JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans. Join now (it's free).
Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.
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.
Statistics for The Open Book
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 18
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we’re celebrating one of our most popular and bestselling titles: Sam and the Lucky Money. We love this book because it accomplishes so many things at once: it teaches about kindness, generosity, and gratitude; it lets readers experience Chinese New Year in New York’s Chinatown; and it teaches readers about special Chinese New Year traditions.
From the US presidential candidates to the current situation in Europe, immigration is a hot topic. In our last blog post, we looked at the battle that’s currently going on in the Library of Congress over the term “illegal alien.” Many activists argue that the term is outdated, yet the Library of Congress chose to let it stand. In this guest post, Children’s Book Press author René Colato Laínez talks about his own experiences coming to the US from El Salvador and the label “illegal alien.”
At the 2016 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, librarians passed a resolution urging the Library of Congress to change the subject heading from “Illegal Aliens” to “Undocumented Immigrants.” As the author of the new picture book, Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre, I totally agree. Undocumented Immigrants is a better subject to describe the people who arrived from other countries to live and work in the United States. They are undocumented because they don’t have the right papers to come to this country via an airport or through a border checkpoint entrance. They are also immigrants because they were born in another country. So the term Undocumented Immigrant fits the status of this group of people.
The term “Illegal Aliens” definitely is confusing to many, just like it was to me. Yes, I was an Undocumented Immigrant, and when I arrived in this country, I was called an “Illegal Alien.”
Since I was a small child in my native country of El Salvador, I was taught by my family and teachers that I needed to be a good boy. Especially during that time! There was a civil war in my country. Teachers and priests had been killed and many people would disappear from one day to the next. It was a scary time to grow up, and I always tried to be a good boy.
One afternoon, my fifth grade teacher said, “Soon, you will be teenagers and you have to know that ‘illegal acts’ only take people to jail or the cemetery. You need to do only ‘legal things’ in order to be safe.” Then he asked the class to make a list of “illegal acts” and to write a promise that we would be good citizens to have a better society. In my list I included among other things that using drugs, stealing, and not following the rules were illegal acts. Then I proudly promised never to do anything illegal.
As a result of the civil war in the 1980’s, many Salvadoran families left the country looking for a better life and opportunities. My family was not the exception. My mother left the country at the beginning of the war. In 1985 it was my turn to come the United States.
Soon after I arrived, some children in my new school called all the children who only spoke Spanish “illegals.” I did not understand why they were calling us “illegals.” I asked my father and he explained to me that they called us that because we did not have the right papers to come in an airplane or through the bridge in Tijuana.
I began to understand the term, but it did not make sense to me. In my country only people who had money were able to get papers to come to the United States. Poor people like my family did not have the privilege to get these documents. I did not understand why it was illegal to escape a civil war to look for a better life and opportunities in a country that was safe from war.
As I learned English, I remember our social studies teacher asked us to read the newspapers to write class reports. It was there when I first encountered the term “Illegal Aliens.” I kept reading the article and discovered that people who arrived to this country without the right papers were not only illegals, but were aliens too.
Every night, after I saw the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, I remember looking at the stars wondering if there was life on another planet. It was the 1980’s and, like everyone, I loved that little alien who wanted to go home. When I saw the stars, I wondered if there were aliens like E.T. and how it would feel to be lost on another planet.
Imagine my surprise to learn that I was also an “alien” and that “aliens” were not only from outer space, but from other countries, too. The word “alien” could have more than one meaning—it was also a synonym for foreigner. But when I looked at both words, even though foreigner was a longer word and harder to pronounce in English, it sounded much better to me than alien. I touched my hands and looked at my face in the mirror. Yes, I spoke another language but I had a face, arms and body just like the other children at school. I did not look like a strange creature from out of space. But being an alien implied that I could not be like other “normal” persons, because I was so different from them.
Years later, thanks to the Amnesty Program in 1989, my family had the opportunity to obtain the right papers to live and work in the United States. When I got my pink resident card, I read the blue words at the top of the card: “RESIDENT ALIEN.” “Wow,” I said to myself, “I am now a resident, but I am still an alien!”
I became a teacher and I was assigned to a bilingual kindergarten/first grade classroom. All of my students spoke Spanish. Many of them were born in the United States and others were like me, from other countries. My goal as a teacher was to teach them to read and write, but also to teach them to be smart children who are proud to be bilingual. In the country where I grew up— and almost everywhere around the world!—speaking other languages and being bilingual is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, it is a wonderful achievement.
My goal as a children’s books author is to produce strong multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they see themselves as heroes, and where they dream and hope for the future. I wanted to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States.
These were the books that I had wanted to read when children called me “Illegal” at school.
In 2016, my newest picture book Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre will be published by Lee & Low Books. In the story, Sofía discovers a Big Secret. She finds a card that belongs to her mother. It has mamá’s picture and the word alien on top of the card. Sofía cannot believe it. Her mother is an alien.
Sofía feels just like me when I discovered that I was also an alien. I am excited that Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre will soon be in the hands of parents, teachers, librarians and children. In this book readers will find out in a humoristic way that we are all children of planet earth. There are no aliens among our families. We can be from different countries but are all human beings.
Come meet René Colato Laínez at ALA this year. He will be signing with LEE & LOW (Booth #1469), as well as participating in a REFORMA panel on bilingual books. You can see our full ALA schedule here.
About René Colato Laínez
Known as “the teacher full of stories,” René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran author of more than a dozen picture books including ¡Vámonos! Let’s Go! (illustrated by Joe Cepeda, Holiday House), Señor Pancho Had a Rancho (illustrated by Elwood Smith, Holiday House), and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Pérez, (illustrated by Tom Lintern, Random House). His new picture book, Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre (illustrated by Laura Lacamara) will be available this summer.
In 2015, René was awarded the Premios Actitud El Salvador Award. He has received many awards and honors including International Latino Book Award, The Américas Award Commended Title, International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award, and Tejas Star Book Award List.
René is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults and a faculty member of Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Group. He is a bilingual elementary teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School, one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s most innovative schools. He is also a columnist for LA BLOGA, the Latino literature blog and LOS BLOGUITOS the blog for children learning to speak Spanish. He has appeared on Univision and Telemundo, and is a regular participant at conferences and book festivals in the United States and Latin America.
Over the past several months, a quiet battle has been raging among librarians and politicians over the term “illegal alien.” For many years, immigrant rights activists have argued against using the term, which has taken on a decidedly pejorative meaning. Activists and legal experts note that while actions can be “illegal,” human beings cannot – to refer to them as such criminalizes existence itself.
While several news outlets have pledged to cease using the term “illegal alien,” there’s one place where the term still stands: the Library of Congress. But while subject headings don’t usually claim a lot of media attention or political interest, the Library of Congress has become a battleground for those who want to replace the term, and for those who won’t give it up. Here’s a timeline of the issue (for more detail, check out this excellent Library Journal piece):
Dartmouth College student Melissa Padilla notices problematic search terms while researching a paper. Padilla and classmates bring the issue up with Dartmouth’s librarians, and discover that the search terms come from the Library of Congress and cannot be changed within Dartmouth’s libraries. Together, librarians and students work on a proposal asking the Library of Congress to replace the term “illegal alien” with “undocumented immigrant.” The proposal is submitted in summer 2014.
After consulting with staff members, the Library of Congress releases a public memo stating that it will not change the wording because the phrase “Undocumented immigrant” is not directly synonymous with “Illegal alien.” Word spreads to members of the American Library Association, who decide to work through the system to try to push the change through.
Various divisions and affiliates of the ALA, including the subject analysis committee, social responsibilities roundtable, and REFORMA, formulate a resolution asking the Library of Congress to reconsider the original request. The resolution passes at the ALA midwinter meeting in January 2016.
The Library of Congress announces that it will no longer use “illegal aliens” as a bibliographic term, saying that the once common phrase has become offensive. The library plans to use “noncitizens” in place of “aliens” and “unauthorized immigration” in place of “illegal immigration.”
After learning of the change, conservative Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee introduce a provision calling for the term’s reinstatement, which is tied to a bill for Library of Congress funding. They argue that the term is legally accurate and should not be changed for the sake of political correctness.
The House votes 237-170 to order the Library of Congress to continue using the term “illegal alien.” This is the first time in history that the House has interfered in the Library of Congress’ subject headings processes.
As a company that values diversity, this is an issue that we feel deeply invested in. Those of us who love books know well how powerful just one word can be. When that word is tied to our identity, it can not only define us but also define how others see us. It can make us feel safe, or endangered. It can make us feel proud, or ashamed. We believe that the term “illegal alien” is derogative and has no place in the Library of Congress. To see it politicized- and especially to see the power of decision taken away from expert librarians and placed in the hands of politicians- is disheartening and alarming.
In the meantime, the Library of Congress has posted a survey where the public can share their thoughts on the proposed changes. If you would like to see the terminology changed, you can fill out this survey through July 20.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Illustrators: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Synopsis: The true story of the famous African American writer, Zora Neale Hurston, who as a young girl learned about hope and strength from her mother.
Awards and honors:
Reading Rainbow Selection, PBS Kids
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Pick of the List, American Bookseller’s Association
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, NCSS/CBC
The story behind the story:
Since 1994, William Miller has published nine picture books with Lee & Low, in addition to several titles with other publishing houses. He made his picture book debut with Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree, which was a “Reading Rainbow” selection, and which Booklist praised as being “lyrically told.”
“I started out as a poet who wrote poems about famous African American writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Frederick Douglass. My high school English teacher, who is also a children’s book author, encouraged me to write a picture book based on my poems. I expanded a poem on Hurston’s life and simplified the language for children. I sent the manuscript out when I felt I had written the best possible, most poetic story I could tell.
I’ve taught African American literature for many years at York College in Pennsylvania. Personally, I am drawn to the themes of struggle, renewal, and celebration in the literature I teach. No matter how many times I teach the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, I find something new, something that inspires me to live my life on a higher level.”
Pretend you are Zora’s friend. Write her a letter encouraging her to remember her dreams and to find a way to keep her promise to her mother.
After students have read the story, arrange them into groups of four. Explain to them that the members of each group will take turns adding leaves to a “Tree of Dreams.” Provide each group with a large sheet of butcher paper on which you have drawn the outline of a tree. Tell students that they will take turns drawing leaves on the branches of the tree. Inside each leaf, they will each write a dream. The students may take turns until they have run out of ideas or class time. Use the trees as a “Forest of Dreams” to facilitate a discussion of dreams and aspirations. Be sure to display the “Forest of Dreams” in the classroom.
Have you used Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree? Let us know!
This year’s Tony Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, June 12, 2016. We posted our first infographic and study on the Diversity Gap in the Tony Awards in 2013. In 2014, we did a brief follow-up post. In 2015-2016, there was such a pronounced uptick of diverse productions on Broadway that we felt it was worth updating our infographic and taking another look at diversity in the theater industry.
This year, Broadway megahit Hamilton—which almost exclusively stars actors of color—broke Tony records with a whopping 16 nominations. Add to that nominations for The Color Purple, Eclipsed, and Shuffle Along, and we’re in a year where conceivably all the main acting Tonys could go to people of color. But is this year’s diversity a sign of lasting change, or an anomaly? To find out, we touched base again with award-winning writer, actor, and director Christine Toy Johnson to get her take on the current state of diversity in theater. Welcome, Christine!
With the critical and commercial success of Hamilton, do you feel that this play will have a “rising tide lifts all boats” effect on theater and will result in more opportunities for diverse actors and actresses?
Of course that’s the great hope. The thought that has been repeated and repeated year after year—that audiences will not buy tickets to see a show in which the lead storytellers are not household names or who are people of color, or that audiences won’t buy tickets to see a show that is about people of a cultural background other than their own—is now irrelevant. Try to buy a ticket to Hamilton.
Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of our challenges, by a long shot. I think that we, as a nation, are at this profound crossroads of sorts. On one hand our society has become more inclusive than ever in our laws and policies. On the other hand, it has become more divisive than ever with fear based hate rhetoric making it clear that many view inclusion as a threat to the status quo, instead of an opportunity to expand and enrich the status quo. Even in the most subtle and subconscious ways, I think that this trickles down into every corner of our lives, including how we make art, how it’s perceived, and how it’s produced. I think we should celebrate this season with a cautious optimism, and use it as inspiration to keep working toward raising that tide and lifting those boats!
Here’s a link to a piece I wrote about Hamilton that expands on some of my thoughts on the show’s impact.
While years of vigilance and activism has been a contributing factor in more diverse casting, what has been your take on why so many productions in 2016 were diverse?
I think it’s been the perfect storm of programming and casting that happened to converge this season. From most reports, next season does not look nearly as diverse. So though I’d love to think this season is so diverse because the tide has changed for good, I think it’s diverse because the tide has turned for some creative teams and/or this is the year they’re getting their shot and we’re lucky enough to see the fruits of their labor right now.
Obviously, diverse decision makers are key to hiring and casting more diverse casts. Has there been an increase in diversity among directors, playwrights, and producers in theater? Are there new creators breaking into Broadway who we should be aware of?
It pains me that some people have assumed that the lack of diversity and inclusion on Broadway is due to the lack of directors, playwrights, and actors of color, or to the lack of female directors, playwrights, and actors. We exist! But the truth is, it has not been an even playing field. Of course this is multi-layered, as is every other issue we’re discussing here. Taking a chance on someone who hasn’t had an opportunity to have a big commercial success yet is of course full of great financial risk. But I think this becomes a vicious circle. How do you get the opportunity to have a commercial success if you aren’t allowed the opportunity in the first place?
I also think that on a deeper level we are running up against a problem of narrowed perceptions, which lead to what certain producers expect writers of color to be writing about. And if we don’t fit their expectation or profile for us then we’re just not part of their equation. And while there might be a half dozen (or more) shows per season that fail that are written by/directed by/starring all Caucasian teams, there is never an assumption that the reason they failed was because there was a Caucasian team behind it or a Caucasian story line. But if the numbers are poor for a show featuring a non-Caucasian cast/writer/director, many will be quick to make an assumption that these kinds of stories/writers/directors/actors just don’t sell tickets and aren’t worth the risk.
There are so many writers of color who deserve to break through in a bigger way than they already have: Timothy Huang, Adam Gwon, Nikkole Salter, Leah Nanako Winkler, Jason Ma, Lloyd Suh, to name just a few. As for Asian American producers, I know there are several who are doing great stuff on Broadway, especially Lily Fan and Jhett Tolentino.
Following Hollywood’s #Oscarssowhite controversy, do you know if there are any efforts underway to recruit more people of color to join the various organizations that are eligible to vote on Tony Award nominees? (Note: this year, according to our research, the Tony Awards Nominating Committee was 86% white and 70% male).
Tony voters are largely made up of the elected leaderships of various arms of the industry (i.e. Dramatist Guild, Actors’ Equity Association, SDC, etc., as well as many producers and presenters) and I do believe that there is an ongoing effort to diversify those memberships. But it goes beyond that, since we are talking about the Tony nominators and voters coming from within those ranks. In other words, yes, it’s great to increase the diversity of these memberships, but it’s not a simple solution to increasing the make up of Tony voters or Tony nominators.
More diverse casting and storylines will result in more diverse theater audiences. Seems to us this is an opportunity for the theater industry to grow. Do the powers that be really get it or is 2016 an anomaly when it comes to the spike in diverse productions?
We have been having this same discussion for more than a decade, citing the same philosophies and reasoning. I can only hope that the numbers this year help to reinforce the idea. Time will tell.
CHRISTINE TOY JOHNSON is an award-winning writer, actor, director, and advocate for inclusion. Member: Dramatists Guild Council, Actors’ Equity Association Council (and national chair of the union’s EEOC), Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project (founder), Executive Board of Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, founding steering committee member of AAPAC. She is also an alumna of the BMI Workshop and a member of ASCAP, AEA, and SAG-AFTRA.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Synopsis: Shorty, a Japanese-American boy, learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II. Shorty quickly learns that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well. Read The New York Timesreview and article.
Awards and honors:
50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Not Just for Children Anymore Selections, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
Parents’ Choice Gold Award
“Pick of the List,” American Booksellers Association
Washington State Governor’s Writers Award
“Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
“Close the Book on Hate” Reading List, The Anti-Defamation League
“Editors’ Choice,”San Francisco Chronicle
Washington State Children’s Choice Award Finalist
Best Multicultural Title, “Cuffies Award,”Publishers Weekly
The story behind the story:
“During August 1991, I received my first phone call from Philip Lee, who tells me he has founded a children’s picture book company called Lee & Low Books in New York City. He was searching across the country for authors and illustrators to launch his first set of books, and got my name through his wife Karen Chinn, a former Seattleite and colleague of mine at the International Examiner newspaper. Up to that point, I had never authored anything in the field of children’s literature, but would I be interested in writing a children’s picture book? I remained open to the idea, and Philip sent me an article from an East Coast magazine about Japanese Americans forming baseball teams and playing the sport within the American incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. A non-fiction story about this subject? he suggested. I decided I wanted to make it historical fiction, and create a young hero who hits not only one home run during a clutch situation, but two!
With good reviews – particularly a write-up in The New York Times Book Review – and over a half million copies of this book later sold, my career began as a children’s book author and presenter.”
Explore a reading guide and learning activities for Baseball Saved Us from OurStory, a website created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to encourage adults and children in grades K–4 to read historical fiction and biography together.
For ideas on how to teach World War II and the roles children can play in solving national problems, check out the NEH lesson series, On the Home Front, featuring Baseball Saved Us from EDSITEment, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) website for K–12 teachers, school librarians, and students.
Have students imagine they are Shorty in the story. Encourage them to write as Shorty a letter to a friend outside the internment camp or a diary entry describing how they feel about being in the camp and what life is like there.
So, to keep the kids reading all summer long, LEE & LOW has put together a Diverse Summer 2016 Reading List for Grades PreK-8 and printables which you can freely download here or find listed below. Each list contains books that not only highlight different grade-appropriate interests, such as sports, music, sci-fi/fantasy, and the environment, but also explore diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions.
These lists are not only an excellent tool to help you include diverse books in your summer suggested reading lists, but a way to begin diversifying the books available to students in your classroom libraries. It is important to remember that diverse books are not only for diverse readers. Reading books featuring diverse characters and communities mirror experiences in their own lives, allowing children to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but they also provide windows into other life experiences to understand and be more accepting of the world around them.
Finally, there are many great organizations compiling and creating Summer Reading Book Lists and offering free, exciting programs for the summer. Be sure to check out your local library as well as the following groups for additional summer reading tips, suggestions, and ideas:
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we can’t think of a better way to remember and celebrate than with some of our award-winning books!
Teachers- Looking for a way to talk to your students about war this Memorial Day?
Parents- Trying to make your kids understand the importance of remembering those who gave their lives for our country?
We have some great titles that will get your kids interested and help them understand the great sacrifices made by our men and women at arms, what really makes someone a hero, and the impact of war on a level they can relate to.
Set during the ’60s with the Vietnam war going on and World War II popular in the media, Japanese American Donnie Okada always has to be the “bad guy” when he and his friends play war because he looks like the enemy portrayed in the media. When he finally has had enough, Donnie enlists the aid of his 442nd veteran father and Korean War veteran uncle to prove to his friends and schoolmates that those of Asian descent did serve in the U.S. military.
A biography of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who was one of the six soldiers to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during World War II, an event immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
Through rhythmic words, photos, and original art, this collection of poems about children throughout history focuses on their perceptions of war and how war affects their lives. A great way to introduce the topic of war into discussion with your children and the ramifications they may not have considered.
For some insight from the author, take a look at this interview with Eloise Greenfield. Purchase the book here.
Be sure to leave comments below on how discussions about war went in your classroom or with your own children; we’d love to hear from you!
The topic of reading levels is always contentious for librarians, educators, booksellers, and authors. A recent article by author Sergio Ruzzier argued against the merits of using reading levels to determine which book is right for a child. In this guest post, author and bookseller Rosanne Parry offers her thoughts on why reading levels can be valuable, despite some of the drawbacks. Welcome, Rosanne!
Reading levels posted on trade fiction for children are a bit of a hot-button issue for those who work in the book world and periodically I hear calls for their complete abolition. I agree that people use reading levels on books unwisely all the time. I believe that in general kids ought to have the widest possible access to the books they choose for themselves. I think there are many mistaken assumptions about what those reading levels mean. However there are useful purposes for reading levels on books.
I started my career as a teacher with a specialty in reading. I did most of my work with learning disabled students. If you are choosing books to use in school for instruction with children who are struggling, then keeping them within the parameters of a book that is just challenging enough but not too frustrating gives optimal progress toward reading fluency. An accurate reading level, manageable book length, accessible font, generous leading and kerning, and affordable price all help a teacher choose useful material for each student.
The temptation to make reading instruction leak over into at-home recreational reading is very strong for a highly motivated parent who is ashamed of a child’s low reading level or overly impressed with a high one. Sometimes this prompts a parent to steer their child away from high quality books that would be developmentally appropriate and captivating, and push them toward books that are decodable but outside the child’s emotional sphere and therefore not very engaging.
Most of the reading levels that publishers put on books are there as a shelving aid for booksellers, rather than a prescription for readers. They have almost nothing to do with the readability of the text and much more to do with the maturity of the content. To be perfectly honest, the vast majority of adult books are written at a 5th-6th grade reading level. The current literary fashion is toward a plain-spoken prose style and simple sentence structure. This drives down the reading level of adult books. But it doesn’t make adult content in a book appropriate for children.
Here’s an example of where I think the publisher’s reading level is helpful. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is a short novel about a seven-year old girl. At first glance a bookseller might just toss it on the shelf with Clementine and Captain Underpants. Fortunately, the reading level says 7th grade and up (12+ years). It’s a story about the atrocities of WWII. The seven-year old girl is a fugitive on the run with an adult of dubious motives. She steals from battlefield corpses; she is raped; the ending is ambiguous and not particularly hopeful. It’s a stunning piece of writing and will likely be in the buzz come book award time and rightly so. Nevertheless it’s not a book that serves a second grader well. The reading level helps us get the book in the right spot in our store and because it’s at a discrepancy with the outward appearance of the book, it encourages us to read the whole book and figure out where to best recommend it.
Sometimes we decide to ignore the reading level on a book. When we got Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson last year, we opted to ignore the grade level recommendations and shelve it in adult history where our avid World War II buffs and professional musicians were most likely to find it. It would be less work for the bookseller to shelve all of an author’s work in one spot. But if the author is Ursula LeGuin or Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman, the reader is better served by having the adult, young adult, middle grade, and chapter books shelved in separate areas.
Reading levels are one tool among many a bookseller can use. Even in a small bookshop we get in hundreds of new books a week in addition to the classics we always carry. There’s no way even a cohort of dozens of booksellers can analyze every book we carry. So I’m glad there’s a reading level marker that we can use or ignore as we see fit. I’d love for it to be in a magical ink that only a bookseller can see, but until then, part of a booksellers job is to help anxious parents feel good about the quality of books their child is choosing and help them anticipate other books that will give their family joy.
About Rosanne Parry: Rosanne Parry is the author for four middle grade novels from Random House, including her most recent title, The Turn of the Tide. She has been an elementary teacher and is now a part-time book monger at the legacy indie bookstore Annie Blooms. She also teaches children’s and YA literature in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes in a treehouse in her back yard. You can find out more about her online here.
We can hardly believe how fast the year is flying by! Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, which means summer is officially here. We’re looking forward to nice weather, beaches, and of course, our new titles out this month!
We’re very excited to introduce our new May releases – there’s sure to be something for everyone!
By Sylvia Liu, illus. by Christina Forshay
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 5 to 8
A curious and active Chinese American girl spends the day learning tai chi from her grandfather, and in turn tries to teach him how to do yoga. Winner of our New Voices Award.
“Debut author Liu scores with a sweet story about the joys of intergenerational relationships. The love between the two shines through in both text and illustrations. A fine example of contemporary multicultural literature.” —Kirkus Reviews
By Gwendolyn Hooks, illus. by Colin Bootman
Hardcover, 32 pages
Ages 7 to 12
The life story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children.
“Beyond the crucial message of perseverance and spotlight on prejudiced attitudes that still resonate today, this middle-grade picture book illuminates the life of little-known man whose innovations continue to be essential to modern medicine.” —Booklist, starred review
By Kimberly Reid
Hardcover, 384 pages
Ages 12 and up
Andrea Faraday, a society girl with a sketchy past, leads a crew of juvie kids in using their criminal skills for good.
“Crime, intrigue, and deceit abound in this novel about a biracial teen embracing her criminal instincts in order to thwart a treacherous plot. Gripping, suspenseful, and refreshingly diverse.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Tu Books, the middle grade and young adult imprint of respected multicultural children’s publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS, is thrilled to announce that author Supriya Kelkar has won its third annual New Visions Award for her middle grade historical fiction novel, Ahimsa.
The award honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.
Ahimsa takes place in 1940s India, an era of great change as Indian citizens fight for independence from British colonial rule. When ten-year-old Anjali’s mother announces that she has quit her job to become a Freedom Fighter following Mahatma Gandhi, Anjali must find her place in a rapidly changing world.
The story was inspired by Kelkar’s own great-grandmother, who joined the freedom movement against the British. “She worked alongside Gandhi and spent time in jail, too, for her part in the nonviolent movement,” Kelkar says. “I hope that readers can be inspired by the fact that people were able to make such a huge impact on their world not through war, but through non-violence.” Kelkar will receive a cash prize of $1,000 and a publication contract with Tu Books.
One manuscript received the New Visions Award Honor: Alexandra Aceves’ young adult horror story Children of the River Ghost. Set in contemporary Albuquerque, Children of the River Ghost is a unique reimagining of the la llorona myth told through the eyes of La Llorona herself. “I wanted to give her a voice, to give her the opportunity to tell her side of the story,” Aceves says. Aceves will receive a cash prize of $500.
There were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou).
Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.
Congratulations to all of the New Visions Award winners and finalists — we look forward to seeing your future books!
Sometimes to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.
White Collar meets Oceans 11 in our new YA novel, Perfect Liars. We interviewed author Kimberly Reid on how to craft the perfect heist novel, her writing tips, and breaking stereotypes.
Why was it important to you to depict an interracial relationship in your story?
In the real world, interracial relationships exist. I’ve been in one with my Korean husband since college. Teen readers may not think this is a big deal, but when we met in the late 1980s, long before K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean fusion food trucks made the culture more accessible to Americans, it was kind of a big deal. Back then, as Koreans immigrated and settled into traditionally black neighborhoods of large cities, relations between our communities were tense. I wasn’t quite as young as the characters in Perfect Liars, but I remember what it was like to be young and in a relationship for which I had no model, one that was seen as “exotic” at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The world has shifted a lot in thirty years, and kids have more models now but it’s still important to me that my books reflect the real world. And unfortunately, we’re often reminded how little shift there has been. Just last week, people lost their minds over an interracial Old Navy ad.
What research did you do to create a convincing heist novel?
That aspect of the book probably took the least research since the heist isn’t a huge player in the story, though I had to do a lot of Googling on the high-end antiques business. I didn’t want the target of the thieves to be the usual things—money, jewelry, art—though that’s in there, too. So I decided to go with fine antiques. The legal aspects took up most of my research time. Luckily, I come from a law enforcement family so it was fairly easy to ask any question that popped into my head. When I was writing the book, my much younger sister had recently passed the bar exam and she’d also been an English major in undergrad, so she was the perfect person to help. The law was really fresh for her, and she didn’t get bored with all my writerly talk of plot and motivation.
Who are your favorite heist writers? What are some of your favorite heist movies or shows?
I don’t really have a favorite heist writer, but I have watched many heist movies, like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (the original and the newer versions), Rififi, The Score, and Inside Man. But it was actually a TV show called Leverage that gave me part of the inspiration for Perfect Liars. The main premise came from an alternative school in my town that is run by a juvie court judge and was once housed in our city’s justice center, along with courtrooms and the sheriff’s office. But I needed to turn that into a story and decided to have former juvie kids use their criminal skills for good. In Leverage, a band of criminals, led by a former investigator, use their various talents to help people in need.
How is writing fiction different than writing a memoir (No Place Safe)?
The biggest difference is telling the truth versus making stuff up. With fiction, you can make the story go the way you want. Writing memoir is all about the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. No Place Safe is the story of growing up during the two-year-long Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead investigator. I was thirteen when the murders began, and I wrote the story from my thirteen-year-old’s perspective, but with the insight of an adult looking back on that time. It was my first published book, and writing it helped me figure out what I wanted to do from that point on. I like writing from a teen point of view (but I find it more difficult than writing for adults!). Though I write crime fiction, I prefer using humor in my stories rather than a darker voice. Most importantly, I’d much rather invent stories than tell the truth.
What advice would you give to writers that want to write heist novels?
In a heist novel, the entire book is about the planning and execution of a heist, and then how the characters deal with the fallout. There is some of that in Perfect Liars, but it isn’t really a heist novel. Publishers Weekly calls it “a socially conscious crime thriller” and I like that description. The heist more or less sets up the story; it isn’t the story. If I had to give it a subgenre, it’s probably more con artist than heist. But I’d give the same advice I’d give a writer of any genre: do your research. I do lots of research and still miss something every time. And your readers will call you on it every time. I can be a little Type A and used to think, “Oh, no! How did I miss that?” Now, I realize I can’t change the book once it is out in the world, so I view it as, “I have some really smart and observant readers. They’ll keep me on my toes as I research the next book.”
A few months ago, LEE & LOW released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that a significant percentage of publishing staff is comprised of white women. Were you shocked by these numbers? What is a way publishing might be able to improve these numbers?
I’ve been black all my life, and a traditionally published writer for nearly a decade, so no, I wasn’t surprised. More surprising—and heartening—was the response to the survey from the participants. I was glad to see Big Five publishers participate. As sad as the numbers are, I think being truthful about them and willing to contribute honest data is a good start. As far as improving the numbers, I think decision-makers need to make an aggressive effort to recruit diverse employees. I don’t mean run job ads on sites focused on minorities or maybe participate in diversity job fairs for new college grads. I mean start early, show marginalized high school students the possibility of publishing as a career through education and internships. The science disciplines are doing this through STEM program education and recruitment as early as middle school. Another suggestion is to let go of the idea that everyone must work in Manhattan, which puts a publishing career out of economic reach for most. The film industry has figured that out. While Hollywood may always be the headquarters, lots of movies are being made in studios in lower cost cities like Atlanta and Vancouver, and using local production talent. Maybe have self-contained imprints, from acquisitions to sales reps, as field offices. I think this would also help publishing become less New York-centric and keep publishers in closer touch with what’s going on in the rest of the country in terms of demographics, cultural trends, and social movements. And to loop back to my first suggestion, publishing needs more decision-makers from marginalized backgrounds. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem when you’ve never experienced the problem, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive as broken, or at least, fully understand how broken the thing is.
Many of the juvenile delinquents that Drea works with challenge her assumptions about what they are truly like. Why is it important to challenge Drea’s (and the reader’s) assumptions about these characters?
I won’t lie—I can be judgey. A big part of being a writer is watching the world and trying to understand people, and hopefully, attempting to empathize with some of what we see. It’s hard to do that if you aren’t willing to see there’s more than one perspective. So I brought a lot of that to Drea’s character. I also wanted to show that we are not monolithic. Of the relatively few books that are published with brown or black leads, the odds favor us being depicted as broke, oppressed, undereducated, and in need of salvation. Drea is the opposite of these things despite being a racial minority. And also despite that, she views the world from a place of privilege. Part of her evolution is seeing that she has obtained her privilege in a questionable way, and also that, when it comes down to it, some people will always see her the way they want, no matter her money, class, or education. She learns this by seeing how others like her are treated and eventually realizes she has the means to help correct some of that.
The push for more diverse books has increased in the past two years. What do you hope to see from forthcoming books?
I’d like to see more fun books with racially marginalized characters. While these things are huge aspects of our past and, unfortunately, what still lies ahead, we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine. Historically, publishing hasn’t given the same freedom to writers of color. We have had to come with the deep and profound, or not come at all. Kids of color should have a variety to choose from, should be able to walk into a library or store and pick the thing they’re dying to read, not the thing an adult (publishers, teachers, librarians, parents) has deemed they should read because of what they look like or where they came from. That choice can include a history of their people, but let them also have a fun mystery, an interracial romance, a fantasy in which a kid who looks like them is the slayer of dragons. Every young reader deserves that.
What’s one of your favorite sentences, either from your own writing or from someone else’s?
Can I give a few? I love this description of a season’s change from Toni Morrison’s Sula:
“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”
I bow to Ms. Morrison.
If you were putting together your own team to pull off a heist, who would be on it and why?
I’d need a computer genius. I once worked in the tech world—which is increasingly becoming the world—and computer geeks make it go round. I’d want a great con artists or two because I wouldn’t want to use brute force. If I’m going to be a criminal, I’d rather manipulate people into giving me what I want rather than physically hurting them into doing it. They’re both bad, but for some reason, the con seems less bad than the violence. Certainly I’d want someone who could break into anything, probably two thieves—one high tech, one old school because you never know if you’re going to run into an antique safe or something. Those would be the minimal requirements. Nice-to-have additions would be a chemist, physicist, and an engineer. They are like the MacGyvers of the world. Between them, when all else fails, they could probably figure a way out of any jam.
Since 1965, The Parent Child-Home Program (PCHP) has been providing under-resourced families the necessary skills and tools to help their children thrive in school and life. PCHP’s nationwide network of program sites works with low-income families to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills, and resources to achieve their greatest potential in school and in life.
Today, we are excited to have Sarah Walzer, CEO of The Parent-Child Home Program. 2015 marked 50 years of service for the PCHP.
1. How did PCHP begin? How has the program’s vision evolved since it was founded?
PCHP was started in 1965 when educational psychologist Dr. Phyllis Levenstein was asked to develop a program to help reduce the growing number of high school dropouts on Long Island. Based on her research, she concluded that the most effective way to reduce high school dropout rates would be to reach families before their children even entered a classroom and ensure that parents had the knowledge, skills, and materials to prepare their children for school success. With this idea, the model for PCHP was created.
The vision has essentially stayed the same – with PCHP focusing on reaching out to underserved families in under-resourced communities and working with them to strengthen parent-child interaction, support and increase reading and play activities in the home, and build language and learning rich home environments. The biggest change since 1965 is that now we work with families speaking over 50 different languages and almost always with a home visitor who speaks their language. Phyllis could not have imagined that when she first piloted the Program.
2. Can you tell us about the PCHP research-based model structure and how it works?
PCHP is based on an extensive body of research that demonstrates that children who receive rich verbal stimulation in their homes (conversation, reading, and play) come to school with the language, vocabulary, and social-emotional skills they need to be successful. Researchers have demonstrated that by age 3, low-income children have heard 30 million less words than their middle income peers, so we know that too many children do not experience the quality verbal interaction they need to succeed. Parent (primary caregiver)-child interaction is critical to closing this word gap and preparing children for school.
Building on this research, the model PCHP provides two years of intensive, twice-weekly home visits to underserved families when their children are 2 and 3. We match each family with a PCHP early literacy specialist in their community, and most of the time this early literacy specialist shares the family’s cultural background and language. These home visits are for a half-hour, twice-a-week. The half-hour is to make it easy for parents to fit the visits into their schedule and so they can see how little time each day it takes to support their children’s school readiness.
Over the course of the two years, each family receives at least 92 home visits, 46 new, high-quality books and educational toys, as well as curricular guide sheets that provide the family with tips for verbal interaction, skill development, and additional literacy, music, and art activities. The early literacy specialists model for the parents and children together verbal interaction, reading and play activities that are fun and become part of the families’ regular routines.
It is important to note that PCHP’s approach is one of modeling, not teaching; a non-directive, non-didactic approach that builds on the relationship between the home visitor and the family, empowering the parent to be their child’s first and most important teacher.
Texting parents is a great way to remind and teach parents the importance of conversing and reading with your child; however, by itself it will not close the achievement gap for the most under-resourced families. You don’t actually know if the parent receiving the text can read it or read it in the language of your text. You don’t know if they have access to books to read to their children, if they know how to find age-appropriate reading material, and how to read and talk to a young child in a way that builds language and literacy skills.
School readiness is about so much more than just language skills, it is about the social-emotional skill development that comes from playing games that involve taking turns, supporting children while they try increasingly difficult tasks on their own, etc. These are not all things that can be conveyed or demonstrated to parents via text messages. Some families need more support and the PCHP model can provide the needed materials, modeling, and tools for their children’s’ success.
4. After 50 years, what does the research show about families who complete the PCHP program?
The research not only shows that PCHP participants start school ready to succeed, but it also shows that this success continues as they move through school. A new study just released in February highlights the impact that PCHP is having both on kindergarten readiness and on third grade success. This longitudinal study demonstrates significant long-term outcomes for PCHP graduates based on standardized Washington state assessments of kindergarten readiness, English language proficiency, and third grade academic performance. The three key findings from the study show that signifcantly more PCHP graduates
started kindergarten better prepared than their peers
demonstrated English proficiency in kindergarten
scored significantly higher on third grade WA Reading and Math assessments, including above the state average in math.
5. Looking forward, where do you see PCHP headed in the coming years? Any projects that you are particularly excited about?
We’re hoping to expand to reach over 10,000 families annually. We want to be able to serve as many families as possible. We recently trained the staff for our second site in Chile, which is the 4th country we have opened sites in. We are currently working in 14 states and would like to see that number grow as well. We were recently selected by the GreenLight Fund Philadelphia to be their newest portfolio program, which will mean a four-year expansion there to reach at least 400 families annually. We are particularly excited about expansions like the one in Philadelphia that involve working with housing authorities to support families in public housing and immigrant organizations to support diverse immigrant populations.
6. How can people get involved or find a PCHP nearby?
You can find a PCHP location nearby by going to our website, www.parent-child.organd using the link “Find a PCHP Near You” to find a list of all of our locations and their contact information. Additionally, there is information on our website about how to support the Program, how to start a site if there is not one in your community, and potential volunteer opportunities. Please be sure to also follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop. We constantly have exciting news and events to share, and are always happy to welcome anyone who would like to get involved.
Sarah Walzer has been the Chief Executive Officer of The Parent-Child Home Program, Inc. since 1997, during which time the Program has grown from reaching 800 families in 5 states to over 7,000 families annually in 14 states. Before joining The Parent-Child Home Program, Sarah Walzer was Counsel to the Assistant Secretary for Legislation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she worked on legislation related to early childhood and domestic violence prevention programs, and the development of crime, substance abuse, and dropout prevention programs for youth. She has presented on The Parent-Child Home Program to many audiences, including the Social Impact Exchange, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Council of Great City Schools. She serves on the Board of The Petey Greene Program and the Princeton University Bridge Year Advisory Committee. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.
Today we are pleased to share this guest post from Librarian and Diversity Coordinator Laura Reiko Simeon on ageism in children’s literature. Welcome, Laura!
Super Grandpaby David M. Schwartz was inspired by the true story of Gustaf Håkansson, who in 1951 at age 66 won a 1000-mile bike race in Sweden after being banned from entry on the grounds that he was too old. Before reading this inspiring tale to my elementary-aged students, I asked them to say the first words that came to mind when they heard the word “grandpa.” Some of them were positive to be sure (kind, gentle, loving, cheerful), but most were far less so: slow, bent, broken down, tired, sleepy, weak, cane, and, ahem, smelly! Of course, they cheered for Super Grandpa and were deeply indignant that he wasn’t even officially allowed to try to race (given how often children are forbidden from doing things on the basis of age, I suspect the injustice of this resonated on a personal level)!
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about their initial responses to the word “grandpa.” As I began to pay closer attention, I noticed that a significant number of picture books about older people seemed intended to help children come to terms with their grandparents’ death or mental deterioration. I also observed that older people were often shown as lonely, objects of pity, or cantankerous and vaguely alarming. The AGHE Book Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging encourages “positive portrayals of older adults in children’s literature” to help counteract this, but is unfortunately not yet very well known.
Surveys of children’s literature confirm my impressionistic observations, but also offer reason for hope. Edward Ansello’s groundbreaking 1977 study found that the three adjectives most frequently used to describe old people in children’s literature of the time were “old,” “sad” and “poor.” In J.B. Hurst’s 1981 survey, older adults were referred to as “nice” or “wise” in three of the books sampled, but in the remainder were described as “funny, small, little, grumpy, lonely, poor, and weak.” In a 1993 study, Sandra McGuire wrote that, “The literature is almost void of older people; frequently fails to fully develop older characters; often focuses on illness, disability and death; and gives children little to look forward to as they age.” Jessica L. Danowski‘s survey of picture books published between 2000-2010 found that the elderly were disproportionately portrayed as white (77%) and male (60%), and that they comprised only 5.6% of all characters. On the bright side, however, the portrayals overall were positive in nature, and most frequently showed older adults who were physically active.
As increasing numbers of people live healthy, vibrant, active lives ever later in life, we need more of these types of picture books that reflect the true gamut of roles older adults play in our society. Given the reverence and respect shown to elders in many cultures, diverse literature is a natural place to look to fill this need.
An immigrant grandmother turns innovator in Frances and Ginger Park’s The Have a Good Day Cafe. Tired of her family’s leaving her at home while they go out to run their hot dog stand, Grandma declares, “I did not travel ten thousand miles just to stay home and rest my feet day after day.” Observing that the stand is suffering from competition from other vendors, she and her grandson come up with a plan to differentiate themselves by selling her Korean specialties, leading to an upsurge in business. This is an enterprising woman who isn’t about to let the grass grow under her feet!
You’re never too old to be a hula-hooping champion, or so proves Miz Adeline in Thelma Lynne Godin’s The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, set in a gloriously diverse New York City neighborhood. After Kameeka gets distracted while running an errand, her mother is unable to make a birthday cake for their beloved elderly neighbor.
Far from being a pitiful recluse or a crotchety old scold, Miz Adeline is popular and high-spirited. Her friend and hula-hooping rival Miss Evelyn is no slouch either, and the two older women breathe life into the party! Godin handles this skillfully, making hula hooping something that forges a bond across generations rather than turning Miz Adeline into a “bizarre and comical” old person, another common stereotype.
In A Morning with Grandpaby Sylvia Liu, Mei Mei learns tai chi from her grandfather, Gong Gong, and in turn teaches him some yoga. The ebullient little girl struggles to achieve the fluid, deliberate grace of tai chi, while the older man has a bit of trouble with some of the more challenging asanas. Together they have a ball, laughing and encouraging one another, each doing their best while trying something new. It is a charming portrayal of a playful, loving intergenerational relationship.
In Holly Thompson’s touching The Wakame Gatherers, biracial Nanami heads out into the surf collecting seaweed with Gram, her white American grandmother visiting from Maine, and Baachan, who is part of her multigenerational household in Japan. Neither woman speaks the other’s language, but they are bound together by their love for their granddaughter and a spirit of open-mindedness. In this lovely story, two women who lived through a world war that pitted their countries against one another now embrace new cultural experiences, from trying new food to embarking on trans-Pacific travel.
Books that help children come to terms with the loss and bereavement, as well as distressing medical conditions, are certainly necessary—but these tragedies can afflict the young and middle aged as well the old. Greater diversity in picture book portrayals of the elderly benefit readers of all ages.
The daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over the US and the world. An alumna of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding, Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle where she is the Diversity Coordinator and Library Learning Commons Director at Open Window School.
In this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”—from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)
At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.
LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?
Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.
Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.
Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”
We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)
We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.
Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.
The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.
LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?
The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.
LEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?
We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.
Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:
“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family”
Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.
Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:
Celebrate International Jazz Day with these seven books about Jazz from LEE & LOW BOOKS:
Rent Party Jazz, written by William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Sonny Comeaux has to work in order to help his mother make ends meet. Mama loses her job, and Sonny is worried: How will they make the rent? A jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack helps Sonny have the world’s best party, and raise the rent money in the process. Buy here.
i see the rhythm, written by Toyomi Igus and illustrated by Michele Wood – This book is a visual and poetic introduction to the history of African American music, including Jazz music. Buy here.
Jazz Baby, written by Carole Boston and illustrated by Laura Freeman – This book is a celebration of music and movement. This story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz. Buy here.
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison – This award-winning biography follows the life of legendary jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston. At the age of 7, Melba fell in love with the trombone. Later, she broke racial and gender barriers tobecome a famed trombone player and arranger, spinning rhythms, harmonies, and melodies into gorgeous songs for all the jazz greats of the twentieth century: Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones, to name just a few. Buy here.
Sweet Music in Harlem, written by Debbie Taylor and illustrated by Frank Morrison – C.J. needs to act fast. A photographer from Highnote magazine is on his way to take a picture of his Uncle Click, a well-known jazz musician. But Uncle Click’s signature hat is missing! C.J. must find it before the photo shoot. Buy here.
Rainbow Joe and Me, by Maria Diaz Strom – Eloise likes colors and so does her friend, Rainbow Joe. Since Rainbow Joe is blind, Eloise tells him about the colors she mixes and the fantastic animals she paints. Rainbow Joe tells Eloise that he can also mix and paint colors. Buy here.
Ray Charles, written by Sharon Bell Mathis and illustrated by George Ford – This award-winning biography follows the life of world-renowned jazz and blues musician Ray Charles. It includes a new introduction by author Sharon Bell Mathis and updates his life to the present day. Buy here.
Released last fall from LEE & LOW BOOKS, The Story I’ll Tellis a gentle and moving story of adoption and parental love that is sure to touch the hearts of readers everywhere, no matter how they came to be a family. It has received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which called it “an unabashed love letter, one that many families will treasure.”
We asked illustrator Jessica Lanan to take us behind the scenes of her art process bringing The Story I’ll Tell to life:
The process for illustrating The Story I’ll Tell started with research and brainstorming. I read books about adoption and collected evocative images from magazines and the internet that I thought might be useful references. There were a lot of questions to investigate as I tried to piece together the identity of the characters and the overall look and feel of the artwork.
As I researched, I also began sketching thumbnails. My art director and editor provided feedback on these, and through several rounds of revisions we worked to get the concept and flow of the art just right. The thumbnail sketches were also essential in order to work out the composition of each page. For each round of revisions I made a printed dummy in order to simulate the flow of the book.
After the thumbnails were ready, I worked on more detailed drawings, using reference images and models as needed. Here you can see a rough clay model that I used as a reference image for one of the drawings:
Once the drawings had been approved, it was time to move on to the final art. I was using watercolor for this book, which is a rather unforgiving medium, so, I made a miniature version of each painting first in order to get all the mistakes out of the way. Then I transferred my drawing to the watercolor paper and started painting!
Each final piece was done with watercolor and colored pencil on 300lb watercolor paper.
Jessica Lanan has been in love with illustrated books since an early age. Besides The Story I’ll Tell, she has also illustrated Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth from the Shen’s Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS. She currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, where she enjoys thunderstorms, crunching autumn leaves beneath her feet, and leaving footprints in freshly fallen snow.
You can purchase a copy of The Story I’ll Tell on our website here.
At the end of the panel discussion, all attendees will receive a FREE, ready-to-go toolkit with tips and strategies from American Immigration Council, MommyMaestra, Spanish Playground, and LEE & LOW. Additionally, proof of attendance and participation is available for professional development credit.
Title: Celebrating Día at School
Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016
Time: 04:00pm Eastern Daylight Time
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for: Educators, Caregivers, and Community Coordinators teaching K-5 students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Shame the Stars is set to be released Fall 2016! We’re excited to share a first look at the cover with you today.
Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.
As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.
Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.
Thanks to YA Interrobang for hosting the cover reveal! We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover.
The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is next week and we’re so excited to meet everyone! The conference takes place in the George R. Brown Convention Center and LEE & LOW will be Booth #1746!
See below for our signing schedule as well as a few other events that our authors and illustrators will be participating in:
Wednesday, April 20
Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Shame the Stars), 11:30 AM-12 PM, Authors Area Aisle 3
“Esho, he Boishakh, Esho Esho. Come, O Boishakh, Come, Come”
– Rabindranath Tagore
Growing up in a home filled with the rich culture of my Muslim and Bengali heritage, I was fortunate enough to take part in multiple New Year celebrations. Every year, April 14 celebrates the arrival of the Bengali New Year or Pohela Boishakh, part of a unique calendar system determined by the seasons. It’s one of my favorite holidays, filled with a blend of colorful traditions and communal reflection. My relatives back home in Bangladesh celebrated the holiday with elaborate festivities that include going around town visiting family and friends, dressing up in traditional garb, and attending parades showcasing talented Bengali artists and performers. Here in America, the celebrations are not quite as elaborate but the traditions are kept alive within the Bengali community. Here are three things that are always a must in my home:
Punjabis and Red and White Saris
During the holidays, we typically show off the snazziest fashion trends from South Asia. On Pohela Boishakh, however, it’s customary for women to wear simple traditional white saris rimmed with red and for men to don the Punjabi. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, my friends and I exchange saris as gifts so they’re extra special!
2. Panta Bhat and Illish Maas
There’s no end to the delicious savory and sweet treats on this day but a simple dish of Panta Bhat (rice soaked in water and salt) and Illish Maas (fried Hilsa fish) are staple meals to share with the family. It goes really well with pickled Mango Achar! This type of food is a reminder of our agricultural roots and the sustenance provided by the natural world around us.
Reading Rabindranath Tagore
My love of literature stems from a heritage that places significant value on the arts. Bengalis boast an array of writers, poets, artists, and performers, most notably poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first non- western author to be awarded the Nobel Prize. On this day the Daiyan family revisits his timeless song, “Esho, he Boishakh”, by doing a reading as a family and reflecting on the words that pay tribute to the earth.
Pohela Boishak is a celebration of Bengali roots and culture, unblemished by modernity. It asks that no matter where we are, we should seek to gather, reflect, and marvel at the coming of a promising New Year. Today I encourage you to celebrate Bengali culture with me by reading Yasmin’s Hammer, a beautiful moving story set in Bangladesh with illustrations that capture the sights and smells that engulf you as you walk the streets of my country.
As we say in Bengali, Shubho Noboborsho (Happy New Year)!
Mitul Daiyan is a former LEE & LOW intern who recently graduated from Harvard Divinity School.
Have you ever wanted to take a trip to the cloud forest? Explore the Andes of Ecuador? Discover a new species? Well, you’re in luck.
With¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito from A to Z! travel to the unique world of the cloud forest and discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as you help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there. Anyone can learn to be an explorer in their own backyard with the FREEOlinguito Activity Kitand Teacher’s Guide. Learn more about the cloud forest and other ecosystems, including all of the important animals and the adaptations that help them survive in their environment with the many interdisciplinary ideas, projects, and engaging activities.
Content themes and subjects covered:
ecosystems and habitats
animal classification and adaptation
vertebrates and invertebrates
competition and predation
Here’s a preview of the types of engaging projects and activities you can find in the Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide:
Observe an Ecosystem!
You will need:
a pen or pencil
a thick, old paperback book
Make note of the time of day you are making your observations. Is it morning, afternoon, or night?
Record all the plants and organisms you see, including trees, shrubs, bushes, grasses, ferns, mosses, and lichens.
Record all the animals you see in the area, including insects, arachnids, mollusks, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Gather fresh leaves of different shapes from trees and shrubs and put each separately between two pages of the paperback book. You may also gather small, colorful flowers or flower petals and put them between pages of the book.
Take photos of any animals you see.
Once you are back inside, place the paperback book under a pile of heavy books for a week or two to let you pressed leaves and flowers dry.
Design a Cloud Forest Travel Brochure!
Have students research cloud forests in the Andes and create an informative and persuasive travel brochure. Include headings, subheadings, pictures, maps, and informative captions.
Where are the cloud forests located?
What plants and animals live there?
Why are cloud forests valued or important?
What is the climate like?
What will people see there?
What environmental and human threats do they face?
Why should someone make the cloud forest his or her next vacation destination?
Create a Cloud Forest Alphabet or Glossary Book:
string or twine
art decorating supplies (crayons, colored pencils, markers. etc.)
Alphabet Book: include the featured letter, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and the name of the plant or animal.
Plant/Animal Glossary Book: include the name of the plant or animal, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and an informative description of the plant or animal: where does it live? what does it eat? how is it classified (plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, etc.)?
For more fun and exciting activity ideas, including I-Spy Fun and learning to create you own pressed leaf print, check out and download the FREE Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide.
You can purchase a copy of ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest on our website here.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Poems in the Atticis 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.
Is 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.
Read poetry voraciously. If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
Practice, practice, practice. Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
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.