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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. Why We’re Asking Publishers to Join Our Diversity Baseline Survey

diversity102-logoIf you’ve been following us for a while, you know that over the past few years we’ve released a series of infographics about the diversity gap in different industries including publishing, film, television, theater, and politics. Our infographic studies were designed to give people who were unfamiliar with issues of race and gender a sense of how deep the diversity problem goes in the United States and how entrenched these issues are in every facet of media. Our latest infographic, The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley, is our first study that reports on a bigger question: What comes after the numbers are established? Once we acknowledge the diversity gap, what can we do to close it?

The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley
The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley (click to read more)

The tech industry presents a unique model for this. After Pinterest engineer Tracy Chou asked, “Where are our numbers?” hundreds of companies, both large and small, chose to release the diversity statistics of their staffs in a transparent way. Although the numbers showed a lack of diversity, after they were revealed there was a flurry of activity across the industry to address the problem. We were encouraged to see the brightest and the best minds in technology confronting a decades-old problem with pragmatism, budgets, and goals.

We were inspired to create our own baseline survey in the hopes that it could serve as a catalyst for the same kind of movement within the publishing industryGiven this, we were inspired to create our own baseline survey in the hopes that it could serve as a catalyst for the same kind of movement within the publishing industry. 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.

There is precedence for a survey like this, not only from the tech industry, but also from the publishing industry in the United Kingdom. Both industries ran surveys as recently as 2014. Even large publishing houses, such as Hachette UK, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House UK, were among the publishers who participated in the British survey. Hopefully, this is a good sign that these companies might extend their participation to the US version of the survey.

In the past, publishers have usually put the responsibility on readers for the lack of diverse representation in books. The extremely dated adage that “diverse books do not sell” has become a belief that has reached mythical proportions. While it’s important for readers to support diverse books with their dollars and voices, it’s equally important for publishers to self-reflect on how they can do better on their end. We must acknowledge that one factor contributing to the lack of diverse books is the lack of diversity among the people who edit, market, review, and sell the books. Surveying our staffs and reporting on our The onus is on us to move forward.findings would give us a starting point, not to point fingers or assign blame (especially since most media industries face similar problems) but to bring clarity to the problem so we can understand it better, attempt to correct it, and measure whether or not we are improving.

Publishers, the onus is on us to move forward. Many publishers have said that they support We Need Diverse Books and the movement for more diverse books, but words are not the same as action. If we are serious about increasing the number and quality of diverse books, it is essential for us to be transparent about our own challenges. By surveying our staffs and sharing our numbers, we can work together to put in place sustainable programs that will increase diversity among publishing staffs in the long-term.

Here are some ways you can help:
Sign the petition. We consider transparency in the publishing industry both a social and economic justice cause. If you agree, stand up and be counted. Your name in support of this effort will be used to convince publishers to join this effort.

Place a comment in the comment field of School Library Journal’s article about the survey. Public commentary about this issue from educators, librarians, reviewers, editors, authors, and illustrators helps put a face to this problem. Many of the gatekeepers/decision makers do not understand the problem, but words can make a difference and change people’s minds.

Ask your publishers to sign on. If you are an author or illustrator, contact your editors and other publishing contacts and encourage them to participate in the survey. Your voice in support of this effort can make a difference.

Subscribe to Lee & Low’s blog or social media channels. Understanding the issues is important, but the complexity surrounding issues of race and gender can be daunting. We discuss these issues on a daily basis. Learn through reading and engagement in a safe place to ask questions and stay current on the issues.

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2. How to Read With Your Rising First Graders and Kinders This Summer

For parents of soon-to-be kindergartners and first graders, helping their children be prepared for the start of school can be exciting and daunting (and not just for students).

What can parents do over the summer to help their children maintain the growth they made this past year in preschool or kindergarten and be ready to tackle new topics and skills in the fall?

Below is one way parents can read and explore books over the summer. This model can be adapted for both fiction and nonfiction texts and follows how many teachers practice guided reading, which children may experience the first time in the upcoming school year.

I’m going to model how parents can practice reading using the text, David’s Drawings.

We do not need to, nor should we, ask every question for every book during every reading time. We may have only four minutes of our child’s attention one day and maybe twenty on another. The goal is not to drill our youngest learners in Common Core standards by the start of school.

Rather, the ultimate goal here is to show our beginning and soon-to-be readers how reading can be a joyful, positive experience. This mindset will set them up for the best start to their school journey.

Getting Ready to Read

1. Questions to ask and talk through with our rising kinders or first graders about the book:

  • Who is the author? / Show me where the author is on the cover. What does an author do?
  • Who is the illustrator? / Show me where the illustrator is on the cover. What does an illustrator do?
  • Where is the front cover? The back cover? The title page of the book?
  • As we read, which direction do we read the words?

2. Practice making predictions:

  • Together, look at the front cover. Using the title and picture on the cover, ask: what might happen in the story? What makes you think that?
  • Take a picture walk through the book. Ask: What do you think this story will be about? What do you notice when you look through this book?

3. Build background schema and draw on your child’s past experiences:

  • What do you know about drawing, or making a picture?
  • What types of things do you like to draw?
  • Where do artists get their ideas for drawings and paintings?
  • Who might help you draw a picture?

Reading the Book

  • As you begin to read, make sure the book is between both of you so your child can clearly see the text (and illustrations) and be in the position of the reader (rather than a regular listener at a group story time).
  • Make sure to point your finger to each word as it is read aloud. In doing so, your child can follow the text as well as the storyline and learn that we derive meaning from print—we in fact are not just making up a story to match the pictures we are seeing!

Video examples of parents reading with primary grade students:

After Reading

Discuss the meaning of the text. Here are some questions to check comprehension during and after the reading. (CCSS Key Ideas and Details)

  • Who is the main character? Or, who is David?
  • Where does the story take place? When does the story take place?
  • Where does David get his idea for his picture?
  • What details do his classmates add to David’s tree?
  • How does David feel when the other children draw on his picture? Share a time you felt the same way.
  • Why do you think David decides to make another drawing when he arrives home?
  • What does this story remind you of?
  • Could this really happen?
  • Do you think David is polite? Why or why not?
  • If you were to add one more page to the story, what do you think would happen next?
  • Why do you think the author, Cathryn Falwell, picks the title, David’s Drawings? Do you think this is a good title for the book? Why do you think so?
  • What do you think might happen the next time David starts a drawing in class?
  • Why do you think David isn’t shy anymore at the end of the story?
  • What was an interesting part for you in the story? Or, what part of the story made you smile? Why?

Video examples demonstrating book comprehension:

rising kinder readingExplore foundational skills and language:

  • Please show me a word that starts with the uppercase letter D. Show me a word that starts with the lowercase letter p.
  • Put your finger on a word that starts with b. Put your finger on a word that ends with e.
  • Can you think of another word you know that rhymes with day?
  • Can you show me a sentence that has a question mark at the end? A period? An exclamation point?
  • Can you show me a word that ends in –ed? –s?
  • Find a word that starts with the same letter as your name.
  • Find a word that ends with the same letter as your name.
  • Find a word that has a letter that is in your name.
  • Can you show me the (high frequency) words: the, of, and, a, to, you, on, I, me, my? Many primary grade classrooms build reading fluency with sight word practice. For a review for rising first graders or a peak for rising kinders, here are kindergarten high frequency word lists:

Post-Reading Activities

Done with sitting still? Time to move but keep the connections going!

1. Write or draw an answer to this question: Would you be friends with David?

2. Find a tree near school, at a park, or near your home. Sketch it using a pencil and then later decorate it.

3. Re-read the story or have another adult read the story—re-reading stories is great for helping children practice fluency, make predictions, retell events, and build confidence in eventually reading parts on their own.

For more further ideas on early literacy:

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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3. Submit Your Picture Book Manuscript to the New Voices Award!

New Voices Award sealSummer is almost there! That means that the sixteenth annual NEW VOICES AWARD is now open for submissions. Established in 2000, the New Voices Award was one of the first (and remains one of the only) writing contests specifically designed to help authors of color break into publishing, an industry in which they are still dramatically underrepresented.

Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. The New Voices Award is a concrete step towards evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.

NEW VOICES AWARD submissions we have published include Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, and Bird.

The contest is open to writers of color who are residents of the United States and who have not previously had a children’s picture book published.

The deadline for this award is September 30, 2015.

For more eligibility and submissions details, visit the New Voices Award page and read these FAQs. 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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4. Pinterest Roundup: 100’s of End-of-the-Year DIY Ideas for Teachers & Students

Pinterest has become a teacher’s go-to source for all sorts of curation inspiration. If you’re like me, you can browse and pin for hours without even once questioning when you’ll have time to DIY your heart out or eat everything pinned to your food inspiration board.

So, since June is right around the corner we thought we’d help you get a head start thinking about and planning some fun end-of-the-year tokens of appreciation. Whether you’re a teacher, student, or parent, Pinterest has an overwhelming amount of DIY-inspired gifts to celebrate the end of the school year and kick-off the start of the summer.

 Teachers: 8 gift roundups (& no apples in sight!)Pinterest roundup

101 Easy & Creative Teacher Gift Ideas from The Dating Divas. An impressive list of over 100 teacher gift ideas broken down by category: the first day of school, appreciation gift ideas, end-of-the-year ideas, and even 2 bonus gift ideas for the bus driver.

Teacher Gift Ideas in Mason Jars from Mason Jar Crafts Love. If I had to describe Pinterest in two words it might just be mason jar. But dare to challenge their all-inclusive, miscellaneous nature and you’ll surely be disappointed.

20 Cheap, Easy, Cute & Practical Teacher Appreciation Gifts from It’s Always Autumn. You’ll find less of the cutesy, where-am-I-going-to-put-this DIY projects and more practical gift ideas that teachers can actually use, from classroom supplies to gift cards.

28 Pun-Tastic Teacher Gifts from BuzzFeed. A laugh-out-loud collection of “punny” printables and DIY ideas for your “uh-mason” teacher or “berry sweet” students.

DIY Treat Bag Tags-Teacher Appreciation from The Busy Budgeting Mama. You can never go wrong with an edible gift, particularly those made with sugar. Here are 5 printable tags to say thanks in a sweet way.

25 Teacher Appreciation Ideas That Teachers Will Love by Crazy Little Projects. This roundup of 25 usable and practical DIY gifts hits it on the head for most teachers. I would be ecstatic to receive anything on this list.

4 Gifts That Teachers ACTUALLY Want (told by teachers!) from A Girl and a Glue Gun. This roundup of teacher-minded gifts shows you how to make what teachers really need and want-from cleaning wipes to pizza gift cards- feel personal and special.

cute-easy-useful-teacher-gift-appreciation-idea-13
from the blog Love The Day

 FREE Teacher Appreciation Cards from The Chickabug Blog. Overwhelmed by Pinterest’s crafting skills? Are you a self-aware last-minute gifter? Or maybe you just have a sarcastic sense of humor? Look no further. This list of printable teacher gift card holders is here to save the day.

The Archives: These blogs are a treasure trove of teacherappreciation gift ideas, many more than can be covered in 

thisroundup. Here, you’ll find teacher gifts for any and every occasion throughout the school year.

Teacher Appreciation Ideas from Skip to My Lou. 10 whole pages worth of ideas to thank a teacher. Need I say more? This is one you’ll want to bookmark for later.

Teacher Appreciation/School from Eighteen 25. Printables, printables, printables! This blog is chock-full of cheesy tags & quick DIY gift ideas for teachers that are practical, yummy, and great keepsakes.

Teacher Appreciation/School from The Domesticated Lady. An archive of teacher gift ideas and even “s’more” puns.

Teacher Appreciation Gifts from The Happy Scraps. Teacher gifts for any occasion, these DIY ideas are quick and as simple as possible without breaking the bank.

Students: 8 ways to settle those testing nerves and end the year on a high note with your students.

 End of the Year Gifts! from Lessons With Laughter. Your students’ futures are bright! But with cool sunglasses to wear, a survival kit bucket for life by their side, and having had you as a teacher they’re sure to be headed in the right direction.

Smartie Pants from The Muddy Princess. These are the best kinds of “smartie pants.” All you need is some cardstock, brads, glue, and Smarties!

Sidewalk Chalk End of School Year Student Gift Idea & Free Printable from My Sweet Sanity. Puns make the teacher and student DIY gifts really special, and this “chalk full” of fun idea is no exception. Any inexpensive, summer-themed gift that encourages kids to head outdoors is definitely a winner.

smartie_pants3
from the blog The Muddy Princess

Have a “Kool” Summer- End of Year Goodbye Gift for Classmatesfrom The Crafted Sparrow. Oh so “kool!” Kool-Aid packets and crazy straws just might make you the koolest teacher/parent around.

End of the Year Gift for 2nd Graders from Drama Mama’s LittleCorner. There is only one small problem with this ice-pop gift idea and it’s that it’s being limited to second grade. Ice pops RULE!

Easy End of the Year Student Gift from Happy Home Fairy. Just like the school year, these Frisbees will fly (just hopefully not at your head!).

Candy Gram Ideas from Happy Home Fairy. Candy grams are always sweet motivation for either starting or ending the school year.

Graduation Gift Idea Printable Seed Packets from Pre K-Pages. Just as you helped them plant seeds of knowledge, encourage students to keep growing their minds with this gift. Not only perfect end-of-the-year gifts for students and teachers, Forget Me Not seedlings make memorable graduation gifts.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Pinterest then we want to connect! Follow Lee & Low Books on Pinterest here.

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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5. Tu Books Announces Winner of New Visions Award Contest for Writers of Color

new visions award winnerNew York, NY— May 7, 2015— Tu Books, the middle grade and young adult imprint of respected multicultural children’s publisher LEE & LOW BOOKS, is thrilled to announce that author Axie Oh has won its second annual New Visions Award for her young adult science fiction novel, The Amaterasu Project.

The award honors a fantasy, science fiction, or mystery 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.

The Amaterasu Project takes place in a futuristic Korea wracked by war and a run by a militarized government, where the greatest weapon—and perhaps the greatest hope—is a genetically modified girl. “The futuristic sci-fi setting is inspired by a combination of Japanese concept art and animated television series,” says Oh. “I hope my new book gives to readers what books have always given to me—a new world to explore and new characters to fall in love with.” Oh will receive a cash prize of $1,000 and a publication contract with Tu Books.

Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than six 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.

Two books were chosen as New Visions Award Honors: Yamile Saied Mendez’s On These Magic Shores and Andrea Wang’s Eco-Agent Owen Chang. On These Magic Shores is a contemporary middle grade novel with a touch of magical realism about 12-year-old Minerva, who must step up to take care of her younger sisters when her mother, who is undocumented, goes missing. Eco-Agent Owen Chang is a humorous middle grade mystery about Owen Chang, a middle schooler who moonlights as a secret agent for an undercover environmental organization. Mendez and Wang will each receive a cash prize of $500.

While writing their manuscripts, both Wang and Méndez stressed the importance of seeking out books by and about people of color. “I naturally gravitate toward books by authors of color because they tell stories that mirror my experience as a person of color too,” says Méndez. Similarly, Wang says, “I’m all for reading books that are outside your comfort zone or told from an unfamiliar perspective. Personally, I would rather expand my reading horizons than restrict it.”

ABOUT: Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, publishes diverse speculative fiction for young readers. It is the company’s mission to publish books that all young readers can identify with and enjoy. For more information, visit leeandlow.com/imprints/3.

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6. Illustrator Shadra Strickland Takes Us Behind the Art of Sunday Shopping

shadra stricklandSunday Shopping, our new spring title released this month, is a whimsical and fun-filled story of a young girl and her grandmother who use their big imaginations to go “shopping” through the Sunday paper. We asked illustrator Shadra Strickland to take us behind the scenes for creating the art work used in Sunday Shopping.

Making the Art for Sunday Shopping

Making the art for Sunday Shopping was almost like making two different books. The two art styles were distinctly different. The illustrations of Evie and grandma in bed were painted in watercolor, much like the paintings I made for Bird. The second set of images were made with a combination of line drawings, acrylic paintings, and assembled digitally.

The most challenging part of making the art for Sunday Shopping, was making sure that all of Evie and grandma’s “bought” items were consistent in all of the small paintings. I had to draw the same small bits of paper in every scene as the wall of items grew and grew.

sunday shopping illustrations_1

Once the watercolors were done, I drew all of the Evie, grandma, and cat characters on pieces of Bristol board. They were all painted in the same week to make sure that the clothes and skin tones were consistent. Even then, some colors had to be adjusted after I scanned them into the computer.

sunday shopping illustrations_2

 

sunday shopping illustrations_3

Once the characters were all done, I made drawings of the imaginary world with a wax pencil (also known as a China Marker). I drew on sheets of smooth plastic like drawing vellum. Those drawings were then scanned into the computer.

sunday shopping illustrations_4

Next, I painted different pieces of newspaper in different colors based on all of the elements I needed in the book. Some colors were adjusted digitally, but not many. Most of the paper was used as it was painted.

sunday shopping illustrations_5After everything was scanned in, I began to “cut” shapes out in photoshop and compose them within the line drawings.

sunday shopping illustrations_6

The last step was digital retouching. I had to go back into a few faces and digitally paint over some faces to make sure that skin tone was consistent throughout.

sunday shopping illustrations_7

My wonderful editor checked all of the art for consistency, and after a few passes back and forth, we made sure all of the elements were lined up throughout.

Once all of the art was assembled, I worked closely with our designer to discuss page color and type design for the book. My favorite thing about making books with Lee and Low is how truly collaborative the process is!

You can learn more about Shadra Strickland and her creative process on her website.

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7. Help Your Students & Families Find the Best Summer Learning Opportunities

You’ve been their teacher for nearly ten months. It seems like only September that a new gaggle  of hungry learners entered your classroom. What a journey it has been!

Summer is fast approaching, which means:

  • Prevent Summer SlideYou will not have explicit control over your students’ daily schedules and learning much longer
  • Summer slide is a serious risk
  • Summer school, camps, and programs are quickly filling up (some by February!)
  • Summer learning can make a difference

So in your final guidance to your students and families—help connect them with the right summer learning opportunities!

Summer slide can happen to any student, but is particularly detrimental for low-income children. If you work in a Title I school, for example, families may lack time to research and to apply early, supplemental income to put towards summer programming, or even the language (English) to navigate and negotiate with programs.

Engaging parents in the summer program process is critical. Ten months together with a student and family is significant, but the summer break is a sobering reminder that our time with students is so short (too short) on their grand education journeys.

Reality: We have about 900 hours a year with students, compared to the 7,800 hours students spend out of school. And so, finding a summer learning opportunity for our students is one last opportunity to engage parents as partners and recognize them as the ultimate teachers and advocates of their children.

Why should educators and school staff support with summer planning? Helping families navigate the convoluted summer programs race, you’ll ensure:

  • your students retain the growth they achieved with you
  • your students find a safe, healthy place to continue learning for the next two months—many of these programs provide not only academic support, but also necessary meal services that families have depended on during the school year
  • your students get exposed to new experiences in art, science, music, or sports which will help them build their background schema—a critical reading strategy
  • the next grade’s teacher will love you forever (no wants to spend the first month(s) of school re-teaching or reminding students what they already learned, thereby losing precious learning time for new material—full steam ahead!)

FIRST, start your own research now.

  • Does your school offer summer school or host a summer day camp?
  • Ask around: What programs did your students from last year go to that they would recommend for your current students? What academic programs do your colleagues and administrators recommend? Does the school’s PTA know of local quality opportunities?
  • Head straight to the local library in the neighborhood of your school—no one does better research on community resources than here, and I have found incredible, meticulously curated binders on health resources, summer camps, preschools, and more in the Children’s Rooms of many public library branches.

Program finders:

Questions to consider when looking into programs:

  • How is reading incorporated? Sports clinics are great for addressing the opportunity gap, but the major goal is about preserving (and hopefully increasing) reading and math literacy
  • Is transportation available?
  • Are breakfast and lunch provided?
  • Are scholarships available? Groups like Wishbone and The Fresh Air Fund can help cover the cost to otherwise out-of-reach high quality programs
  • Can siblings of different ages participate?
  • Are materials available in other languages or staff members able to communicate with non-English speaking families?

SECOND, begin talking to your students and their families NOW (inquire at after-school pickup and in your final parent-teacher conference). Ask:

  • What are your plans for the summer?
  • How will your child continue reading practice and discover books?
  • Have you ever considered a day camp or summer school program?
  • What has been a challenge in finding a program before? (Likely challenges in the past: language, cost, ability to take siblings or multiple age groups, transportation, general convenience, or compatibility with work schedules)
  • Discuss summer slide and if/how their child may be at risk. Talk about some ways to prevent summer slide at home and the benefits of local programs.

THIRD, present families with 3-4 programs you have found that are convenient. You do not need to offer families the whole menu of options (thanks, internet) and, frankly, many may not be realistic due to waiting lists, distance, or cost. You know your families and what is doable.

Having said that, you may also discover scholarships to summer programs that your families wouldn’t have even considered—if you can connect them, do it! These are memories your students will have forever.

FINALLY, hold parents accountable. Consider having an after school or morning session with a couple of laptops in your classroom for parents to register and learn more. (In my first year of teaching, my grade level colleague physically connected parents to the registration forms by printing a couple of forms to attach in the summer learning packets and discussed options in the final parent-teacher conference). In this way, you can:

  • help families learn about programs near their neighborhood
  • answer questions
  • provide translation of a website or help make a phone call to specific programs on behalf of families whose first or preferred language to speak in isn’t English
  • create a visible support system among families who are also registering, which will increase chances of success for when you are working and studying elsewhere during the summer (as well as help with carpooling!)

Be Pragmatic. Don’t feel like you need to coordinate 30+ students’ summer learning plans and help students decide between sports clinics. Zero in on students whose learning achievements seem the most precarious and you know that if you don’t help point out a summer learning opportunity, they face two months of staying at home with the T.V.

Even if you only get a couple of families (with siblings) registered this time around, next year they will be back championing the experiences and opportunities, and can be partnered with to encourage other families—nothing like seeing someone like you participate to make you rethink what is possible for your family.

Recommended Reading:

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. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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8. President Obama Announces ConnectED Library Challenge and #BooksforAll Project

Every child deserves the chance to learn and thrive in an environment that is enriched by the latest technology. Two years ago President Obama announced ConnectED, a signature initiative focused on transforming teaching and learning through digital connectivity and content.  Today, building on the progress made to date, at the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., the President will announce two new efforts to strengthen learning opportunities by improving access to digital content and to public libraries: new eBooks commitments and the ConnectED Library Challenge.  LEE & LOW BOOKS is excited to be a part of this new program!

The first is commitments from publishers to find ways to make sure their content is available to low-income youth in America.  Major publishers (including LEE & LOW BOOKS) are announcing they will make over $250 million in free eBooks available to low-income students.  Nonprofits and libraries are partnering with each other to create an app that can deliver this content and materials from the public domain.  Complementing that effort, the ConnectED Library Challenge is a commitment by more than 30 communities to put a library card into every student’s hand so they will have access to the learning resources and books they can read for pleasure, all available in America’s libraries.

These initiatives represent another way the ConnectED effort is making a real difference for students. Combined with the $2 billion in private-sector commitments, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funding for school and library connectivity that includes $2 billion specifically for Wi-Fi, and $1.5 billion more in annual funding today’s announcement brings the total value delivered as part of this five-year transformation in American education to over $10 billion. And as a result of these commitments, we are on track to meet the President’s goal of connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms and libraries.

—————–

As part of today’s effort, the New York Public Library is developing an e-reader app that will provide access to a universe of digital books, including contributions from publishers and hundreds of classics already in the public domain, to create a book collection for students aged 4-18 from low-income families.  The New York Public Library will work with a network of top librarians volunteering their time through the Digital Public Library of America to connect young readers with books that match their reading levels and interests.  New York Public Library will work with First Book, a book-donation non-profit, to help make sure eBooks reach students in low-income families.

Major publishers are committing to make wishing aavailable thousands of popular and award-winning titles to students over a three-year period.  These contributions will create a new book collection for students aged 4-18 from low-income families. Students from all demographics will be able to access the public domain titles, whose cover art and typography will be freshly designed by world-class designers and artists.

The new commitments the President will announce today will help ensure the smartphone or tablet that is increasingly a part of students’ lives is also a teaching tool outside the classroom that encourages kids to become lifelong readers.

Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in New Private-Sector Commitments: Today, the President will highlight some of the major publishers and their authors that have pledged to donate titles to low-income students:

  • Macmillan: Providing unlimited access to all of the K-12 age-appropriate titles in their title catalog of approximately 2,500 books.
  • Simon & Schuster: Providing access to their entire e-catalog of books for children ages 4-14, comprised of 3,000 titles.
  • Penguin Random House: Committing to provide an extensive offering of their popular and award-winning books.
  • Hachette: Offering participating students access to a robust catalogue of their popular and award-winning titles.
  • Candlewick: Providing unlimited access to all relevant children’s and young-adult e-book titles in their catalog.
  • Bloomsbury: Providing unlimited access to over 1,000 of its most popular titles.
  • Lee & Low: The leading independent publisher of multicultural books is providing unlimited access to over 700 of its titles.
  • Cricket Media: Offering full digital access to all of its market-leading magazines for children and young adults, including Ladybug and Cricket.
  • HarperCollins: Providing a robust selection of their award-winning and popular titles.

Commitments from Government, Non-profit, and Philanthropic Institutions: Today, the President will highlight commitments supporting expanded access to free books:

  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services: Investing $5 million to support the development of the e-reader app and tools and services to help the public  more easily access e-books and other digital content.
  • The Digital Public Library of America: Their network of librarians will volunteer with the New York Public Library to help make sure popular books reach the most appropriate audience. DPLA, in conjunction with Recovering the Classics are also add age-appropriate public domain titles whose text and cover art has been redesigned by leading graphic designers and artists.
  • New York Public Library: New York Public Library is developing a cutting-edge e-reader app and working with industry and tech leaders to improve the experience for students.
  • First Book: a book donation non-profit organization has committed to work with New York Public Library and interested publishes to provide authentication and delivery services to ensure that e-books will reach students in low-income families.

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President Obama recognizes the critical role that libraries play as trusted community anchors that support learning and connectivity at all times and many different paces. In fact, more than 70 percent of libraries report that they are the only providers of free public internet access in their community. Like many modern challenges, improving education for all children requires key leaders to collaborate in new and powerful ways. Libraries are uniquely positioned to continue to build programs and partnerships that bridge the divide between schools and homes and provide educational services to every person in the community.

Announcing the ConnectED Library Challenge: Today, the President will call upon library directors to work with their mayors, school leaders, and school librarians, to create or strengthen partnerships so that every child enrolled in school can receive a library card. These libraries also commit to support student learning through programming that develops their language, reading, and critical thinking; provide digital resources, such as eBooks and online collections of traditional media; and provide broadband connectivity and wireless access within library facilities. Over 30 major cities and counties have announced they are taking the challenge and will work to provide cards to all students.

Communities adopting the ConnectED Library Challenge include: Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Clinton Macomb, Columbus, Cuyahoga, D.C., Denver, Hartford, Hennepin County, Howard County, Indianapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, New Haven, Oakland, Pierce County, Pima, Pocatello, Pueblo City, Ramsey County, Columbia, Rochester Hills, Rochester, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Skokie, and St. Louis.

Commitments in support of the ConnnectED Library Challenge: To support the implementation of the ConnectED Library Challenge, the Administration announced new commitments to action:

  • The Institute of Museum and Library Services: Host a national convening this summer to identify and share best practices in reaching universal library card use among public school students.
  • Urban Libraries Council: Lead an initiative that provides a forum for community, library and school leaders to work together to meet city and county education goals by leveraging resources and measuring outcomes.
  • American Library Association:  Drive adoption of the ConnectED Library Challenge through their 55,000 members and align the challenge with existing support and technical assistance provided through their Every Child Ready to Read initiative.

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9. What is Día de los niños/Día de los Libros? 5 Questions for Pat Mora

Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) is an annual celebration of books and literacy that takes place each year on our near April 30. The American Library Association says:

Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.

Pat MoraDía’s founder, and one of its biggest proponents, is award-winning author Pat Mora. We asked her 5 questions about the holiday and how to celebrate it:

What is bookjoy and how do you hope Día will cultivate it in young/early readers?

I coined the word bookjoy to convey the private and delicious pleasure of enjoying time with books. Little ones can thoroughly experience bookjoy long before they’re readers if the adults around them share excitement about books.

What impact is Día having on communities where it is celebrated?

Día strengthens communities because it brings diverse children and families together to celebrate all our children and to connect them to bookjoy. Día is a year-long commitment to share literacy creatively with culminating celebrations held in April on or near How to Celebrate Día de los niños/Día de los LibrosApril 30th.

Do you feel that the recent push for more diversity in publishing (especially with the We Need Diverse Books community campaign) has sparked renewed interest in Día?

I hope so. We celebrate Dia’s 20th Anniversary April 2016. For years, I’ve written and spoken about the importance of a national book community, including publishers, authors, illustrators, and award committees, and reviewers that reflect the diversity of our children. Those of us in this community need to participate in creating a body of children’s literature that honors our plurality.

What would you say to a library or school that wants to celebrate Día but doesn’t have many resources at its disposal?

Those of us committed to Children’s Day, Book Day, in Spanish El día de los niños, El día de los libros are creating a tradition in the same way that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are traditions in our country. Exciting: honoring all children and sharing bookjoy with them. Some April observances are small and some are big, but the important element is annually sharing this tradition. Literacy is essential in a democracy. Let’s celebrate kids and books!

What role does community play in the celebration of Día? How can individual readers support or celebrate Día?

Readers enjoy sharing an important value in our lives: books! We can ask our nearby or local schools and libraries if they celebrate Día and be prepared to explain what it is and why it’s important. We can volunteer to help or provide a donation. Many Día celebrations include book-giveaways and books as prizes. Schools and libraries welcome our support. When diverse groups of diverse ages join together for children, it energizes communities.

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10. Celebrate and Teach About Baseball with Toni Stone

It’s baseball season again. It’s also the 10th anniversary of Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream written by Crystal Hubbard and illustrated by Randy DuBurke. How can you celebrate both?

 catching the moonCatching the Moon was selected by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation for its latest read aloud on Storyline Online, an interactive literacy website where well-known actors read popular, award-winning children’s books to help students fall in love with reading.

Resources for Teaching After Reading and Watching Catching the Moon

Comprehension Questions for the Video or Read Aloud

  • Describe what Marcenia loves about baseball.
  • How does Marcenia feel about the way others treat her as a ball player? How do you know?
  • What does Marcenia do that ultimately changes her father and Mr. Street’s mind about her playing baseball and attending the camp? How will this experience help her when she is an adult trying to play on a men’s professional team?
  • At what point in Toni Stone’s life does the author, Crystal Hubbard, choose to begin? Why do you think she chooses to start there and not when Toni Stone is an adult playing as a professional ball player? What message does author Crystal Hubbard want young readers to learn from this story? Why?

Activity Suggestions

1. Have students compare and contrast Catching the Moon with other baseball biographies. How are their experiences similar? What barriers do they tackle? What character traits do they share that have allowed them to overcome obstacles? What legacies do they leave behind? How do they change people’s minds?

2. Have students research Mo’ne Davis, 13-year-old Philadelphia pitcher in the Little League and compare her experiences in baseball to Marcenia Lyle’s. The Anti-Defamation League’s Current Events Classroom has put together a lesson plan to learn more about Mo’ne Davis and explore gender stereotypes in sports.

3. Science in Baseball? Check out these extension ideas from Science Buddies:

4. Have students discover other women who played and were involved in black professional baseball. Check out the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s education resources made in partnership with Kansas State University. Students can learn about the roles African American women played at all levels of the league in the NLBM’s lesson plan.

5. Put Marcenia Lyle’s story in further context. With students, create a timeline of critical moments and milestones of women in American baseball. The National Baseball Hall of Fame has created a five lesson unit on women in baseball history.

If Youtube is blocked or unavailable at your school, find Storyline Online’s Catching the Moon read aloud video at:

How have you been teaching and celebrating Catching the Moon all these years? What lessons and activities did we miss? Share with us!

img_1587Jill 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. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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11. Poetry Friday: Dreaming Up

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our final Poetry Friday post, we chose a poem from Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building, written and illustrated by Christy Hale.

One by one,

block by block,

plastic shapes

interlock.

 dreaming up

Yellow, red,

white, and black,

all connect

in a stack.

dreaming up 2
Habitat 67 in Montréal

 

Build a world

brick by brick.

Hold them close.

Hear the click.

What are you reading for National Poetry Month? Let us know in the comments!

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12. Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday with Ira’s Shakespeare Dream

Today is what historians speculate is William Shakespeare’s birthday. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon, England in 1564. Shakespeare is arguably the most well-known playwright of all time, and his works have been produced and acted in for the past 400 years!

Ira's Shakespeare Dream

 

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, written by Glenda Armand and illustrated by Floyd Cooper, follows the life of Ira Aldridge, who was known as one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 19th century.

As a young boy in 19th century New York City, Ira Aldridge greatly admired the works of Shakespeare. He wanted nothing more than to act in Shakespeare’s plays against his father’s wishes.

ira's shakespeare dream spread 1

Ira later set sale for England, where he ran small errands for theaters. He was also hired as an understudy. Ira got his big break acting when a fellow could not perform. However, he was not well received. He had little training and critics felt that he should not take roles from white actors.

iras

Through his determination and perseverance, Ira Aldridge went on to become one of the most well known Shakespearean actors of his time, especially for his role as Othello. Ira Aldridge’s name is inscribed on a bronze plaque in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, in Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace. He is the only African American among the thirty-three actors to have achieved this recognition.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream will be out this June.

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13. Reading for the Earth: Ultimate Earth Day Resource Roundup

Earth Day, April 22nd is right around the corner, and we at Lee & Low are some pretty big fans of this blue planet we live on. So, whether you choose to plant a tree or pledge to better uphold the 3 R’s -reduce, reuse, recycle- we are celebrating and promoting awareness the best way we know how- with books!

Here are 5 environmentally friendly collections to bring nature READING FOR 1 yellowindoors & encourage “thinking green”:

Save the Planet: Environmental Action Earth Day Collection: Be inspired to be an advocate for planet Earth through the true stories of threatened ecosystems, environmental recovery efforts and restorations plans, and heroic actions. Like the individuals and communities explored in these stories, children everywhere will realize the difference they can make in protecting our planet and preserving its natural resources.

Earth Day Poetry Collection: Through rhythm and verse, float down the cool river, reach as high as the tallest tree, and search for all of the vibrant colors of the rainbow in the natural world. This collection of poetry books are inspired by the joy and wonder of being outdoors and brings the sight and sounds of nature and all of its wildlife to life.

Seasonal Poems Earth Day Collection: Travel through winter, spring, summer, & fall through a series of bilingual seasonal poems by renowned poet and educator, Francisco Alarcón.  Learn about family, community, and caring for each other and the natural environment we live in.

Adventures Around the World Collection: Explore Africa while traversing Botswana’s lush grasslands and Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest, celebrate the deep-seeded respect for wildlife in India, Mongolia and on an island off the coast of Iceland, and journey to Australia to explore animals found nowhere else on Earth.

Vanishing Cultures Collection: The 7-book series introduces readers to the Yanomama of the Amazon Basin, Aborigines of Australia, Sami of the European Arctic, Inuit of the North American Arctic, Tibetans and Sherpas from the Himalaya, Mongolians of Asia, and Tuareg of the Sahara.

Lesson Plans & Ideas:

What fun is Earth Day if you don’t get your hands a little dirty? Bring some of the outdoors into your classroom-or vice versa- by engaging students in various hands-on and project-based Earth Day lessons and activities:

Earth Day Curriculum Resources, Grades K-5 from The National Earth Day BooksEducation Council. Features lesson plans, units, useful websites, games & activities, printables, and video.

Environmental Education Activities & Resources from The National Education Council. Features lesson plans, activities, projects, games, and professional development ideas.

Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink. Features a classroom activity, 6 lesson plans for grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9 & other Earth Day resources for kids.

Nature Works Everywhere from the Nature Conservancy. Features lessons, video, and tools to help students learn about and understand nature in various environments and ecosystems across the globe.

Check out the research-based read aloud and paired text lessons for The Mangrove Tree created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org

Explore the educator activities for The Mangrove Tree and Buffalo Song, titles featured in RIF’s Multicultural Book Collections. To find other free activities that inspire young readers as well as learn more about Reading Is Fundamental, visit RIF.org

Activities, Projects, & Video:

Greening STEM Educator Toolkits from National Environmental Education Week. Features toolkits for activities based on water, climate, energy, and engineering a sustainable world through project-based service learning.

NOVA Earth System Science Collection from PBS LearningMedia. Standards-based video collection that explores important Earth processes and “ the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth.”

22 Interactive Lessons to Bring Earth Day to Life from Mind/Shift. Features informational videos, images, and other forms of multi-media highlighting research on biodegradation, climate change, waste, energy sources, and sustainable practices.

I Want to Be Recycled from Keep America Beautiful. Find out how different kinds of materials are recycled, transforming trash into new things. Students can play a super sorter game and start a recycling movement in their community.

Journey North: A Global Study of Wildlife Migration & Seasonal Change from Learner.org. Track various migratory species with classrooms across the world.

The Global Water Sampling Project from the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE). Students from all over the world collaborate to compare the water quality of various fresh water sources.

Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Learn how to begin a waste reduction program in your school or community with helpful guides and resource tool kits.

Wildlife Watch from the National Wildlife Federation. Learn about and monitor the wildlife where you live, helping track the health and behavior of wildlife and plant species across the nation.

What’s Your DOT (Do One Thing)? from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Pledge your DOT (Do One Thing) to take action and inspire others to make a difference.

Plant a Poem, Plant a Flower from the blog Sturdy for Common Things. Since April celebrates both National Poetry Month & Earth Day, why not plant a little poetry in nature?

And finally… some Earth Day treats!

Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips
Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips at tammileetips.com

 

Earth Day Cookies

Earth Day Dirt Cup

Earth Day Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

veronicabio

Veronica 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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14. Poetry Friday: Song in My Heart

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our third Poetry Friday post, we chose Song in my Heart by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Jackson from I and I Bob Marley.

i and i

Song in My Heart

I am the boy

From Nine Miles

The one sing

Like three little birds

In a reggae style

The one blessed

By Jah

To travel miles

Across the world

With my island girl

Guitar in hand

And my dreads

A twirl

With music

In my belly

And songs

In my heart

Healing the world

With my reggae art

Keeping you always

Like a song

In my heart

 Let us know what poems you’re reading in the comments section!

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15. Meet Our New Visions Award Finalists: Part III

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. In previous posts, we interviewed finalists Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang, and finalists Shilpa Kamat and Rishonda Anthony.

Below authors Yamile Saied Méndez and Axie Oh answser:

Yamile Mendez thumbnailYamile Saied Méndez, “On These Magic Shores”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

 My main character is twelve-year old Minerva Soledad Madrid and she can’t wait to grow up. The oldest of three girls, she’s a Latina who speaks Spanish and who’s proud of her cultural heritage. Her parents are of Argentine descent, and her mom (who’s raising the girls by herself) teaches the girls the Argentine traditions she grew up with. She sings the lullabies of her childhood, and most importantly, she passes on her belief in the Peques (short for Pequeñitos, the Little Ones), the Argentine fairies, who follow their families as they move around the world. Because the family doesn’t have a support system, Minerva had to step up and be a second mother for her sisters while their mother works two jobs to make ends meet. Minerva wants to be the first Latina president of the United States. She’s determined and focused. She doesn’t believe in magic, but she wants to, oh how she wants to believe the fairies take care of her and her sisters while their mom is away! In the story, Minerva learns how to be a child again (kind of like a reverse Peter Pan) because magic is really all around us!

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?   Don’t pay attention to the inner editor!

If I could send my younger self a message, it would be: follow you heart, write what you want to write, and trust your voice. I wrote my first story in the first grade, and looking for validation, I showed it to my uncle. Instead of the praise I expected, he told me a few things that didn’t work in his expert opinion. After that, I started writing with my inner editor reading over my shoulder, until I got to a point in which I wasn’t sure anyone would ever be interested in what I wanted to say. Don’t pay attention to the inner editor! Get the story out of your heart! There’s a lot of time to fix things during revision. Revision is your friend.

I also would say a big THANK YOU. My younger self was a little like Minerva: determined and persistent. I taught myself English at a young age, and I’m forever grateful to little Yamile for all the hard work. It’s paying off!

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

I wrote my first full novel during NaNoWriMo back in 2008. My goal was to win NaNo by writing 50,000 words in 24 days (I found out about National Novel Writing Month on November 6th, but I still reached my goal). Since then, I’ve learned to pour out my first draft on the page and then go back and revise. This has resulted in a lot of drafts that will never see the light of day, but it has also produced some powerful writing that came straight from my heart (like the NaNo in 2013, a few days after my mother passed away). I write every day, or at least, most days. Sometimes my ideas are born of a single word, or a person I see who makes me wonder about their lives. Sometimes the ideas simmer in my head and my heart for years, until I feel I ready to tell them. Right now I’m working on a story that was born about twelve years ago when I lived in Puerto Rico. I’ve learned that even if something I write isn’t ready for me to share with my critique group, it’s still an important piece of writing because it taught me what doesn’t work or what needs more depth. I love to do writing exercises from craft books like Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway et al, Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin, and The Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson. Even if not all of these exercises end up in my manuscript, I often find wonderful information about my characters (or myself) that helps me tell the story better.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

First of all, I feel that people should read whatever they want to read without fear of mocking or teasing of any kind. I naturally gravitate toward books by authors of color because they tell stories that mirror my experience as a person of color too. As a child, I never remembered who wrote what. I loved Little Women and Heidi because I identified with Jo March and Heidi who lived with her grandpa. But as an adult and a writer, I want to learn from the masters how to tell the stories that inhabit my mind and my heart, and there’s no better way than to read their stories to know how to tell mine.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript? 

I have hundreds of favorite books, but in middle grade I love everything by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia is my favorite), Gary D. Schmidt (Okay for Now), Shannon Hale (Princess Academy), Kelly Barnhill (The Witch’s Boy. Wow!), and Erin Bow (Pain Kate). I also love everything by Meg Medina (especially The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind) and Julia Alvarez (the Tia Lola books are the best!), and of course Pam Muñoz Ryan (Esperanza Rising). But my favorite stories ever are fairy tales, from all over the world, and of course Peter Pan has a special place in my heart.

Axie Oh thumbnailAxie Oh, “The Amaterasu Project”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

His name is Lee Jaewon (Koreans put their surnames before their given names). He’s 18-years-old. He’s a quiet, keep under the radar type of person, with a strong sense of loyalty and a distrust of hope. At the start of the book, he lives alone in a dingy apartment in Old Seoul (my future Korea is split between Old and Neo Seoul). He hasn’t spoken to his best friend in three years. He’s rejecting these mysterious envelopes full of cash, sent from his mother who he hasn’t seen since he was eight. I see him as a character with a very tired soul who longs to forgive everyone who’s hurt him in his life, yet doesn’t know how to begin, or even if it matters.

 Physically, he looks like Lee Jong Suk. If you don’t know who that is, well, you’re in for a treat: Google him! (He’s a South Korean actor).

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

You are fabulous! Keep on doing what you’re doing! Okay, maybe that’s not advice. More like ego-boosting. But every teenager needs a good ego-boost now and then, especially when writing, which is literally pouring your soul onto a page.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

My writing process is pretty linear. I outline heavily, with scene-setting and dialogue for some significant scenes that will appear in the novel. I do character and worldbuilding charts. I compile pictures/illustrations of places and people who inhabit the spirit of my characters. Then I go through the whole book, from the first chapter to the last, with heavy editing in between. Then of course more revisions. The last two steps are printing the whole book out and attacking it with a bunch of colorful pens. The more colors the better! And then reading the whole book out loud while recording it. THEN I send it to my beta readers and critique partners – this is the point where I can’t make it any better by myself. As for writer’s block, when I come up

As for writer’s block, when I come up against that particular wall, I always start with the spark that made me want to write the book in the first place. The characters. I go back to the sketches I wrote of the characters and add onto them, delving deeper into their backgrounds and psyches. And/or I’ll re-read scenes I’ve already written that contain the “voice” of the characters, which makes me fall in love with the characters all over again. It’s all about making myself believe in the characters so that I want to finish their story.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

The idea behind this, I believe – at least for avoiding white, male authors specifically – is that by avoiding this group, you will therefore seek out stories written by women, people of color or LGBT writers, enriching your perspective of the world, which is always a viable and recommended thing to do.

As a reader, I seek out stories with strong coming-of-age themes and themes of love, in all its shapes and forms. When I read, it’s about seeking these types of books in an inclusive setting.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?

Tough one because I haven’t read enough YA Sci-Fi to have particular favorites. I watch a lot of Sci-Fi dramas and anime (which heavily influenced my novel), but I don’t particularly have favorite books that are in the YA Sci-Fi genre. For example, one of my favorite anime/manga franchises is the Gundam franchise, which deals with futuristic societies, technological advancements and very human themes of love, hate, honor and betrayal.

Recently, I read the first two books in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, which were pretty awesome – jam-packed with action and strong themes of what it means to be a hero.

On the opposite end of Sci-Fi, focusing more on character, I really love the quiet strength of Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars, a dystopic re-telling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, taking place on a futuristic Pacific Islands.

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16. Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students

Guest BloggerIn this guest post, Sara Burnett, education associate at the American Immigration Council, presents strategies and resources to enrich the classroom with the legacy of César Chávez. This blog post was originally posted at the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration blog.

“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”   — César Chávez

César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rightsWhen the man who feeds the world by leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.

One group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL has done just that by writing and producing a short news broadcast “The Hands That Feed Us: A Migrant Farm Workers Service Project,” highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Their teachers are winners of the American Immigration Council’s 2014 community grants program which helped to fund this service-learning opportunity. Their project culminates with a school-wide donation drive for materials sorely needed for migrant farmworkers.

Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez? 

Start with a lesson

Interpreting the Impact of César Chávez’s Early Years

In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements.  First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy.  Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development.  This Common-Core aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels.

Use visuals and picture booksCESAR

Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California’s Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.”

First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school

Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the poet’s account of his own childhood as a migrant farmworker.  Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.

A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.

Initiate a community service project

Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families.  Take inspiration from the students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive project and let us know about it and apply for our community grants.

Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers

Read How Inaction on Immigration Impacts the Agricultural Economy (American Immigration Council) and What happens when more than half of migrant workers are undocumented? (Michigan Radio)  Ask students: What is the status of migrant labor today in the U.S.?  How much has changed and stayed the same since Chávez’s early childhood?

Read Interview with a Crab Picker (Public Welfare Foundation) and explore what it is like to apply for U.S. jobs while residing in the home country.  Pair this reading with the short film about a Public Welfare Foundation grantee: Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc. available on their website. Ask students:  How do these recent interviews and stories compare and contrast with the conditions facing Chávez and his family? How are some individuals in home countries benefitting from sending migrant workers to the U.S.?

Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students?  We’d love to hear them.  Email us at teacher@immcouncil.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Sara SelfSara Burnett is the education associate at the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to honoring our nation’s immigrant past and shaping our immigrant future. She was a former public high school English teacher in Washington D.C. and Vermont. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught a service-learning and creative writing with undergraduates and recently immigrated high school students. Additionally, she holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont, and a BA in English and Economics from Boston College. 

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17. Poetry Friday: Family Garden

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. For our second Poetry Friday post, we chose Family Garden by Francisco Alarcón, illustrated by Paula Barragán from Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos.

poems to dream together

Family Garden

in the backyard/of our home/there is a garden

all in our family/do our part/in maintaining

Mamá loves/to plant and nip/flowery rosebushes

Abuelita keeps/her mint herbs/in a small pot

Papá really likes/to come out hose/in hand and water

the lemon tree/the squashes/and the tomatoes

that my sisters/would grow/every spring

my brothers and I/in turn weed out/and mow the lawn

all in our family/take time to tend/each other’s dreams

even our puppy/knows how/to grow bones

in this garden/the sun shines/green smiles

What poems is everyone else reading? Feel free to share in the comments section!

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18. Meet Our New Visions Award Finalists: Part II

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here are answers from our first two finalists, Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang.

Below, authors Shipla Kamat and Rishonda Anthony answer:

Shilpa Kamat thumbnailShilpa Kamat, “Fallen Branches”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

My novel is narrated by a teen named Shloka. Her voice jumped out at me one day when I was free writing during a spare moment in a parked car, and I knew she would have to keep talking until her story was told.

Shloka’s name means “song,” but she’s shy about singing. One of her mothers is of South Asian descent and the other traces her history to early immigrants who came to the town in Northern California where her family lives. When someone is killed in their seemingly peaceful neighborhood, Shloka finds herself working in secret with her friend Dilly to solve the mystery of what happened–something she’s sure is not quite what everyone else believes…

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

Trust yourself and finish your projects. They don’t have to perfectly match your vision. In fact, they probably won’t. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one project at a time, but follow through. Take risks.

You’re already your harshest critic; learn to be an ally to your art as well. Choose to bring your writing to life rather than stifling it under the weight of your fears and expectations.

No matter how fantastical, ground your writing in real emotions and the interpersonal dynamics you witness or experience. Represent a broad range of people and centralize the communities and experiences you understand best. Be vulnerable. Let your characters have faults and forgive them, whether the other characters forgive them or not.

Rather than limiting yourself to the consciousness of current times, write with a sense of possibility. Take for granted that the seeds of positive social change will take root and come to fruition and write beyond that.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

Although some aspects of my creative writing process are pre-meditated, I don’t always know what turn a story will take or what its characters will say.

This, to me, is what differentiates creative from analytical writing. Analytical writing is relentlessly driven by a point; creative writing is inspired and emergent. While a poem or a novel may be tempered by the frontal lobes, its source lies elsewhere. It may wind up dancing aside from an initial course and taking another. I see it as my job to respect this process and allow space for it while occasionally pruning or uprooting and replanting paragraphs.

To keep myself motivated while working on one major projects, I kept a daily log of my word count and tracked the amount written. With another project, I abandoned this method entirely, occasionally checking progress on the number of pages but no longer needing a sense of production to drive me. I have no tolerance for outlines, but I am comfortable artistically representing goals or documenting completed projects–drawing the petals of a flower to write in, for instance. To successfully keep myself organized, there need to be wild elements and vibrant colors.

As for writers’ block, in my experience, it manifests as either anxiety or forcing. Whether caused by an impending deadline or a desire to plow through a portion of writing so that I can build a bridge to another, forcing kills the dynamism necessary for artistic expression. If I recognize that I am forcing, I step outside or hum or dance or stand on my head–whatever it takes to make myself relaxed and present.

Similar approaches can help to alleviate anxiety, but when I am anxious, I may distract myself endlessly or find other chores to busy myself with. On my most difficult days, I can’t manage to write until I am so tired I’m ready to sleep. Then I relax enough to channel another chapter or two.

Writing demands the cracking of idealized image, and that can be as disquieting as it is enlivening. It requires a deep intimacy with oneself, a revelation of one’s mind to others, that may be deeply uncomfortable. The cure for my writers’ block is to sit with this discomfort and work my way into it, whether in a direct or roundabout way, until the truth emerges.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

When I was in middle school, my Social Studies teacher announced that we were predominantly studying white men because they were the ones who shaped the course of history. My Language Arts teacher vehemently declared that “man” can be used not merely to describe a man but all of humankind.

The teachers were preempting challenges to those conventions, but no one can out-shout the truth: people are hungry for narratives that have been repressed throughout history. During the past two decades, the social histories of slaves, women, low-income people, indigenous communities, immigrants, and others who were not part of the elite have been increasingly sought after and have even entered courses of study in some mainstream schools.

In college, I recognized that unless I was told otherwise, if I had to imagine a character in a book, I would imagine a white person. This flattening of imagination is detrimental to everyone; when mythical imagination is constrained to the worldviews of only a fragment of humanity, literature fails to realize its potential for developing empathy for a broad range of others and an awareness of human experience.

If there are people who choose to focus on works by a specific group of authors for a period of time, I imagine that they are struggling to broaden their imaginations to include, centralize, and normalize the experiences of those who are rarely represented. For instance, if people decide to read only foreign novels for a year, they may broaden an insular lens into a more global one. As long as no group is being permanently written off, no author permanently clumped into a single category, I see no harm.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?

When I was a young adult myself, I enjoyed Cynthia Voigt’s work; A Solitary Blue, for instance, explored painful family relationships while rooting the characters in the natural world. I also enjoyed a number of other novels, primarily in the science fiction and fantasy genre, but I have not revisited most of them as an adult.

As for the mystery genre, a novel I remember liking as a child was The Westing Game, and a novel I enjoyed as an adult was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The latter left me with a lovely image of someone’s sitting at the bottom of a dry well to think.

Rishonda Anthony thumbnailRishonda Anthony, “Seraphim”

Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

Cassandra Rose is a former child prodigy who won dozens of trivia contests, spelling bees, and brain bowls as a girl. After having a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, she spent the next 5 years being home schooled in solitude. Now at 17, Cassandra is socially starved and desperate to fit in. But when she enrolls in a small private college, her past comes back to haunt her.

There are some autobiographical aspects in Cassandra’s character, which I believe is probably true for every author’s first book. In the case of Cassandra, I took them to the extreme. I was not a child prodigy who had a nervous breakdown, merely a gifted kid with anxiety issues. When I enrolled in a school rather similar to Cassandra’s college (in terms of size and atmosphere), I spent my entire first semester either alone in my room or going home on the weekend. This is where I formed the idea of a girl who is not an outcast due to social awkwardness, but because of a dark secret.

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?

First, don’t major in English. I’ve always loved books and have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl (cliché, I know). But then I spent two college semesters analyzing deeper meanings and themes in genius level books. It gave me a complex, because I thought that if I couldn’t write anything as good as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Grapes of Wrath then there was no point in writing at all. Reading stopped being fun, and then writing became a chore rather than an escape. Even after I switched majors, it took a couple of years for me rediscover my love of writing.

Secondly, find a writing group! I’m the kind of writer who works well with a deadline, and when I’m writing a draft, my critique partners expect 10 pages a week, every week, from me. If I was writing for myself, I would procrastinate for years (see the third piece of advice). In addition, as part of the millennial generation, I crave instant gratification. Having someone review my work and give me feedback goes a long way towards motivating me to finish a project. All budding writers should check their local meetup.com and see if there is a writer’s group in their area. If not, consider creating one.

Third, keep at it! I started writing Seraphim when I was roughly Cassandra’s age. The story hasn’t changed much, but years of losing both faith and motivation quickly turned into more than a decade with nothing but a few vague chapters to show for it. I didn’t start seriously writing the story until I was in my late twenties, and only then when I found a writing group to support me.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?

I’m a huge fan of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Both Seraphim and my latest novel started out as NaNoWriMo “Brain dumps” that got poured into a word document at a rate of about 2000 words a day. The 50,000 word result is always a mess, but at least it’s on paper. After that, I spend the next six months editing that work into a proper draft.

The best technique to get past writers block is to stop reading. I’m a big reader (I know the location of every library in my city and have subscriptions with Audible, Amazon Prime, and Forgotten Books) and I believe that no one can be a serious writer unless they are also a serious reader. But when I can’t write, usually it’s because the books (yes, plural) I’m reading are hurting the process. For example, the author’s style might rub off on me, and I’ll unknowingly change a character or my voice. Then I’ll start to struggle, because the book doesn’t sound quite right, and I’m not sure why. Or I might come across an idea that I really like, and then decide to put something similar in my book. Suddenly I’m trying to add an alien into a book about witchcraft, or trying to create an entire fantasy realm for a story that really doesn’t need it. That’s a recipe for instant writer’s block. Forcing myself to step away from other people’s work and focus on my own (usually for no more than a week or two) gets me out of most ruts.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?

In doing research to answer this question, actually had to face the uncomfortable fact that that there are very few authors of color sitting on my bookshelf (as you will see in the next question). This was not intentional, as I certainly want to read more diverse authors, but considering that publishing is still a very white business (white authors are more likely to get published and more likely to get coverage for their books), these stories don’t just fall into my lap.

However, I do believe in the power of the free market, and I think that if more people buy books by diverse authors, publishers will start putting out more books by diverse authors. For me, it involves deliberately seeking out books written by authors of color and including those books in my usual reading rotation. Despite this, I don’t think I would go so far as to cut out all white male authors. Ninety percent of the books are read are adult Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Horror and there aren’t many authors of color who write in those genres. But one day, I’d like to count my name among those authors.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?  

In Young Adult, I’m a fan of Susan’s Ee’s Penryn & the End of Days series and The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. As for fantasy, I love Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. When it comes to the pinch of horror I like to put in every story, I have to recognize Joe Hill, and his father Stephen King, who I grew up reading and who wrote the first 1000 plus page book I ever read (It, age 15).

 Meet Our New Visions Finalists: Part I

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19. Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Schools?

In this guest post, Taun M. Wright, CGuest BloggerEO of Equal Read, lays out some of the arguments for using diverse books in all schools, regardless of student demographics.

DeAvian was a disengaged student, more interested in socializing than academics. Her school had well-known books like Ramona but it wasn’t until her Big Sister gave her a book with an African-American girl on the cover that suddenly, “DeAvian’s eyes opened wide with excitement and a smile filled her face. She held the book tightly, looking up as if to say: ‘Here I am, at last!’” Now, DeAvian continues to read, and her academic performance has improved dramatically. The impact of representative literature can be profound.

In a year with so much important attention to discrimination, the call for diverse children’s books is clear. However, diverse books aren’t just essential to students from minority or marginalized backgrounds. We need diverse books in schools with students representing fewer racial groups just as much as we need them in more diverse schools.

Research shows that the less contact students have with people from other racial groups, the more likely they are to retain higher Why Use Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Classrooms?levels of prejudice. While equity and inclusion are necessary, especially for those of us too long without them, social change is more likely to happen when everyone understands how they will benefit directly from increased diversity and, what’s more, why their ability to embrace the benefits of diversity will be a key determinant of their future success. Here are a few key benefits to adding diverse books to a collection, regardless of the demographics of students:

  1. INCREASED ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: In their book Identity-Safe Classrooms, Drs. Dorothy Steele and Becki Cohn-Vargas show that “Identity-Safe Classrooms” result in increased achievement for all students, not just those from marginalized groups. Stereotype threat – anticipating being negatively stereotyped based on negative attributes associated with an identity group you represent – has a direct impact on achievement for students from all identity groups. Having many diverse books can offer a “density of cues” to counter stereotypes and reduce stereotype threat, increasing identity-safety for all students.
  1. ENGAGEMENT IN READING: Everyone agrees reading ability is a key predictor of future success. The key route to engaging kids in reading is to offer them books they find interesting and kids want to read about what they don’t know, not merely what they know. As part of its Classrooms program, Equal Read assesses students’ interest in diverse books, as well as their feelings of identity-safety and other measures. Students overwhelmingly answer, “I like reading about people that are different than me” and say that “books about kids that are different than the kids in my class are interesting.”*
  1. BETTER PROSOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: In 2012, Loris Vezalli and his colleagues demonstrated that adolescents who read a book concerning intercultural topics showed not only a reduction in stereotyping and more positive feelings about students representing identities other than their own, but also an increased desire to engage in future contact. Clearly, diverse books are a powerful tool for improved prosocial development.
  1. COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS: Educators at all levels recognize the need for students to develop key “21st Century Skills.” While their lists may differ around the edges, all include collaboration and communication as essential 21st Century Skills. As the total number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students will be over 50% this fall, all students will need to be able to collaborate and communicate with people from multiple identity groups, if they are to succeed. Businesses are well aware of research that shows diverse teams are more creative, innovative, and productive than homogenous teams. Silicon Valley companies, for instance, are now investing significantly in recruitment efforts geared to diverse employees. A recent study by professors from Cornell, UC Berkeley, Washington and Vanderbilt Universities even demonstrated that “political correctness” has a positive influence on creativity. Students accustomed to respectfully collaborating and communicating with people from many different identity groups will be better prepared for college and career success.

Just because a school’s population is not very diverse, does not mean it should be similarly restricted in the books available to its students. Kids like great stories. All kids deserve to read the most engaging books available, books that expand their imagination of what’s possible by telling a wide variety of stories, featuring characters with differences beyond phenotype (observable differences) to include different ethnicities, nationalities, languages, gender expression, family structures, abilities, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, education levels, religions and beliefs, ages, body types, learning styles, and experiences.

Through its Classrooms program, Equal Read creates broadly diverse book collections that are balanced for gender and representative of all of a classroom’s learners, offering teacher professional development and parent education about the role diverse books can play in increasing cultural competency.

Because every child deserves an equal read.

*Note: Equal Read also surveys parents and teachers, and overwhelmingly, both groups say they want to know more about diverse children’s books. Clearly, they already recognize the benefits of diverse books to the students they serve, yet it is difficult for them to find these books – this is no surprise considering how few children’s books feature diverse characters. We’re also working on ways to help parents and teachers more readily find the most outstanding books featuring diverse characters through Equal Read’s Books program.

EqualReadTaun Wright founded Equal Read in 2013 as a nonprofit organization to increase diversity in children’s literature, so all kids can “see themselves and a world of possibility in the books they read.” A former teacher, nonprofit consultant and administrator, and a parent and grandparent of a multi-racial family with multiple and varied abilities, nationalities, ethnicities, family structures, socio-economic backgrounds, languages, sexual orientations, ages, body types, education levels, learning styles, and experiences, she has first-hand appreciation for the wonders of different identities and the value of diverse children’s books in sharing them.

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20. 4 Mentor Texts and Activities for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. With so many forms of poetry to explore and share with students, what will you choose? 

Here are 4 ideas for using mentor texts to guide students in poetry study.

Additional bonus: a letter to teachers from author and poet, Pat Mora, on the power of poetry.

Poetry MonthPoem type: FOUND POETRY

Mentor Text: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Activity with students: Students select words and phrases from a primary text and use those words to create their own unique poems.

As “Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month” suggests, the Library of Congress proposes an innovative way to combine poetry and nonfiction. Teaching With The Library of Congress recently re-posted the Found Poetry Primary Source Set that “supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images.” Students will study primary source documents, pull words and phrases that show the central idea, and then use those pieces to create their own poems.

This project not only enables teachers to identify whether a student grasps a central idea of a text, but also encourages students to interact with primary sources in much the same way as Etched In Clay’s Andrea Cheng. When researching Dave’s life and drawing inspiration for her verses, Andrea Cheng integrated the small pieces of evidence of Dave’s life, including poems on his pots and the bills of sale.

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: HAIKU

Mentor Text: Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Activity with students: Students write haiku using sensory language and drawing inspiration from body movement, music, and art to create their own haiku.

Check out the classroom-tested, standards-aligned lesson plan Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music by Rashna Wadia with Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! provided by ReadWriteThink.org, a website developed by the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Additional resources:

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: CONCRETE OR SHAPE POETRY

Mentor Text: Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Activity with students: Students choose a building to describe in a poem and shape the poem to look like the building.

In Reading is Fundamental’s educator activity guide for, Dreaming Up, encourage students to try the writing activity “Shape It Up:” Let students pick a type of building and write a poem describing that building (how it looks, its purpose, etc). Students should write their poems on white paper in the shape of the building and decorate the background. (RIF)

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: NARRATIVE POETRY

Mentor Text: Chess Rumble

Activity with students: Students compare narrative and lyric poetry and write their own narrative poem based on real or imagined experiences or events.

Check out the research-based novel study unit for Chess Rumble created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org. Students will compare the story elements of Chess Rumble to Where the Sidewalk Ends and Keeping the Night Watch.

Next, students write their unique narrative poem—for tips “by youth for youth” check out How to Write a Narrative Poem from Power Poetry.

Further reading on using poetry in the classroom:

What are your favorite poems to enjoy in the classroom? 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. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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21. Meet Our New Visions Awards Finalists: Part I

Last month we announced the six finalists for our 2015 New Visions Award. The Award recognizes a middle grade or young adult novel in the sci-fi, fantasy, or mystery genres by an unpublished author of color (our first New Visions Award winner, Ink and Ashes, will be released this June!).

As our award committee gets to know the finalists through their novels, we wanted to give our blog readers a chance to get to know these talented writers as well. We asked each finalist some questions. Here, authors Grace Rowe and Andrea Wang answer:

Grace RoweGrace Rowe, “Pure Descent”

Tell us about your main character in your novel.

Mi Sun Lee is a sixteen-year old Korean American girl who loves Skatewing and eating chocolate Heliotwixes.  She grew up in the Crates, a community of extremely poor working class people, and was raised by her adoptive parents, Agnes and Poplar.  Mi Sun is a tomboy at heart, and she has the normal self-doubts and insecurities of most teenage girls.  She’s a hacker; she consults for the Dinenuts, an elite group of child hackers, who mostly wreak net havoc for fun.  She’s pretty but that’s not important to her– she’s more focused on her main goal, which is to do whatever she can to help her parents get out of the Crates.  One of her weaknesses is also her strength– she often doesn’t know how to hold back what she’s thinking, which can get her noticed, but can also get her in to trouble.  She’s a terrible liar, a pretty ingenious escape artist, loves to eat real food (not synthetic), and hates wearing stilettos.  Her dream was to become a professional Skatewing player, but since women aren’t allowed to play in the league, she just plays it online instead.  Mi Sun has no interest in “Pure Descent,” in which she is one of the contestants, but as time goes by, she can’t help but be seduced by some of the perks that come with being considered “Pure.”  She’s definitely not perfect– she falls for boys too easily, has issues with authority, and breaks the law because she knows how to do it without getting caught.  Yet she has good motives and she’s brave and follows her instincts, which is why I think (and hope) we continue to follow her.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
Fortunately, it’s rare that I have writer’s block.  It’s not that I don’t have problems trying to figure out how a story should go, or how a story should end, it’s just that it’s my nature to tackle those problems with a whip so I don’t linger in the misery.  This is the first novel I’ve written– I’m primarily a screenwriter.  I had to discipline -It's rare that I have writer's block.myself when I started this book, so I’d make myself write at least ten pages a day before I did anything else.  (Besides eat breakfast!)  Unlike with some screenplays that I’ve written, I didn’t have a real outline– I just started writing the voices and thoughts as they came to me.  As I got farther in to the book, I forced myself to outline because I thought it was getting too long without a structure, and I know that’s what sometimes turns me off when I read a book.  But I like the feeling of writing freely, not knowing what’s going to come next— just following your characters in their story.  Their choices are what drives the plot– at least the subplots.  The main idea always comes to me first, and as a filmmaker I can’t help but think of it as a movie.

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
People are busy, so I can understand why they would be picky about the books they read. I’ve never consciously taken a break from writers based on their ethnicity or gender, but I can say that I’m probably more drawn to read books from female authors, especially when it comes to fiction.  Most times that’s merely because they tend to have female protagonists, although obviously there are plenty of male authors who write about women and vice versa.  Maybe it’s because so many of the great t.v. shows and movies I watch tend to have men as their main protagonists, I often crave stories with women as the main characters.  I don’t think it’s bad, I think it’s just a preference.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I know it’s ubiquitous, but as far as similar genres, nothing’s moved me as much as The Hunger Games.  I think what makes it stand out from all the other books I’ve read in this genre, is that I feel like I really know who Katniss is.  The task of making a character truly believable is more difficult than it sounds.  I think it’s true that the more specific you are, the more universal you are.  The best writers always find the nuances of a character and they don’t coddle them.  They let their characters get in to trouble.  They let them make mistakes.  Their characters aren’t generic.

Andrea WangAndrea Wang, “Eco-Agent Owen Chang”
Tell us a little about the main character in your novel.

Owen is a 12-year-old self-described animal geek. He’s also a covert eco-agent for ORCA, an environmental spy agency. He’s snarky, self-assured, and always trying to shake off his pesky little brother. When he’s not out investigating, Owen can be found watching nature shows or tending to the reptiles and amphibians in his mom’s lab (she’s a herpetologist). While being Chinese-American informs Owen’s experience, he doesn’t consider himself to be “other” based on his ethnicity. What he believes sets him apart is his job as an eco-agent and he’s both proud and fiercely protective of his secret identity.

What advice would you give your younger self about writing?
I was always told that writing was not a viable career choice. I set writing aside to study science, which my parents deemed to be more practical. I don’t completely regret it because I love science too, but I wish that I’d had the guts to study both science and creative writing. Later, when I was working, I would occasionally write in my spare time but it never occurred to me to try and publish anything. It took the constant encouragement of my husband and a good friend who was also beginning her writing journey to persuade me to take writing seriously. So I’d tell my younger self that writing is a worthwhile pursuit and that it is possible to have a career in writing, but also not to angst over choosing a different path. Because writing will always be there when you’re ready to undertake it, and whatever experiences you’ve had in the meantime will just enrich your work.

What is your writing process? What techniques do you use to get past writer’s block?
I have a number of notebooks where I jot down ideas and notes on plots, characters, scenes, research, etc. I have one notebook for picture book ideas, and then separate notebooks for each novel. When I feel like I have enough material to work with, I sit down and develop an outline. I like to have a detailed chapter summary to guide me as I write. Having an outline is especially helpful for writing mysteries, so I can plan out where to introduce suspects, place clues, and insert red herrings. It also helps me move past writer’s block because I don’t feel like I have to write the scenes in order. I can look at the chapter summary and the ideas in the notebook, pick a scene that interests me at that moment, and start writing it. Hopefully, I can keep up the momentum and continue writing forward from there. I use Scrivener, so it’s easy to move the scenes around and stitch them together later. I also give myself deadlines or challenges so I have to sit down and produce something – the New Visions Award contest was one such deadline!

Recently, there’s been quite a lot of debate over the idea of readers who choose to take a break from books written by a certain group, such as white male authors. What’s your take on this?
If someone feels like they need to “force” themselves to read more diverse books by taking such a break, that’s fine with me. I’m all for reading books that are outside your comfort zone or told from an The books that stay with meunfamiliar perspective. The books that stay with me are often the ones that I find most disquieting. Personally, I would rather expand my reading horizons than restrict it. I’m trying to become a more mindful reader, as Sunili Govinnage encouraged in her article – to be more aware of the choices I’m making when selecting reading material. What’s wonderful about the current debate is that it’s calling attention to the work of talented, diverse, authors and there are now great lists of diverse books that we can all take to the bookstore or library.

What are your favorite books or writers in the same genre as your manuscript, and why?
I love the mysteries by Blue Balliett, especially The Wright 3. The way that she’s able to meld art, architecture, math, and codes in a suspenseful mystery is amazing. Elise Broach’s Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret are also my favorites for many of the same reasons. I grew up watching martial arts and James Bond movies and I read all of Ian Fleming’s Bond books in high school. The Young Bond series by Charlie Higson and the CHERUB series by Robert Muchamore take me back to those times. Before I began writing seriously, I was an environmental consultant. The books by Carl Hiaassen (Hoot, Flush, Scat) and the Swindle series by Gordon Korman really appeal to the scientist and nature lover in me. All of these books became my mentor texts for Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder.

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22. Poetry Friday: Hamburger Heaven

April is National Poetry Month! All month long we’ll be celebrating by posting some of our favorite poems for Poetry Friday. We’re starting off the weekend with Hamburger Heaven by Lee Bennett Hopkins from Amazing Faces.

hamburgur heaven

HAMBURGER HEAVEN

Lee Bennett Hopkins

He looks.                                She looks.

“Hi!”                                       “Hi!”

“My name is Cam.”                  “My name is Kim.”

“Been here before?”                “First time.”

“Kim?”                                    “Cam?”

Heart beats.                            Heart beats.

Love

found

among

burgers,

French fries,

and a

mile of smiles.

-From Amazing Faces, collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. Now out in paperback!

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23. 7 End-of-Year Field Trips and Book Pairings That Your Students Will Love (but won’t break the bank)

Assessments may not feel far enough in the past (or perhaps haven’t even started!), but the end of the year is fast approaching and field trip planning is in full force!

It can feel like a scramble. For our final science unit in third grade, my colleagues and I wanted to teach our students about animal adaptions by raising trout in the classroom. It was an incredible opportunity to study the behavioral and physical adaptions of a specific species, but timing their release with a scheduled field trip was tricky. We didn’t know until a week ahead when the fish would be ready for release, which led to a mad rush to book buses.

In case you want to plan a field trip with more than a week of planning, here are some ideas with book pairings to get you ahead of schedule and your students excited!

Field trips

If your unit is…

  1. Habitats, Ecosystems, & Biodiversity

NYC field trip: Central Park Zoo

Book Pairing: Puffling Patrol

How to find puffins near you (if outside of NYC): Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo or aquarium close to your school. Most zoo and aquarium websites will list the animals they have.

Virtual field trip: Puffin burrow bird cam from Explore.org

The art and facts are stunning in this Lee & Low book where children can learn about puffin adaptations and their life cycle. After reading about the adorable creatures, fall in love with the real deal: tufted puffins at the Central Park Zoo.

  1. The Solar System & the Moon

NYC field trip: Hayden Planetarium or Hudson River Museum

Book Pairing: A Full Moon is Rising

How to embark on moon exploration near you (if outside of NYC): Go-astronmy.com has put together a national map to search for local planetariums.

Virtual field trip: Amazing Space

Alongside the science, students love to study folktales and mythology from around the world featuring and explaining the solar system and moon. Introduce the significance of the moon in world cultures, with this Lee & Low title which gives readers a world tour of diverse celebrations and beliefs regarding Earth’s only natural satellite.

  1. Plant Adaptations

NYC field trip: Queens County Farm Museum and other farm field trips from GrowNYC.org

Book Pairing: Rainbow Stew, Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué rico! America’s Sproutings, and Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

How to find a garden near you (if outside of NYC): Check out Better Homes and Gardens’ Garden Locator and the National Gardening Association’s Public Gardens Locator

Virtual field trip: My First Garden from University of Illinois Extension program


Share the joy of growing healthy food and the experiences of working the land with these Lee & Low titles!

  1. Life Cycles and Animal Adaptations

In NYC field trip: The Butterfly Conservatory at the Natural History Museum

Book Pairing: Leo and the Butterflies, Animal Poems of the Iguazu, and Butterflies for Kiri

How to find butterflies near you (if outside of NYC): Discover a butterfly house in your state. Also, the  Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo close to your school.

Virtual field trip: Butterflies and Moths of North America, Journey North with monarchs, and Wildscreen ArKive

What better way to celebrate these amazing creatures than to marvel at their incredible adaptations up close?

 

  1. Natural Resources, Human Impact, & Sustainability

In NYC field trip: Hudson River Park

Book Pairing: Water Rolls, Water Rises and I Know the River Loves Me

How to find a body of water near you (if outside of NYC): The National Park Service has created the Find a Park search tool to discover a park by location, activity, or topic.

Virtual field trip: Interactive animation, “The NYC Water Story,” from American Museum of Natural History’s Water: H2O=Life exhibit

Foster respect and a sense of responsibility about the environment with hands-on, outdoors learning and these stunning stories that pack a powerful message about one of our most precious resources.

  1. Recycling

In NYC field trip: Sims Municipal Recycling: Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility in Brooklyn

Book Pairing: The Can Man

How to find a recycling center or landfill near you (if outside of NYC): Many recycling centers and landfills offer student tours and you can find one near your school here.  It is recommended to call to see if the nearest one to you does school programs.

Virtual field trip: My Garbology from Naturebridge.org

Learn about the impact of recycling on the environment and human relationships.

  1. Physics: Forces & Energy

In NY State field trip: Baseball Hall of Fame or professional baseball stadium

Book Pairing: Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream, and Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer

How to find a baseball stadium near you (if outside of NYC): Maps are available to find the nearest major league baseball stadium and most offer student discounts or field trip tours. Minor League Baseball also has a map for its stadiums. For the most accessible option, check here and you can find a local baseball field for students to play themselves or see community members try out the laws of physics.

Virtual field trip: Exploratorium’s Science of Baseball

Long considered America’s “national pastime,” baseball has had major historic milestones paralleling societal changes and attitudes. Readers of all ages delight in learning about overlooked, but nevertheless significant, pioneers in the sport and trivia like the origins of baseball coaching signals.

Pair a Lee & Low title to your beyond-the-classroom-walls adventure to deepen background knowledge and create an interdisciplinary, multi-media experience. Young learners will never forget the time you made the book come alive with a visit to any one of these sights.

You may have a dozens of reminders set, but here is a thorough list to help you plan and execute a successful field trip from the educators at Learn NC.

Field Trip Funding:

  • DonorsChoose.org –For inspiration and proposal models, be sure to study what other teachers in your area and around the country are requesting for their field trips
  • Target Field Trip Grants—These are accepted in August and September only, but this grant option is one of the most popular for teachers around the country
  • ClassWallet
  • Every Kid in a Park—new initiative to help all fourth graders and their families explore our national parks for free
  • Ticket to Ride—National Park Foundation’s answer to transportation costs to and from the national parks and monuments
  • Student Achievement Grants—from the NEA Foundation
  • Road Scholarship from Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) Foundation—financial aid for individual students unable to afford to travel
  • PTA—your local PTA may have additional opportunities, ideas, and grants to fund your field trip

Local funding options:

Resources for virtual field trips:

Free ipad Apps for Virtual Field Trips from Edutopia

What are your experiences and tips on bridging a field trip with classroom content? What books have you used in the classroom or at home to begin or culminate a learning adventure? 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. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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24. 2015 Texas Library Association Conference Signing Schedule

The Texas Library Association Annual Conference is next week! Will you be there? If so, we’d love to meet you. Here is our exciting signing schedule below:

TLA 2015 Signing Schedule posterWednesday, April 15

Thursday, April 16

We’ll be at Booth 2051 and look forward to meeting you!

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25. Book Marketing 101: What to Put On Your Author Website

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

In our last Marketing 101 post, I discussed what to do while waiting for your book to release. One of those recommendations was to refine your online presence. Today I’ll drill down into more detail on that point, focusing on the place where your online presence starts:
your website.

These days, it is absolutely essential for any published author or illustrator to maintain a personal website. I repeat: it is essential!Book Marketing 101: What to Include on Your Author WebsiteUsing your publisher’s website as your online home base is not a good solution for a couple reasons:

1) You may have many different publishers over the course of your career, and there won’t be one place where people can see all your books.
2) Publishers won’t have room for all the information you’ll want to include.
3) You need to be able to update your website as often as you need to, without going through a third party.

Some authors choose to create their own sites, while some choose to hire a company to design sites for them (I would advise against having a personal friend build your website unless they are able to teach you to manage and update it yourself). This blog post has some great suggestions for how to build a site yourself. Of the DIY options, WordPress is probably the most popular free option, while  Squarespace is a good paid option that provides some additional functionalities like e-commerce. The most important thing to consider when choosing where/how to build your site is sustainability: will you be able to maintain and update the website easily on your own once it is built?

Websites can range from the very basic to the very complicated, but all author websites should include a few key pages:

  • Bio and author photo. Every website should have an “About” section where people can learn who you are, where you’re from, and what inspires you. Offer more than what people can glean from flap copy alone. Some authors choose to offer both a short bio and a longer bio. We recommend also offering a link to a hi-resolution author photo that people can download for use in event promotions, reviews, etc.  If you’ve done any interviews, you should also post links to them here. Not only does this offer additional ways to learn more about you, but it’s a nice way of showing off some of the media coverage you’ve accrued.
  • Books. No author website is complete without an UPDATED list of all your books. At the bare minimum, you should include the title, cover,  and a brief description of each book. For upcoming books, include a release date – and don’t forget to change the book to available once it is released. If you have space, you should also include some of the book’s positive reviews and any awards that the book has won. Finally, always include links for people to purchase the book directly: we recommend linking to Indiebound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Author’s Website.
  • Events and Appearances. What kinds of visits do you do? What ages do you work with? If you have an education background or any special skills that make you especially good as a presenter, include them here. You may also want to ask contacts from past school visits if they are willing to write testimonials that you can share here.  You may even want to include a few photos or video from one of your visits. You don’t need to include honorarium information, but you do need to include a contact where people can learn more. If you don’t want to be your own contact, use a contact from one of your publishers for visit inquiries.
  • Social Media and Contact Information. Links to any social media channels you use should be front and center on your page, so people can find you easily. Only link to social media channels you keep updated—if you only posted on Twitter once, two years ago, it’s best not to direct people there until you begin using the platform regularly. Also include a way for people to reach you: this could be through a general email address, a direct email address, or even through snail mail sent to your publisher at your attention. You can choose to be as reachable as you want, as long as you offer some way for readers to get in touch.

Those are the four absolute must-haves for any author website. Beyond that, there are a few other elements that I’d recommend including if you are able:

  • Schedule/Upcoming Events. This is not a necessity, but some authors like to keep an updated list of the events they will be attending on their websites. It’s a great way to promote events you’ll be at and encourage fans to come out to support you, and it can also help generate additional event invitations. There’s one caveat: only add this page if you are going to keep it updated. There’s nothing worse than an author website that lists “Upcoming Events” that actually took place years ago.
  • Resources. Some authors create additional resources to go with their books, but even if you don’t create your own, it is likely that someone else will. Your website is a great place to compile these so readers can find them. You can link to these resources on your book page, or create a separate page for them. Either way, making these resources available through your website will help educators who want to use your books with students.
  • Email Collection. From the release of your first book (and even before that), you should work to build up your base of contacts. An easy way to do this is to create a place on your website to capture emails, where people can subscribe to receive updates on your work. Most website building platforms should have an easy way to do this. Building an email list can go a long way in helping you promote new titles when they are released.

Beyond these elements, the sky is the limit. Your website should reflect you, so feel free to include other pieces of information that you think readers would like. Whatever you do, your first priority should always be to keep your website UPDATED with your newest book information (even between books), so it doesn’t become obsolete.

Here are a few great posts with more information:
11 Author Website Must Have Elements (Your Writer Platform)
How to Build the Ultimate Author Website (In 1 Hour) (Tim Grahl)

And here are a few of my favorite author websites:
Pat Mora
Jennifer Torres
Paula Yoo
Monica Brown
Don Tate

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

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