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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrysanthemum, You’re Not Alone!

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

Book Pairing Recommendation:

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

Ideal read-alouds for the start of school should:

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

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

Activities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading on starting the school year:

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2. Spotlight On: REFORMA’S Children in Crisis Project

From time to time here on the LEE & LOW blog we like to shine a spotlight on organizations, companies, or projects that move us. Today we’re featuring a special project close to our heart: the Children in Crisis Project from REFORMA, the National Association To Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos.

Preparing books for donation (image from REFORMA website)

Last year, over 70,000 unaccompanied children crossed the Southern border into the United States. This is a true humanitarian crisis, with many of these children ending up in detention centers, awaiting immigration processing or deportation. They have few or no personal belongings, don’t know English, and have been separated from their families with no sense of if or when they will be reunited.

Oralia Garza de Cortes, Lucía Gonzalez, and Patrick Sullivan are three longtime members of REFORMA who were moved to help. They implemented the Children in Crisis project to solicit donations, purchase, and deliver books and backpacks to the children in detention centers. In the first phase of the drive, they raised enough funds and donations to deliver 300 books to children in the McAllen Texas Centralized Processing Center, and they have since delivered several hundred more. Currently they are coordinating donations of backpacks that will contain books as well as paper, pencils, erasers, crayons and a writing journal for children to use in their journey toward their destination.

The project is a moving illustration of how librarians essentially serve as caretakers of their communities, bridging the gap between resources and the people who need them. “As the immigrant child that I was, I remember that first librarian taking me to the Spanish section with three or four Spanish books. I hope every child will find that librarian, like an oasis in a desert,” said Lucía Gonzalez.

When asked why they felt that librarians should have a role in outreach to these children, Oralia Garza de Cortes said, “We reached out as a humanitarian cause, just something so overwhelming that we really had to come together to do something.”

Patrick Sullivan added, “It’s also a counterbalance to some of those xenophobic Americans. The initial reception that some of these people received . . . was depressing and doesn’t show how we are as Americans. Librarians reach out to their communities every day and this was something we had to respond to. ”

The process for getting the books into children’s hands was a challenging one, given detention centers’ heavy regulation and policing. The group made contact with the border patrol, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even contractors in order to find a way to deliver the books. “The books were welcome, but the problem was getting in touch with the right people,” said Sullivan. They were prohibited from entering the detention facilities themselves to deliver the books.

Delivering books to a shelter. (image from REFORMA website)

“This is just mega gyms full of people lying on mattresses on the floor and there’s just no space,” said Garza de Cortes. “They are in these freezing warehouses and have no idea what’s happening. If they had a good book, that would take them along on their journey.”

Although it would be an added effort, the group decided to include bookplates in each donated book, an idea that came from longtime REFORMA member Sandra Valderrama.  “It was cumbersome, but to have the message in the book saying, ‘This is your book, and you’re free to take it wherever you want and it will give you light and be your companion,’ it was a very powerful message,” said Garza de Cortes.

Said Gonzalez, “For many of them this is the first book they own and it is a very unique experience.”

The group hopes the donated books will serve as the beginning, not the end, of children’s relationship with their libraries.  “What we’d like to do is interject ourselves to those kids who will eventually end up in the United States,” said Sullivan. “There are contacts that can happen that go beyond just the books. We’re trying to convey the idea that libraries are these free open places with lots of information.”

“The families need guidance,” said Gonzalez. “If they don’t have a place like the public library, where are they going to go? How are they going to get this information?”

Garza de Cortes, Gonzalez, and Sullivan were named 2015 Movers & Shakers by School Library Journal for their work. You can learn more about ways to help here.

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3. 8 Books to Celebrate International Friendship Day

August 2nd - also known as International Friendship Day- is almost here. (I know, summer is going by WAY too fast).

In honor of International Friendship Day, break out your half of your friendship heart necklace and take some time to remind others how much they mean to you.  If you’re unable to make plans to enjoy each other’s company, a simple gesture, such as a card or hand-written letter, will certainly make them feel loved.

Better yet, say it with a book! Reading books about friendship gives Internationalyou an opportunity to talk about the characteristics of a good friend, and seeing others from diverse backgrounds sharing and being kind to each other positively affects how children will interact and treat others.

Here are 8 books that celebrate friendship and some fun activities to make International Friendship Day a memorable one.

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen

Juna’s Jar

Up the Learning Tree

David’s Drawings

First Come the Zebra

The Can Man

Rainbow Joe and Me

The Legend of Freedom Hill

  1. Make a Friendship Card

One of the simplest and most appreciated gestures is to make someone a card to let them know you’re thinking of them. Receiving anything heartfelt in the mail is a rare and welcomed occurrence these days.

  1. Make Friendship Bracelets

You don’t need to go to summer camp to make these! They make great gifts and they’re also fun to make.

  1. Do a Random Act of Kindness

International Friendship Day isn’t just about your closest friends. Reach out and be a friend to others.

  1. Write a friendly letter

Whether it be a close or new friend-near or far- taking the time to write a letter shows how much you care.

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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4. New Spring and Fall Releases from LEE & LOW BOOKS and Tu Books!

Summer is here in full force. It’s the perfect time to curl up pool- or beachside with a good book! Look no further than our new spring and fall releases!

Finding the Music/En pos de la música

When Reyna accidentally breaks her abuelito’s old vihuela, she travels around her neighborhood trying to figure out how to repair it. In the process, she discovers her grandfather’s legacy. Written by Jennifer Torres and illustrated by Renato Alarcão.

Sunday Shopping

Evie and her grandma go shopping every Sunday. They put on their nightgowns, open up the newspapers,  and turn on their imaginations. Written by Sally Derby and illustrated by Shadra Strickland.

Poems In The Attic Text here

A young girl finds her mother’s poems written when her mother traveled around in a military family. The young girl writes her own related poems. Written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream

Ira Aldridge dreamed of acting in Shakespeare’s plays. Because of a lack of opportunity in the United States, Ira journeys to England to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Written by Glenda Armand and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Maya’s Blanket

Maya has a blanket stitched by her Grandma. The blanket later becomes a dress, a skirt, a shawl, a skirt and a headband. This story is inspired by the Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl” (“I Had a Little Coat”). Written by Monica Brown and illustrated by David Diaz.

New from the Tu Books imprint:

Ink and Ashes

Claire Takata discovers her deceased father’s connection to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, and puts her and her family’s lives in danger. Written by Valynne E. Maetani.

Trail of the Dead

In this sequel to the award-winning Killer of Enemies, Lozen and her family, on the run from the tyrants who once held them hostage, embark on a journey along a perilous trail once followed by her ancestors, where they meet friends and foes alike. Written by Joseph Bruchac.

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5. Two Authors Share Their Favorite Tools to Plot a Story

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

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about tools authors use to plot their stories.

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

One tip I learned from a fellow author was that a good story comes “full circle”. Your beginning should give a hint to the ending, your middle should contain page-turning connecting pieces, and your ending should point you back to the beginning.

The advantage I had in writing As Fast As Words Could Fly, is that it was from my dad’s life experiences, and the events were already there. One tool that helped me with the plot was LISTENING to the emotions as my dad retold his story. I listened to his fears, his sadness, his excitement, and his determination. By doing this, I was able to “hear” the conflict, the climax, and the resolution.

One major emotion that resonates from my main character, Mason, is confidence. I drew this emotion from a statement my dad made: “I kept telling myself, I can do this.” The challenging part was trying to choose which event to develop into a plot. My grandfather was a Civil Rights activist, so I knew my dad wrote letters for my grandfather, participated in a few sit-ins, desegregated the formerly all-white high school, learned to type, and entered the county typing tournament. Once I decided to use his typing as my focal point, the next step was to create a beginning that would lead up to his typing. This is when I decided to open the story with the idea of my dad composing hand-written letters for his father’s Civil Rights group. I threw in a little creative dialogue to explain the need for a sit-in, and then I decided to introduce the focal point of typing by having the group give him a typewriter to make the letter writing a little easier. To build my character’s determination about learning to type, I used a somewhat irrelevant event my dad shared: priming tobacco during the summer. However, I used this event to support my plot with the statement: “Although he was weary from his day’s work, he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his typing.” His summer of priming tobacco also gave me an opportunity to introduce two minor characters who would later add to the tension he faced when integrating the formerly all-white school.

The second step was to concentrate on a middle that would show some conflict with typing. This is when I used my dad’s experiences of being ignored by the typing teacher, landing a typing job in the school’s library and later being fired without warning, and reluctantly being selected to represent his school in the typing tournament.

Lastly, I created an ending to show the results of all the hard work he had dedicated to his typing, which includes a statement that points back to the beginning (full circle).

Although the majority of the events in As Fast As Words Could Fly are true, I had to carefully select and tweak various events to work well in each section, making sure that each event supported my plot.

Jennifer Torres, author of Finding the Music, New Voices Winner 2011

I’m a huge fan of outlines and have a hard time starting even seemingly simple stories without one. An outline gives me and my characters a nice road map, but that’s not always enough. Once I had an outline for Finding the Music, it was really helpful to visualize the plot in terms of successive scenes rather than bullet points. I even sketched out an actual map to help me think about my main character Reyna’s decisions, development and movement in space and time.

Still, early drafts of the story meandered. There were too many characters and details that didn’t move the plot forward. When stories begin to drift like that, I go back to my journalism experience: Finding the Music needed a nut graph, a newspaper term for a paragraph that explains “in a nutshell” what the story is really about, why it matters. Finding the Music is about a lot of things, but for me, what it’s *really* about is community—the community Reyna’s abuelo helped build through this music and the community Reyna is part of (even though it’s sometimes noisier than she’d like). I think Reyna’s mamá captures that idea of community when she says, “These are the sounds of happy lives. The voices of our neighbors are like music.”

Once I found the heart of the story, it was a lot easier to sharpen up scenes and pull the plot back into focus.

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6. New York City Teachers: How Do You Discover Diverse Literature For Your Students?

It can be challenging to create an inclusive book collection or curriculum. For even the most committed and informed teachers, there is a diversity gap in children’s literature. In addition, there are also the issues of support from colleagues and administrators, time (and money) for discovery, and acquiring best practices.

For those in New York City education, here is an opportunity to share your experiences teaching and searching for culturally relevant and responsive curriculum and books!

Snapshot_20140113Dr. Marilisa Jiménez-García from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY is gathering information about diversity in children’s and young adult literature from the perspective of Literature and Language Arts instructors in New York City public schools. Take her ten-minute survey here.

The goals of the survey are to understand how educators learn about books in their professional development and to find better ways to connect educators to diverse teaching materials.

A message from Dr. Jiménez-García:

Your perspective as a practitioner is important to creating a productive dialogue about today’s Language Arts classroom. I want to learn about your experiences as a teacher in NYC public schools teaching literature in classrooms. 

How are you and your students exposed to diverse stories, authors, and characters? What are some resources that would help you increase the kind of diversity your students receive in literature instruction? What development opportunities would you like to participate in that would enrich your experience as a NYC teacher?”

diverse books teacher surveyDue date: September 15, 2015

Time: Ten minutes

Eligibility:

  1. You must be a current New York City public (district or charter) school teacher
  2. Your area of instruction must be Literature/Language Arts/English and/or English Language Learner instruction

Survey link here.

Responses are confidential and will be used in a larger study on diverse books in schools that Dr. Jiménez-García is doing as a National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow. She can be reached at @MarilisaJimenez.

For further reading on Dr. Jiménez-García’s work:

 

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7. Diversity Baseline Survey Update: Which Review Journals + Publishers are On Board?

Several weeks ago I posted about why we’re asking publishers to join our Diversity Baseline Survey. If you missed that post, here’s a quick summary of the project:

The Diversity Baseline Survey we’ve proposed would be the first of its kind for US publishers. It involves creating statistics that do not yet exist by measuring staff diversity among publishers and review journals in four areas: gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability.

In short, we’re hoping that all publishers, from small to large, will opt in and encourage their staff to take our short survey. If they do, for the first time we’ll be able to see a clear picture of diversity among publishing staff.

Why Bother When We Know the Numbers Are Bad?

Having these numbers is the first step toward improving diversity because it will give us a starting number and a way to measure progress. While publishing is not usually a numbers-focused industry, if we are serious about attacking the lack of diversity among publishing staff it’s imperative that we take an analytical approach. Without baseline numbers, there’s no way to know if new initiatives in recruitment and retainment are actually changing the landscape. For many years, people were under the impression that diversity in books was increasing. When we released our 2014 study which looked at the numbers over a 20-year period, many people were shocked to see that, based on the numbers, the situation had not actually improved. This problem is too important to solve by just throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s time to commit to improvement through concrete actions that can be tracked.

Where We’re At

So far, the following publishers and review journals have agreed to be part of the survey:

Review Journals
Bayviews
Booklist

Foreword Reviews
Horn Book
Kirkus Reviews
Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
School Library Journal

Publishers
Albert Whitman
Annick Press
Arte Publico Press
Charlesbridge
Cinco Puntos Press
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Groundwood
Holiday House
Just Us Books
Lee & Low Books
Peachtree Publishers
Pomelo Books
Sasquatch Books
Second Story Press
Tradewind Books

If you don’t see your publisher on the list, we encourage you to reach out to them and express your support for the project. Ultimately, everyone benefits when this survey is as comprehensive as possible. Send them here for more information on how to join.

Administering the Survey + Privacy Concerns

When we first announced this project, we got many responses from people who supported the idea but were concerned about employee privacy. We took that feedback to heart and have worked to make sure that privacy will never be put at risk. The survey will be administered by Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen of St. Catherine University. She and her team will be the ONLY people with access to survey results, so companies will not be able to view responses from their employees. Dr. Dahlen and her team will aggregate the results to share an overview of the industry that protects the privacy of individual respondents while still giving us a full picture of racial, gender, and disability diversity among publishing employees.

1,500 Petition Signatures 

To encourage more publishers to get on board, we created a Change.org petition for the survey. We’re thrilled to share that the petition already has over 1,500 signatures! If you haven’t taken a minute to sign yet, now’s the time.

What’s Next

Our immediate goal is to get the big publishers on board – without them, the statistics we’ll derive won’t be representative of the industry. Help us by spreading the word, signing the petition, and sharing. Together we can chip away at institutionalized discrimination and create a more diverse, healthier, alive-and-thriving book industry.

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8. ALA 2015 Recap: Wins in Diversity

Another year, another successful ALA annual! We were so excited to be in San Francisco this year, especially in light of the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage! What better city to be in than the one that elected Harvey Milk to public office and issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, kickstarting a fight for LGBTQ marriage rights in California?

We started off the conference with some great news: Foreword Reviews named us Indie Publisher of the Year 2014! We were thrilled and humbled by this honor. You can see what they said about us here.

foreword review indie publisher of the year 2014

We had a full signing schedule, including award-winning authors and illustrators, and a couple of debut authors. Another highlight was getting to meet many of our Children’s Book Press authors and illustrators who are based in California. We’ve often only emailed back and forth with them, so it was nice to finally meet in person!

ala signing floyd cooper
Illustrator Floyd Cooper demonstrates how he creates his art.
alal signing nikki grimes
Authors G. Neri and Nikki Grimes  – what a duo!
ala signing jane bahk
Debut author and New Voices Award winner Jane Bahk
ala signing children's book press
The LEE & LOW team with Children’s Book Press authors and illustrators

We were also excited to see Frank Morrison honored at the Coretta Scott King breakfast for his illustrations in Little Melba and Her Big Trombone! He wrote a moving speech about breaking out of the mold, as Melba did:

I was dazzled by this six year old [Melba] hearing the rhythm and beats in her head. I believe this is true for all artists. First you have to have the love, then passion, next discipline, tenacity, and bravery. I truly believe this is what took Melba from performing on the steps with her grandfather in front of a dog at seven years old to performing in front of thousands on stages around the world. Let’s all encourage our youth to recognized their gifts and if they don’t fit the cookie cutter,
Break! The! Mold!
Other winners also gave contemplative, beautiful, and inspiring speeches (you can read Jacqueline Woodson’s here).

Publisher Jason Low participated in an Ignite Session with a presentation called “Diversity’s Action Plan,” a five minute talk packed with big ideas about how to create change in the publishing industry. If you missed it, you can watch all 5 minutes right here:

One key takeaway: we’re asking people to sign a petition for publishers to participate in our Diversity Baseline Survey, which will measure staff diversity in the publishing industry and give us a benchmark for improvement. If you haven’t signed yet, please take a minute to do so. We’ve now surpassed 1,500 signatures!

jason low ala
Publisher Jason Low at ALA’s Ignite Session

Valynne E. Maetani, debut author and winner of Tu Book‘s New Visions Award, was at the Pop Top stage to talk about her new YA mystery novel, Ink and Ashes. Afterwards, she signed books at our booth, and completely sold out!

ala signing valynne e maetani
Author Valynne E. Maetani

It was a lot of fun to meet everyone and enjoy San Francisco, and we’re looking forward to Orlando next year!

What were your ALA highlights? Let us know in the comments!

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9. Lee & Low Books named Indie Publisher of the Year 2014

We’re just back from the ALA Annual Conference, and kicking off the long weekend with some happy news: Lee & Low Books was named Indie Publisher of the Year 2014 by Foreword Reviews! Lee & Low Books Foreword Reviews We are so thrilled, overjoyed, and humbled by this honor. Here’s what Foreword Reviews said about us at the Award Announcement:

Foreword presented Lee & Low Books with its Publisher of the Year award for the minority-owned company’s commitment to diverse voices in children’s literature. Lack of diversity in children’s literature has been a recent topic of discussion in the publishing world, but Lee & Low has focused on filling this void for a couple of decades. “For more than 20 years, Jason Low and his talented team have continued an honorable mission of increasing the number of diverse books available for children,” said Foreword Reviews Publisher Victoria Sutherland. “They are being honored by Foreword for more than books, however. We admire their leadership role in the indie publishing community.”

Thank you all for the outpouring of love and support. We are lucky to have such passionate fans, partners, and readers. Happy Fourth of July weekend, and we’ll see you next week!

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10. 10 Myths about Teaching STEM Books and How You Can Teach STEM in Your Classroom Now

STEM Friday + Lee & Low Books (1)Join Lee & Low Books and Anastasia Suen, Founder of the STEM Friday blog and award-winning children’s book author, for a dynamic discussion on how to teach STEM in your classroom starting this fall. Share My Lesson is hosting a Summer of Learning professional development series and Thursday, July 9 focuses on all things STEM.

With the right tools and support, we will show how educators can support all students to become successful in learning STEM content knowledge and conceptual understanding.

We will look at persistent myths about teaching STEM, explore the intersection of STEM and English Language Arts, and reexamine what makes a great STEM read aloud.

Sign up to learn how to discover the right STEM book and hands-on activities for your students’ interests and learning needs. We will cover strategies on inspiring and supporting underrepresented groups in STEM as well as how to differentiate for special populations.

In addition to learning about how Lee & Low titles can fit into your science and mathematics units and how to integrate STEM learning throughout your literacy block, teachers can earn an hour of professional development credit! The whole series is FREE and open to all.

At the end of the presentation, you will have strategies you can apply immediately to your classroom and resources for further exploration.

share my lesson 2Overview:

Title: Teach STEM Now

Date: Thursday, July 09, 2015

Time: 01:00PM Eastern Daylight Time

Duration: 1 hour

Cost: FREE

Register here!

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

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11. Pride Month: Fifteen LGBTQ-Themed Books for Readers of Every Age

June is Pride Month!  Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots, which happened June 1969, and was a starting summer deals!point for the Gay Rights movement. The Stonewall Inn, where the riots took place, in New York City recently gained landmark status.

To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of fifteen books that celebrate different gender identities, sexual orientations, families, and ways to be!

Picture Books

Antonio’s Card by Rigoberto Gonzalez – Mother’s Day is coming up. Antonio searches for the right words to express his love for his mother, and Leslie, his mother’s partner.

Call Me Tree by Maya Christina Gonzalez – In this completely gender-neutral story, Maya Christina Gonzalez empowers readers to reach … and be as unique and free as trees.

I am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel – Based on the life of transgender activist Jazz Jennings. Jazz has known she was a girl since the age of two, even if everyone around her doesn’t know it yet.

Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman – This classic is one of the first lesbian-themed picture books. Heather is being raised by her mother, Jane and her mother’s partner, Kate.

Middle Grade

George  by Alex Gino – Everyone thinks George is a boy, but George knows that she’s a girl. After her teacher announces that the class play is Charlotte’s Web, George hatches a plan with her best Kelly, so that everyone can know who she is once and for all.

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle – Nate has always wanted to be in a Broadway show. But how is he supposed to make his dreams come true when he’s stuck in a small town in Pennsylvania?

Wandering Son by Takako Shimura – Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki are two friends at the start of puberty sharing a big secret: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. First graphic novel in a series.

 

Young Adult

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin – Six transgender and gender-neutral teens share their stories.

Ash by Malinda Lo – In this retelling of Cinderella, Ash must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio– In this debut novel, Kristen, has a seemingly ideal life. She’s just been voted homecoming queen and is a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college. Everything unravels when Kristen and her boyfriend decide to take it to the next level, and Kristen finds out she’s intersex. Somehow her secret is leaked to the whole school.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez – Sanchez’s debut novel follows three boys, Jason Carrillo, Kyle Meeks, and Nelson Glassman, as they struggle with their sexualities and their friendships.

 

Books for Adults

Autobiography of My Hungers by Rigoberto Gonzalez – Rigoberto Gonzalez takes a look at his life through the lens of hunger.

Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima – Kochan is unlike other men; he is homosexual. In post-war Japanese society, Kochan must keep this fact hidden under a mask of propriety.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker – This book focuses on the lives of several poor African American women in rural Georgia.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson – The rich and privileged have left Toronto for the suburbs. Now, the people with money need bodies, so they prey upon the helpless people on the street.

 

 

 

 

 

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12. Come meet LEE & LOW BOOKS at ALA 2015!

ALA is just around the corner and we would love to meet you! We’ll be in the North Exhibit Hall at Booth #1020!

See below for our signing schedule as well as a few other events we’ll be participating in:

jason low ignite session

Join LEE & LOW BOOKS publisher Jason Low for a quick-as-lightning Ignite Session: “Diversity’s Action Plan.” This will be a short talk packed with big ideas about how to create change in the publishing industry. Join us on Saturday, June 27th at the Moscone Convention Center from 11: 30 AM – 12:00 PM in room 130N.

SIGNINGS AT BOOTH #1020

Friday, June 26

6:00 – 7:00 PM: Children’s Book Press authors Alma Flor Ada (Let Me Help!/ ¡Quiero ayudar!); Mira Reisberg (Uncle Nacho’s Hat/ El sombrero del Tío Nacho); Harriet Rohmer (Honoring Our Ancestors)Carmen Lomas Garza (In My Family/ En mi familia); and Jorge Argueta (A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada)

Saturday, June 27

Floyd Cooper (Ira’s Shakespeare Dream), 9:15 – 10:00 AM

Maya Christina Gonzalez (Call Me Tree/Llamamé arbol), 10:00 – 10:45 AM

Frank Morrison (Little Melba and Her Big Trombone), 11:00 – 11:45 AM

Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la música), 12:00 – 12:45 PM

Nikki Grimes (Poems in the Attic), 2:00 – 2:45 PM

Emily Jiang & April Chu (Summoning the Phoenix), 3:00 – 3:45 PM

Monica Brown (Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash), 4:00 – 4:45 PM

Sunday, June 28

Frank Morrison & Katheryn Russell-Brown (Little Melba and Her Big Trombone), 10:00 – 10:45 AM

Paula Yoo (Twenty-two Cents), 11:00 – 11:45 AM

Karen Sandler (Tankborn trilogy), 12:00 – 12:45 PM

Jane Bahk (Juna’s Jar), 1:00 – 1:45 PM

Valynne E. Maetani (Ink and Ashes), 2:00 – 2:45 PM

Christy Hale (Dreaming Up), 3:00 – 3: 45 PM

Monday, June 29

Valynne E. Maetani (Ink and Ashes), 10:00 – 10:45 AM 

You can also download a printable PDF of our schedule here.

PANELS

Join LEE & LOW authors at the following panels:

Sunday, June 28

Diverse Authors Need Us, 9:00 – 10:00 AM

Karen Sandler (Tankborn trilogy) & G. Neri (Yummy, Chess Rumble)

PopTop Stage, Exhibit Hall, Moscone Convention Center

 Poetry Blast, 3:00 – 4:00 PM

Nikki Grimes (Poems in the Attic)

PopTop Stage, Exhibit Hall, Moscone Convention Center

 Monday, June 29

2K15 Debut Novels Panel, 9:00 – 10:00 AM

Valynne E. Maetani (Ink and Ashes)

PopTop Stage, Exhibit Hall, Moscone Convention Center

Hope to see you there!

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13. The Perfect Picture Book for the Last Day of School


The Perfect Picture Book for the Last (2)Your last day with this class is here. You have one last time to share the moment when you gather for a read aloud. How will you honor the moment?

The last day of school is hectic, a blur, a blast, sweet, and wistful.

 

Will you pick a book you already read this year with your students to live again in that moment? Or will you pick a book to launch your students toward their summers and the rest of their education journey?

 

Will your last read aloud be nostalgic or hopeful? 

We’ve gathered some of our favorite Lee & Low titles to conclude and celebrate a year’s worth of reading with your students. Let us know what you recommend (any book!) and your reading tradition on the last day of school!

Poetry

Amazing Faces

An anthology of universal poems focusing on the human experience–emotions, perceptions, and understandings–as expressed by poets of diverse heritage and reflected in illustrations featuring people of all ages and backgrounds.

Confetti: Poems for Children

The renowned poet Pat Mora celebrates the culture and landscape of the southwest through the eyes of a Mexican American girl. 

I and I Bob Marley

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

Summer

My Steps

An African American girl shares her private world of playtime on her front steps over each of the four seasons. 

Quinito’s Neighborhood/El Vecindario de Quinito

This bilingual book takes readers around the buildings, streets, shops, and people that make up Quinito’s neighborhood. 

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy

A biography of William “Dummy” Hoy, one of the first deaf major league baseball players. 

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

The inspirational true story of Sammy Lee, a Korean American who overcame discrimination to realize both his father’s desire that he become a doctor and his own dream of becoming an Olympic champion diver. 

Strong to the Hoop

A boy finally gets to play basketball on the main court with the older boys, and has to prove he can hold his own. 

Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon

Ruth Forman offers a poetic testament to childhood, language, and play, bringing to life the streets of South Philadelphia. Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon is a celebration of city summer memories, and of African American culture and community.

Drummer Boy of John John

A joyous picture book set in the Caribbean  during Carnival, based on the childhood of one of the inventors of the steel drum. 

The Power of Learning and Education

Armando and the Blue Tarp School

The story of a young Mexican boy living in a colonia (trash dump community) who takes the first steps toward realizing his dream of getting an education. 

Chess Rumble

A story in free verse about a troubled boy who learns to use his mind instead of his fists through the guidance of an unconventional mentor and the game of chess. 

How We Are Smart

Readers will learn that being smart is about more than doing well in school. There are eight ways to be smart, and they are reflected in how a person uses his or her body, relates to the natural world, responds to music and art, and more.

Love to Langston

This inspiring biography on Langston Hughes celebrates his life through poetry. 

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace

A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman–and first environmentalist–to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004) for her work planting trees in her native Kenya.

Yasmin’s Hammer

A young Bangladeshi girl who helps support her family by working in a brickyard finds a way to make her dream of going to school and learning to read a reality. 

Silly/Humor

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

An account of the life and career of George Crum, a biracial chef who is credited with the invention of the potato chip at a Saratoga Springs, New York, restaurant in 1853. Based on historical records. 

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji

Overflowing with family, food, and a tall stack of fun, this story is sure to warm the heart and tickle the tummy. A fun way for children to learn about the cultural traditions and foods of India. 

Jazz Baby

A celebration of music and movement, this story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina

A mestiza Peruvian American of European, Jewish, and Amerindian heritage, renowned author Monica Brown wrote this lively story to bring her own experience of being mismatched to life.

Sunday Shopping

Every Sunday night a young girl and her grandmother go on an imaginary shopping trip in this delightful picture book.

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen

A spunky African American girl has a hula-hooping competition with her friends in Harlem, and soon everyone in the neighborhood–young and old alike–joins in on the fun.

Where On Earth is My Bagel?

A young Korean boy gets a craving for a New York bagel and goes on a journey to fulfill his hunger. 

Believe in Yourself

Allie’s Basketball Dream

Basketball is Allie’s favorite sport–she’s loved it ever since her father took her to her first game at Madison Square Garden. 

Call Me Tree/Llámame Árbol

An imaginary  tale of self-discovery told by a child who grows, learns about the natural world, embraces others, and is free to become who he or she is meant to be–a child as unique as a tree. Gender neutral.  

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream

The spirited story of Marcenia Lyle, the African American girl who grew up to become “Toni Stone,” the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team.

Cora Cooks Pancit

Cora and Mama work together to cook up pancit for the family in this celebration of Filipino heritage and foods. 

Crazy Horse’s Vision

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

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos

A bilingual collection of poetry by acclaimed Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcon celebrating family, community, nature, and the positive power of dreams to shape our future.

The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story

Meena, a young Asian Indian American girl, grows in self-confidence when she learns to practice yoga and apply the underlying principles to her performance in the school play.

Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree

The true story of the famous writer, who as a young girl, learned about hope and strength from her mother.

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

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14. INK AND ASHES Blog Tour Round Up

To celebrate the release of her debut novel, Ink and Ashesearlier this month, author Valynne E. Maetani has been stopping by blogs to talk about her writing process, winning the first ever New Visions Award, and much more.

More about Ink and Ashes:

Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.

Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.

The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.

Here is a round up of the tour.

YA Books Central – Valynne E. Maetani shares 5 facts you should know about the Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza, here.

Dear Teen Me – Read Valynne E. Maetani’s letter to her teen self here.

We Are Word Nerds –  Valynne E. Maetani on the inspiration behind Ink and Ashes and her journey to publication here.

The Book Smugglers – Valynne E. Maetani on winning the New Visions Award here.

Teen Lit Rocks! shares why they enjoyed reading Ink and Ashes here.

To find out more about Valynne E. Maetani and Ink and Ashes, follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

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15. Authors of Color: Submit Your Manuscript to the New Visions Award!

new visions award winnerSummer is already here! That means that the third annual NEW VISIONS AWARD is now open for submissions! Established by Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes middle grade and young adult books, the award is a fantastic chance for new authors of color to break into the world of publishing for young readers.

The New Visions Award writing contest is awarded for a middle grade or young adult manuscript, and is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a middle grade or young adult novel published. The winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize and a publication contract with LEE & LOW BOOKS.

Ink and Ashes by Valynne Maetani, the first New Visions Award winner, was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

The New Visions Award is modeled after LEE & LOW BOOKS’ successful New Voices Award for picture book manuscripts. New Voices submissions we have published include Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee StoryIt Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, and Bird.

The deadline for this award is October 31, 2015.

For more eligibility and submissions details, visit the New Visions Award page. Spread the word to any authors you know who may be interested. Happy writing to you all and best of luck!

 

 

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16. What does Juneteenth Celebrate?

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.

Author Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Juneteenth Jamboreewanted to celebrate this “emancipation celebration that is said to have begun on June 19, 1865, when Union Army soldiers arrived in Texas and informed slaves that they were free.”

juneteenth day
Learning of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation

According to Weatherford’s author note, the news of emancipation took two years, six months, and nineteen days to reach Texas after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

juneteenth jamboreeToday, African Americans come together all around the country to celebrate Juneteenth with traditions from the early days, including parades, picnics, music, speeches, crafts, and African dance. In 1980, June 19 was made a legal holiday in Texas.

Think about Juneteenth as a companion holiday to the Fourth of July. While Independence Day celebrates freedom for our country, it is important to remember that not all people in America were free at this country’s birth. As Dr. Charles Taylor writes:

Juneteenth has come to symbolize for many African-Americans what the fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans — freedom. It serves as a historical milestone reminding Americans of the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery. It honors those African-Americans ancestors who survived the inhumane institution of bondage, as well as demonstrating pride in the marvelous legacy of resistance and perseverance they left us.

150 years later (better late then never?), several representatives will push for legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance in America. Currently, 43 states recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.

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Learn more about Juneteenth Celebrations
12 Facts About the History of Black Independence Day
Purchase a copy of Juneteenth Jamboree, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan

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17. Using Picture Books to Teach and Discuss Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera with Students

Congratulations to Juan Felipe Herrera who has just been appointed the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (or PLOTUS for those in the know) by the Library of Congress!

To introduce students to Juan Felipe Herrera and his body of work, we have put together a collection of resources and activities for an author (and poet!) study. We’ve structured this Author Study Unit off of Reading Rockets’ Author Study Toolkit (available as a PDF and online).

Juan Felipe Herrera1. Set a purpose and goals for the author study

Have students read these books to find out:

  • who Juan Felipe Herrera is
  • how he uses his background, life, and experiences as inspiration for his stories and writing
  • what themes Herrera writes about in his stories and what themes these books share
  • which story (or moments in a story) the students connect to the most and why

2. Choose an author

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States and the first Latino poet.

3. Read and respond to the books

  • From where do you think Juan Felipe Herrera gets his inspiration for his stories and settings? What makes you think so? How does he include his culture and heritage in his works?
  • How would you describe Juan Felipe Herrera’s writing style?
  • What themes or topics are most meaningful to him? Why do you think that?
  • Compare two of his books. Use a Venn diagram to collect ideas on how these books are similar and unique. What is the central idea of each? Is the book written in verse or prose? Compare the topic, main figures, setting, and text structure of each.

4. Research the author

  • There are a ton of news articles celebrating and reporting the announcement of Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate. Build excitement and interest for students at the beginning of the unit with a couple of the articles, such as this one from the Los Angeles Times.
  • As a class, create a timeline of major events in his life and keep it posted in the classroom throughout the unit. Have students explore Herrera’s website, this curated Library of Congress collection of web resources, and bios from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, and the Library of Congress.
  • Show students this YouTube collection of videos featuring interviews with Juan Felipe Herrera or the PBS clip of Herrera reading his poem, “Five Directions to My House.”

5. Culminating projects and reflection:

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Several previous Poet Laureates created projects to share poetry with the public. Have students read about the Past Poet Laureate Projects from the Library of Congress. Knowing what they now know about Juan Felipe Herrera, have students brainstorm and discuss what project Herrera might create while Poet Laureate. What topics and themes are meaningful to Herrera? What makes you think that?
  • The main figures in each of these stories draw a lot of strength from a special adult in their lives. Who in your life helps you when you are having trouble, feel scared or doubtful, or have a goal you want to achieve? What advice has this person shared with you? What actions and qualities do you admire most about this person?
  • A major focus for Juan Felipe Herrera in his writing is family or community. Encourage students to write a poem or paragraph about a big or small tradition that is important in their own family or community.
  • Juan Felipe Herrera has written a lot on his migrant background. Encourage students to interview their parents or guardians about their family’s migration or immigration history. When did you or our family come to this city/community? Why did you or our family come to this place (was it voluntary or forced)? From where did you or our family come?What traditions does our family have?
  • What does “home” mean to you? How might this word mean more than just the place where you live? What does “family” mean to you? How might this word mean more than just your mother and father? How might these words mean something different to various people?
  • Have students write a letter to Juan Felipe Herrera. In their letters, students may describe which story, poem, or moment in one of his books they connected to the most and why. Students can also include any questions they are curious about concerning Herrera’s life and work.

Picture book recommendations for the author study:

Calling the Doves / El canto de las palomas

Bilingual English/Spanish. Poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s bilingual memoir paints a vivid picture of his migrant farmworker childhood and his road to becoming a writer. Calling the Doves won the 1997 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Writing.

The Upside Down Boy / El niño de cabeza

Bilingual English/Spanish. Award-winning poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s engaging memoir of the year his migrant family settled down so that he could go to school for the first time. The Upside Down Boy captures the universal experience of children entering a new school feeling like strangers in a world that seems upside down at first.

Grandma and Me at the Flea / Los Meros Meros Remateros

Bilingual English/Spanish. Every Sunday Juanito helps his grandmother sell old clothes beneath the rainbow-colored tents at the remate, the flea market. Juanito learns firsthand what it means to be a true rematero, a fleamarketeer, and understands that the value of community can never be measured in dollars.

Featherless / Desplumado

Bilingual English/Spanish. At his new school or on the soccer field, all everyone wants to know is why Tomasito is in a wheelchair. His Papi gives Tomasito a new pet to make him smile, but this bird is a little bit different from the rest. Juan Felipe Herrera scores again with this sparkling bilingual story of self-empowerment and friendship. Featherless won the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction.

What are your recommendations for a successful author study? Share with us!

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

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18. Marketing 101: How to Prepare for Your First Conference

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

With the 2015 American Library Association (ALA) conference just around the corner, many first-time authors are probably starting to get nervous, wondering what’s in store for them. Going to your first trade conference, book event, or signing can be incredibly daunting. It marks a transition from the very private and solitary process of creating a book to the very public process of interacting with readers directly and getting your book out into the world. This is by no means easy, but being in a public space with your book can be incredibly rewarding. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you make the transition:

1. Your primary goal should be to let people know about Book Marketing 101: How to Prepare for Your First Conferenceyour book.  Signing at a well-attended event like ALA is as much about visibility as it is about book sales. Your goal should be to engage with as many people as possible to let them know who you are and what your book is about. Sales often come naturally out of this engagement; and if they don’t, don’t be discouraged. Many book sales don’t happen on the show floor, as most librarians and other professionals order books through their systems. But a good conversation with a librarian can lead to copies being ordered for his/her branches.

2. Have something to hand out with your information on it. Many publishers create bookmarks or postcards for new titles – you should ask your publisher before the signing what materials they will be bringing. If they are not bringing handouts, or even if they are, you may also want to create your own postcard or brochure with more information and your own contact information. If you are looking to build your school visit business, consider creating a brochure about what you offer. This is a perfect opportunity to spread the word.

3. Come up with a one-liner “elevator pitch” about your book. The most common question people will ask if they stop at your signing is, “What is this book about?” Even though you have labored over your book for a very long time, this is sometimes a hard question to answer if you haven’t practiced. Before the conference or signing, have friends and family help you shape a one-sentence quick description of the book that you can offer to pique the interest of passersby.

4. Share more if someone looks interested. Your one-liner should draw people in, but if they are lingering and paging through your book, don’t be afraid to offer more information. Tell them about the process, the research you did, or what inspired you to write this story. Ask them questions about their interest and to build connections (“This book is about a jazz musician. Are you a jazz fan?”; “This book takes place in California – are you from California?”). These lines may sound cheesy, but delivered earnestly they can form a welcome bridge to further conversation.

5. Don’t be afraid of the actual ask. If you’ve been engaging with someone for a while and they seem reluctant to put your book down, it’s OK to ask them, “Would you like a signed copy?” For some authors, this can be a little scary, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. Some people will say yes; some will say no. Remember that it’s not a judgement on you or the quality of your book either way. If they say no, follow up by handing them a postcard or brochure to take with them. That book sale may come at a later time.

Valynne Maetani, author of Ink and Ashes, at a signing
Valynne Maetani, author of Ink and Ashes, at a signing

 

6. When you are signing, be fully present – even during lulls. There are so many things going on at once during major conferences that competition is fierce, and you may well find yourself with a lull during your signing when no one is at your table. This is normal, and even very experienced authors sometimes face this. Don’t feel bad or be embarrassed – this is just a reality of book signings. During quiet periods, you can talk to the staff helping with your signing but be sure to stay open and receptive – i.e. don’t retreat to your phone, or turn away from the aisle. You never know when someone interested may wander past, and if you’re checked out, you will likely miss them.

7. One person brings more. It is a truth universally acknowledged that crowds breed more crowds. You may go a few minutes with no one at your signing, followed by a line of 7 or 8 people all at once. One interested person will attract others who are wondering what’s going on. Embrace this chaos. If you do have a crowd forming, respect the line and make sure you’re not spending too much time talking to any one person. If someone wants to have a long conversation with you, politely tell them, “I’m sorry, I need to sign for the next person but perhaps we can continue this conversation at a later point.”

For some great insights from the author end, I encourage you to read this series we asked experienced authors for their advice on planning a successful book signing:

How to Plan a Successful Book Signing Part I
How to Plan a Successful Book Signing Part II
How to Plan a Successful Book Signing Part III

Apart from these things, just remember to bring your lucky signing pen and you’ll do fine! The more events you do, the more comfortable you’ll get, and you may find that these opportunities to interact with readers inspire and motivate you as a creator in new ways.

More Marketing 101 posts:
Five things to do before your book is released
What to put on your author website

 

 

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19. Five Authors Share Their Favorite Writing Prompts

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

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about writing prompts and what gets the creative juices flowing.

Linda Boyden, author of The Blue Roses, New Voices Winner 2000

Prompts are all around us. When I do school visits, I refer to the place where our imaginations live as the “Cosmic Goo,” and urge them to wander outside looking and listening to the wonders that spark our imaginations to awake. Nature is a never-ending source of writing inspirations. Because I am a voracious reader, I glean phrases from the books I devour. Since the Espresso Shotend of 2011, I have written a poem a day as the means to jump-start my prose writing. I use many of the phrases I’ve underlined in the books I own for my daily poetry prompt.

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

My favorite writing prompt is to write from the point of view of an animal. It’s a writing exercise I teach in my writing classes as well. I love this writing exercise not only because I’m an animal lover and Crazy Cat Lady (ha) but because it forces you to think from the point of view of someone who is definitely NOT YOU. You have to know and embody the nature and physicality of the animal character, and it forces you to look at story and emotion with a new perspective. It’s a great exercise for point of view writing, and it helps me when I do write another children’s book because I am very conscious of writing from a child’s perspective, which is so different from mine as an adult.

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

I don’t need much to prompt me to write. Usually I have the opposite problem. I need to a compelling reason to stop writing:

It’s past midnight and I have to substitute teach in the morning.

Clothes are mildewing in the washer.

The fridge would be empty if not for egg whites and ketchup.

On the other hand, a writing prompt for me would be an early morning after a good night’s sleep: My mind is clear.

My thoughts are flowing.

My coffee is steaming.

My computer is calling.

I answer the call.

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

I don’t really write from prompts, but what I try to use as a guideline for all my writing is the use of sensory details: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Smelling and Tasting. It’s not always relevant to include all of these details, but it’s good to include at least 3 within a scene. If I feel that I can’t move forward in a story, I’ll “step inside” my character and try to figure out what “I” am seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or tasting at that point. If my character is neutral, then it’s time to rewrite the scene.

Jennifer Torres, author of Finding the Music, New Voices Winner 2011

I enjoy finding and thinking about interesting writing prompts, but I don’t have a favorite. I have to confess, when it comes to writing prompts, I usually don’t get past the “thinking about it” stage. However, I used to work for a daily newspaper, and I learned from that experience how valuable it can be to cultivate a habit of writing – in a structured way – every day. And I turn to newspapers, sometimes, when I’m stuck or need a place to start. Headlines can make for some pretty great prompts. Direct quotes are even better – like an overheard piece of conversation. Here’s one that helped me pull FINDING THE MUSIC into focus: “He wanted to rest in peace, but with music.”

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20. Case Cracked: The Process of Editing Mystery Novels

trixie belden book cover
Trixie Belden

I’ve long been a fan of mysteries. Trixie Belden was my BFF as a third and fourth grader. Nancy Drew was another favorite. Veronica Mars updated the teen sleuth idea, bringing the storytelling form to a new generation.

When I got the chance to work on Valynne Maetani’s Ink and Ashes, our new YA mystery which comes out in June, all of those mysteries and more were going through my mind. Claire, the main character, has the spunk and curiosity of Veronica Mars and all of her predecessors, but she’s also a little different. And to honor those differences in the editing process, I needed to refresh myself on what’s out there right now in the teen mystery/suspense genre, and the mystery genre in general.

As I was editing Ink and Ashes over the course of about a year and a half (which spans two developmental edits and a line edit), between edits I was reading mystery after mystery. I stocked up on Agatha Christie, I rewatched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and read the first book of the series it’s based on (Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood), I read multiple YA suspense, spy, and murder mysteries.

Miss Fisher ABC
Miss Fisher from the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”

That reading reminded me that a great mystery read requires the same elements as any good read: well-paced plotting, characters the reader cares about enough to want to know what happens next; even world-building, though that’s a term we generally associate with speculative fiction, is tremendously important in setting the stage in a mystery. But my rereading of classic and contemporary mysteries also showed me that more than in any other genre, a sense of suspense and danger must permeate the mystery book, must drive the reader to breathlessly wonder what will happen next.

Ask probing questions

One of the biggest challenges in this edit—with any edit, really, especially with an author you’ve never worked with before—was discovering how to bring the author’s vision of the characters fully to life. An editor’s job is often to just ask questions: Why is this happening right now? Why would that character decide to do this? What is the goal here?

In that way, figuring out the goal allows the editor to ask further probing questions on what the solution might be—figuring out how current plot points and character decisions hamper the desired effect.

“The plot thickens” turns out to be trueink and ashes cover

The biggest thing I learned while editing Ink and Ashes and reading all these mysteries is the importance of plot escalation. In the original draft, clues did of course build up into a frenzied final few pages of conflict that were very enjoyable—that’s one of the reasons the book won our New Visions Award. But comparing the early manuscript to mysteries I enjoyed the most, I realized that there were so many ways that the narrative could be complicated. (Valynne was on the same page. As she waited for the results of the contest, she was also already thinking of ways to improve the manuscript. That kind of editor-writer synergy makes a huge difference in any book project like this.)

We looked at the end goal, and discussed the plot points that got Claire and her friends to that point. In particular, we discussed how the inciting incident—the moment that gets Claire to veer her course to investigating whether her father and her stepdad ever knew each other—might be complicated and how those complications would have a ripple effect that would improve multiple other plot points, and increase the pacing.

In other words, escalation. If the reader didn’t feel the suspense at every page turn, we had work to do.

Valynne worked very hard on making that happen, and I’m very happy with the results! In answer to all my probing questions, Valynne improved on an already-well written manuscript to bring what was an interesting read to the level of an exciting page-turner that’s getting readers hooked. That’s the end goal for any editor and author: Creating a final book that readers can’t put down. I’m happy to say, we succeeded with Ink and Ashes.

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

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21. Out today: Ink and Ashes

It’s finally June! We’re excited to announce the release of Ink and Ashes, the heart-stopping debut mystery by Valynne E. Maetani! Ink and Ashes is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner.

How far would you go to discover the truth?

Every family has its secrets, but Claire Takata’s family secrets can kill her…

In Ink and Ashes, personal vendettas and organized crime collide, sending Claire Tanaka on a race to outrun her father’s legacy. When a letter from her dead father reveals a family secret, Claire searches for information about her father’s past and discovers a dangerous family connection to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia.

INK AND ASHES cover smallHere’s what early readers have said about Ink and Ashes:

“This fantastic debut packs a highly suspenseful blend of action, intrigue, and teen romance.” —starred review, Kirkus Reviews 

“Full of character, culture, and suspense, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating read with surprising new elements and a true heroine in Claire Takata.”

Ally Condie, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Matched Trilogy

Happy book birthday to Ink and Ashes!

Be sure to buy your copy from our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie.

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22. Student Book Review: Seeds of Change

In this guest post, Ruben Brosbe’s third-grade students from P.S. 368, Guest BloggerThe Hamilton Heights School in New York, NY demonstrate their critical thinking skills and share their reviews of the book Seeds of Change, a picture-book biography of the first African woman-and first environmentalist- to win a Noble Peace Prize (in 2004), on their class blog We Read Diverse Books. As a teacher, Ruben was inspired by the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign to make his read alouds represent the diversity in his classroom and the broader community.

“To begin the school year, I shared the campaign with my students and asked them if they would take part by reviewing books with diverse characters. Since then we’ve talked about about diversity in kids’ books and our blog is a way of sharing stories we love that feature diverse characters. It is also my hope that it can serve as a resource for teachers like me who are looking for great stories to share with their students.”

Do you like books about people who work hard? If you do you willmain_large love Seeds of Change. I would recommend this book to a friend because some people like to grow trees. The main idea of the book is planting trees because people were cutting them down. My favorite part in Seeds of Change is when Wangari planted 30,000,000 trees. Another book that is similar is Grace for President. How they’re similar is Wangari is a change maker and Grace is a change maker because Wangari planted 30,000,000 trees and Grace was the first lady president. In conclusion that’s why you would love Seeds of Change.
Kasime

The main idea of Seeds of Change is when Wangari moved to a
different city and cared about her environment. Another main idea is she cared about women fairness. I recommend you read this book because it teaches you not to cut down trees. Another reason not to cut down trees is to do nice things for the trees. My favorite part of Seeds of Change is when all the women planted 30 million trees. Wangari is a hero because she saved the plants and wasn’t afraid to do the work.
Lester

I would recommend this book to a friend because if someone in my class would like to plant. Also it is about how trees are so important. The main idea is that she was moving. Wangari was being a hard worker and helping nature. My favorite part was when she went back and planted a lot of trees. I think that Wangari is a brave person. Also she is a hero because in the book she was brave to plant all of the trees to help nature. She dug in the dirt planting seedlings and shared ideas with people.
Melina

Hey do you like people who don’t give up? If you do then you will WANGARIlike Seeds of Change! I would recommend this book to a friend, because maybe somebody likes seeds and likes science. And also somebody can learn how important is trees. The main idea of this book is that trees give us life and also that you should not cut down trees because then it looks like a bad place and when you grow trees it looks like a good place. My favorite part of the book was when Wangari planted 30,000,000 trees. I think Wangari is a brave person, because they cut down trees and she still made trees. One other book that is similar is Grace for President. This is why I recommend you to read Seeds of Change.
Octavio

My favorite part of Seeds of Change is when Wangari stopped the men from cutting down the trees and also from the men making plantations. Wangari was a brave person because she went to 3 places and got women to care about trees. If I were going to introduce Wangari I would tell my family what made her brave.
-Anthony

You should read Seeds of Change. I would recommend this book to a friend because the lesson of the book is to not cut down trees because it hurts nature. The main idea of the book is that Wangari helps her country. My favorite part of the book is that Wangari plants over 30,000,000 trees and when Wangari went to school, because she gets friends to be with. In conclusion, that is why you should read Seeds of Change.
Randy

Hey you there have you heard of Seeds of Change? It’s a great book!! My favorite part is when she got in jail. And then got out. And planted more trees and made the forest green. Also my favorite part is when she saved the trees. I recommend this book to a friend because I think this book can teach my friends how to take care of our world. The main idea is that Wangari saved the trees. Also Wangari went to school and it was not common for girls to go to school. I think “seeds of change” is when Wangari used seeds to change.
Phoenix-I think that Wangari is a brave person.

I would recommend this book to a friend because it’s amazing and it has an important lesson. The main idea of the book is that women can do anything they set their mind to. Also, about how trees are important to the world. My favorite part of the book was when Wangari and the other women planted trees. I think Wangari is a hero, because she helped her environment to be a better and great place. When Wangari says “Young people, you are our hope and our future” she means that kids shoudl plant a garden and help our community.
Karen

I would recommend this to a friend because if my friends like seeds they’ll probably give the book to my friends and I like planting seeds. The main idea of this book is not to cut down trees and let women have equal rights and to let women do anything but not anything bad and another thing that was the main idea was help people with anything.  My favorite part of the book was when Wangari planted 30 million trees it was really helpful to the world. I think Wangari is a brave person because when people said stop doing this she ignored them and she is also brave because she went to jail but people said let her free! So they did. I think the purpose of this book is not to cut down trees and to is help to the world. In closing this was about keeping the world green.
Carlos

*all posts edited slightly for spelling and punctuation by Mr. Ruben

To find resources for teaching or reading Seeds of Change, visit the book page here.

Blogging with Students:

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23. Interview: Nikki Grimes on Writing Poetry

nikki grimesComing this month, Poems in the Attic is a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.

In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?

Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words  as possible.  Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that.  I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story.  Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.

Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?

Start with word play.  I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses.  Take the word “lemon”, for instance.  What is its shape, its scent,  its color?  Does it make a sound?  Does it have a taste?  How would you describe that sound, that taste?  Where is a lemon to be found?  What does it do or what can you do with it?  In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.

poems in the atticIs there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?

There are a few answers to that question.

  1. Read poetry voraciously.  If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.  Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
  3. Play.  Build your vocabulary.  Experiment with a variety of forms.  For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default.  But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry.  It is merely one element of it.  Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry.  Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words.  These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a poem?

I love lines from my poem “Chinese Painting” in Tai Chi Morning: Snapshots of China.  In seeking to describe the magic of a master painter, I wrote

“a few strokes

And a bird is born

A few more,

And it sings.”

Do you prefer poetry on the page or poetry read aloud? Who is your favorite poet to hear or read?

I especially love poetry on the page, in part because not all poets read their work well.  I do love to hear Naomi Shihabe Nye, though, and I especially loved to hear the exquisite Lucille Clifton.

Learn more about Poems in the Attic on our website or Nikki Grime’s website.

 

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24. 2015 Diverse Summer Reading Book Lists K-8

June is finally here! Winter is already a long distant memory and students are becoming more and more fixated on the summer vacation countdowns they started in January, daydreaming of exciting and unknown summer plans, camp adventures, and seemingly endless free time.

But just because school year is (almost) over, doesn’t mean reading has to come to a halt. In fact, we are well aware of the importance of having access to books and the harmful effects of the slippery slope that is the summer slide:

To keep our children reading all summer long, LEE & LOW has put together several Diverse Summer Reading Book Lists and printables for grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-8, which you can freely download and share here or find listed below. Each list contains books that not only highlight different interests, such as sports, music, sci-fi/fantasy, and the environment, but also personally connect with students of diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions.

Diverse Summer Reading ListsLEE & LOW Summer Reading Book Lists by grade:

LEE & LOW Summer Reading Printables:

It is important to remember that diverse books are not only for diverse readers. Reading books featuring diverse characters and communities not only mirror experiences in their own lives, allowing children to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but also provide windows into other life experiences to understand and be more accepting of the world around them. If you’re still wondering why diverse books then take a look here:

There are many great organizations compiling and creating Summer Reading Book Lists and offering free, exciting programs and challenges. Be sure to check out your local library as well as the following groups for additional summer reading tips, suggestions, and ideas:

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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25. How to Turn a Quiet Author Event into a Big Success

In this joint guest post, librarian Jane Levitan of Guest Bloggerthe Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Libraries and author/illustrator Lulu Delacre give their takes on a quiet event that turned into a great success. 

Librarian Jane Levitan: It was the worst of times; it was the best of times.  I admit it.  It was my fault.  Who would schedule an author visit the day before Easter?  Me.  When I contacted author/illustrator Lulu Delacre and she mentioned that she had a Saturday free, I jumped at the opportunity to host her in our library as part of our El Dia grant.  Realizing my pre-Easter mistake, we spared no opportunity to promote the event.

We had advertisements and the FREE book provided by the grant displayed at the circulation desk (including one that literally hit the patrons in the head when checking out), we also used radio, newsletters, Facebook, websites (ours and Lulu’s), personal contacts (ours and Lulu’s again), etc. Still, when the program started it was ill attended.  Lulu, undaunted, presented an engaging session filled with fun, dance, travel and music.  She signed books and the young participants had their pictures taken at their dream worldwide locations via green screen technology.

Then it happened: we looked out the window and there they were—kids in the plaza across the street greeting the Easter Bunny and a few other costumed critters. Lulu launched a full-on musical parade with staff and patrons and serenaded the Bunny and his young friends with Latin instruments. She introduced herself and her FREE books, and did a surprise encore presentation.  Leading the group back to the library, she sang, danced and traveled the world again for a packed audience.

She did not leave until every child received a signed book and posed with her in front of the green screen.  Her favorite background was her native Puerto Rico. The hour program stretched on to four hours. An ill-fated program was now a success.

We even issued some cards to new members of our community who were coaxed into the library with the promise of diversity and fun.

The moral of the story? Check the calendar.  Second moral, invite Lulu: she will deliver the best program possible, sometimes twice, including rounding up her own audience.  Did I mention that she wanted the El Dia pin to wear proudly throughout the month?  Third moral, DO NOT compete with the Easter Bunny!


 

Lulu Delacre: I believe that a good-sized enthusiastic audience has a positive influence on a presenter. I also know that public libraries are at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control. Weather, weekend sports and sudden family plans play a role in attendance to a children’s program. Often, library patrons do not feel the consequences of skipping a free event.

So, it did not catch me by surprise when I arrived the Saturday of Easter weekend at the Martingsburg downtown library to find that six librarians and a handful of children were my only audience. Waiting for latecomers, I sensed heavy disappointment in the room. Still, I delivered the liveliest session I could. What could we have done differently? To whom could we now give the free copies of my book?

After the last game-dance, one librarian suggested to go parade outdoors. I led the group up the street singing De Colores to the rhythms of güiro, maracas and palitos. At the corner I saw dozens of families hovering around the Easter Bunny. They were at the plaza right across from us! Suddenly, the thought of rounding up the kids for an encore program at the library crossed my mind. With the librarians on board to do just that we fanned out to invite all the families to the impromptu session.

How marvelous to see our efforts’ success on the smiling faces of the children as we traveled the world in my program! The kids were as thrilled with the autographed copies of How Far Do You Love Me? as I was to see the change of demeanor in the organizers.
What’s sweeter than an Easter chocolate egg? A gift from your public librarian: a beautiful book for your very own library!

 

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