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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. 10 Reasons to Celebrate Bilingual Books

Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.

Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!

Bilingual books…

  1. Teach us how to read in two languages.
  2. Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
  3. Develop strong critical thinking skills
  4. Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
  5. Expose us to new ways of communicating.
  6. Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
  7. Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
  8. Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
  9. Expand our vocabulary and lexicon.
  10. Bring readers together.

Lee and Low Bilingual Books Poster

Tell us why you read bilingual books!

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2. Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Babu’s Song

LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.

Featured title: Babu’s Song

Author: Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen

Illustrator: Aaron Boyd

Synopsis: Babu’s Song is the story of a young Tanzanian boy who learns a lesson about family love after selling the special music box his grandfather made for him. Set in contemporary Tanzania, this story is a tender testament to the love between grandchild and grandparent.

Awards and honors:

  • Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • “Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • 40 Books About Sports, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • Parents’ Choice Recommended, Parents’ Choice Foundation
  • South Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee, South Carolina Association of School Librarians
  • Storytelling World Resource Award, Storytelling World magazine
  • Children’s Africana Book Award, African Studies Association
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Master List, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
  • West Virginia Children’s Book Award Master List, West Virginia Children’s Book Award Program

The story behind the story: 

“To this day Babu’s Song is still one of my favorite books and though I’ll illustrated over 20 books since then, I still go back to it when I’m speaking with kids and other artists. Babu’s Song is such a beautiful story and it is still one of my most requested books when I talk to people.

Working on Babu’s Song continues to touch my life as an artist as much today as it did when I began illustrating it. Not only because it’s one of my most recognized and colorful books I’ve illustrated, but also because it helped set the trajectory of my artistic and social conscious. Growing up where books (and movies) too often didn’t contain subjects or people that I saw in my own life I knew that when I began illustrating books my priority would be to capture people and places that we don’t often see or know on a map.

In Babu’s Song I got to show a boy and his father in Tanzania dealing with poverty and loss that while not uncommon in the world are often unseen by most of us, even when next door. And while this story does deal very honestly with the boy’s struggles, it always keeps its heart and shows us that there is a way to persevere. So a story about a little boy and his grandfather on the other side of the globe becomes someone we can begin to see (empathize with) thus bringing us all a little closer. “

Aaron Boyd, illustrator of Babu’s Song and new title Calling the Water Drum

Resources for teaching with Babu’s Song:

babu's songBook activity: Ask students to write a letter to their grandparent or grandparent-figure in their life. Review the structure and tone of a friendly letter. Students should describe what they admire about this person and include questions to learn more about them.

How have you used Babu’s Song? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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3. Marketing 101: How Conferences Taught Me to Plan a Wedding

I’m getting married in a little under two weeks, and a few nights ago I had my first anxiety dream about my upcoming wedding. It went like this: my wedding and the American Library Association Annual Conference (ALA) had been scheduled for the same time. I was arranging books at our exhibit booth in my wedding dress, and when I tried to leave to head to the altar, an author appeared for her signing. She demanded that I stay and fix the lighting, which she said was not flattering. I woke up in a cold sweat.

It doesn’t take Freud to figure out where this dream came from. As any marketing person can tell you, conferences take an immense amount of work, planning, and mental energy. As it turns out, weddings do too. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot in my eight years of planning and attending conferences that helped me stay sane throughout the wedding planning process—and there’s a lot that wedding planning can teach about conferences, too. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to be true for both events:

Always be prepared. Long-term planning is essential, but I’ve found that in order for events to go off without a hitch, a lot of time needs to be dedicated to thinking through the minute details because seemingly small things can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans. Are any of your dinner guests gluten-free? Do you need a reminder to change your watch when you get to a new time zone? In MARKETING 101 Weddingwhich part of the convention center is the exhibit hall located? How many pens have you brought for your signing? What will you do if your powerpoint was not uploaded as promised?

If you are an author attending a conference, think through all the items you will need and make a list, so you remember to bring them all with you or make sure your publisher has them. If you have an itinerary, look over it carefully and get any questions you have answered early, before the conference starts. The more time you set aside ahead of time to think through the details, the less likely you are to be caught by surprise on the day of your event.

You can’t make everyone happy. In wedding-land, it’s notoriously hard to satisfy everyone and make decisions without some feelings getting hurt. You’d think that conferences would be less emotionally wrought, but I am hear to tell you that’s not always the case. Your book is your baby, and it’s natural to feel disappointed when it doesn’t draw the attention or sales that you hoped it would. Not all signings go well, and not all panels pull a standing-room-only crowd. Not every author gets his or her own publisher-sponsored cocktail party. When it comes to conferences, everyone is working with limited time, attention, and resources. Try to go in with managed expectations, and remember that you’ve created a beautiful piece of art. Even if it doesn’t attract all the attention you hoped it would, it is still something to celebrate and be proud of. And if you connect with just a few new readers who are excited, you never know where that might lead.

Use Institutional Knowledge. When I started planning my wedding, nothing helped me more than speaking with friends who had gone through it before. They pointed me in the right direction, kept me sane, and even shared their spreadsheets with me. If you are an author going to a conference for the first time, don’t reinvent the wheel: use your publisher and peers to help you plan. If you have never done a signing on a conference floor before, ask for some recommendations of ways to break the ice with people walking by (we have some great recommendations from authors here, here, and here). If you are going to a dinner or another event for the first time, ask fellow authors or publishing staff what they use to start conversation or keep it going. What kind of materials are helpful to bring along? If you ask questions you’ll find that people are happy to share their knowledge and experience with you, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

me with one of our fabulous authors, Monica Brown, at the ALA conference this year
Me with one of our fabulous authors, Monica Brown, at the ALA conference this year

Don’t lose sight of the big picture. In conferences and weddings, it’s easy to get bogged down in the small details. But at the end of the day, what’s your goal? If it’s a wedding, your goal is probably (hopefully!) to get married. If it’s a conference, your goal may not be quite as clear, but it’s worth thinking through. Do you want to introduce your book to new people? To connect in person with key contacts? To meet your editor for the first time? To sell copies at your book signing? To drum up new school visits? If you can figure out which goal or goals are most important to you, it’s easier to plan your conference experience around that. Decide where you want to allocate your time, energy, and resources. Let your publisher know what you hope to accomplish, so you’re all on the same page. Your goal can help you navigate the conference craziness and come out sane on the other side.

Whatever you do, don’t let the stress of event planning take away from the joy of the event, whether that means getting married or sharing your book with the world (next time ALA is based in Las Vegas, you could do both at once!). Keep calm, keep your eye on the prize, and you’ll get through just fine.

 

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4. MAMÁ THE ALIEN/Mamá la extraterrestre Blog Tour with René Colato Laínez

To celebrate the release of Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestreauthor René Colato Laínez will be stopping by the following blogs from August 15th to the 24th! Follow along as René Colato Laínez discusses his writing process, his thoughts on diversity in kidlit, and the recent debate over the term “illegal alien.”Below is the schedule of the Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre Blog Tour:René Colato Laínez BLOG TOUR

August 15: The Latina Book Club

August 17: Mommy Maestra

August 19: Latinaish

August 22: Pragmatic Mom

August 23: Reading Authors

August 24: The Logonauts

And in case you missed it, here’s René Colato Laínez’s post about his experience being called an “illegal alien” when he was young.

To find out more about René Colato Laínez and Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. And if you are a blogger interested in being included on this or future blog tours, please reach out to us at publicity [at] leeandlow [dot] com.

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5. 25 Books from 25 Years: First Day in Grapes

25th anniversary posterLEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Today, we are celebrating First Day in Grapes, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. Chico’s story of personal triumph and bravery in the face of bullying is a testament to the inner strength in us all.

Featured title: First Day in Grapes

Author: L. King Perez

Illustrator: Robert Casilla

First Day in Grapes cover imageSynopsis: All year long Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September they pick grapes and Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him — maybe because he is always new or maybe because he speaks Spanish sometimes.

Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different. His teacher likes him right away, and she and his classmates are quick to recognize his excellent math skills. He may even get to go to the math fair! When the fourth-grade bullies confront Chico in the lunchroom, he responds wisely with strengths of his own.

Awards and Honors:

  • Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor, ALSC/REFORMA
  • Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
  • Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)

From the Illustrator:

“Stories that help kids become familiar with kids of other cultures or others in different situations are books that I like to illustrate. I appreciate the way the author put the main character in situations that kids deal with daily in real life and how the boy used his wits to get out of tough situations.

I related to the kid in this story in a wacky way when it came to avoiding bullies. When I was about nine years old there was a boy who picked on me daily, until one day I came up with an idea. I thought that if I walked by him making a face that he wouldn’t recognize me and leave me alone. The plan worked, but now that I think of it, I doubt it was because he didn’t recognize me.”

Purchase a copy of First Day in Grapes here.

Other Editions: Did you know that First Day in Grapes also comes in a Spanish edition?

Primer día en las uvas

First Day in Grapes Spanish edition cover

Resources for teaching with First Day in Grapes: First Day in Grapes Teacher’s Guide

For more titles about different experiences with bullying and peer pressure, check out our Bullying/Anti-Bullying Collection here.

Have you used First Day in Grapes? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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6. The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process

New Voices Award sealIt’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.

At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.

Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?

 Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.

from The Blue Roses
from The Blue Roses

Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.

Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.

What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?

LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.

JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.

How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?

from Finding the Music
from Finding the Music

LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.

JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.

What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.

JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.

How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?

LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.

 JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.

The Blue Roses by Linda Boyden is available now!

The Blue Roses cover image

Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica by Jennifer Torres is available now!

Finding the Music cover image

For more details about submitting to the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

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7. Marisol Celebration: Lee & Low Staff Share Their Fears

Marisol McDonald and the Monster coverIn the latest installment of the Marisol McDonald series, Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, Marisol McDonald is confronted with her greatest fear: monsters! In celebration of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, released last month, Lee & Low Staff share the scary things that keep them up at night.

Louise May, Editorial Director

“Having to sing in public. I don’t have a great voice and I can’t carry a tune.”

Kandace Coston, Editorial Assistant

“I’m arachnophobic.”

Pia Ceres, Marketing & Publicity Intern

“Not having the courage to speak up when it counts. Also, since I was a kid, I’ve had this fear that someone living in the mirror would reach through the threshold and grab me while I’m brushing my teeth, which is a very vulnerable position if you think about it.”

Randy Eng, Operations Coordinator

“Stage fright.”

 Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate

“I have a huge fear of clowns. I think it’s because I watched Stephen King’s “It” when I was young with my cousins and it scarred me for life.”

Marisol McDonald and the Monster spread
from Marisol McDonald and the Monster

Jalissa Corrie, Marketing & Publicity Assistant

“I have a fear of ghosts. I think there is one (or more) that lives in my parent’s house in the Hudson Valley. They tend to make themselves known when I’m home by myself.”

 Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing & Publicity

“I actually had a very strange phobia when I was growing up: I was afraid of buttons. I would not let my parents dress me in any clothes with buttons, did not like to touch buttons myself, hated sitting on chairs with buttons, and even avoided hugging people who were wearing button-down shirts. For most of my childhood, I thought it was just a weird thing that only I had. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve actually learned that there is a name for this phobia: Koumpounophobia. It’s pretty rare, but it’s estimated that nearly one in every 75,000 people experiences it. Most famously, Steve Jobs admitted that he has koumpounophobia and some speculate that his fear of buttons may have led to the invention of the iPhone and other buttonless devices. My phobia is fairly mild now but I still hate wearing button-down shirts, avoid button-up duvet covers, and prefer not to touch buttons (especially the small plastic ones) if I don’t have to!”

Hsu Hnin, Operations Assistant

“My greatest fear is the darkness; especially when I have to sleep in a place where there’s absolutely no light.”

John Man, Director of Operations

“My biggest fear is running out of poke balls during a hunt.”

You can purchase a copy of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo here.

Don’t miss the first two books in the Marisol McDonald series:

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match / Marisol McDonald no combina

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash / Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual

Share with us in the comments! What’s your biggest fear? You can win a chance to win signed copies of our Marisol McDonald series!

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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8. 25 Books from 25 Years: DESHAWN DAYS

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today!

Today we’re featuring DeShawn Days by Tony Medina and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, released in 2003 by LEE & LOW BOOKS:

deshawn daysAbout the Book: DeShawn Days introduces us to ten-year-old DeShawn’s world, where we meet his family, friends, and learn about his hopes and dreams. Author Tony Medina draws from his own experiences growing up in the projects to create this dynamic character. From neighborhood barbecues to building snowmen in the winter to experiencing the loss of DeShawn’s grandmother, readers from all backgrounds will be charmed by this upbeat, compassionate, and creative young boy.

Awards and Honors:

  • Starred reviewSchool Library Journal
  • Children’s Literature Choice List, Children’s Literature
  • Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • Parents’ Guide to Children’s Media Award, Parents’ Choice Foundation
  • Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College

Resources for Teaching With DeShawn Days:

  • Our extensive Teacher’s Guide offers a wide range of teaching ideas.
  • Watch author Tony Medina read to a third grade class in Dorchester, MA.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Teacher Tip:
Tell students that poets often use what is called “poetic license.” Poets may write in dialect or nonstandard English to achieve a certain effect as Medina does in poems such as “My Cousin Tiffany.” Sometimes poets do not use capital letters or standard punctuation. Point out that Medina’s poems are not punctuated, except for the occasional exclamation point.

Other Books by Tony Medina: 

Purchase DeShawn Days here.

Other Recommended Picture Books That Celebrate Community:

bein with you this way

Bein’ With You This Way by W. Nikola-Lisa, illus. by Michael Bryant

quinito's neighborhood

Quinito’s Neighborhood/El vecindario de Quinito by Ina Cumpiano, illus. by José Ramírez

saturday at the new you

Saturday at the New You by Barbara E. Barber, illus. by Anna Rich

Have you used DeShawn Days? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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9. Interview: Gwendolyn Hooks on the Unsung Hero of Medicine, Vivien Thomas

Tiny Stitches cover imageTiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the compelling story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children. In this interview, author Gwendolyn Hooks discusses the legacy of this medical pioneer and what inspired her to write about a man whose research helped to save countless lives.

What inspired you to write about Vivien Thomas?

A friend’s grandson was diagnosed with tetralogy of Follet. She watched the movie Something the Lord Made which is the story of Vivien Thomas. She loaned me the movie and the rest is history! He is a hero. He did so much and so few know his name. I saw his portrait at Johns Hopkins Hospital and felt him saying “Tell my story.”

In what way is Vivien Thomas a relevant role model for young A door closed, but he opened another. I think one of his messages to young people would be to find that other door.readers today?

Vivien is a strong role model for young people even after all these years. Sure he was disappointed and mad after he lost his money when his bank closed during the Great Depression. Vivien was tough and resilient. He put aside his college dreams and found a way to support himself. A door closed, but he opened another. I think one of his messages to young people would be to find that other door.

What did you find most surprising in your research of Thomas’s life?

Even as a young boy of 13, his mind was on his future. He worked afterschool and summers with his father. Other boys were playing sandlot baseball and I’m sure Vivien did on occasion, but he was passionate about earning money and putting it to good use. He bought his school clothes and deposited the rest in a savings account.

Is there a fact about Thomas that you didn’t get to put in the book?

Before Vivien found the job at Vanderbilt, he worked for a contractor. One time he had to repair a wooden floor. He repaired it, but it wasn’t his best work. His boss could tell where he laid the new wood and told him it wasn’t acceptable. Vivien did it over and the second time, it was seamless. He learned a lesson that day that he never forgot. Do your best work the first time. In medicine there might not be a second time.

Interior spread of Tiny Stitches

The most painful parts of Tiny Stitches, for us, were the scenes in which Thomas encounters the injustices of racism in spite of his achievements. Why was it important for you to write about these realities, and what do you think young readers can learn from them? 

I wanted readers to know he didn’t lead an easy and carefree life. Despite your intelligence and achievements, there are some who will never give you credit for it. It’s important to know who you are, what you are capable of and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Vivien Thomas was not given the credit he deserved for his leadership in “blue baby” operations until 1971, how do you think Thomas must have felt once he received recognition?

He was overjoyed that the Old Hands Club asked him to sit for his formal portrait (the one in Johns Hopkins Hospital) and planned a formal recognition ceremony. That and the honorary degree, the faculty appointment were all appreciated by Vivien. He had such a generous spirit. I’ve talked with a former surgical resident who remembers his generous spirit even after his contributions were ignored. I think it’s only human to feel discouraged, but those feelings did not deflate his love of research.

What advice would you have for young readers about following their dreams in spite of obstacles?

If an obstacle is placed in your path, veer left or right, but keep going. Keep stretching and moving forward. Read books, especially biographies, and learn how others did it. Vivien prepared himself for his dream. He was an excellent student. Study. Join organizations in your school or community. This is a perfect way to learn about careers you never knew existed and perhaps find a mentor.

What do you hope readers will take away from Vivien Thomas’ story?

I hope readers and especially young ones will remember that dreams and goals can change, but your life won’t if you don’t go after new ones. If Vivien did it with all that was set against him, you can do it now.

Learn more about Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas here.

Author Gwendolyn Hooks

Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks was born in Savannah, Georgia. Her father was in the Air Force, so Gwen and her family moved a lot when she was a child. Her first stop in every new city was the local library where she got her new library card. Gwendolyn is the author of many books, including Bebop Books’ Can I Have a Pet? and Lee & Low’s Tiny Stitches. Gwen now lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and their three children. Visit her online at gwendolynhooks.com.

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10. Plan Your Month: August Book Recommendations

August means slow, lazy summer days combined with the back-to-school scramble. Plan out your month with these book recommendations and resources to take you from here through September:

Sammy Lee’s Birthday-August 1
Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds

International Friendship Day-August 2 August Book Recommendations
Armando and the Blue Tarp School
Awakening
Bein’ With You This Way
Cat Girl’s Day Off
Cooper’s Lesson
David’s Drawings
Destiny’s Gift
Featherless
First Come the Zebra
Galaxy Games: The Challengers
Ink and Ashes
It Doesn’t Have to be This Way
Jay and Ben
Jazz Baby
Juna’s Jar
King for a Day
Night Golf
Rainbow Joe and Me 
Rebellion
Rent Party Jazz
Sharing Our Homeland
Soledad Sigh-Sighs
Tankborn
The Can Man
The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen
The Legend of Freedom Hill
The Monster in the Mudball
The Piano
Up the Learning Tree

Olympics- August 5-August 21
Surfer of the Century
Galaxy Games: The Challengers
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path
Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds

Duke Kahanamoku’s Birthday-August 24
Surfer of the Century

Back to School-August/September
As Fast As Words Could Fly
Amelia’s Road
Armando and the Blue Tarp School
Babu’s Song
Capoeira
David’s Drawings
Destiny’s Gift
Drumbeat in Our Feet
Elizabeti’s School
Etched In Clay
First Day in Grapes
Howard Thurman’s Great Hope
How We Are Smart
Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path
My Teacher Can Teach…Anyone!
Only One Year
Richard Wright and the Library Card
Seeds of Change
The Storyteller’s Candle
Su Dongpo: Chinese Genius
Tofu Quilt
Up the Learning Tree
Willie Wins
Yasmin’s Hammer
Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree

International Friendship Day:
Happy Friendship Day from Lee & Low Books!
The Best Cheerleaders May Come in Small Packages: How Siblings Affect Literacy Education

Back to School:
Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non Diverse Schools?
How Common Core’s Book Choices Fail Children of Color
Choosing the World Our Students Read
Where to Find Culturally Diverse Literature to Pair With Your Required Curriculum
10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom
3 Books for the First Three Weeks of School
11 Educator Resources for Teaching Children About Latin American Immigration and Migration
11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration
10 Best Strategies for Reading to Kids in Spanish
13 Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition
7 Tips to Help Make Reading with Your Child This Year Achievable
5 Strategies to Help Parents Navigate Lexile
7 Strategies to Help Booksellers and Librarians Navigate Lexile
8 Strategies to Help Educators Explain Lexile and Invest Stakeholders
10 Ways Teachers Can Support Parents and Cultivate Student Success
10 Myths About Teaching STEM Books and How You Can Teach STEM in Your Classroom Now
Using Infographics in the Classroom to Teach Visual Literacy
Using Dual Language and Bilingual Books in First and Second Grade
Using Dual Language and Bilingual Books in Third and Fourth Grade
Using Picture Books to Teach and Discuss Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera with Students
How to Teach Close Reading Using a Recipe
Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math
Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and You Should Too)
Student Book Review: Seeds of Change
Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books for Core Value Study
Character Education, Part 2: How to Teach Core Values to Kids Meaningfully
Strategies for Teaching ELL’s in Elementary and Middle School: Part 1
Strategies for Teaching ELL’s-Part 2: Choosing A Text and Vocabulary Words
Strategies for Teaching ELL’s-Part 3: Teaching Vocabulary in Layers
Strategies for Teaching ELL’s-Part 4: Writing, Speaking, & Listening Practice
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Kindergarten
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in First Grade
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Second Grade
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Third Grade
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Fourth Grade
How to Compare and Contrast with the Common Core in Fifth Grade

What are your favorite August reads? Let us know in the comments!

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11. 25 Books from 25 Years: Grandfather Counts

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today!

Today we’re featuring Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zheng, released in 2003 by LEE & LOW BOOKS:

Grandfather Counts

About the Book: Grandfather Counts is a moving intergenerational story about the universal love between grandparent and grandchild, a love that bridges linguistic and cultural differences. In Grandfather Counts, Helen is excited to welcome her Gong Gong (grandfather), who comes from China to live with her family. But when she realizes that Gong Gong speaks only Chinese, Helen finds a special way to communicate.

Awards and Honors:

  • Reading Rainbow Selection, PBS Kids
  • Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center
  • Honor Book Award, Society ofSchool Librarians International
  • Parents’ Choice Noteworthy Product, Parents’ Choice Foundation

In the Author’s Own Words:

“Intergenerational stories come easily to me.  When I was a child, three of my grandparents lived either in our house or within walking distance.  I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandmother, and I think she is the model for many of the grandmothers in my stories.  When my husband and I had children, I could not imagine raising them far from their grandparents, so we moved from Ithaca, New York to Cincinnati where my parents were living.  My father died in 1997, but our children see my mother almost every day, and they spent a lot of time running back and forth between her house and ours when they were younger. Contact between generations is very important to me and seems to find its way into most of my stories.”
–(from an interview with Paper Tigers)

Note: Andrea Cheng passed away in late 2015. We remember her here.

Resources for Teaching With Grandfather Counts:

Book Activity:
Use Grandfather Counts as an opportunity to celebrate the range of languages that students may speak at home. Ask students who are fluent in other languages to share with the class how to count in their languages.

Encourage older students to gather oral histories from grandparents or other relatives for an oral history project.

Did you know?
If you look at the illustrations, you’ll notice that Grandfather Counts features a biracial main character. See all of our books featuring biracial and multiracial main characters.

Purchase Grandfather Counts here.

Other Recommended Picture Books Celebrating Grandparents:

A Morning With Grandpa

A Morning with Grandpa by Sylvia Liu, illus. by Christina Forshay

Seaside Dream

Seaside Dream by Janet Costa Bates, illus. by Lambert Davis

Sunday Shopping

Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, illus. by Shadra Strickland

Have you used Grandfather Counts? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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12. Three Up-and-Coming Writers of Color to Watch Out For

New Visions Award sealThe New Visions Award, given annually by our Tu Books imprint, honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.

In addition to our New Visions Award Winner and Honor, this year there were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou). Below, they share their writing experience, what inspires them, and what they hope readers will take away from their stories. We are thrilled to introduce readers to these talented writers and can’t wait to see how their careers take shape!

Could you tell us about your story?

Elizabeth Stephens headshotElizabeth Stephens: The Rougarou has been a work in progress for several years now. I drafted the first version of this manuscript my freshman year of college, though it has taken on a life of its own since! In particular, my study abroad experience in Paris, France in 2012 helped shape the details of this novel as did later work experience in Geneva, Switzerland. Whenever I reread my own book, it provides me with a sense of nostalgia – a straight shot of Paris. The infusion of Cajun folklore into the story, I adopted only very recently. I am a native French speaker because I grew up in West Africa and knew that I wanted my main character’s roots to be francophone. At the same time, I have been deeply interested in Louisiana culture since I was thirteen years old and first read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

Hilda Burgos headshotHilda Burgos: The eleven year-old protagonist of my story, Ana Maria Reyes (Anamay), has a few things in common with me: she has three sisters, her parents are from the Dominican Republic, and she is growing up in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. I first created Anamay about twenty years ago when I drafted a picture book manuscript about a six year-old girl who was nervous about the impending birth of a new sibling. Then I learned about a chapter book contest, and decided that Anamay’s story could be expanded to include the culture shock I experienced when I was ten years old and first visited the Dominican Republic.

Alex Brown Headshot Alex Brown: My mother immigrated to the US from the Philippines in the 1980s. She left an entire country behind in order to come here and be a nurse. The US has a long history of recruiting nurses from the Philippines, and from what I can tell, it started after the Spanish-American War, with the Pensionado Act of 1903 (wherein certain Filipino citizens came to the US to study). I took a little bit of what she experienced when she first arrived here, and built upon some of the obstacles she faced (including how incredibly badass she is for raising two kids as a single parent in a new country). I also drew from my own experiences growing up – the discord that happens between my main character and her parents when she chooses not to believe the legitimate folktales they tell her – reflects a lot of my feelings as a kid.

Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from this story?

ES: I certainly hope that readers enjoy the elements of the story that I had most fun crafting: the romance between Chandelle and Reno, the setting in modern day Paris, and the fantastical elements reminiscent of Southern lore never forgotten.

HB: When I was a child there weren’t many books about kids like me: kids who lived in apartment buildings in a city, who spoke one language at home and another one in school, who had frizzy hair and dark complexions. I always looked for something familiar in the books I read. I hope that readers learn something new and expand their worlds when they read about Anamay, and that this knowledge helps them as they meet new people in their lives. I also hope that readers who share some of Anamay’s experiences find comfort in the familiarity of some of the scenes. Most importantly, I hope that readers enjoy the story and are inspired to read more and more books.

AB: I hope that people will start to think about the impact they can have on others. We live in this society where certain things – stereotypes, prejudices, hatred – are way more insidious than they have any right to be. But, with all of the bad, there’s still the possibility that anyone, anywhere, can stand up for what’s right. I’d also feel quite accomplished if people took a moment to pause and think about all of the obstacles and daily struggles that await anyone who immigrates to America. There’s something to be said about the unquantifiable amount of bravery, hope, and grit that it takes to leave one’s whole world behind, all to start a new life in an unfamiliar (and, at times, unfriendly) place.

Is there anything about your writing experience that you’d like to share?

ES: I wrote my first book at the age of eleven. It was a science fiction saga about a young girl picked up by a ragtag group of bandits and transported to other worlds. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of publishing several short works of horror in a number of online magazines and last year, I published my first fiction novel.

HB: I fell in love with language and literature when I first learned how to read.   A well-written book is a work of art. In college I majored in French and Spanish literatures, and I also took English literature and creative writing classes. I wrote stories for pleasure during college and law school, and I took my first class on writing for children after law school. I draw ideas from my life experiences and observations, from stories that I have heard, and from historical accounts and current events.

AB: When I first started to seriously consider writing, I was a co-winner of the Windy City Chapter of the Romance Writers of America’s Four Seasons YA award. A few months after that, I was one of the inaugural winners of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award. The manuscript that received these cool distinctions was my second, and since then I’ve gone on to write several more, and have quite a few other ideas for new books!


Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.

The New Visions Award is open for submissions through October 31, 2016! Please see the full submissions guidelines here.

If you’d like more news regarding the New Visions Award, author interviews, and more, sign up for our newsletter here.

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13. Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Reflection with Matthew Gollub

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_Guest BloggerLast week we wrote about the enduring impact of Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa and today we bring you reflections from the award-winning author Matthew Gollub

“Looking back on this book’s remarkable journey, I remember my frustration with publishers early on. My previous publisher had declared as “lovely” the poems that the artist Kazuko Stone and I had presented. But, they believed, haiku were too abstract for most American children to grasp. This made us all the more grateful to Lee & Low, and the editor Liz Szabla, for sharing our intuition that the translated poems would in fact resonate, especially when interspersed in a story about the poet’s life.

Now, having spoken at over 1,000 schools, I’ve been greeted with countless wall displays and “welcome” folders of haiku. It is an honor to have worked on a book that has inspired such an outpouring of original children’s poetry and drawings.

Last summer, while traveling in Japan, I had the further honor of meeting the noted translator Akiko Waki. She had translated, then lobbied her publisher Iwanami Shoten, to issue a Japanese edition of “Cool Melons.” Ms. Waki and her husband graciously invited my college-age son and me to their home. The Japanese version also had been well-received and widely collected by libraries, so it felt even more celebratory to meet the translator in person. Over dinner, she described how daunting it would have been for a Japanese writer to translate centuries old haiku. That, she pointed out, was a job better suited to a Japanese speaking foreigner less encumbered by the weight of Japan’s literary tradition. Better suited also to an innovative publisher like Lee & Low!”–Matthew Gollub

About Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa:

This award-winning book is an introduction to haiku poetry and the life of Issa (b. 1763), Japan’s premier haiku poet, told through narrative, art, and translation of Issa’s most beloved poems for children.

Author Matthew Gollub’s poignant rendering of Issa’s life and over thirty of his best-loved poems, along with illustrator Kazuko Stone’s sensitive and humorous watercolor paintings, make Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! a classic introduction to Issa’s work for readers of all ages. With authentic Japanese calligraphy, a detailed Afterword, and exhaustive research by both author and illustrator, this is also an inspirational book about haiku, writing, nature, and life.

cool melonsFor further reading:


Matthew Gollub is an award-winning children’s author who combines dynamic storytelling, interactive drumming, and valuable reading and writing tips. What’s more, he does this while speaking four languages: English, Spanish, Japanese and jazz! He helps families re-discover the joy of reading to children aloud for FUN. Find him online at matthewgollub.com.

 

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14. Bridging Stories and Communities: The Harlem Book Fair

summer internPia Ceres is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is a recipient of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program grant. She’s a rising senior at Brown University, where she studies Education & Comparative Literature, with a focus in French literature. When she’s not reading, you can find her watching classic horror movies from under a blanket, strumming pop songs on her ukulele, and listening to her grandparents’ stories about the Philippines. In this blog post, she talks about her first book fair with LEE & LOW BOOKS.

By morning, a sticky summer swelter had set in, but the anticipation was unmistakable, electric in the air. They would be coming soon. Across two blocks, along 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, booksellers, authors, and representatives from nonprofits fussed with tents and paraphernalia. Somewhere I couldn’t see, a live jazz band began to practice; its strident trumpet blared the beginning of a celebration. In moments, the hot asphalt would be teeming with families and lovers of literature from around the country gathering for the Harlem Book Fair.

The Harlem Book Fair is the largest African-American book fair in the country. With the aim of celebrating literacy within the Black community, the fair, held annually, offers a full day of presentations and rows of exhibition booths. Although it kicked off its 18th successful year last Saturday, this was my very first time participating in a book fair. Helping Keilin and Jalissa represent LEE & LOW and sell some of our books, I was open to every possibility.

The challenge came early on: Someone asked me to find a book for her niece, then added, “She hates reading.” Yikes. Sounds like a tall order, but not surprising. Most of the educators and families who stopped by our booth were concerned that their kids didn’t see themselves in the books assigned at school. It reminded me of when I was a kid and had to read about primarily white boys and the wilderness or dogs or something. For this woman, I suggested The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen. Maybe, I hoped, this would be the book that would start to change things.

At a book fair, one sees firsthand that books, particularly children’s books, are a meaningful part of relationships – an aunt wishing her niece a story that reflects her. I spoke with a dad who wanted an exciting bedtime story; a soon-to-be teacher, eager to fill her first classroom with books as diverse as her students; a mom who wanted to share her native language, and her young daughter who wanted to read it. As I listened to people’s requests, the book fair revealed a striking truth: For a lot of folks, books are expressions of love.harlem book fair

Of course, the day ended with a sudden and cinematic downpour, with jabs of wind that caused our white tent to take to the air like a storm-battered sail and had Keilin, Jalissa, and I drenched, scrambling to protect the books! Because if any day reminded us that books are precious, it was this one.

If books bridge worlds, then book fairs are a space for bridging those connections. The Harlem Book Fair allows diverse stories to come into people’s hands and helps create a world-full of readers – reflected, interconnected, loving and loved.

 

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15. Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Under the Lemon Moon

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.

Featured title: Under the Lemon MoonUnder Lemon

Author: Edith Hope Fine

Illustrator: René King Moreno

Synopsis: One night, Rosalinda is awakened by a noise in the garden. When she and her pet hen, Blanca, investigate, they see a man leaving with a large sack-full of fruit from Rosalinda’s beloved lemon tree.

After consulting with family and neighbors about how to save her sick tree, Rosalinda sets out in search of La Anciana, the Old One, the only person who might have a solution to Rosalinda’s predicament. When she finally meets La Anciana, the old woman offers an inventive way for Rosalinda to help her tree–and the Night Man who was driven to steal her lemons.

Awards and Honors:

  • Honor Book Award, Society of School Librarians International
  • Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian Magazine
  • Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, National Council for the Social Studies/ Children’s Book Council
  • The 50 Best Children’s Books, Parents Magazine
  • Parent’s Choice Silver Award, Parent’s Choice Foundation
  • Children’s Books Mean Business, Children’s Book Council (CBP)

From the author:

“I can’t help grinning when I look back on my years of Under the Lemon Moon school visits. This book came about from a San Diego news story about a lemon grove that had been vandalized—lemons were taken, trees damaged—a little lemon seed of an idea.

Young readers gasp when I tell them I worked and reworked 42 versions before sending out the manuscript. They brawk like Blanca the chicken, make butterflies with their hands, and echo “Gracias” on cue. They hear, then say, the key opening line, “Deep in the night Rosalinda heard noises,” moving their hands to catch the rhythm of the words. They get their first taste of magical realism as La Anciana helps Rosalinda heal her damaged lemon tree and gain a sense of empathy when learning more about the Night Man.

I’ve now written eighteen books (including Armando and the Blue Tarp School and Snapshots! with Lee & Low) but Lemon Moon, with René King Moreno’s warm illustrations, was my first picture book and has garnered numerous awards. Thanks to my critique group’s patient support, plus Lee & Low’s Spanish translation and attention to back list, Lemon Moon still sells well today. With its subtle theme of sharing and forgiveness, this book still holds a special place in my heart.” –Edith Hope Fine

Resources for teaching with Under the Lemon Moon:

Book activities:

Olfactory FactoryUNDER_THE_LEMON_MOON_spread_3
Lemons have a special scent. Scents can trigger memories from long ago. Choose objects with distinct smells, such as a lemon drop, a flower, a crayon, a Band-aid, a piece of pine, cinnamon, peanut butter on a cracker, etc. Put each object into a separate plastic bag. Choose one bag, without peeking. Now open the bag and waft the scent toward your nose with your hand. (That’s the safe way to pick up scents in the air-you’ll do that in science in high school.) That scent may bring back a strong memory. Write about what you remember.

Bake Lemon Moon Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons “zest” (grated lemon peel; add more if you love the lemony zing)
  • 1 capful lemon extract

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar.
Add milk, egg, baking powder, salt, and flour. Mix well.
Add lemon juice and zest. Mix well.
Drop by teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet, two inches apart.
Bake 10-15 minutes until the cookies are just turning golden.

Under the Lemon Moon is also available in Spanish: Bajo la luna de limón

Have you used Under the Lemon Moon? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection

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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16. Part 2–Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It Is

Guest BloggerEarlier this month, we highlighted the impressive work happening in the classroom of Jessica Lifshitz, veteran educator in Northbrook, Illinois. Following her popular essay on how Jessica empowered her fifth grade students to analyze their classroom library for its culturally responsiveness and relevancy, she shares in this interview with LEE & LOW BOOKS why she wanted to take on this project with her students, where families and administrators fit into this process, and her hopes for her students.

LEE & LOW: What inspired you to have your students analyze your classroom library?

After the events surrounding the shooting and death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I felt compelled to find a way to bring more discussions on race into my classroom. I teach in a suburb of Chicago, where the vast majority of my students are white. There were little or no conversations about race at all taking place. I knew that if things were going to ever have a hope of getting better in this country, my mostly white students HAD to be a part of the solution. They had to recognize the bias that exists in this country and then find a way to fight against it. But that is really hard to do when the concept of race is not one that my students have had much, if any, experience dealing with. So, like with most problems, the first place that I looked to try and find a solution was with the very books that make up a huge part of the work that my students and I do together.

We began by doing a small experiment (explained here) where we looked only at the images on the covers of picture books and made predictions on what those books would be about. Based on our results, we realized that we made MANY predictions because of the race and gender of the people shown on the covers of those books. After a powerful discussion with my students, they crafted the following inquiry question: Where do the biases and stereotypes we carry around related to gender, race, family structure, religion, etc. come from?

We then set out to try and answer that question. This eventually led us to think about the picture books in our classroom and that led us to the work of analyzing our books to look at how they represented or misrepresented different groups of people.

So the short answer really is that this work was inspired by students and the conditions of the world that they are living in.

LEE & LOW: Why do this at all? This project is not a part of the curriculum or scope & sequence for fifth grade—why did you think this was important enough to use instructional time?

As teachers, we have an incredible opportunity to truly make the world a better place. Not to sit and wait for others to fix the problems, but to ask our students to join us in the powerful work of actually starting to make the world a better.

I think that a lot of times we waste this amazing opportunity because we feel limited by standards and objectives and curriculum. But what I have found is that if I begin with what work I want my students to be engaged in and then work backwards to connect that work to the standards, I am then able to do the work that I feel is most important AND meet the standards and objectives that I am asked to teach.

For example, the work that we did here was a part of our unit on synthesizing. We looked at how we could pull pieces of information together in order to gain a better, more complete understanding. So we took the issue of stereotypes and biases and that is what we worked to understand. We looked at advertisements, fairy tales, modern day picture books and novels. We pulled all of these pieces of information together to grow our understanding of how biases form. This allowed us to cover many standards and learning targets.

But more importantly, the kids were learning about their world. They were studying the problems that surround them and thinking of ways to begin to solve those problems. That is learning that will last. That is learning that will make a difference. So if I am able to help them to do that kind of work AND I am able to cover the skills I need to teach in the process, then everyone wins and the world gets better.

BiasesLEE & LOW: What foundation, classroom work, or background context do you think was imperative before leading your students through this project?

I think that one of the most important pieces of work that allowed this project to happen was that, from day one, we had worked to create a culture of trust in our classroom. We practiced making ourselves vulnerable and we practiced listening to the ideas of others without passing judgments on people. These things were absolutely necessary for our work to take place because part of our work involved sharing things about our own thinking that we weren’t necessarily proud of. No one likes to admit that they carry biases, and yet we all do. Ignoring that doesn’t help anything. Confronting that and working to dismantle those biases is what leads to real change. But that takes a lot of trust. So from the start of the school year we talked about big issues.

We began with during our unit on memoirs and on making connections to the texts that we read. These units became a chance to study the power of a person’s story. We learned the power of sharing our own stories and the power of learning from the stories of others. This work allowed my students to open up to each other about their own lives and also allowed us to practicing listening to people whose lives are very different than our own in order to learn more about them and build empathy. These were skills we needed for this project as well.

When we started to look at biases and stereotypes, we began first with gender before tackling race. We began by looking at catalogues like Pottery Barn to notice the differences in what was marketed towards girls and what was marketed towards boys. We did work that helped us to distinguish the actual things we observed from the more hidden messages that this sent. We started with gender because I think it is easier for kids to grapple with. It is more concrete. While my students had almost no experience discussing issues of race, they did have some experience discussing issues of gender. So we started with where they were and then moved on from there. That was really important because I think that if I had just thrown them in to the discussions of how races were misrepresented in the books in our classroom library, they would not have been ready. The work we did with issues of gender helped us to better understand the work we later did with issues of race.

LEE & LOW: For teachers interested in leading their students through similar thinking and analysis, what would you recommend they prepare either for themselves or their students?

I hope that others want to take on similar work and I know that so many already have. The beauty of this kind of work is that is uses materials that are already present in your classroom. We have books and we can all look more closely at those books.

One thing that I would recommend is a whole lot of communication before beginning. I had several conversations with my principal about the work we were taking on. It was never to ask permission to do the work, but instead to just let him know and make sure I had his support in case of any push back from parents. Issues of race often spark fears and concerns with parents and having administrator support makes all of that much easier. On that note, keeping parents informed of the work was also really important for me. I wanted to make sure that parents knew what we were doing so that the conversations we were having could be continued at home. I also made sure to let parents know how our work was connected to our curriculum and our standards and learning targets. Therefore, when questions were asked, I was able to refer back to the information that I had already shared. This was extremely helpful.

Other than communication, I would also just encourage teachers to not say too much. Instead, allow the students observations to drive the conversation. We began by looking at the infographic and then jumped pretty quickly into the data collection in our own classroom library. I have a terrible habit of telling my students all of the things that I want them to discover on their own. I have really had to work to stop myself from doing that because taking away that power from my students takes the learning right out of their hands. So I wouldn’t recommend preparing too much and allowing the students to really guide this work.

LEE & LOW: Is this only valuable for classrooms with a majority of students of color? What can classrooms of various demographic configurations take away from this project?

As I mentioned before, my students are mostly white. Because of that, this work is especially important for them. So often, our white students do not ever think about race. That is part of the privilege they are living with. But that makes it really easy for them to ignore what others have to deal with precisely because of their race. I believe that my students MUST be a part of a solution to the many problems connected to race in this country. But they cannot be a part of that solution if they are not even able to recognize that the problems exist.

For Further Reading:


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Jessica Lifshitz is a fifth grade teacher in Northbrook, Illinois and has been teaching for 13 years.  She believes in teaching her students that reading and writing can make the world a better place and is honored to learn from her students and to be inspired by them every day.  She writes about teaching and learning at crawlingoutoftheclassroom.wordpress.com.

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17. Meet the Newest Cute Animal of 2016!

Red pandas? Done. Quokkas? Yawn. Pikas? Boooring. Here are six reasons why you need to know about the olinguito.

olinguito1
Smithsonian / Via insider.si.edu

1. The discovery of the olinguito was only just announced in 2013, meaning this cutie is ready to take over the internet!

olinguito2
Smithsonian / Via insider.si.edu

2. It looks like a cross between a cat and a teddy bear. ‘Nuff said.

olinguito3
CNN / Via cnn.com

3. It is an adept jumper that can leap from tree to tree in the forest canopy. Skillzzz!

olinguito4
Smithsonian Magazine / Via smithsonianmag.com

4. Scientists hope that the olinguito might serve as a charismatic ambassador for the conservation of dwindling Andean cloud forest habitats. How can anyone say no to that face?

olinguito5
Apex Expeditions / Via apex-expeditions.com

5. As Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, says, “The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed. If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”

olinguito cover image
LEE & LOW BOOKS, illus. by Lulu Delacre / Via leeandlow.com

6. Learn even more about the olinguito and its habitat in ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Descubriendo el bosque nublado /Olinguito, from A to Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest, a new bilingual alphabet book from LEE & LOW BOOKS.

Award-winning author and illustrator Lulu Delacre uses lyrical text in both Spanish and English to take readers to the magical world of a cloud forest in the Andes of Ecuador. Discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there, and of course help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito!

Purchase a copy of the book here.

You can also see this post on Buzzfeed.

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18. Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.

 

Featured title: Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Author: Matthew Gollub

Illustrator: Kazuko G. Stone

Synopsis: This award-winning book is an introduction to haiku poetry and the life of Issa (b. 1763), Japan’s premier haiku poet, told through narrative, art, and translation of Issa’s most beloved poems for children.

Author Matthew Gollub’s poignant rendering of Issa’s life and over thirty of his best-loved poems, along with illustrator Kazuko Stone’s sensitive and humorous watercolor paintings, make Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! a classic introduction to Issa’s work for readers of all ages. With authentic Japanese calligraphy, a detailed Afterword, and exhaustive research by both author and illustrator, this is also an inspirational book about haiku, writing, nature, and life.

Awards and honors:

  • Notable Books for a Global Society, International Literacy Association (ILA)
  • Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  • Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies, Children’s Book Council (CBC) and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
  • Children’s Books Mean Business, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Not Just for Children Anymore selection, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Outstanding Merit, Children’s Book of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • Books to Read Aloud with Children of All Ages, Bank Street College of Education
  • “Editor’s Choice,” San Francisco Chronicle
  • Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award finalist
  • Children’s and Young Adult Honorable Mention for Illustration, Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APAAL)
  • “Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • ALA Notable Children’s Book, American Library Association (ALA)
  • A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year, The Horn Book Magazine
  • California Collections, California Readers
  • Utah Children’s Book Award Masterlist
  • Children’s Book of Distinction, Poetry Finalist, Riverbank Review
  • Read-Alouds Too Good to Miss, Indiana Department of Education
  • Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
  • Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine

From the author: “A haiku, because of its brevity, resembles a quick line sketch. It’s up to the reader to imagine the details and to make the picture complete. In a sense, we can think of a haiku as a telegraph; for example: “Should arrive Tuesday, supper time.” From this short message, we can infer that, weather permitting, the sender will arrive early on Tuesday evening, and that after the long, tiresome journey she would appreciate a good meal.

Often, haiku describe two events side by side, such as: “Plum tree in bloom—/ a cat’s silhouette/ upon the paper screen.” Does the silhouette of the plum tree also appear on the paper screen? Does the plum tree in bloom suggest the warmth of a spring day? Again, it’s up to the reader to imagine how or if the two things are related.

Haiku tend to be simple and understated, so there’s never one “correct” way to interpret them. The idea is to ponder each poem’s imagery and to discover and enjoy how the poem makes you feel.”

–Matthew Gollub, from “What is a Haiku?

Resources for teaching with Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa:

Book activity:

Expand students’ experience with haiku by having them read and discuss works by other seventeenth century and eighteenth century poets such as Basho, Jöso, Ryota, Buson, or Sanpu. Students may also enjoy reading more contemporary haiku and comparing the contemporary poetry with the more traditional.

cool melonsHow have you used Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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19. No More “Illegal Aliens”

guest blogger iconFrom the US presidential candidates to the current situation in Europe, immigration is a hot topic. In our last blog post, we looked at the battle that’s currently going on in the Library of Congress over the term “illegal alien.” Many activists argue that the term is outdated, yet the Library of Congress chose to let it stand. In this guest post, Children’s Book Press author René Colato Laínez talks about his own experiences coming to the US from El Salvador and the label “illegal alien.”

At the 2016 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, librarians passed a resolution urging the Library of Congress to change the subject heading from “Illegal Aliens” to “Undocumented Immigrants.” As the author of the new picture book, Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre, I totally agree. Undocumented Immigrants is a better subject to describe the people who arrived from other countries to live and work in the United States. They are undocumented because they don’t have the right papers to come to this country via an airport or through a border checkpoint entrance. They are also immigrants because they were born in another country. So the term Undocumented Immigrant fits the status of this group of people.

mama the alienThe term “Illegal Aliens” definitely is confusing to many, just like it was to me. Yes, I was an Undocumented Immigrant, and when I arrived in this country, I was called an “Illegal Alien.”

Since I was a small child in my native country of El Salvador, I was taught by my family and teachers that I needed to be a good boy. Especially during that time! There was a civil war in my country. Teachers and priests had been killed and many people would disappear from one day to the next. It was a scary time to grow up, and I always tried to be a good boy.

One afternoon, my fifth grade teacher said, “Soon, you will be teenagers and you have to know that ‘illegal acts’ only take people to jail or the cemetery. You need to do only ‘legal things’ in order to be safe.” Then he asked the class to make a list of “illegal acts” and to write a promise that we would be good citizens to have a better society. In my list I included among other things that using drugs, stealing, and not following the rules were illegal acts. Then I proudly promised never to do anything illegal.

As a result of the civil war in the 1980’s, many Salvadoran families left the country looking for a better life and opportunities. My family was not the exception. My mother left the country at the beginning of the war. In 1985 it was my turn to come the United States.

Soon after I arrived, some children in my new school called all the children who only spoke Spanish “illegals.” I did not understand why they were calling us “illegals.” I asked my father and he explained to me that they called us that because we did not have the right papers to come in an airplane or through the bridge in Tijuana.

I began to understand the term, but it did not make sense to me. In my country only people who had money were able to get papers to come to the United States. Poor people like my family did not have the privilege to get these documents. I did not understand why it was illegal to escape a civil war to look for a better life and opportunities in a country that was safe from war.

As I learned English, I remember our social studies teacher asked us to read the newspapers to write class reports. It was there when I first encountered the term “Illegal Aliens.” I kept reading the article and discovered that people who arrived to this country without the right papers were not only illegals, but were aliens too.

mama the alien
illustration from Mamá the Alien

Every night, after I saw the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, I remember looking at the stars wondering if there was life on another planet. It was the 1980’s and, like everyone, I loved that little alien who wanted to go home. When I saw the stars, I wondered if there were aliens like E.T. and how it would feel to be lost on another planet.

Imagine my surprise to learn that I was also an “alien” and that “aliens” were not only from outer space, but from other countries, too. The word “alien” could have more than one meaning—it was also a synonym for foreigner. But when I looked at both words, even though foreigner was a longer word and harder to pronounce in English, it sounded much better to me than alien. I touched my hands and looked at my face in the mirror. Yes, I spoke another language but I had a face, arms and body just like the other children at school. I did not look like a strange creature from out of space. But being an alien implied that I could not be like other “normal” persons, because I was so different from them.

Years later, thanks to the Amnesty Program in 1989, my family had the opportunity to obtain the right papers to live and work in the United States. When I got my pink resident card, I read the blue words at the top of the card: “RESIDENT ALIEN.” “Wow,” I said to myself, “I am now a resident, but I am still an alien!”

I became a teacher and I was assigned to a bilingual kindergarten/first grade classroom. All of my students spoke Spanish. Many of them were born in the United States and others were like me, from other countries. My goal as a teacher was to teach them to read and write, but also to teach them to be smart children who are proud to be bilingual. In the country where I grew up— and almost everywhere around the world!—speaking other languages and being bilingual is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, it is a wonderful achievement.

juan felipe herrera collectionI began to read bilingual books to my students, especially Friends from the Other side/ Amigos del otro lado by Gloria Anzaldua, The Upside Down Boy/ El niño de cabeza and Super Cilantro Girl/ La Super niña del cilantro by Juan Felipe Herrera, My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aquí hasta allá by Amada Irma Pérez, A Movie in My Pillow by Jorge Argueta and the poetry collection such us Laughing Tomatoes: And Other Spring Poems / Jitomates Risueños: Y Otros Poemas de Primavera by Francisco X Alarcón. My students loved these books because they were able to see their faces, lives, language and culture in the pages of these books. I began to write stories myself and my students began calling me, “The Teacher Full of Stories.” At the turn of the new century, I decided to follow the advice of children’s book authors like Alma Flor Ada, F. Isabel Campoy and Amada Irma Pérez who suggested that it was time to submit my work for publication. Since the first moment that I typed the words of my first book, Waiting for Papá/ Esperando a Papá, I knew I wanted to write books about children of color. My first book was published in 2004 by Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press.

 My goal as a children’s books author is to produce strong multicultural children’s literature; stories where minority children are portrayed in a positive way, where they see themselves as heroes, and where they dream and hope for the future. I wanted to write authentic stories of Latin American children living in the United States.

These were the books that I had wanted to read when children called me “Illegal” at school.

from north to southSoon, I was receiving emails and letters from parents, librarians, and teachers on how my first book was helping them in homes, libraries and the classrooms. Next I wrote about the importance of being bilingual in Playing Lotería/ El juego de la Lotería. In From North to South/ Del norte al sur, José and his father need to go south to cross the Mexican/ US border to be reunited with his deported mamá in Tijuana. I also write about the importance of living in two cultures and speaking two languages in books such as The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, Juguemos al Fútbol and Football/ Let’s Play Fútbol and Football and in my two sing-along books, Señor Pancho Had a Rancho and ¡Vámonos! Let’s Go!.

In 2016, my newest picture book Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre will be published by Lee & Low Books. In the story, Sofía discovers a Big Secret. She finds a card that belongs to her mother. It has mamá’s picture and the word alien on top of the card. Sofía cannot believe it. Her mother is an alien.

Sofía feels just like me when I discovered that I was also an alien. I am excited that Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre will soon be in the hands of parents, teachers, librarians and children. In this book readers will find out in a humoristic way that we are all children of planet earth. There are no aliens among our families. We can be from different countries but are all human beings.

Come meet René Colato Laínez at ALA this year. He will be signing with LEE & LOW (Booth #1469), as well as participating in a REFORMA panel on bilingual books. You can see our full ALA schedule here

About René Colato Laínez

rene colato lainezKnown as “the teacher full of stories,” René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran author of more than a dozen picture books including ¡Vámonos! Let’s Go! (illustrated by Joe Cepeda, Holiday House), Señor Pancho Had a Rancho (illustrated by Elwood Smith, Holiday House), and The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Pérez, (illustrated by Tom Lintern, Random House). His new picture book, Mamá the Alien/ Mamá la extraterrestre (illustrated by Laura Lacamara) will be available this summer.

In 2015, René was awarded the Premios Actitud El Salvador Award. He has received many awards and honors including International Latino Book Award, The Américas Award Commended Title, International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award, and Tejas Star Book Award List.

René is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults and a faculty member of Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Group. He is a bilingual elementary teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School, one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s most innovative schools. He is also a columnist for LA BLOGA, the Latino literature blog and LOS BLOGUITOS the blog for children learning to speak Spanish. He has appeared on Univision and Telemundo, and is a regular participant at conferences and book festivals in the United States and Latin America.

Visit him on the web http://www.renecolatolainez.com, or follow him on twitter @renecolato

More reading

Diversity 102: The Library of Congress Battle Over “Illegal Alien” 

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20. 25 Books from 25 Years: Sam and the Lucky Money

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Today, we’re celebrating one of our most popular and bestselling titles: Sam and the Lucky Money. We love this book because it accomplishes so many things at once: it teaches about kindness, generosity, and gratitude; it lets readers experience Chinese New Year in New York’s Chinatown; and it teaches readers about special Chinese New Year traditions.

Featured title: Sam and the Lucky Money

Author: Karen Chinn

Sam and the Lucky Money

Illustrators: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu

Synopsis: Sam is excited to spend the Lucky Money his grandparents gave him for Chinese New Year during a trip to Chinatown, but learns that sometimes it is better to give than to receive.

Awards and honors:

  • Notable Books for a Global Society, International Literacy Association
  • Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • Marion Vannett Ridgeway Award Honoree
  • Pick of the List, American Bookseller’s Association
  • Story Pick, Storytime PBS

Other Editions: Did you know that Sam and the Lucky Money also comes in a Spanish and a Chinese edition?

Sam y el dinero de la suerte

Sam y el dinero de la suerte

Sam and the Lucky Money Chinese edition

Sam and the Lucky Money Chinese Edition

Purchase a copy of Sam and the Lucky Money here.

Resources for teaching with Sam and the Lucky Money:

Other Recommended Picture Books for Teaching About Generosity and Giving:

The Can Man

The Can Man by Laura E. Williams, illus. by Craig Orback

Lend a Hand

Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving by John Frank, illus. by London Ladd

Have you used Sam and the Lucky Money? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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21. 25 Books From 25 Years: Confetti: Poems For Children

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Today, we’re celebrating one of our favorite poetry titles: Confetti: Poems for Children. This book celebrates the vivid Southwestern landscape of the United States through poems about the natural world. Featuring words from award-winning author Pat Mora and fine artist Enrique O. Sanchez, Confetti is an anthem to the power of a child’s imagination and pride.

confettiFeatured title: Confetti: Poems for Children

Author: Pat Mora

Illustrator:Enrique O. Sanchez

Synopsis: In this joyful and spirited collection, award-winning poet Pat Mora and fine artist Enrique O. Sanchez celebrate the vivid landscape of the Southwest and the delightful rapport that children share with the natural world.

Awards and honors:

  • Children’s Books Mean Business, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)

Other Editions: Did you know that Confetti: Poems for Children also comes in a Spanish edition?

Confeti: Poemas para niños

 

 

 

 

 

Confeti: Poemas para niños

Purchase a copy of Confetti: Poems for Children here.

Resources for teaching with Confetti: Poems for Children:

Other Recommended Picture Books for Teaching About Poetry:

water rolls water rises

 

 

 

 

 

Water Rolls, Water Rises/El agua rueda, el agua subeby Pat Mora, illus. by Meilo So

Lend a Hand

Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving by John Frank, illus. by London Ladd

the palm of my heart

 

 

 

 

 

The Palm of My Heart: Poetry by African American Children, by Davida Adedjoua, illus. by R. Gregory Christie

in daddy's arms i am tall

 

 

 

 

In Daddy’s Arms I Am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, by various poets, illus. by Javaka Steptoe

Have you used Confetti: Poems for Children? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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22. Interview: 2013 New Voices Award Winner Sylvia Liu

A Morning with Grandpa cover

May 2016 signified the opening of Lee & Low Book’s seventeenth annual New Voices Award contest! To kick off the season, we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her writing process and how she prepared her winning story, A Morning with Grandpa, for the New Voices Award. Learn more  about our New Voices Award here.

What inspired you to write A Morning with Grandpa? Did you write it specifically for New Voices, or was it something you were working on already?

I was inspired by my dad, who was doing qi gong (a mind-body practice involving moving “qi,” or energy, around one’s body through breathing techniques), while we were vacationing together. He taught my daughters his breathing techniques, and that inspired the story of a grandfather teaching his granddaughter both qi gong and tai chi.

I wrote the draft as part of a year-long challenge, 12×12, where the goal is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. After I wrote this story, I realized it was a great fit for the New Voices contest.

What did you do to prepare your manuscript for submitting to the New Voices Award?

My critique group gave me excellent feedback that improved my story. I also got invaluable feedback from an agent as part of a critique that came with a Writer’s Digest course.

While writing your story did you encounter writer’s block? What did you do to overcome it?

This was one of the few stories I’ve written where I didn’t experience writer’s block. The initial story came to me very quickly, though it was different than the final form. The first draft was told mainly in dialogue, and one of my critique mates encouraged me to incorporate more lyrical language.

A Morning with Grandpa interior spread

 

A Morning with Grandpa is a story about trying new things. When was a time you tried something new and how did it turn out?

About seven years ago, some friends and I took a women’s surf camp. It was so much fun that we kept going back for several years. At some point, I realized that surfing was not my sport, but my friends and I still occasionally get our boards and go out into the water. Last summer, our beach had several shark sightings so I stayed out of the water for the most part.

Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Are there any books or writers that inspire you now?

Growing up, I loved reading science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers. My favorite series as a child was Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three series. In my teens, I inhaled the entire oeuvres of Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Stephen King.

Nowadays, I’m inspired by author-illustrators who tell stories in intriguing and beautiful ways, like Shaun Tan and Gene Luen Yang.

Finally, what advice would you give new writers interested in writing children’s books?

Read as much as you can, both in and outside the genre you are writing in, and read recently published books. As the head of my daughters’ school recently said, good readers make good writers; great readers make great writers. And knowing what is being published today will help you gauge where you are on your writing journey.

Take the time to learn the craft of writing, connect with other authors, and have fun.

 

Sylvia LiuSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the US Department of Justice and the nonprofit group Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book.

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23. Part 1–Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It Is

Guest BloggerWe at LEE & LOW BOOKS are excited and honored to share the impressive work happening in the classroom of Jessica Lifshitz, veteran educator in Northbrook, Illinois. In an excerpt of her essay, Jessica describes how she empowers her fifth grade students to analyze their classroom library for its culturally responsiveness and relevancy. She provides students with background information, including LEE & LOW BOOKS’ visualization of the lack of diversity in children’s books. Originally posted at Jessica’s blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom, this excerpt is reposted with permission.

Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It IsI truly believe that books, of all kind, play a large role in shaping how our students see the world. So often, children have little choice in what kinds of books surround them. Even in classrooms and schools where children are free to choose to read whatever books they want, they are still often limited by the choice of books that we adults have placed around them. And too often, we adults do not think carefully enough about what books, with what images of race and gender and family structure, we are surrounding our children with.

So that is where I wanted to look. At the books I was choosing to put into my classroom library. I wanted my students to join me in looking more closely at the books that I had in my classroom and how they represented and misrepresented the world they are living in.

So we began with an infographic. In fact, the majority of my students had no idea what an infographic was. So first. We had to learn. This was a good reminder to me to use these rich conveyers of information more often through the year. Anyway, we began by looking at THIS infographic, which shares the disturbing statistics on diversity in children’s literature. This, alone, led to incredible discussion about so many things.

We began with a discussion of the term, “people of color.” So many of my almost all-white students had never heard this term before and it took a while for them to grasp its meaning. We then had a discussion on the difference between white writers writing about people of color and writers of color writing about people of color. Then we entered into a discussion of how it might be harder for writers of color to get their books published in the competitive world of children’s publishing. And finally we ended up at a discussion of our own reading preferences and how sometimes we are tempted to read books that discuss lives similar to our own and how much more rewarding it can be to push ourselves to read books that teach us about the lives of others whose lives are different than our own.

All from one infographic.

The children were so eager for the discussion. We actually ended up looking at an entire series of fascinating infographics that show how different kinds of diversity are represented or misrepresented in different areas of society. That series of infographics CAN BE FOUND HERE.

img_0992And then we turned to our own books. I wanted to start in my own classroom. I have shared openly with my students that all of this work, on race and on gender, it is work for me too. I know that I make mistakes often and I wanted them to see that I, too, need to constantly do better to work past my own biases and stereotypes.

So I gave my students the chance to audit our own classroom library to find out how different genders and races are represented and how we could do better to make sure that different genders and races were more accurately represented by the books in our classroom.

I asked the students to each randomly grab 25 books. And for each book they were to look to see if there were people on the cover. If there were, they were to note if all of the people on the cover were white and if all the people on the cover were boys. They kept track on this simple data collection sheet.

img_0994Now, I recognize that this is FAR from a thorough and scientific analysis of the books in our classroom library. I recognize that just because there is not a person of color on the cover of a book that does not mean the book does not contain a person of color in it. I recognize the flaws. I am shared them with my students. And still, it was something.

Because even more important than our results was the task of looking at the images on the covers of the books that surround us. More important than the numbers that we wrote down, were the discussions we had about why book publishers make the decisions that they make about who goes on the covers of our books. More important than the percentages that we ended up with were the realizations that we all made as we learned to look at the world differently. To see who was represented and, more importantly, to see who was NOT represented. This was the important work that we were doing.

Once the students finished collecting their data, they entered their results into a Google spreadsheet. HERE ARE OUR RESULTS.  

After spending time looking closely at the books in our classroom library and after spending time looking at the numbers we collected, we had a discussion of what they noticed. Here are some charts that we used to capture our observations:

I was kind of blown away, once again, by what my students discovered. I thought I had a diverse library. I really did. In fact, I have worked over the past two years to make sure that I was buying the kinds of books that would help all of my readers to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books in my classroom.  But what I forgot is that the vast majority of my readers are white. They see themselves, in terms of race, in almost every book they pick up.

What they need is something else. They need to be able to see into the lives of others. To use books as windows so that they can gain an understanding of what it means to be a race other than white. They need books to help them grow and become more empathetic citizens of this world. And while I have tried to provide books for them that would do just that, I realized from their work that I have a LONG way to go.

I need to do better. I need to do more.

And showing my students that I can look at where I am and find ways to do better in terms of making this world more equitable and just, that is no small thing.

So together we brainstormed ways that I can work to improve our classroom library. We talked about starting with sports fiction. The students noticed that while the nonfiction sports books were filled with African-American people, the books in my sports fiction bin barely had any characters of color.  The exception was The Crossover, which just goes to show how important it was for that book to win the Newberry last year.

Here we have taken an area of our society that is rather diverse and the books that I have purchased that have fictionalize that area of society have completely sucked all of the diversity right out of it.  So I must do better.

In the same area, we saw how few girls were represented in our sports fiction books. I have so many girls in my classes who don’t just play sports, but whose lives revolve around their favorite sports and still, we could only find one book, The Running Dream, in our sports fiction books that had a female main character. I must do better.

And then, we moved on to my fantasy and science fiction books. This was an area that was also very much lacking in racial diversity. And so I will now be on the lookout for books with characters of color in these two genres. I must do better.

And one of the most powerful observations that a student made was that while he did see books with African-American characters on the cover, he did not see many other races represented. He did not see any Native American characters, Asian American characters or Middle Eastern characters on the covers of the books that he looked at. Again, I must do better.

These suggestions came from my students and I am so proud of the work that they have done. As I shared with my students, I continue to be proud of our classroom library. I am proud of the choices that I have made in the books that I have put into our classroom library AND at the same time, I know now that I can and must do better. I shared with my students how grateful I am for the work that they have done to help me to see this.

After our counting books, we then used the following pages to look more closely inside of our picture books in order to see how races, genders and families were being represented. The kids chose one of these types of diversity to focus on and then pulled a few books to record their observations and evidence.  Here are the sheets that they used for:

Race

Gender Roles for Children

Gender Roles for Adults

Family Structure 

Again, the students had time to discuss their observations and I was blown away by what they were picking up on.

Finally, we headed to our school’s library, to again count books. We collected the same type of data, but this time for our school library. HERE WERE OUR RESULTS. 

We realized that many of the trends that we saw in our classroom library, also existed in our school library. One of the greatest parts of this work was listening to the students talk to our school librarian (who is amazing) about the changes that we were hoping to make to our classroom library. This led to other powerful conversations between the librarian and me and I was so grateful for her input and her support.

This work has been incredible. It has, at times, left me feeling doubtful. Doubtful of myself, of this world we live in, of the way we misrepresent so many of the people who surround us. But ultimately, after watching and listening to my students, I was left hopeful. Hopeful because once my students began to see what was around them in new ways, they couldn’t un-see things anymore. They couldn’t not see. They were running up to me when they came across stereotypes that were perpetuated in their books. They had their parents send me pictures from bookstores when they noticed books that either reinforced or fought against stereotypes in some way. They noticed things on the news, on TV shows, on social media. And I believe that noticing is one big step towards making change.

There were times during this work when I felt like I had to rush through. There were times when I questioned if I really had time to be spending on this work. But the truth is, there is no way that I don’t have the time. This world we live in needs changing and the students that I am teaching must be a part of that change. And so though it feels like there is never enough time to do things that we most believe in, this work has showed me that we must find a way.

I am grateful, yet again, for what my students have taught me. And grateful, even more, for the hope that they give me for this world of ours.


IMG_1316Jessica Lifshitz is a fifth grade teacher in Northbrook, Illinois and has been teaching for 13 years.  She believes in teaching her students that reading and writing can make the world a better place and is honored to learn from her students and to be inspired by them every day.  She writes about teaching and learning at crawlingoutoftheclassroom.wordpress.com.

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24. 25 Books from 25 Years: Richard Wright and the Library Card

Lee & Low 25th AnniversaryLEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Today, we are celebrating Richard Wright and the Library Card, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. This book shares a poignant turning point in the life of a young man who became one of this country’s most brilliant writers, the author of Native Son and Black Boy.

Featured title: Richard Wright and the Library Card

Richard Wright and the Library Card cover imageAuthor: William Miller

Illustrator: Gregory Christie

Synopsis: The true story of the renowned African American author Richard Wright and his determination to borrow books from the public library that turned him away because of the color of his skin.

Awards and Honors:

  • Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
  • Honor Book, Society of School Librarians International

Other Editions: Did you know that Richard Wright and the Library Card also comes in a Spanish edition?

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Purchase a copy of Richard Wright and the Library Card here.

Resources for teaching with Richard Wright and the Library Card:

Richard Wright and the Library Card Teacher’s Guide

Learn more about Richard Wright:

Additional LEE & LOW titles by William Miller:

Have you used Richard Wright and the Library Card? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

 

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25. Shaping Voice and Tackling Heavy Themes in Children’s Stories

New Voices Award sealSummer is settling in and this month marks the halfway point of the submissions window for our New Voices Award, an annual writing contest for unpublished authors of color. If you’re an aspiring writer working to submit a children’s book manuscript, you’ve probably got the basic elements of your story (characters, setting, and plot) figured out already. You may even have most of the story written down. If so, kudos! But a story is more than words on a page. It’s the voice behind the words that drives the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

Unsure of how to tackle this essential yet elusive story element? Fear not!

Last month we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her path to publication. In this next blog post, New Voices Award Winner Patricia Smith and New Voices Award Honor Hayan Charara share their experiences with shaping voice while tackling the difficult themes in their award-winning titles Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys.

  1. What kind of writing did you do before entering the New Voices Award and how did that experience influence your story writing?

Patricia Smith: I’d been a professional journalist, but my primary mode of writing at the time was poetry. I think I became a poet after taking on some of my father’s storytelling skills. When he came up from Arkansas to Chicago during the Great Migration, he brought with him something I like to call “the tradition of the back porch.” Every day ended with a story from him that opened up new worlds, stretched the boundaries of my imagination and taught me that language was so much more than what I was learning, or not learning, in school.

But I don’t think my father’s stories inspired Janna as much as my father himself did. I was that little girl sitting in the barbershop, fascinated at all the magic found there, but it was my father–not my grandfather–who let me tag along with him every Saturday. I was an adult when my father died–and Janna was a way to explore that sense of loss, of the world not being the same. Also, although I’m a diehard sentimental, I never really knew my grandfather. So I wanted to explore that warmth that I imagined between a grandfather and grandchild.

Hayan Charara: I published my first poem when I was nineteen, so it’s been almost twenty-five years since I began writing poetry. Some of my poems tell stories, and all of them use a good deal of imagery to get across both meaning and feeling. Without storytelling and imagery, The Three Lucys simply couldn’t exist.

  1. What inspired you to write your story as a book for children?

    janna and the kings
    from Janna and the Kings

PS: I’m the dictionary definition of a daddy’s girl, so a few things were in play. I needed to express the singular and enduring type of love I felt for him. Although he was gone by the time the book was published, I was writing it for him–he died before he could see that I’d become a writer, which is something I promised him when I was very young. And I really wanted to capture that special time in a special place, the barbershop–a place that has been so pivotal, and so nurturing, in so many black communities.

HC: I first wrote about the events that take place in The Three Lucys a few years earlier in a poem originally titled, “Lucy”. I changed the poem’s title to “Animals,” and it appears in my new poetry book, Something Sinister. Generally speaking, I write poems, in part, to figure something out, either about myself, the people I know, or the world I live in. While I don’t always find an answer, I find that I have a better sense of these things than I did beforehand.

Despite the poem, I still had questions about the war, and most of them had to do with my little brother who lived through its events. Like Luli, he was six years old when the war broke out. I hadn’t yet thought very deeply about how he and other children might have experienced war and its aftermath.

I might not have tackled these questions with a children’s book if not for Naomi Shihab Nye, the poet and children’s book author. For years, Naomi had been urging me to write a children’s book, and for almost all of that time I didn’t feel ready to do so. Then, at a café in San Antonio, she handed me an announcement for the New Voices Award and said, simply, “You need to write a story for children.” This time, I felt ready.

  1. Did the voice for your story come naturally, or did you experiment with different points of view while writing?

 PS: Because I envisioned myself as Janna, and because my father’s voice is so clear in my head, the writing came easily. Actually, I had held on to the New Voices call for some time, moving the notice around and around on my desk. I work best when there’s an anvil swinging over my head, so I didn’t begin writing until I had no choice–a day or so before the deadline. I didn’t panic, because I knew the story so well.

HC: Before The Three Lucys, I had no practice writing children’s stories, and it had been years since I last read one. I went into writing the story very clumsily, not really knowing what I was doing or how it would turn out. Depending on who is asked, that’s either the most natural or unnatural way to write a story.

Though I wrote the story in one sitting, it took several revisions before I started to think of it as finished. All along, the voice remained relatively unchanged; the same goes for the points of view. What did change through each revision were the details and descriptions, the sort that would bring to life the experiences of the people in the story, as well as their deeper emotions.

For example, none of the early drafts brought out in a powerful and memorable way the moment that Luli realizes he will never again see one of the three Lucys. At best, the scene was nothing more than a description. I hadn’t gotten at how Luli felt.

I took months to arrive at an image that expressed the kind of sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one. Luli tells us, “My heart feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree.” Sometimes, we get lucky and an image like that comes quick. Sometimes, it takes a long time, but I still feel lucky when it happens.

  1. Both Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys discuss heavy themes. What challenges did you face when creating the right tone/ voice for your main character as they experience tragedy and cope with its effects? How did you overcome these challenges?
the three lucys
from The Three Lucys

PS: It didn’t feel like a challenge. I feel like I’m forever processing the loss of my father, and a lot of what I hoped the world will be without him is much like what the world turns out to be for Janna. I wanted to acknowledge his loss, but to have my life be full of him. I was writing from the perspective of a child, but the feelings were very much my own–an adult woman still suffering the loss of her best friend.

HC: The hardest part of writing this story was separating myself from it. I had all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and responses to the war itself, to war in general, and to the loss of a loved one. My mother died when I was a young man, for example, and that experience altered me forever.

I knew that I would be coming at this story with a lot of ideas and emotions already in place. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it meant that I was prepared to write the story. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I had to come at this story from a perspective very different from my own. After all, the story is about a child’s experience, not an adult’s, a fact I had to remind myself about often and be reminded about just as often by those who read drafts of the story.

  1. Finally, what advice would you give to new writers interested in tackling heavy themes in their stories for children?

PS: We constantly underestimate children. The world they live in is sporting sharper edges; and each day they adjust, their perspectives deepen, and they grow thicker skin. Children suspect these heavy stories even if we’re not ready to tell them. I think the key is remembering to revel in the myriad possibilities of language, to never downplay the role of imagination, and to always, always look for an unexpected entry point into the story. I don’t mean to sugarcoat–just write the story in a way you’ve never heard it. Your readers will be so enthralled by the way the story unfolds that its content becomes something more than just “that difficult topic.”

HC: When I wrote The Three Lucys, my wife and I didn’t have any children, only cats and dogs. You don’t have to explain anything to a cat or dog—you can, of course, and I think it’s a good thing if we talk to our animals. With cats and dogs, no matter what you say, they always listen. There’s practically no pressure at all to get it right. It’s really hard to screw up.

We’re parents now, to a four-year-old and a five-year-old. And I’ve realized that I am talking to them all the time about heavy themes, mainly because they bring them up. Every so often, one of them will ask me something like, “Will you die before me?” or “Can I live with you forever?” Or, even harder to answer, “What is the universe?”

When my boys ask me these kinds of questions, I feel like every one of them is an opportunity for me to say exactly the wrong thing. Obviously, these are also opportunities for growth and knowledge (for them as much as for me). When I talk to them about anything, not just heavy stuff, I try to do so honestly and in a way that doesn’t terrify or confuse them. I’ve also realized that, no matter how much I try to protect them, difficult and at times ugly realities will still make their way into their lives. This happens to all children, all the time. When it comes to helping children understand and get through difficulties, parents and teachers are usually the first-responders. And writers are often right there with them. We can be, at least. As a parent, I know that I often rely on writers—on children’s books—to help me out, not only with the heavy stuff, but the simple stuff, too. So I hope that more writers will tackle the big issues. It’ll make all our lives a little better.

Janna and the Kings by Patricia Smith is available now!

janna and the kings

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara will be available September 2016!

the three lucys

For more details about the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

 

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