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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 Create a Gender Neutral Picture Book?

Maya Christina GonzalezMaya Christina Gonzalez is an awardGuest Blogger-winning author and illustrator. In this post, cross-posted from her website, Maya shares why she decided to make her new picture book, Call Me Tree/ Llámame árbol, completely gender neutral.

You may or may not notice something different about my new book, Call Me Tree. Nowhere in the story are boy/girl pronouns used. No ‘he’ or ‘she’ anywhere! I found it easy to write this way because that’s how I think of kids, as kids, not boy kids or girl kids.

I even requested that no ‘he’ or ‘she’ be used anywhere else in the book, like on the end pages or the back cover when talking about the story. I also asked the publisher to only refer to the main character as a child or kid when they talked about my book out in the world. Because I wanted Call Me Tree to be gender free!

Why? I’m glad you asked. Two reasons come to the top of my mind:

First, I know a lot of people. Some don’t feel that they fit into the boy or the girl box and of course, some do! By not using ‘he’ or ‘she,’ I could include everyone! This is very important to me. I want everyone to know that we all belong!

And second, I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about the main character in Call Me Tree. Let’s call them ‘Tree.’ Tree is like a lot of people I know, including my own kids! Strong, curious, free! Now, if you were going to guess if Tree is a ‘he’ or a ‘she,’ which do you think?call-me-tree-maya-gonzalez

I’m going to guess you’d say ‘he’ first, maybe because Tree’s already been called ‘he’ by folks who have given Call Me Tree some really awesome reviews. Tree could be he, but maybe not! A lot of times we make guesses based on what we think is true, but sometimes that can leave people out.

Tree’s reminding us there are lots of different ways to be!

I just remembered another top reason.

People who don’t fit into the boy or the girl box get teased more than anybody. This is extra not cool to me. I happen to know all kids rock, so I want to make sure the ones that get picked on the most know they rock! Right?!

Call Me Tree/Llamamé árbol

So Call Me Tree is gender free! Because all trees belong!

Try it on for a day. Play with not being called ‘he’ or ‘she,’ but only Tree, tall and strong! Just for one day, or even one afternoon. Would anything feel different? Would you be different?

Let’s call it Tree Day.

Let’s all be free. Let’s all be trees!
Whatdya think?

Call me Tree!

Love,   mayatree

When sharing this book, you may want to include that it’s gender free as part of the conversation in your classroom, library or home if:

Download this post in PDF to share

  • you have a child, family or community member who does not fit into the boy or girl box they were assigned at birth
  • you want to expand the boxes to include more ways of being a girl or a boy
  • you want to be inclusive of everyone regardless of boxes because everyone belongs

Purchase a copy of Call Me Tree/ Llámame árbol

For more resources:
www.reflectionpress.com/our-books/gender-now-activity-bookschool-edition
www.welcomingschools.org/pages/resources-on-gender-identity-and-children
www.tolerance.org/gender-spectrum
www.genderspectrum.org
www.outproudfamilies.com

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2. Fifteen Diverse Authors You Should Resolve to Read in 2015

A new year means a new chance to get to all the things you didn’t get to last year. And by “things,” what we really mean is BOOKS. We also know that reading diversely doesn’t happen by accident; it takes a concerted effort to read a wide range of books.

So, we thought we’d help on both counts by offering up a list of the diverse authors we’re resolving to read in 2015. Some are new, and some have just been on our list for years. This is the year we plan to get to them – perhaps this will be your year, too?

1. Valynne E. Maetani, Ink and Ashes

INK AND ASHES coverInk and Ashes is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner! This debut novel follows a Japanese American teen named Claire Takata. After finding a letter from her deceased father, she opens a door to the past that she should have left closed.

2. Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies and Rose Eagle 

The award-winning Killer of Enemies follows seventeen-year-old Apache monster hunter Lozen in a post-apocalyptic world.

The prequel, Rose Eagle, follows seventeen-year-old Rose of the Lakota tribe.  After her aunt has a vision, Rose goes on a quest to the Black Hills and finds healing for her people.

3. Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

Everyone’s talking about Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir in verse about her childhood in the American South and in Brooklyn that recently won the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. But have you read it yet?

Her other novels include Miracle’s Boys and If You Come Softly.

4. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

 Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel follows Oscar, an overweight, ghetto Dominican American nerd as he dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkein. This book is filled with Dominican history, magical realism, science-fiction and comic book references.

5. I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above 

In this debut novel, Kristen, has a seemingly ideal life. She’s just been voted homecoming queen and is a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college. Everything unravels when Kristen and her boyfriend decide to take it to the next level, and Kristen finds out she’s intersex. Somehow her secret is leaked to the whole school.

6. Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

This novel covers the Parsley Massacre of 1937 in Dominican Republic. Anabelle Desir and her lover Sebastien, decide they will get married at the end of the cane season and return to Haiti. When the Generalissimo Trujillo calls for an ethnic cleansing of the country’s Haitians, Anabelle and Sebastien struggle to survive.

 7. Eric Gansworth, If I Ever Get Out of Here

Lewis “Shoe” Blake, a boy growing in the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in upsate New York in 1975, isn’t used to white people like George Haddonfield being nice to him. Lewis is also the target of the bully Eddie Reininger. Will George still be Lewis’s friend when he finds out the truth of how Lewis actually lives?

8. Alex Sanchez, Rainbow Boys

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

9. Natsuo Kirino, Out

Masako Katori lives with her dead-beat husband in the suburbs of Tokyo, where she makes boxed lunches in a factory. After violently strangling her husband, she uses the help of coworkers to cover her crime.

10. Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Summer of the Mariposas and Under the Mesquite

Summer of the Mariposas is a retelling of the Odyssey set in Mexico. When Odilia and her sisters find the body of a dead man in the Rio Grande, they decide to take his body back to Mexico.

In Under the Mesquite Lupita is an aspiring actress and poet, and the oldest of 8 siblings. When Lupita’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, Lupita struggles to keep her family together.

11. Naoko Uehashi, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is set in a fantasy Asian-inspired world, inspired an anime of the same name. Balsa is a body guard who is hired by  Prince Chagum’s mother to protect him from his father, the emperor, who wants him dead. A strange spirit possesses Prince Chagum that may be a threat to the kingdom.

12. Nnendi Okorafor, Akata Witch

American-born Sunny is an albino girl living in Nigeria. Although she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, Sunny discovers her latent magical abilities and joins 3 other students to learn how to control her powers. Sunny and her friends have to capture a career criminal who uses magic as well.

13. Zadie Smith, White Teeth

White Teeth focuses on the intertwining stories of two wartime buddies living in London with their families, and addresses topics such as assimilation and immigration in the U.K.’s cultural hub.

14. Aisha Saeed, Written in the Stars

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents say that they will let her wear her hair how she wants, choose what she will study and be when she grows up, but they will choose her husband. When Naila breaks this rule by falling in love with a boy named Saif, her parents take her to Pakistan to reconnect her with her roots. But Naila’s parents’ plans have changed, and they’ve arranged a marriage for her.

15. Alex Gino, George

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

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3. What I Learned From a Nonverbal Autistic Classroom—Part 1

Autism_Awareness_RibbonMy final semester as an undergrad was crammed with experiences you might expect of someone full of excitement, optimism, and a lot of what-am-I-going-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life thoughts. Aside from the typical pre-graduation nerves, I—as a childhood education major—was about to reach the height of all of the lesson plan and unit plan writing, fieldwork observations, and hours of late-night studying: the student teaching experience.

teaching in a nonverbal autistic copySeeking a NYS childhood (1-6) and special education (1-6) teaching certification meant that my student teaching placement would be split between the general and special education classroom. This is pretty standard for many education majors, but unlike the public school route, I decided to carry out my student teaching somewhere a little different: at a 12-month, day/residential school for children and adults on the autism spectrum.

What I knew: I was being placed in a 6:1:6 nonverbal 4th–6th grade classroom, which meant there were six students, one teacher, and one teacher assistant per student. All of my students were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other disorders and disabilities associated with ASD, including ID (intellectual disability), SLD (specific learning disabilities), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and motor and vision impairments to name a few.

What I learned teaching in a special education classroom:

1. Nonverbal doesn’t mean silent. Even though my students relied on the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to tell me what they needed, wanted, and how they felt, our room was the farthest thing from quiet. Instead of spoken words they used their voices and body language to communicate all kinds of information, such as letting me know when they were frustrated, upset, or happy.

I quickly learned each student’s unique sounds, movements, and repetitive behaviors, from various grunts, yelps, and moans to other nonverbal gestures, like finger tapping and hand flapping. It’s important to mention that redirecting students to use the PECS icons was strongly encouraged—a shared IEP (Individual Education Plan) goal—but it was definitely not out of the ordinary to hear a constant deep humming sound, knuckles tapping on the desk, a burst of laughter, a voiced wee sound, the stamping of feet around the room, or see a puzzle piece thrown across the room. This all happened while we taught lessons and led (ABA) applied behavior analysis trials.

No matter how many different special education placements and environments you read about and study, teaching in a room that regularly sounded like indoor recess is not exactly well translated through a textbook. With time I learned to navigate the new sounds and I realized just how important they were to the teachers and the students themselves.

2. There are exceptions to your rules. Aside from specific circumstances, physical contact with students is a very uneasy and thin line to walk for educators. However, the right training and a SCIP-R (Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention -Revised) certification can help you remain balanced and keep your students safe. I learned the appropriate and safe way to use physical prompts, such as hand-over-hand, to help students hold objects, trace letters, and complete many basic tasks.

I also became aware of a range of proactive and reactive strategies, including deflections, arm releases, and more restrictive techniques, to help deescalate challenging behaviors and protect both the student and others. Throwing, hitting, pinching, biting, and spitting were the most challenging behaviors in our classroom, and we often had to deflect students’ throws or hold onto their arms from behind. Seeing a student (safely) restricted from hurting him/herself or others on a mat in the cafeteria or in the hallway was also not an unusual sight, but it certainly took some getting used to.

3. Learning doesn’t stop during lunchtime. To my surprise, the lunch period looked very different from what you might expect in a school. All teachers and teacher assistants ate lunch with their students in the cafeteria. Along with my cooperating classroom teacher and the six teacher assistants, we sat side-by-side with our assigned student at a lunch table. We helped students successfully communicate their food selection using PECS, place food on their tray, eat with utensils, and throw away their garbage, as well as documented their food likes, dislikes, and nutritional intake. In between bites, this usually looked like hand-over-hand prompting to help guide the food from the plate to the students’ mouths while also preventing any grabbing or throwing of food. We can never underestimate a special education teacher’s dedication or ability to strategize.

autism post copy4. You have more of an influence than you realize. “Kids with autism can’t love or feel love.” Unfortunately, this offensive belief is still out there. Many with ASD struggle with interpreting basic social cues and when combined with other communication and sensory disorders it can make social relationships really difficult. Yet it’s critical to remember that our students are still feeling and experiencing emotions even if they can’t express them in a way we would expect or want.

I still saw and felt my students’ frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, and love far beyond them pointing to the smiling or frowning PECS symbol. For me, the most powerful moments were of my students’ emotional responses to people in their daily lives. It was never predictable, but my students laughed at funny things we did, smiled when we reinforced their successes, and even gave the occasional hug. During the short seven weeks with one of my assigned students, I hoped that he at least liked me as his teacher, and on my last day he patted and hugged my arm. That, for me, said it all.

5. Age-appropriateness is subjective. Respect is not. My students were 4th–6th grade boys, all between the ages of 9-11 years old, but developmentally speaking, they were much, much younger. Most of my students had a favorite stuffed animal and they all cheered and clapped when we played Barney and Sesame Street on movie day. They enjoyed listening to lullabies and ABC songs during the morning meeting, and were learning to identify letters, numbers, colors, their names, months of the year, and other similar preschool-level concepts. It can definitely seem strange that a 9 year old boy is watching Barney, but what are “appropriate interests” for a typically developing third-grader cannot also be said for a child with a developmental disorder.

Respect, on the other hand, is not dependent on development. While I helped these students write the alphabet, wash their hands, use the bathroom, and eat their lunch I treated them with the same dignity and respect that any growing preadolescent deserves. The best way to do this? Know the difference between won’t and can’t and always focus on their strengths, not their limitations.

What has been your experience teaching students on the autism spectrum or with learning disabilities? What resources do you recommend parents and educators explore to learn more? Please share in the comments below.

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

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4. Announcing our 2014 New Voices Award Winner

LEE & LOW BOOKS is proud to announce that Andrea J. Loney ofNew Voices Award sealInglewood, California, is the winner of the company’s fifteenth annual New Voices Award. Her manuscript, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee, is a picture book biography of James Van Der Zee, an African American photographer best known for his portraits of famous and little known New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. From a young age, James Van Der Zee longed to share his vision of the world with others. When he discovered photography, this dream became a reality. Over many years, James worked hard to build his own business, where he specialized in highlighting the black middle class of Harlem, an aspect of American society rarely showcased at the time.Andrea J. Loney is a writer and software trainer for corporations and non-profits, where her students range from Korean War veterans to at-risk teens. Her mother is African American, and her father is Panamanian-Jamaican. Her family was one of very few black families in her New Jersey town, and this confluence of cultures has inspired her “to write about unusual characters finding or creating their own places in the world.” She will receive a prize of $1,000 and a publication contract.

LEE & LOW BOOKS is also proud to announce that Kara Stewart of Durham, North Carolina, has been chosen as an Honor winner for her manuscript Talent, about a young girl who goes to Sappony summer camp and is worried that she has nothing to perform at the camp talent show. With a passion for science and help from her friends, Alice Ruth finds her own strength and learns to be comfortable with who she is. A first time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.

Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!

ABOUT THE AWARD: Established in 2000, the New Voices Award is an annual award given by LEE & LOW BOOKS to an unpublished Juna's Jarauthor of color for a picture book manuscript. Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate,  winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Bird by Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.

The award was established to combat the low numbers of authors of color in children’s book publishing and to help new authors break into the field. LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to nurturing new authors. The company has introduced more than one hundred new authors and illustrators to the children’s book world and 68% of authors and illustrators published by LEE & LOW BOOKS are people of color. For more information, visit our New Voices Award page.

Authors of color who write for older readers are encouraged to learn about our New Visions Award for middle grade and young adult manuscripts as well.

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5. Post-2014: Diversity in Children’s Literature and the Legacy of Pura Belpré

13089CT01.tifSnapshot_20140113Marilisa Jimenez-Garcia, research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY, graduated from the University of Florida with a PhD in English, specializing in American literature/studies, nationalism, and children’s and young adult literature. Marilisa is also a National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Cultivating New Voices Among Scholar of Color Fellow. She is currently working on a manuscript on U.S. Empire, Puerto Rico, and American children’s culture. She is the recipient of the Puerto Rican Studies Association Dissertation Award 2012 and the University of Florida’s Dolores Auzenne Dissertation Award. Her scholarly work appears in publications such as Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education and CENTRO Journal. She has also published reviews in International Research in Children’s Literature and Latino Studies.

How might the legacy of the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library speak to recent ‘human events’? 2014 was a landmark year with regard to discussions of race, diversity, and young people of color in American society. A game-changing year in which much of the rhetoric of multiculturalism we often use when preparing our young citizens unraveled. Indeed, by summer 2014, events had sparked a campaign by educators looking for new approaches and resources on how to discuss race in the classroom (Marcia Chatelain, “Ferguson Syllabus”). Those of us focused on the narrative and social literacy of young people seem at a place of no return—a place where we must admit that equality is not so in the Promised Land.(1)

As an American literature and childhood studies researcher, I was not surprised that 2014’s list of recurring headlines, including court rulings, protests, and policing, also contained debates about children’s books. What young people read, and the worlds, norms, histories, and people therein, have always mattered in the U.S. Children’s reading materials (e.g. fiction, history, and textbooks) have always been at the forefront of the “culture wars,” particularly after the Cold War. Ethical pleas for kid lit diversity are also nothing new. The start of Pura Belpré’s NYPL career in the 1920s is actually marked by a question similar to Walter Dean Myer’s op-ed in New York Times: “Where are the people of color in children’s books?” In Belpré’s case, she wanted to represent what she saw as the history and heritage of the Puerto Rican child. She began writing her own books as result of finding Puerto Rican culture absent from the shelves. However, considering the contributions by people of color to children’s literature over the last 90 years or so including Belpré, and numerous studies on the lack of representation, we find that calls for kid lit diversity consistently fail. (For further information see Nancy Larrick’s study “The All White World of Children’s LiteratureThe Saturday Review, September 11, 1965 and also work by the Council for Interracial Children’s Books). Post-2014, what is remarkable about our current moment is the amount of mainstream and field-wide attention the diversity issue has garnered. It also remains to be seen how the incorporation of We Need Diverse Books will impact the literary world.

Here, I want to offer some reflections on Belpré’s career and legacy which might enable us to have a more critical, productive conversation on diversity:

Conversation instead of compartmentalization. People of color including librarians and storytellers such as Pura Belpré and Augusta Baker were active (1920s and 1930s) when American children’s literature was advancing as a field with its own set of publishers, librarians, and prizes. The African American and Puerto Rican community have a longstanding tradition of employing children’s literature as a vehicle for imagination, cultural pride, and social consciousness.(2) Yet, systemically, people of color are left out of the conversation when it comes to accessing the breadth of children’s literature as an American tradition. Diversity should be understood as a conversation, rather than as a system of containing U.S. populations as compartments (with respective histories, literature, and cultural iconography) that never converge. A compartmentalized view hinders our ability to envision people of color as participants in the imagined landscapes of American history and culture—past, present, and future. Even our prizing system, including the Belpré Medal, tends to follow this logic of best Latino children’s literature, best African American children’s literature, but when it comes to best American children’s literature, people of color have historically fared in the single digits. Prizes such as the Belpré foster cultural pride, solidarity, and a market for Latino authors, yet they also continue the logic of compartmentalization.

Relevant instead of relatable. Belpré’s stories were based on folklore which some Latino/a children might find familiar. But, Belpré’s books are also artistic fiction. In other words, they are just stories to be enjoyed by whoever might enjoy them. As a teacher, I had to check my use of the term “relatable” when discussing literature with young people. Once we were reading The Outsiders (1967) and Nicholasa Mohr’s Nilda (1973) as means of comparing how young people grow up and encounter violence. I always remember one student closing her copy of Nilda, saying, “This is about culture, not about teens. I couldn’t really relate.” I was puzzled seeing that key characters in both books were adolescents. Certainly, when a Latino/a author writes about Latino/a characters, the story is shaped by Latino/a culture—which also varies in terms of racial, regional, gender, and national identity. But, the same is true for any author. Oliver Twist is a mainstream story, but it is also a commentary on 19th century childhood—a celebrated time for some who could afford it—and the conditions for poor, orphaned youth. Stories are always about culture. Yet, what we catalogue as “foreign” or “other” tells us more about ourselves than about the stories we read.

Imperfect characters instead of superheroes. When it comes to young readers, we have a tendency to want to simplify things that we adults even have a hard time understanding. Clearly, cognition is an issue. But our desire to create clear-cut heroes and villains in American history, or any history for that matter, will fail at best. Parents and teachers often battle for the representation of marginalized groups in textbooks. But, they rarely argue over whether or not America is an exceptional nation (Zimmerman).(3) Our approach to teaching and systemizing a heritage of American children’s literature should emphasize that this is a great nation shaped by imperfect people, whether dominant or marginalized. It’s complicated. Those we might see as heroes don’t always win or dominate “the bad guys.” In Belpré’s folklore, she often underlined this sense of imperfection. For example, she showed that even though the Tainos had beautiful values and bravery, they didn’t win every battle against the Spaniards (Once in Puerto Rico, 1977). Even the Medal named in her honor symbolizes this sense of complicated, converging histories in its use of the term “Latino/a.” This one term—which some even within our communities cannot agree upon—stands for those who represent multiple nations, histories, languages, and races. It’s not a perfect term. Nor, as my father always tells me, is this a perfect world. Sooner or later, our young people are going to learn that apart from any storybook or textbook. The pressure to present a perfect America often means that we erase the voices of the marginalized.

Here are some practical ways these principles might play out in the classroom:

  • Consider talking with students about diversity and how they “see themselves” in books: Even with the best intentions, we have a tendency to talk about young people without asking their opinions. Try to have the start with them. If they are a bit older, have them read Walter Dean Myers op-ed for class discussion. You might ask them to journal about issues such as cultural authenticity in a book read for the class. Or you might ask them to write a story, graphic novel, science fiction adventure, or picture book about their communities as an assignment.
  • Consider classroom presentation of books: We need to stop relegating people of color to special months in which we celebrate and include their stories. Although focusing on a particular group has its benefits, this should not override the other 11-months when they are excluded or barely mentioned. This also includes displays of books in your class library. Do you organize books alphabetically by author or by nationality and country?
  • Consider genre: Avoid relying only on folklore, historical fiction, and biographies. This is also something publishers need to consider. Latino/as in particular have one of the lowest percentages in fantasy, science, and science fiction. Look for books in which people of color play active roles in actual and imagined societies.

For further reading:

Pura Belpré Lights the Storyteller’s Candle: Reframing the Legacy of a Legend and What it Means for the Fields of Latino/a Studies and Children’s Literature by Marilisa Jiménez-García in CENTRO Journal.

  1. R.L. L’Heureux, Inequality in the Promised Land (Stanford University Press, 2014)
  2. Katherine Capshaw-Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana University Press, 2006) and Marilisa Jimenez-Garcia, “Pura Belpré Lights the Storyteller’s Candle” (CENTRO Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1)
  3. Jonathan Zimmerman, Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools (Harvard University Press, 2002)

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6. Why You Should See Selma

In celebration of MLK Day today, we wanted to share two perspectives from Lee & Low staff members on why you should see Selma, the new movie based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Much has been said about the lack of Academy Award nominations for the movie, but nevertheless moviegoers are uniformly in agreement that Selma is one of the best movies of the year. It offers a meaningful historical context for current events and a springboard for deep discussion, making it a valuable learning experience as well as a straight-up great movie.

Here’s why we think seeing Selma is one of the best ways you could spend MLK Day:

Jason Low, Publisher: The director of Selma, Ava DuVernay brings the audience a lean, gritty fight for voter rights during the civil rights movement. The depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr. is especially poignant. The name Martin Luther King, Jr. is a household name and a holiday. His name is the stuff of legend. But what many fail to realize is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with faults and insecurities just like everyone else. The film does not shy away from King’s marital problems caused by his infidelities or self-doubt and indecision resulting from the battle fatigue and weight of leadership when so much is on the line. DuVernay’s King is so human that we fear for his life even during the quieter scenes because humans are vulnerable and these were dangerous times.

still from Selma
still from Selma

Conversations between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. are riveting. The political needle was just as difficult to move in 1965 as it is today. The Voter Rights Bill was as messy an issue as any US president would have to face. The bill was steeped in violence and racism and Johnson’s instinct to postpone action was derailed when John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams tried to lead a march of six hundred protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The nonviolent protestors were savagely beaten by state police and news cameras captured a brutal, bloody war for all Americans to see.

I brought my family to see this film. Bearing witness to the bravery it takes to protest nonviolently for equal rights was (to me) the chance to see history at its most heroic. Although fifty years has passed since Selma took place, the film feels eerily current. Protests over police killings of unarmed black males are happening all over the country and continue to be front-page news. Watching a film like Selma is difficult, but all the more reason to see it. Great movies will move you, make you feel something and Selma does all of these things very deeply.

Rebecca Garcia, Marketing and Publicity Assistant: During Common’s acceptance speech for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, he said, “Selma is now.” Even though the Selma to Montgomery Marches were fifty years ago, this film reminded me that the Civil Rights Movement was a hard battle and took a long time to take effect.

David Oyelowo does an excellent job as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King in this movie struggles with self-doubt, isn’t the perfect husband, and even makes decisions that have other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement question his leadership skills. But this is the Dr. King we all need to see. He’s human and flawed, but is still inspiring and courageous.

While watching the movie, I was reminded of the many protests happening around the country in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Change is an arduous and bitterly long process. Selma serves as a reminder of what has been accomplished and what we still need to accomplish. Selma doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence faced by protesters.

Ava DuVernay presents us with a flawed, realistic and ultimately human Dr. King. While David Oyelowo does amazing justice to Dr. King, I felt that the talented actresses in the movie (Carmen Ejobo, Oprah Winfrey, and Lorraine Toussaint to name a few) weren’t utilized to their full potential. Even so, Selma is a relevant and timely film that everyone should see. Take tissues with you.

John Lewis in the Lead cover
buy “John Lewis in the Lead”

Additional Resources:

John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement

Free tickets to see Selma for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students

Essay about challenges to the historical accuracy of Selma

Did you see Selma? What did you think?

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7. 7 tips to help make reading with your child this year achievable

7 tips to read more with your familyEvery time we visit the dentist, the hygienist asks how often we floss. We all know the correct and only answer is “everyday.” We squirm under the light as we try to come up with an answer that gets us as close to saying “everyday.”  We leave feeling guilty and promise this is the year to change only to find ourselves in the same spot six months later.

This uncomfortable, familiar exchange reminds me of a lot of the conversations with parents about home reading habits at parent-teacher conferences. After each assessment cycle throughout the year, I would ask parents how reading was going on at home (outside of daily homework).

They knew this conversation was coming. I knew it was coming. They knew the right answer is “everyday” and like a hygienist peering into a patient’s mouth, I had an educated guess on how often the child was actually reading at home based on progress in class.

Just 20 minutes a day! I would list the benefits and show the charts (here and here and here and here and here). I would point out that one cartoon episode is 30 minutes (24 minutes without commercials!). Parents know how important it is—no one disagrees—and we would all nod earnestly and vigorously with promises to start this very night.

Yet, it is hard. Schedules are tight and unforgiveable. Children (and parents!) are tired at the end of the day.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.19.41 PMLet’s face some facts:

  • Both parents and children agree strong reading skills are among the most important skills children should have.
  • Reading is one of the most popular resolutions for both parents and children.
  • Half of all New Year’s resolutions fail within six months.
  • Some parents need to expose their children to a new vegetable 10 or more times before they’ll consider trying it (point being: children aren’t always easy to work with).
  • Even adults take 66 days on average to start a new habit (and more to break an old one).

Mind-blowing insight alert: Creating new habits takes time and persistence.

How do we make daily reading with children engaging, manageable, and achievable?

1. Start with bite-size steps. You don’t have to raise your child’s literacy level, knowledge base, or vocabulary by next week. Remember the end game: To create curious, book-loving readers. Starting a reading routine at home is about creating a lifelong habit for your family and children. Aim to improve your family’s daily reading routine for just the next eight weeks (by the following parent-teacher conference in March or May), instead of this year’s resolution to be reading every day for the rest of your child’s K-12 education (a bit daunting, no?).Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.10.25 PM

2. Redefine what a reading routine looks like. Adjust what reading time is for your family based on your child’s age, reading level, energy level, and interest:

  • You read the story to your child
  • You alternate reading together by page, chapter, or day
  • Your child reads to you and a younger sibling
  • You download the audio book version and follow along in the book together
  • You both read with your own copy silently side by side for the 20 minutes and discuss afterward

As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”

554025_10152550256275332_1563208014_n3. Make reading “spill over.” Choose a book with an additional tie-in to other parts of the day and your family’s interests:

  • If there is a new movie or community theater’s play coming out based on a book, read the book first and then reward yourselves with the movie or play.
  • Pick a fairy tale to read and find additional versions in both book and movie form to compare. Hello, Cinderella!
  • Follow up with a readers’ theater script to pair with the story. I can’t get enough of the readers’ theater scripts from California Young Reader Medal.
  • If the book includes a craft, science experiment, or recipe at the end, read the story and then extend the learning into the garage or kitchen. This is great for whole family participation.
  • Pair a current event or news article with a book on the same topic, culture, or time period.

4. Only pick books and formats your child loves or is interested in. Reading at home should not be boring, a chore, a punishment, or part of homework. Don’t pick books assigned in class, books that peers all seem to be reading, or books you think your child should be reading. This is about enjoyment, building interest, and creating memories. With this in mind, books come in all types/reading comes in all forms:

  • Toy instruction manuals or activity/craft books
  • Cookbooks—recipes are great for re-reading!
  • Poetry collections
  • E-readers (Note: Just be sure to pick a program that presents the story to the child as a book, not just as a cartoon where the music and animation effects can distract from the words and vocabulary.)
  • Graphic novels and comic books—read about how Lee & Low publisher, Jason Low, became an avid reader after getting hooked on his first comics!

Better yet—let your child choose for maximum engagement.

5. Don’t cry over skipped reading. For whatever reason, reading time just didn’t happen one night. Whoops! Just read the next day and perhaps add a few minutes on extra. Any time is better than none at all. Remember you are trying to show that we read for enjoyment, not punishment. Every day you read with your child is a win—one skipped day doesn’t undo all the progress you have made together.

6. Do over think it—please! If you are finding it difficult to stick with reading 20 minutes a day with your child, think about where the obstacle is. Are nights too busy? Do transit or errands take time away from family downtime? Do you get home too late? Reading at breakfast or on the bus/subway, engaging grandparents and older siblings, trying 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night may help your family stick with the reading routine.Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.19.07 PM

7. Join a community. You are not the first or last parent to a) struggle to inspire your child to read b) find time to read or c) make reading time exciting. There are wonderful experts with research, reading tips, and inspiration available. Some of my favorite parent reading newsletters are National Center for Families Learning, ¡Colorín Colorado!, Reading Rockets, and Zoobean.

The Number One Most Important Thing:

Every time you read with your child is a win. Every time you skip is a lost opportunity, but it won’t doom your child. Remember the end goal: To support our children’s lifelong love of reading (increased knowledge/vocabulary will be a bonus). Keep at it.

Here’s to a great year of reading and growing! 

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 column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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8. Interview: Katheryn Russell-Brown on the research behind Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Katheryn Russell-BrownReleased in September of 2014, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is the story of Melba Liston, a little-known but trailblazing musician who broke gender and racial barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. We interviewed author Katheryn Russell-Brown to get a better sense of the research that went into writing the book.

Were you able to talk to any of Melba’s friends or family when doing research for the book? If so, what was that like?

Katheryn Russell-Brown: Yes indeed. I spoke with Leslie Drayton who co-led a band with Melba. Melba did not have children of her own, but she considered Leslie her “musical son.” He talked to me about Melba’s personality, how she carried herself and some expressions she used. I still keep in touch with him.

What jazz music did you listen to while working on this story?

KRB: Melba recorded only one lead album, “Melba Liston and Her ‘Bones” (1958). I listened to it many, many times while writing and revising Little Melba.

What aspects of Melba’s story inspired you to write this story for children?

KRB: The more I read and learned about Melba Liston, the more impressed I was with her talent. By every account she was a phenomenal arranger and a master trombone player.

Melba’s mother and grandfather play a large role in encouraging Melba’s trombone playing. What word of advice would you give to parents to encourage their children’s talents or interests?

KRB: What I love is that Melba’s mother, Lucille Liston, followed Melba’s lead even though she wasn’t thrilled with Melba’s choice of instrument. She thought the trombone was too big and that it wasn’t for girls! However, at Melba’s urging, her mother bought the trombone and supported her throughout her career.

What aspect of Melba’s story do you think is especially relevant for young people today?

KRBTry to find something you love to do and do your best with it.

What’s one fact about Melba you learned that didn’t make it to the book?

KRB: Melba appeared in two major motion pictures. In “The Prodigal” (1955), Liston played the harp and appeared in scenes with Lana Turner. She was also a member of the palace orchestra in “The Ten Commandments” (1956).

Pages from LITTLE MELBA AND HER BIG TROMBONEHow difficult is it to play the trombone?

KRB: As I write in Little Melba, “the trombone was no piece of cake.” First, holding it properly is a challenge. Second, it’s heavy, long, and bulky. Third, you have to purse your lips just right, move the slide, and blow!

Even though Melba quits playing the trombone for a while, she eventually returns to it. What would you say to young people that are thinking of quitting something they enjoy doing or are good at?

KRBIf you’re going to quit, quit for the right reasons! Don’t quit because something is hard or challenging. If, however, something that brought you joy is no longer bringing joy, it’s OK to take a break.

Melba loved music and really loved the trombone. However, being on the road was tough for her—times could be tough and sometimes she felt lonely. After going on tour with jazz singer Billie Holiday, Melba decided to take a break. She got a job as a clerk for the Los Angeles Board of Education. She was lured back to music when Dizzy Gillespie asked her to re-join his orchestra and travel to South America.

In addition to your work as a children’s book writer, you are also a Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Race and Race Relations at the University of Florida. How do you think your work as a professor informed the way you decided to tell Melba’s story?

KRB:It certainly did inform my approach to writing Little Melba. I love doing research and I love writing, re-rewriting, and editing.

 

 


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, Interviews with Authors and Illustrators, Lee & Low Likes Tagged: African/African American Interest, children's books, diversity, History, Katheryn Russell-Brown, Little Melba and her Big Trombone, melba liston, Race issues, writing

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9. Rukhsana Khan on Cross-Cultural Writing and Achieving True Diversity

This November I attended the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention in Washington, DC and was overwhelmed by the broad focus on diversity in children’s books. Though many of us have been aware of this issue for years (or even decades) it is often a topic set aside for one or two poorly-attended panels located at inconvenient times in back rooms.

Not this year.

This year, NCTE dedicated part of the conference’s Opening Session to the topic. In front of over a thousand people, a panel of authors including Rukhsana Khan, Christopher Myers, Matt de la Peña, and Mitali Perkins spoke about their experiences with diversity—and the lack thereof—in children’s book publishing. Expert Rudine Sims Bishop moderated the panel.

Panels on this topic, even those with heavy-hitters like the people mentioned above, rarely receive this kind of audience or placement. As part of the Opening Session, the panel set the tone for the whole conference, and made a major statement: we will not ignore this problem. Kudos to NCTE for making that statement, and to all of us for creating an environment this year in which such a statement was possible. Below, we have asked Rukhsana Khan to share her comments from the panel:

NCTE Opening Session Panel, from L to R: Rudine Sims Bishop, Rukhsana Khan, Matt de la Peña, Christopher Myers, Mitali Perkins

NCTE Opening Session Panel, from L to R: Rudine Sims Bishop, Rukhsana Khan, Matt de la Peña, Christopher Myers, Mitali Perkins (image provided by NCTE)

Rukhsana Khan: When I was a young girl, growing up in a small Judeo-Christian town, a friend of mine told me this joke. I don’t mean to offend anyone and in fact, I myself found it racist, but I tell it here to make a point:

Once there was a Catholic who lived in a farmhouse.

On a cold stormy night there came a knock at the door. It was a man.

He said, “Please sir, could I have shelter? I’m half frozen and very hungry.”

The owner of the farmhouse said, “Are you Catholic?”

The man said, “Yes.”

“Oh! Come on in and rest yourself there by the fire!”

A little while later another knock came at the door.

It was another man, half frozen, asking for shelter.

The owner said, “Are you Catholic?”

The man said, “Yes.”

“Oh! Come on in and rest yourself there by the fire!”

A little while later another knock came.

It was another man, half frozen.

“Are you Catholic?”

“No, I’m Protestant.”

The owner said, “Oh. Well there’s some room there on the porch. Maybe if you press yourself against the window you can get some warmth from the fire.”

Now, make no mistake. I found this joke to be very offensive, but I didn’t say anything. But to myself, I thought, “Wow. If this is how one Christian talks about another Christian, what the hell do they think of me?”

And ever since then I’ve always felt like I was out there on the porch, looking in, to a warm scene of people gathered around a fire, but the warmth doesn’t penetrate the glass of the window.

Growing up in such a community, I used books to survive.

The books I feasted on were from the library. I didn’t know you could purchase books! As immigrants we had enough problems just keeping food on the table, so there was never money for books!

And I remember reading one of the Anne of Green Gables books, one of the later ones, Anne of the Island or something and I got to a point where L. M. Montgomery refers to ‘those heathen Muhammadans,’and I couldn’t believe it!

Rukhsana Speaks with Rudine Sims Bishop

Rukhsana speaks with Rudine Sims Bishop

She was talking about me!

Couldn’t she ever have imagined that one of those ‘heathen Muhammadans’ would one day be reading one of her Anne books and identifying so much with the characters, thinking that aunt was just like so and so, and that uncle was just like this uncle of hers???

I got so mad I threw the book across the room.

And once more I felt like I was out on the porch, looking in.

We need diverse books! But what really constitutes diversity?

These days there’s an awful lot of books that pass as diverse literature, that are written by white feminists, who mean well, but I wonder how well they can really penetrate the cultural paradigms of the ethnicities they write about.

I mean how can someone from inside the cabin really comprehend what it’s like to be out there on the porch, when they’re sheltered and warm from the fire?

And think about it. When you’re in a well-lit house, looking out onto a dark porch, the windows act as mirrors. You can’t properly see outside! It’s your own world that’s reflected back at you.

And as a result many of these books just come down to plunking a white kid in an exotic setting and writing the story as they would react to it!

What kind of diversity is that?

We can’t just color the kid in the story brown or what-have-you and maintain western ways of thinking. Kids need to be exposed not to just characters of another color but also different cultural thinking and ways of problem solving.

We need to be less superficial.

Because ultimately, how can we ask children to think outside the box when they’re living so firmly within it?

Rukhsana KhanRukhsana Khan is the author of several award-winning books published in the United States and Canada including, most recently, King for a Day. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she and her family immigrated to Canada when she was three. Khan’s stories enable children of all backgrounds to connect with cultures of Eastern origins. Khan lives with her husband and family in Toronto, Canada. 


Filed under: Diversity 102, Educator Resources, Fairs/Conventions Tagged: NCTE, Rukhsana Khan, writing cross-culturally

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10. Protesting Injustice Then and Now

ferguson 2In August we wrote to you about the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Our publisher said then that the matter of representation was urgent; now, four months later, we see that urgency for what it is: a matter of life or death. Michael Brown’s name now sits alongside new names like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Akai Gurley. How many more names will need to be added before things change?

Protests around the country remind us that we are not in a post-racial society, that inequality is still here. This can be a harrowing reminder, but it is also an important teachable moment for young people. How do we put current events in context and help young people engage in today’s big questions?

In difficult moments, books are often a good starting place for conversation. Books that touch on history can be read with fresh eyes in light of current events. For example, in Love to Langston, author Tony Medina describes when a seventh-grade Langston Hughes in 1914 peacefully protests his teacher’s segregation of black students to one row in the classroom. Even when he is expelled, Hughes fights for what he knows is right and his community joins beside him. The teacher is forced to integrate the classroom:

Jim Crow Row
from Love to Langston
By Tony Medina

In the seventh grade
in Lawrence, Kansas
the teacher puts all
us black kids in the same row
away from all the white kids

I don’t roll my eyes
or suck my teeth
with a heavy heavy sigh
and a why why why

I make signs
that read
that read

Jim Crow Row
Jim Crow Row
we in the Jim Crow Row

Jim Crow is a law
that separates white and black
making white feel better
and black feel left back

So we protest
with our parents
and let everybody
know about

Jim Crow Jim Crow
not allowing us
to grow

Jim Crow Jim Crow
don’t put us in a
Jim Crow Row

Whether it was this event or the lifetime of experiences of racism, Langston Hughes was profoundly transformed and wrote about and advocated for equality and justice throughout his life.

I, Too
By Langston Hughes
From the Poetry Foundation

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

How will today’s children be impacted and awakened as activists by images of and participation in the protesting in Ferguson, New York City, and around the nation? In what ways will this moment and experience affect our children’s lens by which they view the world and influence their life’s purpose or calling? What art will they create to express this moment and themselves?

A photo from one of the recent protests in New York City.

A photo from one of the recent protests in New York City.

Further reading:

Books on Protest:

 


Filed under: Educator Resources, Race Tagged: African/African American Interest, children's books, diversity, Educators, History, Langston Hughes, poetry, Power of Words, race, Race issues, racism

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11. Choosing the World Our Students Read

13089CT01.tifteaching toleranceEmily Chiariello is a Teaching and Learning Specialist with Teaching Tolerance. She has 15 years’ experience as a classroom teacher, professional development and curriculum designer in public, charter and alternative school settings, as well as with non-profit organizations. She holds a master’s degree in philosophy and social policy and is certified in secondary social studies.

Here she discusses Teaching Tolerance’s new curriculum tool, “Project Appendix D,” that empowers educators to identify texts that both meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and reflect the world in which our students live. This blog post was originally posted at the Teaching Tolerance blog.

Teaching Tolerance image (2)

by Emily Chiariello

Does the Common Core limit what texts teachers can use? While many people think so, we don’t. Teaching Tolerance believes it is possible—and important—to choose texts that are both rigorous and relevant. Read on to learn about a new approach to text selection: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts. This exciting project goes beyond the resources offered in Appendices A and B and offers a new world of possibilities within literacy instruction.

Appendices A and B

Teachers are expected—per the CCSS’s Appendix A—to select more complex texts, teach more nonfiction and ask more text-dependent questions. But do they feel less empowered to choose readings about social justice or to locate texts that reflect the identities and histories of their students and communities? We’re concerned the answer is yes. We know that teachers want texts that mirror their students’ lives. And to achieve equitable outcomes, the Common Core must be implemented in culturally responsive ways that address social emotional learning as well as academic goals. Yet, this kind of implementation is not happening in most districts.

At first glance, one might think that the “Reader and Task” portion of the text selection model in Appendix A makes room for culturally responsive instructional decisions. Instead, there’s only a brief and bland mention of “reader variables”—motivation, knowledge and experiences—ultimately eclipsed by the other two measures: hard Lexile scores (quantitative) and subjective interpretations of meaning and purpose (qualitative).

pull-quoteAnd then there’s the stark imprint of privilege found in the gaps and silences of Appendix B, a list of “text exemplars” that meet the aforementioned approach to text complexity, quality and range. Too many publishers—and districts, too—have interpreted the text exemplars listed in Appendix B as a required reading list.

Woefully few examples of cultural relevance can be found in “Common Core-aligned” materials and trainings, including Appendix B. Jane M. Gangi, professor of education at Mount Saint Mary College, has analyzed Appendix B and found that, of the 171 texts recommended for children in K-5, only 18 are by authors of color, and few reflect the lives of children of color and children in poverty.

Appendix D

We believe that educators—teachers, librarians and literacy specialists—who work in classrooms every day are in the best positions to identify texts that engage diverse students.

That’s why we’re excited to share our new project: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts. Traditionally, tools that support text selection have focused on quantitative and qualitative measures only. But Appendix D promotes a multi-dimensional approach to text selection that prioritizes complexity as well as critical literacy and cultural responsiveness.

Appendix D empowers educators to rely on their knowledge of their students, rather than a prepopulated lists of titles, when selecting texts. The tool walks users through four distinct—but interconnected—text-selection considerations: complexity, diversity and representation, critical literacy, and reader and task. And it’s an editable PDF, allowing folks to document, save and share their text-selection process. (Be sure to download to unlock the editing capabilities.)

So, why a tool and not a list? There are commendable lists out there. Gangi and the Collaborative for Equity Literacy Learning (CELL) assembled an alternative list of multicultural titles, but they are not leveled for teachers to assess text complexity. Others, like publishers LEE & LOW, work to bring more diversity and representation into classroom libraries, and to the task of text selection. However, none of the lists we’ve investigated encompass texts that are both culturally relevant and meet the Common Core’s requirements for complexity. And, unless it is dynamic, any list of diverse books is only as diverse as the person—or people—who made it.

We hope the TT community will use Appendix D to help us grow a dynamic and diverse list of texts based on the four considerations and on the diverse needs of our students. We’ve started with the titles currently found in Perspectives for a Diverse America, our new anti-bias curriculum. In the months to come, as you use the Appendix D tool in your own practice, think of which complex, culturally relevant titles you think your fellow social justice educators would want to know about—and be on the lookout for an invitation to submit your texts to the ever-growing, ever-changing TT community list!

Paulo Freire wrote that, when we read words, we read the world. Don’t we owe it to our students to consider them when choosing those words?Gracias


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

2 Comments on Choosing the World Our Students Read, last added: 12/8/2014
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12. Cover Reveal: Ink and Ashes

Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner. Seventeen-year-old Claire Takata discovers a secret about her deceased father that should have remained a secret.

The New Visions Award, modeled after LEE & LOW’s successful New Voices Award, is for unpublished writers of color who write science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery YA or middle grade novels.

Ink and Ashes is set to be released Spring 2015!

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

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

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

INK AND ASHES cover small

 

Thanks to the following blogs for participating in the Ink and Ashes cover reveal:

YA Interrrobang

RT Book Reviews

YA Highway

We can’t wait to hear what you think of the cover! Thanks to Sammy Yuen of Sammy Yuen Interaction Art and Design for the cover design.


Filed under: Art and Book Design, Book News, Cover Design, Dear Readers, Diversity in YA, Lee & Low Likes, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: Asian American interest, Asian/Asian American, cover reveal, diversity, family, Japanese American Interest, mystery, New Visions Award, thriller, Tu Books, Valynne E. Maetani, yakuza

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13. Infographic: 10 Ways to Lend a Hand on #GivingTuesday

Today is #GivingTuesday! Here’s a great description of #GivingTuesday:

We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.

It’s a simple idea. Just find a way for your family, your community, your company or your organization to come together to give something more. Then tell everyone you can about how you are giving. Join us and be a part of a global celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

I love, love, love the idea that Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are about consumerism and competition, are now followed by a day that refocuses our attention on generosity, kindness, and community.

Our new picture book Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving is a collection of poems about different ways to help others, so in honor of #GivingTuesday, here’s a list of our favorite ways to lend a hand:

Lend A Hand Infographic

10 Ways to Lend a Hand (click for full-size image)

You can:

  • Share Your Snack
  • Visit a Senior Center or Nursing Home
  • Grow Your Hair Out to Donate
  • Teach a Skill
  • Clean Things Up
  • Share the Music
  • Plant a Tree
  • Offer Your Seat
  • Write a Letter to a Soldier
  • Start the Pay-It-Forward Chain

There are many different nonprofit organizations that have #GivingTuesday programs where your donation will be matched, and many more organizing volunteering outings tomorrow. Visit the #GivingTuesday website for lots of ways to participate. For more ideas about giving, check out Lend a Hand by John Frank, illustrated by London Ladd:

Lend a Hand cover

What’s your favorite way to lend a hand, on #GivingTuesday and every day?


Filed under: Lee & Low Likes Tagged: #givingtuesday, infographics, lend a hand

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14. The Problem with Ethnic Heritage Months

Diversity 102November is Native American Heritage Month, which is as good a time as any to discuss the slight issue we have with observance months. Native American Heritage Month and Black History Month, for example, were established to celebrate cultures that otherwise went ignored, stereotyped, or otherwise underappreciated. Educators often use these months as a reason to pull titles by/about a particular culture off the shelf to share with students.

While we can generate a recommended reading list just as well as the next publisher, the problem we find with Native American Heritage Month is that it puts Native American books—and people—in a box. The observance month can easily lead to the bad habit of featuring these books and culture for one month out of the entire year. Ask yourself: Have we ever taken this approach with books that feature white protagonists?

On the other hand, observance months can definitely do some good: they remind educators to highlight the achievements of particular cultures, and can make students from those cultures feel acknowledged and appreciated. But wouldn’t it be better if that feeling and effort could be maintained all twelve months of the year?

brochure/all inclusive reading poster

brochure/all inclusive reading poster

For us, featuring diverse books throughout the year is second nature. Our approach is to dig deeper and go beyond just one month. We identify the various ways our books can apply to everyday, universal experiences and communicate this as widely as possible. We developed a ten-step process for becoming a more inclusive reader, part of a brochure that folds out to a poster (see right).

Educators stuck in the heritage month mindset can instead use the recommended book lists for those months as a jumping-off point to permanently diversify their collections. If you use particular books during a heritage month, ask yourself: What other themes does this book touch upon? How can I connect it to other parts of the curriculum or use it to teach additional skills?

Buffalo Song

Our book Buffalo Song by Joseph Bruchac is often included in roundups and recommendations for Native American Heritage Month. The book is a biography of Walking Coyote, who brought the buffalo herds of the American West back from the brink of extinction. While this book is certainly a good fit for Native American Heritage Month, it can also be used to teach about many other things, such as:

• Environmental conservation
• Nonfiction and biography
• Core values like perseverance and respect

Our literacy specialist even details ways it can be used in conjunction with trips to state and national parks.

Now here’s a challenge for you: Take the books used this month to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and brainstorm ways that they can be used throughout the year. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Filed under: Diversity 102, Diversity, Race, and Representation Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, diversity, Educators, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Native American

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15. 5 Ways to Differentiate Assignments & Tasks: Part 2

Differentiated, or tiered, assignments provide students opportunities for individual understanding and growth in learning. differentiation part 2 copyActivities, projects, and tasks that educators create for their students can be used with flexible groups to address common learning needs.

Based on students’ diverse needs, educators differentiate by manipulating one or more of the following: content (what students learn), process (how students learn it), and product (what students create to demonstrate their learning).

Within those three domains, educators can differentiate based on challenge, complexity, resources, process, and product. We will tackle 5 ways to differentiate assignments using the Adventures Around the World series by Ted and Betsy Lewin.

Differentiate by Challenge Level:

We use Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guide to develop instructional tasks with differing degrees of challenging demands. Based on the rigor and complexity of what is being taught, we can design and categorize assignments using the following classifications from Bloom’s levels of higher thinking: recall, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

Example: Top to Bottom: Down Undermain_toptobottom_cover

Recall: List the different types of wildlife that live in northern and southern Australia, and classify them as mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, or fish.

Understand: Identify and explain the adaptations of the platypus or echidna in their habitats.

Create: Design a new Australian animal incorporating the characteristics of two animal classifications (mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird, fish) and a written explanation supporting your reasons.

Differentiate by Complexity:

Increasing the complexity of an assigned task involves differentiating the content, or an introductory vs a more advanced activity focus. This involves strategically developing learning objectives and understanding what students should be able to do. Again, Bloom’s Taxonomy can help guide the development of least, more, and most complex tasks for your students.

In the following example, all of the students are required to write an informational essay, but the lens of their research differs in complexity.

Example: Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongoliamain_horsesong_pb_cover

Least complex: Write an informational essay about the tradition of the Naadam horse racing in Mongolia.

More complex: Write an informational essay about the tradition of the Naadam horse racing in Mongolia and evaluate the pros and cons.

Most complex: Write an informational essay about the tradition of the Naadam horse racing in Mongolia and determine your opinion, presenting a convincing argument either for or against the horse races.

Differentiate by Resource:

Differentiating by resource should be approached with thoughtful consideration of students. This requires thinking about their reading strengths and needs, as well as students’ interest in and prior knowledge about a topic. Differentiating by resource may involve selecting supplementary reading materials, such as articles, magazines, and primary documents, and using visual aids, including videos, charts, and graphic organizers. Offering all students opportunities to engage with different resources and assigning age-appropriate materials to groups of students supports collaboration and inclusion of readers of all levels.

Example: Gorilla Walkmain_gorillawalk_cover

Lower-level readers: Provide supplementary informational texts or materials about the endangered mountain gorilla on a lower reading level, such as a pre-reading guide/outline for Gorilla Walk, an audio recording of Gorilla Walk to listen to as students read along, or a graphic organizer to record notes as students read.

Advanced readers: Provide challenging supplementary articles or texts about the endangered mountain gorilla or animal habituation and critical-thinking questions to answer as students read the text.

Differentiate by Process:

When students are expected to achieve similar outcomes, such as understanding new vocabulary words, teachers often differentiate assignments by how students will achieve expected learning objectives. Therefore, how students engage with the content involves considering how challenging and complex the process or strategy is for the student, as well as offering varying and supplementary resources.

Example: Elephant Questmain_elephantquest_cover

Vocabulary words: delta, protrude, submerge, matriarch, bounding, intent, emerge

  • Frayer Model: Students will use the Frayer model to: define the word in their own words, list essential characteristics of the word/concept, and provide both examples and nonexamples.
  • LINCS strategy: (on an index card)

L: List the word + definition

I: Identify a reminding word

N: Note a LINCing story

C: Create a LINCing picture

S: Self-test

Differentiate by Product:

When students are all provided with the same materials, educators may decide to differentiate the assignment by outcommain_pufflingpatrol_covere, or what students are expected to be able to do in order to demonstrate gained knowledge. Differentation by product is valuable in encouraging student success and practice in other areas of thinking and learning.

Example: Puffling Patrol

Visual/Spatial: Create an informational video advertisement persuading people to join the Puffling Patrol on the island of Heimaey.

Verbal/Linguistic: Create an informational brochure persuading people to join the Puffling Patrol on the island of Heimaey.

For further reading on differentiation:

  • 5 Harmful Differentiation Myths: Part 1
  • Heacox, D. (2012). Differentiating instruction in the regular classroom: How to reach and teach all learners. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Veronica SchneiderVeronica 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.


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources Tagged: Educators, ELA common core standards, literacy, teaching resources

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16. What Daniel Handler’s National Book Award Comments Say About Publishing

Last night, the National Book Awards (NBA) ceremony took place here in NYC. There were many things to celebrate at the event, including Jacqueline Woodson’s NBA win for her book Brown Girl Dreaming, First Book Founder Kyle Zimmer being honored for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, and Ursula K. LeGuinn’s terrific acceptance speech.

But the event took a bad turn when the MC for the night, Daniel Handler (better known as Lemony Snicket), followed up Woodson’s acceptance speech with these comments:

Handler: I told you! I told Jackie she was going to win. And I said that if she won, I would tell all of you something I learned this summer, which is that Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.

And I said you have to put that in a book. And she said, you put that in a book.

And I said, I am only writing a book about a black girl who is allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornell West, Toni Morisson, and Barack Obama saying, “this guy’s ok! This guy’s fine!”

Video here (those comments start at about 39:00)

Author David Perry does a good job on his blog explaining why Handler’s comment is so problematic, so I won’t go into that too deeply. If you’re curious about the history of the watermelon stereotype and why it’s racist, this Atlantic article linked by Perry gives a good rundown. Suffice it to say,  it’s not a nice thing to make jokes about, and particularly not a nice thing to make jokes about in reference to a very talented author when you’re a white man hosting an award ceremony. In front of a huge audience.

But what I really want to talk about is not Handler himself (who, yes, has issued a short apology via Twitter, the first choice Apology Outlet for all those who have made tasteless jokes) but the larger publishing community. Because the joke may have been Handler’s, but the environment which made a joke like that permissible is everyone’s problem and responsibility. It’s well known and well documented that publishing is, to put it lightly, homogenous. According to Publisher Weekly’s most recent salary survey, around 89% of publishing staff identifies as white/caucasian. That means, in a country where nearly 40% of the general population is comprised of people of color, only 11% of publishing staff are—and, I’d venture a guess, probably even less when you start looking at management roles.

Publishing is also notorious for being totally out of touch with diversity and race issues. Take a look at the low numbers of books published by/about people of color over the last 18 years:

Diversity in Children's Books

Yet, in this year’s salary survey, almost 40% of respondents were neutral or actually disagreed with the statement, “The publishing industry suffers from a lack of racial diversity.” As my grandma likes to say, Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Publishing routinely treats people of color poorly in so many ways: limiting the number of diverse books they will acquire, giving those books meager marketing budgets, whitewashing covers, creating all-white lineups at major book events…the list goes on and on. So it’s really no surprise that Handler would feel that his joke might play well to the largely white and racially unaware audience sitting in that room. And he was right, because people laughed (and, hey, The New York Times even called him “edgy”! Thanks, New York Times!)

An apology from Handler is nice, but that won’t stop this kind of thing from happening again. What is required is a true commitment from publishing: to right wrongs, to make concrete and sustainable efforts to be inclusive, to educate staff on the nuances of racism and privilege and to move toward a state of deeper understanding. There are certainly many individuals within publishing who are already committed to these things. But whether the industry as a whole will ever commit, and what it will take for them to do so, is a question I just don’t know the answer to.

In the meantime, readers and authors aren’t willing to wait, and that’s one big reason why the We Need Diverse Books campaign has done so marvelously. As of today, the campaign has raised over $108,000 to fund various projects that will increase diversity in books. That money is proof that a lot of people care and won’t let the publishing status quo, which hurts so many, reign supreme. I hope publishers will be willing to work with them on many of the initiatives they’ve developed.

In a great speech on sexual abuse in the military, Army chief Lt. Gen. David Morrison said, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” I think that goes for all of us. Hey, publishing, we’ve all walked past a lot of things. Let’s not walk past this too.


Filed under: Diversity 102, Diversity, Race, and Representation Tagged: national book award, NBA

10 Comments on What Daniel Handler’s National Book Award Comments Say About Publishing, last added: 11/21/2014
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17. Books to Celebrate and Teach about Adoption

Adoption image

National Adoption Day this November 22 and National Adoption Month this November afford a time to share experiences and reflect on families. Whether you have students who have been adopted or are part of a family considering adopting a child into your home, all children can benefit from learning about adoption. Children are very curious about each other’s families, quick to categorize into groups, and intent to define what makes a family, well, a family.

Picture books provide a medium to discuss, celebrate, and learn about adoption and exploring the definition of “family.”

Book recommendations:

Bringing Asha Home

Journey Home

The Best Thing

Chinatown Adventure

Discussion Questions during and after reading:

  • What does “family” mean to you? How might the word mean something different to people?
  • What does it mean to be adopted? What might be some challenges for a family with an adopted child or for a child who is adopted? What might be some benefits for a family who adopt a child or for a child who is adopted?
  • How is this character’s family similar to and different from your own family?
  • How do this character and family share and have fun together? What do you enjoy doing with your siblings and family members?
  • How does the character feel at the beginning, middle, and end of the story? How does the main character change from the beginning to the end of the story?
  • How would you describe this character’s relationship with his/her parent in the story?

Activities:

  • Learn more about the country from which the character is adopted. On which continent is the country located? What countries border this country? What language is spoken there? How many people live in that country? Who are some famous people from that country? Find a recipeof a food from this country to make.
  • Share and reflect on this list of famous adoptees or adopters from TeacherVision by Beth Rowen.
  • Draw a family portrait of your own family.
  • Write a paragraph describing what makes your family unique and why you are proud of your family.

Further reading about adoption:

Jill EisenbergJill 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. 


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, Holidays and Celebrations Tagged: Adoption, children's books, diversity, Educators, holidays, multicultural books, Multiracial, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, Transracial adoption

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18. Out Today: Rose Eagle

The prequel to the award winning Killer of Enemies is finally here! Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac is Tu Books’ first e-novella.

Ten years before the events in Killer of Enemies, before the Silver Cloud, the Lakota were forced to work in the Deeps, mining for ore so that the Ones, the overlords, could continue their wars. But when the Cloud came and enveloped Earth, all electronics were shut off. Some miners were trapped in the deepest Deeps and suffocated, but the Lakota were warned to escape, and the upper Deeps became a place of refuge for them in a post-Cloud world.

In the midst of this chaos, Rose Eagle’s aunt has a dream: Rose will become a medicine woman, a healer. She sends Rose into the Black Hills on a quest to find healing for their people.

Gangly and soft-spoken, Rose is no warrior. She seeks medicine, not danger. Nevertheless, danger finds her, but love and healing soon follow. When Rose Eagle completes her quest, she may return with more than she ever thought she was looking for.

Rose Eagle is available directly from our website, and from your favorite ebook retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & NobleGoogle Play Books, and iTunes!


Filed under: Book News, Dear Readers, Diversity in YA, New Releases, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, e-novella, Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies, Native American, native american heritage month, Native American Interest, prequel, rose eagle, sci-fi, stacy whitman, Tu Books

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19. Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement

In the fall of 2012 a news story emerged that astronomers had discovered a planet largely made out of diamond. Third grade at my school spent the first two quarters studying the solar system; therefore, this news was received with irrepressible glee in my classroom. Although the media nickname “Lucy” was lost on my students (as in the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), the wonderment and rejuvenated commitment to the content was obvious.

Seeing that scientists were still studying and discovering facts about our solar system and distant others was exciting to my students and made them feel like they were on the frontier learning alongside real astronomers. Pairing the news article with The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System spurred very creative journal entries throughout the unit, including envisioned future discoveries of all sorts of substances for planets: kitten fur, gold, bubbles.

Incorporating current events and news stories into the classroom can engage students with a renewed sense of purpose and interest. Pairing a news article with a book on a similar topic or theme offers students greater context and a sense of relevancy for the content they are learning, and perhaps a jolt to the creeping apathy over a curriculum students had little input in selecting.

Seven Miles to Freedom (1)So, what does it look like to use paired texts in the classroom?

One example is using the picture book biography, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. In May 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it had discovered the Civil War ship of Robert Smalls. Pairing one of the articles with the picture book biography provides students opportunity to practice comprehension and the third component of the Common Core reading standards: integration of knowledge and ideas.

Standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

The following example can be adapted for grades 3–7. Read the picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, aloud to the whole group or have students read to themselves depending on their reading level. Focus questions may look like this:

  1. How does the picture book describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says, does, thinks, feels and what other characters say and think about him?
  3. Why do you think the author of the picture book wants to share this story with young people?
  4. How does this story help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life?

Read the news article second. If the news article is above students’ reading level, read the article aloud as they follow along with individual copies. The questions for the article will mirror those questions for the picture book:

  1. How does the article describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says and does and what other people quoted say and think about him in this article?
  3. Why do you think the NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program wants to find and rescue the ship/signify the ship’s location now after all these years?
  4. How does this news article help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life and the picture book Seven Miles to Freedom?

 

Follow up questions looking at both texts together:

  1. What events and details do both texts agree on?
  2. Create a timeline of events using both the picture book and news article.
  3. How are these texts both examples of nonfiction? What sub-genres of nonfiction are they? How do they present information similarly and differently?

 

Resources about Robert Smalls:

  • Explore a reading guide and learning activities for Seven Miles to Freedom from OurStory, a website created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to encourage adults and children in grades K–4 to read historical fiction and biography together
  • Read about Robert Smalls’ ship, Planter, and a report about the discovery from the Voyage to Discovery, a multi-media initiative to highlight African American maritime history from the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers

 

Resources for connecting Lee & Low titles with news:

 

Bonus: A fragment from Amelia Earhart’s airplane was recently identified. What book would you want to pair with this news story for students? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg

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. 


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources Tagged: CCSS, children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

2 Comments on Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement, last added: 11/3/2014
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20. Dream Casting for Our Favorite YA Novels

One of the fun things about reading fiction is imagining what the characters would look like, sound like, and act like in real life. And with the recent spike in YA-novels-turned-movies, it’s not a stretch to wonder who might be cast to play some of our favorite characters. There have been some great movies recently based on YA novels, but few of them have featured diverse casts or characters. So we thought we’d give Hollywood a little help and showcase a few of our favorite movie-worthy YA novels, and how we’d cast them:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz 

What it’s about: This tender novel looks at the deep and evolving friendship between two teen boys in 1980s El Paso.

Why it should be a movie: Although it’s not action-packed, the space this book gives to the quiet moments shared between Aristotle and Dante would make it a great character study. It won a Printz Award Honor and in the hands of a capable filmmaker definitely has potential to win awards on the movie side as well.

Who we’d cast: 

Aristotle:

Diego Boneta

Ari is sensitive and introspective but also big and strong, and he has a melancholy side that comes out sometimes too. We’d cast Diego Boneta as Ari.

Dante:

Tyler Posey

 

Dante is endearing and earnest, even when he’s struggling with his feelings. He can be full of angst without being angsty. We think Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey could bring to life Dante’s charm.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park cover

What it’s about: A story of first love that follows two teenagers in 1980s Nebraska who help each other through difficult circumstances.

Why it should be a movie: Actually, Dreamworks jumped on the movie rights early, so Eleanor and Park is headed to the big screen already. But some readers fear that in the hands of Hollywood, Eleanor and Park could change. In the book, Eleanor is overweight and Park is half Korean, two characteristics not often seen among leading men and ladies onscreen. In a Hollywood is notorious for whitewashing, casting this movie accurately would be nothing short of groundbreaking.

Who we’d cast:

Eleanor:

Emma Kenney

So few women are allowed to appear onscreen overweight that it was really tough just to find someone who might resemble Eleanor. We thought Emma Kenney could be a good fit (though she’s skinnier than Eleanor) but perhaps there’s a great unknown actress out there waiting to be discovered, too.

Park:

Sam TanSo few Asian actors are given big parts that it wasn’t easy to find a potential Park. But we think maybe Sam Tan could pull off that goth exterior and super-sweet center that make Park irresistible to Eleanor.

Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac

Killer of Enemies coverWhat it’s about: In the post-apocalyptic Southwest, Apache teenager Lozen works as a monster hunter in order to keep her family safe.

Why it should be a movie: Killer of Enemies is action-packed so it could pull in a wide audience, and the fight scenes between Lozen and the genetically-engineered monsters she hunts would be incredibly fun to watch. Plus, what’s the last movie you watched with a Native main character?

Who we’d cast: 

Lozen:

Amber MidthunderIf finding other casting options with hard, finding a Native actress to play Lozen was near impossible. But since Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing Native characters (Johnny Depp as Tonto, we’re looking at you) it’s extra-important that Lozen be played by a Native actress. We thought Amber Midthunder, who is an enrolled member of the Ft. Peck Sioux Indian Reservation, could be a good choice. But it would be nice if she weren’t the only choice.

The model who posted for the front cover could be a pretty good Lozen, too:

Killer of Enemies cover image

Hussein:

Avan JogiaLozen’s love interest Hussein is a musician, a sensitive listener who’s a good counterpart to Lozen’s stoic strength. We could see Avan Jogia balancing Lozen out pretty well.

What books are you hoping to see as movies? Who’s your dream cast? Let us know in the comments!

 


Filed under: Diversity 102, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Tu Books, TV Tagged: diversity in Hollywood, Hollywood, movies

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21. Illustrator Frank Morrison takes us behind the art of Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

SONY DSCReleased in September, Little Melba and her Big Tromboneis the story of Melba Liston, a little-known but trailblazing jazz musician who broke racial and gender barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. We asked illustrator Frank Morrison to take us behind the scenes for creating the art work used in Little Melba and her Big Trombone. 

Illustration Process

  1. After reading the manuscript for Little Melba and her Big Trombone, I immediately searched for references that could help me  bring the story to life. This included clothing from the time period and a trombone, which I have never painted before. I was fortunate enough to find a CD by Melba titled, “Melba Liston and her Bones” as well.  After gathering all of my materials my studio begins to sound like a jazz session as I begin reading.
  2. I make thumbnails sketches and jot down notes on the sides of the manuscript while the Be Bopping is blaring from the speakers. My sketches are loose like a trombone’s slide and they take about a minute each. thumbnails for cover resize
  3. When the thumbnails are completed I being drawing defined sketches from them and at the same time placing them in page order. Sometimes I may have two or three different ideas for a page as shown in the cover sketches.  1st cover sketch resizepage 10-11 sketch  resize
  4.  Once my sketches are approved, I transfer the final drawings to an illustration board. This, of course, is done after I’ve measuring the dimensions and taped off the edges, which includes a half-inch border.2nd cover sketch resize
  5. I spray a fixative on the drawing so it won’t smudge then coat it with a clear gesso. Next I tape the image to a wooden board. The board allows me to work sitting down at my art table or placing the painting on my easel. page 10 -11 gesso resize
  6. Finally I use a lot of jazz music, dancing and oil paints to finish the final art.

melbas cover  resize

PAGES 10-11 resize


Filed under: Art and Book Design, Book News, Cover Design, Dear Readers, Interviews with Authors and Illustrators, Lee & Low Likes, New Releases Tagged: African/African American Interest, art, diversity, Frank Morrison, illustration, illustrations, jazz music, Katheryn Russell-Brown, Little Melba, Little Melba and her Big Trombone, melba liston

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22. First Look, Second Look, Third Look: Close “Reading” with Book Art

I’ll admit it: I was looking for a Native American book by a Native American author to write about in light of Thanksgiving and National American Indian Heritage Month as many teachers do this time of year.

This Land is My LandThis led me to reread and re-experience the Children’s Book Press treasure, This Land is My Land, by artist George Littlechild. As winner of the 1994 Jane Addams Picture Book Award and 1993 National Parenting Publications Gold Medal, This Land is My Land is a notable treat for students and readers of all ages.

The book features 17 of the artist’s mixed media paintings organized to portray Native American history in North America and Littlechild’s own heritage and childhood. As I studied Littlechild’s paintings and read his accompanying essays about each, I felt as if I were on a gallery walk with my own earbud connected to the artist.

Although this picture book would make a great counterpoint to many Thanksgiving books out there, This Land is My Land is valuable beyond the Thanksgiving-relevant content. It is a great example of how art is a powerful medium for critical thinking development and can be integrated into literacy instruction (not just the assigned art block a couple times a week).

Click on the image to read the text

So, what does close reading (or “looking?”) look like with art?

Like a text, a piece of art is another place for students to engage with multiple times and each time diving into another level of meaning and interpretation. Using art in the classroom relates to the reading standard 7 of the Common Core, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. Additionally, many of these questions are questions we would use with students in the close reading of a text.

Below is an example of how students can progress with their observations and thinking. I separated levels of questions into three viewings based on level of complexity, but of course one could (and should) return to a worthwhile painting many, many times.

First look (literal comprehension/understanding)

  • What is happening?
  • What patterns do you see? What images, colors, and symbols do you see repeated or used most often in this painting or across paintings?
  • What materials does Littlechild use?
  • How does Littlechild use positive or negative space?
  • How does Littlechild use the foreground and background?
  • Who is the narrator?
  • What are some common ideas or events portrayed in his artwork?
  • What is the central idea of the painting? What is the central idea of the paintings taken altogether? What makes you think so?

Second look (higher level thinking/interpretation of meaning)

  • What effect do repeated colors, images, patterns, or symbols have on his art and the central idea?
  • What effect does a specific material, such as shells or sequins, have on his art and the central idea?
  • What does “Indian” mean to Littlechild?
  • How does Littlechild’s background (childhood, heritage, identity, family relationships) affect the subjects, themes, and materials of his paintings?
  • What has Littlechild learned from his elders? What does he want viewers to learn from or think about events in the past and our heritages?
  • What is the mood of one piece of the artwork or the collective body of artwork? What makes you think so? What colors, patterns, materials, or images does he use to convey mood?
  • What is the purpose of his art? Why would Littlechild create this painting or assemble these paintings into a collection? Why talk about these events and his heritage and childhood at all?
  • Who do you think is the intended audience of This Land is My Land? What might Littlechild want them to do with this narrative and perspective?
  • How does Littlechild demonstrate pride in and appreciation for his heritage? How does he convey pain in Native American history? How does he convey the closeness of his community?

Third look (higher level thinking/analysis of artist’s craft/structure/methods)

  • Why does Littlechild choose to start the book with a dedication to his ancestors and include their photographs?
  • How is the collection of paintings organized? How does the chronological structure convey or confirm his central idea? How does this mixed media collection compare to a biography in book form?
  • Why does Littlechild choose the title and painting for the book cover: This Land is My Land? He doesn’t like the song, “This land is your land, this land is my land,” or its meaning; so, why does it fit as the title and cover painting for the book? What does this choice tell us about the central idea of the book? What message does he want to convey to viewers?
  • Why does Littlechild use photographs in the painting, instead of just drawing the figures? What effect do the photographs have on the story he is telling and on the painting itself? (Repeat this question for feathers, sequins, shells, and feathers)
  • Why do you think the artist chooses to use the motif of stars? What do a “star” mean in this context? the number four? horses?
  • Why does Littlechild choose art/mixed media collage to represent events in his own life and convey his the central idea?

For further reading on integrating the Arts with the Common Core, check out these fantastic resources:

How are you integrating art with the Common Core? What tips do you have for choosing high quality art to teach? What art are you using already? Let us know!

Jill EisenbergJill 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. 


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources Tagged: art education, CCSS, children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, literacy, Native American, reading comprehension

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23. Native American Heritage Month: 10 Children’s Books By Native Writers

November is Native American Heritage Month! Native American Heritage Month evolved from the efforts of various individuals at the turn of the 20th century who tried to get a day of recognition for Native Americans. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a resolution that appointed November as Native American Heritage Month. You can learn more about Native American Heritage Month here.

For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with these great books by Native writers:

Biographies

Quiet Hero by S.D. Nelson – Ira Hayes grew up on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. When he was in his late teens, World War II raged, and Ira Hayes joined the Marine corps. Eventually they were sent to the tiny Japanese island of Iwo Jima, where a chance event and an extraordinary photograph catapulted Ira to national awareness and transformed his life forever. 

Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson – Crazy Horse, whose childhood nickname was “Curly,” defies traditional custom and risks his own life by running away, up to the hills, to seek a vision.

Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson –  While Jim Thorpe struggled at school, he excelled at sports. He later went on to win several Olympic medals.

Fiction

Home to Medicine Mountain by Chiori Santiago, illustrated by Judith Lowry – Two Native American brothers are sent to a strict, government-run boarding school. There, they are forced to speak English and to unlearn their Native American ways. Inspired by their dreams of home and the memories of their grandmother’s stories, the boys embark on an adventurous journey from the harsh residential school to their home in Susanville, California.

Sky Dancers by Connie Ann Kirk, illustrated by Christy Hale – John Cloud’s father is in New York City, far away from their Mohawk Reservation, building sky scrapers. One day, Mama takes John to New York City and he sees his Papa high on a beam, building the Empire State Building.

Kiki’s Journey by Kristy Orona-Ramirez, illustrated by Jonathan Warm Day –  Kiki is a city girl that calls Los Angeles her home. Her family left the Taos Pueblo reservation when she was a baby, so it doesn’t feel like home. How will it feel to revisit the reservation?

 

Stories for Teens

Rattlesnake Mesa by EdNah New Rider Weber, photographs by Richela Renkun – When EdNah’s beloved grandmother dies, she is sent to live on a Navajo reservation with a father she barely knows. Once EdNah finds herself getting used to her new life, she is sent to a strict government-run Indian boarding school.

Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – When Luke King’s father, a black ops infiltrator, goes missing, Luke realizes his life will never be the same again. Luke sets out to search for his father, all the while trying to avoid the attention of the school’s mysterious elite clique of Russian hipsters, who seem much too interested in his own personal secret

Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – In a future where technology has failed, Lozen has been gifted with a unique set of abilities magic and survival skills that she uses to hunt monsters for the people who kidnapped her family. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.

Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac – Several years before Killer of Enemies, the Lakota are forced to mine ore for the Ones, their overlords. Rose Eagle’s aunt has a vision of Rose as a healer. She sends Rose on a quest to find healing for their people.

 

What other books by Native American authors and illustrators do you recommend?

 

 


Filed under: Book Lists by Topic, Diversity 102, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Lee & Low Likes, Race Tagged: book list, booklist, Crazy Horse, diversity, Ira Hayes, Jim Thorpe, Joseph Bruchac, Lee & Low Books, Native American, native american heritage month, Tu Books

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24. Big News in Diversity: Big Hero 6 Tops Box Office

Diversity 102This past weekend, Disney released its newest action-comedy, Big Hero 6. The movie chronicles the special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who  team up with a group of friends to form a band of high-tech heroes.

Big Hero 6 has been getting tons of great reviews, and earned an impressive 88% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps most impressively, it beat out Christopher Nolan’s highly buzzed-about sci-fi epic Interstellar at the box office, taking an an estimated $56.2M in its first weekend. That makes it the second best cartoon opening of the year, trailing only The Lego Movie.

Big_Hero_(film)_poster

This isn’t just a win for Disney and Big Hero 6—it’s a win for diversity, and those who make the argument that diversity sells. Big Hero 6 takes place in a future “San Fransokyo” and features an extremely diverse cast of characters: Go Go Tomago, Tadashi, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred. And, unlike some cartoons, it doesn’t whitewash its casting: the voices behind the characters are just as diverse as the characters themselves. Hiro, Tadashi, and Go Go are all voiced by Asian American Actors (Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, and Jamie Chung, respectively) and the diverse cast is rounded out by Damon Wayans Jr. (Wasabi), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), and Maya Rudolph (Cass).

Big Hero 6 Heroes

That means, of the 10 top billed characters in the movie, 6 are voiced by people of color. That’s significantly higher than Hollywood’s standard dreary stats of underrepresentation. It also means that a movie featuring people of color in the top roles earned more money than a major blockbuster film starring several Oscar-winning actors and directed by one of the most famous directors in Hollywood. And not a very diverse one, I would add.

How’s that for proof that diversity sells?

Not everyone loves Big Hero 6. Some fans of the original comics were disappointed to see that while the characters in the original comic were all Japanese, Disney chose to recast some of the characters in the movie as other races. You can see more about the changes they made here. Was Disney afraid that a cast of all-Japanese characters might scare off the American moviegoing audience? We’ll never know.

Diversity done well can be hard, but it’s worth celebrating the wins even when they’re complicated. You may have noticed the Diversity 102 logo at the top of this blog post. From here on in, we’re going beyond the Diversity 101 story that everyone tells: there’s not enough diversity, there’s nothing out there, diversity doesn’t make money, people don’t care. It’s important to acknowledge that there’s work to be done, but the story goes deeper than that. There are many exciting things happening, and we want to spotlight them.

So, are you going to see Big Hero 6 this weekend? Did you see it already? What did you think?


Filed under: Diversity 102, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Lee & Low Likes, The Diversity Gap Tagged: Big Hero 6, Disney, diversity in Hollywood, movies

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25. 5 Harmful Differentiation Myths: Part 1


The learning differences, preferences, and varied backgrounds existent in the classroom present teachers with a challenging-POPyes task: help every student become a successful learner. How can teachers support all students’ diverse needs? Much confusion and fear have surrounded differentiated instruction and its use in the classroom.

Myth #1: Differentiation = Individualization
Differentiation doesn’t mean individualizing the curriculum for each student. Yes, when teachers meet one-on-one and conference with students, modifying instruction to best suit the student’s needs, both individualization and differentiation are taking place. However, writing an individual lesson plan for every student in the classroom is NOT differentiating (it’s insanity). Instead, differentiation involves using quality and effective instructional practices to strategically address groups of students based on various levels of learning readiness, interests, and learning styles.

Contentsgdfgfdfdghghjgh copyMyth #2: Every student should be doing something different
Teachers should consider each student’s strengths and areas that need support, but that does not mean 30 students are engaged in 30 different activities. Instead, teachers use differentiation to provide a range of activities and assignments that challenge and offer variety in students’ learning opportunities. This includes flexible grouping, or organizing students by ability, learning styles, and academic needs. Students may work individually, in pairs, collaborative groups, or as a class based on learning objectives and their individual needs and preferences. For example, one group may be practicing math skill fluency while another group is applying this skill within more challenging settings. Differentiation also involves modifying the content (the what), process (the how), and product (the end result). Using assessment to inform instruction, providing leveled reading books, increasing or decreasing task complexity, and assigning tasks based on visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning preferences all support such differentiated learning opportunities.

Myth #3: Test prep doesn’t allow you to differentiate
Differentiation’s first objective is to help students deeply understand the content. This is essential to encourage the progressive achievement of a desired level of mastery in preparation for students’ successful careers and futures. Differentiated instruction better prepares students for standardized tests through authentic learning experiences that exercise higher-order, critical thinking skills and encourage the development of strong conceptual understanding. Secondly, differentiation aims to prepare students for varied forms of assessment, including group projects and research papers, as well as multiple-choice questions on a standardized test. Therefore, using standardized testing preparation to assess and monitor students’ progress and understanding is important, but it is only one of the many types of assessment teachers use. Undifferentiated or standardized assessments should be provided along with authentic and performance-based assessments.

Myth #4: There is no time to differentiate
Differentiation doesn’t have to be thought of as separate from instruction. The key is to treat differentiation as a core part of the lesson and unit plan, rather than as an afterthought. The best answer is to start small, such as differentiating one subject or unit at a time by modifying the plans and materials you already have. Even though a teacher may feel he/she has little control over the content, differentiating instruction can support how he/she will teach it.

Myth #5: Differentiation is the end-all-be-all solution for academic achievement
Differentiation is one way to help all students of varying abilities, learning styles, interests, and background experiences meet or exceed grade-level expectations. Parent engagement, assessment, reflection, professional development, and content and grade-level collaboration are all part of the toolbox schools and teachers need to proactively anticipate and appropriately respond to students’ continuously changing needs.

What does differentiation look like in action? This is Part 1 of 2 posts about differentiation and how it is used in the classroom.

Cash, R. M. (2011). Advancing differentiation: Thinking and learning for the 21st century. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.

Veronica SchneiderVeronica 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.


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources Tagged: CCSS, Educators, ELA common core standards, guided reading, teaching resources

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