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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. Selection Is Privilege

AmyAmy Koester is the Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie Public Library, where she 13089CT01.tifselects fiction for youth birth through teens and oversees programming aimed at children through grade 5. She is the chair of the ALSC Public Awareness Committee, and she manages LittleeLit.com and is a Joint Chief of the Storytime Underground. Amy has shared her library programs, book reviews, and musings on librarianship on her blog The Show Me Librarian since early 2012.

This post originally appeared on her blog The Show Me Librarian, and is cross-posted with her permission.

There is a conversation happening on the Storytime Underground Facebook Group right now. It’s been going on for a few days, actually, and it seems to have started innocuously enough: with a question about folks’ thoughts on the Youth Media Award winners, asked by a person who expressed “major shock” and disappointment (via frown-y face emoticons) about one of the Caldecott honors. As I said; innocuously enough.

Some folks who added to the thread brought up the perennial gripe that not all the recognized titles seem to have much kid appeal; other voices jumped in to clarify that kid appeal is not part of the criteria for any of the major YMAs awarded by ALSC and YALSA. I find this argument annoying the same way I do a mosquito bite, because it pops up every year around the same time and is irritating but will disappear in a week. After all, there are awards that take kid appeal into account.

But. Then something ugly and uncomfortable popped up. People started talking about certain books not appealing to kids or their entire communities for one reason: because said certain books have diverse protagonists.

Things people have said*:

  • “Sometimes I pass on even well reviewed books because I know they just won’t circulate. There aren’t any Greek gods in it! I also have a difficult time getting uh, diverse books to circulate in my community. When I started my job and weeded the picture books a huge number of non circulating titles had POC on the cover. ‘Brown Girl Dreaming?’ That’s a hard sell.”
  • “You can have my copy then. Because it won’t circulate where I am.”
  • “I just know it’s going to be a hard sell.”
  • “We have a copy, but I can count the number of black patrons my library has in two weeks on one hand. It is rural, middle class, white West Michigan. The only black author that circulates…at all…is Christopher Paul Curtis and that’s because some teachers require it. It’s not just the race of the characters either. If our young patrons want sports fiction they are going to choose Mike Lupica or Tim Green. The crossover has not circulated even one time since we got it. It’s not like Kwame can’t write. Acoustic Rooster checks out frequently.”

After reading the full thread and seeing this build-up of negative dialogue specifically around diverse award-winning titles in collections, I responded:

“I find it extremely problematic to suggest that a library doesn’t need a book–award-winner or not–that features a minority protagonist on the basis that there aren’t many readers of that minority who use the library. To me, that suggests both a bias on the part of selectors as well as a lack of trust in the readers we serve. We know verifiably that young readers do not only want to read about characters whose lives are like their own, and keeping them from even having the option to try a book about a person who is different from them is bordering dangerously on censorship. If a particular child does not want to read a particular book, so be it; but, especially in a public library, children should have that option.”

I am going to expand on that a bit.

First, and frankly, I find the position “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” to be racist. This position implies that we as selectors view diverse books as inherently less-than. If we argue that only black youth will want to read about black youth, we are really saying that the experiences of black youth have no relevance or meaning to youth of any other race. We are saying that the experiences of the youth in the books we do buy have broader relevance and resonance. That is the very definition of otherizing and making a particular perspective, experience, or group less-than.

The position that “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” also denotes a fundamental lack of respect for the children we are supposed to be serving. It suggests that we think our young readers cannot handle, relate to, or be expected to understand an experience that does not mirror their own. Not collecting—and collecting but not promoting—titles with diverse protagonists projects the selector’s own bias onto the reader instead of letting readers freely encounter stories and information.

Also, I feel very strongly that if the excellent diverse books in your collection do not circulate, you are not doing your job of getting great books into the hands of readers. As librarians, we can sell any great book to the right reader. We can find the aspects of a title that will appeal to the range of readers we serve. Diverse books have the exact same appeal factors as the whitewashed majority of children’s publishing. So we can be professionals and make our readers’ advisory about appeal factors, or we can continue to always take kids interested in sports reads to Matt Christopher or Tim Green instead of to Kwame Alexander. But if we do the latter, we are part of the problem. If we omit diverse titles from our RA even though those exact same appeal factors are there, we are perpetuating a racist status quo.

I want to take a moment to step outside of what I have to say on this topic and share what some other professionals have said*:

  • “Good collection development policies should emphasize a variety of things, but one of them should most definitely be diversity. The goal of a public library is not just to serve as a mirror for our community, but to serve as an open door to the world, which includes giving our communities opportunities to walk in the shoes of characters very different from them. This, to me, is part of our education goals, to help our patrons gain a broad perspective of the world. If books don’t circulate there are things we can do to help promote circulation, including book displays, book talks, sharing book trailers and more. Yes, budgets are tight every where, but we should absolutely make sure that we actively are working to build diverse collections because it is an important part of helping us fulfill our primary mission to our local communities. And the idea that not one single person in our local communities wants or needs to read books that highlight diversity concerns me because it suggests that we don’t have enough faith in our kids to learn, grow and step outside of their comfort zones.”
  • “I think it is a PRIMARY JOB of librarians, specifically youth services librarians, to promote and encourage diversity in our collections, budgets be damned. After all, I spend way too much of my money on crap like Barbie and Disney princesses … which circulate like *gangbusters*. But if I went on just that, I’d have a very shallow collection.”
  • “The point: if the only way you know how to sell a book is ‘it’s got brown people’ then you might’ve missed the point of the story.”
  • “If you want to champion diversity in a place where people are resistant, sell the story, not the character’s color or orientation.”
  • “And I absolutely hate that people use the excuse ‘well, they just don’t circulate in my library.’ That speaks the the librarian’s failings.”

When it comes down to it, a major aspect of this topic is selection/collection development, and the fact that selection is a privilege. If you select materials for your readers, you are privileged to get to influence not only what children read, but what they have access to in the first place. And when I read arguments against including diverse titles, or questions about why we have to talk about this topic, it puts into sharp focus for me the fact that we have to recognize our privilege as selectors, and, more than likely, as white selectors for diverse readers.
selection is privilege
If you find yourself thinking “I don’t need this title because we don’t really have many X readers here,” your privilege is showing. You have probably never had to open more than one or two books in a row in order to find a character who looks/speaks/lives like you do. That is privilege. And whether we intend it to or not, our privilege influences our thinking and our decisions. This is a problem because our decisions affect the capabilities of young readers to find books in which they can find themselves and in which they can meet new people.

Confronting our privilege is hard. It is uncomfortable. I am acutely aware that, because of my privilege as a white woman, I don’t have to write this post. No one would begrudge me for not speaking up on this topic publicly. In fact, it would probably be a lot easier, and I would seem a lot nicer, if I didn’t write this post.

But that course of action is no longer acceptable to me. I am no longer going to privately roll my eyes when professional colleagues make privileged statements about their exclusionary practices, or when reviewers ignore microaggressions in books for youth. I am going to say something, because ignoring it only lets it perpetuate. And when someone calls me out on something I say or causes me to think critically about my own practice, I am going to try really, really hard not to get defensive and to just listen and reflect and improve. It is hard. And I don’t need to do it.

Except that I do, because the ability of every child I serve to feel valuable and see themselves as a beautiful, complex individual is what hangs in the balance.

This is not about our comfort, or our personal convictions, or what we think we know definitively after doing this job a particular way for so many years.

It is about the children we serve. Every single one of them.

*Because these conversations have been happening in public forums (a public Facebook group and on Twitter), I feel that sharing direct quotations is not a breach of anyone’s privacy. I have made the decision to share these quotes without identifying the speakers, as my ultimate goal is constructive conversation about privilege in selection for youth libraries, not alienating or shaming members of the community.

2 Comments on Selection Is Privilege, last added: 3/4/2015
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2. Celebrate Music in Our Schools Month with Drum-Inspired Books

March is Music in Our Schools Month. In support of music programs, music educators, and wiggling students trying to sneak a beat, we are celebrating (global) Music in Our Schools Month with DRUMS!

Drums!Book recommendations:

Questions during reading:

  • How can drums help people communicate? What can someone communicate through a drum?
  • How do you think the musician(s) in this book wanted their music to make people feel?
  • Is the drum a central part of this story or community? Why or why not? How would the story be different if another instrument were used, such as a guitar or flute?
  • What words in the text describe how the drum sounds?
  • Bring in other images of drums from around the world or compare two or more books featuring drums: What are the features of a drum? What do drums around the world have in common? How are drums unique from other instruments? What materials are best for making drums? What geometric shapes are best for making drums?

Activities:

  1. If you read more than one book featuring a drum: Post a world map and note which countries drums are found.
  2. Have students research the particular type of drum featured in the book. What materials are used for this type of drum? What characteristics does this type of drum have and what is special about the design? Is this drum used everyday/casually or for special holidays/significant times? What country or region does it originate? What genre of music is the drum used in today? Who are some famous drummers who use this kind of drum?
  3. Set up a listening station devoted to music including drums. Provide a range of musical genres. Leave covers available for students to explore. After students have an opportunity to listen to different kinds of music featuring or including drums, encourage students to share their reactions in writing. What images did the music bring to them as they listened with their eyes closed? What did they imagine as they heard the drums?
  4. Encourage students to make their own drum in class or at home. Students can make their own drums out of coffee cans, cylindrical oatmeal boxes, or plastic deli containers. Supply different materials (plastic wrap, paper, foil, etc.) for covering the opening so students can hear a variety of different sounding drums. Which ones make metallic sounds, loud sounds, soft sounds, sweet sounds, deep sounds? How can you make the sound change?

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.35.04 PMFor further reading on music and books:

Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts

img_1587Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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3. Book Marketing 101: Five Things to Do Before Your Book is Released

This post is the first in an ongoing series we’ll run answering questions about book marketing and publicity. book marketing 101

So, here you are: you’ve gone through the long, grueling process of writing draft after draft of your book. You’ve gotten an agent, who then sold it to an editor. You’ve revised and revised, until finally it’s ready to go to print. And now…you wait.

Authors often ask me: What can I do while I’m waiting for my book to come out? Here are five of my top suggestions:

1. Develop your list of contacts.
It may seem obvious,  but one of the most important things you can do while waiting for your book to be released is to simply put together a list of all your professional and personal contacts who you think should know about your book. This includes family, friends, coworkers, professional contacts, fellow writers, and contacts from any communities you’re personally connected to: religious communities, volunteer organizations, even neighborhood restaurants where you’re a regular. Don’t be shy! All of these people will be excited to find out that you’ve published a book, and many of them will want to support you by buying a copy. Create a clean list of email addresses so that when the book is released, you can easily send out an email to everyone to let them know (even if you are connected to many of these people on Facebook, studies show that they will be more likely to make a purchase from a direct email). After that, don’t forget to add new contacts to your list as you meet new people at conferences or events.

2. Reach out to your local bookstore about hosting a launch party.
As soon as you have a release date for your book, get in touch with your local bookstore to see if they would be willing to host a launch party for you. Many bookstores are happy to do this, especially for local authors. Launch parties at bookstores are a win/win: you get a space for hosting and don’t have to worry about handling book sales yourself, and bookstores get an influx of people who are excited to purchase books. Coordinate with your publisher to make sure you pick a launch date when books will definitely be available.

Photo from the launch party of Juna's Jar
Photo from the launch party of Juna’s Jar

3. Refine your online presence.
Now is the time to make sure that your online presence is everything you want it to be and contains all the most updated information about you. This means, first and foremost, having a clean and updated website. Put a book cover, release information, and any reviews you’ve received on your website as soon as possible. You may feel like only your mom visits your website now, but once your book comes out, traffic will increase, and your website should be in top shape before then. You should also use this time to decide which, if any, social media platforms you want to use. Delete accounts you don’t use instead of letting them languor un-updated for years (or, at the very least, add links that redirect people to your website) and start getting in the habit of updating content regularly on any platforms you want to use.

4. Come up with a list of topics related to your book.
Book releases today are almost always accompanied by blog tours or some other type of blog coverage. You can do your part to get ready for this by putting together a list of topics related to your book on which you would be willing to write guest posts or answer questions. These could include anything from the research you did for the book to your playlist of songs you listened to while revising. Be creative! Share this list with your publishers so they can use it when shaping their pitches for bloggers. They may also work with you to shape some of these topics into longer pieces to pitch to online or print publications.

5. Get to know local opportunities.
Spend some time looking into any local or state book awards for which you might be eligible, and pass them on to your publisher to make sure they are submitting your book. Are there any book fairs or book festivals in your area? The deadlines for getting on panels at these events are often many months before the event happens, so the earlier you find out about them, the better the chances that you’ll be able to participate. Don’t assume your publisher already knows about everything; while publishers have extensive lists of awards and book festivals, no one knows your area better than you, and you may find something they’ve missed.

Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to bother your publisher! Even if they’re busy, they’ll appreciate the work that you are doing to prepare for your book release and be happy to work with you.

What am I missing? Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll answer the question: What do I need to include on my author website? (use the links in the top left sidebar to subscribe so you won’t miss it.)

Further reading:
How to plan a successful book launch

 

1 Comments on Book Marketing 101: Five Things to Do Before Your Book is Released, last added: 2/26/2015
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4. Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math

I’ll be the first to admit it: I didn’t pay much attention to math. I specialized in literacy and focused on reading, speaking, listening, writing, social studies, and science instruction. Math? My third graders went down the hall each day to the “math classroom.” My co-teacher and I collaborated over best teaching practices, family relationships, and classroom management, but I didn’t spend time delving into the third-grade mathematics standards.

It wasn’t until I entered into our first parent-teachers-student conferences in September that I realized I couldn’t afford to compartmentalize my students’ learning.

In those conferences, we had students who loved math and had excelled in math every year leading up, but were now struggling to advance. They seemed to have hit an invisible wall. What happened?

Two words: Word problems.

Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math (1)Some of our students who were English Language Learners, reluctant readers, or who struggled to read at grade level for other reasons all of a sudden “couldn’t do” math anymore because the vocabulary, text length, and sentence structure were increasing in complexity. Even though they knew what 9 x 5 was, they couldn’t read and decipher the sentence:

Rene enjoys wearing a new outfit every day. His father bought him nine pairs of shorts and five shirts. Rene doesn’t want to wear any outfit twice. How many different outfit combinations does he have?

Now several of my students weren’t only struggling to read in my literacy class, but also struggling to read in math class. This was disheartening and confusing for them because math was a subject they loved, excelled at, and didn’t feel “below their grade level” because of language abilities or background schema. Yet reading challenges were following them down the hall and across instruction periods.

Guess what: Reading teachers are ALSO math teachers.

What?

Let me explain.

  • A text is a text no matter the form. Those ELA standards about determining the central idea and unknown or multiple-meaning words apply to word problems along with poems, plays, and biographies. Word problems can be lengthy, involve two or more steps, and contain new and unknown vocabulary that require examining context clues to solve.
  • Great English teachers improve students’ math scores. According to The Hechinger Report, researchers from Stanford and University of Virginia looked at 700,000 students in New York City in third through eighth grade over the course of eight school years. Results: Students of good English language arts teachers had higher than expected math scores in subsequent years.
  • Starting in second-grade mathematics, students are reading, interpreting, and solving two-step and multi-step word problems. Even as early as kindergarten and first grade, students are encountering one-step word problems. Bottom line: If they can’t read, they will get left behind in math, too.

So, how can literacy teachers embrace math?

1. Nice to meet you, Math. I’m ELA. The Common Core website also falls victim to sequestering the ELA and math standards. Whether you teach both math and literacy or only one, compare the math standards to the ELA standards of your grade. Open two windows on your computer setting the Reading or Language standards of your grade side by side with the Operations & Algebraic Thinking standards for your grade. What do they have in common?

(Hint, hint: determining central idea of a text, interpreting unknown words or phrases, using context clues, and learning general academic and domain-specific words)

2. Share what read aloud or model text you are reading for the week or unit if you have a separate teacher for math instruction. In word problems, you or the math instructor can write a few of the problems about the characters. Reading In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage? Make Augusta the main character in the word problems.

This book has several money references because Augusta earned money from her teaching and from competitions she entered. Use some of the scenes in the book to review the values of currency. For example, Augusta earned a dollar every day from the principal of her school. How many different ways can you make $1.00 using combinations of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies?

3. Reward students with a math problem during the reading instruction block. (I’m telling you—students LOVE seeing you break out math during a literacy block). This gives students a break, uses a different part of their brains/thinking, and allows them to display their abilities in another subject (which is especially important if English makes a student feel doubtful or shy). Students can do this if they finish their required assignment early or you are transitioning between periods.

4. Allow students to create a word problem using the setting and characters of a book they are reading as an incentive, extension opportunity, or way to engage reluctant readers. Students can submit problems for you to review at the end of the day and the next day you can post one with the student author’s name. Students will have a chance to model (and observe) high quality writing and thinking, as well as delight in their peers’ recognition.

5. Word problems ARE story problems. Treat a word problem like any other fiction story. Have students identify the main character(s) and the problem. Give the word problem a setting. Encourage students to expand the math problem into a fiction story through writing or drawing.

6. Make a math bin in the classroom library. Whatever gets a student excited to read and pick up a book, right? Just as we will scour web deals and dig through yard sales for books on tiger sharks and poison dart frogs, don’t forget to hunt for math-themed books to add to your classroom library if math is your students’ passion.

from Ice Cream Money

7. Pick math-themed books to align with units students are covering in the grade level’s math standards. Great read alouds and leveled readers exist to help teach concepts around counting, money, time, geometry, and mixed operations, such as:

8. Even books without explicit math themes can inspire math conversations.

From Baby Flo: Florence Mills Lights Up the Stage:

  • Florence was promised twenty-five cents a night to perform at the Empire Theater. If she performed every night for one week, how much money did she earn? How much money would she earn in two weeks?
  • After her performance in the butchers’ shop, Florence earned $3.85. How many nickels would you need to make $3.85? How many pennies would you need to make $3.85?

From Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy:

  • If Hoy was born in 1862 and died in 1961, how old was he when he passed away? If Hoy started playing in the major leagues in 1888 and retired from baseball in 1902, how many years did he play in the major leagues? How many years ago did Hoy last play baseball? If Hoy were alive today, how old would he be?

From Love Twelve Miles Long:

  • Frederick’s mother walks twelve miles. How many yards does she walk? How many kilometers and meters does she walk?

If students can’t read, they will struggle to succeed in math (and science and social studies). These challenges will compound with each year affecting self-confidence and commitment. Bridging math and literacy for students is a powerful way for students to see that learning how to derive meaning from text has real world applications and that you are invested in their entire education.

img_1587Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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5. Update: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards, 2015

Last year, we released an infographic and study on the diversity gap in the Academy Awards. The study looked at racial and gender diversity over 85 years of Oscars, through 2012. Here’s the updated study, which includes the 2013, 2014, and 2015 winners:

Diversity Gap in the Academy AwardsYou may notice it looks…not very different from the old infographic. Three big stats that we called out then are still true:

  • Only one woman of color (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Actress
  • Only seven men of color (8%) have ever won the Academy Award for Best Actor
  • Only one woman (1%) has ever won the Academy Award for Best Director

That’s because in the last three years, no person of color has won in the Best Leading Actor or Best Leading Actress category. Including last night’s win for Alejandro González Iñárritu, three people of color have won in the Best Director category, all male. 2014 saw a step forward with three Oscar wins for Twelve Years a Slave, but just a year later all 20 acting nominations once again went to white actors. No women were nominated in the directing, writing, or cinematography categories in 2015 either.

It’s no surprise that there’s no change among the winners when there’s no change among the voters. According to a recent LA Times article, the racial makeup of the Academy has barely budged in the last few years, even with a commitment to diversify from the Academy’s first black woman president.

We often get so caught up in the glamour of the Oscars that it’s hard to remember that the winners are not necessarily the best movies but rather the movies that resonate most with the (mostly male, white, and older) Academy voters. Roxane Gay reminds us of this:

It is frustrating, particularly in looking at the Best Picture nominees, to see what kind of story is resonating with Academy voters. With the exception of Selma, these are movies about white men coming of age, coping with old age, coping with genius, coping with a strong mind but frail body, coping with the burdens of patriotism and duty, and on and on.

These stories deserve to be told but they are not the only stories that deserve to be told. This is what we continually lose sight of. And in Selma, which is an outstanding movie, we see, yet again, the kind of story Academy voters are comfortable with when it comes to people of color–always about the history, about the struggle. Where is the Birdman for an aging Asian actress? Where is Girlhood, ambitiously chronicled over a number of years? Where is the twee movie shot in highly saturated color about a woman working as a hotel concierge? These stories exist and if they don’t they have the potential to exist, if there were more opportunities available.

This echoes a comment from Gina Prince-Blythewood, writer/director of the 2014 film Beyond the Lights: 

The numbers do not surprise me because very few Academy Award level films with non-white leads are being greenlit. Until this changes, the abysmal numbers will not change.

So, what would it take to see these stories told and awarded?

There’s no easy answer, but one thing is certain: things won’t change on their own. Sitting back and waiting for the Academy to catch up to our country’s demographics is not an option. And while we may not each have the power to greenlight what gets produced, we do have the power to affect the box office and support great diverse movies with our time, money, and word of mouth. Together we have the power to prove that there’s a market for all different kinds of stories.

2 Comments on Update: The Diversity Gap in the Academy Awards, 2015, last added: 2/25/2015
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6. Awards and Grants for Authors of Color

Getting your book published is difficult, and unfortunately it tends to be much harder when you’re a Person of Color. While there are more diverse books being published, there’s still a lot of work to do!

Fortunately there are awards and grants out there help writers of color achieve their publication dreams.

We’ve created a list of awards and grants to help you get started!

New Voices Award – Established in 2000, is for the unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript.

Awards and Grants for Writers of ColorNew Visions Award – Modeled after LEE & LOW’s New Voices Award, this award is for Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Mystery middle grade or YA novels.

SCBWI Emerging Voices Grant – This award is given to two unpublished writers or illustrators from ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds that are traditionally under-represented in children’s literature in America and who have a ready-to-submit completed work for children.

The Angela Johnson Scholarship from Vermont College of Fine Arts – This scholarship is for new students of color of an ethnic minority for VCFA’s MFA program.

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson Scholarship from Hamline College – “Annual award given to a new or current student in the program who shows exceptional promise as a writer of color.”

We Need Diverse Books Short Story Contest - This short story contest was inspired by Walter Dean Myers’ quote, “Once I began to read, I began to exist.”

The Scholastic Asian Book Award – This award is for Asian writers writing books set in Asia aimed at children 6-18 years of age.

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund – This fund enables writers of color to attend the Clarion writing workshops where writer Octavia Butler got her start.

SLF Diverse Writers and Diverse Worlds Grants – These grants are new works and works in progress. The Diverse Writers Grant focuses on writers from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds, and the Diverse Worlds Grant is for stories that best present a diverse world, regardless of the author’s background.

Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award – This one time grant is awarded to an emerging writer of color of crime fiction.

NYFA Artists’ Fellowships – These fellowships are for residents of New York State and/or Indian Nations located in New York State.

Golden Baobab Prizes for Literature – These annual awards recognize emerging African writers and illustrators.

The Sillerman First Prize for African Poets – This prize is for unpublished African poets.

What other awards and grants do you recommend for authors of color?

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7. Monica Brown on Dehumanizing Language and the Immigration Debate

Monica BrownMonica Brown is the author of several award-winning Guest bloggerchildren’s books, including the Marisol McDonald series, and is a Professor of English at Northern Arizona University. Brown recently spoke to KNAU Public Radio about the power of dehumanizing language after a politician used the word “deportable” to refer to an immigrant. She has allowed us to reprint her comments below, and you can hear her radio segment here:

Deportable. The prefix de signifies removal, separation, reduction or reversal, as in deforestation or demerit. De reverses a verb’s action, as in defuse ordecompose. De is not often used with a noun, but it was last week. That’s when Republican Representative Steve King referred to one of First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests as “a deportable.” He tweeted it.

When I heard this description of 21 year old Ana Zamora, a hardworking college student and DREAMer, it felt like a blow to the chest. When President Obama enacted his 2012 executive order on immigration, Ana Zamora wrote him a thank you letter. She said, “I am finally a person in the United States…”

Not according to Representative King. To him, she is a deportable.

I am a bilingual Latina whose mixed ethnic heritage lets me embrace the multiplicity, complexity and beauty of the Americas, North and It pains me to see the way Latino bodies are often marked with the mantle of illegality, and to witness the way immigrant children of the Americas are made objects to reject.South. It pains me to see the way Latino bodies are often marked with the mantle of illegality, and to witness the way immigrant children of the Americas are made objects to reject, a class of “deportables” if we were to use King’s terminology. I suggest we don’t.

In migrating to the United States, Ms. Zamora’s parents brought with them their dedication to family, hard work, and dreams of a better future for their children. Ms. Zamora is the embodiment of those dreams. Chicana sage Gloria Anzaldua once described the U.S.-Mexico border as a “1,950 mile-long open wound.” It is a place of conflict, confrontation and pain. The term “a deportable” rubs salt in that wound by devaluing and dehumanizing a young woman who represents the very best of our country.

As a professor of English and children’s author, I know words matter. Within my community, an immigrant without documents might be described as “sin papeles.”Without papers. It is a legal status they lack, not who and what they are.

Thankfully, many have come to understand that, in the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “no human being is illegal.” Today I’d like to state, unequivocally, that no human is a deportable, either.

Further Reading
Visit Monica Brown’s website
Purchase Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match or Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash

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8. Celebrate Black History Month with Two Book Collections from LEE & LOW BOOKS!

A heads up to our blog readers that we have two great sales happening now to celebrate Black History Month!

We’re offering 25% off two Black History Month collections on leeandlow.com through the end of the month. Kick-start your Black History book collection or mix things up with great books that can be used all year long.

CELEBRATE

Both collections offer biographies of great leaders who excelled in many different fields including writing, politics, music, and the culinary arts and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Our Black History Month Paperback Collection features four award-winning picture books in paperback:

John Lewis in the Lead
I and I Bob Marley
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip
Love to Langston 

Originally $40, it’s currently on sale for $29.95.

Our Black History Month Special Collection features five award winning picture book biographies in a mix of paperback and hard cover editions:

John Lewis in the Lead
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip
It Jes’ Happened
Love to Langston
Baby Flo

Originally $65.70, it’s currently on sale for $50.

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9. Writing for a Diverse Audience: SCBWI NY 2015 breakout recap

Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.

This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them.

Writing for a Diverse AudienceBelow are the links and a few notes from the handout I gave to writers at the conference, with a few annotations to clarify what we were talking about. I hope it is a useful resource when you’re thinking of writing for a diverse audience (i.e., when you’re thinking of writing–period!). If you have any further ideas–or links where writers can go further in depth–please add them in the comments.

Other coverage: SCBWI Conference Blog

Other sessions on the same topic: Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander’s breakout session on writing diverse books


Seven Essentials You Need to Know about Writing for a Diverse Audience

  1. Don’t feel “forced” to write diversity, but remember your readers are diverse
    • If your real-life world isn’t diverse, if you don’t know any people of color, if you don’t know how to write diverse characters without relying on stereotypes, you don’t have to feel pressured to do so.
    • And don’t feel like you need to come in and “save” anyone—come in from a position of equality and seeking equity.
    • However, your world is likely more diverse than you think.
    • Often, people of color and Native Americans are most hurt by passing comments in books that aren’t “about” POC at all. (Debbie Reese’s blog has many examples of this.)
    • Don’t be afraid to discuss race. If you’re new at this, do a lot of listening.
  1. You need to know about power dynamics
  1. Expand your definition of “diversity.”
  • Diversity is not just about race, religion, class, etc. It is often about how many different identity markers come together to create a specific experience. Here’s a basic definition of  intersectionality. Think about how it affects your characters.
  • Intersections happen across 11 lenses, according to Teaching Tolerance:
  1. race
  2. ethnicity
  3. language
  4. immigration  
  5. religion
  6. gender identification
  7. sexual orientation
  8. class 
  9. ability
  10. age
  11. place
  1. Social media doesn’t have to be a distraction.
  1. In your writing, seek both the universal & the specific.
  • Universal stories appeal to a broad swath of readers: characters dealing with parents, love stories, stories of loss—these are all stories of the human condition.
  • Specific details make your story richer.
  • If you are writing cross-culturally, do your research. Debbie Reese has an excellent guide on seeking a cultural expert in Native American issues. Look for similar information on the culture you’re writing about.
  • And write a good book:
    • the most important thing about a diverse book is the same thing as for all books. What matters most:
      • Characterization
      • Plot
      • World-building
      • Pacing
      • Age-appropriate content (though not shying away from edgy topics)
      • Concept
  1. Contextual clues are better than exposition of culture.
  • Show, don’t tell!
  • Remember that your audience includes cultural insiders and outsiders. Balance enough information for outsiders with the possibility of boring insiders with too much basic everyday information.
  1. School visits are a great way to reach diverse students.
  • At the beginning of your career, be willing to do school visits or Skype visits for a low honorarium, until you can build up your resume and network with more teachers.
  • Keep in mind that schools with a high percentage of diverse students are often the most underfunded. They may not have a budget for an honorarium, but may be able to purchase books for students to compensate.

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

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10. “Lending a hand” for Random Acts of Kindness Week

Monday kicked off Random Acts of Kindness Week, a time when people are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and do something nice for others. Our picture book, Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving is a collection of poems about different ways to help others. From planting trees to tutoring students, Lend a Hand shows that there are lots of small things you can do to make a big difference in someone’s life.

lend a hand: poems about giving
Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving by John Frank, illus. by London Ladd

Here’s what reviewers are saying about Lend a Hand:

At once familiar and slightly out of the box, these giving scenes gently suggest that even the smallest acts can inspire and achieve great ends.” –Kirkus Reviews

In conjunction with home or classroom discussions about social responsibilities, waging peace, or bullying, these instances of individual and collective giving may serve as inspiring models.“–Booklist

It would be easy for a book with this title to hit readers over the head with its message. Instead, this is a gentle book that will add value to any classroom or library collection.” –School Library Journal

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week, we’re offering a 25% off coupon which you can use through February 15. When you’re checking out, use the code KINDNESS. Purchase the book here.

Struggling to think of some ways to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week? Here are ten ways to lend a hand:
lend a hand infographic

We’d love to hear what you’ve been doing for Random Acts of Kindness Week – let us know in the comments below!

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11. 7 Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month

The month of February is a time when many communities pause and celebrate the great contributions made by African Americans in history. At Lee & Low we like to not only highlight African Americans who have made a difference, but also explore the diverse experiences of black culture throughout history, from the struggle for freedom in the South and the fight for civil rights to the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz and the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance.

We put together a list of titles – along with additional resources 7 Core Values for copy– that align with 7 core values and
themes to help you celebrate both Black History Month and African American culture all 365 days of the year.

It’s important to remember that heritage months, like Black History Month, can encourage a practice of pulling diverse books that feature a particular observed culture for only one month out of the year. To encourage a more everyday approach, we developed an 8-step checklist for building an inclusive book collection that reflects the diversity of the human experience. Teaching Tolerance also offers some helpful solutions to connect multicultural education with effective instructional practices and lists insightful “dos and don’ts” for teaching black history that are applicable to any culturally responsive curriculum or discussion.

How do you celebrate during Black History Month? Or, better yet, how do you help children discover the cultural contributions and achievements of black history all year long? Let us know in the comments!

Perseverance, Determination, & Grit

Leadership & Couragemain_large-4

Teamwork & Collaboration

Responsibility & Commitmentmain_Mooncover

 Optimism & Hope

Compassion & Love

Passion & Pridemain_large

Discussion questions when reading and learning about core values:

  1. How does/do the character(s) show (core value)?
  2. What positive effects are associated with having/showing (core value)?
  3. How do you show (core value)?
  4. How can you work towards having/showing (core value)?
  5. What core values do you think are important to apply in our classroom? Why?

Further reading on teaching core values with students:

Looking for additional resources for teaching Black History? Check out these lesson plans, videos, and tips:

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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12. ALA Midwinter Day of Diversity Recap and Reflections

Chicago, IL, January 30, 2015
photos courtesy of Dan Bostrom

diversity 102This past weekend, I went to Chicago to attend the first ever Day of Diversity organized by the Association of Library Services for Children (ALSC) and Children’s Book Council (CBC). This event, which took place in conjunction with ALA’s Midwinter Conference, brought together 100 people from all parts of the book world including publishers, editors, librarians, booksellers, and authors. It included a mix of noted diversity advocates and newbies. The ultimate goal was to inform, engage, and ultimately find ways to turn talk into action.

I was part of a History and Myths panel.  The myth busting parts of our talks were as follows:
Jason Low (publisher): Lack of diversity is only a problem in children’s literature
Gene Luen Yang (author): diverse graphic novels are only for diverse readers
Adriana Dominguez (literary agent): Diverse authors are hard to find
K.T. Horning (director of CCBC): We are in a post-racial society

Important takeaway: Diversity sells! Gene Luen Yang proved this when he announced that Ms. Marvel is now the top selling comic at Marvel, even outselling Spiderman. Ms. Marvel is a superhero originally embodied by Carol Danvers as a white, blond woman but who was recently recast as Kamala Khan, a Pakistani American, Muslim teenager from New Jersey.

Arthur Levine (center), Jason Low (right)
Arthur Levine (center), Jason Low (right)

The rest of the day had distinct highs and lows for me. First a high:
the Lightening Talk speeches were excellent since my views of the diversity issue are often from a macro perspective. The Lightening talks reminded me of the very personal reasons people become diversity advocates, which helps to put a human face to the movement.

Important takeaways:
Author Sara Farizan’s retelling of her struggles with sexual identity was quietly funny to the point that she should consider a side career in standup.

Author/Co-founder and President of We need Diverse Books (WNDB), Ellen Oh’s story about her family acting as the inspiration behind why she writes was moving. I will admit I was surprised that she didn’t toot WNDB’s horn a little louder, as she has every right to do. After all, WNDB’s energy and contribution to the diversity movement is that important.

Author Cynthia Letich Smith’s talk created a sense of urgency for me and humanized what is truly at stake. Readers of middle grade and YA novels age out every four years. How many kids have we lost already to adulthood?

Editorial Director of Dial Namrata Tripathi offered a beautiful illustration of the responsibility that comes with being an editor of color and the acceptance of that responsibility. And I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty great. While I was complimenting Namrata on her speech, Roger Sutton appeared and asked Namrata if he could reprint her speech for The Horn Book, so look for it in the coming months.

(from left to right) Lydia Breiseth, Pat Mora, Oralia Garza de Cortes
(from left to right) Lydia Breiseth, Pat Mora, Oralia Garza de Cortes

The low points of the day were the breakout sessions. The ambitions of the Day of Diversity were clear: ask hard questions and lean into discomfort. But the format of the breakout sessions lacked the kind of structure and experienced mediators to accomplish this task. Expert diversity trainers would have played a key role in helping to guide discussions into and out of difficult topics. Putting a bunch of people in a room together does not automatically result in sharing, especially when it comes to tough topics like race. Advance preparation with diversity trainers and publishing professionals to familiarize breakout leaders with obstacles and how they relate specifically to publishing’s unique set of problems might have gotten things moving.

The big obstacle that was not addressed (and still needs to be) was:
White privilege. White privilege is the big one. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. It essentially impacts all of the above, from editors, sales staff, and marketing staff to reviewers, librarians, and booksellers. It is the main reason inequality has persisted for so long.

The next day, after the day of diversity had ended, I had a brief conversation with a white editor who had attended the previous day’s event. She stated she wanted to help, but was uncomfortable with her role as a white gatekeeper. Satia Orange’s social justice “Braveheart” call-to-action moment during her closing speech in which she urged us to “do something dramatic,” had struck just the right chord to me, but it was perplexing to this editor. Satia referred to “lives being at stake” and this editor simply did not know what she was talking about.

For those who are not dialed into the lack of diversity and social justice as everyday issues that affect millions, the call to actions may be a couple steps beyond what people new to this issue are ready for. We cannot expect that because someone attends a one-day event on diversity that they are trained and ready to start incorporating diversity into their library, author pool, or marketing plan.

(from left to right) Phoebe Yeh, Carolynn Johnson, René Saldaña, Jr.
(from left to right) Phoebe Yeh, Carolynn Johnson, René Saldaña, Jr.

In my mind, different parts of this discussion could be broken out to different venues. For example, an editor who wants to learn more about how to acquire and develop diverse manuscripts should have a place to learn directly from other editors who have developed skills and experience in this area. Conferences like SCBWI often bring editors together on panels to discuss subjects such as these, but those panels are usually attended by authors and not fellow editors.

At the end of the conference, I learned that thirty librarians were invited to the Day of Diversity. Many of the librarians were more at the beginning stages of their journey in realizing how detrimental racial inequality is to publishing. Perhaps next time, if there is a next time, there could be two conferences, the first for diversity beginners and the second which would go beyond this and would be intended for seasoned diversity advocates only.

While I may sound like I am being hyper critical of the Day of Diversity, the truth is I sincerely appreciate what the organizers did. The scope of the day was ambitious and I applaud tenacious efforts like this to tackle a problem as big and complex as diversity. The diversity problem in publishing is huge and will require many years of trial and error. As we inch closer to answers we will discover that the diversity gap will never conform to a one size fits all solution.

Other recaps of the Day of Diversity:

Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature

Librarian Edi Campbell

Children’s Literature Professor Sarah Park

Bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle

Author Janet Wong

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13. Announcing the 2015 New Visions Award finalists!

NVAL_WinnerLogo2015 marks the fifth year that Tu Books has been an imprint of Lee & Low Books. One of our primary missions is to discover new writers of color as we publish diverse genre fiction for young readers—fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and other adventurous genres. As we say on our website,

At Tu Books, we don’t believe that the worlds within books should be any less rich or diverse than the world we live in. Our stories are inspired by many cultures from around the world, to reach the “you” in every reader.

Tu Books was created for a specific reason. The present and the future belong to everyone and to limit this reality is a fantasy. Adventure, excitement, and who gets the girl (or boy) are not limited to one race or species. The role of hero is up for grabs, and we mean to take our shot.

To support that mission, we established the New Visions Award in 2012 to discover and develop new writers—writers who have not yet found an agent, writers who have never been published before in the mINK AND ASHES coveriddle grade or young adult categories (even as self-published authors).

In 2013, we announced our first New Visions Award winner, Valynne Maetani (@valynnemaetani on Twitter), for her YA mystery manuscript. That manuscript, which is now titled Ink and Ashes, is being published this June! (Check with your local or online bookseller for pre-ordering options!)

Earlier this year, we opened again for New Visions submissions, and now we are so happy to announce the six finalists in our second New Visions Award. The finalists (in alphabetical order by title) are:

 

Axie Oh thumbnail
Axie Oh

The Amaterasu Project by Axie Oh, Las Vegas, NV
• YA science fiction/action novel set in Korea about a former gangster who is recruited into the military over a secret prototype weapons project—which turns out to be a genetically modified girl
@axieoh on Twitter

 

 

 

Andrea Wang thumbnail
Andrea Wang

Eco-Agent Owen Chang: The Missing Murder by Andrea Wang, Sudbury, MA
• MG science fiction/spy novel about a 12-year-old eco-agent for an environmental agency, investigating the disappearance of crows
@AndreaYWang on Twitter

 

 

 

Shilpa Kamat thumbnail
Shilpa Kamat

Fallen Branches by Shilpa Kamat, Sebastopol, CA
• YA mystery about a biracial teen from a two-mother household in Northern California, attempting to reconcile her town’s historic and current cultural and racial tensions as she solves parallel mysteries with a new friend

 

 

 

Yamile Mendez thumbnail
Yamile Saied Méndez

On These Magic Shores by Yamile Saied Méndez, Alpine, UT
• MG magical realism about three sisters whose mother’s disappearance they must hide if they want to stay together
@YamileSMendez on Twitter

 

 

 

grace_rowe thumbnail
Grace Rowe

Pure Descent by Grace Rowe, Los Angeles, CA
• YA science fiction exploring the future of race, about an adoptee who must deny her adoptive parents to win a racial “purity” contest
@1gracerowe on Twitter

 

 

 

Rishonda Anthony thumbnail
Rishonda Anthony

Seraphim by Rishonda Anthony, Richmond, VA
• YA paranormal about a teen who was once a child prodigy who had a psychotic breakdown at the age of 12, who sees angels and demons in the woods outside her college—and they might be real this time
• @rishonda_writes on Twitter

 

 

 

We’ll be reading the full manuscripts in the next couple of months, and deliberating on a winner to be announced in April. We can’t wait!

And if you missed this round of the New Visions Award, be sure to keep working on your manuscript for the next round. We’ll open for submissions in June 2015.

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14. ALA Youth Media Awards Wins for Lee & Low Books!

Yesterday was the ALA Youth Media Awards, or the “Oscars of Children’s Literature” as they’re sometimes called. It was a big day for diversity. Diverse books and authors were honored across the board and we couldn’t be happier.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison, received the Coretta Scott King Honor for Illustration. Little Melba follows the life of famed trombonist, composer, and arranger Melba Liston who broke through racial and gender barriers to become one of the great unsung heroes of jazz.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.49.26 AM

Pat Mora, author of Water Rolls, Water Rises/El agua rueda, el agua sube and many other award-winning titles, won the 2016 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award! This award recognizes an author, librarian, or children’s lecturer who will then present a lecture at a winning host site. In addition to her writing, Pat Mora is also a literacy
advocate. She created Día, a day that celebrates children and the importance of reading.

Congratulations to all the titles honored at the ALA Youth Media Awards!

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15. What I Learned from a Nonverbal Autistic Classroom-Part 2

In part 1 of this post, I spoke about my experience teaching in a nonverbal autistic classroom and its most meaningful takeaways. Part 2 explores respectful, useful resources for people on the autism spectrum, their family members, and educators.

 What is autism?:

Autism copy

For people on the autism spectrum:

For families of people with ASD:

 Early intervention services & treatment options:

For educators of people with ASD:

Get involved:

Books with characters with disabilities:

Do you have any recommend resources, organizations, or websites that you would like to share with us? Let us know in the comments!

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. Why Create a Gender Neutral Picture Book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just remembered another top reason.

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

Call Me Tree/Llamamé árbol

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

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

Let’s call it Tree Day.

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

Call me Tree!

Love,   mayatree

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

Download this post in PDF to share

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

Purchase a copy of Call Me Tree/ Llámame árbol

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

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

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

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

1. Valynne E. Maetani, Ink and Ashes

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

2. Joseph Bruchac, Killer of Enemies and Rose Eagle 

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

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

3. Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming

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

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

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

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

5. I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above 

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

6. Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

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

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

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

8. Alex Sanchez, Rainbow Boys

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

9. Natsuo Kirino, Out

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

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

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

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

11. Naoko Uehashi, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

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

12. Nnendi Okorafor, Akata Witch

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

13. Zadie Smith, White Teeth

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

14. Aisha Saeed, Written in the Stars

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

15. Alex Gino, George

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned teaching in a special education classroom:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19. Protesting Injustice Then and Now

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

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

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

Jim Crow Row
from Love to Langston
By Tony Medina

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

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

I make signs
that read
that read

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

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

So we protest
with our parents
and let everybody
know about

Jim Crow Jim Crow
not allowing us
to grow

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

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

I, Too
By Langston Hughes
From the Poetry Foundation

I, too, sing America.

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

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

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

I, too, am America.

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

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

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

Further reading:

Books on Protest:

 


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

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

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

Not this year.

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

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

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

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

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

Once there was a Catholic who lived in a farmhouse.

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

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

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

The man said, “Yes.”

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

A little while later another knock came at the door.

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

The owner said, “Are you Catholic?”

The man said, “Yes.”

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

A little while later another knock came.

It was another man, half frozen.

“Are you Catholic?”

“No, I’m Protestant.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rukhsana Speaks with Rudine Sims Bishop

Rukhsana speaks with Rudine Sims Bishop

She was talking about me!

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

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

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

We need diverse books! But what really constitutes diversity?

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

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

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

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

What kind of diversity is that?

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

We need to be less superficial.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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22. 7 tips to help make reading with your child this year achievable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”

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

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

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

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

Better yet—let your child choose for maximum engagement.

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

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

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

The Number One Most Important Thing:

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

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

img_1587Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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23. Why You Should See Selma

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

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

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

still from Selma
still from Selma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

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

Essay about challenges to the historical accuracy of Selma

Did you see Selma? What did you think?

2 Comments on Why You Should See Selma, last added: 1/22/2015
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24. Post-2014: Diversity in Children’s Literature and the Legacy of Pura Belpré

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further reading:

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

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

1 Comments on Post-2014: Diversity in Children’s Literature and the Legacy of Pura Belpré, last added: 1/20/2015
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25. Announcing our 2014 New Voices Award Winner

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

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

Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!

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

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

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

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