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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. Ask an Editor: Villain POVs

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy 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. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I have to admit, I really hate reading villain POVs. There are so few villains that have any redeemable qualities, and especially starting a book out with the villain’s point of view when they’re murdering and/or plundering just makes me go, “Why do I want to read this book, again?”

This is actually one of the things I hated most about the famous adult fantasy series Wheel of Time, though I love the series in general: I hated the amount of time spent on this Forsaken’s love of naked mindless servants, and that Forsaken’s love of skinning people, or whatever. Yeah, yeah, I get it, they’re irredeemably evil. Get back to someone I’m actually ROOTING FOR, which is why I’m reading the book!

Vodnik sketch

Vodnik, the villain from Bryce Moore’s novel Vodnik

Sometimes it’s important to briefly show the villain’s point of view to convey to the reader some information that our hero doesn’t have, but I find more and more that my tolerance for even these kinds of scenes is thinning fast. Too often it’s a substitute for more subtle forms of suspense, laying clues that the reader could pick up if they were astute, the kind of clues that the main character should be putting together one by one to the point where when he or she finally figures it out. Then the reader slaps their own forehead and says, “I should have seen that coming!”

It’s a completely different matter, of course, when the whole point is for the “villain” to simply be someone on another side of an ideological or political divide where there are no true “bad guys.” Usually this happens in a book in which your narrators are unreliable, which can be very interesting. Often the villain is the hero in their own story, which is far more interesting than a “pure evil” villain—in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is much less interesting than Saruman. Sauron is the source of pure evil, but Saruman made a choice—he thinks, well, evil will win anyway, I might as well be on top in the new world order. There are complications to his motivations.

Tu Books author Bryce Moore (Vodnikrecently reviewed the first Captain America movie and had this to say about how a character becomes evil, which I think is apropos to this discussion:

Honestly, if writers spent as much time developing the origin and conflicted ethos of the villains of these movies, I think they’d all be doing us a favor. As it is, it’s like they have a bunch of slips of paper with different elements on them, then they draw them at random from a hat and run with it. Ambitious scientist. Misunderstood childhood. Picked on in school.

That’s not how evil works, folks. You don’t become evil because you get hit in the head and go crazy. You become evil by making decisions that seemed good at the time. Justified. Just like you become a hero by doing the same thing. A hero or a villain aren’t born. They’re made. That’s one of the things I really liked about Captain America. He’s heroic, no matter how buff or weak he is.

This is, perhaps, the best description of why villain POVs bug me so much: because they’re oversimplified, villainized. And for some stories, I think villainization works, but I don’t want to see that point of view, because it’s oversimplified and uninteresting. When it’s actually complicated and interesting, then it becomes less “the villain” and more nuanced—sometimes resulting in real evil (after all, I doubt Hitler was an evil baby; he made choices to become the monster he became) and sometimes resulting in a Democrat instead of a Republican or vice versa—ideological, political differences between (usually) relatively good people.

But there’s a line for me, generally the pillaging/raping/murdering/all manner of human rights abuses line, at which I’m sorry, I just don’t care about this guy’s point of view. The equivalent of this in middle grade books—where pillages/murders/rapes are (hopefully) fewer—or young adult books is the pure evil villain who’s just out to get the main character because the villain is black-hearted, mean, vile, what-have-you. Evil through and through, with no threads of humanity. (Though honestly if he’s killing people “for their own good” to protect a certain more nuanced human viewpoint, I generally still don’t want to see that from his POV.)

What’s the line for you? Do you like villain points of view? Do you feel they add depth to a story? At what point do you think a villain POV goes from adding nuance or advancing the plot to annoying?

Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books Tagged: ask an editor, fantasy writing, Notes from the Editors, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips

2 Comments on Ask an Editor: Villain POVs, last added: 4/18/2014
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2. Where In The World: How One Class Used Google Maps to Explore the Vanishing Cultures Series

Throughout April, we are exploring how Jan Reynolds’ Vanishing Cultures series can be used in the classroom to teach about the environment, geo-literacy, global citizenship, and nonfiction. Today, we want to share how one school has integrated geo-literacy with digital and visual literacy.

Michael Willis and the Kaleidoscope Team at Williston Central School in Williston, Vermont helped their 3rd and 4th grade classroom build a map on Google Maps of the cultures featured in the books. Through this project, students were able to investigate topics and themes in the Vanishing Cultures series, practice deriving information from other formats and develop visual literacy skills, and gain rich social studies/ geography content knowledge.

The Google Maps assignment is an exciting way to engage reluctant or struggling readers, facilitate the participation of visual learners and English Language Learners, or provide an extension opportunity for ready or advanced learners. The 3rd and 4th grade students hope that in addition to deepening their own knowledge about traditional cultures, their project provides useful and valuable information for others.

From educator, Michael Willis: My 3rd and 4th grade team wanted to get an author in to share their experiences with our young writers.  Ideally we wanted a local person and sure enough Jan Reynolds, who lives in Vermont, was available.  First we hit up our library as well as the others in our area and got our hands on Jan’s Vanishing Cultures series.  We read aloud her books, visited her website, and then Jan came.

She shared a movie about her work and travels with our whole team in the auditorium and then spent time answering questions in smaller groups.  It was during one of the small presentations that Jan mentioned how great it would be to use Google Maps to highlight her book locations.  I thought it would be a great project for our students, and they were motivated to do it by the idea that the project could be shared with other students who read Jan’s books.

We used Google Maps to plot out where in the world Jan’s Vanishing Cultures books take place, and put together this map.

Map

Williston Central School Google Earth Map for Vanishing Cultures series

Here’s what the students had to say about the project:

What was it like doing the Google Earth Project?

Grace – I thought that it was really fun because we were working with a famous author.  We had to get all of her books and look up where she had been using Google Earth.

Isabelle – We dropped pins on the locations using the facts and map information on the inside covers of her books.  Doing this project motivated us to have to read her books and learn about the cultures that she visited.  It made me appreciate how lucky we are to have the things we have.

Logan – The map project was really interesting.  It helped me understand how many different places Jan had been.  I didn’t know that there were cultures vanishing from the Earth.  It made me want to learn more about the cultures.  The books were helpful because she had really been to visit the people, talk to them, and learn how they live.

Addie – We used the summaries and the content from the books to add a brief description to the pins which marked the places.  This project motivated us because we wanted to help others learn.  It felt special because we were the first ones to do this and actually get published!  Plus, I didn’t even know these cultures existed!

Myleigh – The motivating part of the project was that I don’t usually get to explore the world. How often do people get to learn about this kind of thing?  It was almost like traveling the world reading Jan’s books.

What do you think is the purpose of Jan’s books?  What do they help you realize?

Sean – Her purpose was to teach children about the Vanishing Cultures and what is happening to them.  I think Jan’s message was not that they need our help because they have been surviving for a long time.  She was telling us that we should respect them, their way of life, and to respect their land.  I learned that they are just like everyday people.  To them, I bet we would look like the outsiders.  Everyone has traditions that they do.

Addie – We are lucky to have so many resources to use.

Grace – It made me realize how different these cultures are from us

Isabelle – It also made me realize that we all are not that different.  We may have different stuff and live in different parts of the world, but we all are people.

Grace – We can help other cultures by protecting the regions where they live

Addie – We realized that while our cultures are different, we shouldn’t force them to disappear because we all have something to learn from each other.  We could be more conscious of our waste and our pollution and that could help them keep their culture and survive

Isabelle – I think that it is important to respect different cultures because it’s how they live.  The Celebrations book helped me learn that different cultures celebrate different holidays

What was it like having Jan visit?

Myleigh – It was really cool to see Jan’s presentation and to hear her describe her trips first hand.  It really helped me put myself in her shoes and understand what she was going through.  When I was hearing her use such descriptive language it felt like I was right there with her.

Katrina – I think that since she came it really helped us understand that you should appreciate what you have – even though the people in the other cultures don’t have a lot they still seemed happy.  The people in those cultures work hard to live off the land and work with nature by using their resources. It really helped me learn about cultures that I didn’t know about.

For more resources on the Vanishing Cultures series, check out:

How are you using the Vanishing Cultures series in your classroom? Share your thoughts, experiences, and strategies that have worked in your school and community! Post a comment below or email Lee & Low at curriculum@leeandlow.com.

 

 


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, classroom projects, close reading, common core standards, digital literacy, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, geography, geoliteracy, reading comprehension, visual literacy

0 Comments on Where In The World: How One Class Used Google Maps to Explore the Vanishing Cultures Series as of 4/15/2014 9:47:00 AM
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3. 10 Best Strategies for Reading to Kids in Spanish

Jennifer Brunk

Jennifer Brunk has been teaching Spanish and English learners from preschool to university level for over 20 years. She reGuest Blogger Iconsides in Wisconsin where she raised her three children speaking Spanish and English. Jennifer blogs about resources for teaching Spanish to children on Spanish Playground. The following post is reprinted with permission from her original post at Spanish Playground. 

Research has shown that reading to children helps them learn vocabulary and improves listening comprehension skills. As a parent or teacher, you are probably convinced of the value of reading to your child in Spanish, but how should you do it to promote language development?

First, it is important to keep in mind that above all reading should be enjoyable. We want to create positive associations with reading in any language. So, use these strategies and add plenty of silliness, snuggling, or whatever makes your child smile.Nana's Big Surprise/ Nana, ¡Qué Sorpresa!

1. Identify core vocabulary in the story. If there are words that are central to the story that your child does not know, teach them first or make them clear as you read by pointing to the illustrations or using objects.

2. Use illustrations, objects, gestures and facial expressions to help kids understand new words. Choose stories with a limited number of new vocabulary words and a close text-to-picture correspondence.

3. Simplify the story if necessary. It is fine to reword or skip words or sentences. As your child becomes familiar with the story and acquires more vocabulary, you can include new language.

4. Read slowly. Children need time to process the sounds, connect them with the illustrations and form their own mental images.

5. Pronounce words as correctly as possible. To develop listening comprehension skills and learn new vocabulary, children need to hear correct pronunciation and natural rhythm. If your Spanish pronunciation is a work in progress, take advantage of technology. Look for books with audio CDs and ask a native speaker to record stories. At first, listen to the story with your child and take over reading when you are confident of the pronunciation.Dónde está mi perrito?

6. Engage your child with the story by providing different ways for her to participate.Ask questions that can be answered by pointing or say a repeated phrase together.  You can also give your child a toy or object that she can hold up each time she hears a key word.

7. Read the same story over and over. Repetition is essential to language learning.

8. Relate the story to your child’s life by drawing parallels as you read: Tiene un perro. Nosotros también tenemos un perro. As you go about your daily routines, refer to stories you have read.

9. Use puppets or figures to act out stories when you are playing with your child. Dramatizing the story adds movement to enhance learning and provides essential repetition of the language in context.

10. Do activities that expand on the language in the book. Look for songs, crafts or games with related vocabulary and structures.

Día de los niños/ Día de los librosVisit Spanish Playground for more great resources for teaching Spanish to children, and don’t forget that Dia de los niños/ Día de los libros is in just a few weeks! What are you doing to celebrate? What are your favorite books in Spanish to read aloud?


Filed under: Curriculum Corner, guest blogger Tagged: bilingual, bilingual books, bilingual education, Día de los niños/Día de los libros, ell, English-Spanish, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, libros en Español, parents, Read Aloud, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, teaching resources

2 Comments on 10 Best Strategies for Reading to Kids in Spanish, last added: 4/14/2014
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4. Poetry Friday: “A Poem!” from Etched In Clay

andrea chengAndrea Cheng is the author of several critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her most Guest bloggerrecent novel, Etched in Clay, tells the story in verse of Dave the Potter, an enslaved man, poet, and master craftsperson whose jars (many of which are inscribed with his poetry and writings) are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery. Etched in Clay recently won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

April is National Poetry Month, so we asked author Andrea Cheng to share one of her favorite poems from Etched in Clay:

FEATURED POEM

Etched in Clay, p. 65

A Poem!

Dave, July 12, 1834

The summer’s so hot,

it’s like we’re living

in the furnace.

The clay doesn’t like it either,

getting hard on me

too quick.

I better hurry now,

before the sun’s too low to see.

What words will I scrawl

across the shoulder

of this jar?

I hear Lydia’s voice in my head.

Be careful, Dave.

Those words in clay

can get you killed.

But I will die of silence

if I keep my words inside me

any longer.

Doctor Landrum used to say

it’s best to write a poem a day,

for it calms the body

and the soul

to shape those words.

 etched in clay jar

This jar is a beauty,

big and wide,

fourteen gallons

I know it will hold.

I have the words now,

and my stick is sharp.

I write:

put every bit all between

surely this jar will hold 14.

Andrea Cheng: There are three poems in Etched in Clay which speak directly about the act of writing.  In the first one, “Tell the World,”  (EIC p. 38) Dave writes in clay for the first time.  Using a sharp stick, he carves the date, April 18, into a brick; he is announcing to the world that on this day, “a man started practicing/his letters.”  In the poem called “Words and Verses,” (EIC p. 52) Dave thinks about writing down one of the poems that has been swirling around in his head as he works on the potter’s wheel.  Finally, in “A Poem!” (EIC  p. 67) Dave actually carves a couplet into one of his jars.  His words are practical and ordinary; he simply comments on the size of the jar.  But he is no longer silent.

Further Reading:

Andrea Cheng on Writing Biography in Verse

An interview with Andrea Cheng about Etched in Clay in School Library Journal

A look at how Andrea Cheng made the woodcut illustrations for Etched in Clay


Filed under: guest blogger, Holidays, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: Andrea Cheng, dave the potter, david drake, Etched in Clay, National Poetry Month, poems, poetry, poetry Friday, pottery, slavery

0 Comments on Poetry Friday: “A Poem!” from Etched In Clay as of 4/11/2014 3:21:00 PM
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5. Andrea Cheng on Writing Biography in Verse

Andrea Cheng image

Andrea Cheng is the author of several critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her most Guest bloggerrecent novel, Etched in Clay, tells the story in verse of Dave the Potter, an enslaved man, poet, and master craftsperson whose jars (many of which are inscribed with his poetry and writings) are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery. Etched in Clay recently won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

When I heard an NPR review of Leonard Todd’s book, Carolina Clay, I knew that Dave’s was a story I wanted to Etched in Claytell.  And from the start, I knew that I wanted to tell it in verse.   Readers often ask me why.  I didn’t make this decision consciously, but subconsciously, I think there were reasons.

The evidence of Dave’s life is fragmentary: pots and shards and bills of sale.    This means that each small piece of evidence stands for something more, something much larger than the object itself.  For example, the first bill of sale shows that Harvey Drake purchased a teenage boy for six hundred dollars.  He was “country born” with “good teeth” and “a straight back. “ (Etched in Clay, p. 7) There is so much sorrow in these few words.  A person is being evaluated and then sold like an animal.  After a quick transaction, he becomes the property of someone else.  The only way I know to allow a reader to feel this sorrow is through the intensity of a poem.

And of course, Dave was a poet, so it seems fitting to tell his life in verse.  Sometimes he had fun with words and puns and tongue twisters like mag-nan-i-mous and se-ver-it-y. Other times he expressed the sorrow of his life in cryptic couplets:

I wonder where is all my relation

friendship to all—and every nation.

Poetry is intense and versatile.  Each word and each phrase is loaded and can hold multiple meanings.  This is the way that Dave wrote, and it is the only way that I could attempt to represent his life.

The other question people often ask is why I chose to tell the story in multiple voices.

The first poems I wrote were from Dave’s point of view.  I started with:

Another Name

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Illustration from Etched in Clay

            Dave, 1815

Master says ”Dave—

That suits you.

That’s your name.”

He can call me

Whatever he pleases,

Tom or John or Will or Dave,

No matter.

 

I had another name once.

I can’t remember the sound of it;

But I know the voice,

smooth and soft,

that whispered it

close to my ear

in the still night.

And then

my mother was gone.

After writing several poems in Dave’s voice, I wanted to explore the other people in Dave’s life.  What did they say?  How did they feel?  How did they relate to Dave?  What about Harvey Drake, a young man sent by his uncle to purchase a slave?  Was he confident in making this purchase?  Did he have doubts?   What about Eliza, a house slave thought to be Dave’s first wife?  I cannot imagine the sorrow of their separation when she was sold and taken to Alabama.  I wanted to hear from Dave’s subsequent owners: Abner Landrum, John Landrum,  Reuben Drake, Lewis Miles, and BF Landrum.  Lewis Miles and Dave seemed to have become friends of sorts, even joking about the way to place a handle on a clay pot.  And then there was the despicable Benjamin Franklin Landrum who  says “It takes a strong whip/to  control these slaves.” (EIC p. 101.)  After a terrible beating, Dave finds one of the slaves “…hanging limp/and her pulse is gone.”

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Multiple voices can allow the readers a glimpse into the minds of various characters.  Why do they do what they do?  How do they rationalize their actions to themselves and others?  How do they relate to other characters?  With multiple voices, the writer can create a world.

While doing the research for Etched in Clay, I read articles about Dave’s pottery and viewed photographs of his jugs.   I read about the history of South Carolina and the Landrum Family that owned Dave through much of his life.  I read hundreds of slave narratives.  And then I drove 11 hours from Ohio to South Carolina.

While traipsing across the Carolina fields where Dave once lived and worked, it started drizzling.  After a short storm, the sun came out, and I saw that the field was littered with shards of pottery, glistening in the morning light.  I picked up a few shards and wondered if perhaps they were Dave’s.  Then I walked downhill to the creek where Dave and others dug the clay.  The water was cold and running fast.  The banks were steep.  I held a handful of wet clay in my hand.  In the evening, at the Edgefield Inn, near Dave’s home, I wrote many of the poems in Etched in Clay.  Like the shards I had seen, I hope that they create a whole.

Further Reading:

An interview with Andrea Cheng about Etched in Clay in School Library Journal

A look at how Andrea Cheng made the woodcut illustrations for Etched in Clay


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: Etched in Clay, National Poetry Month, Nonfiction poetry, poetry, teaching resources, writing, writing resources

2 Comments on Andrea Cheng on Writing Biography in Verse, last added: 4/11/2014
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6. Beyond “Did you know…”: Teaching Geo-Literacy Using the Vanishing Cultures Book Series

JillJill_Eisenberg Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Vanishing Cultures: Mongolia

Vanishing Cultures: Mongolia

Last week on the blog we spotlighted the work of Jan Reynolds, an author and explorer who has written nonfiction for young readers about cultures across the globe. If we had read the Vanishing Cultures series when I was a classroom teacher, my students would have been competing with each other over who knew the most outrageous fact. Did you know the Tiwi, an aboriginal tribe from an island off the coast of Australia, eat mangrove worms fresh? Did you know the Inuit from the Hudson Bay build rock piles that are stacked to look like men in order to scare caribou toward the real Inuit hunters?

My students loved to play the “did you know…” game. That became a popular sentence starter in our classroom. Students would scramble for the latest book or periodical on animals, prehistoric times, and exotic locales. The peregrine falcon, megalodon, and the giant panda were unshakable favorites.

Yet, we don’t want students to know “just facts” as if they are mini-encyclopedias. We aspire for our students to wonder and to investigate how our world works, how we are all connected to our environment and other humans halfway around the globe, and how our actions here affect others way over there.

The Common Core brings a refreshed spotlight to the nonfiction genre in children’s books, challenging publishers, educators, librarians, and parents to present children with high interest, high quality texts. What a time to engage students’ senses, sustain their wonder, and teach them geo-literacy!

National Geographic affirms, “with the rapid pace of change in the 21st century, it is more important than ever that young people understand the world around them.” It has adopted the concept of “geo-literacy,” and even gone so far as to create a community to support and cultivate “geo-educators.”

Vanishing Cultures: Himalaya

Vanishing Cultures: Himalaya

Enjoyed in classrooms around the nation, Jan Reynolds’ collection on at-risk traditional cultures is even more significant and striking today than when the series was first published. The persistent popularity of the Vanishing Cultures series speaks to its captivating power to make geo-literacy learning personal and tangible. This collection supports geo-literacy learning because each book challenges students to examine:

  • the characteristics of each culture
  • what makes this featured culture unique
  • how this group of people has adapted to survive in its environment
  • what challenges this group of people faces
  • the modern human impact (positive and negative) on this traditional culture and the environment
  • why the author would want to share this story with children and create a whole series on this topic

When we educate children about other cultures and geo-literacy more broadly, we are implanting the idea that we learn in order to make better, more informed decisions. Before our students become adults in positions of power, we want them to have practice in pausing and thinking how their choices to construct their community could disturb the environment of another community or animal species.

The Vanishing Cultures books encourage students to reason and reflect critically and deeply about how humans affect other humans and why we all benefit from diversity. As classrooms around the country can attest, Jan Reynolds’ books will not only spark enthusiasm that we hope ignites into lifelong careers and hobbies, but also conversation on what information we need to make decisions that will shape our and others’ health, environment, and well-being.

Vanishing Cultures: Down Under

Vanishing Cultures: Down Under

Classroom Ideas for Comparing and Contrasting Between Vanishing Cultures Books and Teaching Geo-Literacy

(Reading Standards, Integration of Knowledge & Ideas, Strand 9)

(Writing Standards, Research to Build & Present Knowledge, Strand 7 and 9)

  1. How are these cultures similar and different from each other? What actions do these families take in both books to protect their ways of life?
  2. Compare how the challenges of each culture are similar or different.
  3. Compare how the children in each book demonstrate their pride in their culture. Why is it important for the children to feel proud of who they are and their way of life?
  4. What is the author’s purpose in starting each book with the parents telling their child a story from long ago? How does this affect the tone of and set the mood in the series? How does this opening support the central idea?
  5. After reading two or more of the Vanishing Cultures books, what common features or characteristics does a Vanishing Culture book have? If you were to write a book about your family’s culture, what kinds of things happen in a Vanishing Cultures book? What are some things that will not happen in a Vanishing Cultures book? What central ideas and lessons will be in the book?
  6. Have students create a chart to compare different aspects of life across two or more cultures. Write the name of each cultural group being compared on the top of the chart, and list the topics for points of comparison down the left side. Here are some possible topics: Food, Clothing, Climate, Geography, Important Animals, Homes, How Children Help (Chores), Roles of Men & Women, Family Life, How People Have Fun, Beliefs, Means of Transportation, Challenges Faced Today, Celebrations, Honoring Loved Ones. Have students record appropriate information as they read and re-read the texts.
  7. One elementary class created the “Around the World with Jan Reynolds” project on Google Earth. Explore where each of the books takes place. Compare the political map with the satellite map. Reflect on how geography has helped or hurt the survival of these ancient cultures. Students can create their own maps of the different cultures at National Geographic’s MapMaker’s 1-Page Maps.

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, geography, geoliteracy, guided reading, Multiracial, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, vanishing cultures

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7. Interview with a Librarian for Incarcerated Youth

Amy CheneyAmy Cheney is a librarian and advocate who currently runs the Write to Read Juvenile Hall Literacy Program in Alameda County, CA. She has over 20 years experience with outreach, program design, and creation to serve the underserved, including middle school non-readers, adult literacy students, adult inmates in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color.

Cheney was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal, has won two National awards for her work, the I Love My Librarian award from the Carnegie Institution and New York Times, and was honored at the White House with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Her six word memoir: Navigator of insanity, instigator of enlightenment. Her theme song is Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake. 

Thank you for being with us, Amy! Let’s start with the basics: how would you describe your job, for someone who has no idea what you do?

Entrepreneur, innovator and relationship builder. But my overall job title would be Schlepper.

How did you become a librarian for incarcerated youth? Was it something you always knew you wanted to focus on, or did you begin your career with a different focus?

When I was a teen, a neighbor was friends with Maya Angelou, and they invited me to hear her speak in a church basement.  I remember clearly not wanting to be there, and then as Maya Angelou spoke with such passion and intensity, I felt the hard armor around my heart begin to crack. I remember the struggle to hold onto what I thought was me, or at least my I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away.protection: the rage, indifference and sullenness. I recognized that if I was struggling with it, then I wasn’t a fundamentally hateful person. That was life changing for me.  I felt such a deep connection with her as a result of this inner experience, I read every book she wrote as it was published.

It took me a long time to realize that this experience is the basis of my passion for bringing in speakers and activities to stimulate the minds and hearts of those incarcerated. From Shakespeare to Cupcake Brown to Ishmael Beah to MK Asante (wonderfully, one of Maya Angelou’s protege’s), I see kids feel encouraged, enthusiastic and interested in a place that tends to dampen all of that.

In the 80’s I was a part of the anti-nuclear protests – when my friends were released from jail I was horrified to hear there were no books where they had been housed. I immediately started a book drive for the jail and that ultimately led to employment at the library serving those incarcerated in Alameda County.

What does your average day look like? Do you even have an “average day”?

Almost every day involves advocacy. Today one of the staff told me that going to the library was like a field trip, all the kids love it. But, she said, the girls had not “earned” a visit, so they couldn’t come. This didn’t make sense to me. I am constantly trying to advocate and educate for the library to be a right, and not a privilege that can be taken away. I am advocating for youth to be able to come here, as well as in general, advocacy for the youth, library, etc.

What kind of relationship with books do your students have? What kind of role do books play in their lives?

I think initially, many of them have a negative relationship with books and reading, and others have a non-existent relationship with them. Some students do have a positive relationship with reading before they come here, but there is a huge percentage—probably the majority—that start reading here and get excited about it and read more than they ever have in their life.

Regardless of their relationship to books and reading the library is a desired destination and activity. They are fully respected and acknowledged here. And the atmosphere is remarkably different from the rest of the facility. There are plants in here! And windows! And outside the window you can see trees and clouds and birds and grass! Real furniture and comfortable chairs! We play a game (Taboo) and laugh almost every library visit.

there is a huge percentage—probably the majority—that start reading here and get excited about it and read more than they ever have in their lifeThe majority of the kids here ultimately develop a positive relationship with books and reading. Books are a de-stressor, they are a life saver. In fact, the staff that call me the most, that request that I come down and talk to a kid or bring a kid a book, are the therapeutic staff. They also advocate with me for kids on suicide watch, etc. to be able to have a book. Today I went out and talked to a kid that has been under a blanket for hours if not days. He actually sat up and showed some life when I brought him some books.

Are there any books that your students are scrambling for? What flies off your shelves?

The bottom line is a. anything with action, and b. something they can personally relate to. And c, it makes huge difference if the cover is dynamic. My job is to find those books that have the right combination of the above. It’s a constant part of my job. While there are a few authors
MIDNIGHT, Sister Souljahwhose books I can’t keep on the shelf no matter what  (Sister Souljah, Cupcake Brown, Tookie Williams, Coe Booth, Alison Van Diepen, Alan Sitomer), there are others whose books I work hard to bring to light.  Right now as I look around I don’t see any of MK Asante’s Buck, for example. That’s an accomplishment: a cover with only words and no visuals isn’t something that in general attracts them. He visited here and so his book has taken off. He also stimulated the youth to read about their history, the history of rap music and books about the educational system in the US. Yah Hoo!

What kinds of books are allowed in a juvenile detention center? What kinds of books are not allowed?

In general, what is NOT allowed is anything that’s graphically sexual or violent or that outlines how to make a weapon or alcohol—something that would be a direct threat to the security of the institution.

What is “allowed” is a huge issue, and is one reason that we wanted to create a listserve, web page Library Services for Youth in Custody, and now the In the Margins book award. My hope is that the book award will lend legitimacy to our titles and hopefully enable more facilities to carry them. I am working with a facility right now that says, “Books must be limited in violence, sexually explicit material, promotion of drug or alcohol abuse and vampire stories.”  It’s just bizarre the things people come up with to exclude and how they word and interpret it.

In my facility, I’ve made the choice not to advocate for “street lit” mainly because I think that There is definitely a group of kids - maybe 5% - I am unable to engage in reading due to my choice to not advocate for street lit.battle is too big to fight since I’m fighting for kids to get to the library. In addition, I spend a huge portion of my life finding books that I believe will work with both the authorities and the kids. Street Lit titles often do have a lot of violence and sex in them which is why I’ve chosen not to advocate for them – but it’s a hard choice every day, and one full of contradictions. There is definitely a group of kids – maybe 5% – I am unable to engage in reading due to my choice to not advocate for street lit.

What do you wish people knew or understood about incarcerated youth?

They are super resourceful. They are caught in a trap not of their own making—poverty—and are punished for many of the things that I, and honestly, most of us did when teenagers. I am constantly amazed the privilege afforded the white middle class and what people of color and/or those from the poverty and working classes have to work extra hard for.

A recent example: Kareem, who is a college educated African American wrote me an email and then recalled it because of the typos.  Meanwhile I wrote an email to the head of a very lucrative organization. My email was typed in lower case, and even had the phrase, “gratitude for all you do, dude.” I mean, not exactly thoughtful. Would anyone question that I was college educated? I doubt it. Kareem, and his beautiful, eloquent email with a few typos—he felt the need to correct it in order to present himself in the best possible light. It’s exhausting to constantly have to do that. And that is a *minor* incident.

There is so much policing and criminalization of poor youth and youth of color, I don’t think the majority of white middle class people really understand the depths of the inequity and the daily assaults. The juvenile hall (criminal justice system) is the crucible of race and class inequity in America.

Being in a detention facility, what unique limitations are you working with that a public or traditional school librarian might not be dealing with? 

You know the supposed foundation of our country, that we are all innocent until proven guilty? For the most part, that’s not in operation here. There are a lot of unspoken power dynamics and struggles. When I’m in the living units I’m on the staff’s terms to a certain extent. When they are in the library, it’s more on my terms, but they always have the power to override me. It is definitely a dance.

There is so much policing and criminalization of poor youth and youth of color, I don’t think the majority of white middle class people really understand the depths of the inequity and the daily assaults.There is a completely different culture in a facility and if you don’t learn what the norms are you can’t be effective. There are unspoken rules and meanings. For example, kids walking down the hallway with their hands behind their backs are living there—on their way to court or medical. Kids walking with their hands by their sides are on their way out of the institution. There is a spoken language that is not used “on the outs” with phrases like, “the tone is high,” “live scan,” “pods,” “talking is dead,” and “prepare for transition.”

The biggest limitation is “security” issues. Those can run the gamut from restricted access to the internet or books on tape to candy, pencils, and envelopes, or even to students being prohibited from getting out of their chair on their own volition.  Things that you would never imagine are security issues can be seen that way from a certain perspective (that I actually have come to understand on some level). These limitations force a creative response.

Are there any common misconceptions you’d like to correct about what you do?

I think the biggest misconception is that the kids are hard to work with. And I’m not saying they aren’t hard to work with. I’m also not saying we don’t have seriously disturbed and disturbing kids. But in actuality, it’s the entire toxic system of mass incarceration that’s hardest to work with.  Finding your correct place in that toxicity is challenging, ever evolving, yet doable. The kids are the least of the problems.


Filed under: Musings & Ponderings, The Diversity Gap Tagged: interview, justice system, juvenile justice, libraries, social justice, Why I Love Librarians

5 Comments on Interview with a Librarian for Incarcerated Youth, last added: 4/7/2014
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8. A New Release That’s Music to Our Ears: SUMMONING THE PHOENIX

We’re excited to announce a new release from our recently acquired imprint, Shen’s BooksSummoning the Phoenix, a musical and informative journey through the history of traditional Chinese instruments.

summoning the phoenix

 

In Summoning the Phoenix, author Emily Jiang and illustrator April Chu follow thirteen young musicians as they prepare to perform in a Chinese orchestra. In a starred review, Kirkus says that this is “a lively medley that will expand the musical boundaries of most young audiences.”

Happy birthday to Summoning the Phoenix! Here’s a fun video of a girl playing “Happy Birthday” on her dizi:


Filed under: New Release Tagged: april chu, chinese instruments, chinese orchestra, dizi, emily jiang, erhu, guzheng, instruments, Music, muyu, paigu, pipa, ruan, Shen's Books, sheng, summoning the phoenix, suona, traditional chinese music, xiao, yangqin

1 Comments on A New Release That’s Music to Our Ears: SUMMONING THE PHOENIX, last added: 4/3/2014
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9. Raising Global Citizens: Jan Reynolds Author Study

Today’s world is smaller than ever, and as technology continues to advance it will only get smaller. Raising students for success means teaching them how to be global citizens, emphasizing cultural literacy and geoliteracy, and exposing them to people whose lives differ from theirs.

Jan Reynolds
For this, there’s no better author than Jan Reynolds. Reynolds is a writer, photographer, and adventurer who has written over fourteen nonfiction books for children about her travels. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including National Geographic, The New York Times, and Outside Magazine. Reynolds is an avid skier, mountain climber, and adventurer who holds the record for women’s high altitude skiing, was part of the first expedition to circumnavigate Mount Everest, and performed a solo crossing of the Himalayas.

Throughout April, we’ll be exploring how Jan’s books can be used in the classroom to teach about the environment, geoliteracy, global citizenship, and nonfiction. Today, we wanted to share Jan’s books and some of our favorite resources available to help teach them:

Jan Reynolds

image from Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life

Jan’s Books:
Vanishing Cultures: Sahara (North Africa)
Vanishing Cultures: Mongolia (Mongolia)
Vanishing Cultures: Himalaya (Nepal/Tibet)
Vanishing Cultures: Frozen Land (Northwest Territories, Canada)
Vanishing Cultures: Far North (Arctic Circle, Northern Europe)
Vanishing Cultures: Amazon Basin (Amazon Basin, South America)
Vanishing Cultures: Down Under (Australia)
Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming (Bali)
Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation (Kenya and Tanzania)

 

Jan Reynolds

image from Vanishing Cultures: Far North

Lesson Plans and Classroom Guides:
Classroom Guide for Vanishing Cultures series (including classroom guides for individual books)
Classroom Guide for Only the Mountains Do Not Move
Classroom Guide for Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life
Classroom Guide for Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures

 

 

Jan Reynolds

Jan Reynolds with Maasai family while working on Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Interviews with Jan Reynolds:
Jan Reynolds on Cultural Anthropology and Photography (Only the Mountains Do Not Move)
Talking about Sustainability with Jan Reynolds (Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life)
Interview with Jan Reynolds on Celebrate! Connections Among Cultures

 

Map

map of some of the places explored in Jan Reynolds’ Vanishing Cultures series

Video:
Jan! From Here to There
Maasai Life with Anthropologist Terry Mcabe
Life in the Wild: Visit a Maasai Tribe in Kenya
Explore Rice Farming on the Island of Bali: Parts I, II, and III

Author Visits:
Jan Reynolds visits schools around the world to share her books and experiences, and also does virtual Skype visits. For more information on her school visits or virtual visits, visit her website or contact us at events@leeandlow.com.

Visit our Author Study Pinterest Page for more great activities and resources related to Jan’s books, and stay tuned throughout April as we delve deeper into the books of Jan Reynolds and explore how they can be used to teach global citizenship, environmental stewardship, geoliteracy, and more.


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, diversity in the classroom, environmentalism, geoliteracy, global citizenship, informational text, Jan Reynolds, nonfiction, teaching resources

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10. Resources For Teaching About Wangari Maathai and Seeds Of Change

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Seeds of Change cover

Seeds Of Change

In honor of Wangari Maathai’s birthday on Tuesday, April 1 and upcoming Earth Day later this month, we at Lee & Low Books want to share all the fantastic resources and ideas that are available to educators who are teaching about Wangari Maathai’s legacy and using Seeds Of Change: Planting a Path to Peace.

Wangari Maathai

Seeds Of Change

Elementary School:

Seeds of ChangeMiddle School and High School:

  • Seeds Of Change won the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration in 2011. The Committee Chair and Book Jury have prepared activities and discussion questions for Seeds Of Change in the 2011 Discussion Guide for Coretta Scott King Book Awards, P. 20-21.
  • Have students read and discuss author Jen Cullerton Johnson and illustrator Sonia Lynn Sadler’s joint interview with Lee & Low, which covers the environment, their travels, and Wangari Maathai’s achievements.
  • After introducing Wangari Maathai with Seeds Of Change, delve deeper with the Speak Truth To Power human rights education curriculum, a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. They present an in-depth exploration on Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and sustainability issues.
  • In teaching standard 7 of the ELA Common Core, have students evaluate how Wangari Maathai is presented in a documentary compared to the Seeds Of Change biography. PBS’s documentary on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, contains a classroom section full of video modules, handouts, and lesson plans.

What did we miss? Let us know how you are using Seeds Of Change in your classroom!

 

 


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: African/African American Interest, biographies, CCSS, children's books, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, environmentalism, History, holidays, lesson plans, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, ReadyGEN, Wangari Maathai

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11. Why Shigeru Ban Winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize is So Great

We were thrilled to see the announcement this week that architect Shigeru Ban has won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, one of architecture’s most important awards. Ban is notable not only for his inspired and gorgeous designs but for his humanitarian work using innovative architecture and renewable resources to help refugees and those affected by both man-made and natural disasters. Take a look at his paper tube school in China, featured in our book Dreaming Up:Dreaming Up: Shigeru Ban

Teachers and students helped construct this temporary school out of plywood and recycled heavy-duty paper tubes after an earthquake destroyed many buildings in China’s Sichuan Province. Dreaming Up author and illustrator Christy Hale shares why she chose to include Shigeru Ban’s work in her book:

In selecting the architects and structures featured in Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building I began by considering children’s building play. What materials do they use? Children do not need prepackaged toys; they can build from whatever is at hand. In fact using recyclables encourages two qualities enormously important in creativity: resourcefulness and flexibility—essential for the problem-solvers of tomorrow. After developing my list of children’s construction activities, I then looked for architects working with visually similar materials and design challenges. This is how I made my pairings.

The new Pritzker Architecture Prize-winner, Shigeru Ban said, “Anything can be building structure material.” Ban creates elegant designs from humble materials. He is famous for upcycling industrial strength paper tubes, shipping containers, and even tea bags!

I thought my young readers would particularly like his Paper Tube School in Chengdu, a temporary school built in 2008 with the help of teachers and students after an earthquake destroyed many buildings in China’s Sichuan Province. I also wanted to showcase Ban for his humanitarian work. His architecture efficiently serves the pressing needs of disaster victims while simultaneously honoring them with beauty.

Shigeru Ban’s approach to architecture makes a great entry point when introducing young people to the art form. Use these teaching resources along with Dreaming Up to inspire next generation of architects:

Recycled Building Hands-On Classroom Activity

Great Teaching Ideas for Dreaming Up from The Classroom Bookshelf

LEGO’s Read! Build! Play! Summer Reading List and Activity Guide


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: architecture, dreaming up, lesson plans, Pritzker Prize, Shigeru Ban, teaching resources

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12. Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally

Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. This blog post was originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

I recently got this question from a writer, who agreed that answering it on the blog would be useful:

My hero is a fifteen-year-old African American boy [in a science fiction story]. A few of my alpha readers (not all) have said that he doesn’t sound “black enough.” I purposely made him an Air Force brat who has lived in several different countries to avoid having to use cliche hood-terminology. I want him to be universal.

Do you have thoughts on this either way?

Is there a possibility that my potential readers could really be offended that a) I am “a white girl writing a book about black people” and b) that my character doesn’t sound black enough? I’ve looked through your blog and website and haven’t found anything specific to my needs on this particular question. Perhaps I missed it?

…should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics?

First of all, black people—just as white people or Latino people—are a very diverse group of people. There are people who speak in Ebonics (which I believe would be more accurately referred to as BVE–Black Vernacular English) and people who speak plain old suburban English, people who speak with any of a variety of Southern accents and people who have Chicago accents, people who speak with French or Spanish accents (or who speak French or Spanish or an African language). So the question of whether a particular character in a particular situation sounds “black enough” is a complicated question, one that even the African American community can’t necessarily agree on. Within the community (and I say this because I asked a coworker who is African American, who can speak with more authority on the subject than I can) it’s often a question that draws on complicated factors, such as money, privilege, “selling out,” skin tone (relative darkness or lightness—literally, being “black enough”), and hair texture, which all relate to how much a part of which community a person might be.

The question, then, is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also tend to be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.

Which leads me to the question of your alpha readers. What are their demographics? Is it a diverse group? What is their experience with the military? Is more than one of them African American? When writing cross-culturally, you’ll want to be sure that your beta readers include sufficient numbers of the member of the group you’re writing about. Every individual experience will be different—one person’s opinion on whether a character reads as African American will probaThe question is fraught with loaded meaning not only to do with stereotypes, but also socioeconomic meanings. The question can also be offensive because of that diversity and the loaded meaning the question carries.bly differ from another person’s, especially if their socioeconomic background and regional experiences are different. An African American from the St. Louis suburbs will have a different life experience than someone who grew up on a farm in Louisiana, whose experiences will probably be different from a kid who grew up in Harlem or someone else who grew up in Seattle.

If your local writing group isn’t very diverse, you might need to branch out for beta readers who you can rely on to comment on that particular element of your story—perhaps through an online writing group, perhaps through the SCBWI. You might even approach a local high school and ask if any of their students who come from a similar background to your character might be willing to give you feedback on your manuscript. Do you have connections with a local Air Force base? Perhaps you might network with people you know in the military to find someone who can give you feedback on that aspect of the character building.

To answer your other questions: it’s always possible that someone will be offended by a white person writing about a person of color, but generally, most readers I’ve talked to who care about diversity in fantasy and science fiction want that diversity to come from everyone, not just writers of color. This is why I emphasized alpha readers—it’s important to make sure that if you’re not from that background, you do your research (which it sounds like you have) and then run it past someone other than yourself who understands that culture or background (in this case, you’ve got two cultures going on: African American and military, particularly Air Force, which has a completely different culture than Army).

A few someones is even better, to ensure that you get different points of view and can mesh that feedback into something that works for your particular character, who will be an individual in his own right and not a representative of a group that plays into a stereotype.

Which leads into yourPeople often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people...Ask yourself, What's the context my character is in? next question: should you use Ebonics? And the answer to that is: I don’t know. Do African Americans in the military use Ebonics? Do only some of them, and does it depend on their family history/region of origin? Do their kids speak to each other in Ebonics? Or do they have their own way of speaking that’s particular to the Air Force community? (My uncle was in the Air Force and I have a couple cousins who might read this who may be able to answer that question; they’ve never spoken anything but “Midwestern” to me, but they might have spoken differently to their friends who were also Air Force brats.)

And that’s important too: people often have different vocabularies when talking to different groups of people. When my roommates from Georgia talked to their family, their accents became stronger. When I talk to my rural family, the word “crik” has been known to creep back into my lexicon. So ask yourself, “what’s the context my character is in?” as well.

And of course, that’s just me spouting off from the point of view of an editor. Here are some great answers we’ve gotten from readers:

Ari:

The question about Ebonics is just…. I don’t know. Being “black enough” does not mean you use Ebonics so that shoudln’t be the deciding factor. However, my guess is that as a “military brat” he wouldn’t use Ebonics. I know some African American people who were in the army and they don’t use it. But that’s the army, not the Air Force, so it could be different.

I would be offended if your black character never talked about certain issues we face like the subtle racisim, especially as a black guy. But since’s science fiction it may never come up, although if it starts out in the 21st century in America then the character should acknowledge the fact that he gets looks of suspicion in certain areas because he is an African American guy…

That is so true about how people speak differently wiith different groups of people. When my mother is back home down South, she regains her Southern accent. My father speaks Spanish with his relatives. I use a lot more slang/Ebonics with my African American friends and Latino friends. So that is a key factor. Something an African American person has to learn to do is be able to “speak two languages” in a way. Around white people and authority figures, most of us speak properly, no slang. But I know from what I’ve done myself and from what I’ve seen my parents and their friends do, when African Americans are just with each other, they loosen up and their is less of a concern for “speaking properly”

Cleve:

I’m an African American dad & writer, and my advice to the writer is to skip the ebonics. Not every African American speaks with ebonics, and I fear it may come off as condescending and offensive if you attempt to tell your story in such a way. “Not black enough,” is offensive as hell, wether voiced by black or white people. The character is African American, there’s nothing wrong with him sounding like an American. Period.

Doret:

I believe all writers can create believable characters of another race. But to do this writers must be familiar that race.

Should I use Ebonics or not use Ebonics? – that question makes me cringe. A White author asking this should really take a look at their character and ask themselves, what do I know that will give life to this character of another race.

If they still want to do it, research. Listen in on conversations. Read books by Black authors. Ask around find out which non Black authors have created believable Black characters and read those , also read the Black characters by non Black authors people found unrealistic.

AudryT:

IMO, your character needs to speak based on their influences, not on readers’ opinions of the world. Where do their parents come from? How do individuals from their parents’ backgrounds, childhood neighborhoods, and social class speak? How does that influence your character? Does your character have an opinion about how their parents speak and do they make conscious decisions about their own way of talking? How can you use the character’s voice and upbringing to flesh out the character better and further serve the plot of the novel?

Readers, feel free to chime in and help out writers who write cross-culturally: what other issues should they be aware of when writing African American characters?

Further reading: 10 Great Resources for Writing Cross-Culturally


Filed under: Publishing 101, Resources Tagged: African American, aspiring authors, author advice, diversity issues, Notes from the Editors, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Tu Books, writing advice, writing cross-culturally

10 Comments on Is My Character “Black Enough”? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally, last added: 3/27/2014
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13. Eight Ways to Help Students Remember that Books are Fabulous

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Dissecting excerpts, highlighting evidence, defending one’s answer choice, bubbling in exit slips. As necessary as all that preparation for upcoming state assessments may be, March and April for teachers and students can be arduous. In some cases, students are learning how to take a test for the first time. For many, the third quarter risks turning enthusiastic momentum for reading, developing interests, and taking academic risks into a trudge of review and re-teaching.

Now more than ever, students need the bigger picture of how literacy helps us as citizens, the experiences of deriving joy from print, and practice using books for stress management.With all this reading in overdrive, it is understandable that few students (and teachers) want to keep reading at home for pleasure. Yet we need to sustain student excitement for reading and prevent testing anxiety. Now more than ever, students need the bigger picture of how literacy helps us as citizens, the experiences of deriving joy from print, and practice using books for stress management.

Where On Earth Is My Bagel?

Where On Earth Is My Bagel?

If you have observed your students retreating from the idea that books are an escape and hobby to an unpleasant, stressful task, here are some techniques to increase the joy factor in reading and keep kids hooked:

  1. After lunch, recess, or the morning message, bring the class together to listen to you read a poem or a chapter from a longer book that is not connected to a skills or strategies lesson. This daily activity exposes students to books beyond their reading levels, bolsters classroom community in an otherwise competitive time, and communicates that books have calming, revitalizing effects.
  2. Continue to highlight books with relevant holidays, core value themes, or S.T.E.M. content using designated bins or book cover displays at child height. Even during crunch time when it is hard to infuse lessons with interdisciplinary connections and core value applications, these exhibitions or quick booktalks allow students to explore and develop their interests. Consider creating collections for Women’s History Month, Cesar Chavez Day, baseball season, National Poetry Month in April, and Earth Day.
  3. Lead students with books in arms to another classroom or outside for a “field trip.” This physical change of scenery reinforces that books are a mental change of scenery and a respite.
  4. Set aside 20 minutes every day just for independent reading instead of squeezing in one more skills mini-lesson. Preserving time for students to interact with books of their choice in independent reading allows students to take a break, manage tension, and re-focus their energy. During this time, students self-select books they enjoy, exercise literacy strategies, and feel in control of their learning. This commitment and preservation of independent reading time conveys to students how seriously you value and respect this sacred time to enjoy a book.

    Ten Oni Drummers

    Ten Oni Drummers

  5. A lot of test preparation and review involves independent work and sitting quietly. For an end of the week reward, let students choose a classroom peer to read to instead of independent reading that day, invite a younger grade to your classroom for your students to read to, utilize siblings and family relationships at the school, or invite other stakeholders in your students’ educations (like the cafeteria or main office staff) to enjoy a book with students. Reading to someone (buddy reading) allows scholars a chance to talk, enjoy a book in a low-stakes environment, and escape to a new world in a wonderful story.
  6. Encourage parents to lead a whole-class read aloud in the classroom. This time gives you a chance to conference with struggling readers, celebrate parents as teachers, and encourage the intergenerational fellowship of books.
  7. Invite an author to school or hold an online interview . There is nothing quite like reinvigorating young readers and writers than with a real author. This bright treat gives students a badly needed broader perspective of books beyond assessments. For more information on how to bring authors into your unit of study no matter what your budget is, check out this post.
  8. Change up the routine! Have an “opposites day” in which two teachers switch for a read aloud/poem one day. Or engage other school community members (like the principal, school nurse, and other non-teaching staff) to read to the whole class so that your students can see that they have a whole team cheering for them and invested in their growth, health, and success.

Do your students need a distraction? These joyful books offer just enough silliness, escape, or suspense to remind students that books are also for entertainment!


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

0 Comments on Eight Ways to Help Students Remember that Books are Fabulous as of 3/22/2014 1:19:00 PM
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14. Lee & Low Likes… Djuan Trent

In 2010, Djuan Trent made history when she became one of four African-American women to win the pageant title of Miss Kentucky. Earlier this month, she made history yet again.

On her blog, Life in 27, Trent opened up about her sexuality and announced that she was “queer,” becoming the first contestant to publicly come out as queer.

djuan trent

Former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent. (Photo courtesy of Facebook/Kellie Carter Photography)

In the world of beauty pageants, an industry often accused of objectifying women and embracing outer beauty rather than inner beauty, it’s refreshing to see someone who is breaking down the barriers of what is “beautiful.” Trent struggled with whether she should come out or not, but ultimately, she decided it was something she needed to do, especially after a Kentucky federal judge overturned parts of Kentucky’s same-sex marriage ban in February and set an effective date for his ruling today.

Trent encourages others to follow her lead, saying, “People can’t know that their best friend, brother, sister, co-worker, neighbor, news anchor, favorite singer, or local coffee shop barista is being oppressed and denied the rights in which their heterosexual counterparts are so happily welcomed partake, unless you open your mouth and say it.”

We couldn’t have said it better. 


Filed under: Diversity Links, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: beauty pageants, djuan trent, kentucky, lgbtq rights, miss kentucky

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15. Where can I find great diverse children’s books?

Recently The New York Times paired articles by Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers, discussing the lack of representation of people of color in children’s literature. Those excellent articles—which pointed out that in the long history of children’s literature we haven’t made much progress—caught the attention of best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, who started the #colormyshelf hashtag on Twitter asking for suggestions of diverse books that she could go purchase for her daughter. What a wonderful way to bring attention to what parents can do!

Just because diverse books don’t always show up front and center in bookstores doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here’s a list of places to find great diverse books for young readers. Buy them, read them, recommend them. Showing demand for diverse books is one of the best ways to encourage the publication of more of them!

1. PublishersSeveral small publishers (us included) focus on diverse books. They’re a great place to start, and you can usually buy books from them directly, order them through an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or ask your local bookstore to order them (which also displays a demand for diverse titles):

Lee & Low Books (diverse books for young readers featuring a range of cultures)Rainbow Stew image
Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low (diverse middle grade and young adult speculative fiction)
Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low (bilingual English/Spanish picture books)

Cinco Puntos Press (adult and children’s literature, and multicultural and bilingual books from Texas, the Mexican-American border, and Mexico)

Just Us Books (black interest and multicultural books for children and young adults)

Roadrunner Press (fiction and nonfiction for young readers focusing on the American West and America’s Native Nations)

Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público (juvenile and young adult books focused on Hispanic culture and by U.S. Hispanic authors)

Groundwood Books (Canadian publisher of books for young readers with a focus on diverse voices)

2. Blogs That Recommend Diverse BooksThere are some great bloggers out there who do the hard work of seeking out, reading, and recommending diverse children’s books, so you don’t have to! Just hop over to their blogs to find great new books to add to your collection:

The Brown Bookshelf (African American books)

American Indians in Children’s Literature (Native American books)

Latinos in KidLit (Latino books )

BookDragon (all diverse books, with a special focus on Asian/Pacific Islanders cultures)

Diversity in YA (diverse young adult books)

Rich in Color (diverse books for all young readers)

Crazy QuiltEdi (diverse books for all young readers)

Lee & Low Pinterest Board (diverse books searchable by genre and age)

playground image from Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

3. AwardsIf you’re simply looking for the best of the best that’s been published each year, awards are the place. Books that win these awards have been vetted by experts (mostly librarians) so you can expect them to be top quality, beautiful, and culturally accurate.

Coretta Scott King Award (African American books)

Pura Belpré Award (Latino books)

Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature

Middle East Book Award

American Indian Youth Literature Award

South Asia Book Award

Américas Book Award (Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino books)

Tomás Rivera Book Award (Mexican American books)

Notable Books for a Global Society (outstanding trade books that help promote understanding across lines of culture, race, sexual orientation, values, and ethnicity)

4. Bookstores: If you prefer to purchase your books through good old-fashioned browsing, there are several great independent bookstores that make it a point to stock diverse books. Below are a few we’ve been to, or that have been recommended to us by readers. If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by to support them!

Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Calamus Bookstore, Boston, MAGirl Reading, from Destiny's Gift

La Casa Azul New York, NY

Quimby’s, Chicago, IL

Women and Children First, Chicago, IL

The Book Stall, Winnetka, IL

Politics and Prose, Washington DC

Busboys and Poets, Washington DC

The Flying Pig Bookstore, Shelburne, VT

Birchbark Books, Minneapolis, MN

Ancestry Books, Minneapolis, MN (coming soon)

Antigone Books, Tucson, AZ

Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

Librería Martinez, Santa Ana, CA

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!


Filed under: Diversity Links, Publishing 101 Tagged: book awards, Bookstores, colormyshelf, diversity, multicultural, multicultural books, publishing, resources

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16. Michelle Obama & Su Dongpo: A Character Analysis with Bloom’s Taxonomy

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

First Lady Michelle Obama travels to China this week from March 19-26 and will be focusing on the power and importance of education. In an open letter to American students, the First Lady writes, “During my trip, I’ll be visiting a university and two high schools in Beijing and Chengdu (which are two of China’s largest cities). I’ll be talking with students about their lives in China and telling them about America and the values and traditions we hold dear. I’ll be focusing in particular on the power and importance of education, both in my own life and in the lives of young people in both of our countries.”

We at Lee & Low Books wish we could join the First Lady, but since we can’t this time around, we will be reading the biography of one of China’s greatest statesmen, poets, and humanitarians, Su Dongpo. This scholar is a shining example of how persistence and dedication to one’s studies lead to achievement beyond the classroom and enable one to affect meaningful change.

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius

This biography presents a rich setting for Standard 3 of the Common Core State Standards: character analysis. We follow Bloom’s Taxonomy to illustrate the range of questions you can use to meet your students’ needs and access their literary strengths. By creating a progression of questions within one standard, we differentiate for students within a class, provide extension opportunities for ready learners, or move the whole class from literal- to higher-level thinking over the course of several readings.

Knowledge:

  • What are Su Dongpo’s appearance/physical attributes, deeds/actions, thoughts/dialogue, and feelings/emotions?
  • What are other character’s opinions of and reactions to Su Dongpo?
  • Can you select sections showing how Su Dongpo relates to other characters?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo in a paragraph?

Comprehension:

  • How would you classify Su Dongpo’s character trait(s) based on these actions, thoughts, and feelings above?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion or feelings about Wang Anshi?
  • How would you describe Su Dongpo’s feelings about being banished from his job and home?
  • What problems does Su Dongpo face and how does he solve them?
  • How would you summarize Su Dongpo’s opinion about the purpose of government?

Application:

  • When Su Dongpo was twenty, he took the official exams and earned status as the First Scholar for his academic achievements. Based on what you know about Su Dongpo’s character traits, how would he have handled the situation differently if he had not earned such high marks the first time?
  • How would Su Dongpo react if his brother, Su Ziyou, became a corrupt government official?
  • What would need to happen or change for Su Dongpo to work for Emperor Zhezong?
  • How would Su Dongpo distinguish a “good” government from a “bad” government?
  • What would Su Dongpo likely think about our end of the year state assessments or the Common Core State Standards?
  • What advice do you think Su Dongpo would have for students who take state and national tests today?
  • If Su Dongpo worked for the U.S. Department of Education, what might Su Dongpo feel and think about the role of education in America today?

Analysis:

  • How did Su Dongpo’s upbringing prepare him for his career in government?
  • What inspired Su Dongpo’s beliefs about the purpose of government?
  • Why did Su Dongpo not care about “instant glory” or “worldly fame” when making a decision?
  • Compare Su Dongpo and Wang Anshi’s motivations for working in the government.

Synthesis:

  • Compose and present a speech that will communicate the thoughts and feelings of Su Dongpo to the Chinese people after he is pardoned when Emperor Zhezong dies.
  • Imagine you are Su Dongpo and write a diary account of your daily thoughts and activities. What would you say about the work that you do, the people you meet in government and in the villages, and the challenges you face?
  • Rewrite the scene of Su Dongpo hearing he is pardoned after the death of Emperor Zhezong. What would Su Dongpo feel and what would the Chinese people think about him if he were not pardoned?

Evaluation:

  • Defend whether you would or would not like Su Dongpo to work in your government.
  • Argue what lessons Su Dongpo learned from his career in and out of government.
  • How effective is Su Dongpo as a humanitarian?
  • Determine whether Su Dongpo was or was not disrespectful of government.
  • Assess whether Su Dongpo changed from the beginning to the end of the book based on his character traits.

Additional resources:

Sign up for updates from the First Lady throughout her trips and opportunities to ask questions.

Explore PBS LearningMedia for the First Lady’s blog, a map of China, and other resources.


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: biography, bloom's taxonomy, CCSS, character analysis, children's books, close reading, common core standards, differentiation, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, higher level thinking, History, reading comprehension, rigor, white house

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17. 10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up ten of our books that feature some amazing women of color! From a baseball player to an American politician, these women have helped pave the way for many others.

1. Wangari Maathai, Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace - the first African woman, and environmentalist, to win a Nobel Peace Prize

seeds of change

2. Marcenia Lyle, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young  Girl’s Baseball Dream - the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team

catching the moon

3. Anna May Wong, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story - the first Chinese American movie star

shining star

4. Florence Mills, Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage - an international dancing and singing superstar during the Harlem Renaissance

baby flo

5. Augusta Savage, In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savagea sculptor during the Harlem Renaissance who carved out her own special place in art history

in her hands

6. Pura Belpré, The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos - New York City’s first Latina librarian

storyteller's candle

7. Patsy Mink, How We Are Smart - an American politician from the U.S. state of Hawaii

how we are smart

8. Hiromi Suzuki, Hiromi’s Hands - one of a handful of women in the male-dominated world of sushi chefs

hiromi's hands

9. Rosa Parks, Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth - Mrs. Parks changed the course of history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, sparking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement

dear mrs. parks

10. Zora Neale Hurston, Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree - renowned African American writer

zora hurston and the chinaberry tree


Filed under: Book Lists, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: Anna May Wong, augusta savage, diversity, florence mills, hiromi suzuki, Marcenia Lyle, patsy mink, Pura Belpré, Rosa Parks, Wangari Maathai, women, women's history, women's history month, zora neale hurston

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18. Where Do Boys Belong In Women’s History Month?

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Irena's Jars Of Secrets

Irena’s Jars Of Secrets

I entered the education field to broaden the minds of a new generation and teach the truths that I felt I had missed or was denied in my own education. Indeed, I was not alone in those motivations. According to the Primary Sources project by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of the more than 20,000 public school classroom teachers polled, 85% of teachers say they chose the profession in order to make a difference in children’s lives.

Despite my righteous ambitions, once in the classroom, I was hesitant to broach the conversation about gender with a mixed class of boys and girls. So many of my own college classes that focused on social justice and equality issues were almost entirely women.

Acutely aware of my students’ fragile perception of themselves, I was intimated by the prospect of guiding the discussion. When I was leading a classroom of my own, it was often easier to concentrate on the benign world of synonyms, dictionary skills, main idea, and genre features than push my students to think about what role gender plays in achievement, history, and identity.

I wondered: How do we teach about women’s history and contributions without alienating boys? Will boys disengage if a girl or woman is on the cover or is the main character? In this day and age, do girls still need explicit attention drawn to high-achievers that share their gender?

Leading up to my first month of March as a teacher, I thought I would “just” read more books with women as the central figures during Women’s History Month, but not explicitly point out that these were all women so as not to freak out boys and hope the girls would pick up on my subliminal messages of empowerment….

Face palm

Insert face palm here.

This thinking was a huge disservice to ALL of my students’ educations. As I introduced books with prominent women historic figures or girl characters, I realized if the books were about gender, we would discuss identity and tolerance. Other times if the story just happened to have a girl character, but gender wasn’t a central feature of the story, my scholars just wanted to focus on the great story and how the universal lessons applied to their lives.

Four lessons to think about when teaching women’s history so both boys AND girls grow and learn:

  1. Two words: cool stories. Above all, if it’s a great story, it doesn’t matter who is on the cover. Everyone will want to sit up and participate.
  2. Pick contemporary and diverse stories. To continue to show the relevancy of the women’s movements and contributions of women to society, we owe it to all of our students to find more contemporary examples of women figures and showcase more diverse participants in equality. Let’s keep exposing our kids to women of today and of different backgrounds.
  3. Show explicit examples of men championing women. Boys need to see great role models of men advocating for women alongside or behind the scenes. There are plenty of men who have been in the trenches with women fighting for social If we want to instill resiliency and develop children’s imaginations, we need to present children with stories about long odds, big dreams, and fantastic leadership that come in all shapes, sizes, and bodies.justice and as invested in their wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers achieving great success in a field of study as the women themselves. If we want future generations of men to respect and support women, we need to offer boys examples of how to recognize and champion women’s contributions. Boys and girls need to see that the struggles for equality impacted everyone and were not about one group’s success at the other’s detriment.
  4. Talk about the universal lesson and character traits. Everyone can learn from a story about overcoming obstacles, persistence, and courage. Women like Wangari Maathai and Pura Belpré fought for what they loved and believed was right first, and then fought for who they were and who they represented. If we want to instill resiliency and develop children’s imaginations, we need to present children with stories about long odds, big dreams, and fantastic leadership that come in all shapes, sizes, and bodies.

Throughout the year and especially during Women’s History Month, we need to teach that gender shouldn’t be an excuse to bar someone from exploring or contributing to a field of study. Concurrently, we want to show all students that gender can offer a unique perspective or approach that should be recognized and celebrated.

Alongside our girls, boys need the language of equality and a broader view of history. Women’s contributions advanced our society and continue to impact all of us. We need to teach that gender totally does matter and, at the same time, totally doesn’t matter.

Shining Star: The Story Of Anna May Wong

Shining Star: The Story Of Anna May Wong

Susan B. Anthony Is Great, But Who Else Do We Have? Here are books about high-achieving women from diverse backgrounds with diverse pursuits.

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up The Stage

Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up The Stage

Women and The Men That Championed Them. Explore these books with awesome men celebrating awesome women:

Killer Of Enemies

Killer Of Enemies

Stories That Will Hook ’Em All. Here are stories so fun that it won’t matter who is on the cover…but the cover just happens to feature a girl:


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Girls/women, History, holidays, Reading Aloud, reluctant readers, Wangari Maathai, women in history, women's history month

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19. Using Infographics in the Classroom to Teach Visual Literacy

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Infographics’ format and economy of words make infographics engaging and accessible to children, reluctant readers, visual learners, and English Language Learners. As infographics contain multiple layers of information, they are a challenging medium for students to practice inferences and interpretation. Lee & Low Books’ infographic series on the diversity gap in major spheres of influence is a valuable vehicle to build students’ visual literacy skills and understanding of diversity. The following discussion questions and suggested activities were created based on the Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards infographic, but these can be applied to the rest of the series.

Infographic: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards

Infographic: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards (click to enlarge)

Discussion questions to consider with your students:

  1. What patterns do you see? What trends do you see? How are the different charts related?
  2. What is the central idea of this infographic? How do the words, phrases, and visuals interact to affirm the central idea?
  3. Based on the infographic, what does “diversity gap” mean in terms of the Academy Awards?
  4. What might the author’s purpose be in choosing this medium to convey the central idea (to shame, inspire, shock, etc.)?
  5. Does the infographic make the central idea clear and obvious? How does the infographic use an economy of words, language, typography, pie charts, bar graphs, negative space, and title to communicate the central idea?
  6. What type of infographic is this (flow chart, web, map, graph, diagram, table, timeline)? What might the author’s purpose be in choosing this type of infographic? How effective is this format of infographic at organizing and displaying data compared to just text?
  7. Evaluate the effectiveness of the infographic as a form of communication as compared to text alone. Is this the most effective and convincing way to convey information about a lack of diversity at the Academy Awards? Why or why not?
  8. Why might the creators have assembled this information about the Academy Awards and race at all?
  9. Who is the intended audience (moviegoers, actors, directors, writers, producers, movie studios, general public, government officials)? What might the creators of this infographic want them to do with this information?
  10. What is the context of this infographic? What major events in the United States were taking place when this infographic was created? Why is it important to understand the context of the infographic?
  11. Is this infographic’s argument and presentation persuasive or compelling? Why or why not? Analyze this infographic’s effectiveness in inspiring activism.
  12. Based on the information presented, what can you predict future trends will be for award winners, actors, directors, producers, and writers?
  13. Can you determine causes for the lack of diversity in this infographic? Why or why not? How might researchers go about figuring out the cause(s) for the historical and current lack of diversity in the Academy Awards?
  14. What is the impact of a lack of diversity amongst writers, actors, producers, directors, and award winners? What does it mean to be a young child growing up and consuming this form of media (movies)? What will they see? What will they not see? Tell me more about the possible effects of this situation and current trends.

Suggested activities:

  1. Challenge students to translate this infographic’s central idea into a written argument. Students should use key details and evidence from the infographic to assert the central idea.
  2. Have students revise or add on to make the infographic more effective. Students should consider format, adding or deleting information, and more. What would make the infographic stronger, more persuasive, or more memorable?
  3. Encourage students to investigate how these percentages compare to the general public. Students can use the United States Census data for demographics.
  4. Have students investigate possible causes for the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards. Urge students to propose ways to change these trends.
  5. If possible, ask students to research the percent of moviegoers who are people of color. Check industry publications or major news periodicals. How do these numbers compare to the information in the infographic?
  6. Permit students to interview their grade, class, or school on questions, including: Do you go to the movies? How often? What kinds of movies do you see? Who are your favorite actor and actress in Hollywood today? Who is a director/actor/actress of color that you have seen in a movie recently? Why do you think there aren’t more movies by and with people of color? Students can organize and display data in graphs and present findings to the class. Reflect on this information’s relationship to the infographic’s central idea.
  7. Dig deeper—investigate the artists that were nominated each year. How many were people of color over those 85 years? What roles did these artists play in the movies they were nominated for? What genres of movies were they in for this nomination? Explore the people of color who did win best actress or best actor. What roles did they play and what kind of movies were they in when they won for best acting?
  8. Compare this to other Lee & Low Books’ infographics in the series: The Tony Awards,  The Emmy Awards, Children’s Book Publishing, The NY Times Top 10 Bestsellers List, and American Politics. Consider central idea, evidence, format, and audience.
  9. Update the information to include the 2013 and 2014 Academy Awards results. What changed? What did not change?

For further reading on teaching visual literacy and diversity in the classroom, check out these fantastic resources:

How are you building visual literacy skills in the classroom? Let us know below!


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: Academy Awards, CCSS, common core standards, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, History, infographics, Oscars, Race issues, reading comprehension, teaching about race, visual literacy

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20. Compare and Contrast Common Core Lesson Plan for Fifth Grade

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

How We Are Smart is a rich text to explore compare and contrast within the same book. Particularly for fifth graders and students in middle school, the historical figures featured within these pages offer engaging material for young minds ready to tackle complex subjects that extend beyond personal experiences, such as prejudice, racism, and sexism.

I have created sample questions to teach towards and check mastery of each of the three Common Core categories. These are by no means the only questions to ask in each category, but these provide an overview of the progression in question complexity and mastery of the texts.

By creating a range of compare and contrast questions across the standards, we are able to differentiate for students within a class, provide extension opportunities for ready learners, or move the whole class from literal- to higher-level thinking over the course of several lessons.

Text:

How We Are Smart

How We Are Smart

How We Are Smart (level: T)

Why: I have chosen this text because the content requires readers to take on diverse perspectives and examine human problems related to hardship and identity. How We Are Smart presents mature themes and problems of society, not just individual character struggles, which makes it appealing to and rigorous for preadolescents. Additionally, the author’s choice to structure the profiles and biographical information in a unique format lends itself to extensive questions about craft and structure.

Key Ideas and Details:

  1. What is the central idea of each profile? What is the central idea of all the portraits taken together? How are the central ideas of each profile similar or different to the central idea of the overall book?
  2. What are the characteristics of body smart? Logic smart? Define the characteristics of the eight types of smart in your own words. What makes each type of smart unique and what do they have in common? Which of the portraits belongs to each type of smart?
  3. Compare two profiles together. Recommended pair comparisons include: Matthew Henson and Ynes Mexia, Luis Alvarez and Annie Jump Cannon, Patsy Takemoto Mink and Thurgood Marshall, or Marian Anderson and Tito Puente together. What type of smart are they? How are their character traits similar and how are they unique? Even though their areas of expertise are different, how are their achievements and contributions similar? How were their family relationships similar or different? What challenges did they each face on their paths to success? What role did education play in their achievement in their fields?
  4. Compare who was selected into this book. Even though they represent different types of smart, what character traits do they share? How were their obstacles and methods for overcoming their challenges similar?

Craft and Structure:

  1. Each profile covers a unique individual who accomplished a lot in his or her own field and represents one of the eight types of smart. Yet, the book has a central idea. What words, phrases, and other literary devices does the author use to connect all the profiles together and convey the central idea?
  2. Author, W. Nikola-Lisa, never explicitly says what kind of smart each of these historical figures is. What words or phrases does the author use to show readers what kind of smart each of the high-achievers is? How do the words and phrases in a profile of someone who is body smart compare to the words and phrases used in a profile of someone who is logic smart and the other types of smart?
  3. What evidence do you have that these profiles are nonfiction? What nonfiction text features does each profile have?
  4. How is the information in How We Are Smart arranged? What evidence do you have that each biography profile is organized by chronology, comparison, description, classification, cause/effect, or problem/solution? How does the text structure in each profile affirm the central idea?
  5. Each biography profile is titled using the subject’s name, rather than what type of smart he or she is. What does this choice by the author demonstrate about the book’s central idea?
  6. For each profile, the author includes a quotation from the person being profiled, a poem narrated by the author, and then a third person description. Why does the author present the information this way throughout the book? How does this repetitive format and structure contribute to the book’s overall central idea?
  7. Each poem ends with “Are you smart like….?” Why would author address the reader? What is the author’s purpose in ending each poem that way? How does this choice of phrase contribute to the central idea?

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

  1. The illustrator, Sean Qualls, chose NOT to use photographs for any of the chapters. Instead, he painted portraits of the historical figures. What images in the paintings reveal what type of smart each figure is? What do the images suggest about the book’s central idea?
  2. The author chose to profile each high-achiever and their contributions through a poem and then a brief description. How is this format similar or different to other biographies?
  3. Find another biography (print or online) on one of these twelve figures. Compare the text structure, images, tone, and central ideas of that biography with the How We Are Smart’s profile.

What have you found successful in teaching how to compare and contrast? Share with us at curriculum@leeandlow.com!

For further reading:

How To Compare And Contrast With The Common Core In Kindergarten

How To Compare And Contrast With The Common Core In First Grade

How To Compare And Contrast With The Common Core In Second Grade

How To Compare And Contrast With The Common Core In Third Grade

How To Compare And Contrast With The Common Core In Fourth Grade


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, common core standards, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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21. Black History Month Beyond the Basics: Remembering Cortez Peters

Pamela M. TuckGuest BloggerAs February comes to an end, we round out Black History Month with a guest post by Pamela M.Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly. We asked her if there was one person she could choose to be as well-known or remembered as Rosa Parks, who would it be and why?

In a segregated all-black school, a young student was empowered by an African American motivational speaker from Washington, DC. It was 1960s North Carolina and this speaker, in the student’s mind, was famous. The young student was my mother, Pauline Teel, and the speaker was Cortez Peters.

Cortez Peters, Sr. taught himself to type, at the age of 11, on a used typewriter his father had received in a trade. His “hunt and peck” system later developed into a fast and accurate method that garnered him the title of World Typing Champion, with speeds over 100 words per minute. He was the founder of the Cortez W. Peters Business School, which debuted in 1934. It was one of the first vocational schools in Washington, DC to prepare African Americans for business and civil services. The opening of his school became a pivotal point in history for African Americans.

cortez petersCortez Peters, Jr. began typing at the age of 12. He eventually surpassed his father’s world record with a typing speed of 225 words per minute with no mistakes.

Both Peters Sr. and Peters Jr. made a career out of teaching their craft to others.

At that unforgettable school visit, Cortez Peters awed my mother and the other students with his rhythmic typing finesse. My mother remembers how his typing mimicked the tunes of many songs, and how he made artistic configurations on his paper. She stated, “He would use all A’s to form the letter A, and all B’s to form the letter B.” His phenomenal typing ability was an amazing entertainment for the students, but his accomplishments as an African American entrepreneur made him an empowering role model.

Cortez gave his formula of success to the students in 3 simple words: Determination, Inspiration, and Perspiration. Determined not to let anyone or anything stop them from reaching their dreams. Inspired to do whatever it takes to accomplish their dreams. And work hard (Perspiration) to make those dreams come true.

Cortez Peters’ formula for success became ingrained into my mother and was one of the driving forces that helped shape her into the successful woman she became. Enough so, that she passed the formula on to me and I have passed it on to my children.

With the impression Cortez Peters made on my mom, I guess it seems fitting that her high school sweetheart, my dad, turned out to be a local typing champion. Ironically, Cortez Peters and my dad unknowingly shared the same formula for success, and As Fast As their Words Could Fly, change was taking place, history was being made, and dreams were coming true.


Filed under: guest blogger, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: Black History, black history month, cortez peters, Pamela Tuck, Rosa Parks, typing

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22. Lee & Low Likes… Cheryl Boone Isaacs

Since the diversity pieces out there today can be rather disheartening (like our Diversity Gap in the Oscars infographic), we decided to take a look at things that are a bit more positive. And as the 86th Academy Awards are on Sunday, this “Lee & Low Likes” honors Cheryl Boone Issacs, the first African-American president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s important to note that she’s just the third woman to be elected; Bette Davis served for just two month in 1941 and screenwriter Fay Kanin held the position for four years in 1979-1983. Sadly, it’s been 30 years since a woman has held the president position in the Academy.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs picture

Cheryl Boone Isaacs

Isaacs has had a long and illustrious career in Hollywood. She has worked on many Oscar winning movies: as a consultant for The Artist and The King’s Speech and on publicity for Braveheart and Forrest Gump. She was also a president of marketing at New Line Cinema and an executive vice president at Paramount Pictures.

In an interview with Variety, Isaacs talks about how the Academy should be a place that recognizes all of the voices out there: “I think what’s important is … equal opportunity, not holding people back because of their gender, their race, nationality. We are about self-expression and are still the holder of dreams.”

It’s a long road to a more diverse Hollywood, but Cheryl Boone Isaacs is a huge step in the right direction and we very much look forward to seeing the changes she brings during her tenure.

 


Filed under: Lee & Low Likes, The Diversity Gap Tagged: 2014 Academy Awards, Academy Awards, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, diversity, Oscars, Women of Color in Hollywood, Women President

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23. The Best Cheerleaders May Come In the Smallest Packages: How Siblings Affect Literacy Education

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

Home to Medicine Mountain

Home to Medicine Mountain

My students and their siblings were often alone or spent a lot of time with each other. For some, siblings were the only constant in their lives. Fittingly, siblings and close-in-age relatives held powerful sway and influence over each other.

I found that brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors saw each other’s success as their OWN success. One of my third-graders danced in the middle of the carpet for twelve minutes after he heard the intercom announcement that his fifth-grade sister would be the new school president of the student council. What if I could channel that excitement towards literacy?

Brothers and sisters WANTED to see their siblings succeed. Sure, when one of my third-graders struggled to translate from English to Spanish that she hadn’t turned her homework in for a week at the parent-teacher conference, her older sister was delighted to impart the correct information to their mother.

In addition to using siblings for accountability and parent-teacher bridges, siblings became an incredible reward and relationship in my classroom. When my students, especially the struggling readers, made it to a new level, aced an assessment, or turned in excellent high-quality work, I wrote laudatory notes and let those students deliver them to their siblings in another classroom.

Mama Elizabeti

Mama Elizabeti

This system turned out to be just as powerful as a celebratory phone call home to adults, but I was recognizing the child in real time and recognizing the strength of the family presence at school. And it went further: the younger or older sibling was able to celebrate my student in their classroom and admire them publicly amidst their peers for academic achievement. There are not enough Dollar Tree prizes to compete with that kind of reward.

Beyond my school, psychologists have noticed the effect older brothers and sisters can have. In fact, NPR explored the positive and negative consequences of older sibling influence in a segment called, “Big Sibling’s Big Influence: Some Behaviors Run In The Family.”

At Arlington Elementary in Arlington, Tennessee, The Jackson Sun reported how teachers are recruiting older students to read to younger students in their Big Brothers, Big Sisters Reading Club every morning before school. More advanced students can relate to struggling readers and explain strategies in a friendly, non-high-stakes atmosphere.

In Carmel Valley, California, the Read To Me Project is an early literacy program that builds school readiness by engaging elementary brothers and sisters to read to their siblings. So far, 350 participating older siblings are reading to 443 young children across four school districts.

For Dr. Seuss’ Birthday last year at my school in the Bay Area, our kindergarten teachers invited the third-graders to read to them. Everyone was ecstatic to read to their brother, sister, cousin, or neighbor. My scholars had the opportunity to show off the chapter books they were tackling and feel like experts as they helped the kinders decode and recognize sight words. The kinders, in turn, received extra reading time, exposure to high-quality texts, and an opportunity to show off how remarkable their older sibling was.

One of my students who was an advanced learner, but had a very unstable home life, was very, very protective of his three younger brothers. His active kinder brother had refused to read with any third-grader, hiding each time another class of third-graders came throughout the day. Not until the last period arrived and his third-grade brother, my student, finally appeared did this kinder cuddle up to read. Even though my student brought a dense, picture-less chapter book on sharks and their presence in Fiji cultural traditions, his kinder brother sat in rapt attention for nearly an hour soaking in every word from his big brother.

We know the results on a child’s motivation and confidence when parents relish in their child’s success, so why don’t we harness that effect from siblings as well? Equipping our children with the love for reading and the skills needed to confront real world problems involves every stakeholder in our children’s lives—and that may include their smallest (but loudest!) cheerleaders.

If you need more inspiration, check out these books with strong sibling relationships:

Summer of the Mariposas

Summer of the Mariposas


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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24. The 86th Annual Academy Awards Wins for Diversity

The glitz, fashion, and the glamorous parties are over, but we at LEE & LOW BOOKS are still thinking about the 86th Annual Academy Awards. We were excited to see our infographic on the diversity gap in the Academy Awards shared in several places, including the New York Times Carpetbagger blog, MSNBC’s The Grio, and Colorlines. Even Ellen started off the night with a joke about diversity (“Possibility number one, 12 Years a Slave could win. Possibility number two, you’re all racists. Now please welcome our first white presenter…”). But the highlight of this year’s ceremony was seeing some big wins in diversity:

lupita nyong'o and cate blanchett

2014 Oscar winners Lupita Nyong’o and Cate Blanchett

Lupita Nyong’o, Best Supporting Actress for “12 Years a Slave”: Lupita Nyong’o's touching acceptance speech reminded every aspiring actor and actress that “no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Cate Blanchett, Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine”: Cate Blanchett’s empowering speech was an inspiration for women everywhere, as she addressed the stereotype that “female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”

Steven McQueen and Alfonso Cuaron

Directors Steve McQueen and Alfonso Cuarón

Alfonso Cuarón, Best Director for “Gravity”: Alfonso Cuarón became the first Latino director to ever win an Oscar, and in response to a backstage interview with the world press, he said he would “love if that same support is given to some other films that are coming out of there with Mexican filmmakers, shot in Mexico, and with Mexican subject matters.”

Best Picture for “12 Years a Slave”: This film set in pre-Civil War America follows Solomon Northup, a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery. This is the first time a film directed by a black filmmaker has won Best Picture. Director Steve McQueen dedicated the win to “all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”

Congratulations are also due to Robert Lopez, the first Filipino-American ever to win an Oscar for his song “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen,” and John Ridley for his Oscar for the “Twelve Years a Slave” screenplay, marking only the second time that a black screenwriter has won the award.

It was also a breath of fresh air to see new Academy Director Cheryl Boone Isaacs walk out onstage to introduce herself.

While the wins will certainly change the bleak numbers we reported last week, one year alone is not enough. Here’s hoping this year’s big wins mean more people of color in front of and behind the cameras in the future!


Filed under: Diversity Links, Musings & Ponderings, The Diversity Gap Tagged: 2014 Academy Awards, Academy Awards, diversity, diversity gap, inspiration, Lupita Nyong, Oscars

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25. Lee & Low Likes… The New ‘Annie’

The trailer for the upcoming remake of Annie is out, and we’re quite excited for the fabulously diverse cast! Quvenzhané Wallis, the talented young actress who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (the youngest nominee ever!) for Beasts of the Southern Wildplays the star role of Annie. Jamie Foxx is cast as Will Stacks, the modern version of Daddy Warbucks, Rose Byrne cast as Stacks’ trusty assistant, and Cameron Diaz plays the dreadful Miss Hannigan.

the cast of Annie

the cast of 2014 version of Annie

We like that the story is updated a bit; it feels less like a copycat of the original Annie and more like a fresh, modern take on the story of the lovable orphan. In the 2014 remake, Will Stacks is running for NYC mayor and strategically takes Annie in for publicity purposes. Annie, of course, thinks that Mr. Stacks is saving her, but… we all know who saves who and how this story ends. Take a look at the trailer below and look out for the movie in theaters this Christmas.


Filed under: Lee & Low Likes Tagged: Annie remake, diversity in Hollywood, Jamie Fox, movies, Quvenzhané Wallis

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