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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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Our new children’s book, Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, tells the incredible story of Ira Aldridge. When we’ve shown this book to readers, we get one of two responses:
1) “I’ve never heard of Ira Aldridge.”
2) “You have a book about Ira Aldridge??! That’s so wonderful!”
The truth is, bringing Ira’s story to new readers is one of our great joys as a publisher. His is a story of phenomenal talent and determination, of someone who was truly born to do what he did. Too often, history has let the achievements of black people fall through the cracks–especially when they take place outside the narrative of slavery and civil rights. If you look at the African American biographies that appear most often, so many of them are focused on names we already know: Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass. While it is important to remember these people and their achievements, acknowledging the contributions of black people in other arenas–art, music, science, and in this case, Shakespearean acting–is equally important.
So: who was Ira Aldridge?
Ira Aldridge was born July 27, 1807, in New York City. As a child, he attended the African Free School, a school established for the children of free African Americans and slaves. During that time, Aldrige would observe plays from high up in the balcony of the Park Theatre.
Ira always loved Shakespeare. His acting career began in his teens, where he acted at the African Grove Theatre, the first resident African American theatre in the United States. Ira dreamed of performing Shakespeare one day on the stage of the Park Theatre. But black actors were not welcome there.
Ira’s father, a church minister, tried to dissuade his son from pursuing acting. He encouraged him to become a minister or teacher, but Ira was determined to pursue his dream. At the age of 17, Ira headed to England as a valet for another actor to try his hand at acting. There, he found work running errands for small theaters and became an understudy for other actors.
When Ira finally got his chance to debut, his performance was met with mixed reviews. While some praised his acting, others did not like seeing a black actor onstage playing “white roles.” But Ira was not discouraged. He worked hard, studied acting, and gradually became known for his talented performances in a variety of roles. Later on, he toured United Kingdom, spending many years performing the lead roles in Othello, Macbeth and Richard III. Ira was most famous for his role as the titular Othello, which he first played at the age of 26. He was the first black actor to play Othello on the English stage.
Despite the fame he gained, Ira never forgot the plight of the enslaved African Americans in the United States. He would sometimes come out at the close of his performances to sit on the edge of the stage, preaching to the audience about the injustice of slavery. He used his performances to raise money to send to abolitionists fighting to end slavery in the United States.
Ira Aldridge toured around Europe and earned great acclaim for his performances. In 1858, the duke of Saxe-Meiningen granted him knighthood. He is the only African American actor listed among the 33 actors honored with plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. The theater at Howard University in Washington, DC is named after him.
Learn more about Ira Aldridge inIra’s Shakespeare Dream, written by Glenda Armand and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Additional resources:
Today is Isamu Noguchi’s birthday and we’d like to take a moment to celebrate one of the twentieth century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors.
According to the Noguchi Museum’s website, Noguchi was born in Los Angeles, California, to an American mother and a Japanese father, Noguchi lived in Japan until the age of thirteen, when he moved to Indiana. While studying pre-medicine at Columbia University, he took evening sculpture classes on New York’s Lower East Side, mentoring with the sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. He soon left the University to become an academic sculptor.
Noguchi’s work was not recognized in the United States until 1938, when he completed a large-scale sculpture symbolizing the freedom of the press, which was commissioned for the Associated Press building in Rockefeller Center, New York City. This was the first of what would become numerous celebrated public works worldwide, ranging from playgrounds to plazas, gardens to fountains, all reflecting his belief in the social significance sculpture.
In 1985 Noguchi opened The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum (now known as The Noguchi Museum), in Long Island City, New York. The Museum, established and designed by the artist, marked the culmination of his commitment to public spaces.
Noguchi received the Edward MacDowell Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to the Arts in 1982; the Kyoto Prize in Arts in 1986; the National Medal of Arts in 1987; and the Order of Sacred Treasure from the Japanese government in 1988. He died in New York City in 1988.
The East-West Houseis a tribute to the artistic beginnings of this pioneering modern sculptor and designer. Written and illustrated by Christy Hale, the book tells the story of the boy who grew up to be the multifaceted artist Isamu Noguchi. Guided by his desire to enrich everyday life with art while bringing together Eastern and Western influences, Noguchi created a vast array of innovative sculptures, stage sets, furniture, and public spaces.
We’re excited to share that we will be partnering with local businesses, organizations, and community members for a bone marrow donor registry drive this Saturday, November 21 from 2pm to 4 pm at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, New York City.
The drive will highlight an issue of major importance within the multiracial community: the lack of bone marrow donor matches. For patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases, a bone marrow transplant may be their best or only hope for a cure. Yet 70% of patients who need a transplant to do not have a matched donor in their family, and for multiracial people, finding a match can be especially hard.
That’s because bone marrow donors must be extremely genetically similar to recipients. As this Time Magazine article explains,
Compared to organ transplants, bone marrow donations need to be even more genetically similar to their recipients. Though there are exceptions, the vast majority of successful matches take place between donors and patients of the same ethnic background. Since all the immune system’s cells come from bone marrow, a transplant essentially introduces a new immune system to a person. Without genetic similarity between the donor and the patient, the new white blood cells will attack the host body. In an organ transplant, the body can reject the organ, but with marrow, the new immune system can reject the whole body.
Because Caucasians make up the majority of people in the donor registry, Caucasian patients often have the best chance of finding a match. Chances for patients from other ethnicities can be as low as one in four. But chances for multiracial patients are often the lowest of all, with only 3% of registered donors self-identifying as multiracial or mixed race.
Becoming a potential bone marrow donor is quick and easy: all it involves is a simple cheek swab. Donors are then added to the bone marrow registry database–the larger the database, the more likely that every patient can find a match.
If you’re in or near New York City, we hope you will come out and join us! Here are the details:
Saturday, November 21, 2015
2pm – 4 pm
WHERE: La Casa Azul Bookstore 143 E. 103rd Street New York, NY 10029
The first 50 donors will receive a multiracial crayon pack in appreciation for their support!
About the Sponsors:
Be the Match has a registry of nearly 12.5 million volunteers ready to be life-saving bone marrow donors. Because there are patients who can’t find a match, Be the Match encourages more people to join the registry and to be there when they are called as a match.
Project RACE advocates for multiracial children, multiracial adults, and their families primarily through education and community awareness. It supports policies that make a positive impact on people of multiracial heritage at local, state, and national levels. Project RACE is active in the effort to find bone marrow donors for multiracial people and sponsors countless donor registry drives throughout the United States.
La Casa Azul Bookstore is an independent community bookstore located in East Harlem that seeks to raise community awareness and political consciousness on issues affecting East Harlem residents.
Lee & Low Books is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country. It is also one of the few minority-owned publishing companies in the United States.
Alex Barnett is a comic and writer from New York City. He also is the host of the podcast Multiracial Family Man that explores issues of concern to multiracial people and families.
In The Story I’ll Tell a young child asks where he came from. His mother tells him fantastical tales with a kernel of truth that piece together his journey across a wide ocean to his new family. The Story I’ll Tell was released this month and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly which called it “an unabashed love letter. . . [that] many families will treasure.” In this guest post, author Nancy Tupper Ling discusses where the idea for The Story I’ll Tell came from.
I have binders that are two or three inches thick for many of my stories. They are picture book manuscripts, under 1000 words, and yet the binders are full of revision after revision of those few words. And then there are those rare stories that come to me like a gift. My poem, White Birch, was like that, and it became the winner of the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize out of 18,000 entries. Published this month by Lee & Low, The Story I’ll Tell had a similar beginning. It was a gift.
The story idea came to me in the form of a question as I was driving down the highway one day. If a baby landed on someone’s doorstep in the hills of Appalachia, what kind of story would the parents tell their child about how he/she came into their lives? The story sounded like a poem to me, as I wrote a number of far-fetched scenarios in my head. Still, there was one line that pivoted the story, and that’s my favorite line in the book today: “. . .there are times when I think I will tell you the truth, for the truth is a beautiful story too.”
With that line I came to a realization. There would be a nugget of truth in each of the fantastical stories that the parent would tell her child, and this patchwork of truths would be stitched together to reveal the most beautiful story in the end.
Somewhere along the way I began to think of The Story I’ll Tell as an adoption story. I am not an adoptive parent, but I am a parent who waited years for her first child. I know the ache and the longing that many parents experience while waiting for a child to enter their lives. My husband and I had filled out all the paperwork in order to adopt a child from Korea when we learned that I was pregnant with our first daughter, and this experience certainly influenced my story.
That said, I have several friends who had a tremendous influence on my story as well. One couple has ten children who came into their lives through domestic and international adoption. Another friend adopted her daughter through the foster care system. As The Story I’ll Tell was coming together I thought of their stories, all of which were unique, and how the parents would reveal them to their children in due time.
Certainly adoption stories include heartache as well. It was important for me to touch upon this sentiment, without making it overwhelming. One of the last lines in the story is “When we brought you home in dawn’s early light, you cried for things lost and new.” One mother’s loss is another mother’s gain. The child feels this, too. An adoption story has both longing and love. Hopefully this leads to a forever home where the child is treasured beyond compare.
In the end, it was Lee & Low who asked me to focus on a certain country of origin for the character, and since my husband is Chinese-American, I gravitated toward that heritage. As Eurasians, my own children know the push and pull of looking like one culture, and blending in as Americans. Jessica Lanan brought all these threads together with her gorgeous illustrations, so that the reader, like the child, feels the warmth of a new home and the reminder that she, too, has a story to tell.
Nancy Tupper Ling is the winner of the Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award, and is the founder of Fine Line Poets, a website for poets who live in New England. She was inspired to write The Story I’ll Tell by the multicultural background of her own family and the experiences of friends who have adopted children from all over the world. Ling resides in Walpole, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two young daughters.
Recently, we sent a number of LEE & LOW staff members from different departments to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.” The workshop, jointly taught by a white leader and a leader of color, was a three-day intensive that covered everything from a history of race and racism to the power dynamics at play today in various systems. Participants were encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and identities, as well as to listen deeply as others shared.
We decided to do this workshop because even with LEE & LOW’s focus on diverse books, we felt that our staff would benefit from specific training in anti-racism concepts. “Even though Lee & Low’s mission is to address the lack of representation of marginalized groups through publishing diverse books, the workshop hammers home how deep institutional racism goes,” said publisher Jason Low. “The intimate setting also makes issues of racism more personal. Instead of reading about racism in the paper or online you are hearing firsthand experiences, from a person sitting three feet from where you are sitting.”
The recent problems found in books like A Fine Dessert and The Hired Girl, along with long-standing problems in publishing in general, indicate that now more than ever, publishing staffs need diversity training. While the burden of mistakes can be placed on the author and illustrator, in truth publishers share an equal part of the responsibility in making sure that the books they produce are accurate and do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.
Racial insensitivity and stereotypes making it past the editorial process are expensive mistakes–in terms of both cost and impact–but they are avoidable. Below is our staff’s reaction to the workshop, plus a follow-up meeting we held in-house. Our plan is to hold monthly meetings on racism and diversity moving forward. (Note: Answers have been condensed and edited for length.)
1. What did you learn that you did not know before attending the workshop?
Stacy Whitman, Editorial: I didn’t know some of the history before. For example, I knew about indentured servitude (I actually had a couple ancestors who were indentured), but I didn’t realize the way that indentured labor and slavery were wedged against each other, and the way whiteness was created out of that time period. I had known that church had been used as a way to keep slaves in line, and I had known about slave rebellions, but hadn’t realized how those pieces fit together with indentured servitude and creation of a status of whiteness.
Jessica Echeverria, Editorial: One of the biggest takeaways was how the deeply-entrenched history of racism in this country is never really taught in school. This was clear from some of the participants’ reaction in learning that race was a social construct. I think back to my own education growing up in Florida, and the topics of race and racism were not examined until I was in college. And even then, they were courses I elected to take and not required for all students. So yes, racism stems from ignorance, but we should be aware that this ignorance was purposeful.
Hannah Ehrlich, Marketing: One of the main things that the workshop showed me was that having open conversations about race is just really, really hard – and rarely do we white people get it right the first time. While I had thought about white privilege before, I hadn’t really thought much about the internalized superiority that white people have absorbed over generations and generations. Because of that, even when we want to be allies, often racial conversations end up with us in a defensive stance, trying to define why we are “good” white people instead of accepting our own complicity in an unfair system and spending our time listening. Conversations that center whiteness are the default, and it takes a lot of hard work to move past that. It was moving to see this play out over the course of three days, and definitely made me more aware of how, as a white person invested in racial justice, I can be a better ally by letting go of the need to define myself as “not racist.”
Louise May, Editorial: There was a good presentation of theories on the origins of institutional racism. I had not before seen the information put together this way. It was quite impactful.
Jill Eisenberg, Literacy & Sales: The workshop and follow-up discussions with my colleagues have encouraged me to examine how adults present history and historical people/groups to children. Much of the workshop was spent exposing the historical narrative of America as racist and capitalistic. I was particularly disturbed about the lack of recognition and respect Native peoples had (and have). Our presenters showed us that this explicit invisibility is even written into our Constitution (Article 1, Section 2).
Rebecca Garcia, Marketing: The facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.
Veronica Schneider, Literacy & Sales: Being in literacy & sales and working at a diverse children’s publisher, I think I was aware of my role as a gatekeeper. Reflecting in the workshop, however, showed me just how strong of a gatekeeper position I maintain. I choose what kind of information reaches others-from educators to children-as I develop questions and activities for our teacher guides and carefully align Lee & Low books to schools’ curricula. Conversations with educators may begin with them sharing their needs in terms of thematic units or student reading levels, but then I take that information and decide which books would ultimately work best for various academic and social-emotional reasons. Diversity is certainly an issue that is close to our hearts here at Lee & Low, but how we approach and communicate this information to others is different based on your department and on an individual basis.
Additionally, the systemic nature of racism is a powerful concept that although I was aware of, is all the more apparent once analyzed in depth. Tracing the roots of racism to highlight the gaping holes in our knowledge in history was both eye opening and frustrating. Why aren’t we being taught this in schools? Why aren’t we openly having these discussions?
Keilin Huang, Marketing: The idea of being a “gatekeeper” really resonated with me. The LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300+ likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300+ people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.
2. How will you apply what you have learned from the workshop to your job at Lee & Low?
Stacy, Editorial: Editorially, I’m continuing to interrogate my biases and assumptions. Thinking about further ways I can include voices of color in the projects I work on, and continuing to seek out more authors of color. Thinking about how I contribute to systemic bias, and how I can counteract it.
Jessica, Editorial: Further inspired by the workshop, I plan to continue working on books that will hopefully fill in the gaps of what’s not being taught in school. I keep thinking about Texas and the new textbooks that have whitewashed parts of US history.
Hannah, Marketing: The workshop has definitely made me more aware of my own whiteness, and how that affects the dynamics among our staff, with our authors and illustrators, and with other people we work with. It has encouraged me to examine my own culture and the lens through which I see the world – what am I missing? What am I not getting? Because I work in marketing and publicity, a big part of my job involves communication, and it’s worth exploring how racial dynamics affect that communication. Are we using language that reinforces institutionalized racism? Am I being a good ally personally, and is Lee & Low being a good ally as a company? These are all things that are important for us to consider in our work.
Louise, Editorial: The workshop reinforced my commitment to the need to acquire diverse stories that accurately represent stories from an insider point of view.
Jill, Literacy Specialist: We at Lee & Low Books publish and offer many books by and about Native peoples. It is critical to show that Native peoples aren’t just “were,” but also “are.” Our students need to read stories about and by Native peoples in recent times, not just suspended in a simplistic time capsule whether a folktale without additional background knowledge and proper context or a “by the way” side blurb in a history textbook. As I work closely with schools and organizations serving children, I want to make sure that the books we do have get in front of students before they internalize and perpetuate racist views on American history. These topics need to start early and often.
Veronica, Literacy & Sales: When speaking to schools, educators, teachers, nonprofits, and other organizations, we need to make sure to not only consider their requests and needs but to be clear/open about the different ways in which our titles can enrich + open their world. I need to keep stressing the importance of windows + mirrors concept in my work. This means showing non-diverse (mostly white) schools that diverse books have a place there, too.
Keilin, Marketing: One of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching thousands of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.
3. What do you hope to continue to learn about and explore in post-workshop meetings with fellow Lee & Low staff?
Stacy, Editorial: How to know what I don’t know, and how to share that knowledge with others in a way that they’ll listen. I guess this has been my quest, editorially, all along, but the process of the workshop in particular was interesting because while it was emotionally draining, everyone in the room was listening. Everyone was participating (even the slightly weird woman who wouldn’t shut up) and working through their resistance. There was a range of resistance, of course, but the process worked to get people talking and listening.
This applies to how marketing is already thinking about audience with social media and other sales channels—who we need to discuss the importance of diversity with before introducing our books.
Jessica, Editorial: I’m excited to see how our discussion will produce new and valuable content for our readers.
Hannah, Marketing: I look forward to talking more in the future with staff members about challenges we face in our respective departments. How does editorial handle a historical manuscript that uses language we deem problematic? How does sales handle administrators who don’t think their students would be interested in diverse books? Discussing these challenges as a company will help make us stronger and more aware of the issues that we face in our work, and it will allow us to develop company-wide policies to address difficult questions.
Louise, Editorial: It would be interesting to discuss what we can do to move ourselves further to toward being a “Fully Inclusive” institution.
Veronica, Literacy & Sales: Increase the sharing of articles and books about racism. Come up with ways to address problems that are occurring in the news/present day and how Lee & Low can be part of the solution.
Has your company undergone staff diversity training? If so, we’d love to hear about what worked and what didn’t in the comments section below.
As our readers know, LEE & LOW BOOKS focuses on publishing books that are about everyone, for everyone. Our books feature a diverse range of characters and cultures, and we strive to work with and publish authors of color with our New Voices Award and New Visions Award.
This is why we’re very excited to announce a new partnership with Simmons College. We have teamed up with The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College and established a scholarship to increase diversity in the world of children’s literature. The new Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship will provide opportunities for students of color to enroll in the most prestigious children’s literature graduate program in the United States.
The scholarship initiative is a partnership between two organizations committed to diversity in children’s literature. LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest multicultural children’s book publisher in the country and a leader in the movement for more diversity in the publishing industry. The graduate programs in children’s literature at Simmons College are dedicated to bringing a wide range of voices into books for children and young adults, and to providing students access to careers that diversify the field of children’s literature.
“Lee & Low is excited to be partnering with Simmons College to provide a meaningful way to address one of the most challenging obstacles in bringing more equity to publishing: the pipeline problem,” says Jason Low, publisher of LEE & LOW BOOKS.
Unpaid internships and costly graduate programs, combined with low entry-level salaries, are significant barriers for many hoping to work in publishing. The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship will support students for whom the traditional entrances to publishing remain closed, and thus create a pathway for diverse graduate students to positions in which they can influence what and how children’s literature is created.
The $100,000 scholarship fund was created through donations from LEE & LOW BOOKS and Simmons College alumni. The first recipients will be chosen for fall 2016. “Children’s Literature at Simmons welcomes this collaboration with Lee & Low as we team up to create venues of access that lead to lasting change,” says Cathryn M. Mercier, Director of the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE AT SIMMONS COLLEGE: Established in 1977, the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature supports the advancement of the study of children’s and young adult literature through nationally recognized partnerships and graduate programs, including the nation’s
first Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and Master of Fine Arts: Writing for Children, as well as several innovative dual degree options. To learn more, visit simmons.edu/academics/graduate-programs/childrens-literature-ma.
ABOUT LEE & LOW BOOKS: Established in 1991, LEE & LOW BOOKS is the largest children’s book publisher in the United States specializing in diversity. Under several imprints, the company provides a comprehensive range of notable diverse books for beginning readers through young adults. Visit leeandlow.com to learn more.
We at LEE & LOW BOOKS believe that high-quality bilingual books help build a solid foundation to achieve literacy in any language while affirming and validating a child’s identity, culture, and home language. We are so excited and honored to share this one educator’s example of why books featuring characters like her students belong in her classroom and curriculum.
In this guest post, Sandra L. Osorio describes using books that captured her students’ bilingual and bicultural experiences. An elementary bilingual teacher for eight years, Osorio is now an assistant professor at Illinois State University. This article originally appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, and is cross-posted here with permission. Article is also available in Spanish from Rethinking Schools.
BY SANDRA L. OSORIO
I was sitting around a kidney-shaped table with Alejandra, Juliana, and Lucia, 2nd graders who had chosen to read Del Norte al Sur (From North to South) by René Colato Laínez. I read the book’s introduction out loud, which included the word deportado (deported). I asked my students: “¿Qué es deportar? ¿Ustedes saben qué significa?” (What is deported? Do you know what it means?) Lucia looked straight at me and said, “Como a mi tío lo deportaron”. (Like my uncle, they deported him.)
Our class was part of a developmental bilingual program with all native Spanish speakers. I had introduced literature discussions the previous year when I had the same students in 1st grade, but now I was carefully choosing books with themes I thought would resonate with my students’ lives, including the complexities of being bilingual and bicultural. In Del Norte al Sur, José desperately misses his mother, who has been deported to Tijuana because she doesn’t have the right papers to be in the United States. I knew that some of my students were also missing members of their families. One student’s father had been deported back to Mexico and he had not seen him in years. Another student’s father had separated from her mother and moved to a city more than three hours away. I hoped these two students would connect with José’s problems and begin to talk about their feelings. I soon learned that many other students shared similar feelings and experiences.
Although immigration is passionately debated in the media, it is an issue often ignored in schools, even though it’s central to the lived experiences of Latina/o children—even those born in the United States. This was something I didn’t realize until I created space for students’ lives in the curriculum.
I originally decided to teach bilingual students because of the struggles I had faced as a bilingual child myself. I attended a bilingual (Spanish-English) preschool, but when my parents enrolled me in a private, English-only kindergarten, they were told to immediately stop speaking Spanish to me because it would “confuse me.” This was surprising to my parents—I had not even entered the classroom yet. My parents made the decision to continue to speak Spanish in our household; they wanted me to be able to communicate with our extended family in Colombia. I am grateful for this decision because it allowed me to grow up bilingual and maintain ties to my bicultural heritage.
At school, I don’t remember ever reading a story with a main character who was bilingual or bicultural. Because Latina/o culture and people were invisible in the curriculum, I felt I had to keep my Spanish language knowledge at home and hidden from my teachers and classmates.
I did not want another generation of students to feel like I did. I wanted to help students build and nurture their cultural and linguistic pride. I wanted to make sure that bilingual students were held to the same high expectations as other students. And I wanted them to understand that they did not have to give up their home language to be successful.
So I fulfilled my dream and became a teacher. All of my students were emergent bilinguals who spoke Spanish as their home language and were born in the United States, many in the same town where our school is located. Of my 20 students, 16 were of Mexican descent, three were Guatemalan, and one child had one Guatemalan parent and one Mexican parent.
Bilingual Isn’t Necessarily Bicultural
Our program was supposed to be one of academic enrichment, using both the students’ native language and English for academic instruction. The primary goal was development of biliteracy. In 2nd grade, 70 percent of the school day was to be in Spanish and 30 percent in English. But since 3rd graders in the program were not “making benchmark” on state tests, I was pressured to introduce more English in my 2nd-grade classroom.
For the first couple of years I was a rule follower. I implemented the exact curriculum passed down from the administration without question, including the required language arts curriculum. It was a scripted basal reader program—the exact same one used by the non-bilingual classrooms—only it had been translated into Spanish. Each week we read a story from an anthology and worked on the particular reading skill dictated by the manual.
This was convenient for me as a beginning teacher because it is challenging to find quality texts in Spanish. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, of an estimated 5,000 children’s books published in the United States in 2014, only 66 were about Latinas/os. At least, I told myself, my students were reading in their native language on a daily basis.
Yet I began noticing that my students were not seeing themselves in the stories we read. The basal reader had more than 20 different stories, but only one that included a Latina/o-looking individual, and nowhere in the story did it talk about any of the complexities of being a bilingual or bicultural child.
My students were learning to read in Spanish that had been translated from the English, with texts that were Latina/o-culture free. The basal reader conveyed a clear message: Diverse experiences don’t matter. Every student was treated the same, given the same story to read, and taught the same skills. There was no differentiation. There was no mirror. There was no joy.
I began to question whether what I was doing was in the best interests of my students. I realized that I had to be the one to advocate for them.
I decided to bring in more literature written by Latina/o authors about Latina/o children. I began to compile a list of books by award-winning authors on such lists as the Pura Belpré, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and the Américas Award. I also looked for additional books by authors I already knew: Alma Flor Ada, Gloria Anzaldúa, and René Colato Laínez. In addition to Del Norte al Sur, the books I chose included La superniña del cilantro, by Juan Felipe Herrera; Esperando a Papá, by René Colato Laínez; Prietita y la llorona, by Gloria Anzaldúa; and Pepita habla dos veces, by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman.
The greatest challenge I faced was getting multiple copies of the books I wanted my students to read in small groups. To clear this roadblock, I applied for and received a grant to purchase books. I also borrowed copies from colleagues and scoured the shelves of multiple public libraries around the area. One way or the other, I was able to get four to five copies of each book.
I centered the literature discussion groups around four themes: Family, Cultural Stories, Language, and English. For each theme, I gave students four or five titles to choose from. I started each unit by giving a book talk in which I shared a few passages from each of the book choices. Then I gave students time to browse through the books and fill out a ballot ranking their top choices. Each group of literature discussions was five days long, including two days of preparation and three days of group discussion that I facilitated. Students prepared for discussions by reading the story and marking the book with sticky notes. They used the sticky notes so they would remember what they wanted to say in the discussion group. To help with that process, I gave them a sheet with sentence starters.
When our classroom shifted from basal-based reading instruction to literature-based discussions, I noticed an immediate change in my students. They were more engaged in the stories. Through the personal connections they shared, I learned new things about them and their families. Our literature discussion groups became a place where we came together and shared our joys and the difficulties we were going through. It became a place where we learned that we were not alone, and that the curriculum could be a space for reflecting and holding our own experiences. Students who had been labeled with “low proficiency” in reading on the benchmark test at the beginning of the school year were often the ones talking the most during the discussions. Our conversations helped them feel more comfortable, see themselves in the curriculum, and explore their multiple identities. They were acquiring the tools and space to unpack complex issues in their lives.
Making Space for Students’ Fears
In Del Norte al Sur, one of the books in our Family theme, we read about José going with his father to Tijuana to visit his mother, who is staying in a women’s shelter while she tries to assemble the documents to return to the United States. José, who lives in San Diego, is able to go visit his mother on the weekends and help her with the garden at the shelter; his father pays for a lawyer to process the paperwork. Although the situation is challenging for José and his parents, it is far milder than the reality of most individuals who are deported. Most children are not able to see members of their families who have been deported for extended periods of time. Many who are deported are never able to return to the United States.
Even though the story wasn’t a perfect match to my students’ own experiences, they started making personal connections to the text. When Lucia shared that her uncle had been deported, I asked her to explain what that meant. “Es cuando la policía para a una persona y les toman los fingerprintes y después se fija en una máquina si los deportan o no, pero deportar significa que los van a mandar a México”. (It’s when the police stop someone, take their fingerprints, and look on a machine to see if they will deport them or not, but deporting means they send them to Mexico.)
Although I was excited that my students were discussing this topic and I asked questions to further the conversation, I wanted to make sure I didn’t push them into an uncomfortable or upsetting space. I paid close attention to everyone, looking for cues about how they were feeling. My ultimate goal in the introduction of these literature discussions was to get my students to develop their critical thinking skills, but first I had to make sure they felt safe enough to share their stories. Before we began the literature discussions, we had developed community norms. Two of our norms were “we feel safe” and “we respect and listen to others.” When we created and reviewed the norms, my students and I talked about not making fun of each other, not laughing at individuals who were sharing, and not interrupting.
When Lucia shared her uncle’s story, it opened up a group discussion. Alejandra told us about a time her father was stopped by the police while they were driving to a nearby city. She also told us about a time her family was driving and her mother spotted a police officer. Her mother said, “Bájense porque ahí está la policía y qué tal si nos detiene”. (Get down because the police are there and what if they stop us.) Alejandra demonstrated how she slouched down in her chair. Her mother told Alejandra and her sisters, “No escuchen lo que está diciendo el policía”. (Don’t listen to what the police officer says.) Alejandra said, “Entonces no escuchamos”. (So we didn’t listen.) As Alejandra talked, we just listened. I made sure not to ask questions because I wanted to allow Alejandra the opportunity to share just as much as she wanted to.
Staying silent took lots of practice. I was so accustomed to jumping in and guiding my students in a particular direction. The pressures I felt to cover the curriculum and raise test scores made me want to push my students along at a faster pace. I had to change that mentality. I wanted my students to do most of the talking because I wanted to open up space for their lives. I didn’t want them to feel judged. I wanted our discussions to be a place where they felt safe discussing any topic. Too often, I found my students waiting for me to speak so they could agree and repeat what I said. I wanted to move away from the idea that teachers were the only ones with answers. My students had important things to share. I wanted them to realize that their experiences could help us understand each other and the book.
Alejandra finished her story by saying that the police officer followed them home and talked again to her father when they arrived. She explained that she and her younger sister were born in the United States, so they are allowed to stay, but her parents and older sister don’t have this advantage. If they are stopped again by the police or ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), her family might be split apart. I had never seen her so vulnerable.
I turned to Juliana and asked if she had anything she wanted to share, or if she knew anyone who had been deported. She fidgeted with her hands, staring at the table, before looking up and saying “Sí, mi papá”. (Yes, my dad.) Lucia nodded. “Oh, sí, ella ya nos contó la historia”. (Oh, yes, she already told us the story.)
Taking Time to Listen
At one point in our discussions Lucia announced, “No me gustan los Estados Unidos para nada.” (I don’t like the United States at all.)
This caught me off guard. “¿Por qué?” (Why?)
Lucia said that here in the United Stated she felt enclosed, but in Mexico she was free to go outside every day.
Alejandra added, “Mi mamá dice que no le gusta aquí”. (My mom says she doesn’t like it here.) She told us about a lady who helped her mother fill out some paperwork and told her mom to call her if she ever got stopped by the police. The lady told Alejandra’s mom that the police had gotten harder and that they didn’t want people from Mexico. They wanted to deport everyone.
Lucia jumped in. “Sí, están mostrando mucho de eso en Primer Impacto, que tratan de sacar a los mexicanos”. (Yes, on First Impact, they are showing lots of that, that they are trying to get rid of the Mexicans.) Primer Impacto is a popular Spanish-language, daily news program. My students were watching the media alongside their parents. This is where they were getting a lot of their information about the current political context in the United States, including hostility toward immigrants, harsh deportation policies, and family separations.
Although I felt pressure to keep the students reading and to move things along so that they could answer specific questions about the text, I resisted the temptation and asked, “¿Cómo se sienten ustedes con eso, ustedes siendo mexicanos y americanos?” (How do you feel about this, being both Mexican and American?)
Alejandra answered: “Yo me siento mal ser mexicana y americana porque mi mamá dice que si la van a deportar que no sabe a quién llevarse, porque le toca llevarse a Perla pero puede dejar a mi hermana y a mí. Y dice mi mamá que si llegan a pararla, que puede que ya nunca la veamos”. (I feel bad being Mexican and American because my mom says that if they are going to deport her, she won’t know who to take because she’ll have to take Perla, but can leave my sister and me. And my mom says if they stop her, we might never see her again.)
Hearing Alejandra talk this way made me extremely sad. Why did a child this young have to deal with issues normally reserved for adults? When I was growing up, I didn’t realize my parents were undocumented. They had overstayed the tourist visas they used to enter the United States, but I only learned about it when I was 10 years old and my parents became U.S. citizens. Both of my parents were given amnesty under the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed by President Reagan. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to worry about my parents possibly not coming home.
My students’ narratives shed light on the complex lived experiences they navigate on a daily basis. On the one hand, they want to be in Mexico or Guatemala with their extended families; on the other hand, they know how hard their parents are working to stay here. As a child, I had many of the same contradictory feelings. My entire family, other than my parents and brother, were in Colombia. I felt like I didn’t belong here in the United States. At the end of one trip to Colombia, I cried and begged my father to leave me there to continue school. He said no, that there were more opportunities for me in the United States, but I’m not sure he realized the impact of the fact that none of my teachers or classmates acknowledged the difficulty of being in a learning environment that ignored and devalued my language and culture.
While Lucia, Juliana, and Alejandra were reading Del Norte al Sur, the other literature groups were reading La superniña del cilantro and Esperando a Papá. (So many students wanted to read La superniña del cilantro, we ended up with two groups working with that book.) Both of these books also raised issues of family separation and the border.
Students in the group reading Esperando a Papá told personal stories about family members crossing the border. One day, I explained that, according to the U.S. government, it’s against the law to cross the border without the right documents. I asked them what they thought about that—was it a fair law? Was it OK to break that law? Camila said, “Mi mamá y mi papá nomás cruzaron, porque querían a lo mejor ver lo que estaba aquí, pero si tú matas a alguien y te vas entonces eso es como no seguir la ley”. (My mom and dad only crossed because maybe they wanted to see what was over here, but if you kill someone and then you leave, then that’s not following the law.) Camila was talking back to the dominant discourse that says it is “wrong” to cross the border without papers and expressing a more complex view of the moral issues involved.
When I brought up the same question to the whole class, the children saw both positive and negative aspects to crossing the border illegally. In terms of positive aspects, they knew and retold stories about family members coming over to find a better life or get a better job. But many of them experienced the constant fear of family members being deported, and they had heard stories about hardships in crossing the border. For example, one child said her female cousin had to cut her hair like a boy for fear of being hurt as she tried to cross over. When Eduardo talked about how hard it was for his dad to climb over the fence, Carlos looked confused. I pulled out my iPad and showed the class pictures of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Together, we read stories about immigrants to the United States from other parts of the world and the difficulties they faced, including In English, of Course, by Josephine Nobisso;I Hate English!, by Ellen Levine; and No English, by Jacqueline Jules. I wanted my students to understand that they shared experiences with people from other cultures, places, and times. I wanted them to see the injustices and prejudice they faced as part of a bigger pattern of power and marginalization. I tried to help them better understand these aspects by connecting them directly to the stories they shared.
For example, one day Camila told us about a conflict she and Lucia had during recess with English-speaking students from another class. Camila and Lucia were playing on top of the play structure when two girls started pushing them and calling them names. Camila said she told them “That’s not right,” but they continued. Then, Camila told us, “Yo le dije a Lucia en español que mejor nos vayamos de ahí y nos fuimos.” (I told Lucia, in Spanish, that it would be better if we left and we did.) After we gave Lucia and Camila support, we talked about the lack of integration between the bilingual students and non-bilingual students at the school. We discussed what they could do to make friends from other classrooms.
Soon these conversations influenced my planning across content areas. I realized I had to make space for students’ stories beyond literature discussions—in writing, math, and social studies. In social studies, for example, students and their parents became experts as we studied their home countries.
My students’ stories were different from my own. Lucia’s, Juliana’s, Alejandra’s, Eduardo’s, and Camila’s stories have similarities, but also differences. I realized the importance of not grouping all Latina/o narratives into one stereotypical box. Giving my students voice and exposing them to a range of multicultural literature gave us the opportunity to dig deeper and see broader vistas.
Book title mashups are when you take two book titles, put them together and create a synopsis based on the title. We took some of our favorite Lee & Low and Tu Books titles to come up with some new and fun stories!
Etched in Ink and Ashes( Etched in Clay + Ink and Ashes): Claire Takata never knew her father. When she stumbles upon a basement full of clay pots inscribed with poems that he wrote detailing his daily life and his dedication to the abolishment of slavery worldwide, she discovers that there may be more to the Takata family than she realized.
Finding the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen (Finding the Music +The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen): Reyna and her best friend Kameeka love to go hoopin’ around their block. One day they receive a mysterious invitation to a hula-hoopin’ contest from none other than the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen. She leaves hints around the neighborhood so they can find her whereabouts.
Trail of Witches (Trail of the Dead + Hammer of Witches): Lozen flees with her family from a deadly hunter. She must pick her way across a hidden trail created by witches.
Parrots Over the Mudball (Parrots Over Puerto Rico + The Monster in the Mudball): Jin and Frankie are parrots living in the Puerto Rican rainforest. Their habitat is being destroyed by a mud ball monster and they don’t know what to do! Then the mysterious Mizz Z appears and tells them she can help, but on one condition: they have to join her team, the PRPRP, and dedicate their life to conservancy and recovery efforts of the rainforest!
Summer of Galaxy Games (Summer of the Mariposas + The Galaxy Games) : Odilia and her sisters are swimming in the Rio Grande one afternoon when they chance upon a dead body. When they examine it closer, it turns out it’s a robot from another galaxy inviting them to go on a scavenger hunt across the universe.
Call Me Cat Girl (Call Me Tree + Cat Girl’s Day Off): Natalie Ng is your typical high schooler: she plays sports, has a close-knit group of friends, and loves pizza. One day, she decides to take a yoga class, only to discover that it’s in the middle of a forest. Full of cats. Natalie is weirded out and vows to never return, but she soon discovers that she’s drawn to the class, as well as the cute yoga instructor who seems to have an uncanny ability to communicate with the cats…
Monster in the Ashes ( The Monster in the Mudball + Ink and Ashes): On the anniversary of her father’s death Claire Takata discovers an urn with his ashes. A monster summoned by her father’s enemies, the Japanese mafia known as the yakuza, starts hunting her and her family. Claire has to figure out how to stop it before it’s too late. . .
How would you mash up your favorite book titles? Let us know in the comments!
Released this month, Amazing Places is a collection of original poems hand-picked by acclaimed anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins that celebrates some of the amazingly diverse places in our nation. It has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly, which calls it “a broadly appealing testament to the American landscape and people.”
The gorgeous illustrations in Amazing Places are a uniquecollaboration between artist Chris Soentpiet, who created the rough sketches, and Christy Hale, who brought those sketches to life by adding color and detail. We asked Christy to take us behind the scenes and show us her process for working with Chris Soentpiet’s illustrations to make Amazing Places come to life:
Christy: I have selected the longhouse piece to show the art process used for creating the art for Amazing Places:
1. Chris Soentpiet’s rough sketch
2. The editor and art director requested modifications. Below is Chris’s tight sketch reflecting those changes.
3. The printer scanned Chris’s sketches and then I received the digital files and my work on the art began. I made some additional changes to the original sketch based on editorial suggestions.
4. I changed the pencil line to sepia to give it some richness.
5. To add color to the art I needed some reference for longhouses. I did some image research. Here are two of many pictures I found.
6. I added colors in transparent layers in Photoshop. I wanted to simulate the beautiful watercolor effects Chris is known for. Each layer was a different color. Sometimes there were multiple layers of the same color in varying transparencies for more subtle effects.
Below you see the sepia line with one color added.
7. Here is the sepia line with seven colors added.
8. Here is a screen shot showing the many layers in the Photoshop file.
9. Here is the final image with all the colors. For each piece in the book I worked with a limited palette. In the long house piece there are many, many different neutral colors in varying values. I used color value, intensity, and hue to help direct the eye in each composition.
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):
Half World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa – Allie Sekemoto survives by scavenging for food by day. She hates the vampires who keep humans like cattle for their food. Until the day she dies and wakes up as a vampire.
Liar by Justine Larbalestier – Micah is a liar; it’s the only thing she’ll tell you the truth about. But when her boyfriend Zach is murdered, the whole truth has to come out.
Battle Royale by Koushan Takami – A group of junior high school students are sent to an island and forced to fight to the death until only one of them survives.
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad – Three teenagers win the vacation of a lifetime: a week-long trip to the moon. But something sinister is waiting for them in the black vacuum of space.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter, called to Thunder Bay, Ontario to get rid of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, who has killed every person who has stepped foot in the house she haunts.
This past weekend, we noticed an unusual number of superheroes, cosplayers, and characters from our favorite TV shows flooding thesubways, buses, and streets of New York City. Did we unknowingly fall into an alternate universe?
Turns out that it was just New York Comic Con, the annual pop culture phenomenon dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, video games, movies, and television. The first convention was held in 2006 and it has continued to grow steadily over the past several years, bringing an ever-growing number of comics and pop-culture fans to New York City. And not only has Comic Con continued to grow, but so has programming dedicated to issues of diversity and diverse creators. We were lucky enough to get a pass for LEE & LOW staff. Below, three staff members share their highlights from the show:
Keilin, Marketing and Publicity Associate
Oh Comic Con. What a crazy event to go to, but definitely worth every minute!
I went to a Geeks of Color Meetup, hosted by Diana Pho (editor, Tor Books), and featuring Shelley Diaz (editor, School Library Journal), and author Melissa Grey (The Girl At Midnight). It was great to mingle with other “geeks” and to get to know Diana and Shelley.
The greatest thing about the Meetup was seeing the diversity in the room. There was one group of people that I joined that was talking about the new Star Wars movie coming out, and it didn’t matter that we were all from different backgrounds because we all could geek out about something we were all collectively excited for. Diana often hosts these types of meetups for people of color, and if anyone is interested, you can contact her on her website, Beyond Victoriana.
After the Geeks of Color Meetup, I booked it over to the Asian American Comics and Creators panel, which unfortunately was full. On the positive side, that just meant that there was a full house to participate in a discussion on Asian Americans in the comic book industry. While the depictions of Asian Americans in comic books has improved, there is more that can still be done.
The thing I like most about conventions like these is that it shows you the wide spectrum of people within fandoms, whether it’s seeing a black Wonder Woman or an Asian Peggy Carter. Nerding out is for everyone!
Rebecca, Marketing and Publicity Assistant
Thanks to things like the We Need Diverse Books campaign, diversity has been on people’s minds more than ever before. Last year, we saw one of the most diverse television seasons we’ve gotten in a while. It’s no surprise that diversity in comics and geek culture was on a lot of people’s minds at New York Comic Con! I attended 4 panels focused on various aspects of diversity at the show this year.
At the Pushing Boundaries panel, there was a discussion about representation. Author Marjorie Liu spoke about the burden that authors of color often face when they are the only ones representing entire cultures. They have to make sure that their characters are “perfect” and not stereotypical; however, trying to tell a “perfect” story gets in the way of an authentic narrative. This is the danger of a single story: one person from a marginalized or underrepresented group can’t represent everyone from that group.
Some of the other panelists, like Jeremy Whitley, the creator of Princeless, spoke about using their work to fill a need. Jeremy Whitley’s daughter is a person of color, so he wanted to write a comic where a young black girl would see herself as a princess that went on adventures. Geek Out was started as a space for LGBT+ fans of comics. At one point in the discussion, the panelists spoke about bad representation. Is bad representation better than no representation? There was no clear answer, as one panelist said he preferred bad representation to none at all. But author Marjorie Liu said, “As a woman of color, I’m allergic to bad representation.”
The pervading feeling at the “Geeks of Color: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” panel was that while people are paying more attention to diversity and things with diverse content, we still have a long way to go. Industries need to diversify from within as well as to seek out diverse creators. Diversity naturally happens when there are a variety of people creating things.
Authors Melissa Gray, Daniel Jose Older, Sara Raasch, and Kim Harrison discussed what made the protagonists of their novels “kick ass.” Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight) discussed how female characters are never allowed to be unlikable, like male characters often are. They’re usually expected to be “nice.” Daniel José Older wants his books to show the diversity in Brooklyn, because a book should be like a friend and tell you the truth.
At the Women in Geek Media panel, the panelists encouraged the room full of people to create their own works. Everyone, they told us, has a unique story to tell. Many of the women talked about having to create their own spaces and writing with a unique voice, which is what made them stand out. They also encouraged everyone there who was fed up with the lack of representation of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in media to channel their anger thoughtfully and to hold content creators accountable.
All the panels I attended were full almost to capacity. It was great to see how much people are clamoring for more diverse representation. But the real highlight of Comic Con was meeting Amandla Stenberg!
Stacy, Publisher of TU BOOKS
On Thursday night of Comic Con, I went to the #BlackComicsMonth panel moderated by Dean MizCaramelVixen. It was an all-star lineup, including Chad L. Coleman (who played Tyreese on The Walking Dead), who is producing a new comic that stars his likeness, and comics artists and writers Scott Snyder, David Walker, Mikki Kendall, Shawn Pryor, Steve Orlando, Christine Dinh, Mildred Louis, Jeremy Whitley, and Afua Richardson. If you want to see the whole panel, you can view it on YouTube.
The panel started out by talking to a standing-room-only crowd of at least 300 people about what “diversity” meant to them. Christine Dinh spoke about how there are more young women reading comics—that kids are more diverse than ever. Another panelist talked about how what it means to be black could mean so many different things, and that all those representations were important—that there is no one way to be black.
Everyone on the panel emphasized how important the voices of people of color are in comic books. Kendall said, “If you don’t see yourself out there, put your stuff out there.”
Later that night was a fangirl panel (“She Made Me Do It: FanGirls Lead the Way”) discussing how important women are not only in the creation of art but also in the appreciation of it. On the panel were Jamie Broadnax, who created Black Girl Nerds; Rose Del Vecchio and Jenny Cheng from myfanmail.com, a site that sends fandom products to subscribers; and Sam Maggs, author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and writer for The Mary Sue.
One of the main topics of the panel was discussing how women and girls get challenged to show their “credentials” as geeks. “I’m so over the cred thing. You don’t have to prove anything to show your passion for fandom,” Broadnax said. Maggs agreed and went on to discuss how those fans should also be reflected in the stories they consume, saying, “A range, diversity of stories can only mean better content for everyone. Why can’t white dudes look up to a black girl protagonist and have her be their role model?”
On Sunday, the We Need Diverse Books panel focused on the hashtag #IAmNotYourSidekick, discussing the importance of narratives that center the experiences of characters of color. On a personal note, the panelists discussed the first time they’d ever seen a “mirror” of themselves in a book. Some never did, at least until adulthood. Dhonielle Clayton, a Harlem Academy librarian and WNDB VP of librarian services, mentioned that she had mirrors, but only about slavery and civil rights, not fun books. Variety in representations of marginalized people is so important, she said.
The panel also discussed the importance of opening doors for writers of color, talking about the quotas of some houses (“we already have our ‘black book,’” even if the topics are completely different), and how writing cross-culturally is possible to do well, but how it must be done responsibly. Daniel José Older pointed out that too often white writers want to jump on the bandwagon of “diversity” as if it were a trend, but, he asked, “We talk about writing the other, but can you write about yourself? Can we write about whiteness?” (Older wrote an excellent article on this topic last year at BuzzFeed.)
Everyone on the panel agreed that the way to fix the problem was to talk up diverse books. “Buy diverse books!” YA author Robin Talley said. “The more you do, the more there will be.” Older also noted not to assume that a traditionally published book that stars a diverse character will have a million-dollar marketing campaign. “It likely won’t!” he said. Panelists agreed that word of mouth is one of the most important marketing tools for diverse books—sharing them with friends, talking about them on social media, and requesting them from libraries and bookstores were all mentioned as important methods of helping diverse books grow in the market.
Discussion about diversity in books, at least around here, is often focused on the US market, but the challenges we face regarding diversity here in the United States don’t start and end within our borders. Many countries around the world find themselves struggling with the same growing gap between who is represented in their literature and who their citizens actually are.
The international scope of these problems presents us with a unique opportunity to learn from each other and to share knowledge. What works? What doesn’t? What else can we try?
In April 2015, a writer development agency in London called Spread The Word released a comprehensive 44-page study about Black and Asian writers and publishers in the UK marketplace. Supported by the Arts Council of England, the study delved deep into the experiences of minorities in all aspects of publishing, from acquisitions to literary festivals to creative writing degrees. Here are six important points from that study that I think we can learn from:
New entry-level programs to increase diversity are not enough. For publishers that are serious about increasing diversity in their workforce, entry-level diversity programs must be established in combination with a deeper look at company culture at all levels. Companies should compare pay, retention, and promotion rates of white and non-white staff, suggests Rare Recruitment’s Raphael Mokades: “If you do that rigorous analysis and…you find that BAME [Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic] people are leaving more quickly or taking longer to get promoted, then you have one of two issues: either all the BAME people you recruit are crap, in which case your recruitment is broken and you need to fix it, or–and this is more likely–there is institutional bias going on and you need to work out what it is and you need to stamp it out.“
Writers of color are often pushed into the “literary” category, effectively distancing them from the mainstream and more lucrative genres. A survey of UK authors found that 42% of authors of color wrote literary fiction, by far the biggest genre for authors of color in the poll. By contrast, only 4% published in the crime and women’s commercial fiction genres, two genres that sell in far larger quantities than literary work. Diverse authors often felt that they were encouraged–or pushed–into the literary fiction genre. This means that authors of color are often at a commercial disadvantage, especially if they want to be full-time novelists.
Authors of color in the UK feel pidgeonholed, too. One African Caribbean writer is quoted as saying, “There is a sense that if you are a Black writer, you should be writing about that–being Black. I have heard publishers say, ‘She’s Black, what is she doing writing about Australia?’” This is especially interesting because in the US, this phenomenon is often tied to the power of major ethnic-focused literary awards like the Coretta Scott King Award. But in the UK, without those awards, pidgeonholing of authors of color still happens.
A primary problem for diverse graduates seeking careers in publishing is access to personal publishing contacts as well as paid internships. The biggest entries into publishing include having a contact in the industry and serving unpaid internships. As the study says, “It should be a matter of concern to the industry that a primary route into the business poses a significant barrier to those outside the affluent professional classes.“
There are few people of color working in HR. People of color in UK publishing are most often employed in the editorial department (35%), finance department (35%), and in social media/online (35%). Only 4% of survey respondents said they had a person of color in their HR departments, which affects not only recruitment and retention but also general company culture.
Diversity initiatives start up and then die again. Over the last decade, several programs have emerged to help recruit more diverse candidates for publishing jobs. However, many have petered out over lack of funding or leaders. What is required in order for these initiatives to be successful, the study suggests, is “management buy-in,” that is, a commitment from people at the senior level of publishers to sustaining these programs and committing the resources to do so.
You can read the full report here. While it is clear that the UK, like the US, has serious diversity problems, it’s nice to see such a comprehensive study on the state of their industry. What would it take to create something similar within the US? What groups would we want to see involved in an effort like this?
It’s also incumbent on all of us to ask ourselves: what does the UK now know that we still don’t know…and how can we find out?
This post was originally posted October 8, 2012. We offer some thoughts on reframing the Columbus Day holiday:
Have you ever stopped to think about the implications of celebrating Columbus Day?
While most of us probably grew up associating the holiday with classroom rhymes and mnemonic devices (“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” etc.), days off from school, or sales at the mall, it’s important to remember what really happened in October of 1492. Columbus Day occupies a dubious spot in our nation’s calendar, ostensibly commemorating both the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent destruction and enslavement of countless indigenous people.
Check out this video created by Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan in 2009. In order to garner support for a movement to “reconsider Columbus Day,” Germosen and Whelan collaborated with indigenous organizations and community activists, giving voice to the horrific and painful stories behind the mythology of the holiday.
In fact, there’s been a push to eliminate Columbus Day altogether and replace it with a federal holiday in honor of Native Americans. Several states, such as Alaska, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or have replaced it with a day honoring indigenous people.
For example, since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated the second Monday of every October as Native American Day. In California, Berkeley replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, and in 1998, legislation calling for Native American Day to be celebrated as an official California state holiday on the fourth Friday of every September was also passed. Hawaii also celebrates Discoverers’ Day instead of Columbus Day in order to recognize the Polynesian discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Many tribal governments have also reclaimed the day as Native American Day, or, like the Navajo Nation, have replaced it with a holiday honoring their own tribe.
Here are two books we found that, like the alternatives listed above, aim to dispel the myths around Columbus Day:
A Coyote Columbus Story, written by Thomas King, a Canadian novelist and broadcaster of Cherokee and Greek descent, and illustrated by Kent Monkman, a Canadian multimedia artist of Cree ancestry. It tells the story using the figure of Coyote, a traditional trickster character who, in King’s retelling, is a girl who loves to play ball!
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow & Bob Peterson. This collection of essays, articles, poems, teaching ideas, and primary source materials helps educators teach students how to think critically and creatively about the consequences of the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent.
What are some other ways you can think of to observe Columbus Day? Do you have any favorite books or resources that tell the story of Columbus from a Native American perspective? Let us know in the comments below!
Released this past May, Sunday Shoppingtells a whimsical story of a girl and her grandma who go “shopping” through the newspaper ads every Sunday. We interviewed author Sally Derby and illustrator Shadra Strickland about their creative processes, the children’s book publishing industry, and encouraging children to write more.
Sally Derby, author
1. Sunday Shopping is not exactly a story about economic need, but the book subtly suggests that the family doesn’t have a lot of disposable income. Why did you decide to address this subject in this particular way? Are there any picture books that address poverty in a way you really love or admire?
As long as your basic needs for food and shelter are met, then poverty is a point of view and no matter what anyone else thinks, if you are happy with what you have, you are rich. In this country, so many of us have so much. I wanted to show a child who is happy without all the possessions many other families take for granted. In this regard, I have always loved Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Nikki-Rosa” about growing up in Woodlawn, a suburb of Cincinnati near where I lived. Just listen to the last lines of that lovely poem:
because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
probably talk about my hard childhood
and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy
I wasn’t Black, but I was a child of the depression, and I spent some of the happiest days of my childhood in my great-grandparents’ house in Elkhart, Indiana, outdoor plumbing and all. If that house had been set down next door to Nikki Rosa’s it probably would have fit right in.
2. Although you are white, many of your books (including Sunday Shopping) are told from the perspective of black characters. Why do you decide to write cross-culturally, and what kind of research do you do to make sure you get it right?
I know my answer will sound unbelievable to many, but I don’t “decide” to write cross-culturally or any other way. When I start to write a story I usually have only a fragment of something in my mind—a scene, a character, a scrap of conversation. But as soon as my fingers touch the keyboard I’ll hear a voice saying the words I type, and that voice determines everything that follows. As I listen, the story becomes clearer to me and as long as I don’t start sticking in my own words I have to trust that the story is going where it’s meant to go.
I feel very lucky that many of the voices happen to have come from Black characters. I always love listening to and learning from vernacular speech—Yiddish, Pennsylvania-Dutch, Appalachian, Urban Black. Before the Dictionary of American English went on line, I saved and scrimped to buy all six volumes for my own bookshelves. I could spend hours every day browsing in DARE and thoroughly enjoying myself.
I know many people think no one should write outside their own culture. But I think I have the right to write any way I want about anything I want. After I’ve written it, if I didn’t get the voice “right” people are free to say so and explain what is lacking or wrong.
I have had to do very little research for the three “cross-cultural” picture books I’ve written for Lee & Low, because the books’ narrators are talking about their experiences as little girls who just happen to be African American, experiences they might just as easily have had if they were Asian or Caucasian or . Of course, they will have had experiences peculiar to children of their race, but they are not speaking of those. If they had been, I would have had much more research to do.
3. What advice do you have for other authors who are writing stories cross-culturally?
I have no advice about writing cross-culturally that differs from what I’d advise about any sort of writing. No matter the subject, approach your writing honestly and humbly. Treat your characters with respect. When adverse criticism comes (as it will, no matter who you are or how well you write) try to evaluate it honestly. If it’s worthwhile, learn from it, and if it isn’t, disregard it.
We are limited by our experiences and we tend to judge everything from our own point of view. We learn by allowing ourselves, and being allowed, to see through the eyes of people unlike us. Reading can expand our worldview by introducing us to those we are unlikely to meet, even sometimes to those we wouldn’t want to meet.
4. Many people feel that libraries are becoming obsolete, given the Internet and the wealth of information that exists now. As someone who has seen publishing evolve over the years, what is your opinion on the relevance of libraries in the “age of information”?
I’m an optimist. Movies didn’t replace books, and television hasn’t replaced books, and I don’t think the Internet will replace books either. Kindles have their place, but it’s still more satisfying to close the cover of a book than to push a button that returns you to a black screen. And besides the enjoyment of books, especially picture books, that you can touch and hold, I don’t think we can overestimate the value of being able to wander through a library when you are researching a subject. If you confine yourself to a Google search, you may be offered a plenitude of sources, but the order in which they are presented will necessarily influence your choice of what to read. What you write then may be solid and factual, but it won’t be nearly as interesting or original as it would have been if your eye had been caught by that odd little volume with the faded purple color on the bottom shelf of the 590’s.
Sally Derby is the author of books for children including the popular NO MUSH TODAY and MY STEPS, published by Lee & Low. Her books are notable for their heartfelt family stories told from a spot-on childlike point of view. The mother of six grown children, she lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband.
Shadra Strickland, illustrator
1. What was your process for creating the unique and playful art in Sunday Shopping?
The art was made in many stages. The vignettes of Evie and Grandma in the bedroom were done in watercolor and gouache. I made line drawings of the imaginary scenes and scanned those in along with separate acrylic paintings of Evie and Grandma along with hand painted textures.
Do you have a similar childhood experience to Evie, who pretends to go shopping with her grandma every Sunday?
I do! When I was little, I would ride the bus to my grandmother’s house after school while my mom was still teaching during the day. After my grandmother would finish her “stories” on television, most days I’d watch cartoons, but sometimes the JCPenny or Macy’s Wish Book would come in and we would spend hours looking through to pick out the things we wanted to buy. Often times, I would cut out the items I wanted to do my own shopping just like Evie. My grandmother is well into her 80s now and collects all of my books. When I shared Sunday Shopping with her, she gave a big laugh out loud and said, “This is you and me, aint it?”. It was the best validation I could ever get.
You use a wide variety of media in your illustrations that vary from book to book. Do you have a favorite medium to work with? How did you decide which media to use for Sunday Shopping?
I love working in watercolor and gouache mostly, but when I read a manuscript, I usually have very strong visions of what it should look and feel like. Most stories have a strong visual element that is carried throughout. For Bird, it was his line drawings and MArcus’s hat. I knew from the start that Sunday Shopping would be driven by collage, but when I sat down to try and make collages, I failed miserably. It wasn’t until I found a youtube video of Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack singing “Free to be You and Me” that the idea of cut outs and digital collage came to the surface.
Children are often encouraged to seek fields to go into other than art and other creative fields. How would you encourage a child who wants to become an artist or a writer?
I would give them opportunities to create. My mom made sure I always had lots of paper and pencils around and she would pose for me when I asked to draw her. Once she noticed how captivated I was with drawing, she gave me full reign to do so. She introduced me to the art teacher at the high school where she worked, bought me lots of how-to books on how to draw, and enrolled me in art classes at one of our local community art centers. I never will forget taking a portraiture class at Callenwolde Art Center when I was around 11. I was the youngest artist there in a room full of grown ups. It completely changed my life. It was my first time having a real professional teach me how to draw.
What were your favorite picture books as a child, and what are a few of your favorite picture books as an adult?
I read a lot of instructional books as a kid. Things like, “Where Does Rain Come From?”, and he like. I remember being completely enchanted by “The Snowy Day”. A little later on when Reading Rainbow was popular, I fell in love with “Just Us Women” by Pat Cummings. Now, as an avid pupil of picturebooks, it is hard to say which ones are my favorites. I do still love “Bird”. Everything about that book came together so perfectly. I also, love looking through all of Mirislov Sasek’s “This is…” books. What an amazing life! To be able to travel and draw and share that work with readers for years to come…amazing.
Lee & Low Books has the New Voices Award to create opportunities for new writers of color. What would be a good way to create more opportunities for illustrators of color and illustrators from other underrepresented groups?
That’s a tough question. Though competitions are wonderful ways for I also think that inspiring and encouraging kids to tell their own stories is a great way to get them started on a long road to storytelling. As artists and writers of color, I believe that we must be examples for future writers and artists. School visits is still a great vehicle for this.
Being active in our communities is also important ways to motivate, and teach through example. Recently I volunteered to bring the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition to Baltimore City this fall. My hope is that it will help connect multiple community organizations committed to literacy and the arts and inspire young writers and artists to take their work seriously at a young age so that they will continue to develop and pursue their talents as they get older. The winners will receive cash prizes and have their work displayed across city libraries in the summer.
I think that exposing people to what we do as artists and authors is the best way to help keep them inspired. I also believe that now with technology becoming more and more accessible to everyone, it has become much easier for artists and authors to get their stories out into the world.
Shadra Strickland is the illustrator of several children’s books including Lee & Low’s BIRD, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration. Along with illustrating and writing stories, Strickland loves to make drawings during her travels around the country and the world. She lives in Baltimore, where she also teaches illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her website isjumpin.shadrastrickland.com.
“My advice on writing?” asked Joseph Bruchac, author of KILLER OF ENEMIES and sequel TRAIL OF THE DEAD, recently to a group of high school students gathered in our Lee & Low office.
“Read. Read a lot and read widely. Don’t just read on the Internet; read books. If you have a favorite writer, take a look at what she does and how she does it across her books. Also, write. Write a lot and write every day. My third piece of advice is revise—make writing worth reading.”
For our virtual author event, Joseph Bruchac called in to join the students from Grace Church School who were visiting our Lee & Low office in Manhattan. The students had read both books in Bruchac’s KILLER OF ENEMIES series and were interested in learning more about the main character Lozen, the world she lives in, and the inspiration behind the books.
During our conference call with Joseph Bruchac, students came prepared with their own questions, which included:
What was society and the world like before the coming of the Cloud? What was your vision of the world?
Luther’s chapters have a very different narration from Lozen’s chapters. What was the thinking behind this choice?
Whose side is the Dreamer on?
Did the Cloud make every One insane or are there some Ones who are still good?
Coyote has a particular place in much Native American folklore but TRAIL OF THE DEAD has a lot of sci fi/fantasy monsters and mythical creatures. Where does Coyote fit in?
Is Lozen’s journey similar to your own?
How long did it take you to write the book? What advice do you have about writing?
Looking to lead your own book discussion with teens?
Check out our Discussion Questions for KILLER OF ENEMIES series with a focus on the latest release, TRAIL OF THE DEAD:
Before the Silver Cloud, humans with computer-generated enhancements, called the Ones, controlled the world. Do you think author Joseph Bruchac’s vision of the future is convincing? Why or why not? What similarities do you see between the pre-Cloud world that the Dreamer described and our own world today?
What role does community play in TRAIL OF THE DEAD? How is Lozen’s community critical to her healing?
The Dreamer decides which books to save. Which book would you save?
Do you have theories on who Hally is? What do you think motivates Hally and what do you think Hally wants?
Author Joseph Bruchac alternates between first-person narration of Lozen to third person omniscient narration with Luther—why would the author do this? How does this build suspense? With whom does Joseph Bruchac want us to empathize? Does this affect our perception of Lozen as a trustworthy narrator?
Joseph Bruchac, as an adult, created Lozen (her background, voice, and perspective) and chose to write her as a teenager. She can be very opinionated, sardonic, and mocking. Do you think Lozen is a representative teenager? Why or why not?
Main character, Lozen, uses humor and sarcasm throughout the series. Why do you think author Joseph Bruchac uses humor in the telling of a post-apocalyptic tale? How is this story unique from other texts set in extreme and violent environments? How does humor and sarcasm help Lozen and the other characters cope or heal with their environment and experiences? In what circumstances in our world today do we see people using humor in difficult and stressful situations?
The ending of TRAIL OF THE DEAD is left open for a follow-up (or perhaps a conclusion). What do you hope to see as Lozen’s (and the other characters’) story continues?
Resources and activities for engaging students on the KILLER OF ENEMIES book series:
1. Author Joseph Bruchac reads from TRAIL OF THE DEAD, the sequel to his post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk, KILLER OF ENEMIES.
5. Have students blog about and map through Google Maps the journey and world of Lozen in KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD. This project was designed by Dr. Lisa Hager, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.
6. Have students write their own book reviews to submit to the school newspaper or present to the class. Students can read the reviews of KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD at the bottom of the book pages for ideas.
Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman broadened the discussion with looking at the challenges in children’s publishing today. As a group, we analyzed The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books infographic.
What is the context of this infographic? What are student and general U.S. population demographics today?
What might some causes be for the lack of diversity in children’s books?
What might the impact of a lack of diversity among authors and characters be on students reading books that were either assigned or self-selected? What might it mean for a young child growing up and reading? What will she see? What will she not see?
How to bring a LEE & LOW author or illustrator into your classroom live or virtually:
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA as a Teach for America corps member where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
This past weekend, LEE & LOW staff attended an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.”
Throughout this weekend we learned about the definition of institutional racism and its historical context. We talked about the impact of racism on everyone, especially communities of color.
Two LEE & LOW staff reflect on their experience below.
Rebecca Garcia, Marketing & Publicity Assistant: When I learned that I was going to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Can racism really be “undone” in a weekend? If that were the case, then I had to be doing something wrong because I haven’t “undone” racism yet.
Surprisingly, we did not start out by talking about racism or defining it. Instead, we began to talk about the different systems that affect poor people and poor families. Different factors that are supposed to help poor people can also serve to oppress them. At this point, it still wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.
At one point, the facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.
Later on, we spoke about the definition of racism. Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power. By understanding what racism is and its historical origins, we then understood that racism and the systems it created and enforces are things that can become undone, even if there is no quick fix. In order to start undoing, or dismantling racism, we have to start having honest conversations about race, even if they will make us uncomfortable.
Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate: This past weekend, several members of the LEE & LOW team went to a workshop called Undoing Racism. To be honest, I already had preconceived notions of what the workshop would be like. I assumed we would get together in a group and talk about our own experiences with racism: what we had encountered growing up, the racism and stereotypes that we saw within our own circle of friends and family; the workshop was going to be something like an AA meeting, but for racism.
After Saturday, however, I realized how wrong I was about the workshop. Yes, there was talk about people’s own experiences with racism. There were some tears, some anger, but there was so much more to the workshop than talking about personal experiences.
We delved into how our society has built up the institution of racism and how the system is skewed to give advantage to those in power. We broke down what power means. We talked about the history of racism and really dove into what race itself even means. We talked about the idea of being a “gatekeeper,” and that really resonated with me. I work in the Marketing & Publicity department at LEE & LOW, and I never thought of that as “gatekeeping.” In my mind, the gatekeepers were the editors, people who worked directly on creating and editing a story that would then reach the public. But part of being in marketing and publicity is working with different social media platforms. For example, the LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300 likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300 people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.
Towards the end of the weekend-long session, there was a discussion on culture (what we liked about our own culture and the idea of a “white” culture), and racial oppression that occurs because of racism (the term invisibilized and the gentrification of certain neighborhoods). In the end, we talked about how to organize and process all the information from the weekend, no small task!
One thing that was really emphasized throughout the workshop was the fact that we need to be active participants in undoing racism. For example, we broke out into four different groups to discuss different sectors of society and how these sectors oppress, exploit, and/or reinforce racism. I was in the Social Services sector and, unfortunately, felt like I wasn’t qualified to talk much about racism in this area; however, when I mentioned this after we had all reconvened, one of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching hundreds (if not thousands!) of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.
In our new How We Did It series, we shine a spotlight on the people and
organizations doing important work to support diversity in publishing and beyond. Their stories and ideas are a dose of inspiration for all of us as we move forward in our work.
Today we are thrilled to have Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO, and Co-founder of First Book, with us. Here’s how Kyle describes her organization: “First Book supports educational equality by providing high quality, new and relevant books and educational resources to teachers and caregivers serving the millions of children growing up in low-income families.” Welome, Kyle!
How did First Book begin? Has the organization’s mission evolved since it was founded?
I co-founded First Book with two friends in 1992. I had been volunteering at a D.C. soup kitchen when I learned that not only were there no books available but the children didn’t have books at home either.
I started talking to other programs and schools and became aware of this enormous problem – with clearly disastrous implications – for individual children and our broader society. In a resource-rich country like ours, how can millions of children grow up without books, at home, at school and in their communities?
I became a student of the publishing sector and learned that the design of the industry makes it almost impossible to serve lower-income segments of the market. The publishing industry is based on a consignment model – meaning that inventory that doesn’t sell at retail is returned to publishers. So, of course, retail book prices are set high, in part, to cover the cost of unsold inventory. Today in the U.S., the average cost of a premium children’s picture book is $18 – far beyond the reach of low-income families.
Our solution was to aggregate the voice and buying power of educators and programs serving children in need, and in the process, create a viable market that publishers can serve. The First Book Network has become the largest and fastest growing network of classrooms and programs serving children from low-income families. This enables us to purchase books and content that our Network needs in bulk and we can negotiate significant discounts as a result.
While our fundamental mission has not changed, our understanding of the issues of poverty and education has evolved. As a result, we’re expanding our offerings and our definition of what it means to enable educational equity. We are listening to the First Book Network and responding to their needs. Now we’re offering school supplies, refurbished laptops, nonperishable food items, and even winter coats and underwear – in addition to culturally relevant books and educational resources. If our educators request something, we’re going to go out and find the partners who can help provide it – with the best quality either for free or as close to free as we can get.
First Book has done amazing work to promote diverse books by essentially creating a new market for diverse titles. Can you talk a bit about how and why First Book decided to do this?
We developed the Stories for All project to address the needs expressed by the First Book Network. They are on the front lines and have seen that books focused on all-white characters and experiences just don’t connect with – and don’t represent – the children they serve. In a First Book survey, 90% of respondents indicated that children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflected their lives.
We heard this need loud and clear – so we began to build strategies that would elevate access to these resources. In an industry already facing fierce competitive pressures, it’s no surprise that publishers have chosen to stick with the content they know will sell. There is a high risk factor and high costs involved in developing new content and marketing to new audiences.
That’s why we launched the Stories for All project. And we decided to roll out the initiative in a big way: promising to purchase, on a non-returnable basis, half a million dollars’ worth of inventory from the publisher offering the best, highest quality diverse titles at the best possible prices.
Because of the quality of submissions, we doubled our investment, purchasing a total of $1 million in inventory from Lee & Low Books and HarperCollins Publishers. It was a big investment and from an unconventional source – a nonprofit social enterprise — but we knew the demand was there. And, while First Book has long benefitted from terrific partnerships with publishers, by putting $1 million on the table, we were able to really get the attention of publishers and underscore that this market exists.
It is important to note – and those of you at Lee & Low have been saying this for decades — that it’s not just kids from low-income families who need diverse books. We are all living in a more diverse world and books can help develop empathy and expand understanding. By working with publishers to develop the market for more inclusive content for our educators, First Book is also reducing the costs for publishers to make that same content available at retail. For example, First Book served as a catalyst for the development of bilingual versions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Goodnight Moon – and now both are also available at retail.
This spring First Book worked with Target, a longtime corporate partner, to offer three of our new Stories for All project titles for sale at retail. It is actions like those by corporations that are needed to demonstrate the broader market – and that these are, indeed, Stories for All.
We have continued to roll out strategies expanding our purchasing power to drive development of the content requested by educators serving kids in need, reduce publishers’ risk and demonstrate that there is a viable market that publishers can count on. Stay tuned!
On the publishing side, we’ve definitely seen awareness increase over the last year regarding the need for more diversity in books. Have you seen the demand increase in terms of what educators are looking for as well? How in touch (or out of touch) do you think publishing is with the current needs of educators, especially educators in low-income communities?
Yes, we’ve definitely seen an increase in the demand for diverse books from educators. In fact, this spring alone we brought 60,000 new books to our Stories for All project, and those books have been among our top 10 best-selling books every month since we launched the project!
As a society we are becoming increasingly more diverse, and our classrooms and community programs reflect that. But I also think that the demand has increased because educators know that First Book is listening – and responding – to what they need. Stories for All is bringing much-needed content that celebrates different ethnicities, cultures and languages. But it is also a catalyst for books with characters and stories that celebrate different family structures, sexual identities, individual abilities, and experiences. We are working hand-in-hand with educators and publishers to provide a full range of content, in as many forms as possible, so that children can see themselves in books and can learn about others as well.
Publishers are definitely in touch with the fact that educators working with kids from low-income families have unique needs that have not been served. They are eager to provide the content that is needed – and to a person, want to hear the input provided by First Book’s network. Publishers are an extraordinary and talented group of people. We are inspired by their commitment to our cause.
The Stories for All project, which purchases large quantities of diverse books directly from publishers, is only one of several First Book initiatives addressing the issue of diversity in books. Could you share some of the others?
The Stories for All project is, in many ways, emblematic of First Book’s work and mission as a whole. Our goal is to ensure that kids who are growing up in low-income families benefit from the same high quality books, resources and educational opportunities as their more affluent peers.
We’re undertaking a range of initiatives to support diverse books – and to make sure those books reach kids who need them. With funding from Disney, for example, First Book undertook a concerted Latino community outreach effort. This effort included providing best-in-class books and resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in Latino communities. As part of this effort, First Book:
introduced more than 35,000 new Latino-serving groups to the First Book network.
distributed more than 270,000 culturally relevant books (retail value: $2.16 million) to schools and programs serving Latino children in need.
expanded partnerships with 50 organizations serving Latino children across the U.S.
First Book has curated collections of books on topics ranging from the experience of being an immigrant, to children with special needs and abilities, books on Muslim Americans and populations with other religions, books on Native American interests, books on LGBTQ and books on experiencing homeless and violence.
Did you receive any pushback from board members, donors, or anyone else when First Book announced any of these initiatives? If so, how did you address it?
There has been no pushback; in fact, just the opposite! We’ve had enormous support for Stories for All and our broader efforts to increase the diversity in children’s books – once people hear about it. Our biggest challenge is getting the word out. I can imagine that all of you at Lee & Low sometimes feel the same way. You’ve been pioneers in publishing diverse books and supporting diverse authors and illustrators, on the forefront of promoting stories that need to be heard.
Now that more people recognize the need for more diverse books, there seems to be a lot of hand-wringing over the issue. But hand-wringing only gets you sore hands. The only solution that will work is a market based one: people need to buy diverse books.
Looking forward, what is your vision for the role nonprofits can play in the movement for more diversity in books? Anything on the horizon that you’re excited about?
Nonprofits have a critical role in supporting diversity in books. One example: We’ve all benefitted from the work of We Need Diverse Books to raise awareness of the need for diverse books and to provide another voice for the amazing authors and illustrators who are behind those stories.
As nonprofits, we need to put our money where our mission is – buying and featuring diverse books. First Book works with any and all nonprofits, programs serving 70% or more kids in need as well as Title I classrooms. By joining the First Book Network, nonprofits can have a real voice in developing the pipeline of resources they need.
I’m excited about several major areas of development for First Book. I am thrilled by the partnerships that we are developing. Working side-by-side with other nonprofits, like Feeding America and Share Our Strength on initiatives that combine meal support with books – during the school year and especially during the summer. Also, we’re partnering with the nonprofit Jack and Jill of America, Inc. on a virtual book drive to bring books to the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools in honor of Marian Wright Edelman, one of my personal heroes. For our outreach effort around our Latino Culture and Heritage book collection, we’ve worked with a wide range of nonprofits – from the Cesar Chavez Foundation to the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas Hunger Initiative and Too Small to Fail.
I’m a strong believer that we will all achieve more impact for kids when we work collaboratively: across sectors, with dedicated nonprofits and with committed corporate partners. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what we can do – and literally, the ideas and potential for collaborating keep me and my team continually inspired!
Kyle Zimmer is President, CEO and Co-founder of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that has provided more than 130 million free and low-cost books and educational resources to schools and programs serving children in need across the U.S. and Canada. Kyle is a passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, and the importance of literacy to further economic competitiveness and global understanding. Her awards include the National Book Foundation’s 2014 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.
One of the questions I get most often from authors—both new and experienced—is, “Which social media platforms do I have to be on?” There are a lot of ways to answer this question but I want to start by addressing the question itself, which is often phrased in exactly this way. The answer is: you don’t have to be on any social media platforms that you don’t want to be on. Social media can help you connect with new readers, raise your discoverability, and sell books, but it can also be a drain on your time, attention, and ideas. Social media is not for everybody, and not every platform is for every writer. So the first thing to do is let go of the guilt and pressure you feel to be on every social media platform that exists, posting content in real time. Almost no authors can pull this off and it’s not worth losing your sanity to attempt it.
With that in mind, the question to ask becomes not “which platforms do I have to be on,” but “which platform(s) would benefit me most to be on, and which are the best fit for me?” When considering where to be on social media, the number one thing you should ask yourself is whether a particular platform will be enjoyable and sustainable to you. Here are some things to consider:
How often do I want to post?
Realistically, how often will I have time to post?
What kind of content do I enjoy posting most? (i.e. do I enjoy curating content by others, creating my own content, or a mix of both)
What subjects will I be posting about?
How much time will I be able to dedicate to each post?
Am I text-driven or image-driven?
Do I want a platform that is very interactive or less interactive?
While you could make any platform work for you no matter how you answer the above questions, it helps to find the platform that’s the best fit for you, so social media can become an activity you enjoy instead of a slog or obligation. So, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular social media platforms and a couple things to consider about each:
TWITTER: Ideal frequency of posts: At least once a day, preferably more Type of content: Mixture of curation and new created content Time commitment: Surprisingly high Interactivity level: Varies, but higher interactivity is recommended
Twitter is a weird social media platform- even though it’s been around for several years now, it can still be hard to describe, and even harder to understand the purpose of. Think of Twitter as the world’s biggest cocktail party, happening online 24/7 without end. It can drive you crazy, but it’s also a great equalizer: where else can you tweet to celebrities and have them answer you directly? Where else can readers and authors come together so seamlessly?
Twitter is what you make of it: you can have a minimal presence there and use it mostly for “lurking,” but the truth is that unless you are very, very famous, you will get almost nothing out of Twitter unless you are on it frequently and using it in a very interactive way. Yes, it can be overwhelming and a total time suck, but it can also be a nice break from your other projects and an easy way to key yourself in to important conversations going in within the industry.
Bottom Line: If you want to do it right, Twitter takes a lot of time and attention – but the rewards can be big.
FACEBOOK: Ideal frequency of posts: once a week minimum Type of content: More created content than curation Time commitment: Low-medium Interactivity level: Medium-high
Remember when Facebook was a novelty? Over the years it’s morphed into something more akin to an Internet staple, right alongside Google. If you’re not on Facebook, you’ve probably been met with shock and awe more than once. If you are already on Facebook, you may think you’ve already got this one in the bag. However, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made here between personal pages and fan pages. As an author and therefore a public figure, you should absolutely have a separate Facebook account for your author persona apart from your personal Facebook account. This allows you to build a following, tweak your privacy settings, and save your family and friends from seeing posts about your book in their feed all the time (unless they want them).
Once you set up a fan page, what you post and how often is up to you. Unlike Twitter which is really pretty useless if you’re not using it frequently, I think there are still benefits to having a Facebook fan page even if you only update it every couple of weeks – it’s a way to allow people to demonstrate that they like you, and allows them to “subscribe” to get updates from you. It won’t let you meet new people as easily as Twitter does, but it can help you build a stronger relationship with your fans, and that’s always a nice thing.
Bottom Line: A little effort can go a long way when it comes to Facebook, so it’s a good place to be.
BLOGGING: Ideal frequency of posts: Once a week minimum Type of content: All created content Time commitment: High Interactivity level: Low-medium
I don’t technically consider blogs to be a social media platform but they always seem to get tied into this discussion, so I wanted to address them here. The number one thing to remember about blogs is that they are a LOT OF WORK, and that amount of work never really diminishes. When you start a blog, you are essentially starting the equivalent of a one-woman (or one-man) newspaper and giving yourself the job of creating all new content for it. You may think you have blog ideas aplenty, but will you still want to be writing new posts every week six months down the road?
There are a couple questions you should keep in mind when considering starting a blog: How much extra time do I have to write? Will my blog have a specific theme or focus? A helpful thing to do is to sit down and create a list of 20 blog post ideas, and see where that gets you. If you find this exercise fun and can’t wait to start writing some of your ideas up into posts, a blog might be a good platform for you. But if getting to 20 ideas is a bit of a struggle and you can’t see yourself doing this kind of thing for a couple of hours each week, a blog might not be right for you.
A big thing to keep in mind about blogs is that if you want to get the most out of your blog, the time demands go way past writing the posts themselves. It takes time and effort to build a blog readership, and requires a good deal of marketing. So if you begin a blog, you will also probably want to be on Twitter and/or Facebook so you can use those platforms to share your content – otherwise you’re just putting your great content into the black hole of the Internet.
That’s not to see blogs can’t be worth it. When done well, blogs give you a terrific platform as an author. There’s nothing better than writing a blog post you’re proud of and seeing it reshared in many different places. Blogs can help new readers discover you and can help you connect with readers, reviewers, and other authors. Just have a sense of what you’re signing on for before you start.
Bottom Line: Probably the most demanding of all the social media channels, blogs can offer a lot but should be started with an understanding of the work they will entail.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS Ah, to go back to the days when you could count the number of social media platforms out there on one hand! The fact that we now have Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, and many others only seems to make writers more anxious about where they “need to be.”
When it comes to these more peripheral platforms—and I mean peripheral specifically in the context of online presence for authors—my advice is simple: have fun! Love photography? You might enjoy connecting with readers on Instagram. Love design? You might have fun making Pinterest boards inspired by your books. If you’re intrigued by a platform, try it out – there’s no rule that says you have to stay on it forever (though you should delete your account if you decide it’s not for you, rather than being inactive). Ultimately, all of these platforms are about the same thing: connecting with people. So if you want to be on any of them, make sure that’s what you’re getting out of it in the end, and that you’re enjoying the ride.
Are you an unpublished author of color who writes for young readers? If so, we encourage you to submit your manuscript to LEE & LOW’s annual writing contests. Our well-established contests support new authors of color and highlight voices that remain underrepresented in traditional publishing. Past winners include Ink and Ashes and Juna’s Jar.
New Voices Award
Awarded to a picture book manuscript by an unpublished author of color.
Winner receives $1000 cash prize and a publication contract with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
Grandparents Day- September 13th- is a great reminder for us all to show our grandparents how much we love and appreciate them (& their impressive ability to never run out of reasons to send a card). From their tremendous accomplishments and contributions to those warm and magical memories we have, finding a reason to #DoSomethingGrand in their honor is never that hard. Freshly baked cookies, anyone?
But these special bonds between the old and the young do not need to begin and end with the familiar faces that surround your dining room table. Intergenerational opportunities for younger and older generations to come together can be found through partnerships between families and community organizations, senior centers, nursing homes, church groups, and even schools, helping to bring the community together across generations. Best of all, creating these opportunities for younger and older generations to come together has shown to have a number of positive benefits and can really make a difference in each other’s lives:
Social and emotional:
Empathy and compassion
Fine/gross motor skills
Academic skills (literacy, STEM, history)
But what kind of activities can the old and young do together? How do you help these types of relationships grow? According to the Penn State Intergenerational Program (PSIP), it’s important to think about activities that best match their developmental abilities, emphasizelearning, promote discussion, and involve sharing skills and insights:
For example, Sunday Shopping, a book about a young girl and her grandmother who go on an imaginative shopping trip together every Sunday, could serve as a great jumping off point for many different activities:
Literacy/Communication Skills: Read Sunday Shopping aloud together and then discuss what you each like to buy when you go shopping. First or second reading: Download and print the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet and use the shopping bag cut-out and items from the story to follow along and add items to the bag as Evie and her grandmother shop in the story.
Literacy/Communication/Fine Motor Skills: Use what you learned from your discussion and browse various catalogs, newspapers, and magazines and circle/cut-out your shopping choices with the listed prices. Cut-out items that you think the other person would be interested in and explain why you chose those items. Then, create a written or typed shopping list of the items you want to buy and go shopping for.
Dramatic Play: With a little imagination and some creative props, such as a shopping bag or cut-out shopping bag from the Sunday Shopping Activity Sheet, pretend to go to all kinds of different stores, putting the cut-out items into your bags. When you’re finished shopping take turns being the cashier.
Math: Choose a budget. Then, with your shopping list and pretend money help keep track of the total while you shop. After shopping, “check-out” and see if you have enough money to pay. If not, use problem-solving to take items off the list, or figure out how much more money he/she needs to pay for their items. Challenge: figure out the price of discounted items or incorporate sales tax; create coupons to use at the checkout.
Art/Fine Motor Skills: Take the cut-out items from your shopping trip and create a collage together.
Intergenerational Program Ideas and Resources:
Grandparents Day Take Action Guide from Generations United: A call to action guide for grandparents/older adults, children/youth, grandfamilies, and intergenerational programs to #DoSomethingGrand not only on Grandparents Day but all year long.
Cool Intergenerational Program Ideas from Generations United: An extensive list of over 50 successful programs that differ in style and practice but share the same meaningful goals. From intergenerational pen-pal programs, schools, camps, pet therapy, community gardens, to foster grandparent opportunities, the ideas are seemingly endless.
Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook from Penn State: 53detailed activities and learning experiences ranging from getting-to-know-you exercises (if you’ve ever been involved in first-day-icebreakers you’ll be familiar) to crafts, writing tasks, outdoor exploration, games, traditions, technology, and more. Each activity description comes with step-by-step instructions, materials/resources, objectives, and academic/life skill connections.
Across Generations Activities from The Legacy Project: A list of activities organized by category (literacy, art, science, games, food, etc.) to enjoy with grandparents, grandfriends, and beyond.
Grandparents Day Books: A list of around 40 Lee & Low books to enjoy on Grandparents Day or any other day of the year!
And finally, for the selfie-inclined, don’t forget to #TakeAGrandie of you and your grandparent or grandfriend for Generation United’s “grandie” contest!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.
After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.
One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.
During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.
Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.
There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.
So during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.
Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.
THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.
I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.
I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.
Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.
Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat.
In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks.
Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.
I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.
Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.
When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.
I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”
Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly). I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.
I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).
Character Day is September 18! With the start of school, many educators and staff may already be teaching character education to foster a warm, productive classroom community. For others looking to spend a moment reflecting on the concept of character, we are highlighting books for teaching about justice and the traits needed in the long struggle for it.
We are highlighting books that will spark conversations centered on leadership, love, kindness, social responsibility, perseverance, fairness, and teamwork.
A collection of original poems centered on giving and spontaneous acts of kindness, which also incorporate larger themes of community, intergenerational relationships, young mentors, and care for the environment.
Rosalinda sees a man leave with a large sack full of fruit from her beloved lemon tree. After consulting with family and neighbors about how to save her sick tree, Rosalinda sets out in search of La Anciana, the Old One, the only person who might have a solution to Rosalinda’s predicament.
Based on heartbreaking yet inspirational true events in the lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Brothers in Hope is a story of remarkable and enduring courage, and an amazing testament to the unyielding power of the human spirit.
Mrs. Parks received 500 to 1,000 letters a month from children throughout the United States and the world. Dear Mrs. Parks grew out of Rosa Parks’ desire to share her legacy with all “her children,” and perpetuate a dialogue that will be recorded for generations to come.
A picture book biography of tennis player Arthur Ashe, who began his career playing tennis as a child on the segregated courts as a child in Virginia and went on to become the top tennis player in the world.
Musician Tito Puente. Ballerina Maria Tallchief. Explorer Matthew Henson. Congresswoman Patsy Mink. These are some of the people profiled in this book. They are well known for different reasons, but they also have something in common. They were all smart! When readers see how the people in this book used their smarts, they will learn about themselves too, and their own unique ways of being smart.
A biography in verse of reggae legend Bob Marley, exploring the influences that shaped his life and music on his journey from rural Jamaican childhood to international superstardom.
Discussion Questions During and After Reading:
What kind of person is the main character or historic figure? How would you describe him or her? What does he or she value? How does he or she act in the face of adversity or inequity?
What motivates the main character or historic figure to fight injustice or inequity? What obstacles does he or she encounter?
What injustice does the main character or historic figure see or experience? How does he or she solve (or work towards solving) it?
What risks does the main character or historic figure take for something he or she believes is right and worthwhile?
The main character or historic figure strives to make a difference. How do you think young people can make a difference? How would you go about addressing a wrong?
What did you learn from this story? How might you turn what you learned into action?
Even if this story is set in the past, how might this story still be timely? How does it relate to conditions in our own community or the news today?
Read two of the books suggested above. What are some characteristics the two figures or characters have in common? How do their traits help them succeed?
Pair these books with news examples of young people helping others or speaking out about injustice. How do these examples show someone is never to young to make a difference and take on injustice?
Explain that people are often honored on postage stamps. Have students design a stamp to honor the figure or character in the book. Ask students to write a paragraph describing and explaining their designs.
Have students compose and present a speech that will communicate the thoughts and feelings of the main character or historic figure to an audience of young people.
Imagine that you are this historic figure or main character and write a diary account of daily thoughts and activities. Be sure to capture his or her feelings about the people he or she meets and what happens to him or her.
For further reading on character, character education, and social-emotional learning:
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Not only are we living in a Golden Age of television, it also feels in many ways like we are living in a Golden Age of diverse television. While TV may still be more segregated than we’d like it to be, both in front of and behind the camera, 2014-2015 saw the emergence of several critically and commercially successful shows with lead characters of color.
A few years ago, we published an infographic and study exploring the diversity gap in the Emmys and on television. Today we’ve updated that infographic and tried to answer the question: Has the Diversity Gap in Television decreased?
Last night Viola Davis made Emmys history by becoming the first woman of color to win an Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Drama Series!
In the most moving moment of the night, she directly addressed the discrimination that people of color face in Hollywood, saying:
The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.
The 2015 Emmy nominees were an exceptionally diverse crowd by Hollywood standards and happily Viola Davis was not the only talented person of color to go home with an Emmy in hand. Actors Regina King (Supporting Actress, Limited Series or Movie), Reg E. Cathey (Guest Actor, Drama), and Uzo Aduba (Best Supporting Actress, Drama) all went home with Emmys in hand. This also makes 2015 the first year that women of color won Emmys in the Drama category for both Best Lead Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Last night also saw several women honored in the directing category, an area usually dominated by men. Jill Soloway took home the Emmy for Best Director for a Comedy Series for Transparent, making her the third woman in a row to win this category. Lisa Cholodenko also took home a Directing Emmy for her work on the Limited Series Olive Kitteridge. In other words, two out of four Best Directing Emmys this year went to women.
The Bad While last night saw some groundbreaking firsts, it’s not time for Hollywood to pat itself on the back just yet. Despite this year’s big win for Viola Davis, it’s important to remember that in the last 25 years, only one person of color has ever won in each of the four Lead Acting categories. There were no people of color nominated this year in the categories of Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series or Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
In addition, it’s worth noting that all of the people of color nominated in Acting categories this year were African American, with the exception of Louis C.K. (who is half Mexican). Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, and Native actors still don’t have enough roles, leading or supporting, to be represented in any meaningful way at the Emmys. When Hollywood’s definition of “diversity” is reduced to Black or White, everyone still loses.
When it comes to gender representation, things are improving but some categories haven’t budged. 96% of winners in the Best Director of a Drama Series are still men, although one woman (Lesli Linka Glatter, Homeland) was at least nominated this year.
What Remains to Be Seen
It was clear this year that diversity was on people’s minds, and some big wins proved that it was on people’s ballots, too. But a good year, or even a few good years, are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to boosting opportunities and visibility of people of color and women in Hollywood. It may feel like progress is being made, but looking at our 2012 and 2015 infographics back to back, we can track whether that’s actually the case:
In some categories we do see improvement, but in most categories the percentage of winners who are people of color has actually decreased as the total number of years we track increases. While some people may dismiss this as a numbers game, it demonstrates an important point about diversity: it requires a conscious effort to change the status quo. If you do nothing, the numbers actually get worse.
Host Andy Samberg hit on this point in his opening monologue by congratulating Hollywood on such a diverse list of nominees:
The big story this year, of course, is diversity. This is the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history, so congratulations Hollywood. You did it. Yeah, racism is over. Don’t fact check that.
Racism isn’t over and neither is sexism, but let’s hope that we’re moving into an age where both issues are treated by Hollywood as more than just a punchline.