreaming Up, encourage students to try the writing activity “Shape It Up:” Let students pick a type of building and write a poem describing that building (how it looks, its purpose, etc). Students should write their poems on white paper in the shape of the building and decorate the background. (RIF)

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: NARRATIVE POETRY

Mentor Text: Chess Rumble

Activity with students: Students compare narrative and lyric poetry and write their own narrative poem based on real or imagined experiences or events.

Check out the research-based novel study unit for Chess Rumble created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org. Students will compare the story elements of Chess Rumble to Where the Sidewalk Ends and Keeping the Night Watch.

Next, students write their unique narrative poem—for tips “by youth for youth” check out How to Write a Narrative Poem from Power Poetry.

Further reading on using poetry in the classroom:

What are your favorite poems to enjoy in the classroom? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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. 

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15. Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Schools?

In this guest post, Taun M. Wright, CGuest BloggerEO of Equal Read, lays out some of the arguments for using diverse books in all schools, regardless of student demographics.

DeAvian was a disengaged student, more interested in socializing than academics. Her school had well-known books like Ramona but it wasn’t until her Big Sister gave her a book with an African-American girl on the cover that suddenly, “DeAvian’s eyes opened wide with excitement and a smile filled her face. She held the book tightly, looking up as if to say: ‘Here I am, at last!’” Now, DeAvian continues to read, and her academic performance has improved dramatically. The impact of representative literature can be profound.

In a year with so much important attention to discrimination, the call for diverse children’s books is clear. However, diverse books aren’t just essential to students from minority or marginalized backgrounds. We need diverse books in schools with students representing fewer racial groups just as much as we need them in more diverse schools.

Research shows that the less contact students have with people from other racial groups, the more likely they are to retain higher Why Use Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Classrooms?levels of prejudice. While equity and inclusion are necessary, especially for those of us too long without them, social change is more likely to happen when everyone understands how they will benefit directly from increased diversity and, what’s more, why their ability to embrace the benefits of diversity will be a key determinant of their future success. Here are a few key benefits to adding diverse books to a collection, regardless of the demographics of students:

  1. INCREASED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: In their book Identity-Safe Classrooms, Drs. Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas show that “Identity-Safe Classrooms” result in increased achievement for all students, not just those from marginalized groups. Stereotype threat – anticipating being negatively stereotyped based on negative attributes associated with an identity group you represent – has a direct impact on achievement for students from all identity groups. Having many diverse books can offer a “density of cues” to counter stereotypes and reduce stereotype threat, increasing identity-safety for all students.
  1. ENGAGEMENT IN READING: Everyone agrees reading ability is a key predictor of future success. The key route to engaging kids in reading is to offer them books they find interesting and kids want to read about what they don’t know, not merely what they know. As part of its Classrooms program, Equal Read assesses students’ interest in diverse books, as well as their feelings of identity-safety and other measures. Students overwhelmingly answer, “I like reading about people that are different than me” and say that “books about kids that are different than the kids in my class are interesting.”*
  1. BETTER PROSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: In 2012, Loris Vezalli and his colleagues demonstrated that adolescents who read a book concerning intercultural topics showed not only a reduction in stereotyping and more positive feelings about students representing identities other than their own, but also an increased desire to engage in future contact. Clearly, diverse books are a powerful tool for improved prosocial development.
  1. COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS: Educators at all levels recognize the need for students to develop key “21st Century Skills.” While their lists may differ around the edges, all include collaboration and communication as essential 21st Century Skills. As the total number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students will be over 50% this fall, all students will need to be able to collaborate and communicate with people from multiple identity groups, if they are to succeed. Businesses are well aware of research that shows diverse teams are more creative, innovative, and productive than homogenous teams. Silicon Valley companies, for instance, are now investing significantly in recruitment efforts geared to diverse employees. A recent study by professors from Cornell, UC Berkeley, Washington and Vanderbilt Universities even demonstrated that “political correctness” has a positive influence on creativity. Students accustomed to respectfully collaborating and communicating with people from many different identity groups will be better prepared for college and career success.

Just because a school’s population is not very diverse, does not mean it should be similarly restricted in the books available to its students. Kids like great stories. All kids deserve to read the most engaging books available, books that expand their imagination of what’s possible by telling a wide variety of stories, featuring characters with differences beyond phenotype (observable differences) to include different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, gender expression, family structures, abilities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, religions and beliefs, ages, body types, learning styles, and experiences.

Through its Classrooms program, Equal Read creates broadly diverse book collections that are balanced for gender and representative of all of a classroom’s learners, offering teacher professional development and parent education about the role diverse books can play in increasing cultural competency.

Because every child deserves an equal read.

*Note: Equal Read also surveys parents and teachers, and overwhelmingly, both groups say they want to know more about diverse children’s books. Clearly, they already recognize the benefits of diverse books to the students they serve, yet it is difficult for them to find these books – this is no surprise considering how few children’s books feature diverse characters. We’re also working on ways to help parents and teachers more readily find the most outstanding books featuring diverse characters through Equal Read’s Books program.

EqualReadTaun Wright founded Equal Read in 2013 as a nonprofit organization to increase diversity in children’s literature, so all kids can “see themselves and a world of possibility in the books they read.” A former teacher, nonprofit consultant and administrator, and a parent and grandparent of a multi-racial family with multiple and varied abilities, nationalities, ethnicities, family structures, socio-economic backgrounds, languages, sexual orientations, ages, body types, education levels, learning styles, and experiences, she has first-hand appreciation for the wonders of different identities and the value of diverse children’s books in sharing them.

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16. Where to Find Culturally Diverse Literature to Pair with Your Required Curriculum

We hear over and over again from teachers across the country how they want to infuse more culturally responsive and relevant texts into their district or school-mandated curriculum.

It’s challenging to do, but what if we had some resources to share to help you out?

First, read: If you haven’t read this article from Reading Teacher, here’s your chance. Authors Fenice Boyd, Lauren Causey, and Lee Glada offer teachers great suggestions for culturally diverse literature that addresses Common Core standards in this Reading Teacher article (PDF).

What is “culturally relevant teaching?” Heather Coffey at LEARN NC, a program of the UNC School of Education, shares the history and theory.

Culturally Diverse Lit

Here are some places teachers are finding culturally relevant / responsive texts and (just as vital) ready-to-go lesson plans. Check out:

  • The Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project (TCICP) offers concrete examples for teachers to make their classrooms more inclusive, such as the Culturally Relevant Curriculum practice and inquiry. These were created by (NYC) teachers for teachers
  • Utah public school teachers created these multicultural lesson plans during their Center for Documentary Expression and Art course, “Multiculturalism and Storytelling,” available through the Utah Education Network (UEN) lesson library
  • The Lewis Library at the Loyola University Chicago Libraries has created this amazing visual resource for teachers at its School of Education to find multicultural books right for their students and instructional strategies
  • POV at PBS provides lessons exploring multiculturalism to pair with its films for grades 6 and up
  • TeachPeaceNow has literature-based lesson plans covering social justice topics to include in your curriculum
  • ArtsEdge, an education program of The Kennedy Center, has written detailed ready-to-implement lessons on American culture and comparing cultural holidays (just to highlight a few)
  • TeachableMoment from Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers inquiry-oriented lessons on current issues and social and emotional learning

For even more ideas for discovering diverse literature that’s will pair with your curriculum, check out A More Diverse Reading List: Resources to Expand CCSS-aligned Texts compiled by Lee & Low Books.

Where do you recommend teachers find lessons plans that align with their curriculum and incorporate diverse literature? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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 weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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17. The Importance of Great Teachers: Gordon Sato at Manzanar

Sometimes our books bring people together in wonderful and surprising ways. Here’s an example from just a few weeks ago that we wanted to share:

A few years back, we published a book called The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Familiesby Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore:

The Mangrove Tree

The book is a nonfiction picture book about Dr. Gordon Sato, whose mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village in Eritrea into a self-sufficient community. Dr. Sato named his project the Manzanar Project, partly inspired by the time he spent as a child in Manzanar, a Japanese Internment Camp in California.

A few weeks ago, Susan Roth, co-author and illustrator of the book, received this message from someone who had known Dr. Sato a very long time ago (reposted with permission):

A few years ago, Dr. Gordon Sato sent me a copy of your book, “Mangrove Tree” and I would like to share with you the Gordon Sato that I know. I too was imprisoned at Manzanar because I looked like the enemy.  I took 24 units of UC educational  courses to qualify as Provisional  High School teacher at Manzanar. I was selected to teach high school Physics. Gordon Sato was a student in my Physics class. It was some forty years after Manzanar closed that Gordon Sato phoned me and said he wanted to come and see me. He told me that he had received as BS degree from USC 1951 and his Doctorate degree from Caltech in 1955. He said he was ready to go to Eritrea, Africa on scientific project to help Eritrea out of poverty. He said he called The Manzanar Project and handed me a copy of that project. I did not know of all of the scientific research he had done nor the scientific accomplishment he had achieved. While this Nisei who has dedicated his life for humanity, I want you to know the other Gordon Sato.

For a student to seek his former teacher is in itself a wonderful tribute to me. But then, at our meeting, Gordon Sato said he wanted to thank me for inspiring him to get a college education. Two little words, “Thank You” showed me a man who stands tall among all of us with courage and humility.  I too had hoped that something good would come out of that place of injustice. Little did I know that I had planted a seed that would blossom into something beautiful for the world to see. That is the Gordon Sato that I know.
Tadashi Kishi
Gordon Sato in Eritrea
Gordon Sato in Eritrea
We love this reminder that behind every leader, innovator, scientist, and world changer, there’s a great teacher! Thank you, Gordon Sato, and thank you Tadashi Kishi!

Purchase a copy
of The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families.

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18. Women’s History Month: A Book List

March is Women’s History Month! It’s never a bad time to learn about the contributions that women have made and continue to make. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve put together a list that features some of our favorite historical ladies and great fiction for children and older readers!

History:

  1. Women'sLittle Melba and Her Big Trombone – this award-winning book follows the life of Melba Liston, a trailblazing trombonist, composer and arranger and one of the unsung heroes of the Jazz age.
  2. Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story – Anna May Wong was the first Asian American film star.
  3. Seeds of Change – Wangari Maathai was the first African to win a Nobel prize for her
    environmental work in Kenya.
  4. The Storyteller’s Candle – Pura Belpre, was the New York Public Library’s first Latina librarian.
  5. Catching the Moon – Marcenia Lyle, was always interested in baseball. She grew up to play professional baseball for the Negro Leagues.
  6. In Her Hands – Augusta Savage was a renown sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance.
  7. Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree – A story of the childhood of Zora Neale Hurston inspired by her autobiographical writings.
  8. Irena’s Jars of Secrets – Irena Sandler, a Polish social worker helps to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto during WWII.
  9. Hiromi’s Hands – Young Hiromi Suzuki is determined to become a chef in the male-dominated sushi world
  10. Dear Mrs. Parks – Rosa Parks, the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement,” answers letters from students.

Fiction

Younger Readers

  1. The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen – Kameeka wants to beat her rival Jamara in a hula-hoopin’ contest, but she has to help her mother prepare for their neighbor, Miz Adeline’s birthday.
  2. Juna’s Jar – When Juna’s best friend Hector moves away without saying good bye, Juna uses her special kimchi jar to search for him until she finally is able to say bye.
  3. Shanghai Messenger – Xiao Mei visits china to meet her extended family. Her grandmother Nai Nai wants her to remember everything she sees.
  4. Abuela’s Weave – Esperanza goes with her abuela to the market to help Abuela sell her traditional Mayan tapestries.
  5. Drum, Chavi, Drum! – Chavi was born to drum. Even though everyone tells her drumming is for boys, she is determined to play her favorite drums, the tumbadoras, at the festival.
  6. Kiki’s Journey – Kiki returns to the Taos Pueblo reservation she left when she was a baby.
  7. Juneteenth Jamboree – Cassie who has just moved to Texas, learns about the importance of June 19th, or Juneteenth, through a family celebration.
  8. Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure – Tashi’s grandfather, Popola, is sick, so she gathers family and friends to try a traditional flower cure from his village.
  9. The Legend of Freedom Hill – Rosabel, who is African American, and Sophie, who is Jewish, become friends. When Rosabel’s mother, a runaway slave gets captured by a slave catcher, Rosabel and Sophie put their heads together to free her.
  10. My Diary From Here to There – Amada moves with her family in Mexico to Los Angeles, California.

Older Readers

  1. Under the Mesquite – Lupita, the oldest of 8 siblings, struggles to keep her family together in the wake of her mother’s cancer.
  2. INK AND ASHES cover smallSummer of the Mariposas – A retelling of The Odyssey set in Mexico.
  3. The Tankborn Trilogy – A trilogy about genetic engineering and forbidden love.
  4. Cat Girl’s Day Off – Natalie must use her Talent talking to cats to stop a high profile celebrity kidnapping.
  5. Rattlesnake Mesa – After EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live with her father on a Navajo reservation, and then to an Indian boarding school.
  6. Ink and Ashes – Claire opens the door to her deceased father’s path and finds a family secret that could kill her.
  7. Killer of Enemies – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities, magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family.
  8. Rose Eagle – In this prequel to Killer of Enemies, we join Rose Eagle as she goes on a quest to find healing for her people.
  9. Tofu Quilt – Yeung Ying, a young girl who grows up in 1960s Hong Kong, aspires to become a writer, against the conventions of society and family members.

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19. Book Marketing 101: Five Things to Do Before Your Book is Released

This post is the first in an ongoing series we’ll run answering questions about book marketing and publicity. book marketing 101

So, here you are: you’ve gone through the long, grueling process of writing draft after draft of your book. You’ve gotten an agent, who then sold it to an editor. You’ve revised and revised, until finally it’s ready to go to print. And now…you wait.

Authors often ask me: What can I do while I’m waiting for my book to come out? Here are five of my top suggestions:

1. Develop your list of contacts.
It may seem obvious,  but one of the most important things you can do while waiting for your book to be released is to simply put together a list of all your professional and personal contacts who you think should know about your book. This includes family, friends, coworkers, professional contacts, fellow writers, and contacts from any communities you’re personally connected to: religious communities, volunteer organizations, even neighborhood restaurants where you’re a regular. Don’t be shy! All of these people will be excited to find out that you’ve published a book, and many of them will want to support you by buying a copy. Create a clean list of email addresses so that when the book is released, you can easily send out an email to everyone to let them know (even if you are connected to many of these people on Facebook, studies show that they will be more likely to make a purchase from a direct email). After that, don’t forget to add new contacts to your list as you meet new people at conferences or events.

2. Reach out to your local bookstore about hosting a launch party.
As soon as you have a release date for your book, get in touch with your local bookstore to see if they would be willing to host a launch party for you. Many bookstores are happy to do this, especially for local authors. Launch parties at bookstores are a win/win: you get a space for hosting and don’t have to worry about handling book sales yourself, and bookstores get an influx of people who are excited to purchase books. Coordinate with your publisher to make sure you pick a launch date when books will definitely be available.

Photo from the launch party of Juna's Jar
Photo from the launch party of Juna’s Jar

3. Refine your online presence.
Now is the time to make sure that your online presence is everything you want it to be and contains all the most updated information about you. This means, first and foremost, having a clean and updated website. Put a book cover, release information, and any reviews you’ve received on your website as soon as possible. You may feel like only your mom visits your website now, but once your book comes out, traffic will increase, and your website should be in top shape before then. You should also use this time to decide which, if any, social media platforms you want to use. Delete accounts you don’t use instead of letting them languor un-updated for years (or, at the very least, add links that redirect people to your website) and start getting in the habit of updating content regularly on any platforms you want to use.

4. Come up with a list of topics related to your book.
Book releases today are almost always accompanied by blog tours or some other type of blog coverage. You can do your part to get ready for this by putting together a list of topics related to your book on which you would be willing to write guest posts or answer questions. These could include anything from the research you did for the book to your playlist of songs you listened to while revising. Be creative! Share this list with your publishers so they can use it when shaping their pitches for bloggers. They may also work with you to shape some of these topics into longer pieces to pitch to online or print publications.

5. Get to know local opportunities.
Spend some time looking into any local or state book awards for which you might be eligible, and pass them on to your publisher to make sure they are submitting your book. Are there any book fairs or book festivals in your area? The deadlines for getting on panels at these events are often many months before the event happens, so the earlier you find out about them, the better the chances that you’ll be able to participate. Don’t assume your publisher already knows about everything; while publishers have extensive lists of awards and book festivals, no one knows your area better than you, and you may find something they’ve missed.

Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to bother your publisher! Even if they’re busy, they’ll appreciate the work that you are doing to prepare for your book release and be happy to work with you.

What am I missing? Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll answer the question: What do I need to include on my author website? (use the links in the top left sidebar to subscribe so you won’t miss it.)

Further reading:
How to plan a successful book launch

 

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20. Celebrate Music in Our Schools Month with Drum-Inspired Books

March is Music in Our Schools Month. In support of music programs, music educators, and wiggling students trying to sneak a beat, we are celebrating (global) Music in Our Schools Month with DRUMS!

Drums!Book recommendations:

Questions during reading:

  • How can drums help people communicate? What can someone communicate through a drum?
  • How do you think the musician(s) in this book wanted their music to make people feel?
  • Is the drum a central part of this story or community? Why or why not? How would the story be different if another instrument were used, such as a guitar or flute?
  • What words in the text describe how the drum sounds?
  • Bring in other images of drums from around the world or compare two or more books featuring drums: What are the features of a drum? What do drums around the world have in common? How are drums unique from other instruments? What materials are best for making drums? What geometric shapes are best for making drums?

Activities:

  1. If you read more than one book featuring a drum: Post a world map and note which countries drums are found.
  2. Have students research the particular type of drum featured in the book. What materials are used for this type of drum? What characteristics does this type of drum have and what is special about the design? Is this drum used everyday/casually or for special holidays/significant times? What country or region does it originate? What genre of music is the drum used in today? Who are some famous drummers who use this kind of drum?
  3. Set up a listening station devoted to music including drums. Provide a range of musical genres. Leave covers available for students to explore. After students have an opportunity to listen to different kinds of music featuring or including drums, encourage students to share their reactions in writing. What images did the music bring to them as they listened with their eyes closed? What did they imagine as they heard the drums?
  4. Encourage students to make their own drum in class or at home. Students can make their own drums out of coffee cans, cylindrical oatmeal boxes, or plastic deli containers. Supply different materials (plastic wrap, paper, foil, etc.) for covering the opening so students can hear a variety of different sounding drums. Which ones make metallic sounds, loud sounds, soft sounds, sweet sounds, deep sounds? How can you make the sound change?

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.35.04 PMFor further reading on music and books:

Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts

img_1587Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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. 

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21. Selection Is Privilege

AmyAmy Koester is the Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie Public Library, where she 13089CT01.tifselects fiction for youth birth through teens and oversees programming aimed at children through grade 5. She is the chair of the ALSC Public Awareness Committee, and she manages LittleeLit.com and is a Joint Chief of the Storytime Underground. Amy has shared her library programs, book reviews, and musings on librarianship on her blog The Show Me Librarian since early 2012.

This post originally appeared on her blog The Show Me Librarian, and is cross-posted with her permission.

There is a conversation happening on the Storytime Underground Facebook Group right now. It’s been going on for a few days, actually, and it seems to have started innocuously enough: with a question about folks’ thoughts on the Youth Media Award winners, asked by a person who expressed “major shock” and disappointment (via frown-y face emoticons) about one of the Caldecott honors. As I said; innocuously enough.

Some folks who added to the thread brought up the perennial gripe that not all the recognized titles seem to have much kid appeal; other voices jumped in to clarify that kid appeal is not part of the criteria for any of the major YMAs awarded by ALSC and YALSA. I find this argument annoying the same way I do a mosquito bite, because it pops up every year around the same time and is irritating but will disappear in a week. After all, there are awards that take kid appeal into account.

But. Then something ugly and uncomfortable popped up. People started talking about certain books not appealing to kids or their entire communities for one reason: because said certain books have diverse protagonists.

Things people have said*:

  • “Sometimes I pass on even well reviewed books because I know they just won’t circulate. There aren’t any Greek gods in it! I also have a difficult time getting uh, diverse books to circulate in my community. When I started my job and weeded the picture books a huge number of non circulating titles had POC on the cover. ‘Brown Girl Dreaming?’ That’s a hard sell.”
  • “You can have my copy then. Because it won’t circulate where I am.”
  • “I just know it’s going to be a hard sell.”
  • “We have a copy, but I can count the number of black patrons my library has in two weeks on one hand. It is rural, middle class, white West Michigan. The only black author that circulates…at all…is Christopher Paul Curtis and that’s because some teachers require it. It’s not just the race of the characters either. If our young patrons want sports fiction they are going to choose Mike Lupica or Tim Green. The crossover has not circulated even one time since we got it. It’s not like Kwame can’t write. Acoustic Rooster checks out frequently.”

After reading the full thread and seeing this build-up of negative dialogue specifically around diverse award-winning titles in collections, I responded:

“I find it extremely problematic to suggest that a library doesn’t need a book–award-winner or not–that features a minority protagonist on the basis that there aren’t many readers of that minority who use the library. To me, that suggests both a bias on the part of selectors as well as a lack of trust in the readers we serve. We know verifiably that young readers do not only want to read about characters whose lives are like their own, and keeping them from even having the option to try a book about a person who is different from them is bordering dangerously on censorship. If a particular child does not want to read a particular book, so be it; but, especially in a public library, children should have that option.”

I am going to expand on that a bit.

First, and frankly, I find the position “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” to be racist. This position implies that we as selectors view diverse books as inherently less-than. If we argue that only black youth will want to read about black youth, we are really saying that the experiences of black youth have no relevance or meaning to youth of any other race. We are saying that the experiences of the youth in the books we do buy have broader relevance and resonance. That is the very definition of otherizing and making a particular perspective, experience, or group less-than.

The position that “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” also denotes a fundamental lack of respect for the children we are supposed to be serving. It suggests that we think our young readers cannot handle, relate to, or be expected to understand an experience that does not mirror their own. Not collecting—and collecting but not promoting—titles with diverse protagonists projects the selector’s own bias onto the reader instead of letting readers freely encounter stories and information.

Also, I feel very strongly that if the excellent diverse books in your collection do not circulate, you are not doing your job of getting great books into the hands of readers. As librarians, we can sell any great book to the right reader. We can find the aspects of a title that will appeal to the range of readers we serve. Diverse books have the exact same appeal factors as the whitewashed majority of children’s publishing. So we can be professionals and make our readers’ advisory about appeal factors, or we can continue to always take kids interested in sports reads to Matt Christopher or Tim Green instead of to Kwame Alexander. But if we do the latter, we are part of the problem. If we omit diverse titles from our RA even though those exact same appeal factors are there, we are perpetuating a racist status quo.

I want to take a moment to step outside of what I have to say on this topic and share what some other professionals have said*:

  • “Good collection development policies should emphasize a variety of things, but one of them should most definitely be diversity. The goal of a public library is not just to serve as a mirror for our community, but to serve as an open door to the world, which includes giving our communities opportunities to walk in the shoes of characters very different from them. This, to me, is part of our education goals, to help our patrons gain a broad perspective of the world. If books don’t circulate there are things we can do to help promote circulation, including book displays, book talks, sharing book trailers and more. Yes, budgets are tight every where, but we should absolutely make sure that we actively are working to build diverse collections because it is an important part of helping us fulfill our primary mission to our local communities. And the idea that not one single person in our local communities wants or needs to read books that highlight diversity concerns me because it suggests that we don’t have enough faith in our kids to learn, grow and step outside of their comfort zones.”
  • “I think it is a PRIMARY JOB of librarians, specifically youth services librarians, to promote and encourage diversity in our collections, budgets be damned. After all, I spend way too much of my money on crap like Barbie and Disney princesses … which circulate like *gangbusters*. But if I went on just that, I’d have a very shallow collection.”
  • “The point: if the only way you know how to sell a book is ‘it’s got brown people’ then you might’ve missed the point of the story.”
  • “If you want to champion diversity in a place where people are resistant, sell the story, not the character’s color or orientation.”
  • “And I absolutely hate that people use the excuse ‘well, they just don’t circulate in my library.’ That speaks the the librarian’s failings.”

When it comes down to it, a major aspect of this topic is selection/collection development, and the fact that selection is a privilege. If you select materials for your readers, you are privileged to get to influence not only what children read, but what they have access to in the first place. And when I read arguments against including diverse titles, or questions about why we have to talk about this topic, it puts into sharp focus for me the fact that we have to recognize our privilege as selectors, and, more than likely, as white selectors for diverse readers.
selection is privilege
If you find yourself thinking “I don’t need this title because we don’t really have many X readers here,” your privilege is showing. You have probably never had to open more than one or two books in a row in order to find a character who looks/speaks/lives like you do. That is privilege. And whether we intend it to or not, our privilege influences our thinking and our decisions. This is a problem because our decisions affect the capabilities of young readers to find books in which they can find themselves and in which they can meet new people.

Confronting our privilege is hard. It is uncomfortable. I am acutely aware that, because of my privilege as a white woman, I don’t have to write this post. No one would begrudge me for not speaking up on this topic publicly. In fact, it would probably be a lot easier, and I would seem a lot nicer, if I didn’t write this post.

But that course of action is no longer acceptable to me. I am no longer going to privately roll my eyes when professional colleagues make privileged statements about their exclusionary practices, or when reviewers ignore microaggressions in books for youth. I am going to say something, because ignoring it only lets it perpetuate. And when someone calls me out on something I say or causes me to think critically about my own practice, I am going to try really, really hard not to get defensive and to just listen and reflect and improve. It is hard. And I don’t need to do it.

Except that I do, because the ability of every child I serve to feel valuable and see themselves as a beautiful, complex individual is what hangs in the balance.

This is not about our comfort, or our personal convictions, or what we think we know definitively after doing this job a particular way for so many years.

It is about the children we serve. Every single one of them.

*Because these conversations have been happening in public forums (a public Facebook group and on Twitter), I feel that sharing direct quotations is not a breach of anyone’s privacy. I have made the decision to share these quotes without identifying the speakers, as my ultimate goal is constructive conversation about privilege in selection for youth libraries, not alienating or shaming members of the community.

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22. The Diversity Gap in Children’s Publishing, 2015

This February, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) released its statistics on the number of children’s books by and about people of color published in 2014. The issue of diversity in children’s books received a record amount of media coverage last year, in large part due to the success of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Many people were anxious to know if the yearly CCBC statistics would reflect momentum of the movement.

The biggest takeaway from the new statistics was positive: in 2014 the number of books by/about people of color jumped to 14% (up from 10% in 2013) of the 3,000 to 3,500 books the CCBC reviews each year. Though not as high as it should be, the number shows definite improvement.

But looking at this number alone doesn’t show the whole story. In 2012, we kicked off our infographic series with information about the diversity gap in children’s books. Here is the updated infographic, which reflects statistics through 2014:

Diversity Gap in Children's Books Infographic 2015
Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015 – click for larger image

Some observations based on the CCBC data and our infographic:

  1. One good year is not a guarantee of long-term change. Although the statistics for 2014 were the highest they have ever been since the CCBC started keeping track in 1994, the key question is whether or not this momentum will be maintained. The second-highest year, 2008, hit 12%, but was followed by a decrease to 11% in 2009, and then down to 10% in 2010, where it stayed until 2014. In addition, one good year does not erase 20 bad years: the total average still hovers around 10%. It will take a sustained effort to push the average above 10% and truly move the needle.
  1. The increase predates 2014’s big changes. The founding of We Need Diverse Books and last year’s burst of media coverage certainly brought the issue of diversity to the forefront, but they did not cause this particular increase. It takes several years to move a book from acquisition to publication. The books released in 2014 would have been acquired in 2012 or earlier—long before Walter Dean Myers’ New York Times editorial, which many credit with reigniting awareness of the diversity issue. This could mean that publishers were making a concerted effort to diversify their lists before 2014, and it was a happy accident that last year’s increase in demand coincided with an actual increase in supply. Or it could mean that 2014’s increase was just a blip on the publishing radar and not part of a larger trend.
  1. Creators of color are still heavily underrepresented. For the first time in 2014, the CCBC released more detailed statistics. They categorized books as “about,” “by and about,” or “by but not about” people of color. Based on those numbers, we can also calculate the number of books that are “about but not by.” The chart below compares the number of books “about but not by” people of color (blue) with the number of books “by and about” (red) people of color.
    Graph: books by and about vs. about but not by
    Original data taken from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/2014statistics.asp

    In every category except Latino, more books are being published about characters from a particular culture by someone who is not from that culture than by someone who is. This disparity is most dramatic when it comes to books with African/African American content, of which only 39% were by African Americans.

    In 2014, there were 393 books published about people of color, of which 225 (57%) were by people who were not from the culture about which they wrote or which they illustrated.

    It’s disconcerting that more than half the books about people of color were created by cultural outsiders. Realistically, these 2014 Stats: Books by or about people of colornumbers likely mean that there are more white creators speaking for people of color than people of color speaking for themselves. This problem may stem from a long history in which people of color have been overlooked to tell their own stories in favor of white voices. Authors and illustrators of color have a right to be wary of an industry in which they are still underrepresented, even among books about their own cultures.

    This also raises questions about quality and cultural authenticity. Who is checking to make sure diverse books are culturally accurate and do not reinforce stereotypes? Are cultural consultants being routinely employed to check for accuracy? Are reviewers equipped to consider questions of cultural accuracy in reviews? Given that more diverse books are being created by cultural outsiders than insiders, these questions must be answered.

    It’s worth celebrating that the number of authors and illustrators of color went up by 23% in 2014, but this does not lessen the urgent need to find ways to bring more talented creators of color into the publishing fold.

  2. Some authors and illustrators of color have more freedom than others. For the first time in 2014, the CCBC also released statistics citing the number of published books by creators of color that did not have significant cultural content. This statistic is a measure of the freedom that people of color have to write or illustrate topics other than their own cultures. As the numbers show, this level of freedom varies greatly from culture to culture:
    Books by creators of color with no significant cultural content
    Original data taken from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/2014statistics.asp

    Why are Asian/Pacific American creators so much more free to create books without significant cultural content? Perhaps it is because they don’t have the same pressure to create books that will be eligible for certain awards. Latino and African American authors and illustrators often work with the prospect of the Pura Belpré Award and the Coretta Scott King Award (respectively) looming over them. These awards can sell thousands of copies of a book—no small drop in the bucket, even for a major publisher. For a book to be eligible for either award, it must be both by a person from the culture and contain significant cultural content. So Latino and African American creators may feel pressured to create Belpré- or King-eligible books instead of books without cultural content. These may also be the books that publishers are most likely to acquire. While awards also exist for Asian Pacific American and Native American literature, they carry less weight in terms of sales.

    Or, perhaps, Asian American creators don’t feel this freedom at all, and the numbers aren’t telling the whole story.

Conclusion: What the CCBC numbers tell us are that things are looking up, but there is a lot of work left to be done. No one set of statistics tells the whole story, but the CCBC numbers offer a baseline for tracking the progress that has been made, and shows us how far we still have to go.

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23. 10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom

Think there’s no need for sepia-toned filters and hashtags in your classroom? Don’t write off the world of #selfies just yet.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media channels among generation Z, or those born after 1995 and don’t know a world without the Internet. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is a generation of visual learners and communicators, where sharing your life-from the food you’re about to eat to your thoughts about anything and everything-is a part of your everyday routine. So, why allow Instagram in your classroom?

For starters, preparing students to be college and career ready involves helping them build their digital literacy skills on a professional level, and Instagram is a technological tool that offers educators innovative ways to motivate and engage students, opening up a new platform for collaboration, research, and discussion. Secondly, we all know the importance of interest and ownership for getting students excited about learning, and since your students probably already love Instagram you’ve already won half the battle.

Teacher/Classroom Instagram Accounts

Create a private classroom Instagram account that you control and instagramcan use to connect with your students, their parents and guardians, and other grade team members. Invite them to follow your account and catch a glimpse of your everyday classroom moments and adventures.

  1. Student of the Week: Each week, feature a different student on the class Instagram account, posting photos-with their permission- of their favorite classroom projects and other examples of their hard work and achievement. This is a fun opportunity to highlight your students’ individual strengths, positively reinforcing their behavior and progress.
  2. Daily/Weekly Classroom Update: Similar to student of the week, you can instagram your students’ classroom projects and activities on a daily or weekly basis. From photos of new classroom reads to capturing field trip memories, this is an excellent way to build a sense of community while allowing parents to see what lessons, topics, and exciting activities are happening in your classroom. This is also a great way to easily and quickly share your classroom ideas with other grade team teachers.
  3. Student takeover: If you’re not able to encourage students to create their own individual Instagram accounts, invite each student to “take over” the classroom account for a day or week by sharing photos from his or her everyday life. This is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their peers by instagramming their interests, hobbies, routines, and even cultural traditions.
  4. Photo Inspiration: Finding inspiration to write can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Spark your students’ imaginations and help them discover new ideas through instagramming writing prompts by playing with different angles, perspectives, and filters to capture random moments and objects that you encounter throughout your day-to-day.
  5. Caption That! For a variation of the writing prompt, post an interesting photo and ask your students to write a descriptive caption in the comments. Differentiate how challenging this task is by asking students to write their caption using specific sentence types, different parts of speech, clauses, prepositional phrases, and their current vocabulary words.
  6. Daily challenges: If your students are able to follow the classroom Instagram account on a regular basis, you can use it to post daily challenges in the form of visual word problems, review questions, and bonus questions. Instagram photos of important learned concepts and pose questions to your students in the caption, asking them to write their answers in the comments. For example, this fifth-grade teacher used Instagram to review who Henry Ford was and other important events in history.

Student Instagram Accounts

Asking your students to follow the classroom Instagram account with their personal accounts is one, highly unlikely, and two, probably not the best idea. What you can do is ask your students to create additional Instagram accounts that would only be used for school or classroom purposes. You know how LinkedIn is your professional Facebook? A similar idea applies here.

  1. A Day in the Life: Challenge students to assume the role of a classroom longfictional literary character and share images that he or she believes the specific character would post, highlighting the character’s interests, personality traits, and development throughout the story. The 15-second video option is a great way to really let students get into character through recorded role-playing and even performance reenactments. These activities can also be applied to important figures in history, such as the creator of Honda, Soichiro Honda, or jazz musician, Melba Liston.
  2. What the Kids are Reading: Students can snap photos of their favorite reads and write a brief 1-5 sentence review in the caption. To take it a step further, ask them to record 15-second long persuasive book trailers to hook their peers. Boost further discussion among your students by asking them to comment on other book reviews and book trailer videos to share their opinions. Tip: Encourage your students to use a unique #hashtag (ex.: #SMSGrade4Reads) for each book review posted, and by the end of the year you will have a visual library of all of the books your class has read.
  3. Math Hunt: “Why do we have to learn this?” “I won’t need this in my everyday life.” Sound familiar? Help your students see the real-world math applications all around them by sending them on a hunt to document or illustrate their knowledge of different math concepts:
  • Geometry: lines (parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting), angles (right, acute, obtuse, etc.) symmetry, and three-dimensional shapes (prisms, cubes, cylinders, etc.)
  • Everyday fractions and arrays
  • Concepts of money
  • Examples of volume vs. mass, area vs. perimeter
  1. STEM Research: Students can watch, observe, and record science experiment data and results over time by documenting any step-by-step process with photo and video narration of learned science concepts. Outside of the lab, students can use their Instagram accounts for observing science in nature or sharing their own scientific findings. What makes this special is how quickly and easily students can share and revisit their visual references and recorded data.
  • Physical & chemical changes
  • Weather patterns and phases of the moon
  • Animal adaptations
  • Habitats in nature

Note: Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat, has a minimum age limit of 13 to open an account, but according to Instagram’s parents’ guide, there are many younger users on Instagram with their parents’ permission since you don’t have to specify your age. Always check with your school’s administrator and obtain parental permission before sharing photos of students or their work.

Know of any other interesting ways to use Instagram or other social media sites in the classroom? Already using Instagram in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

veronicabioVeronica has 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 with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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24. The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley has been the darling of the US economy for decades. Creativity, leadership, risk taking, and hard work are all attributes of American innovation at its finest. Though lauded as a true meritocracy by the business world, the truth is that Silicon Valley that suffers from a similar lack of representation among women and people of color as other industries. In our past Diversity Gap studies of the Academy Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, and US politics, we have shown that there is a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity across the boards.

The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley
The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley (click for larger image)

Those who worked in Silicon Valley knew the industry had a diversity problem. But exactly how big the problem was, was anyone’s guess. That’s when Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, stepped up and asked a key question: Where are the numbers? She argued that in an industry obsessed with analytics and data, there was no baseline for evaluating the diversity problem and thus no way to track improvement. She wanted to know how many women were working at tech companies, especially in engineering. And she offered Pinterest’s numbers to start.

Then something revolutionary happened—more tech companies came on board and offered their numbers. Soon it wasn’t just small and mid-size companies, it was Apple, Google, and Facebook. In all, more than two hundred tech companies of all sizes have now publicly released statistics about diversity among staff—a bold display of transparency. In response, several companies have stepped forward with solutions, Google has offered to pay for 1,000 women to take coding classes, and Intel has committed $300 million to diversifying its workforce in three to five years. While Silicon Valley has many of the same diversity problems as everyone else, it is addressing the problem in very real and practical ways from which other industries (like publishing) can learn a lot. We spoke to three tech industry professionals and a diversity expert for their thoughts:

Kimberly BryantKimberly Bryant is Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color (ages 7–17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts.

Rosalind HudnellRosalind Hudnell, Vice President Human Resources, Chief Diversity Officer, Intel Corporation, was recognized in Black Enterprise magazine’s 2011 list of “Top Executives in Diversity.” This recognition places Rosalind in an elite group of diversity officers and vice presidents that are considered to be the nation’s highest-ranking and most influential executives leading corporate diversity initiatives.

Leah SmileyLeah Smiley is President and Founder of The Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. With 15 years of corporate human resources experiences and more than 10 years of experience in diversity, Smiley has served over 400 members and thousands of non-members through the Society for Diversity since 2009. She also has extensive training and consulting experience in every sector, allowing her to obtain publicity in traditional, and social, media outlets throughout the world.

Tracy ChouTracy Chou is a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, currently on the monetization team; she was previously at Quora, also as an early engineer there. With initiatives in the workplace and the community, Tracy works actively to promote diversity in the tech industry and has pushed for greater transparency and discussion on the topic with a Github project crowdsourcing data on women in software engineering. She was named Forbes Tech 30 under 30 in 2014 and recently profiled in Vogue for her work.

THE PIPELINE SOLUTION

Jason Low: Let’s start with Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls CODE. Kimberly, why don’t more parents and teachers encourage girls to pursue and excel in STEM subjects and careers? Where does this gender bias come from and why does it persist?

Kimberly Bryant: There are many issues why parents of students from underrepresented communities don’t encourage their girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers. Some of the reasons are culturally based and rooted in the perception of the industry as a male dominated and female “unfriendly” field. These parents are more apt to direct their girls into career fields that are perceived as safer or more welcoming to women (such as medicine, healthcare, teaching, etc). So the stereotypes influence parental guidance. These communities of parents are also unaware of the opportunities, which exist in a more broader section of STEM fields. In this case the lack of exposure to STEM careers is a large driver in parents lack of focus on these opportunities for their girls.tech_caption1

In terms of educators the issues seem to be a bit different. There is still quite a bit of implicit bias exhibited by educators throughout the K–12 pipeline and beyond which reveals itself in some educators becoming the defacto “gate keepers” to a career path in tech for girls. These educators whether willingly or unwillingly carry perceived biases into the classroom which manifest in both explicit and implicit messages which tell female students that they are not equipped to pursue more rigorous STEM study. We’ve heard many cases where girls are discouraged from pursuing classes in technology and science and instead steered into a less rigorous curriculum path. This gender bias is present throughout our society so it also reveals itself in this way in the classroom. There is a perception that one is “born” with talent innately to pursue rigorous study in the field rather than fluidity in STEM subject matter being a learned skill.

JL: I noticed that there is a NY chapter of Black Girls CODE. I read that BGC has worked with 3,000 girls so far and has a goal of working with a million girls. In order to make a dent in the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in technology will it be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in every major city? What will it take to replicate the Black Girls CODE model across the country?

KB: We do believe it will be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in multiple cities across the US in order to reach our goal of teaching one million girls of color to code by 2040. In fact we try to model our organization as the “girl scouts of technology” with this very idea in mind—our organization must become widely available and synonymous with girls of color in tech in urban, rural, and suburban communities across the nation in order to reach this goal. tech_caption2It’s a daunting task to say the least but definitely achievable as we continue to seek support for our growing list of chapter across the country and internationally as well. It will take many additional partners stepping up to support this work across multiple sectors including philanthropic entities, government, and corporate partners to make this reach possible. Yet even if we reach this goal we will only reach a fraction of the girls from underrepresented communities that will compose our population demographics by the year 2040, which highlights the fact that this is not a problem that one organization alone can solve. We stress the need for coding to be taught in all schools in addition to the work that organizations such as Black Girls CODE is doing in the non-profit sector.

JL: There have been a number of recent articles that show that 41% of women leave technology mid career as opposed to 17% of men. This is an equally troubling trend given that organizations like yours are working so hard to make qualified women available for the industry to hire. What are some basic solutions to retain the future pipeline of women coming into the industry?

KB: When we look at the issue of diversity in tech today the issue is often described as a “pipeline” problem. In most cases when this terminology is used it directs the focus to the K–12 sector as representing the tech pipeline. I believe this is an incorrect description of the tech pipeline. If we describe the tech pipeline as more circular and encompassing in this analogy it would incorporate the K–12 segment, post-graduate students, and career women in technology. In this description of a much broader pipeline I believe it becomes very clear that we have leaks in every conceivable segment of this pipeline. With attrition rates for both women and minorities at such high levels it really is indicative of a much more endemic issue in tech culture and structure than simply an early pipeline issue. So although the work of orgs such as Black Girls CODE can go far in terms of front-loading the pipeline, we are preparing these students to go on to careers in technology. If the companies that meet them when they begin their careers are not culturally sensitive to valuing and supporting the career growth and needs for a diverse pool of employees then we will continue to see the high attrition numbers described above. There is a need for some serious analysis and transformation of corporate culture to create more nurturing environments for women and people of color if we truly want to see the diversity numbers improve. One key facet of this transformation specifically is to see broader representation of women and minorities across all levels of the corporation (from the board room to entry level) and then a transformation in corporate culture to a more diverse and culturally sensitive environment.

THE DIVERSITY INVESTMENT

JL: Next up is Rosalind Hudnell. Rosalind, for many years, technology leaders would always state that the industry was a true meritocracy and that the applicants of color and women candidates were simply not out there to hire. Being that Intel is now leading the charge to diversify its workforce, what kinds of programs, partnerships, and/scholarships will Intel be investing in to develop future diverse applicants who will be interviewing for jobs in technology in 3-5 years?tech_caption3

Rosalind Hudnell: Intel has a long-standing history of diversity and full inclusion work and we’ve learned a great deal over the last decade. We intend to apply these learnings in a more intentional way to achieve our diversity goals in hiring, but also in retaining and growing our people, especially women and under-represented program. Research shows that there is a significant dropout between year 1 and year 2 of engineering programs. When we learned this, we launched our Stay With It engineering program. We believe that we can shift students to staying with these careers if we share more of why these careers matter and make a difference while also providing an environment that inspires and gives practical hands on experience with role models and mentors. People connect with what they see and believe for themselves.

JL: $300 million is a substantial investment on Intel’s part toward diversity. What are the advantages of having a more diverse workforce? How will having more equal representation in Intel’s ranks result in better products and a more successful company?

RH: The business case for diversity and inclusion has been widely researched and proven. We believe that full inclusion, without artificial barriers or bias, is critical to Intel’s long-term business success and essential to achieving our vision of creating the world’s best smart and connected technology. Doing so will help us better reflect our customers, consumers and global marketplace. Creating an inclusive culture that consistently leverages the full range of all our employees’ perspectives and capabilities is critical to innovation and achieving our business objectives.

CONFRONTING THE LACK OF DIVERSITY

JL: Now some questions for Leah Smiley. Leah, past and current diversity efforts have mostly been driven by people of color and have largely excluded white people. Last year, you wrote some observations/advice regarding Google’s diversity efforts. “Make current staff part of the solution” was one of your tips. Please expound upon this for us.

Leah Smiley: It’s important to include current staff when transforming the cultural fabric of an organization. But I admonish you to proceed with caution because the knee-jerk reaction can be worse than inaction.tech_caption4

Often times, an organization will gather all of the diverse people and take a lot of pictures for marketing purposes, or they will promote a person from an under-represented group to the role of Chief Diversity Officer. These are examples of knee-jerk reactions—and should be avoided at all costs.

A better approach would be to: (1) clearly define the purpose of the diversity officer role (i.e., how does it correspond to organizational goals); (2) seek to fill the position with smart people who have the skills to accomplish intended results—regardless of race/gender/etc.; (3) create high-profile and high-potential diversity councils or employee resource groups to support the diversity officer role.

Diversity discussions must be led by all people and they can’t exclude divergent thoughts or beliefs. Education and training can always supplement any person who fulfills the role, but there is no substitute for credibility. Placing smart people in the Chief Diversity Officer role (regardless of their differences or similarities) allows the organization to effect genuine change without sacrificing professional integrity.

JL: Addressing inequality issues is often times referred to as necessary but “messy work”. What are some of the most ideal factors that can make diversity work (a) successful (b) sustainable, and  (c) lasting?

LS: I once presented an employee benefits presentation where I was tasked with delivering the bad news: your benefits are changing, your cost are going up and you’re not getting a raise. I did so many of these talks in the past that I could deliver a great message with my eyes closed. But one tech group didn’t receive my message too well. Although they were highly compensated, in comparison to every other meeting I facilitated, these employees went bananas! I didn’t know where I went wrong. When I talked to my boss afterwards, he schooled me about ignoring the elephant in the room. The bigger issue was that the company was in financial trouble, and the benefits were just one of many that had recently changed for the worse. In my arrogance, I proceeded with a “business as usual” attitude, and things went very wrong quickly.

In the same way, addressing “inequality” can be messy if you are not dealing with the bigger issues, which may include, but are not limited to:

(1) Perceptions of management (i.e., Is management too lax? Is the management team akin to the “good ‘ole boys club”?)

(2) Communication (i.e., Was this person hired because he is black or because he is the best qualified for the job? Why was the Office of Diversity created in the first place?)

(3) Informal rules (i.e., Is hiring based on “who you know” or is there a formal process? Is discipline informal or are there written policies?)

DIVERSITY ACTIVISM MEANS EVERYONE

JL: The last question is for Tracy Chou. Tracy, your initiative to create a gender baseline for the Silicon Valley’s workforce was an important first step toward improving representation. One question: Pinterest’s diversity numbers among tech workers has grown from 13% to 20%. This news, along with Intel’s recent announcement of committing $300 million dollars toward diversifying their workforce is great news for diversity. What do you think the future looks like for addressing this issue and are you encouraged?tech_caption5

Tracy Chou: The first part of addressing this issue, which is already underway, is heightened awareness and sensitivity to it. We still have a long way to go on this front, though. In the immediate future, we’re still working towards broad-based awareness, a more nuanced understanding of pipeline and retention issues, cutting across gender, race, and other lines, to drive a deep commitment to change. It’s not enough for PR to pay lip service to change and throw some money around. It’s everyone’s job to care and to ensure that change is effected at all levels. To that end, the next part of addressing this issue is an orientation towards outcomes; we need to try different approaches, learn which ones work and which ones doesn’t, and iterate. This will all go much faster if we are honest with each other and willing to work together. In the same way that publishing statistics on current demographics has been critical to establish a broad baseline and thus our starting point, continued transparency on the various strategies and tactics being deployed, and their efficacy, is important for us as an industry to figure out the right direction to go and how to accelerate our movement in that direction.

I’m generally very encouraged by the heightened discourse on diversity issues in the past year; it’s starting to reach prominence even in mainstream media. I see momentum and I am hopeful we can capitalize on it.

Special thanks to all who contributed. More to come.

Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The Academy Awards
The children’s book industry
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics
Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

Further resources on how to teach content and visual literacy using Lee & Low Books’ infographics series on the Diversity Gap:

Using Infographics In The Classroom To Teach Visual Literacy

For press inquiries or permission to reprint, please contact Hannah Ehrlich at hehrlich[at]leeandlow[dot]com.

 

 

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25. Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and You Should Too)

  • Gleam and Glow written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Peter Sylvada
  • Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
  • Hiroshima No Pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki
  • Fox written by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ron Brooks
  • The Harmonica written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
  • Peppe the Lamplighter written by Eliza Bartone, illustrated by Ted Lewin
  • The Shark God written by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon

What do they all have in common?

  1. They have very sad and dark themes
  2. I love to read them to third graders

According to the What Kids Are Reading report from Renaissance Learning and Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic, it seems pretty clear that funny books are the most popular when choosing books for unassigned reading. In the Kids & Family Reading Report, 70% of 2,558 parents and children look for a book that “makes me laugh.” As you scroll across the top fiction titles per grade of the 9.8 million students from 31,633 schools nationwide who read more than 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year tracked in the What Kids are Reading, you see the same lighthearted, amusing titles appear over and over again.

Although these reports do not encompass all the books students read or measure all the students in the United States, these do provide useful snapshots into the homes and schools of today’s young readers.

I get it: Light humorous fiction provides much-needed escape and reminds readers not to take the world or ourselves too seriously. These books offer an escape from harsh realities and a place to dream and imagine another, better, or different world.

Sad and Dark Books for ChildrenWhile I encourage all readers to choose their own books based on their interests, needs, and experiences, our unique roles as educators make us critical influencers on exposing students to a wide variety of texts they might not have considered for themselves.

Some of my most meaningful teaching moments and conversations came when the 27 of us would be clustered together on the carpet reading one of those texts. When we read Fox, my students were disturbed at the Fox-Magpie-Dog relationship and were dismayed by Magpie’s actions. This led us to a discussion (and away from the day’s read aloud lesson plan…) about betrayal they had experienced in friendships and families.

The world is messy, sad, and dark. Kids face racism, poverty, homelessness, neglect, violence, hunger, sexism, divorce, disempowerment, and more. Sharing sad or dark books with students starting in elementary school, like A Shelter in Our Car and When the Horses Ride By, challenges students emotionally and recognizes their realities and capacity to empathize.

Using books with dark themes or settings in the classroom can give students the language to express their emotions, models for how to discuss and engage on these topics with adults and peers, and a safe space to explore difficult topics. When students read about characters struggling with abuse, bullying, or poverty, they also see how the characters found strength and resources to cope and thrive.

Think of your most memorable texts from middle school, high school, or college. The further students advance into social studies and literature they engage with darker subjects and content. Incorporating such texts early on stretches the types of books young readers can see themselves reading and liking, as well as prepares students for analyzing complex themes and characters.

Next read aloud, choose a sad, dark book because it can:

  • provide an opener into difficult conversations and topics
  • offer complex themes, characters, and motivations worthy of multiple readings
  • give young readers words to express what they are feeling or experiencing
  • model how we act and talk about tough situations, including the grieving process, processing anger, witnessing trauma or violence
  • reinforce the development of the whole child: we want children to explore the whole human condition and develop empathy
  • prepare young readers for the world they belong in and will someday lead
  • prepare them for profound, challenging books to come in middle school and high school  (hello, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Metamorphosis, Their Eyes Were Watching God among so many others)

When I look for a meaningful text, I am on the hunt for authors and illustrators who have tackled difficult topics with not only respect, but also with honesty and with the perception that even the hardest topics like racism, sexism, poverty, and war can be understood by children.

Things to think about when selecting a sad or dark book:

  1. What is the purpose of introducing a sad, dark book?
  2. Is this the best book for the unit’s content or skill?
  3. Where do parents fit in this?
  4. What background information do students need beforehand to handle, appreciate, and comprehend this book and its message(s)?
  5. What follow-up discussion or activities should I organize to help students process and appreciate this book?

There are many authors and illustrators who are finding powerful stories, communicating difficult subjects to children, and treating young people with respect and dignity. Looking for your next thought-provoking book to explore with students? Try…

What are the saddest, darkest books your students love? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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. 

6 Comments on Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and You Should Too), last added: 3/18/2015
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