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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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Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we can’t think of a better way to remember and celebrate than with some of our award-winning books!
Teachers- Looking for a way to talk to your students about war this Memorial Day?
Parents- Trying to make your kids understand the importance of remembering those who gave their lives for our country?
We have some great titles that will get your kids interested and help them understand the great sacrifices made by our men and women at arms, what really makes someone a hero, and the impact of war on a level they can relate to.
Set during the ’60s with the Vietnam war going on and World War II popular in the media, Japanese American Donnie Okada always has to be the “bad guy” when he and his friends play war because he looks like the enemy portrayed in the media. When he finally has had enough, Donnie enlists the aid of his 442nd veteran father and Korean War veteran uncle to prove to his friends and schoolmates that those of Asian descent did serve in the U.S. military.
A biography of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who was one of the six soldiers to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during World War II, an event immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
Through rhythmic words, photos, and original art, this collection of poems about children throughout history focuses on their perceptions of war and how war affects their lives. A great way to introduce the topic of war into discussion with your children and the ramifications they may not have considered.
For some insight from the author, take a look at this interview with Eloise Greenfield. Purchase the book here.
Be sure to leave comments below on how discussions about war went in your classroom or with your own children; we’d love to hear from you!
The topic of reading levels is always contentious for librarians, educators, booksellers, and authors. A recent article by author Sergio Ruzzier argued against the merits of using reading levels to determine which book is right for a child. In this guest post, author and bookseller Rosanne Parry offers her thoughts on why reading levels can be valuable, despite some of the drawbacks. Welcome, Rosanne!
Reading levels posted on trade fiction for children are a bit of a hot-button issue for those who work in the book world and periodically I hear calls for their complete abolition. I agree that people use reading levels on books unwisely all the time. I believe that in general kids ought to have the widest possible access to the books they choose for themselves. I think there are many mistaken assumptions about what those reading levels mean. However there are useful purposes for reading levels on books.
I started my career as a teacher with a specialty in reading. I did most of my work with learning disabled students. If you are choosing books to use in school for instruction with children who are struggling, then keeping them within the parameters of a book that is just challenging enough but not too frustrating gives optimal progress toward reading fluency. An accurate reading level, manageable book length, accessible font, generous leading and kerning, and affordable price all help a teacher choose useful material for each student.
The temptation to make reading instruction leak over into at-home recreational reading is very strong for a highly motivated parent who is ashamed of a child’s low reading level or overly impressed with a high one. Sometimes this prompts a parent to steer their child away from high quality books that would be developmentally appropriate and captivating, and push them toward books that are decodable but outside the child’s emotional sphere and therefore not very engaging.
Most of the reading levels that publishers put on books are there as a shelving aid for booksellers, rather than a prescription for readers. They have almost nothing to do with the readability of the text and much more to do with the maturity of the content. To be perfectly honest, the vast majority of adult books are written at a 5th-6th grade reading level. The current literary fashion is toward a plain-spoken prose style and simple sentence structure. This drives down the reading level of adult books. But it doesn’t make adult content in a book appropriate for children.
Here’s an example of where I think the publisher’s reading level is helpful. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is a short novel about a seven-year old girl. At first glance a bookseller might just toss it on the shelf with Clementine and Captain Underpants. Fortunately, the reading level says 7th grade and up (12+ years). It’s a story about the atrocities of WWII. The seven-year old girl is a fugitive on the run with an adult of dubious motives. She steals from battlefield corpses; she is raped; the ending is ambiguous and not particularly hopeful. It’s a stunning piece of writing and will likely be in the buzz come book award time and rightly so. Nevertheless it’s not a book that serves a second grader well. The reading level helps us get the book in the right spot in our store and because it’s at a discrepancy with the outward appearance of the book, it encourages us to read the whole book and figure out where to best recommend it.
Sometimes we decide to ignore the reading level on a book. When we got Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson last year, we opted to ignore the grade level recommendations and shelve it in adult history where our avid World War II buffs and professional musicians were most likely to find it. It would be less work for the bookseller to shelve all of an author’s work in one spot. But if the author is Ursula LeGuin or Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman, the reader is better served by having the adult, young adult, middle grade, and chapter books shelved in separate areas.
Reading levels are one tool among many a bookseller can use. Even in a small bookshop we get in hundreds of new books a week in addition to the classics we always carry. There’s no way even a cohort of dozens of booksellers can analyze every book we carry. So I’m glad there’s a reading level marker that we can use or ignore as we see fit. I’d love for it to be in a magical ink that only a bookseller can see, but until then, part of a booksellers job is to help anxious parents feel good about the quality of books their child is choosing and help them anticipate other books that will give their family joy.
About Rosanne Parry: Rosanne Parry is the author for four middle grade novels from Random House, including her most recent title, The Turn of the Tide. She has been an elementary teacher and is now a part-time book monger at the legacy indie bookstore Annie Blooms. She also teaches children’s and YA literature in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes in a treehouse in her back yard. You can find out more about her online here.
We can hardly believe how fast the year is flying by! Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, which means summer is officially here. We’re looking forward to nice weather, beaches, and of course, our new titles out this month!
We’re very excited to introduce our new May releases – there’s sure to be something for everyone!
By Sylvia Liu, illus. by Christina Forshay
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 5 to 8
A curious and active Chinese American girl spends the day learning tai chi from her grandfather, and in turn tries to teach him how to do yoga. Winner of our New Voices Award.
“Debut author Liu scores with a sweet story about the joys of intergenerational relationships. The love between the two shines through in both text and illustrations. A fine example of contemporary multicultural literature.” —Kirkus Reviews
By Gwendolyn Hooks, illus. by Colin Bootman
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 7 to 12
The life story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children.
“Beyond the crucial message of perseverance and spotlight on prejudiced attitudes that still resonate today, this middle-grade picture book illuminates the life of little-known man whose innovations continue to be essential to modern medicine.” —Booklist, starred review
By Kimberly Reid
Hardcover, 384 pages
Ages 12 and up
Andrea Faraday, a society girl with a sketchy past, leads a crew of juvie kids in using their criminal skills for good.
“Crime, intrigue, and deceit abound in this novel about a biracial teen embracing her criminal instincts in order to thwart a treacherous plot. Gripping, suspenseful, and refreshingly diverse.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Tu Books, the middle grade and young adult imprint of respected multicultural children’s publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS, is thrilled to announce that author Supriya Kelkar has won its third annual New Visions Award for her middle grade historical fiction novel, Ahimsa.
The award honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.
Ahimsa takes place in 1940s India, an era of great change as Indian citizens fight for independence from British colonial rule. When ten-year-old Anjali’s mother announces that she has quit her job to become a Freedom Fighter following Mahatma Gandhi, Anjali must find her place in a rapidly changing world.
The story was inspired by Kelkar’s own great-grandmother, who joined the freedom movement against the British. “She worked alongside Gandhi and spent time in jail, too, for her part in the nonviolent movement,” Kelkar says. “I hope that readers can be inspired by the fact that people were able to make such a huge impact on their world not through war, but through non-violence.” Kelkar will receive a cash prize of $1,000 and a publication contract with Tu Books.
One manuscript received the New Visions Award Honor: Alexandra Aceves’ young adult horror story Children of the River Ghost. Set in contemporary Albuquerque, Children of the River Ghost is a unique reimagining of the la llorona myth told through the eyes of La Llorona herself. “I wanted to give her a voice, to give her the opportunity to tell her side of the story,” Aceves says. Aceves will receive a cash prize of $500.
There were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou).
Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.
Congratulations to all of the New Visions Award winners and finalists — we look forward to seeing your future books!
Sometimes to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.
White Collar meets Oceans 11 in our new YA novel, Perfect Liars. We interviewed author Kimberly Reid on how to craft the perfect heist novel, her writing tips, and breaking stereotypes.
Why was it important to you to depict an interracial relationship in your story?
In the real world, interracial relationships exist. I’ve been in one with my Korean husband since college. Teen readers may not think this is a big deal, but when we met in the late 1980s, long before K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean fusion food trucks made the culture more accessible to Americans, it was kind of a big deal. Back then, as Koreans immigrated and settled into traditionally black neighborhoods of large cities, relations between our communities were tense. I wasn’t quite as young as the characters in Perfect Liars, but I remember what it was like to be young and in a relationship for which I had no model, one that was seen as “exotic” at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The world has shifted a lot in thirty years, and kids have more models now but it’s still important to me that my books reflect the real world. And unfortunately, we’re often reminded how little shift there has been. Just last week, people lost their minds over an interracial Old Navy ad.
What research did you do to create a convincing heist novel?
That aspect of the book probably took the least research since the heist isn’t a huge player in the story, though I had to do a lot of Googling on the high-end antiques business. I didn’t want the target of the thieves to be the usual things—money, jewelry, art—though that’s in there, too. So I decided to go with fine antiques. The legal aspects took up most of my research time. Luckily, I come from a law enforcement family so it was fairly easy to ask any question that popped into my head. When I was writing the book, my much younger sister had recently passed the bar exam and she’d also been an English major in undergrad, so she was the perfect person to help. The law was really fresh for her, and she didn’t get bored with all my writerly talk of plot and motivation.
Who are your favorite heist writers? What are some of your favorite heist movies or shows?
I don’t really have a favorite heist writer, but I have watched many heist movies, like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (the original and the newer versions), Rififi, The Score, and Inside Man. But it was actually a TV show called Leverage that gave me part of the inspiration for Perfect Liars. The main premise came from an alternative school in my town that is run by a juvie court judge and was once housed in our city’s justice center, along with courtrooms and the sheriff’s office. But I needed to turn that into a story and decided to have former juvie kids use their criminal skills for good. In Leverage, a band of criminals, led by a former investigator, use their various talents to help people in need.
How is writing fiction different than writing a memoir (No Place Safe)?
The biggest difference is telling the truth versus making stuff up. With fiction, you can make the story go the way you want. Writing memoir is all about the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. No Place Safe is the story of growing up during the two-year-long Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead investigator. I was thirteen when the murders began, and I wrote the story from my thirteen-year-old’s perspective, but with the insight of an adult looking back on that time. It was my first published book, and writing it helped me figure out what I wanted to do from that point on. I like writing from a teen point of view (but I find it more difficult than writing for adults!). Though I write crime fiction, I prefer using humor in my stories rather than a darker voice. Most importantly, I’d much rather invent stories than tell the truth.
What advice would you give to writers that want to write heist novels?
In a heist novel, the entire book is about the planning and execution of a heist, and then how the characters deal with the fallout. There is some of that in Perfect Liars, but it isn’t really a heist novel. Publishers Weekly calls it “a socially conscious crime thriller” and I like that description. The heist more or less sets up the story; it isn’t the story. If I had to give it a subgenre, it’s probably more con artist than heist. But I’d give the same advice I’d give a writer of any genre: do your research. I do lots of research and still miss something every time. And your readers will call you on it every time. I can be a little Type A and used to think, “Oh, no! How did I miss that?” Now, I realize I can’t change the book once it is out in the world, so I view it as, “I have some really smart and observant readers. They’ll keep me on my toes as I research the next book.”
A few months ago, LEE & LOW released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that a significant percentage of publishing staff is comprised of white women. Were you shocked by these numbers? What is a way publishing might be able to improve these numbers?
I’ve been black all my life, and a traditionally published writer for nearly a decade, so no, I wasn’t surprised. More surprising—and heartening—was the response to the survey from the participants. I was glad to see Big Five publishers participate. As sad as the numbers are, I think being truthful about them and willing to contribute honest data is a good start. As far as improving the numbers, I think decision-makers need to make an aggressive effort to recruit diverse employees. I don’t mean run job ads on sites focused on minorities or maybe participate in diversity job fairs for new college grads. I mean start early, show marginalized high school students the possibility of publishing as a career through education and internships. The science disciplines are doing this through STEM program education and recruitment as early as middle school. Another suggestion is to let go of the idea that everyone must work in Manhattan, which puts a publishing career out of economic reach for most. The film industry has figured that out. While Hollywood may always be the headquarters, lots of movies are being made in studios in lower cost cities like Atlanta and Vancouver, and using local production talent. Maybe have self-contained imprints, from acquisitions to sales reps, as field offices. I think this would also help publishing become less New York-centric and keep publishers in closer touch with what’s going on in the rest of the country in terms of demographics, cultural trends, and social movements. And to loop back to my first suggestion, publishing needs more decision-makers from marginalized backgrounds. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem when you’ve never experienced the problem, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive as broken, or at least, fully understand how broken the thing is.
Many of the juvenile delinquents that Drea works with challenge her assumptions about what they are truly like. Why is it important to challenge Drea’s (and the reader’s) assumptions about these characters?
I won’t lie—I can be judgey. A big part of being a writer is watching the world and trying to understand people, and hopefully, attempting to empathize with some of what we see. It’s hard to do that if you aren’t willing to see there’s more than one perspective. So I brought a lot of that to Drea’s character. I also wanted to show that we are not monolithic. Of the relatively few books that are published with brown or black leads, the odds favor us being depicted as broke, oppressed, undereducated, and in need of salvation. Drea is the opposite of these things despite being a racial minority. And also despite that, she views the world from a place of privilege. Part of her evolution is seeing that she has obtained her privilege in a questionable way, and also that, when it comes down to it, some people will always see her the way they want, no matter her money, class, or education. She learns this by seeing how others like her are treated and eventually realizes she has the means to help correct some of that.
The push for more diverse books has increased in the past two years. What do you hope to see from forthcoming books?
I’d like to see more fun books with racially marginalized characters. While these things are huge aspects of our past and, unfortunately, what still lies ahead, we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine. Historically, publishing hasn’t given the same freedom to writers of color. We have had to come with the deep and profound, or not come at all. Kids of color should have a variety to choose from, should be able to walk into a library or store and pick the thing they’re dying to read, not the thing an adult (publishers, teachers, librarians, parents) has deemed they should read because of what they look like or where they came from. That choice can include a history of their people, but let them also have a fun mystery, an interracial romance, a fantasy in which a kid who looks like them is the slayer of dragons. Every young reader deserves that.
What’s one of your favorite sentences, either from your own writing or from someone else’s?
Can I give a few? I love this description of a season’s change from Toni Morrison’s Sula:
“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”
I bow to Ms. Morrison.
If you were putting together your own team to pull off a heist, who would be on it and why?
I’d need a computer genius. I once worked in the tech world—which is increasingly becoming the world—and computer geeks make it go round. I’d want a great con artists or two because I wouldn’t want to use brute force. If I’m going to be a criminal, I’d rather manipulate people into giving me what I want rather than physically hurting them into doing it. They’re both bad, but for some reason, the con seems less bad than the violence. Certainly I’d want someone who could break into anything, probably two thieves—one high tech, one old school because you never know if you’re going to run into an antique safe or something. Those would be the minimal requirements. Nice-to-have additions would be a chemist, physicist, and an engineer. They are like the MacGyvers of the world. Between them, when all else fails, they could probably figure a way out of any jam.
Since 1965, The Parent Child-Home Program (PCHP) has been providing under-resourced families the necessary skills and tools to help their children thrive in school and life. PCHP’s nationwide network of program sites works with low-income families to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills, and resources to achieve their greatest potential in school and in life.
Today, we are excited to have Sarah Walzer, CEO of The Parent-Child Home Program. 2015 marked 50 years of service for the PCHP.
1. How did PCHP begin? How has the program’s vision evolved since it was founded?
PCHP was started in 1965 when educational psychologist Dr. Phyllis Levenstein was asked to develop a program to help reduce the growing number of high school dropouts on Long Island. Based on her research, she concluded that the most effective way to reduce high school dropout rates would be to reach families before their children even entered a classroom and ensure that parents had the knowledge, skills, and materials to prepare their children for school success. With this idea, the model for PCHP was created.
The vision has essentially stayed the same – with PCHP focusing on reaching out to underserved families in under-resourced communities and working with them to strengthen parent-child interaction, support and increase reading and play activities in the home, and build language and learning rich home environments. The biggest change since 1965 is that now we work with families speaking over 50 different languages and almost always with a home visitor who speaks their language. Phyllis could not have imagined that when she first piloted the Program.
2. Can you tell us about the PCHP research-based model structure and how it works?
PCHP is based on an extensive body of research that demonstrates that children who receive rich verbal stimulation in their homes (conversation, reading, and play) come to school with the language, vocabulary, and social-emotional skills they need to be successful. Researchers have demonstrated that by age 3, low-income children have heard 30 million less words than their middle income peers, so we know that too many children do not experience the quality verbal interaction they need to succeed. Parent (primary caregiver)-child interaction is critical to closing this word gap and preparing children for school.
Building on this research, the model PCHP provides two years of intensive, twice-weekly home visits to underserved families when their children are 2 and 3. We match each family with a PCHP early literacy specialist in their community, and most of the time this early literacy specialist shares the family’s cultural background and language. These home visits are for a half-hour, twice-a-week. The half-hour is to make it easy for parents to fit the visits into their schedule and so they can see how little time each day it takes to support their children’s school readiness.
Over the course of the two years, each family receives at least 92 home visits, 46 new, high-quality books and educational toys, as well as curricular guide sheets that provide the family with tips for verbal interaction, skill development, and additional literacy, music, and art activities. The early literacy specialists model for the parents and children together verbal interaction, reading and play activities that are fun and become part of the families’ regular routines.
It is important to note that PCHP’s approach is one of modeling, not teaching; a non-directive, non-didactic approach that builds on the relationship between the home visitor and the family, empowering the parent to be their child’s first and most important teacher.
Texting parents is a great way to remind and teach parents the importance of conversing and reading with your child; however, by itself it will not close the achievement gap for the most under-resourced families. You don’t actually know if the parent receiving the text can read it or read it in the language of your text. You don’t know if they have access to books to read to their children, if they know how to find age-appropriate reading material, and how to read and talk to a young child in a way that builds language and literacy skills.
School readiness is about so much more than just language skills, it is about the social-emotional skill development that comes from playing games that involve taking turns, supporting children while they try increasingly difficult tasks on their own, etc. These are not all things that can be conveyed or demonstrated to parents via text messages. Some families need more support and the PCHP model can provide the needed materials, modeling, and tools for their children’s’ success.
4. After 50 years, what does the research show about families who complete the PCHP program?
The research not only shows that PCHP participants start school ready to succeed, but it also shows that this success continues as they move through school. A new study just released in February highlights the impact that PCHP is having both on kindergarten readiness and on third grade success. This longitudinal study demonstrates significant long-term outcomes for PCHP graduates based on standardized Washington state assessments of kindergarten readiness, English language proficiency, and third grade academic performance. The three key findings from the study show that signifcantly more PCHP graduates
started kindergarten better prepared than their peers
demonstrated English proficiency in kindergarten
scored significantly higher on third grade WA Reading and Math assessments, including above the state average in math.
5. Looking forward, where do you see PCHP headed in the coming years? Any projects that you are particularly excited about?
We’re hoping to expand to reach over 10,000 families annually. We want to be able to serve as many families as possible. We recently trained the staff for our second site in Chile, which is the 4th country we have opened sites in. We are currently working in 14 states and would like to see that number grow as well. We were recently selected by the GreenLight Fund Philadelphia to be their newest portfolio program, which will mean a four-year expansion there to reach at least 400 families annually. We are particularly excited about expansions like the one in Philadelphia that involve working with housing authorities to support families in public housing and immigrant organizations to support diverse immigrant populations.
6. How can people get involved or find a PCHP nearby?
You can find a PCHP location nearby by going to our website, www.parent-child.organd using the link “Find a PCHP Near You” to find a list of all of our locations and their contact information. Additionally, there is information on our website about how to support the Program, how to start a site if there is not one in your community, and potential volunteer opportunities. Please be sure to also follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop. We constantly have exciting news and events to share, and are always happy to welcome anyone who would like to get involved.
Sarah Walzer has been the Chief Executive Officer of The Parent-Child Home Program, Inc. since 1997, during which time the Program has grown from reaching 800 families in 5 states to over 7,000 families annually in 14 states. Before joining The Parent-Child Home Program, Sarah Walzer was Counsel to the Assistant Secretary for Legislation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she worked on legislation related to early childhood and domestic violence prevention programs, and the development of crime, substance abuse, and dropout prevention programs for youth. She has presented on The Parent-Child Home Program to many audiences, including the Social Impact Exchange, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Council of Great City Schools. She serves on the Board of The Petey Greene Program and the Princeton University Bridge Year Advisory Committee. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
Today we are pleased to share this guest post from Librarian and Diversity Coordinator Laura Reiko Simeon on ageism in children’s literature. Welcome, Laura!
Super Grandpaby David M. Schwartz was inspired by the true story of Gustaf Håkansson, who in 1951 at age 66 won a 1000-mile bike race in Sweden after being banned from entry on the grounds that he was too old. Before reading this inspiring tale to my elementary-aged students, I asked them to say the first words that came to mind when they heard the word “grandpa.” Some of them were positive to be sure (kind, gentle, loving, cheerful), but most were far less so: slow, bent, broken down, tired, sleepy, weak, cane, and, ahem, smelly! Of course, they cheered for Super Grandpa and were deeply indignant that he wasn’t even officially allowed to try to race (given how often children are forbidden from doing things on the basis of age, I suspect the injustice of this resonated on a personal level)!
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about their initial responses to the word “grandpa.” As I began to pay closer attention, I noticed that a significant number of picture books about older people seemed intended to help children come to terms with their grandparents’ death or mental deterioration. I also observed that older people were often shown as lonely, objects of pity, or cantankerous and vaguely alarming. The AGHE Book Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging encourages “positive portrayals of older adults in children’s literature” to help counteract this, but is unfortunately not yet very well known.
Surveys of children’s literature confirm my impressionistic observations, but also offer reason for hope. Edward Ansello’s groundbreaking 1977 study found that the three adjectives most frequently used to describe old people in children’s literature of the time were “old,” “sad” and “poor.” In J.B. Hurst’s 1981 survey, older adults were referred to as “nice” or “wise” in three of the books sampled, but in the remainder were described as “funny, small, little, grumpy, lonely, poor, and weak.” In a 1993 study, Sandra McGuire wrote that, “The literature is almost void of older people; frequently fails to fully develop older characters; often focuses on illness, disability and death; and gives children little to look forward to as they age.” Jessica L. Danowski‘s survey of picture books published between 2000-2010 found that the elderly were disproportionately portrayed as white (77%) and male (60%), and that they comprised only 5.6% of all characters. On the bright side, however, the portrayals overall were positive in nature, and most frequently showed older adults who were physically active.
As increasing numbers of people live healthy, vibrant, active lives ever later in life, we need more of these types of picture books that reflect the true gamut of roles older adults play in our society. Given the reverence and respect shown to elders in many cultures, diverse literature is a natural place to look to fill this need.
An immigrant grandmother turns innovator in Frances and Ginger Park’s The Have a Good Day Cafe. Tired of her family’s leaving her at home while they go out to run their hot dog stand, Grandma declares, “I did not travel ten thousand miles just to stay home and rest my feet day after day.” Observing that the stand is suffering from competition from other vendors, she and her grandson come up with a plan to differentiate themselves by selling her Korean specialties, leading to an upsurge in business. This is an enterprising woman who isn’t about to let the grass grow under her feet!
You’re never too old to be a hula-hooping champion, or so proves Miz Adeline in Thelma Lynne Godin’s The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, set in a gloriously diverse New York City neighborhood. After Kameeka gets distracted while running an errand, her mother is unable to make a birthday cake for their beloved elderly neighbor.
Far from being a pitiful recluse or a crotchety old scold, Miz Adeline is popular and high-spirited. Her friend and hula-hooping rival Miss Evelyn is no slouch either, and the two older women breathe life into the party! Godin handles this skillfully, making hula hooping something that forges a bond across generations rather than turning Miz Adeline into a “bizarre and comical” old person, another common stereotype.
In A Morning with Grandpaby Sylvia Liu, Mei Mei learns tai chi from her grandfather, Gong Gong, and in turn teaches him some yoga. The ebullient little girl struggles to achieve the fluid, deliberate grace of tai chi, while the older man has a bit of trouble with some of the more challenging asanas. Together they have a ball, laughing and encouraging one another, each doing their best while trying something new. It is a charming portrayal of a playful, loving intergenerational relationship.
In Holly Thompson’s touching The Wakame Gatherers, biracial Nanami heads out into the surf collecting seaweed with Gram, her white American grandmother visiting from Maine, and Baachan, who is part of her multigenerational household in Japan. Neither woman speaks the other’s language, but they are bound together by their love for their granddaughter and a spirit of open-mindedness. In this lovely story, two women who lived through a world war that pitted their countries against one another now embrace new cultural experiences, from trying new food to embarking on trans-Pacific travel.
Books that help children come to terms with the loss and bereavement, as well as distressing medical conditions, are certainly necessary—but these tragedies can afflict the young and middle aged as well the old. Greater diversity in picture book portrayals of the elderly benefit readers of all ages.
The daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over the US and the world. An alumna of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding, Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle where she is the Diversity Coordinator and Library Learning Commons Director at Open Window School.
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”—from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)
At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.
LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?
Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.
Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”
We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)
We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.
Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.
The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.
LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?
The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.
LEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?
We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.
Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:
“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family”
Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.
Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:
Celebrate International Jazz Day with these seven books about Jazz from LEE & LOW BOOKS:
Rent Party Jazz, written by William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Sonny Comeaux has to work in order to help his mother make ends meet. Mama loses her job, and Sonny is worried: How will they make the rent? A jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack helps Sonny have the world’s best party, and raise the rent money in the process. Buy here.
i see the rhythm, written by Toyomi Igus and illustrated by Michele Wood – This book is a visual and poetic introduction to the history of African American music, including Jazz music. Buy here.
Jazz Baby, written by Carole Boston and illustrated by Laura Freeman – This book is a celebration of music and movement. This story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz. Buy here.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison – This award-winning biography follows the life of legendary jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston. At the age of 7, Melba fell in love with the trombone. Later, she broke racial and gender barriers tobecome a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Buy here.
Sweet Music in Harlem, written by Debbie Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison – C.J. needs to act fast. A photographer from Highnote magazine is on his way to take a picture of his Uncle Click, a well-known jazz musician. But Uncle Click’s signature hat is missing! C.J. must find it before the photo shoot. Buy here.
Rainbow Joe and Me, by Maria Diaz Strom – Eloise likes colors and so does her friend, Rainbow Joe. Since Rainbow Joe is blind, Eloise tells him about the colors she mixes and the fantastic animals she paints. Rainbow Joe tells Eloise that he can also mix and paint colors. Buy here.
Ray Charles, written by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by George Ford – This award-winning biography follows the life of world-renowned jazz and blues musician Ray Charles. It includes a new introduction by author Sharon Bell Mathis and updates his life to the present day. Buy here.
Released last fall from LEE & LOW BOOKS, The Story I’ll Tellis a gentle and moving story of adoption and parental love that is sure to touch the hearts of readers everywhere, no matter how they came to be a family. It has received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which called it “an unabashed love letter, one that many families will treasure.”
We asked illustrator Jessica Lanan to take us behind the scenes of her art process bringing The Story I’ll Tell to life:
The process for illustrating The Story I’ll Tell started with research and brainstorming. I read books about adoption and collected evocative images from magazines and the internet that I thought might be useful references. There were a lot of questions to investigate as I tried to piece together the identity of the characters and the overall look and feel of the artwork.
As I researched, I also began sketching thumbnails. My art director and editor provided feedback on these, and through several rounds of revisions we worked to get the concept and flow of the art just right. The thumbnail sketches were also essential in order to work out the composition of each page. For each round of revisions I made a printed dummy in order to simulate the flow of the book.
After the thumbnails were ready, I worked on more detailed drawings, using reference images and models as needed. Here you can see a rough clay model that I used as a reference image for one of the drawings:
Once the drawings had been approved, it was time to move on to the final art. I was using watercolor for this book, which is a rather unforgiving medium, so, I made a miniature version of each painting first in order to get all the mistakes out of the way. Then I transferred my drawing to the watercolor paper and started painting!
Each final piece was done with watercolor and colored pencil on 300lb watercolor paper.
Jessica Lanan has been in love with illustrated books since an early age. Besides The Story I’ll Tell, she has also illustrated Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth from the Shen’s Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she enjoys thunderstorms, crunching autumn leaves beneath her feet, and leaving footprints in freshly fallen snow.
You can purchase a copy of The Story I’ll Tell on our website here.
Poems in the Atticis a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.
In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?
Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words as possible. Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that. I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story. Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.
Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?
Start with word play. I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses. Take the word “lemon”, for instance. What is its shape, its scent, its color? Does it make a sound? Does it have a taste? How would you describe that sound, that taste? Where is a lemon to be found? What does it do or what can you do with it? In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.
Is there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?
There are a few answers to that question.
Read poetry voraciously. If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
Play. Build your vocabulary. Experiment with a variety of forms. For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default. But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry. It is merely one element of it. Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry. Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words. These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.
Have you ever wanted to take a trip to the cloud forest? Explore the Andes of Ecuador? Discover a new species? Well, you’re in luck.
With¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito from A to Z! travel to the unique world of the cloud forest and discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as you help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there. Anyone can learn to be an explorer in their own backyard with the FREEOlinguito Activity Kitand Teacher’s Guide. Learn more about the cloud forest and other ecosystems, including all of the important animals and the adaptations that help them survive in their environment with the many interdisciplinary ideas, projects, and engaging activities.
Content themes and subjects covered:
ecosystems and habitats
animal classification and adaptation
vertebrates and invertebrates
competition and predation
Here’s a preview of the types of engaging projects and activities you can find in the Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide:
Observe an Ecosystem!
You will need:
a pen or pencil
a thick, old paperback book
Make note of the time of day you are making your observations. Is it morning, afternoon, or night?
Record all the plants and organisms you see, including trees, shrubs, bushes, grasses, ferns, mosses, and lichens.
Record all the animals you see in the area, including insects, arachnids, mollusks, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Gather fresh leaves of different shapes from trees and shrubs and put each separately between two pages of the paperback book. You may also gather small, colorful flowers or flower petals and put them between pages of the book.
Take photos of any animals you see.
Once you are back inside, place the paperback book under a pile of heavy books for a week or two to let you pressed leaves and flowers dry.
Design a Cloud Forest Travel Brochure!
Have students research cloud forests in the Andes and create an informative and persuasive travel brochure. Include headings, subheadings, pictures, maps, and informative captions.
Where are the cloud forests located?
What plants and animals live there?
Why are cloud forests valued or important?
What is the climate like?
What will people see there?
What environmental and human threats do they face?
Why should someone make the cloud forest his or her next vacation destination?
Create a Cloud Forest Alphabet or Glossary Book:
string or twine
art decorating supplies (crayons, colored pencils, markers. etc.)
Alphabet Book: include the featured letter, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and the name of the plant or animal.
Plant/Animal Glossary Book: include the name of the plant or animal, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and an informative description of the plant or animal: where does it live? what does it eat? how is it classified (plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, etc.)?
For more fun and exciting activity ideas, including I-Spy Fun and learning to create you own pressed leaf print, check out and download the FREE Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide.
You can purchase a copy of ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest on our website here.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
“Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho. Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come”
– Rabindranath Tagore
Growing up in a home filled with the rich culture of my Muslim and Bengali heritage, I was fortunate enough to take part in multiple New Year celebrations. Every year, April 14 celebrates the arrival of the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh, part of a unique calendar system determined by the seasons. It’s one of my favorite holidays, filled with a blend of colorful traditions and communal reflection. My relatives back home in Bangladesh celebrated the holiday with elaborate festivities that include going around town visiting family and friends, dressing up in traditional garb, and attending parades showcasing talented Bengali artists and performers. Here in America, the celebrations are not quite as elaborate but the traditions are kept alive within the Bengali community. Here are three things that are always a must in my home:
Punjabis and Red and White Saris
During the holidays, we typically show off the snazziest fashion trends from South Asia. On Pohela Boishakh, however, it’s customary for women to wear simple traditional white saris rimmed with red and for men to don the Punjabi. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, my friends and I exchange saris as gifts so they’re extra special!
2. Panta Bhat and Illish Maas
There’s no end to the delicious savory and sweet treats on this day but a simple dish of Panta Bhat (rice soaked in water and salt) and Illish Maas (fried Hilsa fish) are staple meals to share with the family. It goes really well with pickled Mango Achar! This type of food is a reminder of our agricultural roots and the sustenance provided by the natural world around us.
Reading Rabindranath Tagore
My love of literature stems from a heritage that places significant value on the arts. Bengalis boast an array of writers, poets, artists, and performers, most notably poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- western author to be awarded the Nobel Prize. On this day the Daiyan family revisits his timeless song, “Esho, he Boishakh”, by doing a reading as a family and reflecting on the words that pay tribute to the earth.
Pohela Boishak is a celebration of Bengali roots and culture, unblemished by modernity. It asks that no matter where we are, we should seek to gather, reflect, and marvel at the coming of a promising New Year. Today I encourage you to celebrate Bengali culture with me by reading Yasmin’s Hammer, a beautiful moving story set in Bangladesh with illustrations that capture the sights and smells that engulf you as you walk the streets of my country.
As we say in Bengali, Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year)!
Mitul Daiyan is a former LEE & LOW intern who recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.
The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is next week and we’re so excited to meet everyone! The conference takes place in the George R. Brown Convention Center and LEE & LOW will be Booth #1746!
See below for our signing schedule as well as a few other events that our authors and illustrators will be participating in:
Wednesday, April 20
Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Shame the Stars), 11:30 AM-12 PM, Authors Area Aisle 3
Shame the Stars is set to be released Fall 2016! We’re excited to share a first look at the cover with you today.
Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.
As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.
Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.
Thanks to YA Interrobang for hosting the cover reveal! We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover.
At the end of the panel discussion, all attendees will receive a FREE, ready-to-go toolkit with tips and strategies from American Immigration Council, MommyMaestra, Spanish Playground, and LEE & LOW. Additionally, proof of attendance and participation is available for professional development credit.
Title: Celebrating Día at School
Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 04:00pm Eastern Daylight Time
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for: Educators, Caregivers, and Community Coordinators teaching K-5 students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For today’s Poetry Friday, we chose a poem from Under the Mesquite, written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people after they’ve witnessed a shocking or traumatic event. People experience shock after traumatic events, but those who don’t recover from the initial shock are more likely to develop PTSD. After a distressing or upsetting event, it’s important to seek support.
While literature cannot take the place of a support group or therapy, it can help us process grief and trauma. Teens are not immune to PTSD, and several YA novels explore this disorder in different ways: through fantasy, dystopia, or realistic fiction. Some are from the perspective of the person suffering, while others explore what it’s like to be a family member or friend.
Here is a list of four young adult books that deal with PTSD:
Trail of the Deadby Joseph Bruchac – In the follow-up to Killer of Enemies, Apache teenager Lozen protects her family and friends as they travel in search of refuge in a post-apocalyptic world. Though Lozen has only taken the lives of others to protect herself and her family, the killings take a toll on her spirit and Lozen finds herself with what her people call “enemy sickness,” another name for PTSD. With the support of her friends and family, she is healed in a ceremony that reflects the traditional healing of her Apache ancestors.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Hayley Kincaid and her father have moved around a lot in the past five years due to his job working on the road. They return to his hometown so that Hayley can have a shot at a normal life. However, after her father’s tours in Iraq, he developed PTSD. Hayley isn’t sure if being in her father’s hometown will help with his PTSD, or push him over the edge.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce – Evvy and
Rosethorn are sent to the island of Starns to help residents with a dormant volcano. While there, Evvy has flashes of a war from which she recently escaped.
Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers – After his dreams of attending college fall through, Perry, a teenager from Harlem, decides to volunteer for the service and joins the Vietnam War. Perry and his platoon are sent to the front lines and come face-to-face with the horrors of war. Perry begins to questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments and why the U.S. is in Vietnam at all.
Over the last few years, we have seen the number of panels about diversity skyrocket. It wasn’t long ago that an all-white BookCon lineup inspired the creation of We Need Diverse Books; now, a few years later, we constantly come across conference lineups with multiple diversity-focused panels (take the upcoming YALSA Symposium for young adult librarians, as just one example). Many regional and national conferences have adopted diversity as a conference theme, and we have been invited to speak at multiple Diversity Summits, Diversity Days, and more.
This is a terrific thing. Panels are an important way to keep the focus on this topic and to educate the movers and shakers within all different industries about why diversity matters. The high number of panels focused on diversity is a good indicator that more people are thinking about these issues than ever before.
But here’s the thing about panels: just putting the word “diversity” on a panel and hoping it does the job isn’t enough. In fact, when diversity-focused panels are put together carelessly, they can do more harm than good. As in all other situations, diversity on panel programming must be approached in a nuanced and thoughtful way. Here are a few things to consider before you put together diverse programming for a panel:
Do you have any diverse people on your Diversity Panel? This seems like a no-brainer, but I have on more than one occasion seen panels focused on diversity that feature only white speakers (in fact, all-white panels are still so common that they inspired this hilarious satire, Rent A Minority). If your panel has a specific focus, such as LGBTQ diversity or racial diversity, you should aim to have multiple people on the panel who can speak with
authority on that topic. If your panel is more general, you should still aim to populate it with people who can offer a diverse array of perspectives. When marginalized people are in the minority – or missing completely – even on panels that focus on them, it sends a poor message about whose voice matters.
Have you only invited diverse people to be on your Diversity Panel, or are they also part of other programming? If your panel on diversity has a great lineup of authors of color but the rest of your programming is totally white, you have a problem. This pigeonholes authors of color and reduces them to tools for understanding without allowing them to promote themselves or their work. It also goes against the idea that diverse books are for everyone. For every author of color you put on a diversity panel, try to find several others to put on panels that are not focused on diversity. A mantra I saw recently on Twitter put it best: “Diversity on panels, not diversity panels.”
Who should your panelists be? Accept that not every diverse author will want to represent his/her community on a panel.For some, the issue may feel too private or personal. For others, this simply may not be their area of interest or expertise. Don’t simply assume all authors of color are interested in being on panels about diversity; not every person of color needs or wants to be an expert in diversity issues in publishing, and the same goes for people from other marginalized groups. Seek out authors who have made this conversation a part of their professional life, spoken about it publicly, and positioned themselves as leaders in the movement.
Do you actually need a “diversity panel”? Because so many groups have put together so many panels on diversity in the last few years, the topic can begin to feel redundant–in fact, some argue that even the word diversity itself is starting to lose its meaning. Questions like “Why is diversity in books important?” don’t necessarily move the conversation forward. This great article argues that it’s time to move on from Diversity Panels completely. One thing is certain: your audience will get more out of your panel if you can focus it on a specific topic that will resonate with your audience instead of just sticking with “Diversity 101.” Consider what your goals are beyond just general awareness and build a panel around that.
What do you want people to leave with? Leave time for concrete suggestions and takeaways.Panels are a great way to broaden the conversation, but they can only do so much. In order for real change to occur, people must leave panels inspired to take action. Often the idea of concrete takeaways is left for the very end of panels, as a last question. But by building in time for it and asking panelists to come up with concrete suggestions beforehand to share, you can help ensure that the panel will serve as a building block for the movement.
Here are a few thoughtful articles on the topic for further reading:
Today is Wangari Maathai’s birthday! Wangari Maathai was the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace, which tells Wangari’s story, continues to be one of the most popular books that we publish!
In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday and upcoming Earth Day later this month, here’s a list of the many fantastic resources and ideas available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace:
Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.
What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!
Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger R. Joseph Rodríguez, Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, shares strategies on teaching Guadalupe García McCall’s novels in middle and high school English Language Arts, as well as discusses the impact of culturally responsive and relevant literature in the classroom.
What inspired you to write about GuadalupeGarcíaMcCall, her literature, and classroom applications?
Guadalupe García McCall’s writings create many connections and destinations in my life, crossing many geographies and memories across time—from my growing up to today. As I read her books, I travel in conversation with her characters.
In literature, we enact the elements of storytelling and literacy by becoming involved with all the facets that make a story readable, understandable, relatable, and enjoyable.
The worlds García McCall creates in her literary works mirror my childhood and journeys. Specifically, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México, where García McCall was born, is the home of my maternal aunt Cristina, uncle Andrés, and cousins. While growing up, my parents, siblings, and I traveled from Houston to visit them.
Like in García McCall’s novels and poems, many families and cultures are before us—en vivo and in print—with storytellers and cuentos crossing the national grids of the U.S. and México borderlands.
For teachers interested in using Summer of the Mariposas and/or Under the Mesquite—what would you recommend they use the texts for? What part of curriculum? What could they pair this with—any literature or primary source documents?
The novel in verse Under the Mesquite meets various standards in English language arts that include poetry and various literary elements as well as other disciplines. The book presents an adolescent female who creates poetry and dramatic performances, supports her siblings as a caring problem solver, and seeks ways to keep her mother’s memory alive. The text can be paired with other novels in verse that feature characters with dilemmas and choices that lead to trials and triumphs.
Several primary sources can be considered such as the literary works within the novel, diaries and ballads with historical and personal accounts, and excerpts from classics and contemporary classics that feature first-person point of view such as A Good Long Way, American Ace, Brown Girl Dreaming, CrashBoomLove, My Own True Name, Locomotion, and Republic, among others.
As teachers, we can welcome diverse voices in our classrooms and students’ lives by allowing characters to move from the page to other media: performing and visual arts. Reading García McCall’s novels and poetry remind us of the varied stories we carry with our families and in our interior—alive and in memory.
We carry these stories beyond our own biological families to the literary characters and families we meet through the mirrors, windows, and doors of their lives created by our author and medium García McCall and our very own lives. Student can write about these memories with an image that launches the conversation to a recording that can create a collage of storytelling with varied techniques and improvisation for the classroom stage.
There are no required texts for the Common Core State Standards, but we still see that schools and districts can be shy to branch out from more classic texts (“classics” as in texts that seem to appear in every high school year in year out as well as many that are Caucasian and European American literary canon). Why do you think that is? What can teachers do to include more contemporary and/or culturally responsive and relevant texts with limited time and flexibility in the year and curriculum?
Becoming aware of the civic communities that border our schools, the cultural resources and references that inform ideas and decisions, and students’ everyday resilience are key insights to create community through literature and even transport readers to other places in time, to the present, and toward the future.
As teachers, we can also plan literary experiences that create dialogue across borders, cultures, and migrations. Our lessons can reflect adventure, drama, choice, conflict, dilemma, and triumph experienced by characters through literature from diverse experiences, places, and realities. This requires deliberate planning with concepts and competencies for culturally responsive and sustaining instruction that places classics and contemporary classics in dialogue with deeper learning, thinking, and questioning.
Lastly, through the guidance of their teachers, many students are book borrowers who experience libraries in classrooms, schools, homes, and civic communities. As a result, students are permitted self-selection of both print books and e-books.
Is it enough to select a “culturally responsive” book for the curriculum? What does culturally responsive and relevant instruction look like? How can high school teachers make the whole process from book selection, introduction, instruction, and student work/output culturally responsive and relevant?
When I found García McCall’s novels, which were recommended by Pat Mora, I heard the familiar voices come alive and the stories speak to me from the print and digital pages of our national and binational literary canons. Culture is really about imagination and knowledge and how these sustain us as communities. Thus, as teachers we must be in conversation with our teaching colleagues as well as readers who are among us: our students, their families, librarians, and critics.
There are several book awards that can inform our literary selection and introduction. For instruction and student work, we can rely on resources from the American Library Association, Edutopia, ReadWriteThink.org, and publications from ILA and NCTE. Moreover, the process for selecting a book can take into consideration teaching standards and student learning outcomes that promote growth with interdisciplinary thinking and learning.
Teachers interested in the inclusion of diverse literary traditions understand the role of reading, writing, authorship, and representation in the literacy classroom. The research informs us that students seek literary characters and favor reading and writing experiences that reflect their life choices and questions in both public and private spaces. These choices and questions can be explored through both classics and contemporary classics.
What is at stake if educators do not include culturally responsive and relevant works like GarcíaMcCall in middle and high school classrooms?
What is at stake here is our democracy and shared efforts for global world understanding. Like García McCall and her characters reveal, we barter through world languages and literature. As a result, we have examples of human cultures meeting and sharing in the making of civilizations, languages, and stories. My earliest memories of family gatherings reflect bilingualism and biculturalism with biliteracies bringing us the warmth and energy to express ourselves so freely and with laughter and occasionally some of life’s sorrows.
Partly driven by fear and also by limited access to print and marketing, diverse voices were missing in textbooks and shelves across the country. This is changing as the U.S. mirrors more who its inhabitants have been: a country of diverse citizens with shared values about literacy and learning. We cannot succumb to fear with non-publication and non-participation if we are to keep our reading public alive for democracy to survive.
I remember the great importance placed on attendance in my schooling. In retrospect, many went uncounted and unaccounted for in my schooling: the literary characters who could forge new ways of seeing, reading, and interpreting adolescent life and thought, yet remained absent. That need not happen any longer as we rethink language arts and literacy education. Our teaching profession calls us to be committed to social change, reflection, and action by bringing more literacy opportunities into the lives of our students—of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, colors, and reading interests—and their diverse communities.
Joseph Rodríguez is Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. His research interests include children’s and young adult literatures, socially responsible biliteracies, and academic writing. Catch him virtually @escribescribe or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event, #DVpit, created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors. The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s website.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST
What is #DVpit?
#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.
What kind of work can you submit?
The participating agents and editors are looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the paragraph above.
Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.
How do you submit?
Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.
Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags in your pitch.
We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc.
These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you box your experience. If you’ve already perfected your pitch and/or simply don’t see the value in including these codes, please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.
Please pitch no more than once per hour, per manuscript. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.
Please do not tweet the agents/editors directly!
The event will run from 8:00AM EST until 8:00PM EST, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time.
What happens next?
Agents/editors will your “like” your pitch tweet if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply with compliments.
Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.
All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), you are encouraged you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).
If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same group have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy, or reach out to Beth Phelan who can help you find out.
Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!
Who is participating?
Over 50 agents and editors will be participating, and since this is a public event, more are likely to join in on the day! Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating. See the full list here.
Please be sure to research any agent or publisher that “likes” your pitch. There is no obligation to submit your work to anyone you don’t want to.
For more details and a list of resources to help with your pitch, visit Beth Phelan’s post. Best of luck and happy pitching!
We are always excited to hear about unique ways in which our books are being used, and were thrilled to come across this review of Under the Mesquite that outlines how to use the book in a very special way: to help medical students gain cultural awareness and insight into the experiences of patients from different backgrounds. Author Mark Kuczewski kindly gave us permission to cross-post this review from the Reflective MedEd blog.
Helping medical students to gain cultural awareness and insight into the experience of patients and families from backgrounds different than their own is no small task. And the search for poignant materials that are easily fit within the demanding environment of a medical school curriculum is never-ending. The good news is that I can unequivocally recommend Under the Mesquiteby Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books, 2011). This narrative will help students to gain insight into the meaning of illness within families, especially within the context of a particular contemporary newly-arrived Mexican-American family…
The author, known as “Lupita” within the story, recounts experiences from her high school years when her mother suffered from cancer and underwent extensive treatment, sometimes for long periods at a medical center far from home. Because the author’s father accompanies his wife on these journeys, Lupita, the oldest daughter, takes on responsibility for the family. We are treated to her perspective in coping with her mother’s illness from spy work to find out the secreto that the adults guard in their hushed whispers to the difficulties that come when her parents are away such as being unable to keep order among her siblings. Lupita paints a portrait of a prudent family that begins a savings account with the birth of each child but whose resources are exhausted by the medical bills leaving her struggling each day to procure food to put on the table. And we come to know the importance of the arts, acting in school plays and writing in journals, as means to channel her anxieties and craft something beautiful.
Of course, the particular flavor of the narrative comes from the perspective of one who has significant roots on both sides of the border. She simultaneously gives us a window into the challenges of growing up bicultural and navigating the conflicting demands of loyalty to la familia that nurtured her and pursuing the dream of achieving a different kind of life that is available in the new world. The author lets us taste the bittersweet nature of this ambivalence both in her day-to-day growth as she is accused by her adolescent peers of trying to be something she is not as she loses her accent and in the more profound and cyclical heartbreak of separation. She relates her grief at abandoning her precious sunflowers when her father uproots her from her familiar home in Mexico and she in turn must break his heart as she heads off to college to pursue her dreams.
In sum, this book is among the most usable I’ve found with medical students for two reasons. First, it meets the main requirement of being an enjoyable and quick read. This autobiographical account is most likely to be devoured within a single day. The author is a superb writer and some of our medical students repeatedly commented that they wish she said more in most passages. Second, she enables us to easily identify with her struggles. Because all adults were once adolescents, we have a framework regarding the struggle for self-discovery and identity into which her cultural context is infused. She enables us to access the different through the familiar. Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a first-rate guide and mentor to those of us who seek insight into the Mexican-American experience and the particular strengths and means of coping that a family steeped in this hybrid culture might possess.
Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Medical Education and the Director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Purchase Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall here.