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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. Rethinking Columbus Day

This post was originally posted October 8, 2012. We offer some thoughts on reframing the Columbus Day holiday:

Have you ever stopped to think about the implications of celebrating Columbus Day?

While most of us probably grew up associating the holiday with classroom rhymes and mnemonic devices (“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” etc.), days off from school, or sales at the mall, it’s important to remember what really happened in October of 1492. Columbus Day occupies a dubious spot in our nation’s calendar, ostensibly commemorating both the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent destruction and enslavement of countless indigenous people.

Check out this video created by Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan in 2009. In order to garner support for a movement to “reconsider Columbus Day,” Germosen and Whelan collaborated with indigenous organizations and community activists, giving voice to the horrific and painful stories behind the mythology of the holiday.

In fact, there’s been a push to eliminate Columbus Day altogether and replace it with a federal holiday in honor of Native Americans.  Several states, such as Alaska, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or have replaced it with a day honoring indigenous people.

For example, since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated the second Monday of every October as Native American Day. In California, Berkeley replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, and in 1998, legislation calling for Native American Day to be celebrated as an official California state holiday on the fourth Friday of every September was also passed. Hawaii also celebrates Discoverers’ Day instead of Columbus Day in order to recognize the Polynesian discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Many tribal governments have also reclaimed the day as Native American Day, or, like the Navajo Nation, have replaced it with a holiday honoring their own tribe.

Here are two books we found that, like the alternatives listed above, aim to dispel the myths around Columbus Day:

A Coyote Columbus Story, written by Thomas King, a Canadian novelist and broadcaster of Cherokee and Greek descent, and illustrated by Kent Rethinking ColumbusMonkman, a Canadian multimedia artist of Cree ancestry. It tells the story using the figure of Coyote, a traditional trickster character who, in King’s retelling, is a girl who loves to play ball!

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow & Bob Peterson. This collection of essays, articles, poems, teaching ideas, and primary source materials helps educators teach students how to think critically and creatively about the consequences of the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent.

What are some other ways you can think of to observe Columbus Day? Do you have any favorite books or resources that tell the story of Columbus from a Native American perspective? Let us know in the comments below!

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2. Shadra Strickland and Sally Derby Discuss Their New Book, Diversity in Publishing, and More

sunday shopping coverReleased this past May, Sunday Shopping tells a whimsical story of a girl and her grandma who go “shopping” through the newspaper ads every Sunday. We interviewed author Sally Derby and illustrator Shadra Strickland about their creative processes, the children’s book publishing industry, and encouraging children to write more.

sally derbySally Derby, author

1. Sunday Shopping is not exactly a story about economic need, but the book subtly suggests that the family doesn’t have a lot of disposable income. Why did you decide to address this subject in this particular way? Are there any picture books that address poverty in a way you really love or admire?

As long as your basic needs for food and shelter are met, then poverty is a point of view and no matter what anyone else thinks, if you are happy with what you have, you are rich. In this country, so many of us have so much. I wanted to show a child who is happy without all the possessions many other families take for granted. In this regard, I have always loved Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Nikki-Rosa” about growing up in Woodlawn, a suburb of Cincinnati near where I lived. Just listen to the last lines of that lovely poem:

because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll

probably talk about my hard childhood

and never understand that

all the while I was quite happy

I wasn’t Black, but I was a child of the depression, and I spent some of the happiest days of my childhood in my great-grandparents’ house in Elkhart, Indiana, outdoor plumbing and all. If that house had been set down next door to Nikki Rosa’s it probably would have fit right in.

2. Although you are white, many of your books (including Sunday Shopping) are told from the perspective of black characters. Why do you decide to write cross-culturally, and what kind of research do you do to make sure you get it right?

no mush today coverI know my answer will sound unbelievable to many, but I don’t “decide” to write cross-culturally or any other way. When I start to write a story I usually have only a fragment of something in my mind—a scene, a character, a scrap of conversation. But as soon as my fingers touch the keyboard I’ll hear a voice saying the words I type, and that voice determines everything that follows. As I listen, the story becomes clearer to me and as long as I don’t start sticking in my own words I have to trust that the story is going where it’s meant to go.

I feel very lucky that many of the voices happen to have come from Black characters. I always love listening to and learning from vernacular speech—Yiddish, Pennsylvania-Dutch, Appalachian, Urban Black. Before the Dictionary of American English went on line, I saved and scrimped to buy all six volumes for my own bookshelves. I could spend hours every day browsing in DARE and thoroughly enjoying myself.

I know many people think no one should write outside their own culture. But I think I have the right to write any way I want about anything I want. After I’ve written it, if I didn’t get the voice “right” people are free to say so and explain what is lacking or wrong.

I have had to do very little research for the three “cross-cultural” picture books I’ve written for Lee & Low, because the books’ narrators are talking about their experiences as little girls who just happen to be African American, experiences they might just as easily have had if they were Asian or Caucasian or . Of course, they will have had experiences peculiar to children of their race, but they are not speaking of those. If they had been, I would have had much more research to do.

3. What advice do you have for other authors who are writing stories cross-culturally?

I have no advice about writing cross-culturally that differs from what I’d advise about any sort of writing. No matter the subject, approach your writing honestly and humbly. Treat your characters with respect. When adverse criticism comes (as it will, no matter who you are or how well you write) try to evaluate it honestly. If it’s worthwhile, learn from it, and if it isn’t, disregard it.sunday shopping spread 1

We are limited by our experiences and we tend to judge everything from our own point of view. We learn by allowing ourselves, and being allowed, to see through the eyes of people unlike us. Reading can expand our worldview by introducing us to those we are unlikely to meet, even sometimes to those we wouldn’t want to meet.

4. Many people feel that libraries are becoming obsolete, given the Internet and the wealth of information that exists now. As someone who has seen publishing evolve over the years, what is your opinion on the relevance of libraries in the “age of information”?

I’m an optimist. Movies didn’t replace books, and television hasn’t replaced books, and I don’t think the Internet will replace books either. Kindles have their place, but it’s still more satisfying to close the cover of a book than to push a button that returns you to a black screen. And besides the enjoyment of books, especially picture books, that you can touch and hold, I don’t think we can overestimate the value of being able to wander through a library when you are researching a subject. If you confine yourself to a Google search, you may be offered a plenitude of sources, but the order in which they are presented will necessarily influence your choice of what to read. What you write then may be solid and factual, but it won’t be nearly as interesting or original as it would have been if your eye had been caught by that odd little volume with the faded purple color on the bottom shelf of the 590’s.

Sally Derby is the author of books for children including the popular NO MUSH TODAY and MY STEPS, published by Lee & Low. Her books are notable for their heartfelt family stories told from a spot-on childlike point of view. The mother of six grown children, she lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband.

shadra strickland Shadra Strickland, illustrator

1. What was your process for creating the unique and playful art in Sunday Shopping?

The art was made in many stages. The vignettes of Evie and Grandma in the bedroom were done in watercolor and gouache. I made line drawings of the imaginary scenes and scanned those in along with separate acrylic paintings of Evie and Grandma along with hand painted textures.sunday shopping 3

  1. Do you have a similar childhood experience to Evie, who pretends to go shopping with her grandma every Sunday?

I do! When I was little, I would ride the bus to my grandmother’s house after school while my mom was still teaching during the day. After my grandmother would finish her “stories” on television, most days I’d watch cartoons, but sometimes the JCPenny or Macy’s Wish Book would come in and we would spend hours looking through to pick out the things we wanted to buy. Often times, I would cut out the items I wanted to do my own shopping just like Evie. My grandmother is well into her 80s now and collects all of my books. When I shared Sunday Shopping with her, she gave a big laugh out loud and said, “This is you and me, aint it?”. It was the best validation I could ever get.

  1. You use a wide variety of media in your illustrations that vary from book to book. Do you have a favorite medium to work with? How did you decide which media to use for Sunday Shopping?

I love working in watercolor and gouache mostly, but when I read a manuscript, I usually have very strong visions of what it should look and feel like. Most stories have a strong visual element that is carried throughout. For Bird, it was his line drawings and MArcus’s hat. I knew from the start that Sunday Shopping would be driven by collage, but when I sat down to try and make collages, I failed miserably. It wasn’t until I found a youtube video of Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack singing “Free to be You and Me” that the idea of cut outs and digital collage came to the surface.

  1. Children are often encouraged to seek fields to go into other than art and other creative fields. How would you encourage a child who wants to become an artist or a writer?

I would give them opportunities to create. My mom made sure I always had lots of paper and pencils around and she would pose for me when I asked to draw her. Once she noticed how captivated I was with drawing, she gave me full reign to do so. She introduced me to the art teacher at the high school where she worked, bought me lots of how-to books on how to draw, and enrolled me in art classes at one of our local community art centers. I never will forget taking a portraiture class at Callenwolde Art Center when I was around 11. I was the youngest artist there in a room full of grown ups. It completely changed my life. It was my first time having a real professional teach me how to draw.sunday shopping spread 2

  1. What were your favorite picture books as a child, and what are a few of your favorite picture books as an adult?

I read a lot of instructional books as a kid. Things like, “Where Does Rain Come From?”, and he like. I remember being completely enchanted by “The Snowy Day”. A little later on when Reading Rainbow was popular, I fell in love with “Just Us Women” by Pat Cummings. Now, as an avid pupil of picturebooks, it is hard to say which ones are my favorites. I do still love “Bird”. Everything about that book came together so perfectly. I also, love looking through all of Mirislov Sasek’s “This is…” books. What an amazing life! To be able to travel and draw and share that work with readers for years to come…amazing.

  1. Lee & Low Books has the New Voices Award to create opportunities for new writers of color. What would be a good way to create more opportunities for illustrators of color and illustrators from other underrepresented groups?

That’s a tough question. Though competitions are wonderful ways for I also think that inspiring and encouraging kids to tell their own stories is a great way to get them started on a long road to storytelling. As artists and writers of color, I believe that we must be examples for future writers and artists. School visits is still a great vehicle for this.

Being active in our communities is also important ways to motivate, and teach through example. Recently I volunteered to bring the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition to Baltimore City this fall. My hope is that it will help connect multiple community organizations committed to literacy and the arts and inspire young writers and artists to take their work seriously at a young age so that they will continue to develop and pursue their talents as they get older. The winners will receive cash prizes and have their work displayed across city libraries in the summer.

I think that exposing people to what we do as artists and authors is the best way to help keep them inspired. I also believe that now with technology becoming more and more accessible to everyone, it has become much easier for artists and authors to get their stories out into the world.

Shadra Strickland is the illustrator of several children’s books including Lee & Low’s BIRD, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration. Along with illustrating and writing stories, Strickland loves to make drawings during her travels around the country and the world. She lives in Baltimore, where she also teaches illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her website isjumpin.shadrastrickland.com.

Purchase a copy of Sunday Shopping here.

1 Comments on Shadra Strickland and Sally Derby Discuss Their New Book, Diversity in Publishing, and More, last added: 10/7/2015
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3. Connecting Teens With the Authors They Love

“My advice on writing?” asked Joseph Bruchac, author of KILLER OF ENEMIES and sequel TRAIL OF THE DEAD, recently to a group of high school students gathered in our Lee & Low office.

Student Voices- Exploring the World of“Read. Read a lot and read widely. Don’t just read on the Internet; read books. If you have a favorite writer, take a look at what she does and how she does it across her books. Also, write. Write a lot and write every day. My third piece of advice is revise—make writing worth reading.”

For our virtual author event, Joseph Bruchac called in to join the students from Grace Church School who were visiting our Lee & Low office in Manhattan. The students had read both books in Bruchac’s KILLER OF ENEMIES series and were interested in learning more about the main character Lozen, the world she lives in, and the inspiration behind the books.

During our conference call with Joseph Bruchac, students came prepared with their own questions, which included:

  1. What was society and the world like before the coming of the Cloud? What was your vision of the world?
  2. Luther’s chapters have a very different narration from Lozen’s chapters. What was the thinking behind this choice?
  3. Whose side is the Dreamer on?
  4. Did the Cloud make every One insane or are there some Ones who are still good?
  5. Coyote has a particular place in much Native American folklore but TRAIL OF THE DEAD has a lot of sci fi/fantasy monsters and mythical creatures. Where does Coyote fit in?
  6. Is Lozen’s journey similar to your own?
  7. How long did it take you to write the book? What advice do you have about writing?
Great discussion with author Joseph Bruchac!
Grace Church School students William, Sabina, Ufon, and Eleanor with librarian Sarah Couri



Looking to lead your own book discussion with teens?

Check out our Discussion Questions for KILLER OF ENEMIES series with a focus on the latest release, TRAIL OF THE DEAD:

  1. Before the Silver Cloud, humans with computer-generated enhancements, called the Ones, controlled the world. Do you think author Joseph Bruchac’s vision of the future is convincing? Why or why not? What similarities do you see between the pre-Cloud world that the Dreamer described and our own world today?
  2. What role does community play in TRAIL OF THE DEAD? How is Lozen’s community critical to her healing?
  3. The Dreamer decides which books to save. Which book would you save?
  4. Do you have theories on who Hally is? What do you think motivates Hally and what do you think Hally wants?
  5. Author Joseph Bruchac alternates between first-person narration of Lozen to third person omniscient narration with Luther—why would the author do this? How does this build suspense? With whom does Joseph Bruchac want us to empathize? Does this affect our perception of Lozen as a trustworthy narrator?
  6. Joseph Bruchac, as an adult, created Lozen (her background, voice, and perspective) and chose to write her as a teenager. She can be very opinionated, sardonic, and mocking. Do you think Lozen is a representative teenager? Why or why not?
  7. Main character, Lozen, uses humor and sarcasm throughout the series. Why do you think author Joseph Bruchac uses humor in the telling of a post-apocalyptic tale? How is this story unique from other texts set in extreme and violent environments? How does humor and sarcasm help Lozen and the other characters cope or heal with their environment and experiences? In what circumstances in our world today do we see people using humor in difficult and stressful situations?
  8. The ending of TRAIL OF THE DEAD is left open for a follow-up (or perhaps a conclusion). What do you hope to see as Lozen’s (and the other characters’) story continues?

Resources and activities for engaging students on the KILLER OF ENEMIES book series:

1. Author Joseph Bruchac reads from TRAIL OF THE DEAD, the sequel to his post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk, KILLER OF ENEMIES.

2. Author Joseph Bruchac writes about KILLER OF ENEMIES in this exclusive Tu Books interview.

3. Have students write their own story after reading Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman share how writers go about worldbuilding with the focus on post-apocalyptic settings.

4. Author Study- Joseph BruchacStart an author study of Joseph Bruchac with his website and then explore his range of works, topics, and themes:

AMAZING FACES (poem contributor)

AMAZING PLACES (poem contributor)









5. Have students blog about and map through Google Maps the journey and world of Lozen in KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD. This project was designed by Dr. Lisa Hager, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

6. Have students write their own book reviews to submit to the school newspaper or present to the class. Students can read the reviews of KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD at the bottom of the book pages for ideas.

Diversity Gap in Children's Books Infographic 2015
Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015 – click for larger image
Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman

Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman broadened the discussion with looking at the challenges in children’s publishing today. As a group, we analyzed The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books infographic.

Possible questions for students:

  • What trends do you see?
  • What is the central idea?
  • What is the context of this infographic? What are student and general U.S. population demographics today?
  •  What might some causes be for the lack of diversity in children’s books?
  • What might the impact of a lack of diversity among authors and characters be on students reading books that were either assigned or self-selected? What might it mean for a young child growing up and reading? What will she see? What will she not see?

20150930_145425 (1)How to bring a LEE & LOW author or illustrator into your classroom live or virtually:

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA as a Teach for America corps member 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.

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4. Reflections on Undoing Racism

This past weekend, LEE & LOW staff attended an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.”

Throughout this weekend we learned about the definition of institutional racism and its historical context. We talked about the impact of racism on everyone, especially communities of color.

Two LEE & LOW staff reflect on their experience below.

Rebecca Garcia, Marketing & Publicity Assistant: When I learned that I was going to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Can racism really be “undone” in a weekend? If that were the case, then I had to be doing something wrong because I haven’t “undone” racism yet.

Surprisingly, we did not start out by talking about racism or defining it. Instead, we began to talk about the different systems that affect poor people and poor families. Different factors that are supposed to help poor people can also serve to oppress them. At this point, it still wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.

At one point, the facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.

Later on, we spoke about the definition of racism. Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power. By understanding what racism is and its historical origins, we then understood that racism and the systems it created and enforces are things that can become undone, even if there is no quick fix. In order to start undoing, or dismantling racism, we have to liveout loudstart having honest conversations about race, even if they will make us uncomfortable.

Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate: This past weekend, several members of the LEE & LOW team went to a workshop called Undoing Racism. To be honest, I already had preconceived notions of what the workshop would be like. I assumed we would get together in a group and talk about our own experiences with racism: what we had encountered growing up, the racism and stereotypes that we saw within our own circle of friends and family; the workshop was going to be something like an AA meeting, but for racism.

After Saturday, however, I realized how wrong I was about the workshop. Yes, there was talk about people’s own experiences with racism. There were some tears, some anger, but there was so much more to the workshop than talking about personal experiences.

We delved into how our society has built up the institution of racism and how the system is skewed to give advantage to those in power. We broke down what power means. We talked about the history of racism and really dove into what race itself even means. We talked about the idea of being a “gatekeeper,” and that really resonated with me. I work in the Marketing & Publicity department at LEE & LOW, and I never thought of that as “gatekeeping.” In my mind, the gatekeepers were the editors, people who worked directly on creating and editing a story that would then reach the public. But part of being in marketing and publicity is working with different social media platforms. For example, the LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300 likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300 people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.

Towards the end of the weekend-long session, there was a discussion on culture (what we liked about our own culture and the idea of a “white” culture), and racial oppression that occurs because of racism (the term invisibilized and the gentrification of certain neighborhoods). In the end, we talked about how to organize and process all the information from the weekend, no small task!

One thing that was really emphasized throughout the workshop was the fact that we need to be active participants in undoing racism. For example, we broke out into four different groups to discuss different sectors of society and how these sectors oppress, exploit, and/or reinforce racism. I was in the Social Services sector and, unfortunately, felt like I wasn’t qualified to talk much about racism in this area; however, when I mentioned this after we had all reconvened, one of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching hundreds (if not thousands!) of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.

More Resources:

10 Great Resources for Teaching About Racism

The Opposite of Colorblind: Why It’s Essential to Talk to Children About Race

People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond


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5. Creating a Market for Diverse Books: An Interview With First Book CEO Kyle Zimmer

Interview with Kyle Zimmer, First BookIn our new How We Did It series, we shine a spotlight on the people and
organizations doing important work to support diversity in publishing and beyond. Their stories and ideas are a dose of inspiration for all of us as we move forward in our work.

Today we are thrilled to have Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO, and Co-founder of First Book, with us. Here’s how Kyle describes her organization: “First Book supports educational equality by providing high quality, new and relevant books and educational resources to teachers and caregivers serving the millions of children growing up in low-income families.”  Welome, Kyle!

How did First Book begin? Has the organization’s mission evolved since it was founded?

I co-founded First Book with two friends in 1992. I had been volunteering at a D.C. soup kitchen when I learned that not only were there no books available but the children didn’t have books at home either.

I started talking to other programs and schools and became aware of this enormous problem – with clearly disastrous implications – for individual children and our broader society. In a resource-rich country like ours, how can millions of children grow up without books, at home, at school and in their communities?

I became a student of the publishing sector and learned that the design of the industry makes it almost impossible to serve lower-income segments of the market. The publishing industry is based on I learned that the design of the industrya consignment model – meaning that inventory that doesn’t sell at retail is returned to publishers. So, of course, retail book prices are set high, in part, to cover the cost of unsold inventory. Today in the U.S., the average cost of a premium children’s picture book is $18 – far beyond the reach of low-income families.

Our solution was to aggregate the voice and buying power of educators and programs serving children in need, and in the process, create a viable market that publishers can serve. The First Book Network has become the largest and fastest growing network of classrooms and programs serving children from low-income families. This enables us to purchase books and content that our Network needs in bulk and we can negotiate significant discounts as a result.

While our fundamental mission has not changed, our understanding of the issues of poverty and education has evolved. As a result, we’re expanding our offerings and our definition of what it means to enable educational equity. We are listening to the First Book Network and responding to their needs. Now we’re offering school supplies, refurbished laptops, nonperishable food items, and even winter coats and underwear – in addition to culturally relevant books and educational resources.   If our educators request something, we’re going to go out and find the partners who can help provide it – with the best quality either for free or as close to free as we can get.

First Book has done amazing work to promote diverse books by essentially creating a new market for diverse titles. Can you talk a bit about how and why First Book decided to do this?

We developed the Stories for All project to address the needs expressed by the First Book Network. They are on the front lines and have seen that books focused on all-white characters and experiences just don’t connect with – and don’t represent – the children they serve.   In a First Book survey, 90% of respondents indicated that children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflected their lives.

We heard this need loud and clear – so we began to build strategies that would elevate access to these resources. In an industry already facing fierce competitive pressures, it’s no surprise that publishers have chosen to stick with the content they know will sell. There is a high risk factor and high costs involved in developing new content and marketing to new audiences.

That’s why we launched the Stories for All project.   And we decided to roll out the initiative in a big way: promising to purchase, on a non-returnable basis, half a million dollars’ worth of inventory from the publisher offering the best, highest quality diverse titles at the best possible prices.

By putting $1 million on the tableBecause of the quality of submissions, we doubled our investment, purchasing a total of $1 million in inventory from Lee & Low Books and HarperCollins Publishers. It was a big investment and from an unconventional source – a nonprofit social enterprise — but we knew the demand was there. And, while First Book has long benefitted from terrific partnerships with publishers, by putting $1 million on the table, we were able to really get the attention of publishers and underscore that this market exists.

It is important to note – and those of you at Lee & Low have been saying this for decades — that it’s not just kids from low-income families who need diverse books. We are all living in a more diverse world and books can help develop empathy and expand understanding. By working with publishers to develop the market for more inclusive content for our educators, First Book is also reducing the costs for publishers to make that same content available at retail. For example, First Book served as a catalyst for the development of bilingual versions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight Moon – and now both are also available at retail.

This spring First Book worked with Target, a longtime corporate partner, to offer three of our new Stories for All project titles for sale at retail. It is actions like those by corporations that are needed to demonstrate the broader market – and that these are, indeed, Stories for All.

We have continued to roll out strategies expanding our purchasing power to drive development of the content requested by educators serving kids in need, reduce publishers’ risk and demonstrate that there is a viable market that publishers can count on. Stay tuned! 

On the publishing side, we’ve definitely seen awareness increase over the last year regarding the need for more diversity in books. Have you seen the demand increase in terms of what educators are looking for as well? How in touch (or out of touch) do you think publishing is with the current needs of educators, especially educators in low-income communities?

students receiving books as part of the Stories for All project
students receiving books as part of the Stories for All project

Yes, we’ve definitely seen an increase in the demand for diverse books from educators. In fact, this spring alone we brought 60,000 new books to our Stories for All project, and those books have been among our top 10 best-selling books every month since we launched the project!

As a society we are becoming increasingly more diverse, and our classrooms and community programs reflect that. But I also think that the demand has increased because educators know that First Book is listening – and responding – to what they need. Stories for All is bringing much-needed content that celebrates different ethnicities, cultures and languages. But it is also a catalyst for books with characters and stories that celebrate different family structures, sexual identities, individual abilities, and experiences. We are working hand-in-hand with educators and publishers to provide a full range of content, in as many forms as possible, so that children can see themselves in books and can learn about others as well.

Publishers are definitely in touch with the fact that educators working with kids from low-income families have unique needs that have not been served. They are eager to provide the content that is needed – and to a person, want to hear the input provided by First Book’s network. Publishers are an extraordinary and talented group of people. We are inspired by their commitment to our cause.

The Stories for All project, which purchases large quantities of diverse books directly from publishers, is only one of several First Book initiatives addressing the issue of diversity in books. Could you share some of the others?

The Stories for All project is, in many ways, emblematic of First Book’s work and mission as a whole. Our goal is to ensure that kids who are growing up in low-income families benefit from the same high quality books, resources and educational opportunities as their more affluent peers.

We’re undertaking a range of initiatives to support diverse books – and to make sure those books reach kids who need them. With funding from Disney, for example, First Book undertook a concerted Latino community outreach effort. This effort included providing best-in-class books and resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in Latino communities. As part of this effort, First Book:

  • introduced more than 35,000 new Latino-serving groups to the First Book network.
  • distributed more than 270,000 culturally relevant books (retail value: $2.16 million) to schools and programs serving Latino children in need.Hand-wringing only gets you sore hands
  • expanded partnerships with 50 organizations serving Latino children across the U.S.

First Book has curated collections of books on topics ranging from the experience of being an immigrant, to children with special needs and abilities, books on Muslim Americans and populations with other religions, books on Native American interests, books on LGBTQ and books on experiencing homeless and violence.

Did you receive any pushback from board members, donors, or anyone else when First Book announced any of these initiatives? If so, how did you address it?

There has been no pushback; in fact, just the opposite! We’ve had enormous support for Stories for All and our broader efforts to increase the diversity in children’s books – once people hear about it. Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. I can imagine that all of you at Lee & Low sometimes feel the same way. You’ve been pioneers in publishing diverse books and supporting diverse authors and illustrators, on the forefront of promoting stories that need to be heard.

Now that more people recognize the need for more diverse books, there seems to be a lot of hand-wringing over the issue. But hand-wringing only gets you sore hands. The only solution that will work is a market based one: people need to buy diverse books.

Looking forward, what is your vision for the role nonprofits can play in the movement for more diversity in books? Anything on the horizon that you’re excited about?

Nonprofits have a critical role in supporting diversity in books. One example: We’ve all benefitted from the work of We Need Diverse Books to raise awareness of the need for diverse books and to provide another voice for the amazing authors and illustrators who are behind those stories.

We will achieve more impactAs nonprofits, we need to put our money where our mission is – buying and featuring diverse books. First Book works with any and all nonprofits, programs serving 70% or more kids in need as well as Title I classrooms. By joining the First Book Network, nonprofits can have a real voice in developing the pipeline of resources they need.

I’m excited about several major areas of development for First Book. I am thrilled by the partnerships that we are developing. Working side-by-side with other nonprofits, like Feeding America and Share Our Strength on initiatives that combine meal support with books – during the school year and especially during the summer. Also, we’re partnering with the nonprofit Jack and Jill of America, Inc. on a virtual book drive to bring books to the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools in honor of Marian Wright Edelman, one of my personal heroes. For our outreach effort around our Latino Culture and Heritage book collection, we’ve worked with a wide range of nonprofits – from the Cesar Chavez Foundation to the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Hunger Initiative and Too Small to Fail.

I’m a strong believer that we will all achieve more impact for kids when we work collaboratively: across sectors, with dedicated nonprofits and with committed corporate partners. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do – and literally, the ideas and potential for collaborating keep me and my team continually inspired!

Kyle Zimmer photoKyle Zimmer is President, CEO and Co-founder of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that has provided more than 130 million free and low-cost books and educational resources to schools and programs serving children in need across the U.S. and Canada.  Kyle is a passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, and the importance of literacy to further economic competitiveness and global understanding.  Her awards include the National Book Foundation’s 2014 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

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6. Salt Lake Comic Con 2015: M.K. Hutchins & Valynne E. Maetani’s schedules

This weekend is the Salt Lake Comic Con (September 24-September 26). Tu Books authors M.K. Hutchins (DRIFT) and Valynne E. Maetani (INK AND ASHES) will be in attendance.

See their schedules below.

M.K. Hutchins

Friday, September 25

2:00pm – 2:50 pm Pacing and Plotting in YA Fiction Room 235A

Saturday, September 26

1:00 – 1:50 pm Live Plotting: Build a Story Room 255F.

See her schedule here.

Valynne E. Maetani

Thursday September 24, 2015

3:00 – 3:50 pm The Legacy of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra Room 250A

4:00 – 4:50 pm Why We Love Nintendo Room 255C

Friday September 25, 2015

11:00 – 12:00 pm Valynne Maetani Book Signing Shadow Mountain – Booth 1401

1:00 – 1:50 pm The Universality of Hayao Miyazaki’s Storytelling Room 255E

7:00 – 7:50 pm The Truth is Still Out There: The Return of the X- Files Room 255C

Saturday September 26, 2015

4:00 – 4:50 pm The Muppets: Why They Still Matter to Lovers, Dreamers, and Us Room 255E

See a copy of her schedule here.



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7. Infographic: The Diversity Gap in the Emmys, 2015

Not only are we living in a Golden Age of television, it also feels in many ways like we are living in a Golden Age of diverse television. While TV may still be more segregated than we’d like it to be, both in front of and behind the camera, 2014-2015 saw the emergence of several critically and commercially successful shows with lead characters of color.

A few years ago, we published an infographic and study exploring the diversity gap in the Emmys and on television. Today we’ve updated that infographic and tried to answer the question: Has the Diversity Gap in Television decreased?

Emmy Awards Infographic 2015
The Diversity Gap in the Emmy Awards (click for larger image)

The Good:
Last night Viola Davis made Emmys history by becoming the first woman of color to win an Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series!

Viola Davis Emmy Award
Viola Davis accepts her Emmy Award.

In the most moving moment of the night, she directly addressed the discrimination that people of color face in Hollywood, saying:

The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

The 2015 Emmy nominees were an exceptionally diverse crowd by Hollywood standards and happily Viola Davis was not the only talented person of color to go home with an Emmy in hand. Actors Regina King (Supporting Actress, Limited Series or Movie), Reg E. Cathey (Guest Actor, Drama), and Uzo Aduba (Best Supporting Actress, Drama) all went home with Emmys in hand. This also makes 2015 the first year that women of color won Emmys in the Drama category for both Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

Uzo Aduba accepts her second Emmy Award.
Uzo Aduba accepts her second Emmy Award (image from Hollywood Reporter).

Last night also saw several women honored in the directing category, an area usually dominated by men. Jill Soloway took home the Emmy for Best Director for a Comedy Series for Transparent, making her the third woman in a row to win this category. Lisa Cholodenko also took home a Directing Emmy for her work on the Limited Series Olive Kitteridge. In other words, two out of four Best Directing Emmys this year went to women.

The Bad
While last night saw some groundbreaking firsts, it’s not time for Hollywood to pat itself on the back just yet. Despite this year’s big win for Viola Davis, it’s important to remember that in the last 25 years, only one person of color has ever won in each of the four Lead Acting categories. There were no people of color nominated this year in the categories of Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series or Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

In addition, it’s worth noting that all of the people of color nominated in Acting categories this year were African American, with the exception of Louis C.K. (who is half Mexican). Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Native actors still don’t have enough roles, leading or supporting, to be represented in any meaningful way at the Emmys. When Hollywood’s definition of “diversity” is reduced to Black or White, everyone still loses.

When it comes to gender representation, things are improving but some categories haven’t budged. 96% of winners in the Best Director of a Drama Series are still men, although one woman (Lesli Linka Glatter, Homeland) was at least nominated this year.

What Remains to Be Seen
It was clear this year that diversity was on people’s minds, and some big wins proved that it was on people’s ballots, too. But a good year, or even a few good years, are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to boosting opportunities and visibility of people of color and women in Hollywood. It may feel like progress is being made, but looking at our 2012 and 2015 infographics back to back, we can track whether that’s actually the case:

The Diversity Gap in the Emmy Awards, 2012
The Diversity Gap in the Emmy Awards, 2012
Emmy Awards Infographic 2015
The Diversity Gap in the Emmy Awards, 2015

In some categories we do see improvement, but in most categories the percentage of winners who are people of color has actually decreased as the total number of years we track increases. While some people may dismiss this as a numbers game, it demonstrates an important point about diversity: it requires a conscious effort to change the status quo. If you do nothing, the numbers actually get worse.

Host Andy Samberg hit on this point in his opening monologue by congratulating Hollywood on such a diverse list of nominees:

The big story this year, of course, is diversity. This is the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history, so congratulations Hollywood. You did it. Yeah, racism is over. Don’t fact check that.

Racism isn’t over and neither is sexism, but let’s hope that we’re moving into an age where both issues are treated by Hollywood as more than just a punchline.

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8. Character Day: Taking a Look at the Traits Needed to Do What’s Right

Character Day!Character Day is September 18! With the start of school, many educators and staff may already be teaching character education to foster a warm, productive classroom community. For others looking to spend a moment reflecting on the concept of character, we are highlighting books for teaching about justice and the traits needed in the long struggle for it.

We are highlighting books that will spark conversations centered on leadership, love, kindness, social responsibility, perseverance, fairness, and teamwork.



Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving

A collection of original poems centered on giving and spontaneous acts of kindness, which also incorporate larger themes of community, intergenerational relationships, young mentors, and care for the environment.

The Can Man

To earn money, a young boy decides to collect and redeem empty soft drink cans, but ends up giving away his money to help a local homeless man.

The Legend of Freedom Hill

A fictional story set during the California Gold Rush, in  which a girl teams up with her best friend in search of  gold to buy her mother’s freedom from a slave catcher.

Under the Lemon Moon

Rosalinda sees a man leave with a large sack ­full of  fruit from her beloved lemon tree. After consulting with  family and neighbors about how to save her sick tree, Rosalinda sets out in search of La Anciana, the Old  One, the only person who might have a solution to  Rosalinda’s predicament.


Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan

Based on heartbreaking yet inspirational true events in the lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Brothers in Hope is a story of remarkable and enduring courage, and an amazing testament to the unyielding power of the human spirit.

Crazy Horse’s Vision

The true story of the great Sioux warrior who, as a  young boy, defies tradition and seeks a vision on his  own in hopes of saving his people.

Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth

Mrs. Parks received 500 to 1,000 letters a month from children throughout the United States and the world. Dear Mrs. Parks grew out of Rosa Parks’ desire to share her legacy with all “her children,” and perpetuate a dialogue that will be recorded for generations to come.

Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story

The true story of Robert Smalls, a slave steamboat  wheelman who commandeered a Confederate ship  during the Civil War and escaped with his family and  crew to freedom.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story

The true story of Chiune Sugihara, the “Japanese  Schindler,” who, with his family’s encouragement, saved  thousands of Jews in Lithuania during World War II.


Game, Set, Match, Champion Arthur Ashe

A picture book biography of tennis player Arthur Ashe,  who began his career playing tennis as a child on the  segregated courts as a child in Virginia and went on to  become the top tennis player in the world.

How We Are Smart

Musician Tito Puente. Ballerina Maria Tallchief. Explorer Matthew Henson. Congresswoman Patsy Mink. These are some of the people profiled in this book. They are well known for different reasons, but they also have something in common. They were all smart! When readers see how the people in this book used their smarts, they will learn about themselves too, and their own unique ways of being smart.

I and I Bob Marley

A biography in verse of reggae legend Bob Marley,  exploring the influences that shaped his life and music  on his journey from rural Jamaican childhood to  international superstardom.

 Discussion Questions During and After Reading:

  • What kind of person is the main character or historic figure? How would you describe him or her? What does he or she value? How does he or she act in the face of adversity or inequity?
  • What motivates the main character or historic figure to fight injustice or inequity? What obstacles does he or she encounter?
  • What injustice does the main character or historic figure see or experience? How does he or she solve (or work towards solving) it?
  • What risks does the main character or historic figure take for something he or she believes is right and worthwhile?
  • The main character or historic figure strives to make a difference. How do you think young people can make a difference? How would you go about addressing a wrong?
  • What did you learn from this story? How might you turn what you learned into action?
  • Even if this story is set in the past, how might this story still be timely? How does it relate to conditions in our own community or the news today?


  • Read two of the books suggested above. What are some characteristics the two figures or characters have in common? How do their traits help them succeed?
  • Pair these books with news examples of young people helping others or speaking out about injustice. How do these examples show someone is never to young to make a difference and take on injustice?
  • Explain that people are often honored on postage stamps. Have students design a stamp to honor the figure or character in the book. Ask students to write a paragraph describing and explaining their designs.
  • Have students compose and present a speech that will communicate the thoughts and feelings of the main character or historic figure to an audience of young people.
  • Imagine that you are this historic figure or main character and write a diary account of daily thoughts and activities. Be sure to capture his or her feelings about the people he or she meets and what happens to him or her.

For further reading on character, character education, and social-emotional learning:

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, 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. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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9. New Voices Award Winners on Revising Your Story

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about one of the most important steps in writing a story: revision.

Question: What does your revision process look like??

pamela tuckPamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007

The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.

After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.

One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.

During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.

paula yooPaula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003

Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.

There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.

New Voices Award Winners on RevisionsSo during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.

Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.

THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.

I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.

I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.

Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.

Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat. :)

In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks. :)

glenda armandGlenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006

Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.

I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.

Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.

When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.

I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”

Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly).  I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.

I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).

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10. Get to Know this Year’s Women and POC Emmy Nominees

Television, like other media, has a terrible diversity problem, and unfortunately, last year’s Emmys weren’t very diverse.

However, there were some great and  popular diverse offerings during the 2014-2015 television season, like black-ish, Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off the Boat and Empire. 

This year, we can only hope that the talent of more diverse actors, women directors and writers gets the recognition it deserves.

Without further ado, here are this year’s Women and POC Emmy nominees!

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Taraji P. Henson (IMBD)

Taraji P. Henson (Empire) starred in the movie Baby Boy. She has also been in many other TV shows including Boston Legal and Person of Interest.

Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) got her start in theater. In 2011, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Aibileen Clark in The Help.

Best Director for a Comedy Series

Louis C.K. ( Louie) is a comedian who got his start writing for other comedians like David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Chris Rock. He is the creator and director of Louie, which he also stars in.

Phil Lord (The Last Man on Earth) is one half of the team known for directing and writing films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie, with Christopher Miller.

Phil Lord (IMBD)

They met at Dartmouth College.

Jill Soloway was inspired to create Transparent after her father came out as transgender. She directed the film Afternoon Delight and wrote for the show Six Feet Under.

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series

Jill Soloway (Transparent)

Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series

Semi Chellas (Mad Men) is known for her work on Restless Spirits. She is nominated with Matthew Weiner for her work on Mad Men.

Good luck to all of the nominees! Who do you hope takes home a trophy?


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11. Intergenerational Activities for Grandparents Day

Grandparents Day- September 13th- is a great reminder for us all toGrandparentsDayframe show our grandparents how much we love and appreciate them (& their impressive ability to never run out of reasons to send a card). From their tremendous accomplishments and contributions to those warm and magical memories we have, finding a reason to #DoSomethingGrand in their honor is never that hard. Freshly baked cookies, anyone?

But these special bonds between the old and the young do not need to begin and end with the familiar faces that surround your dining room table. Intergenerational opportunities for younger and older generations to come together can be found through partnerships between families and community organizations, senior centers, nursing homes, church groups, and even schools, helping to bring the community together across generations. Best of all, creating these opportunities for younger and older generations to come together has shown to have a number of positive benefits and can really make a difference in each other’s lives:

  • Social and emotional:
    • Respect
    • Empathy and compassion
    • Communication skills
    • Self-esteem
    • Pride
  • Physical activity:
    • Fine/gross motor skills
  • Shared learning:
    • Mental stimulation
    • Problem-solving skills
    • Academic skills (literacy, STEM, history)
    • Cultural diversity
    • Life skills

But what kind of activities can the old and young do together? How do you help these types of relationships grow? According to the Penn State Intergenerational Program (PSIP), it’s important to think about activities that best match their developmental abilities, emphasize learning, promote discussion, and involve sharing skills and insights:

For example, Sunday Shopping, a book about a young girl and her grandmother who go on an imaginative shopping trip together every Sunday, could serve as a great jumping off point for many different activities:

  1. Literacy/Communication Skills: Read Sunday Shopping aloud GrandparentsDay copytogether and then discuss what you each like to buy when you go shopping. First or second reading: Download and print the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet and use the shopping bag cut-out and items from the story to follow along and add items to the bag as Evie and her grandmother shop in the story.
  2. Literacy/Communication/Fine Motor Skills: Use what you learned from your discussion and browse various catalogs, newspapers, and magazines and circle/cut-out your shopping choices with the listed prices. Cut-out items that you think the other person would be interested in and explain why you chose those items. Then, create a written or typed shopping list of the items you want to buy and go shopping for.
  3. Dramatic Play: With a little imagination and some creative props, such as a shopping bag or cut-out shopping bag from the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet, pretend to go to all kinds of different stores, putting the cut-out items into your bags. When you’re finished shopping take turns being the cashier.
  4. Math: Choose a budget. Then, with your shopping list and pretend money help keep track of the total while you shop. After shopping, “check-out” and see if you have enough money to pay. If not, use problem-solving to take items off the list, or figure out how much more money he/she needs to pay for their items. Challenge: figure out the price of discounted items or incorporate sales tax; create coupons to use at the checkout.
  5. Art/Fine Motor Skills: Take the cut-out items from your shopping trip and create a collage together.

Intergenerational Program Ideas and Resources:

Grandparents Day Take Action Guide from Generations United: A call to action guide for grandparents/older adults, children/youth, grandfamilies, and intergenerational programs to #DoSomethingGrand not only on Grandparents Day but all year long.

Cool Intergenerational Program Ideas from Generations United: An extensive list of over 50 successful programs that differ in style and practice but share the same meaningful goals. From intergenerational pen-pal programs, schools, camps, pet therapy, community gardens, to foster grandparent opportunities, the ideas are seemingly endless.

Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook from Penn State: 53 detailed activities and learning experiences ranging from getting-to-know-you exercises (if you’ve ever been involved in first-day-icebreakers you’ll be familiar) to crafts, writing tasks, outdoor exploration, games, traditions, technology, and more. Each activity description comes with step-by-step instructions, materials/resources, objectives, and academic/life skill connections.

Across Generations Activities from The Legacy Project: A list of activities organized by category (literacy, art, science, games, food, etc.) to enjoy with grandparents, grandfriends, and beyond.

Youth-led Intergenerational Projects from Generations United: A step-by-step guide on how to create and develop an intergenerational project in the community.

Read & Make an I Love You Book and Book Basket from The Educators Spin on It: Create a DIY ‘I Love You Book’ and book basket for perfect for Grandparents Day (or any day).

Grandparents Day Books: A list of around 40 Lee & Low books to enjoy on Grandparents Day or any other day of the year!

And finally, for the selfie-inclined, don’t forget to #TakeAGrandie of you and your grandparent or grandfriend for Generation United’s “grandie” contest!

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 or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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12. Final Call: Two Contests for Unpublished Writers of Color

Are you an unpublished author of color who writes for young readers? If so, we encourage you to submit your manuscript to LEE & LOW’s annual writing contests. Our well-established contests Juna's Jar cover imagesupport new authors of color and highlight voices that remain underrepresented  in traditional publishing. Past winners include Ink and Ashes and Juna’s Jar.

New Voices Award

  • Awarded to a picture book manuscript by an unpublished author of color.
  • Winner receives $1000 cash prize and a publication contract with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
  • Submissions close September 30, 2015.
  • See the full submission guidelines.

New Visions Award

  • Awarded to a middle grade or young adult novel by anNew Visions Award seal unpublished author of color.
  • Winner receives a cash prize of $1,000 and a publication contract with Tu Books, an imprint with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
  • Submissions close October 31, 2015
  • See the full submissions guidelines

Have questions about either contest? Leave them here in the comments and we’ll get you an answer.

Further Reading:
Awards and grants for authors of color

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13. Marketing 101: The Best Social Media Platforms For Authors

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

One of the questions I get most often from authors—both new and MARKETING 101: The Best Social Media for Authorsexperienced—is, “Which social media platforms do I have to be on?” There are a lot of ways to answer this question but I want to start by addressing the question itself, which is often phrased in exactly this way. The answer is: you don’t have to be on any social media platforms that you don’t want to be on. Social media can help you connect with new readers, raise your discoverability, and sell books, but it can also be a drain on your time, attention, and ideas. Social media is not for everybody, and not every platform is for every writer. So the first thing to do is let go of the guilt and pressure you feel to be on every social media platform that exists, posting content in real time. Almost no authors can pull this off and it’s not worth losing your sanity to attempt it.

With that in mind, the question to ask becomes not “which platforms do I have to be on,” but “which platform(s) would benefit me most to be on, and which are the best fit for me?” When considering where to be on social media, the number one thing you should ask yourself is whether a particular platform will be enjoyable and sustainable to you. Here are some things to consider:

  • How often do I want to post?
  • Realistically, how often will I have time to post?
  • What kind of content do I enjoy posting most? (i.e. do I enjoy curating content by others, creating my own content, or a mix of both)
  • What subjects will I be posting about?
  • How much time will I be able to dedicate to each post?
  • Am I text-driven or image-driven?
  • Do I want a platform that is very interactive or less interactive?

While you could make any platform work for you no matter how you answer the above questions, it helps to find the platform that’s the best fit for you, so social media can become an activity you enjoy instead of a slog or obligation. So, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular social media platforms and a couple things to consider about each:

Ideal frequency of posts: At least once a day, preferably more
Type of content: Mixture of curation and new created content
Time commitment: Surprisingly high
Interactivity level: Varies, but higher interactivity is recommended

Twitter is a weird social media platform- even though it’s been around for several years now, it can still be hard to describe, and even harder to understand the purpose of. Think of Twitter as the world’s biggest cocktail party, happening online 24/7 without end. It can drive you crazy, but it’s also a great equalizer: where else can you tweet to celebrities and have them answer you directly? Where else can readers and authors come together so seamlessly?

Twitter is what you make of it: you can have a minimal presence there and use it mostly for “lurking,” but the truth is that unless you are very, very famous, you will get almost nothing out of Twitter unless you are on it frequently and using it in a very interactive way. Yes, it can be overwhelming and a total time suck, but it can also be a nice break from your other projects and an easy way to key yourself in to important conversations going in within the industry.

Bottom Line: If you want to do it right, Twitter takes a lot of time and attention – but the rewards can be big.

Ideal frequency of posts: once a week minimum
Type of content: More created content than curation
Time commitment: Low-medium
Interactivity level: Medium-high

Remember when Facebook was a novelty? Over the years it’s morphed into something more akin to an Internet staple, right alongside Google. If you’re not on Facebook, you’ve probably been met with shock and awe more than once. If you are already on Facebook, you may think you’ve already got this one in the bag. However, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made here between personal pages and fan pages. As an author and therefore a public figure, you should absolutely have a separate Facebook account for your author persona apart from your personal Facebook account. This allows you to build a following, tweak your privacy settings, and save your family and friends from seeing posts about your book in their feed all the time (unless they want them).

Once you set up a fan page, what you post and how often is up to you. Unlike Twitter which is really pretty useless if you’re not using it frequently, I think there are still benefits to having a Facebook fan page even if you only update it every couple of weeks – it’s a way to allow people to demonstrate that they like you, and allows them to “subscribe” to get updates from you. It won’t let you meet new people as easily as Twitter does, but it can help you build a stronger relationship with your fans, and that’s always a nice thing.

Bottom Line: A little effort can go a long way when it comes to Facebook, so it’s a good place to be.

Ideal frequency of posts: Once a week minimum
Type of content: All created content
Time commitment: High
Interactivity level: Low-medium

I don’t technically consider blogs to be a social media platform but they always seem to get tied into this discussion, so I wanted to address them here.  The number one thing to remember about blogs is that they are a LOT OF WORK, and that amount of work never really diminishes. When you start a blog, you are essentially starting the equivalent of a one-woman (or one-man) newspaper and giving yourself the job of creating all new content for it. You may think you have blog ideas aplenty, but will you still want to be writing new posts every week six months down the road?

There are a couple questions you should keep in mind when considering starting a blog: How much extra time do I have to write? Will my blog have a specific theme or focus? A helpful thing to do is to sit down and create a list of 20 blog post ideas, and see where that gets you. If you find this exercise fun and can’t wait to start writing some of your ideas up into posts, a blog might be a good platform for you. But if getting to 20 ideas is a bit of a struggle and you can’t see yourself doing this kind of thing for a couple of hours each week, a blog might not be right for you.

A big thing to keep in mind about blogs is that if you want to get the most out of your blog, the time demands go way past writing the posts themselves. It takes time and effort to build a blog readership, and requires a good deal of marketing. So if you begin a blog, you will also probably want to be on Twitter and/or Facebook so you can use those platforms to share your content – otherwise you’re just putting your great content into the black hole of the Internet.

That’s not to see blogs can’t be worth it. When done well, blogs give you a terrific platform as an author. There’s nothing better than writing a blog post you’re proud of and seeing it reshared in many different places. Blogs can help new readers discover you and can help you connect with readers, reviewers, and other authors. Just have a sense of what you’re signing on for before you start.

Bottom Line: Probably the most demanding of all the social media channels, blogs can offer a lot but should be started with an understanding of the work they will entail.

Ah, to go back to the days when you could count the number of social media platforms out there on one hand! The fact that we now have Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, and many others only seems to make writers more anxious about where they “need to be.”

When it comes to these more peripheral platforms—and I mean peripheral specifically in the context of online presence for authors—my advice is simple: have fun! Love photography? You might enjoy connecting with readers on Instagram. Love design? You might have fun making Pinterest boards inspired by your books. If you’re intrigued by a platform, try it out – there’s no rule that says you have to stay on it forever (though you should delete your account if you decide it’s not for you, rather than being inactive). Ultimately, all of these platforms are about the same thing: connecting with people. So if you want to be on any of them, make sure that’s what you’re getting out of it in the end, and that you’re enjoying the ride.

More Marketing 101 Posts:
What to Put on Your Author Website
Five Things to Do Before Your Book is Released

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14. Diversity Baseline Survey Update: #BigFiveSignOn and Survey Deadline

Exciting things have happened with the Diversity Baseline Survey since our last update!

The Diversity Baseline Survey gathers statistics on publishing staff and reviewers in four major categories:

1) Gender
2) Race/ethnicity
3) Sexual Orientation
4) Disability

These categories will be further broken down by department. The goal is to have all major review journals and publishers—from small, to mid-size, to large— participate in this project. If we are serious about trying to address the lack of diversity in the publishing world, this is the very first step we need to take. Sharing our numbers as an industry will not only clue us in to important patterns that may be missing, it will also show that we are committed to change.

Since our last update, several new publishers have joined the survey, including Bloomsbury, Lerner Publishing, Chronicle Books and Abrams. More small publishers have joined, including Clean Reads, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C., and Owlkids Books. Macmillan, one of the “big five” publishers, has also joined. You can see the full list here.

All in all, almost 30 publishers and 8 major review journals will be administering the survey. This is huge.

WHY bigfivesignon

This week, a supporter created the hashtag #BigFiveSignOn to encourage more publishers to join the survey, including the rest of the “big five” publishers (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Hachette), in advance of the mid-September deadline. We were thrilled to see the hashtag trending on Monday! Check out some great media coverage of the campaign from around the web:

Diversity Matters: Lee & Low Push for Diversity in the Publishing World” at BookRiot
Diversity Survey Deadline Nears” at Publishers Weekly
“Why I’m Asking that the #BigFiveSignOn” at SC Write
“The Page is a Mirror…Or Is It?” at Jamie Ayres’ blog
“Why #Bigfivesignon? #WNDB” at Coloring Between the Lines

Over at Change.org, our petition encouraging publishers to join the survey is now at almost 1,900 signatures. Have you signed yet?

The deadline for joining the survey is September 15, 2015. Help us encourage remaining publishers to join by spreading the word on social media using hashtag #bigfivesignon and by signing the petition!

Read our previous update on the Diversity Baseline Survey.

Learn about why we are asking publishers to join our Diversity Baseline Survey.

Sign the Petition.

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15. 8 Ideas for Educators to Get Students Excited About the Public Library This School Year

Do you know how many books your students or their families own or even have access to? The start of school is a great time to introduce (or reintroduce) children (and their families) to the public library.


In the home visits many of us make at the beginning of each school year, it is an unique opportunity to see not only where our students live, but also where they study and keep their books. I learned that many of my students had only a few books in their homes and our classroom libraries would be vital to enabling student discovery of new interests and topics, as well as access to texts at and above their levels.

Families may not be able to afford books or find few books for sale. For example, one study of low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia found one book for sale for every 300 children.

As we set out to create literacy-rich environments in our classrooms this school year, let us remember a powerful ally in the community: public libraries.

September is also Library Card Sign-Up Month so many public libraries have programs and resources available to students of all grades. Check with your nearest branch to see field trip availability, possible funding, and to download and distribute the library card application.

Before You Go

1. Read Aloud Book Recommendations


The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos

Richard Wright and the Library Card and Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Destiny’s Gift (setting is a bookstore, but applicable themes)

Questions during reading

  • Why does this character/historical figure believe in the power of books?
  • What obstacles does this person have to overcome to achieve his/her goal?
  • How do reading books change the main characters/historical figures?
  • How does this person demonstrate respect or show appreciation for books and the library space?
  • Why are libraries an important part of a community?
  • Should having a library in a community be a right or is it a privilege?

2. Shared Reading ActivityThe following articles, which can be downloaded as a PDF file, contain information at just the right level for readers. Comprehension questions also included:

*note: must sign-up to read, but free for teachers

A Helper at the School Library” by ReadWorks.org

A New Kind of Library” by ReadWorks.org

Homework takes over the library for kids without Internet” by Newsela

A Chicago library’s books hit the road on two wheels” by Newsela

3. Bring in a library book for students to observeCompare the library book to a classroom book. Note the spine label on the side, the barcode label on the back, the plastic covering, the library pocket, and so on.

Finally, before your class visits the library, print off library card applications for students to fill out in class or at home with their families. This will streamline the process at the library and students will have the necessary information like their home addresses to obtain the cards. With cards in the hand, students can borrow some books!

If Doing a Visit or Field Trip, Here Are Some Activities at the Library:

4. Interview a librarian—Have students brainstorm a list of questions before they visit to ask, including:

  • What motivated him/her to become a librarian?
  • What is his/her favorite part of being a librarian?
  • What are some of the challenges of a library?
  • Why is it important for communities to have libraries?
  • How have libraries changed? How has this library changed since it first opened?
  • What can someone do at a library in addition to reading books?
  • What if someone does not speak English (or very well)? What resources can he/she use to get the most out of the library? How does the library make an inclusive space for multiple languages?

5. Library scavenger hunt—Premade lists for grade bands are available from ALA. Ideas include:

  • Get the signature of two librarians.
  • What is the name of the Children’s Librarian?
  • How much does it cost to make a copy in the library?
  • List two magazine titles the library has available to read.
  • Find a chapter book with an author whose last name begins with “D.” What is the title of the book?
  • What newspaper does the library have for reading?
  • How many computer stations does the library have for visitors to use?
  • Have students try to find a couple of the read alouds you have already read in class this year, such as The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos or Richard Wright and the Library Card.

Activities After the Visit to the Library

6. Create a poster to advertise the local libraryWith words and pictures, explain the benefits of visiting a library and highlight the perks of the space. How is the library rewarding to one’s education? How can a library help with homework? Depending on the class size and the amount of posters, encourage students to donate their poster to each classroom in the school as well as the main office to post on the bulletin board.

7. Write a thank you letter to the children’s or teen’s librarian or community volunteers. Encourage students to include what book title they would like to borrow first with their new library cards.

8. As a class, brainstorm a list of ideas on how to responsibly treat a borrowed library book. What does being responsible with a library book look like? Record student ideas on a chart. Look up the behavior rules on the library website. Post this list in the classroom library as a reminder for all borrowed books throughout the year.

How to make a trip to the library affordable and achievable:

  • Most important: TALK to the librarians! Many public libraries have back-to-school programs available (or preferred times for such visits) and schedules that work with the school calendar. The children’s or teen librarian may also know of funding or grants available specifically for school visits to the library.
  • Make it a family affair. While optional, encourage students’ families to join you on a Saturday at the library. This will save you having to pay for bussing or coordinate chaperones as students will attend with their families.
  • Absolutely can’t get off campus? Make sure to prioritize a program at your school library or see if the public library has school-visit programs.
  • Virtual field trips: (elementary school age) KidVision VPK Library Field Trip and (middle school age) Tour the Library by Harper College Library or Check It Out by Topeka Library

For further reading on educators engaging librarians for student achievement:

Dear librariansWhat other ideas do you suggest or have you seen work well for encouraging students to discover all that the library has to offer them (and their families) this school year? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, 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. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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16. The Opposite of Colorblind: Why it’s essential to talk to children about race

diversity102-logoIn this post, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman discusses why avoiding discussions of race with young people can do more harm than good.

Many African American parents already know what “the talk” is. It’s not the talk that many white parents might expect—we’re not talking about the birds and the bees. No, this “talk” is the one where black parents have to sit with their children and discuss how they might be perceived by the world around them: particularly police, but also teachers, neighbors, and friends who are not from their racial background.

Though the burden often falls on parents of color alone to discuss these issues with their children, in reality all parents should address race with their kids in a conscious and meaningful way. Communities are also seeking ways to address interpersonal racial issues, Why It's Essential to Talk to Children About Raceparticularly in schools. Having the tools to know how to discuss racial matters is essential for children from all backgrounds. 

Research has shown that the “colorblind” approach—teaching children that it is racist to acknowledge racial and ethnic differences—is doing no one any favors, and in fact can reinforce racist attitudes and assumptions, and especially reify systemic racism. “Black children know irrefutably that they’re black by the time they’re about 6 years old and probably earlier,” one article noted in our research. Do white children know they’re white? If not, how do they think of themselves?

At Lee & Low, we’ve always believed that even the youngest readers have the capacity to understand and appreciate difference—that’s why many of our children’s books address issues like racism and discrimination. But you don’t have to take our word for it: many experts, educators, and academics have done work on this topic as well and their recommendations can help point parents and teachers in the right direction.

“Young children are hard-wired in their brains to notice difference and to categorize it. So it is vital during early childhood to put some context around making sense of differences,” said Shannon Nagy, preschool director in 2011 at Lincoln Park Cooperative Nursery School in Chicago.

Studies have also shown that not addressing difference does not make children colorblind—it only encourages them to absorb the implicit racial messages of American society. Children learn that race is a category even when parents try to teach them not to recognize race. Much like children learn to perform regional accents even when their parents are from another location, children learn Young children are hard-wired to notice difference.how the larger society around them views race, via inference and transductive reasoning. “In other words, children pick upon the ways in which whiteness is normalized and privileged in U.S. society.”

Teaching children to be “colorblind” has led children (and adults) to believe that it’s rude or racist to even point out racial differences—even kids of color. This makes it exponentially harder to have frank discussions about racial issues when they need to be had.

“Nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents,” said a 2007 study. “It’s the children whose parents do directly address race — and directly means far more than vaguely declaring everyone to be equal — who are less likely to make assumptions about people based on the color of our skin.”

One study even had white parents dropping out of the project when the researchers asked them to discuss racial attitudes with their children, even when they went into the study knowing that it was intended to measure children’s racial attitudes.

Many argue that “the talk” should happen far more often than once, and that parents shouldn’t bear the sole burden to teach their kids about race—that it is a community-wide issue.

Erin Winkler provides several ways for parents and teachers to address the biases that children might pick up, including discussing The Talk should happen far more often than oncethe issue in an age-appropriate way, with accurate information that doesn’t shame or silence children for having questions. They also suggest encouraging complex thinking and taking children’s questions and biased statements seriously—“When children are taught to pay attention to multiple attributes of a person at once (e.g., not just race), reduced levels of bias are shown,” the author notes, and suggests that the most important thing parents and teachers can do is to give children information that empowers them to be anti-racist.

One New York City-area school asked, “Can racism be stopped in the third grade?” They began a “racial affinity program,” in which elementary-age kids were sorted by racial groups for discussions of questions that “might seem impolite otherwise,” and to then come together as a school community to discuss these questions and experiences in a way that fosters greater communication. Parents and students are mixed on whether this program succeeded, with Asian students noting that the discussions of race still focused on the dichotomy of black and white, and some parents uncomfortable with the idea of discussing race at all. The administration notes, however, that many of their students of color needed this program—mandatory for all students—to combat microaggressions between students.

Allie Jane Bruce, the librarian at Bank Street School in New York City, has been discussing race, biases, and stereotypes with the students in her school for three years, using children’s book covers as a launching point. “I’m constantly delighted by the new discoveries kids make, and by the wisdom and insight already present in 11- and 12-year-olds,” Bruce noted in her most recent series of blog posts about the curriculum, which she has named “Loudness in the Library.” She notes especially that kids at this age tend to feel very uncomfortable with discussing race at first. “The fact that race-related conversations are so very fraught is a huge part of the problem. We must be able to communicate in order to solve problems that exist at interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels. If kids in 6th grade already have the inclination to stay silent in conversations on race, how much stronger will that inclination be in adults? And if we can’t talk about race and racism, how will things ever get better?”

Parents, what does “the talk” look like in your home? Teachers and librarians, how do you approach discussions about race with your students and patrons?

Stacy WhitmanStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.

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17. How I Created the Ink and Ashes Personality Quiz

internKandace Coston is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is one of five recipients of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program inaugural grant. She graduated from Barnard College where she majored in music and took every creative literature class possible. In her free time, Kandace pursues her other interests, which include American Sign Language, handmade jewelry, and composing cinematic adventures!

I’ve always loved personality quizzes. As a teenager I was obsessed with brightly-colored magazines promising to reveal and explain different traits of my personality. I spent hours answering quirky questions, deciphering ambiguous logic, and debating results. Ink and Ashes coverOften the answers were frivolous and vague like a daily zodiac reading; but every once in a while I got an explanation that cut through my skepticism and perfectly pinched my persona. It felt as though an omniscient force was watching me from within the glossy pages. Those goose bump-inducing quizzes got neatly cut out and taken to school to entertain, and discreetly dissect, my friends.

When I was offered the opportunity to write a personality quiz for Tu Books’ popular YA mystery Ink and Ashes, I jumped at the chance. Creating the quiz would allow me to play haunting omniscient force! I was determined to craft a quiz so poignant and accurate it would induce goose bumps across the arms of every reader in the land! *Evil Laugh*. I immediately set to work in the dark lair of my cubicle.

My first step was to evaluate the six personality types I would use as results: Forrest, Nicholas, Claire, Parker, Fed, and Avery. I assigned each character a different color sticky tab and reread passages of the novel marking moments that revealed their different personality traits. I oversimplified each character’s persona by condensing it into three adjectives. Next I drew a line and plotted the two most opposite personalities, Nicholas and Avery, on either side. Everyone else seemed to fall in between these two characters. I plotted them appropriately completing the personality gradient.quiz picture 1

Next, I began building questions that centered around an outing to the mall. The mall served as a great theme because it’s a natural setting for character-revealing situations. I crafted six questions that related to the novel and are circumstances readers can identify with. I thought four multiple-choice answers per question would suffice but it proved problematic. More than two characters were associated with one answer which made the personalities indistinguishable and muddied the results. Although each character is distinct, they possess certain overlapping traits. For example Parker is smart like Fed, who likes video games like Avery, who embraces conflict like Claire, and so on. The characters’ intersecting personalities led me to a significant realization: they shouldn’t be plotted on a line, but on a triangle.quiz picture 2

With this new discovery I tried a different tactic. Instead of the quiz determining which character the reader was most like, it would determine which characters the reader was most unlike. The process reminded me of how doctors diagnose patients. The answers to questions would reveal symptoms of personality, and with each symptom the quiz would eliminate the character with contrasting personality traits. Through process of elimination the reader would be left with the character he/she has the most in common with. This seemed like a solid, plan until one of my Quiz Testers managed to perfectly eliminate all six characters with her six answers. This showed me I needed additional questions, more specific answers per question, and that this diagnosis-based grading mechanism was unnecessary.

After a few more adjustments to structure and questioning my quiz was finally complete. It turns out crafting a quiz doesn’t entail the wisdom of an omniscient force but rather focused trial and error. The quiz may not be perfectly accurate or provide poignant personality revelations but that’s not the point. The point is to engage fans of Ink and Ashes by giving them something fun to discuss and results to agree or disagree with. The quiz serves as another way for readers to see themselves in literature.

To take the Ink and Ashes quiz for yourself, check it out here.

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18. How a Writing Contest for Students is Changing the Immigration Narrative

LEE & LOW BOOKS has two writing contests for unpublished authors of color: the New Voices Award, for picture book manuscripts, and the New Visions Award, for middle grade and young adult manuscripts. Both contests, which are now open for submissions aim to recognize the diverse voices and talent among new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.

In this guest post, we wanted to highlight another groundbreaking writing contest that’s bringing attention to marginalized voices and fostering a love of writing in students: the Celebrate America Writing Contest run by the American Immigration Council. Coming into its 19th year, the Celebrate America Writing Contest for fifth graders has been bringing attention to the contributions of immigrants in America through the eyes and pens of our youngest writers.

In this guest post, Claire Tesh, Senior Manager of Education at the American Immigration Council, discusses the mission of the Celebrate America Writing Contest and how it has helped to shape the immigration narrative.claire tesh

It is impossible to escape the negative vitriol and hateful rhetoric around the issue of immigration that dominates the headlines, talk radio, popular culture, and in some cases the dinner table. In an effort to educate children and communities about the value of immigration to our society The American Immigration Council teams up with schools and community groups to provide young people the resources and information necessary to think critically about immigration from both a historical and contemporary perspective, while working collaboratively and learning about themselves and their communities.

The American Immigration Council developed “Celebrate America,” an annual national creative writing contest for fifth graders, because they are at the age where they are discovering their place in the world both locally and globally. They are also finding their own voice, opinions and ideas through writing, creating and sharing.   Students at this age start making sense of current events; they have a better working knowledge of basic history, and have a sense of global awareness.

Thousands of Entries

“Celebrate America” began 19 years ago with just a couple dozen entries. Today it has grown to over 5,000 entries annually! Since 1997 a total of close to 75,000 students have participated in two dozen cities, in nearly 750 schools and community centers across the nation.

As the lead on the contest since 2006, I have read thousands of entries and have attended numerous events featuring the writers. It is difficult to pick just one example, but in 2008 the winning entry America is a Refuge really showed how much a 10-12 year old can comprehend about the issue. That year, the winner, Cameron Busby, explained to a reporter from the Tucson Citizen that “I want to be a horror writer when I grow up,” and in order to tell the story of America being a place people come to be safe and thrive, he used bits and pieces of some of his classmate’s true horror stories of their own or their family member’s immigration journeys. This excerpt shows the young writer’s entry and how he made sense of injustice and how America has always been a nation symbolic as a beacon for hope:

A small child holds out a hoping


a crumb of bread,

or even a penny just to be fed

Hoping America is a refuge. A 

child weeps over her mother’s 

lifeless body,

the tears streaming down her


Praying America is a refuge.

Part of the reason why it’s a popular contest is because it fits neatly with the fifth grade curriculum and it is easy for teachers to implement by offering timely lessons and expository learning opportunities from classroom visits by experts to interactive web-based games. The contest is unique in that it allows for any written work that captures the essence of why the writer is proud that America is a nation of immigrants and students can express themselves through narrative, descriptive, expository, or persuasive writings, poetry, and other forms of written expressions. The teaching and learning opportunities the contest brings to both the classroom and the community has made it very popular and most teachers who participate do so year after year.In the Classroom

Monica Chun, a teacher from Seattle who has participated in the contest for several years and whose student, Erin Stark, was a national winner in 2013, starts the assignment by asking students to ask their relatives at home a question: “Who was the first person in our family to come to America?” No matter what ethnicity or how recent or distant a family’s arrival be, every student is going to have a unique answer to this question.

Involving the Community

”Celebrate America” encourages youth, families and surrounding communities to evaluate and appreciate the effects of immigration in their own lives. The unique contest includes the following components:

  • Immigration attorneys or trained volunteers visit classrooms, whether in person or virtually. The visitors give short presentations about the history of American immigration and the contributions immigrants have made over the years;
  • Teachers complement the contest by implementing lessons about immigration, social justice and diversity into their curriculum;
  • The American Immigration Council provides classrooms with innovative, relevant, and interactive lessons and resources;
  • Communities organize events, naturalization ceremonies and other celebrations to showcase the local winners;
  • The winning entry from each locale is sent to the national office and judged by well-known journalists, immigration judges and award winning authors;
  • The winning entry is read into the Congressional record, a flag is flown over the Capitol in the winner’s honor and the winner reads their entry at a 700+ person event that celebrates immigration; and
  • In the submissions the youth voice brings hope that there will be solutions to the immigration debate.

The American Immigration Council believes that teachers, parents, and students are essential to building a collective movement toward a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society.   With the community’s engagement, educators, parents and students can help bridge this divide and approach the issue of immigration with intelligence and empathy.

american immigration council

Contest Impact

The contest has an impact not only in the schools and communities that participate, but also in the halls of Congress. Each year when the winning entry is read into the Congressional Record, it is rewarding to know that our leaders are hearing words of wisdom from a young person who has big ideas and who has chosen to use their voice to invite others to learn about immigration and to celebrate America’s diversity.

When the winning entries are read to new citizens at naturalization ceremonies or at dinner galas in communities of all sizes, almost every attendee has tears in their eyes because the young readers are speaking from their hearts and they represent the future. Each and every year the young writers continue to surprise us with the depth and empathy in their writings whether it is their common sense solutions to an immigration system or the story of their own immigrant background. Any writer, no matter how old and how experienced, should look at these entries to get a sense for authentic voice and various styles of writing. The thousands of students who submit to the contest get recognized in their communities and the affect is exponential because students start in the classroom and their voice continues to be shared within their schools, within their communities and beyond.

The students participating in “Celebrate America” are America’s future citizens, voters, educators and activists and it is truly an honor to shape the contest so that it provides some of the tools to think critically about immigration and to learn to explore the economic and moral effects of immigration policy as they engage in the public debates. But, today as we try to navigate the complicated maze that is immigration law and policy, it is through their incredible choice of words, that they are our guides, our teachers, and our voices of reason.

For further information on eligibility and submission process:

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19. The Right Read Aloud for the Classroom Community You Want This Year

Whether students have a year or more under their belts or are starting school for the first time, a new school year can invoke everything from laughter to tears to giggles and cheers. Teachers face the full spectrum of student feelings about the first day of a new school year: excitement, shyness, doubt, fear, anxiety.

How can we help our students face their feelings and the start of the new school year?

Selecting the right back-to-school read aloud is exciting because of the potential it holds. We can imagine the conversations we will have with our scholars and the connections they will make. We can imagine the safe, welcoming, reading-first space we will inspire.

back to school booksIt may be tempting to concentrate on introducing students to routines and expectations and practicing procedures around sitting on the carpet or signaling for the bathroom. However, building classroom culture is critical to a successful school year. Reading should start on day 1 as part of your strategy for achieving that safe, welcoming, reading-first space.

As you assemble or sort through your read aloud bin for the right mentor texts for the first unit in your scope & sequence, think about which books signal the community and classroom culture you want and your students need.

Pair read alouds that are “elementary school classics” with books that celebrate and recognize your students’ experiences, backgrounds, and interests.

For example, a classic back to school read aloud is Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, about a young girl’s first day of kindergarten. Henkes captures the feelings of many new students navigating new spaces and friendships.

Now pair that with a text that has characters with identities and experiences that are meaningful to your student population. Yes, first day jitters and excitement are universal, but the additional challenge of being a non-native English speaker or coping with homelessness can tip feelings over from nervous to overwhelmed.

Chrysanthemum, You’re Not Alone!

As part of your preparations for the beginning of the school year, gather a collection of your books related to the first day of school.

Book Pairing Recommendation:

Elizabeti’s School + Moony Luna/ Luna, Lunita Lunera + Chrysanthemum (HarperCollins)

Ideal read-alouds for the start of school should:

  • Allow you to introduce and discuss the roles of students and teachers, the classroom, and school in general
  • Show young learners that it is normal to have a mixture of feelings during this time of change
  • Include a variety of themes and topics: the first day of school, making friends, families and communities, dealing with new situations and separation, helping each other process our emotions/overcome fears, and growing up

Getting students to start talking about how a character grapples with new  classmates and the school setting can help them express how they are feeling as well as recognize that others in the room feel exactly the same way. (It also gives you the opportunity to start reading to kids! And show how book-centric your classroom is.)


  1. In the first few days, read more than one character’s first day of school. Ask children to make connections between these stories. Also encourage them to connect their own school experiences to those of characters in the books.
  2. If students are writing, have children write about something in school that made them feel happy. It may be one or two sentences. For students who are not writing yet, encourage them to dictate their experience for their drawings to an adult who will record their words. Include a space for students to sketch their answer.
  3. Have students turn to the last page in the book. Then ask them to draw a dream that the character might have that night or imagine what her second day will be like.
  4. As a whole group, write a class letter as Chrysanthemum to Moony Luna. What advice would she have for Luna about school?
  5. Finally, create a bin of other back-to-school books (it’s quite a genre!) for students to explore in and outside of class.

Additionally, consider reading your favorite must-read back-to-school book in the students’ first language (or inviting a parent to join alongside you in the reading) if they are English Language Learners. Many of the most popular “classics” are available in other languages as well as authentic literature written as bilingual texts.

Recognizing children’s cultures and their languages is a BIG deal. Too many schools get students’ names wrong from the beginning. More and more schools have English Language Learner populations and multiple languages spoken within one school and classroom. Reading in students’ language or selecting a text that portrays a character your students identify with communicates to them that they matter, their lives matter, and they are going to learn a ton with you this year.

Culturally responsive books with characters and themes about navigating a new school/grade/year:

A Shelter in Our Car: Zettie and her Mama left their warm and comfortable  home in Jamaica for an uncertain life in the United  Sates, and they are forced to live in Mama’s car.

David’s Drawings and Los dibujos de David: Available in Spanish and English, a shy young African American boy makes friends in  school by letting his classmates help with his drawing of  a bare winter tree. A shy young African American boy  makes friends in school by letting his classmates help  with his drawing of a bare winter tree.

Elizabeti’s School and La escuela de Elizabeti: In this contempory Tanzanian story available in English and Spanish, author Stephanie  Stuve­Bodeen and artist Christy Hale once again bring  the sweet innocence of Elizabeti to life. Readers are sure  to recognize this young child’s emotions as she copes  with her first day of school and discovers the wonder and  joy of learning.

First Day in Grapes and Primer día en las uvas: Available in Spanish and English, the powerful story of a migrant boy  who grows in self­confidence when he uses his math  prowess to stand up to the school bullies.

Home at Last and Al fin en casa: A sympathetic tale available in Spanish and English of a mother­daughter bond and  overcoming adversity, brought to life by the vivid  illustrations of Felipe Davalos.

Moony Luna/ Luna, Lunita Lunera: Bilingual English/Spanish. A bilingual tale about a  young girl afraid to go to school for the first time.

The Closet Ghosts: Moving to a new place is hard enough without finding a bunch of mean, nasty ghosts in your closet. When  Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, answers Anu’s plea  for help, Anu rejoices­until she realizes that those pesky  ghosts don’t seem to be going anywhere.

The Upside Down Boy/ El niño de cabeza: Bilingual English/Spanish. Award­winning poet Juan  Felipe Herrera’s engaging memoir of the year his  migrant family settled down so that he could go to  school for the first time.

Willie Wins: In this heart-warming story, a boy gets beyond peer  pressure and comes to appreciate the depth of his  father’s love.

For further reading on starting the school year:

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20. Books for Children and Educators About Kindness

Kids can be kind, empathetic, and compassionate – but not always. 17 children's books about kindnessAs we head toward the new school year, we know that new friendships will be formed, old friendships may fall away, and there are bound to be hurt feelings before too long. By teaching about kindness in a conscious way, we can arm young people to go into complex situations ready to be kind and to model kindness to others. Books present a perfect springboard for having discussions about kindness and engendering a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what it means to be kind.

The book list below was put together by Dr. Sylvia M. Vardell, a Professor at the Texas Woman’s University School of Library & Information Studies. Dr. Vardell originally put this list together for a presentation she did at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference last fall, and was gracious enough to let us reshare it here. 

Selected Books for Young People About Kindness:

Bunting, Eve. 2006. One Green Apple. Clarion.
Cuyler, Margery. 2007. Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler. Simon & Schuster.
Dillon, Leo & Diane. If Kids Ran the World. Blue Sky Press.
Frank, John. 2014. Lend a Hand. Ill. by London Ladd. Lee & Low.
Graff, Lisa. Absolutely Almost. Philomel.
Hennessy, B. G. 2011. Because of You: A Book of Kindness. Candlewick.
Jules, Jacqueline. Never Say a Mean Word Again. Wisdom Tales.
Lord, Cynthia. 2006. Rules. Scholastic.
Ludwig, Tracy. 2013. The Invisible Boy. Knopf.
Myracle, Lauren. 2014. The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness. Dutton.
Newman, Leslea. 2012. October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Candlewick.
Palacio, R. J. 2012. Wonder. Knopf.
Pearson, Emily. 2002. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed. Gibbs Smith.
Raschka, Chris. 2011. A Ball for Daisy. Schwartz & Wade.
Stein, David Ezra. 2012. Because Amelia Smiled. Candlewick.
Snow, Todd and Snow, Peggy. 2008. Kindness to Share from A to Z. Maren Green.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2012. Each Kindness. Penguin.

Recommended Professional Resource Books

Ferrucci, Piero. 2007. The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life. Tarcher.
Goldman, Carrie. 2012. Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. HarperOne.
Laminack, Lester and Wadsworth, Reba. 2012. Bullying Hurts: Teaching Kindness Through Read Alouds and Guided Conversations. Heinemann.
Mah, Ronald. 2013. Getting Beyond Bullying and Exclusion, PreK-5: Empowering Children in Inclusive Classrooms. Skyhorse Publishing.
Pearson, Ferial. 2014. Secret Kindness Agents: How Small Acts of Kindness Really Can Change the World. WriteLife.
Rice, Judith Ann. 2013. The Kindness Curriculum: Stop Bullying Before It Starts. Redleaf Press.
Rue, Nancy. 2014. So Not Okay: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Bystander (Mean Girl Makeover series). Nelson.

Here’s an infographic we created based on the book Lend a Hand about random acts of kindness:

Lend A Hand Infographic
click for larger view


What are your favorite books for children, adults, and professional educators about kindness? Please share in the comments!

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21. The Other Side of Quiet – An Intern’s Perspective


Kandace Coston is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is one of five recipients of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program inaugural grant. She graduated from Barnard College where she majored in music and took every creative literature class possible. In her free time, Kandace pursues her other interests, which include American Sign Language, handmade jewelry, and composing cinematic adventures!

Intimate. Calm. Inviting. That’s the atmosphere of the LEE & LOW BOOKS office in New York City. Twelve floors removed from the noisy hustle and heat of the city streets, this diverse books publisher’s office is a small levitating oasis.

I first noticed the Quiet during my interview in late May for the summer internship position in Marketing and Publicity. I stepped off the elevator, opened the door slowly (in compliance with the instructional sign), and instantly noticed the cool and calm. Initially I found the Quiet unnerving like the eerie silence in a horror movie that cues a tragic event. But the inviting display of bright books put my nervously pounding heart at ease. They make children’s books. I thought to myself. They make magic. I gazed at the sunny, shiny titles and was instantly relaxed.

intern deskOne month later I started my internship excited to be a small part of the magic LEE & LOW BOOKS creates. I was also excited to step over onto the other side of the Quiet. Now that I was an official member of this exclusive team I was sure my ears would tune into the buzz of the office like a radio tuning into a tricky channel. What I found instead was an immense Quiet accompanied only by the hum of a distant printer and the occasional disembodied sneeze. By July I’d surrendered. My ears stopped scanning for transmissions within the white noise that is the office’s Quiet.

As I ceased my mission for sound, I began my mission of getting to know the office. I made appointments with personnel in various departments to learn how the largest publisher of diverse books in the country operates. Everyone I reached out to was more than happy to oblige me which I was grateful for but not surprised by; the office is incredibly friendly and welcoming.

With each interview I learned new facts about children’s books and the publishing industry:

  • Children’s books take over a year to create.
  • Marketing a book entails intensely creative work.
  • The difference between dystopian and post-apocalyptic.
  • How to spell apocalyptic.

With each interview I also noticed a recurrence: every person I spoke to is excited about the work they do here. Their faces lit up as they eloquently, passionately, and patiently explained to me how they contribute to the LEE & LOW BOOKS message. Each person brings pride and a distinct expertise to their work that makes them invaluable. Many people in my life are not content with the way they earn a living. It seems the team at LEE & LOW has that life conundrum figured out. I found everyone’s enthusiasm refreshing and encouraging.

summer intern

Nowadays when I enter the office I’m not caught off guard by the Quiet. Instead I’ve realized that within the Quiet is progress. The diligent staff members of Lee & Low Books are busy bettering the world through children’s literature. In this intimate oasis of an office the Quiet is a sound; the sound of focus and fulfillment.

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22. Interview: Monica Brown on Her New Book Maya’s Blanket

monica brown

Out this September from the Children’s Book Press imprint of LEE & LOW, Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya puts a child-focused Latino spin on the traditional Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl” (“I Had a Little Coat”) about a piece of fabric that is made into smaller and smaller items. We interviewed author Monica Brown about how she’s been inspired by the book.

1.     What inspired you to write a children’s book based on the Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mira Mantl”? 

I’ve always loved the idea song, which is as much about creativity as it is about recycling and creating something from nothing. The song has inspired several books, in fact, and still inspires me. I often draw on my cultural heritage for inspiration, and Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya is no exception, paying homage to different aspects of my Jewish and Latina identity. It celebrates the two languages I speak, side by side on the page, along with a history of multigenerational storytelling passed down from both sides of my family.

I love the message of the song–that an object can be transformed again and again, and ultimately into something intangible and lasting through effort, creativity, and imagination. I like the idea that we can extend the life of things we love—with our own two hands or our imagination.

2.     Did you have a favorite lullaby that your parents sang to you growing up? What about a lullaby that you sang to your daughters?

My mom sang me wonderful songs in Spanish. As a child I loved in particular Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul, which translates into I have a doll dressed in blue. When her granddaughter and namesake Isabella was born, my mother, Isabel Maria, made up a special song for her. It started with this line “Isabelita, Chiquita bonita de mi Corazon” and ended with “Corazon de melon!”  It was a silly sweet line, but I’ve forgotten the lines in between, and now my mother is gone.

As a child, my only babysitters I knew were my tías and my Nana, my paternal grandmother, who taught me to embroider and sew.  I stayed overnight at my Nana’s often and when I did, “the sandman” would visit us at night. For those who don’t know, the Sandman myth, which originates in Europe, is of a character who sprinkles sand on children’s eyes, bringing them happy dreams. My Scottish and Italian Nana would be sure the sandman visited each night. If I behaved just okay during the day the sandman would sprinkle regular sand on my forehead to help me fall asleep. If I was good, I would get silver sand, and if I was very, very good, I would get gold sand sprinkled on my forehead. I could feel the different types of sand as my Nana’s hands smoothed across my forehead, hair, and closed eyes.maya's blanket

3. Do you have an object today that’s your “Maya’s blanket,” i.e. that you are continually finding new uses for and don’t want to part with?

As an adult I have more of a subject than an object, and it is the subject of childhood memory. I think I became a children’s writer so I can go back and be in that moment of childhood innocence to remember what it feels like to be comforted by a beloved grandmother or my mother, to remember those minutes and hours, forever gone, of days spend with my Nana, who patiently taught me to embroider, and to sew and stitch or my mother, who shared story after story of her childhood in Northern Peru, and her dreams and her art.

I’ve never used an electric sewing machine, but thanks to my Nana I’ve still managed to stitch and mend and sew my daughter’s things—even a Halloween costume or two with those basic stitches my grandmother taught. I have my Nana’s sewing basket still, just as I am surrounded by my mother’s paintings each time I pick up a pen or open up my computer to write.

5. MAYA’S BLANKET provides an important message about recycling! Do you have any tips on how people can be more eco-friendly?

As a teacher, I always think the place to begin with is education and The Environmental Protection Agency has a website with lots of resources for children, parents, and especially teachers: http://www2.epa.gov/students. I also love that the Sierra Club has a student coalition for high school and college students that trains and connects young environmental activists: http://www.sierraclub.org/youth. Finally, well, I want to give a shout out to my fellow writers by highlighting Authors for Earth Day: http://www.authorsforearthday.org, a group that supports conservation through literacy.

It is my hope that children and the adults in their lives can become more aware and conscious of the challenges using our natural resources responsibly, and looking to for more creative solutions to persistent problems.

About the Book:

Maya's Blanket CoverMaya’s Blanket/ La Manta de Maya
by Monica Brown, illustrated by David Diaz
Out September 2015
Ages 5-9 ~ 32 pp. ~ bilingual
Learn more about the book here.

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23. Two Authors Share What “Voice” Means To Them

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for aspiring writers. This month, we’re talking about what “voice” means to an author.

When discussing the various elements of writing craft, “voice” seems to be the most difficult to pin down. You can’t plot it on a chart or even clearly define what the word means, and yet it is one of the most important elements of a story. Editors (and readers) are always looking for strong, distinct voices. It is an invisible string that echoes throughout a story and pulls the reader in. And when an author or character’s voice is nonexistent or inconsistent, it is the first thing we notice.

Voice builds trust between the author, characters, and readers. To develop a strong voice that will ring true, an author needs to understand both the story and him/herself as a writer. What is the tone of the story? Who are your characters? If a key feature—gender, age, cultural background—of the main character changes, would the voice change? It should! There are many ways to approach “voice,” and below, Linda Boyden and Paula Yoo share their techniques.

Linda Boyden, author of The Blue Roses, New Voices Winner 2000New Voices Winners (1)

The Blue Roses was my first published book. I had written many picture book manuscripts prior to it, most of which are still gathering dust and mold, but now I see how that process was vital for me to evolve as a writer. I developed the voice of this main character, Rosalie, by experimenting.
I wrote many versions of the book. I considered writing it inthird person, having one of the adult
characters do the narrating for about a nano-second; in my heart I knew this was Rosalie’s story and no one else’s, but that didn’t stop me from more experimenting. I tried having her voice be that of a child, but Papa’s death would have been too harsh an experience for a child to deal with objectively. Instead, Rosalie narrates as her adult self, after having had enough time to smooth the edges of her loss. So experiment until you understand the heart of your character; that’s where you’ll find their true voice. 

Paula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2005

For me, voice comes out of nowhere. I can’t predict when I will find the “voice” of my story. Voice is not only the way my main character narrates the story (his/her style of speaking, their point of view, their personality) but also in the tone of the entire story (humorous, tragic, touching). Sometimes I find my “voice” AFTER I do a ton of research and preparation, such as figuring out the story beats and plot twists and the character’s emotional journey/arc. Sometimes the voice finds ME first—I’ll just start writing a story from the point of view of a character that has taken over me because he/she has something important and unique to say. Ultimately, I think “voice” for me comes from my heart. What moves me emotionally when I write? What about a story or character makes me laugh or cry? For me, “Voice” is the heart of my story—what emotions do I want to bring out in not only in my readers but also in myself? You can write a book that has the most original and surprising plot, the most compelling and fascinating characters, and a unique setting. But if there is no EMOTION, then that book falls flat. That’s where “Voice” comes in—“Voice” determines the emotion behind the story. I wish I could give a more specific answer with facts and evidence, but when it comes to writing from the heart, there is no formula.


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24. 10 Reasons to Read Diversely + Poster Giveaway

When we talk about reading diversely, the conversation often focuses on representation and social justice: making sure that our books don’t reinforce inequality by stereotyping, marginalizing, or erasing groups of people. This is urgently important.

But what often gets left out of the conversation is how reading diversely can be a matter of pure enjoyment.  For those of us who love books because they help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, reading diversely can be the icing on the cake of a spectacular reading experience.

Here are our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. What are yours?

  1. The world is diverse, so why shouldn’t our books be?
  2. It’s boring to only read about people just like you.
  3. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
  4. Diverse books inspire us to be the authors
    of our own stories
  5. Walking in someone else’s shoes builds empathy.
  6. Diverse books make us feel seen and understood.
  7. Reading diversely can help turn nonreaders into readers.
  8. Understanding different cultures helps us succeed in a global world.
  9. Magic happens when we step outside of our comfort zones.
  10. Diverse books redefine who and what we can be.

10 reasons to read diversely

Click here for a larger image. Want a copy of our Reading Diversely poster? Comment below with your name and email address and we’ll send one out to you! (US addresses only).

Why do YOU think it’s important to read diversely?


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25. Diversifying Your Back-to-School Reading

In this guest post from the Lee & Low archives, professor Katie Cunningham discusses ways to diversify Common Core recommended texts. As we gather resources to begin the new school year, Katie’s post is a good reminder that each year offers a fresh opportunity to look at the books we use with new eyes to see if they are serving us, and serving our students.

We live in an increasingly diverse society. Nowhere is this more evident than in classrooms, in both urban and suburban schools.  Nationally, our classrooms are almost 45% non-White and the trend toward greater diversity is expected to continue. Our classrooms reflect this trend, but our classroom libraries do not. The New York Times found that despite making up about nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, young Latino readers seldom see themselves in books. Those of us in schools working with children from minority backgrounds know this to be true as we scan our bookshelves and find protagonists that are overwhelmingly white and living in suburban, privileged settings. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that in 2011, only 6% of children’s books featured characters from African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific/ Asian Pacific American, or Latino backgrounds.

Toni Morrison said, “National literature reflects what is on the national mind.” More than ever, we have a responsibility to reflect national population trends through our literature selections. As of 2011, teachers are being directed to the Common Core State Standards and its corresponding Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Performance Tasks, which has suggested texts for read-alouds and independent reading for students at grade level bands K-12.

While not required reading, there remains confusion among teachers and administrators about how to approach the list. As you scan the suggestions, you’ll quickly find a return to traditional texts like Black Stallion in fourth grade and Little Women in sixth through eighth grade. I’m of the opinion that reading traditional texts like the Preamble and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (also in Appendix B) can give students cultural capital needed to be successful within the educational system.

Yet, while we can turn to the Standards for suggestions, we need to turn to the children in our own classrooms and ask ourselves whether they see themselves represented in books. Not only a responsibility, this is a moral imperative. We need to ensure a balance between traditional texts and books that offer contemporary portrayals of life and youth today, that reflect the lived experiences of the students in our classrooms.

The Uncommon Corps has started a campaign to better Appendix B and has a running Better B list worthy of checking out to hear what’s on the national mind. Teachers searching for a solution can also consider classic and contemporary multicultural pairings such as those below, especially when searching for titles that represent childhood. If we keep questioning what’s accepted as our national literature for children, we will rightfully start to see books that provide mirrors for every child in every class.

Classic and Contemporary Multicultural Pairings

CLASSIC: Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant

CONTEMPORARY: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo; Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen; Loose Tooth by Margaret Yatsevitch Phinney; Bird by Zetta Elliott

Bird cover

CLASSIC: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

CONTEMPORARY: Angel’s Kite by Alberto Bianco; Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Summer of the Mariposas cover

CLASSIC: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

CONTEMPORARY: Alicia Afterimage by Lulu Delacre; Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley

Cat-Girl-Cover FINAL

CLASSIC: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

CONTEMPORARY: Galaxy Games: The Challengers by Greg Fishbone; Chess Rumble by G. Neri; Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri

GalaxyGamesKatie CunninghamABOUT KATIE CUNNINGHAM: Guest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal.


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