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Looking Past the Cover • Children's Book Publishing • Diversity and Race • Conversation The blog of independent children's publishing company Lee & Low Books, The Open Book talks about publishing, books, library and school news, race and gender, discrimination and diversity, and more.
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1. Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books For Core Value Study

As we cluster in workshops, around webinars, and near the water cooler, we are already thinking about and preparing what skills and knowledge we want to teach. Yet, to truly have a successful year, let’s ponder an additional question: who do we want to teach?

The start of school is a popular time to model and instill core values because August and September are a fresh start: our time as teachers, librarians, and administrators to create and cultivate a community bound and motivated by the same values and goals. It is during this period that we can expose our students to stories with strong morals that feature both examples and non-examples of how to react in tough situations and learn from one’s mistakes.

However, it can be very difficult to select just the right text to teach values that will guide our students through academic and developmental challenges over the coming year and lay the groundwork for the community we hope to build.

Many teachers dust off their tried-and-true character education read alouds each coming school year or rely on word of mouth recommendations that send us back to the classics year in, year out. During my first year of teaching, I remember everyone scrambling to find a book that demonstrated “respect” or “persistence.” When a master teacher on campus mentioned that she used a particular title for the start of every first week of school, that sounded like hard proof to me and I was grateful. I went out and bought it.

Yet, there is not just one book that will make the abstract concept of “empathy” or “leadership” concrete to third graders or kindergartners. With such dependence on the same books, many of my third graders had read The Lorax three years in a row to learn about responsibility and respect. It’s an outstanding book to explore these values, but still…three years? It was time to shake things up.

Whether your school has campus-wide core values or you can determine your own, I encourage you to think carefully about which books you use to teach core values. They are the foundation of a classroom or school’s culture and can guide children’s social, intellectual, and emotional development.

For successful character education study, choose a set of books that:

1. Have protagonists that both exemplify and struggle with at least one of the classroom’s core values. Don’t just present stories with perfect, role model-worthy characters! Students should see multiple examples of people and situations of the core value in action to learn that one’s character is made, not born. Finding books where characters (protagonists and antagonists) lie, cheat, lose their cool, or are hurtful to other characters can be just as powerful as exemplary characters, if not more so. Students can discuss what they can learn from both examples and non-examples, share advice for different scenarios, and reflect on similar experiences in their lives where they struggled to make the right decision.

2. Are both fiction and nonfiction. Pair fiction with nonfiction texts to show students a range of experiences and real world applications. Reading a biography of a famous leader practicing or struggling with a core value gives students the chance to visualize the core value in their environment and daily lives, as well as let them see that knowing how to make good choices doesn’t come naturally and needs to be practiced.

3. Align with the Common Core ELA Standards. Character education doesn’t need to be separate from ELA instruction or your curriculum. In fact, core value study is great for teaching close reading, determining central ideas and author’s message, analyzing word choice, and comparing two or more texts.

4. Have protagonists students can identify with based on race, gender, family background, language, and experience. Although students absolutely learn from characters different from themselves, it is very meaningful for children to see someone on the cover and in the pages they identify with struggling or succeeding to make good choices. Especially for younger students, relating to aspects of a character’s identity helps students visualize themselves in the character’s situation and develop empathy. Additionally, for children who are new to school or are English Language Learners, having characters that remind them of themselves or their families may give the children more confidence to participate in class, which is critical to building a strong classroom/school community at the beginning of the year.

Looking to refresh your character education read aloud shelf? For book recommendations demonstrating your classroom’s core values, check out our Pinterest boards:

What core values do you teach children? What are your favorite books to teach these core values? Let us know below!

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


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

1 Comments on Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books For Core Value Study, last added: 8/16/2014
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2. Dealing With Rejection: Keeping Your Dream Going

Thelma Lynne GodinThelma Lynne Godin is the debut author of The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, which received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Shelf Awareness. She lives with her husband in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this post, we asked her to share advice on believing in your dreams for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other aspiring authors.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

As a child I was an avid dreamer and reader. I lived in the world of books. Sometimes I was the little girl in the Cat in the Hat enjoying the fun, but worrying about the mother coming home and finding out about the chaos. Other times I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, sleeping in a covered wagon with Pa, Ma, and Mary out on the prairie. As I grew older I dreamt of being a writer and creating worlds for kids to lose themselves in. But I let that dream drift as grown-up life became a reality. My careers as a mother, a librarian, and a social worker took up much of my time and energy, even though I continued to read and enjoy books for children. I was working as a school librarian and struggling with both my kids leaving for college when I noticed a picture book writing class being offered at a local art college. And suddenly, I was back in that drifting dream. Taking that class and being with people who shared the same dream was a giant step forward in my twisty road to publication. Sometimes I could glide on effortlessly, and other times I would round a curve to find a huge hill that I had to toil up.

As writers it is sometimes hard to continue to believe in the beauty of your dreams. Daring to get started, actually putting your words on paper and then having the courage to share them with others is hard. And receiving a rejection for all that daring is like a kick in the arse. It is not for the faint hearted. I got, and still receive, my share of rejections.

It was a cold, dreary, sunless day when I received a letter from Lee & Low regarding my submission of HULA HOOPIN’ QUEEN. I was at a low point in my writing path. I was at the bottom of one of those steep hills. I had just come home from a critique group meeting where one of my friends was sharing her newest book. While happy for her, I also felt despair of ever achieving that same dream. Feeling sure it was just another rejection, I tossed the letter from Lee & Low aside without even opening it. Several hours later, I noticed it sitting on the table, and I actually started toward the garbage with it in hand. I was in such a spot that I felt I couldn’t take another rejection. But suddenly, without even thinking it through, I had opened it.

My first thought was, “Oh no! Now I’m getting two-page rejection letters!” But then I started to read it. It was two pages of things the editor liked about my story and also things she wanted me to think about working on for the possibility of Lee & Low accepting it. And suddenly my mood and the day became all sunshine and warmth, because that two-page letter was actually the beginning of my dream coming true.

That is what this journey of being a writer is all about. Highs and lows; twists and turns. But through it all, even at the lowest point, you have your words and the magical thing that happens when your words become a story. You have the dream of having those stories touch a child’s heart. So we need to dare to dream, dare to believe in the beauty of our dreams, because those dreams are my future and yours.

New Visions Award sealThe New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Writer Resources Tagged: aspiring authors, dealing with rejection, The Hula-Hoopin' Queen, Thelma Godin, writing

1 Comments on Dealing With Rejection: Keeping Your Dream Going, last added: 8/14/2014
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3. Planting Seeds of Change Around the World

Guest bloggerThis is a guest post by Jen Cullerton Johnson, author of Seeds of ChangeJohnson is a writer, educator, and environmentalist who teachers at an inner-city elementary school in Chicago.

Ashley Howey is the literacy coordinator at Briar Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last school year, she contacted me about my picture book Seeds of Change, a nonfiction biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Brier Creek Elementary school wanted to do something different, something no other school in their district had done before.

The school community wanted to adopt the themes within Seeds of Change to be the deep focus for student growth, teacher extended learning, and administration professional development. In other words, everyone at Briar Creek Elementary wanted to be involved in change. They wanted the book Seeds of Change to guide them because they felt it showed how people tackled big problems and worked together, and most importantly how change brings out each person’s inner potential.

Brier Creek Elementary School hosts diverse learners from various socio-economic and multicultural backgrounds. The school is supported by Title I and is a year around school. Their curriculum mission is to “cultivate culturally ambitious citizens.”

“We want everyone in our school to own a copy,” Ashley Howey said. “Teachers, students, cafeteria workers, administration, parents. Everyone.”

“How many is everyone?” I asked.

“1,200.”

1,200 copies is a lofty goal, a ton of books, an enormous number, I thought.

“What makes this project so special?” I asked.

“Every student in the school is united by reading the book and using it as a springboard for collective change,” she said.

I remembered that goals are all about teamwork, goodwill, and sharing our resources. I was on board.

In September 2013, I sent video message to their teachers. In October 2014, we skyped with the whole school where a storyteller enacted Wangari’s life. By March 2014 the school had purchased close to 300 copies, one for each teacher and one for each family unit in the school. They were not able to give all students a copy. Nonetheless with the copies they had, the school began their Seeds of Change project.

Brier Creek Elementary Teachers

Brier Creek Elementary Teachers with copies of Seeds of Change

The music teacher, Adam Hall wrote an anthem for the whole school. Young people sang lyrics like: Plant our roots/ Let us grow/ Water us love/To watch us bloom!

Children in different classrooms started thinking about how to be the best they could.

One student said: “At our school we are working together to make things better like Wangari did!”

Teachers felt the pull of the whole school learning focus. Enthusiasm was contagious!

One teacher said, “Seeds of Change has given our school a common language of character. We have integrated these powerful message of persistence, patience and respect for our surroundings and others, into our conversations throughout the school.”

But by June 2014, Brier Creek Elementary School still had not been able to give a copy of the book to each student. In fact, since March, many, many had to share. What Ashley Howey wanted when she first started this big school community project was for everyone to have a copy of the book, and so far they still need 700 copies of Seeds of Change.

Then something happened. They started giving away some of their books.

“We wanted the children to sign the book here in North Carolina and give them to the children in Kenya. And the Kenyan children would sign a copy and we would keep a copy it in North Carolina.”

When students decided to share their resources, they were given even more opportunities to learn, grow and be proud of who they are.

The exchange was a success. Students in North Carolina saw a digital video of Kenyan students reading the book. Kenyan students saw North Carolina students dancing and singing to the song they created called Seeds of Change.

Students in Kenya with their copies of Seeds of Change

Students in Kenya with their copies of Seeds of Change

Their special project is unique and is rooted in changing the mindset and actions of a school community. With this first year over, Brier Creek Elementary now wants to continue to connect and share what they learned.

The school is now is involved in a sister project with a school in Kenya. Teachers in North Carolina are sharing lesson plans and learning activities with Kenyan teachers and their students.

“We plan on Skyping with the Kenya teachers and students about Seeds of Change,” Ashley said. “In August we will fundraise with a Seeds of Change Walk-a-Thon and the money will go to buying more copies of the book for us and for Kenya.” They want to raise enough funds to buy 200 copies to send to Kenya.

What you can do

Together with your help, we can continue to plant and honor our seeds of change. If you are inspired by Brier Creek Elementary School’s project, get involved! I have started a Seeds of Change Campaign where young people around the country can help other young people at Brier Creek Elementary and their sister school in Kenya by donating copies of Seeds of Change to help them reach their goal of 700 copies for their school and 200 copies for their sister school in Kenya.

If a young person donates, I will donate an Author’s Skype visit to your home or school. In my Author’s visit, we will read parts of the book and do a seed planting together. I will also create a section on my website where your school will be honored as a donor.

Please contact publicity@leeandlow.com or jencullertonjohnson@gmail.com for scheduling and further information.

Book donations can be sent to the following address:

Ashley Howey, NBCT

Brier Creek Elementary School
9801 Brier Creek Parkway
Raleigh, North Carolina 27617
http://www.briercreekes.net


Filed under: Book News, Educator Resources, Interviews with Authors and Illustrators Tagged: African/African American Interest, author visits, Seeds of change

1 Comments on Planting Seeds of Change Around the World, last added: 8/14/2014
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4. 11 Educator Resources for Teaching Children About Latin American Immigration and Migration

What an amazing week to see the response of last Sunday’s post and hear what many of you are facing, doing, and aspiring to in schools and communities. In addition to using children’s books to initiate conversations, deepen background knowledge, and humanize the events, here are eleven teaching resources to help you provide the best information, context, and perspective for your students.

Amazing Faces mirror

  1. Colorín Colorado is a free bilingual service that presents information, activities, and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English Language Learners. One of my favorite sections is “Reaching Out to ELL Students and Families” because it gives explicit tools on how to create a welcoming classroom environment, learn about our students’ backgrounds, and reach out to parents of ELLs.
  2. Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC) offers educator guides to support teachers and school staff in supporting undocumented students in school and beyond graduation.
  3. Colorlines contributes award-winning daily reporting, investigative news, and analysis on issues of race with a subsection devoted to child migrants. They also have a campaign, Drop the I-Word.
  4. The Library of Congress has curated thousands of resources, especially primary sources and online exhibitions, on immigration in the United States providing critical historical context to current events. I strongly recommend checking out the presentation, Immigration: The Changing Face of America, where students can read the immigration history of specific ethnicities and races, and the Themed Resources: Immigration, where students can study the contributions of American immigrants.
  5. The staff at the Latin American and Iberian Institute (University of New Mexico) have created and organized thematic guides, lesson plans, and news articles for issues related to Latin America available at the Latin America Data Base.
  6. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides award-winning educational materials to teachers, including immigration-themed units and lessons.
  7. Border Crossers has prepared a list of resources for adults to learn how to teach and talk about race and racial justice with students.
  8. The Migrant Policy Institute, a Washington, DC think tank, offers powerful analysis of global and regional migration. I want to underscore their visual tools, such as the International Migrant Population by Country of Origin and Destination map.
  9. Accompanying the two PBS documentary series, Latino Americans and The New Americans, are rich lesson plans and activities for grades 7 and up to explore the diverse experiences of coming to America.
  10. Latin@s in Kid Lit has an extensive list of children’s literature for those looking for more beyond our eleven book list, as well as interviews and teaching ideas.
  11. The MY HERO Project enables students to create, share, and discover stories, audio, art, and films that promote tolerance, peace, and diversity. Teacher resources are available at MY HERO Teacher’s Room.

art from Arrorró, mi niñoFor further reading:

11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration

What resources would you add? What resources do you recommend? Please share them with our community in the comments!


Filed under: Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Immigration, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

6 Comments on 11 Educator Resources for Teaching Children About Latin American Immigration and Migration, last added: 8/12/2014
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5. Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:

 What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?

I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.

But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.

So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.

Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:

  • Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
  • Too confusing
  • Confusing backstory
  • Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
  • Bizarre plot
  • Confusing plot—jumped around too much
  • underdeveloped plot
  • Too complicated
  • Excessive detail/hard to keep track
  • Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in

We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:

  • Chapters way too long
  • Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
  • Nothing gripped me
  • Too predictable

block quote 1Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).

So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.

Know your target audience

When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.

Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)

But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?

Linear plot

Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.

Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.

If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.

Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.block quote 2Plotting affects pace

In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.

Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.

Character affects plot

This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.

Find an organizational method that works for you

This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.

Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.

An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.

Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.

Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.

Further resources

This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)

  • “Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
  • In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.
  • The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
  • I haven’t had experience with this resource, but writer friends suggest the 7-point plot ideas of Larry Brooks, which is covered both in a blog series and in his books

And remember!

 

keep calm and write on

Further Reading:

New Visions Award: What NOT to Do

Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

The New Visions Guidelines

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


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy, fantasy writing, New Visions Award, plotlines, sci-fi writing, science fiction, writing, writing 101, writing award, writing tips, young adult

1 Comments on Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story, last added: 8/11/2014
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6. 11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration

The-StorytellerAs media coverage has intensified around the events of children crossing the U.S. border, many educators and families are wondering, “What should we tell our students?” For some children, this may be the first time they are learning of these countries. But for many others, these events may involve their own heritage or depict their families’ experiences. Using books to talk about the recent events can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the cultures and people beyond these events.

We’ve put together a list of 11 books (many of which are bilingual English/Spanish) that teach about the emotional journey families and children must undertake along with the physical journey. These stories allow children to see each other and themselves in characters who are living life to the fullest and refusing to let any obstacle stand in their way.

Whether you are looking to explore the themes of the DREAM Act, learn more about the journey of one’s own family, or see America from a different angle, these books reveal the complexities, challenges, joys, and surprises of coming to a new place. Join these characters as they share their challenges and excitement in moving to a new culture and new school, helping their families adjust, and juggling their home culture with a new culture.

1. A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada

Poet Jorge Argueta evokes the wonder of his childhood in rural El Salvador, a touching relationship with a caring father, and his confusion and delight in his new urban home.

2. Amelia’s Road

Amelia longs for a beautiful white house with a fine shade tree in the yard, where she can live without worrying. In this inspirational tale, Amelia discovers the importance of putting her own roots down in a very special way.

 

3. First Day in Grapes

Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him, but Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different.

4. From North to South/ Del Norte al Sur

José loves helping Mama, but when Mama is sent back to Mexico for not having proper papers, José and his Papa face an uncertain future. Author René Colato Laínez tackles the difficult and timely subject of family separation with exquisite tenderness.

5. Home at Last

Ana Patino is adjusting well to her new life in the United States, but her mother is having a difficult time because she doesn’t speak English. After mama agrees to take English lessons, her sense of confidence and belonging grow.

6. My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aqui hasta allá

Amada overhears her parents whisper of moving from Mexico to the other side of the border—to Los Angeles. As she and her family make their journey north, Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their lives in the United States in her diary.

7. The Storyteller’s Candle/ La velita de los cuentos

The award-winning team of Lucia González and Lulu Delacre have crafted an homage to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian. Through Pura Belpré’s vision and dedication, the warmth of Puerto Rico comes to the island of Manhattan in a most unexpected way.

8. The Upside Down Boy/ El niño de cabeza

Juanito is bewildered by the new school and everything he does feels upside down. But a sensitive teacher and loving family help him to find his voice and make a place for himself in this new world.

9. When This World Was New

It is Danilito’s first day in America and he is scared. He has heard that some Americans are not friendly to foreigners. In addition, he does not speak any English. Danilito’s worries disappear when Papa leads him on a magical trip of discovery.

10. Xochitl and the Flowers/ Xóchitl, la Niña de las Flores

Miles away from their home in El Salvador, Xochitl and her family make a new home in the United States, but nothing is the same. It is not until her family decides to start a flower nursery in its backyard that Xochitl begins to learn the true value of community in their adopted country.

11. Calling the Doves/ El canto de las palomas

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood. The farmworker road was the beginning of his personal road to becoming a writer.

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


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, events, Immigration, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

4 Comments on 11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration, last added: 8/4/2014
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7. Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about the importance of following submission guidelines and basic manuscript format. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about why a reader might stop reading if they’re not hooked right away. Here are some comments I’ve heard our readers make about manuscripts that didn’t hook them:

  • Story does not captivate in first few chapters
  • Boring
  • Writing not strong, or not strong enough to hold a young reader’s (or teen’s) interest
  • Parts of the writing are very strange (not in a good way)
  • Sounded too artificial
  • Reminds me too much of something that’s really popular
  • Too Tolkienesque or reliant upon Western European fantasy tropes
  • Concept cliche

How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning? This is a little tougher than just following the directions—this is much more personal to each reader and each writer.

Is your writing boring readers?

There are a couple different issues in the list above. Some readers lost interest simply because they were bored. If you find yourself telling readers of your book, “Don’t worry! It gets really good in chapter five!” consider whether you’re starting your book at the right moment in time. The phrase “late in, early out” is one to remember—perhaps you don’t need all the information that leads to the “really good” part. Or perhaps you need to revise to make that information more interesting and faster paced.

I don’t recommend simply dumping this information into a prologue. Many young readers skip prologues entirely, and many more readers will lose interest if your prologue is long and boring—it’s the same principle as saying “just wait till chapter five!”

If the information in your first few chapters are crucial, yet readers are getting bored by it, consider spooling that information out little by little over the course of the book. You need to find the balance between giving enough information for the reader to be intrigued and wanting to know more, without overburdening the reader with so much information that they become overwhelmed or bored.

been there done thatFor example, take the first few pages of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. On page 1, Taylor sets up the scene: it’s an ordinary day in Prague (interesting point number one: how many books are set in Prague?) and Karou is walking down the street toward school, minding her own business. It’s an active scene—something is happening—but it’s more about Karou’s internal mundane thoughts. However, it doesn’t stay mundane for long. By page 2, she’s been attacked.

But it’s not your average “you have to have an action scene in the first scene!” attack. The author plays with expectations, intriguing the reader and making you want to know what happens next. We get some ex-boyfriend banter (also against expectations) and the promise of interesting, embarrassing things to come by the end of the chapter.

It helps that the book is well written. But it’s more than good prose that hooks the reader here—she spools out just enough to let you know that this is a unique book, and that you want to know more. The next two chapters do the same thing, and bit by bit, the reader comes to know Karou’s intriguing magical background.

What she doesn’t do is infodump in a prologue or the first few chapters about Karou’s history, the history of the world, and the history of the strange beings who raised her. Save those details for when they matter.

Look at your favorite books and read like a writer. For hooking a reader, look in particular at excellent examples of the first five pages of a wide variety of books. There are many ways to effectively open a book, and you need to find the way that works for your story. Reading other books like a writer will help you to zoom in on ways to perfect your craft.read like a writer

Another great resource for writers trying to figure out how to hook readers is editor Cheryl Klein’s essay “The Rules of Engagement” in her book Second Sight. It’s no longer available online (and I don’t believe the book is in e-book form), but it’s worth the price of the book for her discussion of various ways to hook readers via character, insight, action, and other methods. (Bonus: you also then get access to all her other thoughts on writing and revision.)

Over-reliance on common tropes

Several readers commented that several books relied too much upon Western European fantasy tropes (elves, fairies, etc.). There are ways of hooking readers with familiar story elements, but often most high fantasy tales boil down to “my elves are better than yours.”

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownLook for new inspiration. (We’ll cover worldbuilding more in full in a few weeks.) But especially in the first few chapters of your book, avoid leading with ideas that have been-there-done that.

If your story concept relies on tried-and-true tropes, it’s not the end of the world. Take a look at books coming out now that are successfully changing the mold—books like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, who has revamped (haha) the vampire genre, for example. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown updates the genre, makes vampires scary again. In what ways can you update and revamp the concepts in your book to hook readers?

The solution to your writing being “not strong enough”: practice 

The number one complaint as to why a reader wasn’t hooked was that the writing wasn’t good. Once you get past obvious grammar and punctuation mistakes, this comes down to a greater need to practice your craft. Write regularly—it doesn’t have to be every day, but do it consistently. If your problem is time, you might find useful this advice from New Voices Award winner Pamela Tuck on how to carve out time to write on a regular basis. She has ELEVEN children, who require a lot of time and attention, especially because she home-schools them.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And next week, we’ll begin to drill down on elements that you can work on in the whole book, such as voice.

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


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: ask an editor, how to, Laini Taylor, New Visions Award, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, writing advice

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8. Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male

Summer blockbuster season is in full swing. For many moviegoers, that means escaping to a galaxy far, far away—or perhaps just a different version of our own planet Earth—through science fiction and fantasy movies. As fans clamor for the latest cinematic thrills, we decided to focus our next Diversity Gap study on the level of racial and gender representation in these ever-popular genres that consistently rake in the big bucks for movie studios. We reviewed the top 100 domestic grossing sci-fi and fantasy films as reported by Box Office Mojo. The results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.

Infographic: the Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films infographic (click for larger image)

Among the top 100 domestic grossing films through 2014:

• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color
• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)
• 0% of protagonists are women of color
• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ
• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

The following interviews with two prominent entertainment equality advocacy groups shed more light on the subject.

Marissa Lee
Marissa Lee is co-founder of Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality. Racebending.com advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media and is dedicated to furthering equal opportunities in Hollywood and beyond.

Imran Siddiquee


Imran Siddiquee
is Director of Communications at the Representation Project, which is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change. The Representation project was the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary Miss Representation.

 

Jason Low: Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?

Marissa Lee: The statistics are certainly striking, especially since sci-fi and fantasy belong to a genre that prides itself on creativity and imagination. These statistics aren’t necessarily surprising, since lack of diversity in Hollywood films is a well-known problem. There have been enough studies and articles, and any moviegoer can pause to notice there is a disparity. . . . Hollywood can’t go on pretending that this isn’t a problem.Hollywood can't go on pretending like this isn't a problem.

JL: Do you think the American movie-going audience would support a big, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy movie with a diverse protagonist if a studio made it?

Imran Siddiquee: Yes, definitely. But I think an important thing to understand about Hollywood blockbusters is that they are almost never flukes; they are preordained. Sure, we have the occasional surprise indie hit, but you need a lot of money and marketing behind you to become a blockbuster. Just look at the top ten films in each of the last five years: nearly every single one had a budget of more than $100 million (a lot of them were also sci-fi/fantasy films).

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a single film released this year starring a person of color with a budget of more than $50 million, let alone a sci-fi film, which is naturally going to be more expensive. The same goes for most of the last decade. So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” or “there’s no evidence that this would work,” the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.

Studios take a couple of massively expensive chances every year on mostly unknown actors or directors—aka giving the Spider-Man franchise to Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield in 2012—but they just don’t take those kinds of chances on people of color. In other words, if Hollywood wanted to make a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film starring a woman of color, they definitely could.

ML: I think American audiences would support a film with a diverse protagonist, because we already have. One pullout statistic from your infographic is that Will Smith leads six of the top 100 big sci-fi/fantasy films. His race wasn’t a huge impediment to box office success and may have, in fact, been part of what made him all-American and relatable. That was back in the late 1990s, but since then, Hollywood hasn’t tried to find a new Will Smith. This is kind of ironic, given that Hollywood likes to stick to formulas and sequels! They could push forward another actor—or actress—of color with Smith’s charisma. They haven’t.

The American movie audience supports any movie that Hollywood successfully markets well, especially—but not always—if the film is well produced. Hollywood has managed to market some weird stuff, like a tentpole movie about talking teenage turtle martial artists, or cars that change into space robots, and so on. I don’t buy that when it comes to marketing diverse leads, suddenly this giant industry can’t do it.

So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” . . . the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.I’d be interested in seeing how many of these top 100 grossing sci-fi and fantasy films star non-human leads. I wonder if there are more films with non-human leads than minority human leads on the list!

(Side note: Does the infographic count Keanu Reeves as white or as a person of color? I think he has more than one movie on this list given The Matrix trilogy…)

Editorial note: Yes, Keanu Reeves is counted as a PoC and did make the list for The Matrix. The second Matrix film, The Matrix Reloaded was the only installment of the trilogy to make the top 100 list.

JL: What challenges have you faced or seen peers facing as a woman/person of color, etc.?

ML: There are films with built-in audiences that Hollywood still insists on whitewashing, which has a very adverse effect on actors of color. Let’s be honest, audiences would have still flocked to see The Hunger Games or Twilight if characters like Katniss or Jacob had been cast with people of color as they were written in the books. An actor with a disability could have played the protagonist in Avatar—if we have the technology and imagination to animate a fanciful world populated by blue cat people, we could have cast an actor with a disability similar to the lead character’s in that role. As a result of these casting decisions, up and coming actors from underrepresented groups were deprived of career exposure from being a part of these established franchises, making it harder for Hollywood ever to try and launch a new franchise with an actor from an underrepresented group.

Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.

More recently, the Divergent franchise cast Naomi Watts to play a character who was a woman of color in the books. It’s a supporting role for an already established franchise, and for whatever reason the production still couldn’t bring themselves to cast an actor of color.

Trends that fans have noted in the media include that in big blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, the presence of a straight, white, able-bodied, cis male in some central role in the story is almost guaranteed, while the presence of characters with “minority” identities (e.g. LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, women, etc.) is not. Even when a character who isn’t a straight, white cis male is centered in a story, there’s probably a straight, white, cis male character playing second, if not lead, billing. For example, while we can reasonably assume that the next few Star Trek and Star Wars movies will have some diverse characters, we can guarantee that at least one of the leads will be a straight, white man. If The Hunger Games or Twilight had cast actors of color for Katniss or Jacob, there would still have been plenty of lead roles filled by white actors. DC is including Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie, but the film will also feature Batman and Superman.

This means that someone with a lot of intersecting privileged identities (especially straight, white men) will always be able to walk into a multiplex and find a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring someone who shares those identities. If you have a lot of marginalized identities, then representation is a sometimes thing, never a solid guarantee. There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits. But there are just as many, if not more, people who are willing to support, vociferously, films with diverse leads. I wish our money was as good as theirs.There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits.

JL: How can consumers encourage more diversity in movies? 

IS: Avoid buying tickets to films which clearly rely on stereotypes or demeaning portrayals of people based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance. And anytime you do watch a film, give it The Representation Test afterward. The test grades films on their inclusiveness pertaining to all those above categories. When a movie scores really low on the test, use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to let the filmmakers and all your friends know how you feel. Since so much of this industry is based on money, this is one way we can express our discontent and get the attention of the studios.

ML: Media literacy is a huge start. As media consumers, we should feel empowered to critique the media we consume, and to decide what media we choose to consume. Beyond helpful steps like going to see movies that feature diverse leads, it’s just as important to start conversations in our own communities and with our friends and family (the people we consume media with!) to raise awareness about diversity and representation. Even if we don’t go to see movies that whitewash or exclude or present discriminatory content, people we know will. One way we can help change things is by continuing to start conversations. We need to create an environment where it is safe to criticize popular franchises for lacking diversity. We also need to keep drowning out the malcontents who cannot even handle actors of diverse backgrounds in supporting roles. Social media has really knocked down barriers when it comes to communicating our opinions with Hollywood brass. It’s also given us several spaces where we can discuss the media we consume with our friends and family. In addition, the internet has really changed how we access and consume media. There are Kickstarters and indie channels and online comics and other outlets so we don’t have to be reliant on big production studios or publishers as our only sources of entertainment.

JL: How close or far do you think we are from getting these statistics to change?

IS: When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up. For instance, 0% for women of color in top sci-fi films means I’m being honest when I say things will certainly improve soon, but that’s not saying much. I think we are pretty far away from true equality, or a cinema that reflects and includes the broad diversity of human experiences in the real world.

When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up.Too many wealthy, white men still run Hollywood, and their decisions still have too much power. As I mentioned earlier, these kinds of movies are very expensive, and so it’s hard for independent or upstart filmmakers to break through or compete.

That being said, the slight increase in success for white women in blockbuster sci-fi movies, such as Gravity, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, means change is possible. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oscar wins for 12 Years a Slave last year, because while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it is a film that everyone in the industry now knows about and has probably seen. And the whole reason we’re even talking about representation in movies right now is because we know how much seeing different experiences on screen can impact people’s real world thoughts and attitudes. So films like 12 Years a Slave are part of the gradual shifting of consciousness that has to happen in Hollywood to get to a point where studios are consistently greenlighting big-budget films starring people of color.

ML: As budgets for tentpole science fiction and fantasy movies have soared, studios have been more reluctant to take a chance on actors or characters that they perceive as risks. Because people of color and women are also already more likely to consume movies than white people and men, maybe they don’t feel an incentive to change what they are doing because, from their perspective, minorities are perfectly willing to watch films starring white guys. Hollywood is pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to tentpole movies. We are seeing more diversity in television, particularly in children’s television, as well as in online content. The establishment will change when someone influential in Hollywood decides to take the risk and make an effort to diversify their film offerings. The stats in this infographic are focused on profit, not art. For things to change, Hollywood needs to believe that diversity can be profitable.

***

This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Academy Awards
The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The children’s book industry
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics

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

Using Infographics In The Classroom To Teach Visual Literacy

CONTACT: For more information or to request permission to reprint, please email hehrlich[at]leeandlow[dot]com


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, Guest Blogger Post, The Diversity Gap Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, diversity, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, LGBT, Middle Eastern, Multiracial, Native American, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, whitewashing

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9. Talking to Kids about Current Events and Conflicts

block quote for jill (1)Breaking stories, developing crises, and unexpected catastrophes often involve more than one country, community, and culture. As our children listen in to the radio while stuck in traffic or the evening news program over dinner, it can be easy to think that if we don’t explicitly bring up the news story, then our children don’t know it’s happening.

In fact, children are incredibly perceptive when their parents and adults close to them are distracted by news or alarming events. Many children also pick up information from their peers.

While we don’t want to overwhelm or scare our children, it is important to discuss what is going on. Children need honest portrayals of a community at its best during a time we might be seeing it at its worst.

How do we talk to children about these events and use these moments as opportunities to have respectful, honest (albeit age-appropriate) discussions?

Picture books are invaluable conversation starters. Conflicts and disasters have complex origins and multiple players. Issues of race, class, religion, and gender are often entangled in the events or portrayal of the events. Children’s books dealing with conflict or natural disasters can frame the event in contexts and meanings suitable to their developmental stage. Stories with children as the main characters allow children to identify with the characters over universal themes.

When a “newsworthy” event happens, this may be the first time the child learns of this country, group of people, or culture. By the same token, the conflict or event may involve the child’s own heritage or culture. Using picture books to talk about a current event or conflict can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the culture and people beyond this event.

Instead of allowing the media to define the group of people involved, we should seek out and read a book showcasing and reinforcing the positive aspects and pride of the featured group of people and region. In doing so, we present a broader perspective of the community, culture, or people that media coverage is portraying in a negative, humiliating, or victimized light.

In selecting the right book to foster respect and provide an honest portrait of a community in the news, consider:

Books that champion human dignity:

Books that exhibit the strength, courage, and resilience of children:

Books that depict a community’s capacity to endure, love, and give:

“Age-appropriate” can mean truthful, thoughtful conversations. When talking to children, let them guide the discussion. Opening conversation starters include:Going Home, Coming Home

  • What questions do you have? What have you heard?
  • What do you know about the situation or group of people/foreign country involved?
  • Who are the countries or communities involved?
  • How are different communities and countries coming together over this issue?
  • What would you like to do to help?

For further reading:

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

 


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, Educator Resources Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Multiracial, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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10. New Visions Award: What Not to Do

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. In this blog post, she discusses what she is—and is not—looking for from New Visions Award contest submissions.

This year is the second year we’ve held our New Visions Award, a writing contest seeking new writers of color for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Tu Books is a relatively new imprint, and so is our award, which is modeled after the New Voices Award, now in its 15th year of seeking submissions.

Much like the editors who are in charge of the New Voices Award for picture books, for the New Visions Award, I love seeing submissions that follow the submissions guidelines and stories that stand out from a crowd. I look for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories that understand the age group they’re targeted at, with strong characters, strong worldbuilding, and if there is a romance, I hope that it avoids cliches.

During the first New Visions Award, our readers made notes on the manuscripts explaining what they enjoyed and what made them stop reading, particularly the things that made them not want to read further than the sample chapters in the initial phase of the contest. For the next few weeks, I’ll delve a little further into those things that made readers stop reading, and then we’ll talk about making your writing have the zing that makes an editor want to read more.

Today, let’s cover the most obvious reasons a New Visions Award reader might stop reading immediately.

  • Main character isn’t a person of color
  • Unclear if main character is a person of color (& not made clear in any supporting materials)
  • Basic formatting rules ignored: single-spaced, no tabs, no paragraph breaks, rules of punctuation ignored to the point it was impossible to read the text
  • Chapters at times seemed to be combined to ensure more text would be read, which made them super long and terribly paced
  • Duplicate submission from the author (stopped reading the duplicate—of course we read the original!)
  • Already read as a regular submission and didn’t see any significant changes
  • Author not eligible (published previously in YA or MG, not a person of color, not based in the US)
  • Book was a picture book (this would be a New Voices submission, not a New Visions submission) or a short story (not long enough to be a novel)

The obvious solution to making sure your submission is right for this contest is to make sure to read the contest submission guidelines before sending your submission. If you are not a writer of color, or if you live in a country outside the US, we do want to read your manuscript, but not for this contest. Watch our regular submission guidelines for when we’ll open again to unsolicited submissions.

Make sure you format your manuscript in a way that it can be read. If you’re new to writing, be sure to have someone check it over for typos, correct grammar and spelling, correct punctuation, etc. We won’t reject your manuscript for a typo or two, but there is a point at which the story is no longer being communicated because the reader gets tripped up by the errors. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can make it.

Next time, we’ll talk about hooking the reader with your story. Happy writing!


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: formatting manuscripts, weneeddiversebooks, writing award, writing contest, writing tips

0 Comments on New Visions Award: What Not to Do as of 7/25/2014 12:22:00 PM
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11. How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children

Pamela TuckPamela M. Tuck is the author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, winner of our New Voices Award and named to the International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choices list. Tuck lives in Boyerstown, Pennsylvania with her husband and their 11 children. In this post, we asked her to share advice on how to find time to write. 

One common question people ask me is, “How do you find time to write?” I simply answer, “I don’t find time, I steal it, and play catch-up later.” In other words, I MAKE time.

Growing up as an only child, writing served as a source of entertainment for me. I found that expressing my inner thoughts on paper became therapeutic and helped me cope with stressful situations. So, as a mother of 11 children, writing, quite naturally, became a safe haven.

I don’t have a daily writing routine like some writers: waking up at 5 am, going for their morning run, eating a cup of yogurt topped with homemade As Fast As Words Could Flygranola, then sitting at their desk, with the picturesque mountainous view, and writing several pages of their next best-selling novel for 5 hours. Instead, my day begins with waking 11 excessively sleepy children, facing mountainous heaps of laundry, in between cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, and potty training. You get the point. So here’s how I steal prioritize my time for writing.

When I homeschooled my children, I incorporated timed journal writing assignments for everyone (including me). I had my children think of random words, and then I’d write the words on cut pieces of paper, fold them, and place them in a basket. We all picked one word from the basket. I set the timer for either three or five minutes, and we wrote anything we wanted about the word we picked. Some words prompted poetry, non-fiction pieces, nonsense pieces, and creative story starters that could be developed into longer works. That’s just one way I kept my inner writing flame lit.

I usually find inspiration to write from reading articles, seeing interesting photos, hearing conversations, or from life experiences. If I stumble across a story idea, I simply allot time, either during the day or in the evening, to write. These one or two hour time allotments serve as refreshing rewards during my busy days. Fortunately for me, my husband encourages my writing projects and he, along with my children, comply with my writing antics of having complete silence and/or isolation while I write. I use the time allotments to do research, if necessary, and to read other books similar to the type of story I’m writing. My family serves as a huge inspiration for my writing. They are my “sounding boards” as I bounce ideas around, my audience, as I piece those ideas together, and my cheerleaders when those ideas find a home.

So, going from one end of the spectrum (as an only child, with plenty of quiet time for writing) to the other (as a mother of a large family, with hardly anyYou are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule. quiet time at all), I would like to share a little piece of advice that was given to me by my husband. After attending my first writing conference with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in June 2007, and hearing all the wonderful writing regimens of different authors, I thought my lifestyle would hinder my dream of becoming an author. My husband told me, “You are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule.”

My husband found out about Lee & Low Books offering a New Voices Award and encouraged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in 1960s Greenville, NC. My dad’s experiences of determination and courage inspired me to take my husband’s advice. I submitted my story to Lee & Low Books in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call announcing me as the winner of the 2007 New Voices Award! Now, my dad’s family story has transformed into a picture book, As Fast As Words Could Fly, that can be shared with many families across generations. So, regardless of your lifestyle, your limitations, your oppositions…grab those ideas that are close to your heart, and write the story that only YOU can write. Unleash your dreams, and let them fly!

New Voices Award sealMore information:

The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Writer Resources Tagged: As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Award, writing advice

2 Comments on How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children, last added: 7/28/2014
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12. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts!

I and I Bob Marley

I and I Bob Marley

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Summer is an incredible time to hear and enjoy music. From public parks to local high school auditoriums to subway platforms, many towns and cities offer summer concerts. Whether it is part of an official concert series, a festival, a rehearsal, or an impromptu get-together of musicians, there are a ton of opportunities to enjoy music alongside reading.

Our motto this summer: Love Books + Keep Cool + Learn Something New

Your summer outing: an Outdoor Summer Concert

Book recommendations:

Summoning the Phoenix

Summoning the Phoenix

Questions during reading:

  • What instruments are used in the book?
  • What type of music is featured in this book?
  • How is the music in this book different from other kinds of music?
  • How does music create community?
  • What character traits does someone need to become a successful musician?
  • Why do you think people enjoy music and find it meaningful?
  • Why do you think every culture has created some form of music?

Activities:

  1. Pair the book with a music recording or live performance of the same type of music featured in the book. What instruments do you hear? What patterns do you hear? What mood/tone does the music set? How does this music make you feel (unhappy, excited, calm, agitated)? How many musicians are performing? Is there a band leader/conductor for this type of music?
  2. Drummer Boy of John John

    Design and create a drum! Although many cultures and forms of music have distinct instruments, it is fascinating to note what instruments seem to pop up over and over again. Take for example the drum! Variations of the drum appear in music from all over the world. Check out the drum instructions from Spark!Lab, part of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History.

  3. Turn listening to music into seeing music! Talk about the senses we use to enjoy music. Children may think we can enjoy music with only our ears. Yet, the author and illustrator of the book had to communicate the music and its mood through words and pictures. What words does the author use to describe the featured music? What words does the author use to capture the mood of the music? What colors or actions does the illustrator use to capture the music? After attending a concert or listening to a recording, encourage your child to draw a picture that captures the mood, feeling, or story of the song. What colors would you use for each instrument and why? How would you draw a quiet, slow, fast, or loud moment?
  4. Drummer Boy of John John

    Study the geography of the music featured in the book. Where does this type of music originate? Who are famous composers, contributors, or musicians? What kinds of instruments were/are used? Out of what materials from the region were instruments traditionally made?

For further summer reading and ideas:

Jill_Eisenberg

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


Filed under: Educator Resources, Summer Tagged: children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading

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13. ALA 2014 Recap: Diversity All Around

Another year, another fantastic ALA Annual, this time in Las Vegas! While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” we thought it would be OK to break that code, just this one time, in order to share our experiences with you.

Even though the weather was hot (hello triple digits!), attendance was high and spirits were up! We teamed up with the folks of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign to hand out buttons, which were a huge hit! In fact, School Library Journal reported that, “If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas, odds were good that they were sporting a colorful ‘We Need Diverse Books’ button.”

#weneeddiversebooks buttons

#weneeddiversebooks buttons!

We kept a white board in our booth, and got some great answers from librarians on why we need diverse books:

ALA whiteboard

We need diverse books because…

Quite a few of our authors and illustrators made it out to Las Vegas and our schedule was packed with signings! Don Tate, Glenda Armand, Frank Morrison, René Colato Lainez, Karen Sandler, Mira Reisberg, John Parra, Susan L. Roth, Cindy Trumbore, and Emily Jiang all stopped by the booth to sign books. In true Vegas style, we kept the party going at the LEE & LOW table!

lee and low staff and don tate

Don Tate stopped by to sign copies of It Jes’ Happened

We were also pleased to host our second Book Buzz panel, “Moving the Needle: Diversity in Children’s Books and How to Make a Difference.” It’s been one year since our successful Book Buzz with Cinco Puntos Press last year, so we wanted to check in again with librarians about what has changed, what hasn’t, and how to keep moving forward.

ala book buzz panel

Publisher Jason Low on ALA’s Book Buzz panel on increasing diversity in children’s books

During the panel, publisher Jason Low talked about some highlights from the diversity movement over the past year. He emphasized that Lee & Low has stuck to its original mission by continuing to make an effort to publish debut authors/illustrators as well as authors/illustrators of color. “Of our 2014 titles, three out of seven are by debut authors and five out of seven are by authors or illustrators of color,” Jason said.

He pointed out some some great milestones from the past year, including the success of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, Lee & Low’s infographics on diversity going viral, the First Book Stories for All project, and more diversity in the Marvel Universe.

Jason also announced that Kirkus Reviews will be seeking to diversify their reviewer pool, and said that several other major review publications have expressed an interest in doing the same. Diverse reviewer pools mean that books can be evaluated for cultural accuracy and that reviewers bring a wide range of perspectives to the table.

In the end, Jason said, we need to get from Diversity 101 stories—stories focused simply on the lack of diversity in children’s books, in very basic terms—to Diversity 102 stories, which address both the complexity of the problem and the range of possible solutions. He encouraged librarians to keep moving the conversation forward within their own communities, and to help parents and teachers build inclusive book collections by creating inclusive, diverse summer reading lists and other recommendations.

Two more big highlights this ALA were award ceremonies for a couple of our books! Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth, the dynamic author/illustrator team of Parrots Over Puerto Rico, were honored at the Sibert Award Ceremony and we couldn’t have been prouder!

sibert ceremony

Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth at the Sibert ceremony! They’re all smiles with LEE & LOW editor Louise May (left), Sibert committee chair, Cecilia P. McGowan (center), and LEE & LOW publisher, Jason Low (right)

Additionally, Killer of Enemies was honored at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards (AIYLA) ceremony. Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman attended and shared these photos of children and teens from a local tribe who came to dance at the ceremony:

native american dancers

Native American dancers at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards ceremony

american indian youth literature award

American Indian Youth Literature Award for Killer of Enemies

While we won’t miss the 110-degree heat, we had a great time meeting so many wonderful people and we can’t wait for next year.

If you were at ALA, what were your highlights?


Filed under: Activities and Events, Dear Readers, Fairs/Conventions Tagged: ALA, ALA annual conference, american library association, diversity, las vegas, librarians, weneeddiversebooks

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14. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: National and State Parks!

Grab a flashlight, bug repellent, and binoculars…

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: national or state parks!

Book recommendations:

Questions during reading:

  • How have humans affected the habitat or animal species in the book?
  • What suggestions does this book offer to take care of the world around us?
  • What risks does the animal species or habitat face in the book?
  • How does this person(group) demonstrate respect for the environment?
  • How do healthy animal populations and habitats benefit people?
  • What happens when people do not take care of the environment or an animal species in the book?
  • What does this text teach about sustainability?
  • Do you think communities and governments have a responsibility to protect animals or the environment? Why or why not?
  • Should school field trips include visiting national and state parks? Why or why not? What are the benefits of children visiting national and state parks?

Activity:

1. Sound scavenger hunt!

Many animals rely on sound to detect nearby predators and search for food. For your next scavenger hunt, use the sense of sound to explore the wonders of the state or national park. This activity is a great way to teach young scientists about:

  • our five senses
  • how the human ear, like other animal ears, is a powerful physical adaptation and is very effective in detecting and differentiating sounds
  • how we can appreciate natural beauty as both visual and aural
  • the importance of slowing down and soaking in all the stimuli around us

Make a list of sounds for your child to “find” on the next hike. Together, check off and record as the child hears them! While you will want to adapt specific sounds to the park you are visiting, sound ideas include:

Everglades Forever

  • the local bird species
  • the rustling of an animal in the bushes
  • the wind among grass or tree leaves
  • sound of the nearest water source (river, ocean)
  • the buzzing/humming of insects
  • sound of walking on different types of surfaces: the trail, through leaves, in mud
  • a hiker whistling
  • a swimmer splashing
  • a dog barking or the clinking of a dog collar
  • sound of something being recycled
  • sound of something hollow
  • an echo
  • sound of food being unwrapped
  • horse clopping/trotting
  • a stick snapping
  • a hiker drinking (chugging) water
  • Bonus: the elusive spot of complete silence

To prove that your child experienced the sound, allow your child to:

  • record the sounds on a phone
  • take a picture of the creature or thing making the noise
  • describe the noise in a sentence with a juicy verb, such as chirping instead of singing

2. Animal and ecosystem observation!

Buffalo Song

Even if your nearest state or national park does not have the wildlife or habitat featured in the book, your young scientist can check out the featured animals or habitat in real life and real time from a computer or mobile device. Many national parks, zoos, and wildlife protection groups offer real-time footage of animals that serve as great opportunities to talk about behavioral and physical adaptations and habitat preservation.

Explore.org offers multiple livecam opportunities to observe wild animals outside of zoos. After finishing Buffalo Song, I checked out Canada’s Grasslands National Park for bison. I observed brown bears and salmon from Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park following I Know the River Loves Me. After A Man Called Raven, I used The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library for videos and audio recordings of ravens.

i know the river loves me 2

I Know the River Loves Me

For further book and activity suggestions to match your summer adventure:

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


Filed under: Educator Resources, Summer Tagged: children's books, close reading, Educators, environmentalism, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading, Summer School

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15. Join Us Tomorrow in New York City for the Harlem Book Fair!

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 12th is the Harlem Book Fair. LEE & LOW BOOKS will be there from 11 a.m., selling some of your favorite titles. We’ll be at table C32!

harlem book fair

For a full list of tables and exhibitors, please click here.

LEE & LOW BOOKS, along with some other industry professionals, will be participating in a panel discussion on diversity in children’s books:

ABUNDANTLY RICH: HARVESTING THE WEALTH IN MULTICULTURAL BOOK PUBLISHING

  • Where: Langston Hughes Auditorium
  • Time: 12:00pm to 1:15pm
  • More information can be found here.

We hope to see you there!


Filed under: Activities and Events, Fairs/Conventions Tagged: book festivals, diversity, harlem, harlem book fair, representation

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16. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Beaches!

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Our motto this summer: Love Books + Keep Cool + Learn Something New

Your summer outing: the BEACH

Book recommendations:

Surfer of the Century cover

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

Questions during reading:

  • What is this person’s relationship to the ocean? How does this person’s relationship to the ocean change from the beginning to the end of the story?
  • How does this person show appreciation for the ocean?
  • How is the ocean/beach a part of this person’s identity?
  • Look at a map of the world and locate the island this person is from. What is the capital? What ocean surrounds it? Infer what the climate is like based on the island’s location. What makes this island unique?
  • How does this person demonstrate pride in his/her culture?
  • How does this person remember home even when far away from home?

Seaside DreamActivity:

Create a beach ball collage!

Materials: poster paper, pencil, markers, colored pencils or crayons, assortment of magazines

  1. Using a pencil, draw a large circle on the poster paper.
  2. Inside the circle, draw a small circle about the size of a quarter somewhere off center.
  3. Draw a curved line from the small circle to the large circle. Repeat drawing lines until you have six lines and six spaces. Each curved line should face the same direction in a pinwheel formation. The lines will be different lengths and can be varying widths apart from each other (this will give it a 3-D effect).
  4. With a black marker, trace over the pencil so the beach ball stands out on the poster paper.
  5. Optional: lightly fill in each segment a different color using colored pencils or crayons.
  6. Select and cut out pictures and words from the assortment of magazines to answer the question: What makes the beach special to you?
  7. In each of the six beach ball segments, draw or glue pictures. In one section, think about what foods you eat while at the beach. What animals have you seen at the beach? What do you always make sure to pack before you head out? What activities do you like to do at the beach? Who do you play with while there?

For further reading:Seaside Dream

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


Filed under: Educator Resources, Holidays and Celebrations, Summer Tagged: children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, holidays, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading

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17. 5 Tips to Engage Latino Families and Students

Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. is Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. is Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Today we are featuring one of First Book’s celebrity blog series. Each month First Book connects with influential voices who share a belief in the power of literacy, and who have worked with First Book to curate a unique collection that inspires a love of reading and learning. All recommended books are available at deeply discounted prices on the First Book Marketplace to educators and programs serving children in need. Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. the Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), writes on engaging Latino families and children in reading and learning.

Any student who has parents that understand the journey from preschool to college is better equipped to navigate the road to long-term student success. While parent engagement is critical to increasing educational attainment for all children, engaging Latino parents in their children’s schooling has typically been challenging – often for linguistic and cultural reasons.

The National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) parent engagement program is designed to eliminate these challenges and create strong connections between schools, parents, and their children. A bilingual curriculum designed to be administered by school staff, the Padres Comprometidos program empowers Latino parents who haven’t typically been connected to their children’s school. Many of the parents the program reaches are low-income, Spanish-speaking, first and second generation immigrants. Through Padres Comprometidos, these parents gain a deeper understanding of what the journey to academic success will be like, and how they can play a role in preparing their children for higher education. Prior to participating in the program, not all parents expected their children to attend college. After the program, 100% of parents indicated that they expected their children to attend college.

Much of Padres Comprometidos success rests on the program’s ability to address language and culture as assets, rather than as obstacles to be overcome. This asset building strategy extends to NCLR’s partnership with First Book. Together, we’re working to ensure Latino children of all ages have access to books that are culturally and linguistically relevant, books they need to become enthusiastic readers inside and outside of the classroom. Click here to access the three parent engagement curricula developed by NCLR—tailored to parents of preschool, elementary and secondary school students.

Below you will find a few tips and titles that can help you engage families and get children – and their parents and caregivers – reading and learning.

La Llorona

La Llorona

1. Find ways to connect stories that parents know about to help them engage in reading and conversation with their children. This Mexican folktale can open that door: La Llorona .

 

Spanish-English Dictionary

Spanish-English Dictionary

2. Keep an English/Spanish dictionary handy to use when you have a parent visiting or to give away to a parent or caregiver who needs it. It will show them that you’re making an effort to engage in their language of comfort, such as Webster’s Everyday Spanish-English Dictionary.

The Storyteller's Candle

The Storyteller’s Candle

 

3. Learn about the children you serve and their heritage, and identify books that will affirm them. This Pura Belpré award winner is actually about Pura Belpré, the first Latina (Puerto Rican) to head a public library system: The Storyteller’s Candle.

Grandma and Me at the Flea

Grandma and Me at the Flea

 

4. Share books that include some of the everyday experiences of the children and neighborhoods you serve, like this story highlighting the value of community and family: Grandma and Me at the Flea.

My Colors, My World

My Colors, My World

 

5. Bilingual books provide family members and caregivers the opportunity to read the same books their children are reading, but in their language of comfort. Families will love reading about all the colors of the rainbow in English and Spanish: My Colors My World.

Sign up with First Book to access these and other great titles on the First Book Marketplace.


Filed under: Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: bilingual education, dual language, Educators, ELA common core standards, hispanic heritage, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, parents, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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18. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Ballparks!

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

catchingthemoon022

Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: the Ballpark, Baseball Hall of Fame, or Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Book recommendations:

William Hoy

William Hoy

Questions during reading:

  • What position does this ball player hold and what responsibilities are involved in that position?
  • Why does this person have a difficult time being allowed to play baseball?
  • How does this person demonstrate persistence?
  • What do you think this ball player accomplished for ball players of today?
  • How has baseball and who can play changed (or not changed) over time?
  • How does baseball encourage tolerance or acceptance?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Baseball is America’s favorite pastime? Why?


Activities
:

Louis Sockalexis

Louis Sockalexis

Create a baseball trading card!

Materials: a school individual-sized milk carton, white paper, glue stick, markers or crayons

  1. Using the book or the baseball museum websites, research the player’s full name, position, team(s), league(s), dates of career, any honors, batting average, and a fascinating fact.
  2. Cut the individual-sized milk carton with scissors so that you have one rectangle side panel. The rest of the carton can be discarded.
  3. Cover both sides of the side panel with white paper and secure with a glue stick.
  4. On one side, draw the player’s portrait or picture of the player in action. The picture is typically portrait orientation, but it can be landscape orientation.
  5. At the bottom of the picture, write the player’s name.
  6. On the other side of the trading card, write the player’s position, team(s), league(s), dates of career, any honors, batting average, and a fascinating fact (if there’s room!).

Write and think like a ball player!

Imagine you are the ball player you just read. As this person,

  • Write a diary entry about one or more of the events in the story: when you first found out you were selected to play on the team; how you felt the first time a fan, coach, or other player treated you poorly; or when you finally felt accepted by fans and other players for your abilities.
  • Write a letter or email to your parents about why you want to play baseball and what support you are or are not getting from fans and the other players.
  • Write a blog post or letter to the editor to your fans describing your abilities, what makes baseball rewarding for you, and how your role as a minority in baseball is important.
Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

For further reading:


Filed under: Educator Resources Tagged: diversity, Educators, ELA common core standards, History, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading

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19. Out today: Drift and Rebellion

Warm weather is finally here! Get those summer reading lists ready because we’re excited to announce the release of two new YA novels from our Tu Books imprint: Drift, a high fantasy adventure that takes place on the shores of Hell, and Rebellion, the thrilling final book in Karen Sandler’s Tankborn series.

drift, by m.k. hutchins

In Drift, Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. As an epic naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for his trainer—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about Drift and author M.K. Hutchins here.

rebellion

In Rebellion, the Tankborn story comes to its thrilling conclusion as questions are answered after the devastating bomb blast that ended Awakening. Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb, and many others like it, in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join their terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend to embrace this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about the Tankborn trilogy and author Karen Sandler here.

Happy book birthday to our newest releases! You can purchase them on our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller (if copies are not in stock, they can always order them for you). And of course, they’re also available as e-books.


Filed under: Book News, Diversity in YA, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: diverse YA, drift, fantasy, Karen Sandler, m.k. hutchins, rebellion, Science Fiction/Fantasy, ya books, young adult

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20. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part I

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

During the first week of June, I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. At the conference, I met writers from all over Asia and the Pacific, discussing craft, marketing their books at home and abroad, and translation. I even ran into Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac, the Australian author/illustrator team behind the LEE & LOW picture book The Drummer Boy of John John. I enjoyed all the panels and the chance to see Singapore and meet so many people from the other side of the world—it gives you a perspective as an editor you might not otherwise have.

One of the panels I participated in was a First Pages event, in which I read about 20 first pages of picture books, middle grade, and YA novels and then gave feedback on whether the pages were working for me and if I’d want to read more.

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

For the fantasy and science fiction entries, a common problem was—and is in any new writer’s writing—revealing enough about the world that you create interest and intrigue, but not too much. Too much, and you risk alienating your audience, confusing them, or simply not hooking them. Reader reactions are so subjective. One person might think there’s not nearly enough worldbuilding in a book (“give me more! MORE!”) and another might say of the exact same book that what worldbuilding there is was way too confusing (“I couldn’t keep all those made-up words straight!”).

So how do you, as the author, balance the needs of such a wide range of readers when you’re working in a complex world? And how do you balance the need to establish your characters, setting, and plot with the need to spool out information to your reader to intrigue them rather than confuse them?

This is a question that almost every author and editor of speculative fiction struggles with, particularly because we, as veterans of the genre, are already more comfortable with a lot of jargon than your average teen reader, particularly teen readers whose preference for fantasy runs more toward the contemporary paranormal variety.

Singapore 2

Stacy Whitman at the famous Singapore merlion fountain

There are a number of reasons why I think Twilight was so popular on such a broad scale, but one of the biggest ones was the relatability of the initial situation. Not vampires showing up at school—before that. We start with a simple story about a girl who is leaving her mother behind in Arizona to live with her father in an unknown small town on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Relatable: divorced parents, fish out of water, adapting to a new school and a new climate.

Think about all the really big fantasy hits of the last decade or so in children’s and YA fiction: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent. Of these books’ beginnings, only the dystopian tales start all that far outside the everyday experiences of your average young reader, and even The Hunger Games starts with a relatable situation—a coal mining family lives in a desperate situation and must hunt for food.

While most kids who would have access to The Hunger Games don’t live under a despotic regime, it’s plausible that it could happen in the real world. Every kid has been hungry at some point, though perhaps not as hungry and desperate as Katniss. Every kid has taken a test in school, and sometimes it feels like those standardized tests do determine your everlasting fate, as they do in Divergent, even if Tris’s Abnegation explanations are a little tedious. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are ordinary kids going to school, living somewhat normal lives (even if abusive ones, in the case of Harry) before their worlds change with the discovery of magic.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children's Content.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Next Thursday, I’ll go into detail about each of these techniques and give some examples. In the meantime, think about your favorite science fiction and fantasy books. How do they bring you into their world? What works best for you as a reader? Answering these questions about your own reading preferences can help guide you as a writer.

 


Filed under: Publishing 101, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

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21. Strategies For Teaching English Language Learners—Part 4: Writing, Speaking, & Listening Practice

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

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science (IES) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released the latest educator’s guide to present best instructional practices for English Language Learners. Over the last several weeks, I’ve looked at several different strategies for teaching English Language Learners based on that guide’s recommendations.

Today, we’ll take a look at how to incorporate vocabulary instruction into activities that support listening, speaking, and writing practice for English Language Learners. This is the final week I will focus on the guide’s first recommendation: Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Using the Lee & Low informational text, Drumbeat in Our Feet, as my model text, I applied the guide’s recommendations on how to choose an appropriate text and words for English Language Learners and how to teach the vocabulary over several days. See how I chose these words here and taught their meanings here.

Using Drumbeat in Our Feet and the IES’s process, my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt.

1. IES: Facilitate structured discussions to increase opportunities for students to talk about academic words. Always anchor these discussions around the topics that are present in the text and that do not have a clear-cut right or wrong answer. The goal is for students to learn to articulate a position or point of view and learn to defend their perspective or analysis. (P. 20)

Lee & Low: Over the course of multiple days, I am teaching a different part to each word’s meaning. After doing so, I want to create open-ended questions for whole or small group discussion that will allow my students to practice using the target words.

As my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt in Drumbeat In Our Feet, I would use these throughout the week for peer-to-peer discussion. This looks like:

  • Why would the authors want to discuss the diverse land and countries of Africa in a book about African dance?
  • Why might African dance vary in form?
  • Why should we study the origins of African dance today?
  • What factors might contribute to the diversity in African dance?

2. IES: Require students to use target words in their writing activities. (P. 21)

Lee & Low: Use the prompts above or focus on vocabulary-specific prompts. This looks like:

  • What are the origins of your family?
  • Write about the origins of a superhero.
  • Create a story about the origins of the universe or how life began.
  • Is it important to you to feel unique? Why or why not?
  • What are at least two things vital to all life forms?

Although we cannot explicitly teach all academic and content-specific words our students will need to know in their educations and careers, we can be strategic in how we teach 5-8 words a week so they can apply these word strategies to new words they come across on their own.

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom:

 


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, ELLs, English Language Learners, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

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22. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Zoos!

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

What to do…what to do…If you are like us, the summer is an exciting time to discover new books, break out the art project we’ve been promising ourselves to start since February, and try every popsicle flavor from the ice cream truck.

Summer is the time to beat the heat, right? Whether that means hunting for air conditioning or jumping into a pool, we are here to keep you and your family loving books while you keep cool.

Over the coming weeks, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: the ZOO

Book recommendation: Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

 

Questions during reading:

  • How have humans affected Puerto Rican parrots and Puerto Rico?
  • What physical and behavioral adaptions help the Puerto Rican parrots survive in their environment?
  • How do the scientists demonstrate persistence and creativity?
  • What are the purpose and activities of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program?
  • How has Puerto Rico changed over time?
  • What does this book teach about sustainability?
  • Do you think communities and governments should save endangered species? Why or why not?

Activities:

Recipe for Parrot Crackers!

Ingredients: avocado, lemon, raisins/dried cranberries, banana chips, round crackers

Parrot Crackers

Parrot Crackers

  1. Peel half an avocado. In a small bowl, mash half the avocado with a fork until it is lump-free.
  2. Squeeze and mix in a little lemon juice into the mashed avocado to prevent it from turning brown.
  3. With a bread knife, spread the avocado over one side of each of the round crackers.
  4. Place two raisins or dried cranberries on top of the avocado side of each cracker for eyes.
  5. Cut or break a banana chip in half and place both below the eyes on the cracker to make the parrot’s beak. The two halves will stand off the cracker.
  6. Admire and eat!

Chef’s Note: We originally tried this with cream cheese and lime zest instead of avocado. We loved how the lime zest looked like real feathers and matched the collage work of illustrator, Susan L. Roth, but the lime zest had a wacky flavor so we went for the milder avocado!

Create a Food Web!parrot1

  1. Use Parrots Over Puerto Rico to make a list of all the plants and animals important to the Puerto Rican parrots existence in the book. The list should include: red-tailed hawks, humans, black rats, honeybees, Puerto Rican parrots, pearly-eyed thrashers, and sierra palm trees.
  2. Label which of these is a predator of, competitor to, and food source for the Puerto Rican parrot.

More resources for Parrots Over Puerto Rico:


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, Summer Tagged: Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, recipes, summer reading

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23. Submitting to our New Voices Award: Tips from an Editor

In this blog post, our editorial assistant Samantha shares her thoughts on the New Voices Award and what she’s looking for from this year’s submissions.

The beginning of summer is my favorite time of year. School’s out, the weather brightens up—although this year in New York, it’s been a bit shaky—and New Voices season begins. This year marks our 15th annual New Voices Award contest, and I can’t wait to watch the submissions come rolling in!

Over the last fourteen years, LEE & LOW BOOKS has published more than ten books that have come to us through It Jes' Happened coverthe New Voices contest, including Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo (2003 Winner) and Seaside Dream by Janet Costa Bates (2006 Honor). It Jes’ Happened (2005 Honor) received three starred reviews, and author Don Tate won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor. And we’re very excited about several New Voices winners and honors that will be published in upcoming seasons. We just love reading the amazing stories that have been submitted to the contest, and it’s inspiring to us to work with first-time picture book authors.

Last year we were thrilled to receive 165 New Voices submissions from authors all across the Unites States. With so many great manuscripts to read, we look for stories that stand out from the crowd. We love to be surprised by a Seaside Dreammanuscript, whether it’s a biography of a fascinating but little known historical figure or an everyday story told from a unique perspective. A submission will catch our eye if it is something we haven’t seen before. Just as the New Voices contest seeks out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing, we love to read stories about characters and subjects that are similarly underrepresented.

Another small but important detail that we appreciate when reading New Voices submissions is when an author pays close attention to the contest guidelines. It might seem trivial, but a good cover letter that follows the guideline requests—especially author information—creates a great first impression. You can see the full submission guidelines here and the answers to some frequently asked questions here.

We look forward to reading a great batch of stories this year and to discovering talented new authors through the New Voices contest. We hope you will help us spread the word to eligible authors!

 


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101 Tagged: ask an editor, aspiring authors, diverse books, New Voices Award, New Voices Award contest, New Voices Award winners, writing award, writing contest

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24. M.K. Hutchins Blog Tour: On Mythology, Maya Culture, & More!

To celebrate the release of her debut novel Drift last week, author M.K. Hutchins has been stopping by blogs throughout the week to talk about her writing process, Maya culture, and more.

drift, m.k. hutchins

Here’s a bit about Drift:

There’s no place for love on the shores of hell.

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day.

But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister’s wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get.

As the naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for Avi—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

You can read sample chapters from Drift online hereKirkus Reviews has called it “totally fresh” and Sarah Beth Durst, author of Vessel and Conjured, has called it “a fantastic adventure set in a stunning, original world. . . . Some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever read.”

M.K. Hutchins’ tour schedule is below, so if you haven’t picked up Drift or you have and loved it, check out the following blogs for some great insight and conversation into this fantastic world!

June 19: John Scalzi’s Whatever BlogM.K. Hutchins on worldbuilding and cultural ecology here

June 20: Supernatural Snark – M.K. Hutchins on being inspired by Maya mythology here.

June 23: It’s All About Books – M.K. Hutchins’ top 5 most influential books here.

June 25: Read Now Sleep Later - Check back for the link!

June 26: The Brain Lair - Check back for the link!

Still want to learn more about M.K. Hutchins and Drift? Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!


Filed under: Book News, Diversity in YA, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: blog tour, debut author, drift, fantasy, m.k. hutchins

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25. Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II


Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of 
Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.

But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader?

It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve received that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when not handled with Collins-esque finesse.

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the reader is given clues to work out rather than having any new terms explained to them. This approach needs just as much, if not more, finesse. It’s a process that some readers who are new to speculative fiction might stumble over the most, which is why I think there’s so little of it in middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen it called “incluing,” which is a silly word, but I don’t know of another name for it and the description of incluing in that Wikipedia link is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I—as a lifelong fantasy fan—prefer to see in the beginning of a book, particularly one set in a world that has no connection to our own, or if it’s in the future of our world far enough into the future that the society is unrecognizable to us, such as the society in Tankborn. Karen Sandler does a wonderful job at incluing readers as we read chapter 1 of the first book in the Tankborn trilogy.

The prominent example I like to give writers for this kind of worldbuilding is from The Golden Compass. Check out the first paragraph of that book:

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table.”

Pullman jumps right into the scene, with Lyra sneaking down the dining hall with her daemon. We’re hooked—she’s doing something sneaky, and we don’t know what. And we want to know. We don’t even know what the daemon physically looks like until paragraph 4, and even then we don’t know why he’s called a daemon or what makes a daemon special.

What is a daemon, anyway? We don’t know! In fact, this is one of the major conflicts of the book—we need to read more to find out about daemons, and further mysteries are revealed as we read that deepen our understanding of daemons and of Lyra’s world in general. As we discover more clues that intrigue us, we want to know more, and keep reading.

But the line between intriguing the reader and confusing the reader is very thin, and I would argue that for some readers it’s in a different place than for others. Those of us who are familiar with fantasy might be more willing to patiently wait for more information about daemons because we trust that this author will let us know what we need to know when the time is right. We know that they’re teasing us with this information so as not to overburden us within the first few pages of the book (or, in the case of The Golden Compass, because the reader can’t know what the majority of people in that world don’t know, either).

Tankborn coverIn situations in which you need to establish a world that’s entirely different from our own, I find that putting a character in a situation that’s somewhat familiar to the reader can help with establishing the unfamiliar. In Karen Sandler’s Tankborn, for example, Kayla has to watch her little brother instead of going to a street fair with her friends. While Kayla calls him her “nurture brother” instead of just her brother, it’s still a situation to which a lot of readers can relate, even if it is set on another planet and her brother is catching nasty arachnid-based sewer toads instead of familiar Earth frogs and toads.

M. K. Hutchins, author of Drift, approached it in a completely different way. She starts with a dangerous situation—a family on the run from authorities, splitting up. The mother, our main character Tenjat, and his sister Eflet are embarking on a terrible journey that’s almost certain death, setting off on a raft in the middle of the night into an ocean full of snake-like monsters, and leaving the family’s father and smallest brother behind to face unknown punishment. While perhaps no reader has been chased by authorities in the middle of the night, it is a dangerous situation and a parting of family—mixing the familiar (family) with the unfamiliar (a dangerous situation in a completely new setting).Drift

It’s the difference between showing and telling. Philip Pullman, Karen Sandler, and M. K. Hutchins all show us how their worlds works, rather than pausing to tell us how it works (“in this world, all people are born with an animal companion called a daemon”).

Telling can work, though, especially in small doses—Katniss’s voice is so conversational that the brief moments of telling in the first few pages of The Hunger Games work, particularly because Collins is mostly showing what Katniss is up to. The brief pauses to “infodump” feel like the reader is being told a story by a storyteller, like a friend telling a story over the kitchen table after a nice big meal would pause and explain something you didn’t understand (a friend who’s a very good storyteller). It’s an awareness of audience that most speculative fiction doesn’t have the luxury of.

Showing isn’t always better, and telling isn’t always bad, when done right and mixed in with showing. Whichever method you use, remember that sometimes readers will trip over new words so you need to give them as much context as possible without over-infodumping.

And here is where the art comes in. I can’t tell you what that balance is, but if you look at examples like the ones above, you’ll get a better feel for how much to reveal and how much to hold back in your first few pages—revealing enough to orient your reader and give them a sense of the differences of this world (while grounding them in something familiar like Lyra’s hallway or Katniss’s humble home) while seeking to avoid overburdening them with too much all at once.

What about you? How have you found the right balance of introducing your world without overburdening the reader? What books do you recommend that do this particularly well?

 


Filed under: Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy writing, science fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, worldbuilding, writing advice, writing resources, writing tips, young adult writing

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