What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Posts

(from The Open Book)

Recent Comments

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing Blog: The Open Book, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 501
Visit This Blog | Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
Blog Banner
Looking Past the Cover • Children's Book Publishing • Diversity and Race • Conversation The blog of independent children's publishing company Lee & Low Books, The Open Book talks about publishing, books, library and school news, race and gender, discrimination and diversity, and more.
Statistics for The Open Book

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 9
1. 8 Strategies For Educators To Explain Lexile and Invest Stakeholders

What happens when there is a lack of or break down in communication between stakeholders about the tools used to assess children’s reading? One bookseller shared her experience when parents, booksellers, and students attempt to find the right book within a leveling framework.

In our previous post, “7 Strategies to Help Booksellers and Librarians Navigate Lexile,” we presented strategies for the book experts out in the field on strengthening the communication lines, sharing resources and context, and building a community invested in each child’s education. In doing so, we show our students, children, and customers that they have a whole team cheering for them and invested in their growth, joy, and success.

Pencil TalkNow for educators! Want a child to achieve a year and a half of reading progress and develop a life long passion for learning? The more adults you have involved in your students’ success, the better chances you have for meaningful growth and creating a love of reading.

Next week, we will offer strategies for parents.

For teachers and school staff who want to invest more stakeholders:

1. Don’t wait for summer break to provide reading lists. After each assessment cycle or parent-teacher conference period, provide parents with book ideas to help students get to the next level. Research or create booklists to hand parents at a parent-teacher conference. Except for the outliers, you can generally get away with making 3 lists (above-, on-, and below-grade level) of where students are reading.

2. Assume that no one knows your leveling system outside of school. Create a toolkit (that can be re-printed each year) for parents when they go to a library or bookstore. At parent-teacher conferences or Back-to-School Night, arm parents with 1) pre-made booklists (see above) 2) addresses and directions to the public library, bookstore, or community center you trust or have reached out to 3) a level conversion chart—If your leveling system doesn’t provide one, download one from Reading Rockets, Booksource, Scholastic Guided Reading Program, Lexile, or Lee & Low.

Ten Ways to Support Parents and Cultivate Student Success3. Hold information sessions at Back to School Night or other times in the year for parents. Explain what leveling system you are using to assess a child’s reading ability. Demonstrate how to find books at that child’s reading level when in a store, online, or at a library. “What does an such and such level book like? Below-level book? Above-level book? What should a child be able to do at such and such reading level?” With colleagues, consider another session for nearby bookstores or public librarians. All leveling systems have websites and FAQs sections addressing misconceptions and how-tos that you can show parents, librarians, or bookstore staff.

4. Find out where your students and families are going for books. My students borrowed books from the local community center or bought books at the nearby discount retail superstore. We built a community by reaching out to the children’s librarian and community center coordinator. Reaching out to these places helped me learn about my students outside of school and familiarize staff with our goals. Share any booklists and conversion charts. Libraries and bookstores will be thrilled to be a part of your community. As I said last week, students may move on, but you and book staff are in it for the long haul.

5. Extend the classroom to your local library or bookstore. When I learned where my students were looking for books (and what poor quality those offerings were at a discount store), I realized that many had not been to the neighborhood branch of the public library and did not know what the library had to offer.

  • Invite a librarian to class to talk to students about finding books when they are outside the classroom. Show students how to find books when they don’t know a book’s level (Hello, five finger rule!)
  • Post in class or send home the library or bookstore’s calendar of monthly events.
  • Encourage families to join you at a weekend storytelling event at the library or an evening author event at the bookstore (you might be able to persuade your school to count these events as parent community service hours).
  • Is your local library or bookstore on Pinterest, such as Oakland Public Library TeenZone? Check out your branch’s or favorite bookstore’s new releases and collections. Show families how to engage with the library or bookstore from a school computer or on a mobile phone.

6. Simulate the real world in your classroom. Many teachers organize their classroom libraries around their guided reading levels or assessment leveling system to make it easy for students to find the right book. Yet, students need experience interacting with books that aren’t leveled—as most books in bookstores and libraries won’t be. Consider organizing your classroom library by author, theme, genre, or series—or at least a shelf or bin—so students can practice figuring out the right fit book.

7. Remember: You will most likely have at least a few parents whose first language is NOT English. They will rely even more heavily on librarians and bookstore staff for help finding the right fit book for their child. The more you help librarians and local bookstores and the parents, the more you help the child.

8. Think about the message. Parents may hear that their child is at Lexile level 840 and try to help you and their child by only seeking out Lexile level 840 books. Coach parents to continue to expose students to a wide range of texts, topics, and levels. Parents may need a gentle reminder that we want our readers to develop their love of reading, along with skills and critical thinking. This may include children seeking out and re-reading favorites or comfort books that happen to be lower leveled or trying harder books that happen to be on their favorite subject.

Bruce Lee 1Next week, we will offer strategies for teachers and parents.

For further reading:

7 Strategies to Help Booksellers and Librarians Navigate Lexile

What have we missed? Please share in the comments your tricks, tips, and ideas for helping families and children navigate the bookshelves.

 

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


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: Book Lists by Topic, booksellers, Bookstores, CCSS, children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, independent bookstores, librarians, libraries, reading comprehension

0 Comments on 8 Strategies For Educators To Explain Lexile and Invest Stakeholders as of 9/14/2014 9:08:00 AM
Add a Comment
2. Poetry Friday: Puppy

It’s Friday everyone, and you know what that means! Poetry Friday! Today, we’ve chosen a poem from our new fall title, Lend a Hand: Poems About Givingto share with you:

Puppy

The puppy we’re raising

is the cutest I’ve ever seen

cuddly and playful,

with floppy ears

and a wagging tail

and a look on his face that says,

“Please hold me and love me.

I want to be yours forever,”

and before long

we’re going to give

him away.

He’ll be someone’s eyes

one day.

puppy poem

If you’re interested in working with puppies and training them to become guide dogs, you can check out a few of these great organizations:

Guide Dogs for the Blind (based on the West Coast)

The Seeing Eye (based on the East Coast)

OccuPaw Guide Dog Association (based in Wisconsin)


Filed under: Lee & Low Likes Tagged: guide dogs, lend a hand, poetry, poetry Friday, puppies, puppy, service dog

0 Comments on Poetry Friday: Puppy as of 9/12/2014 2:20:00 PM
Add a Comment
3. Paula Yoo on How to Publicize Your Children’s Book

Paula YooPaula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living in Los Angeles. Her first book, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, won Lee & Low’s New Voices Award. Her new book, Guest bloggerTwenty-two Cents, was released this week. In this post, we asked her to share advice on publicizing your first book for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other new authors.

When I won the Lee & Low New Voices Award picture book writing contest in 2003, I thought I had hit the big time. This was my “big break.” My dream had come true! My submission, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, about Olympic gold medalist Dr. Sammy Lee, would be published in 2005 and illustrated by Dom Lee.

BUT… winning the New Voices contest was just the start. I had to do several revisions of the manuscript based on insightful critiques from my editor Philip Lee. Because this was a biography, I had to do extra research and conduct many more follow-up interviews to make sure all the facts of my manuscript were accurate. And then after all the line edits and copy edits and proof reading checks and balances were completed, I had one more thing to do.

Publicity.

No problem, I thought. All I had to do was answer that huge questionnaire the Lee & Low publicity department sent me. Our publicists were amazing – they were already aggressively sending out press releases and getting me invited to a few national writing conferences for book panels and signings.

But I quickly discovered that a debut author must be willing to pound the pavement, too! So I hired freelance graphic designer friends to create bookmarks and fliers of my book and an official author website. I dropped these off at as many schools, libraries and bookstores I could visit on the weekends. I contacted these same places to see if they would be interested in hosting a signing or school presentation of my book which included fun show-and-tell visuals of how the book was made, a slide show and even a specially-edited CD of historical film footage about my book’s topic.

I contacted local book festivals to be considered for signings and book panels. I not only asked friends and teachers and librarians to spread the word but even people I thought might have a vested interest in the book because they were also professional athletes/coaches and Asian American activists. I always updated our amazing Lee & Low publicists so we both were on the same page. We were a team who supported each other.

NaPiBoWriWee logoI also kept up with the news. Any pop culture trend, breaking news or social issue that was a hot button topic related to my book was an opportunity to see if my book could be mentioned or if I could be interviewed as an “expert.” For example, I pitched my book during the Summer Olympics as a relevant topic.

For my second book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (illustrated by Lin Wang), published in 2009, I created NAPIBOWRIWEE – National Picture Book Writing Week on my website. It was a fun version of the famous National Novel Writing Month (“NaNoWriMo”) event that promoted writing a 50,000-word novel in one month. My NaPiBoWriWee encouraged writers to write 7 picture books in 7 days. I advertised my new SHINING STAR book as a contest giveaway drawing prize for those who successfully completed the event with me.

To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went VIRAL. Thousands of aspiring newbie writers AND published veteran authors all across the United States and in countries as far away as Egypt, Korea, France and Australia participated in my NaPiBoWriWee event. Talk about great publicity for my second book! As a result, my NaPiBoWriWee event has become an annual event for the past six years, where I have promoted all my new Lee & Low books! (For more information on NAPIBWORIWEE, please visit my website http://paulayoo.com).

And this is only the tip of the iceberg of what I did to promote my first book. Today, not only must debut authors “pound the pavement” for publicity, but they also must navigate the social media waters with blogs tours, breaking news Twitter feeds, Instagram and Tumblr visual posts, and so on. As I write this blog, I’m sure a brand new social media app is being invented that will become tomorrow’s Next Big Social Media Trend.

Twenty-two Cents coverIn the end, it was an honor and privilege to win this contest. I’m grateful for what it has done for my book career.

For my new book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (illustrated by Jamel Akib, 2014), I’ve already participated in several blog Q&A interviews with signed book giveaway contests from established children’s book writing websites. I’ve promoted the book on my website and on social media sites. And I’m also promoting the book in real life by participating in book festival panels, including the recent Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

For new authors, I recommend pounding the pavement like I did. Think outside the box – are there current news/pop culture trends that relate to your book’s topic that you can exploit as a relevant connection? Can you come up with your own fun “viral” website contest like my NAPIBOWRIWEE? Make fast friends with your local librarians, schoolteachers and bookstore owners. Keep up with the latest and most influential kid lit bloggers and see if you can pitch your book as a future blog post on their site. And give yourself a budget – how much are you willing to spend out of your own pocket to promote your book? Find a number you’re comfortable with so you don’t end up shocked by that credit card bill!

Of course, these suggestions are just the beginning. Book publicity is a difficult, time-consuming job that requires much hard work and persistence and creative out-of-the-box problem solving. But trust me, it’s all worth it when you see a child pick your book from the shelf of a bookstore or library with a smile on his or her face.

New Voices Award sealThanks for joining us, Paula! The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here. The deadline for submissions this year is September 30, 2014.

Further Reading:

Dealing with Rejection: Keeping Your Dream Going by debut author Thelma Lynne Godin

How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children by New Voices Award winner Pamela M. Tuck

Submitting to Our New Voices Award: Tips from an Editor

New Voices Award FAQs

 


Filed under: Interviews with Authors and Illustrators, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Writer Resources Tagged: aspiring authors, marketing, NaPiBoWriWee, Paula Yoo, writing contest

1 Comments on Paula Yoo on How to Publicize Your Children’s Book, last added: 9/12/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
4. En la Clase: #weneeddiversebooks

Hannah:

We love this!

Originally posted on Vamos a Leer:

You all may remember #weneeddiversebooks from last May when we posted about this new initiative.  It’s still going strong and has even more resources to offer those interested in increasing access to diverse children’s and young adult’s literature.  If you’re not familiar with this campaign, the following is their mission statement:

“We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish…

View original 140 more words


Filed under: Educator Resources

1 Comments on En la Clase: #weneeddiversebooks, last added: 9/12/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
5. Three New Picture Books from Lee & Low Books

The temperature has already started to drop and we’re seeing Halloween candy popping up in the grocery stores, so that means a new batch of books for the fall season! Here are three new picture books out this week. We can’t wait to hear what you think of them!

Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving

lend a hand cover

Ages 6–10 • $17.95 hardcover
978-1-60060-970-1

Lend a Hand is a collection of fourteen original poems, each emphasizing the compassion and the joy of giving. Representing diverse voices—different ages and backgrounds—the collection shows the bridging of boundaries between people who are often perceived as being different from one another. Written by John Frank and illustrated by London Ladd.

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

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

little melba and her big trombone

Ages 6–10 • $18.95 hardcover
978-1-60060-898-8

With three starred reviews (PW, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews), it’s clear that Melba Doretta Liston is “something special”! Brimming with ebullience and the joy of making music, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone is a fitting tribute to a trailblazing musician and a great unsung hero of jazz. Written by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison.

“An excellent match of breezy text and dynamic illustrations tells an exhilarating story.”
—starred review, School Library Journal

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank

twenty-two cents cover

Ages 6–10 • $18.95 hardcover
978-1-60060-658-8

Twenty-two Cents is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one person—like one small loan—can make a positive difference in the lives of many. Written by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Jamel Akib.

“Yoo makes the significance of Yunus’s contributions understandable, relevant, and immediate.” —Publishers Weekly


Filed under: Book News, New Releases Tagged: children's books, diverse books, fall books, fall releases, Melba Doretta Liston, Muhammad Yunus, multicultural books

0 Comments on Three New Picture Books from Lee & Low Books as of 9/9/2014 3:42:00 PM
Add a Comment
6. 7 Strategies for Navigating Lexile for Booksellers and Librarians

I highly recommend all educators and parents read a bookseller’s perspective on leveling systems, Lexile in this case, which we re-posted on our blog last week. There are great firsthand examples of parents and booksellers striving in earnest to help children improve in reading.

Regardless of where one comes down on leveling books and assessing students with leveling systems, last week’s post laid bare the lack of or breakdown in communication between all stakeholders about the tools used to assess children’s reading growth.

Whether a child’s reading abilities are measured using Lexile, Accelerated Reader, DRA or another, we must equip any and all stakeholders in a child’s education with knowledge about what these tools mean and concrete ways to further support the child.

Children spend 7,800 hours outside of school each year compared to 900 hours in school. The National Center for Families Learning asserts that “the family unit—no matter the composition—is the one constant across the educational spectrum.” I am extending the definition of a child’s family to include afterschool volunteers, librarians, booksellers, pediatricians, and anyone else involved in a child’s education journey.

Below are strategies for strengthening the communication lines, sharing resources and context, and building a community invested in each child’s education. In doing so, we show our students, children, and customers that they have a whole team cheering for them and invested in their growth, joy, and success.

This week we are tackling what librarians and booksellers can do in preparation for hearing those magical words, “My child has a Lexile score of…” Next week, we will offer strategies for teachers and parents.

For librarians and booksellers who are asked which book for which level:

  • Know the local feeder schools to your library or store and ask teachers or the school librarians what leveling systems they are using. Find out how the classroom libraries are organized (by theme, genre, Lexile level, AR level, guided reading level, author). Reaching out to neighborhood schools helps you learn about your customers and build relationships with educators. Ask schools for any booklists or level conversion charts. Schools will be thrilled to recommend their families to places that know their curriculum, leveling systems, and community. Students may move on, but you and teachers are in it for the long haul.
  • If schools use multiple or differing leveling systems, ask schools for level conversion charts to have on hand for customers or download your own from Reading Rockets, Booksource, Scholastic Guided Reading Program, Lexile, or Lee & Low. A conversion chart will help you translate what grade level a customer is reading on and books you can recommend within that range.
  • Design your own booklists based on grade levels or popular leveling systems. Search by book titles or by levels on Scholastic Book Wizard, Perma-Bound, Lexile’s Find a Book, Accelerated Reader BookFinder, and specific publishers like Lee & Low. Parents and students can reference these handouts as they explore the store.
  • Even better: Use other pre-curated lists of popular leveling systems. Remember, you are neither the only nor first bookseller to have a confused nine year old asking what they should read at a Lexile level 930. Share and reach out to teachers and school librarians who may have created lists from which parents and children are requesting. Other persistent souls are tackling these issues as well: Durham County Library and Phoenix Public Library both built a reader’s service to search titles by Lexile, as well as graded and themed booklists.
  • Know the Common Core Appendix B text exemplar list. It may not be perfect, but many schools are using these texts to benchmark against other works. Recognizing these books will give you a sense of what the expectations are for each grade level and what students across the country are reading. Pair books in your store or library with this list to help readers discover more contemporary, diverse, and multicultural books.
  • If you have children who are reading significantly above their typical grade level and parents that are concerned that higher levels equal too mature content or themes, encourage expository nonfiction. Nonfiction often has higher technical and academic vocabulary bumping up the Lexile or Accelerated Reader levels (as they measure linguistic complexity), but the themes and concepts won’t be mature. When I had three students who were reading two plus grade levels above their peers, I sought out more STEM books that aligned with my third-grade science units, the solar system and animal adaptations. They were able to explore more in-depth about black holes and gravity than we could cover whole group.
  • Remember ELL, EFL, ESL, and non-English speaking families. You will most likely have at least a few parents whose first language is NOT English. They will rely even more heavily on you (librarians and bookstore staff) for help finding the right fit book for their child. The more you learn about leveling systems and engage with the neighborhood schools, the more you help the child.

Next week, we will offer strategies for teachers and parents.

What have we missed? Please share in the comments your tricks, tips, and ideas for helping families and children navigate the bookshelves.

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


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: booksellers, Bookselling, CCSS, children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, librarians, Reading Aloud

0 Comments on 7 Strategies for Navigating Lexile for Booksellers and Librarians as of 9/7/2014 9:20:00 AM
Add a Comment
7. Diverse Fall Shows We’re Looking Forward to:

This year’s Emmys had an unfortunate lack of diversity. But, never fear! Fall 2014’s TV season is about to start and there are some amazing diverse offerings on the horizon.

Returning:

Grey’s Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes’s medical drama returns for its eleventh season.

Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as a modern day Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, returns.

Sleepy HollowSleepy Hollow normalizes POC characters as leads in a fantasy-world setting, in which their POC-ness isn’t an “issue” but definitely a part of who they are as characters. It tackles historical issues like slavery head-on (for example, Ichabod’s reaction to Abbie being a cop), and it centers Abbie’s experience as the hero of this tale.

Ultimately, it’s epic and funny and fascinating—it tells a good story.

Scandal, Shonda Rhimes’s political thriller, returns with Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope.

Premiering:

Fresh off the Boat is the first sitcom starring Asian Americans since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl in 1994. There are 18.9 million Asian Americans in the US. It’s time to see some positive representation! Fresh off the Boat

The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore will replace Comedy Central’s Colbert Report.

Black-ish, starring Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, follows a middle-class African American family in a mostly-white neighborhood.

Selfie looks fun and funny, a fresh take on My Fair Lady, with a nicely diverse cast across the board.

Cristela, “in her sixth year at law school, is finally on the brink of landing her first big (unpaid) internship at a prestigious law firm. However, she’s a lot more ambitious than her traditional Mexican-American family thinks is appropriate.”

How to Get Away with MurderHow to Get Away with Murder stars two-time Oscar nominee, Viola Davis, as “the brilliant, charismatic and seductive Professor Annalise Keating, who gets entangled with four law students from her class “How to Get Away with Murder.””

Jane the Virgin is a retelling of Venezuelan soap-opera Juana la Virgen staring Gina Rodriguez.

Survivor’s Remorse, produced by LeBron James, follows Cam Calloway, a young basketball prodigy who is thrust into the limelight after getting a multi-million dollar contract with a professional team in Atlanta.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Galavant is about a dashing hero, determined to reclaim his reputation and his “happily ever after” from the evil King Richard. Karen David stars as Isabella. It’s unclear from the previews what role Isabella will ultimately play overall, but Karen David is the top-billed woman in the cast, so we have hopes her character will be important!

Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney

Gotham, WB’s new origin story on Batman and several villains, will have Jada Pinkett Smith in the role of Fish Mooney. Zabryna Guevara will star in the role of Sarah Essen.

Have we missed any? Let us know in the comments what diverse shows you’re looking forward to this fall!


Filed under: Diversity, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Race Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, diverse television, diversity, fall 2014, Multiracial, new tv shows, Race issues, television, tv

7 Comments on Diverse Fall Shows We’re Looking Forward to:, last added: 9/5/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
8. Is TV getting more diverse? Not by the look of this year’s Emmys

This is a post by our literacy and sales assistant, Veronica Schneider.

It was no major surprise who the big winners were on Monday evening’s 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, with Breaking Bad totaling five awards and Modern Family winning Best Comedy Series for the fifth consecutive year.

Cary Fukunaga accepts his Emmy

Cary Fukunaga accepts his Emmy

More importantly, the 2014 Emmy Awards really shocked us all by showing how progressive and diversified television has become.

Kidding.

We need to look beyond the fashionable red carpet looks and the Hollywood glam and instead discuss what is plainly missing: diversity. Diverse television may pull in viewers with hit shows like Sleepy Hollow, Orange is the New Black, and Scandal, but it isn’t necessarily being rewarded. In an interview with KCPP Radio,Darell Hunt, Director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, said, “So far we haven’t seen a translation where the awards program reflects the increasing variety of things that are actually being made for the small screen.”

Not one person of color won in any of the lead or supporting actor/actress categories, with only 6 total African Americans amongst the 54 white nominees. Many were hopeful that Kerry Washington would take the win for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for ABC’s Scandal – she would have been the first African American to win in this category. Add to this the troubling fact that, as we reported last year, an African American woman has not been nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series since The Cosby Show (1986). Uzo Aduba, who plays ‘Crazy Eyes’ on Orange is the New Black, did take home an Emmy for Guest Actress in a Comedy, but that category was not part of the Prime Time Emmys and went largely under the radar.

Although we were certainly applauding Cary Joji Fukunaga’s win for Directing in a Drama Series for True Detective, people of color overall held a 22% representation in the directing categories.

Women were also not exempt from underrepresentation at the Emmys. According to the Women’s Media Center (WMC), 26% of the nominees were women, highlighting the consistent lack of representation maintained from the 2013 Emmy Awards’ 26.5% makeup of women nominees. Out of 62 possible award categories, 16 completely failed to include women. But wait, this isn’t the first time this has happened. Yes, according to the WMC, this is the third consecutive year that 16 categories were void of women. Oops.

Maybe that is why many viewers were not laughing as Modern Family actress, Sofia Vergara, slowly spun on a revolving platform while Bruce Rosenblum, CEO and Chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, spoke about the academy being “more diverse than ever before.” While some found this play on sexual stereotypes humorous, the attempt at irony may not have been as successful for others who criticized the Academy for the cringe-worthy objectification. Instead, this failed attempt at irony reminded audiences of the still relevant and persistent issue of sexism and gender disparity.

“What a wonderful time for women in television,” Julianna Marguiles declared as she accepted her Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for The Good Wife.

We agree. There is more opportunity and diversity in television today, but it isn’t reinforced loud enough in what is being rewarded. Here is last year’s infographic on the diversity gap in the Emmy Awards:

Emmy Awards Diversity Gap

Since then, the numbers haven’t changed. Let’s hope 2015 will be the year that moves the needle.


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, The Diversity Gap Tagged: diversity gap, diversity in Hollywood, Emmy Awards, television

1 Comments on Is TV getting more diverse? Not by the look of this year’s Emmys, last added: 8/29/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
9. Lexile: A Bookseller’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Guest bloggerThe following post by bookseller Melissa was cross-posted with permission from her blog, Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books. Thanks to Melissa for allowing us to share her perspective!

Fall has (almost) arrived.  Cool weather, pretty fall color, yummy drinks composed of apple cider or hot cocoa, and I get to wear scarves (I like scarves as an accessory).

And standardized testing, if you are or have a school-age child.

In my area of the country, it seems school districts have chosen testing that calculates a Lexile score for a child’s reading level with an associated score range.  Lexile is a company that uses a software program to analyze books for word usage, sentence length, etc. and produce a Lexile Text Measure for each book (I copied the description from the Lexile Analyzer site):

The Lexile ® measure of text is determined using the Lexile Analyzer ®, a software program that evaluates the reading demand—or readability—of books, articles and other materials. The Lexile Analyzer ® measures the complexity of the text by breaking down the entire piece and studying its characteristics, such as sentence length and word frequency, which represent the syntactic and semantic challenges that the text presents to a reader. The outcome is the text complexity, expressed as a Lexile ® measure, along with information on the word count, mean sentence length and mean log frequency.
Generally, longer sentences and words of lower frequency lead to higher Lexile ® measures; shorter sentences and words of higher frequency lead to lower Lexile ® measures. Texts such as lists, recipes, poetry and song lyrics are not analyzed because they lack conventional punctuation.

I’m not a huge fan of putting a “score” on a book based simply on a computer generated metric because the software doesn’t take into account context or content of a book.  Or form, cf poetry.  But this seems to be accepted by the educational powers-that-be, so it’s here for the time being. However, I don’t know how well or often the scores are explained to parents, because I wind up in a lot of parent-bookseller conversations like this:

Parent: My child has a Lexile score of XXXX.  She has to read books in the range of XXXX-XXXX.  Will this work?
Bookseller [thinks]: Craaaaaaaaap.
Bookseller [says]: Well, let’s pull up the Lexile site to see what it suggests for that range and go from there.

The major problem here is that the parent hasn’t THE FOGGIEST IDEA what books go with the child’s Lexile score or how score ranges line up

The Sun Also Rises cover

The Sun Also Rises, a title with a confusing Lexile identity

with likely grade-levels.  They don’t have/haven’t been provided with a list of suggestions for the range.  They haven’t looked up Lexile on the Internet to get a handle on what this thing is (I mean, hello, the Internet is the Information Superhighway, Google it).  And their poor child is off in the corner trying desperately to read another Warriors book by Erin Hunter or Wimpy Kid or the new Babymouse before the “grown-ups” force her into reading stuff that she thinks she doesn’t want to read.

As booksellers (and by extension librarians, a population I am not a member of but respect greatly), we are the information gatekeepers the parents turn to in this situation.  We are the ones to take an abstract range of numbers and turn it into a physical pile of titles and authors.  We have to differentiate between editions because scores can fluctuate wildly and Lexile isn’t very informative (type “The Sun Also Rises” into Lexile – the old Scribner edition has a score of 610L, the ISBN for the reprint isn’t found, and the Modern Critical Interpretations edition is listed with a score of 1420L….confusing, right?).  And we are the ones who have to know what stories lay between the covers of those books so we can explain the contents to the parents.

In almost every customer interaction regarding Lexile, I have had to find books for a child who reads significantly above grade level (at grade level is generally pretty easy and parents with children under grade level often have a list of recommended titles as a starting point; for some reason, those children who read above grade level don’t have many recommendations).  For reference, Lexile gives a grade approximation for the score ranges:

Even though the approximate ranges are pretty wide, a book or series that is popular among peers isn’t often in the “right” score range for an advanced reader.  Some titles are marked “NC” meaning a non-conforming score (higher than intended audience) but it’s hard to tease those out of a range during a search (I’ve tried).  It can get pretty emotional when the child cannot find anything he or she wants to read or that parents will allow them to read that “counts” for their Lexile score.

The biggest grade-to-score discrepancy I’ve come across was a seventh grade boy (and a bit young socially for his age) who had a Lexile score greater than 1100.  His Lexile range was approximately 1150 – 1210.  The boy had to read at least five books that semester in his range to pass English and he was already behind. His father had done some online research and was at a loss – he was having trouble finding content-appropriate books in that score range (there was also a religious consideration, so a lot of recommended fantasy titles were automatically out).  The boy was very open to reading Stephen King, who has a lot of high-Lexile score titles, but the idea was vetoed by Dad due to language (and probably the religious consideration as well).  Dostoevsky was perfectly acceptable to Dad, but the kiddo really couldn’t get excited about it (he was into Gary Paulsen’s Brian series, but that wasn’t even close).  Some Dumas was in the right range but not the more appealing titles (The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask are both under 1000).  Gary Paulsen’s My Life in Dog Years was just in range, so I was able to interest both parent and child in that.  I sold them on The Hound of the Baskervilles and then hit paydirt with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  The boy had a friend with an Asperger-like syndrome and they were friends in their advanced math classes. Whew.  Finally, three books and a reasonably happy father.  But I couldn’t help but think – what are they going to do as the child continues through the school system?

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this since this isn’t quite the usual tone for a “‘Tis the Season” post.

Well, I really just wanted to put this out there to maybe help save parents, children, and teachers (and possibly other booksellers and librarians)  had a little girl just burst into tears once when I told her The Last Olympian  - the book she so desperately wanted to read - had a score of 620L; she had to have books greater than 700 or her teacher wouldn't count them at all. some grief.  I would like to ask school administrators and teachers to work with children and parents to come up with lists of possible books appropriate to both grade-level and Lexile range (and I understand if you do this and the parents forget, are obstinate, or leave the list at home when they head to the bookstore).  For parents, Lexile provides a map with lists of titles for score ranges.  It’s a good place to start when trying to find books.

I would also like to ask teachers to be less rigid when assigning Lexile-related reading assignments because this seems to be where children have the most trouble.  I have so often helped kids who love, love to read but have found that none of the books they find appealing “count” for a reading assignment because they aren’t in the “right” Lexile range or have no score because either the book is too new or has an un-evaluable format.  These kids feel disheartened, that they’re failing, that the things they love are unimportant, and I hate seeing their disappointment when I’ve gone through the entire stack of books they’ve picked out and not a single one was in the right range.  I had a little girl just burst into tears once when I told her The Last Olympian  – the book she so desperately wanted to read – had a score of 620L; she had to have books greater than 700 or her teacher wouldn’t count them at all.  Please let children with high Lexile ranges count some of those lower-scoring books toward their reading assignment (say, an exchange of two non-Lexile books for one Lexile book, not to exceed half the assignment) or perhaps give them extra credit for those books as long as they’re keeping up with the Lexile assignment (if you’re already doing that, bravo!).  These kids are reading because they love reading and they’re already reading outside of school, which is sort of the point of those types of assignments.   I rarely hear of a child being penalized for reading above his or her range so I think there’s a compromise that can be reached for those kids who want to read but have trouble finding books due to age or content.

So bring your Lexile ranges to me and I and my fellow booksellers and librarians will do our best to find what you like to read as well as what you need to read – if we’re very good, that book will fill both requirements.  ‘Tis that sort of season.


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources Tagged: back to school, booksellers, common core, lexile

2 Comments on Lexile: A Bookseller’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy?, last added: 8/28/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
10. Character Education, Part 2: How to Teach Core Values To Kids Meaningfully

Last week, we looked at how to pick significant books to teach the core values that will guide our classrooms and school communities for the coming year.

In addition to having the right books with fitting characters and messages, we need to embed these core values in additional activities in the coming first weeks or months of school.

There are three rules in teaching students about core values: model, model, model. Students must see core values in practice in order to grasp abstract concepts such as empathy, persistence, or pride. Below are a sample of ways to integrate core values into character education and ELA instruction.

1. Extend a fiction or nonfiction book’s message of characters struggling with the core value beyond the text.

-Ask questions during and after the reading: How does this character demonstrate respect? Or, how does this character struggle with respect? (look at the character’s actions, feelings, opinions about and interactions with other characters, and dialogue) What advice would you give this character? How should this character handle the situation next time?

-Have students in small groups act out how they would have handled the situation in the book differently or give advice to the main character(s).

-Invite students to create a job ad looking for a person that demonstrates the selected core value. On the flip side, have students create a “Wanted” poster of a character not demonstrating the core value and describing the character.

-Turn the book into a Reader’s Theater script so students can perform it to younger grades and lead a discussion on why this book is good for learning about the particular core value.

2. As a class or in small groups,  have students brainstorm on chart paper what the core value looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Teachers at my school were great about encouraging students to make a list of examples of actions that demonstrate the core value, things we might hear or could say that demonstrate the core value, and feelings we might experience when we practice or see someone practice the core value. Post the resulting chart on the wall for students to refer back to during character study or throughout the year to inform their own choices.

3. Use the core values as the first vocabulary words of the year. In doing so, you will create a classroom-wide common language and create a space for all students (including ELLs) to access academic vocabulary and become familiar with your vocabulary instruction routine. Consider multiple vocabulary acquisition strategies: Have students make predictions about word meanings, look up and record word definitions from a dictionary, write the meaning of the word or phrase in their own words, draw a picture of the meaning of the word, list synonyms and antonyms, create an action for each word, and write a meaningful sentence that demonstrates the definition of the word.

4. Take photographs of your students modeling the core values. Let students brainstorm in teams what one of the core values looks like in action, take a photograph, and then display the example on your classroom wall. (For example: picking up trash=responsibility or helping a younger student=kindness) When students struggle to practice any of the core values, remind them of the photo wall of their peers or themselves modeling the core value. This is wonderful positive reinforcement for students who may struggle with behavior and making good choices later in the year. Whether observing examples or non-examples, students will love describing what their peers are doing well or what they need to change to demonstrate the core value.

5. Make the first wall displays for the year core-value themed and make them visible for all visitors to see. Students can bring in pictures, drawings, or magazine and newspaper clippings. Encourage students to mine advertisements and local news stories to find a celebrity or significant person they admire demonstrating one of the core values (For example: post a picture of an Olympic athlete training=persistence). Feature a collage of these examples on a wall alongside the photographs of students modeling the core value and the chart defining the core value. Think about leaving these up throughout the year to remind students of how far they have come.

6. Apply the core values to students’ lives with real examples and scenarios they may face over the coming year at school, in their homes, and in their community. In addition to realistic fiction books with similar settings and characters with which students identify, discuss realistic situations and have students create skits to solve real world problems using the core value.

7. Remember that those first few weeks offer countless teachable moments! When a child demonstrates a core value, point it out to the class. Encourage students to observe their peers in the classroom and at home. Create a time for students to reflect on one or more of the core values and share who they saw making good choices. Since you can’t observe every moment, involve your students in catching their classmates being diligent, generous, and more. Students will love the positive attention and you will get the chance to turn any tattling into a positive tool.

Have other great ideas to share with our educator community? What activities do you do every year to teach character education?

For further reading:

Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books For Core Value Study

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


Filed under: Educator Resources Tagged: children's books, Educators

0 Comments on Character Education, Part 2: How to Teach Core Values To Kids Meaningfully as of 8/24/2014 10:47:00 AM
Add a Comment
11. Thoughts on Ferguson and Recommended Resources

The following is a note from our Publisher, Jason Low, published in this month’s e-newsletter:

image from BirdIt’s been a hard few weeks for those of us following the news out of Ferguson, Missouri. While the exact details of Michael Brown’s death remain unknown, we can already see how this latest incident fits into a larger narrative in this country in which people of color are routinely discriminated against and subject to violence based on the color of their skin. Healing and change cannot begin until we as a country acknowledge the role racism plays not just in events like Michael Brown’s death, but in the everyday lived experiences of the 37% of America that is not white.

From a distance, it can seem like our book-filled corner of the world doesn’t have much to do with Michael Brown’s death, but we know better. The need for more diverse books and better representation is urgent. Poor representation doesn’t just damage self-esteem and confidence of children of color, it also perpetuates a skewed version of society as a whole. How can true equality ever exist if we are literally not even on the same page? Promoting diverse books is about creating a safer space for all children.

There are no easy ways to teach children about what’s happening in Ferguson, but here are couple links we’ve come across that help illuminate the issues and, perhaps, let us find teachable moments:

The Murder of Sean Bell: From Pain to Poetry

What did you tell your kids after the Zimmerman Verdict?

5 Books to Instill Confidence in African American Children

A Dream Conferred: Seven Ways to Explore Race in the Classroom

10 Resources for Teaching About Racism

America’s Racial Divide, Charted

The Case for Reparations

Stark Racial Divisions in Reactions to Ferguson Police Shooting

We’ll add more links as we find them; meanwhile, please do share your favorites in the comments.


Filed under: Dear Readers, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Educator Resources Tagged: Ferguson, race, Race issues, racism, teaching about race

2 Comments on Thoughts on Ferguson and Recommended Resources, last added: 8/22/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
12. Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books For Core Value Study

As we cluster in workshops, around webinars, and near the water cooler, we are already thinking about and preparing what skills and knowledge we want to teach. Yet, to truly have a successful year, let’s ponder an additional question: who do we want to teach?

The start of school is a popular time to model and instill core values because August and September are a fresh start: our time as teachers, librarians, and administrators to create and cultivate a community bound and motivated by the same values and goals. It is during this period that we can expose our students to stories with strong morals that feature both examples and non-examples of how to react in tough situations and learn from one’s mistakes.

However, it can be very difficult to select just the right text to teach values that will guide our students through academic and developmental challenges over the coming year and lay the groundwork for the community we hope to build.

Many teachers dust off their tried-and-true character education read alouds each coming school year or rely on word of mouth recommendations that send us back to the classics year in, year out. During my first year of teaching, I remember everyone scrambling to find a book that demonstrated “respect” or “persistence.” When a master teacher on campus mentioned that she used a particular title for the start of every first week of school, that sounded like hard proof to me and I was grateful. I went out and bought it.

Yet, there is not just one book that will make the abstract concept of “empathy” or “leadership” concrete to third graders or kindergartners. With such dependence on the same books, many of my third graders had read The Lorax three years in a row to learn about responsibility and respect. It’s an outstanding book to explore these values, but still…three years? It was time to shake things up.

Whether your school has campus-wide core values or you can determine your own, I encourage you to think carefully about which books you use to teach core values. They are the foundation of a classroom or school’s culture and can guide children’s social, intellectual, and emotional development.

For successful character education study, choose a set of books that:

1. Have protagonists that both exemplify and struggle with at least one of the classroom’s core values. Don’t just present stories with perfect, role model-worthy characters! Students should see multiple examples of people and situations of the core value in action to learn that one’s character is made, not born. Finding books where characters (protagonists and antagonists) lie, cheat, lose their cool, or are hurtful to other characters can be just as powerful as exemplary characters, if not more so. Students can discuss what they can learn from both examples and non-examples, share advice for different scenarios, and reflect on similar experiences in their lives where they struggled to make the right decision.

2. Are both fiction and nonfiction. Pair fiction with nonfiction texts to show students a range of experiences and real world applications. Reading a biography of a famous leader practicing or struggling with a core value gives students the chance to visualize the core value in their environment and daily lives, as well as let them see that knowing how to make good choices doesn’t come naturally and needs to be practiced.

3. Align with the Common Core ELA Standards. Character education doesn’t need to be separate from ELA instruction or your curriculum. In fact, core value study is great for teaching close reading, determining central ideas and author’s message, analyzing word choice, and comparing two or more texts.

4. Have protagonists students can identify with based on race, gender, family background, language, and experience. Although students absolutely learn from characters different from themselves, it is very meaningful for children to see someone on the cover and in the pages they identify with struggling or succeeding to make good choices. Especially for younger students, relating to aspects of a character’s identity helps students visualize themselves in the character’s situation and develop empathy. Additionally, for children who are new to school or are English Language Learners, having characters that remind them of themselves or their families may give the children more confidence to participate in class, which is critical to building a strong classroom/school community at the beginning of the year.

Looking to refresh your character education read aloud shelf? For book recommendations demonstrating your classroom’s core values, check out our Pinterest boards:

What core values do you teach children? What are your favorite books to teach these core values? Let us know below!

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


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

1 Comments on Character Education, Part 1: How To Choose Books For Core Value Study, last added: 8/16/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
13. Dealing With Rejection: Keeping Your Dream Going

Thelma Lynne GodinThelma Lynne Godin is the debut author of The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, which received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Shelf Awareness. She lives with her husband in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In this post, we asked her to share advice on believing in your dreams for those submitting to the New Voices Award and other aspiring authors.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

As a child I was an avid dreamer and reader. I lived in the world of books. Sometimes I was the little girl in the Cat in the Hat enjoying the fun, but worrying about the mother coming home and finding out about the chaos. Other times I was Laura Ingalls Wilder, sleeping in a covered wagon with Pa, Ma, and Mary out on the prairie. As I grew older I dreamt of being a writer and creating worlds for kids to lose themselves in. But I let that dream drift as grown-up life became a reality. My careers as a mother, a librarian, and a social worker took up much of my time and energy, even though I continued to read and enjoy books for children. I was working as a school librarian and struggling with both my kids leaving for college when I noticed a picture book writing class being offered at a local art college. And suddenly, I was back in that drifting dream. Taking that class and being with people who shared the same dream was a giant step forward in my twisty road to publication. Sometimes I could glide on effortlessly, and other times I would round a curve to find a huge hill that I had to toil up.

As writers it is sometimes hard to continue to believe in the beauty of your dreams. Daring to get started, actually putting your words on paper and then having the courage to share them with others is hard. And receiving a rejection for all that daring is like a kick in the arse. It is not for the faint hearted. I got, and still receive, my share of rejections.

It was a cold, dreary, sunless day when I received a letter from Lee & Low regarding my submission of HULA HOOPIN’ QUEEN. I was at a low point in my writing path. I was at the bottom of one of those steep hills. I had just come home from a critique group meeting where one of my friends was sharing her newest book. While happy for her, I also felt despair of ever achieving that same dream. Feeling sure it was just another rejection, I tossed the letter from Lee & Low aside without even opening it. Several hours later, I noticed it sitting on the table, and I actually started toward the garbage with it in hand. I was in such a spot that I felt I couldn’t take another rejection. But suddenly, without even thinking it through, I had opened it.

My first thought was, “Oh no! Now I’m getting two-page rejection letters!” But then I started to read it. It was two pages of things the editor liked about my story and also things she wanted me to think about working on for the possibility of Lee & Low accepting it. And suddenly my mood and the day became all sunshine and warmth, because that two-page letter was actually the beginning of my dream coming true.

That is what this journey of being a writer is all about. Highs and lows; twists and turns. But through it all, even at the lowest point, you have your words and the magical thing that happens when your words become a story. You have the dream of having those stories touch a child’s heart. So we need to dare to dream, dare to believe in the beauty of our dreams, because those dreams are my future and yours.

New Visions Award sealThe New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Writer Resources Tagged: aspiring authors, dealing with rejection, The Hula-Hoopin' Queen, Thelma Godin, writing

1 Comments on Dealing With Rejection: Keeping Your Dream Going, last added: 8/14/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
14. Planting Seeds of Change Around the World

Guest bloggerThis is a guest post by Jen Cullerton Johnson, author of Seeds of ChangeJohnson is a writer, educator, and environmentalist who teachers at an inner-city elementary school in Chicago.

Ashley Howey is the literacy coordinator at Briar Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Last school year, she contacted me about my picture book Seeds of Change, a nonfiction biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Brier Creek Elementary school wanted to do something different, something no other school in their district had done before.

The school community wanted to adopt the themes within Seeds of Change to be the deep focus for student growth, teacher extended learning, and administration professional development. In other words, everyone at Briar Creek Elementary wanted to be involved in change. They wanted the book Seeds of Change to guide them because they felt it showed how people tackled big problems and worked together, and most importantly how change brings out each person’s inner potential.

Brier Creek Elementary School hosts diverse learners from various socio-economic and multicultural backgrounds. The school is supported by Title I and is a year around school. Their curriculum mission is to “cultivate culturally ambitious citizens.”

“We want everyone in our school to own a copy,” Ashley Howey said. “Teachers, students, cafeteria workers, administration, parents. Everyone.”

“How many is everyone?” I asked.

“1,200.”

1,200 copies is a lofty goal, a ton of books, an enormous number, I thought.

“What makes this project so special?” I asked.

“Every student in the school is united by reading the book and using it as a springboard for collective change,” she said.

I remembered that goals are all about teamwork, goodwill, and sharing our resources. I was on board.

In September 2013, I sent video message to their teachers. In October 2014, we skyped with the whole school where a storyteller enacted Wangari’s life. By March 2014 the school had purchased close to 300 copies, one for each teacher and one for each family unit in the school. They were not able to give all students a copy. Nonetheless with the copies they had, the school began their Seeds of Change project.

Brier Creek Elementary Teachers

Brier Creek Elementary Teachers with copies of Seeds of Change

The music teacher, Adam Hall wrote an anthem for the whole school. Young people sang lyrics like: Plant our roots/ Let us grow/ Water us love/To watch us bloom!

Children in different classrooms started thinking about how to be the best they could.

One student said: “At our school we are working together to make things better like Wangari did!”

Teachers felt the pull of the whole school learning focus. Enthusiasm was contagious!

One teacher said, “Seeds of Change has given our school a common language of character. We have integrated these powerful message of persistence, patience and respect for our surroundings and others, into our conversations throughout the school.”

But by June 2014, Brier Creek Elementary School still had not been able to give a copy of the book to each student. In fact, since March, many, many had to share. What Ashley Howey wanted when she first started this big school community project was for everyone to have a copy of the book, and so far they still need 700 copies of Seeds of Change.

Then something happened. They started giving away some of their books.

“We wanted the children to sign the book here in North Carolina and give them to the children in Kenya. And the Kenyan children would sign a copy and we would keep a copy it in North Carolina.”

When students decided to share their resources, they were given even more opportunities to learn, grow and be proud of who they are.

The exchange was a success. Students in North Carolina saw a digital video of Kenyan students reading the book. Kenyan students saw North Carolina students dancing and singing to the song they created called Seeds of Change.

Students in Kenya with their copies of Seeds of Change

Students in Kenya with their copies of Seeds of Change

Their special project is unique and is rooted in changing the mindset and actions of a school community. With this first year over, Brier Creek Elementary now wants to continue to connect and share what they learned.

The school is now is involved in a sister project with a school in Kenya. Teachers in North Carolina are sharing lesson plans and learning activities with Kenyan teachers and their students.

“We plan on Skyping with the Kenya teachers and students about Seeds of Change,” Ashley said. “In August we will fundraise with a Seeds of Change Walk-a-Thon and the money will go to buying more copies of the book for us and for Kenya.” They want to raise enough funds to buy 200 copies to send to Kenya.

What you can do

Together with your help, we can continue to plant and honor our seeds of change. If you are inspired by Brier Creek Elementary School’s project, get involved! I have started a Seeds of Change Campaign where young people around the country can help other young people at Brier Creek Elementary and their sister school in Kenya by donating copies of Seeds of Change to help them reach their goal of 700 copies for their school and 200 copies for their sister school in Kenya.

If a young person donates, I will donate an Author’s Skype visit to your home or school. In my Author’s visit, we will read parts of the book and do a seed planting together. I will also create a section on my website where your school will be honored as a donor.

Please contact publicity@leeandlow.com or jencullertonjohnson@gmail.com for scheduling and further information.

Book donations can be sent to the following address:

Ashley Howey, NBCT

Brier Creek Elementary School
9801 Brier Creek Parkway
Raleigh, North Carolina 27617
http://www.briercreekes.net


Filed under: Book News, Educator Resources, Interviews with Authors and Illustrators Tagged: African/African American Interest, author visits, Seeds of change

1 Comments on Planting Seeds of Change Around the World, last added: 8/14/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
15. 11 Educator Resources for Teaching Children About Latin American Immigration and Migration

What an amazing week to see the response of last Sunday’s post and hear what many of you are facing, doing, and aspiring to in schools and communities. In addition to using children’s books to initiate conversations, deepen background knowledge, and humanize the events, here are eleven teaching resources to help you provide the best information, context, and perspective for your students.

Amazing Faces mirror

  1. Colorín Colorado is a free bilingual service that presents information, activities, and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English Language Learners. One of my favorite sections is “Reaching Out to ELL Students and Families” because it gives explicit tools on how to create a welcoming classroom environment, learn about our students’ backgrounds, and reach out to parents of ELLs.
  2. Educators For Fair Consideration (E4FC) offers educator guides to support teachers and school staff in supporting undocumented students in school and beyond graduation.
  3. Colorlines contributes award-winning daily reporting, investigative news, and analysis on issues of race with a subsection devoted to child migrants. They also have a campaign, Drop the I-Word.
  4. The Library of Congress has curated thousands of resources, especially primary sources and online exhibitions, on immigration in the United States providing critical historical context to current events. I strongly recommend checking out the presentation, Immigration: The Changing Face of America, where students can read the immigration history of specific ethnicities and races, and the Themed Resources: Immigration, where students can study the contributions of American immigrants.
  5. The staff at the Latin American and Iberian Institute (University of New Mexico) have created and organized thematic guides, lesson plans, and news articles for issues related to Latin America available at the Latin America Data Base.
  6. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides award-winning educational materials to teachers, including immigration-themed units and lessons.
  7. Border Crossers has prepared a list of resources for adults to learn how to teach and talk about race and racial justice with students.
  8. The Migrant Policy Institute, a Washington, DC think tank, offers powerful analysis of global and regional migration. I want to underscore their visual tools, such as the International Migrant Population by Country of Origin and Destination map.
  9. Accompanying the two PBS documentary series, Latino Americans and The New Americans, are rich lesson plans and activities for grades 7 and up to explore the diverse experiences of coming to America.
  10. Latin@s in Kid Lit has an extensive list of children’s literature for those looking for more beyond our eleven book list, as well as interviews and teaching ideas.
  11. The MY HERO Project enables students to create, share, and discover stories, audio, art, and films that promote tolerance, peace, and diversity. Teacher resources are available at MY HERO Teacher’s Room.

art from Arrorró, mi niñoFor further reading:

11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration

What resources would you add? What resources do you recommend? Please share them with our community in the comments!


Filed under: Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Immigration, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

6 Comments on 11 Educator Resources for Teaching Children About Latin American Immigration and Migration, last added: 8/12/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
16. Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about hooking the reader early and ways to write so you have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about the story and plot itself. When teaching at writing conferences, my first question to the audience is this:

 What is the most important thing about a multicultural book?

I let the audience respond for a little while, and many people have really good answers: getting the culture right, authenticity, understanding the character… these are all important things in diverse books.

But I think that the most important part of a diverse novel is the same thing that’s the most important thing about any novel: a good story. All of the other components of getting diversity right won’t matter if you don’t have a good story! And getting those details wrong affects how good the story is for me and for many readers.

So as we continue our series discussing things to keep in mind as you polish your New Visions Award manuscripts, let’s move the discussion on to how to write a good story, beyond just following the directions and getting a good hook in your first few pages. This week, we’ll focus on refining plot.

Here are a few of the kinds of comments readers might make if your plot isn’t quite there yet:

  • Part of story came out of nowhere (couldn’t see connection)
  • Too confusing
  • Confusing backstory
  • Plot not set up well enough in first 3 chapters
  • Bizarre plot
  • Confusing plot—jumped around too much
  • underdeveloped plot
  • Too complicated
  • Excessive detail/hard to keep track
  • Too hard to follow, not sure what world characters are in

We’ll look at pacing issues too, as they’re often related:

  • Chapters way too long
  • Pacing too slow (so slow hard to see where story is going)
  • Nothing gripped me
  • Too predictable

block quote 1Getting your plot and pacing right is a complicated matter. Just being able to see whether something is dragging too long or getting too convoluted can be hard when you’re talking about anywhere from fifty to a hundred thousand words, all in one long file. Entire books have been written on how to plot a good science fiction and fantasy book. More books have been written on how to plot a good mystery. If you need more in-depth work on this topic, refer to them (see the list at the end of this post).

So we won’t get too in depth here, but let’s cover a few points.

Know your target audience

When you’re writing for children, especially young children (middle grade, chapter books, and below), your plot should be much more linear than a plot for older readers who can hold several threads in their heads at once.

Teens are developmentally ready for more complications—many of them move up to adult novels during this age, after all—but YA as a category is generally simpler on plot structure than adult novels in the same genre. This is not to say the books are simple-minded. Just not as convoluted… usually. (This varies with the book—and how well the author can pull it off. Can you?)

But the difference between middle grade and YA is there for a reason—kids who are 7 or 8 or 9 years old and newly independent readers need plots that challenge them but don’t confuse them. And even adults get confused if so much is going on at once that we can’t keep things straight. Remember what we talked about last time regarding backstory—sometimes we don’t need to know everything all at once. What is the core of your story?

Linear plot

Note that “too complicated” is one of the main complaints of plot-related comments readers had while reading submissions to the last New Visions Award.

Don’t say, “But Writer Smith wrote The Curly-Eared Bunny’s Revenge for middle graders and it had TEN plot threads going at once!” Writer Smith may have done it successfully, but in general, there shouldn’t be more than one main plot and a small handful of subplots happening in a stand-alone novel for middle-grade readers.

If you intend your book to be the first in a series of seven or ten or a hundred books, you might have seeds in mind you’d like to plant for book seventy-two. Unless you’re contracted to write a hundred books, though, the phrase here to remember is stand-alone with series potential. Even Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was pretty straightforward in its plotting—hinting at backstory, but not dumping backstory on readers in book one; setting the stage for potential conflicts down the road but not introducing them beforetime. Book 1 of Harry Potter really could have just stood on its own and never gone on to book 2. It wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying as having the full 7-book arc, but note how seamlessly details were woven in, not calling attention to themselves even though they’re setting the stage for something later. Everything serves the linear plot of the main arc of book 1’s story. We only realize later that those details were doing double duty.

Thus, when you’re writing for children and young adults, remember that a linear main plot is your priority, and that anything in the story that is not serving the main plot is up on the chopping block, only to be saved if it proves its service to the main plot is true.block quote 2Plotting affects pace

In genre fiction for young readers, pacing is always an issue. Pacing can get bogged down by too many subplots—the reader gets annoyed or bored when it takes forever to get back to the main thrust of the story when you’re wandering in the byways of the world you created.

Fantasy readers love worldbuilding (to be covered in another post), but when writing for young readers, make sure that worldbuilding serves as much to move the plot forward as to simply show off some cool worldbuilding. Keep it moving along.

Character affects plot

This was not a complaint from the last New Visions Award, but another thing to keep in mind when plotting is that as your rising action brings your character into new complications, the character’s personality will affect his or her choices—which will affect which direction the plot moves. We’ll discuss characterization more another day, but just keep in mind that the plot is dependent upon the choices of your characters and the people around them (whether antagonists or otherwise). Even in a plot that revolves around a force of nature (tornado stories, for example), who the character is (or is becoming) will determine whether the plot goes in one direction or another.

Find an organizational method that works for you

This is not a craft recommendation so much as a tool. Plotting a novel can get overwhelming. You need a method of keeping track of who is going where when, and why. There are multiple methods for doing this.

Scrivener doesn’t work for all writers, so it might not be your thing, but I recommend trying out its corkboard feature, which allows you to connect summaries of plot points on a virtual corkboard to chapters in your book. If you need to move a plot point, the chapter travels along for the ride.

An old-fashioned corkboard where you can note plot points and move them around might be just as easy as entering them in Scrivener, if you like the more tactile approach.

Another handy tool is Cheryl Klein’s Plot Checklist, which has a similar purpose: it makes the writer think about the reason each plot point is in the story, and whether those points serve the greater story.

Whether you use a physical corkboard, a white board, Scrivener, or a form of outlining, getting the plot points into a form where you can see everything happening at once can help you to see where things are getting gummed up.

Further resources

This post is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to plotting a book. Here are some books and essays that will be of use to the writer seeking to fix his or her plot problems. (Note that some of these resources will be more useful to some writers than others, and vice versa. Find what works for you.)

  • “Muddles, Morals, and Making It Through: Or Plots and Popularity,” by Cheryl Klein in her book of essays on writing and revising, Second Sight.
  • In the same book by Cheryl Klein, “Quartet: Plot” and her plot checklist.
  • The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson
  • I haven’t had experience with this resource, but writer friends suggest the 7-point plot ideas of Larry Brooks, which is covered both in a blog series and in his books

And remember!

 

keep calm and write on

Further Reading:

New Visions Award: What NOT to Do

Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

The New Visions Guidelines

Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. 


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: fantasy, fantasy writing, New Visions Award, plotlines, sci-fi writing, science fiction, writing, writing 101, writing award, writing tips, young adult

1 Comments on Ask an Editor: Nailing the Story, last added: 8/11/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
17. 11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration

The-StorytellerAs media coverage has intensified around the events of children crossing the U.S. border, many educators and families are wondering, “What should we tell our students?” For some children, this may be the first time they are learning of these countries. But for many others, these events may involve their own heritage or depict their families’ experiences. Using books to talk about the recent events can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the cultures and people beyond these events.

We’ve put together a list of 11 books (many of which are bilingual English/Spanish) that teach about the emotional journey families and children must undertake along with the physical journey. These stories allow children to see each other and themselves in characters who are living life to the fullest and refusing to let any obstacle stand in their way.

Whether you are looking to explore the themes of the DREAM Act, learn more about the journey of one’s own family, or see America from a different angle, these books reveal the complexities, challenges, joys, and surprises of coming to a new place. Join these characters as they share their challenges and excitement in moving to a new culture and new school, helping their families adjust, and juggling their home culture with a new culture.

1. A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada

Poet Jorge Argueta evokes the wonder of his childhood in rural El Salvador, a touching relationship with a caring father, and his confusion and delight in his new urban home.

2. Amelia’s Road

Amelia longs for a beautiful white house with a fine shade tree in the yard, where she can live without worrying. In this inspirational tale, Amelia discovers the importance of putting her own roots down in a very special way.

 

3. First Day in Grapes

Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him, but Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different.

4. From North to South/ Del Norte al Sur

José loves helping Mama, but when Mama is sent back to Mexico for not having proper papers, José and his Papa face an uncertain future. Author René Colato Laínez tackles the difficult and timely subject of family separation with exquisite tenderness.

5. Home at Last

Ana Patino is adjusting well to her new life in the United States, but her mother is having a difficult time because she doesn’t speak English. After mama agrees to take English lessons, her sense of confidence and belonging grow.

6. My Diary from Here to There/ Mi diario de aqui hasta allá

Amada overhears her parents whisper of moving from Mexico to the other side of the border—to Los Angeles. As she and her family make their journey north, Amada records her fears, hopes, and dreams for their lives in the United States in her diary.

7. The Storyteller’s Candle/ La velita de los cuentos

The award-winning team of Lucia González and Lulu Delacre have crafted an homage to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Latina librarian. Through Pura Belpré’s vision and dedication, the warmth of Puerto Rico comes to the island of Manhattan in a most unexpected way.

8. The Upside Down Boy/ El niño de cabeza

Juanito is bewildered by the new school and everything he does feels upside down. But a sensitive teacher and loving family help him to find his voice and make a place for himself in this new world.

9. When This World Was New

It is Danilito’s first day in America and he is scared. He has heard that some Americans are not friendly to foreigners. In addition, he does not speak any English. Danilito’s worries disappear when Papa leads him on a magical trip of discovery.

10. Xochitl and the Flowers/ Xóchitl, la Niña de las Flores

Miles away from their home in El Salvador, Xochitl and her family make a new home in the United States, but nothing is the same. It is not until her family decides to start a flower nursery in its backyard that Xochitl begins to learn the true value of community in their adopted country.

11. Calling the Doves/ El canto de las palomas

Poet Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood. The farmworker road was the beginning of his personal road to becoming a writer.

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


Filed under: Common Core State Standards, Educator Resources, ELL/ESL and Bilingual Books Tagged: children's books, close reading, diversity, Educators, events, Immigration, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

4 Comments on 11 Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration, last added: 8/4/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
18. Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early

In this series, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman shares advice for aspiring authors, especially those considering submitting to our New Visions Award

Last week on the blog, I talked about the importance of following submission guidelines and basic manuscript format. This week, I wanted to go into more detail about why a reader might stop reading if they’re not hooked right away. Here are some comments I’ve heard our readers make about manuscripts that didn’t hook them:

  • Story does not captivate in first few chapters
  • Boring
  • Writing not strong, or not strong enough to hold a young reader’s (or teen’s) interest
  • Parts of the writing are very strange (not in a good way)
  • Sounded too artificial
  • Reminds me too much of something that’s really popular
  • Too Tolkienesque or reliant upon Western European fantasy tropes
  • Concept cliche

How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning? This is a little tougher than just following the directions—this is much more personal to each reader and each writer.

Is your writing boring readers?

There are a couple different issues in the list above. Some readers lost interest simply because they were bored. If you find yourself telling readers of your book, “Don’t worry! It gets really good in chapter five!” consider whether you’re starting your book at the right moment in time. The phrase “late in, early out” is one to remember—perhaps you don’t need all the information that leads to the “really good” part. Or perhaps you need to revise to make that information more interesting and faster paced.

I don’t recommend simply dumping this information into a prologue. Many young readers skip prologues entirely, and many more readers will lose interest if your prologue is long and boring—it’s the same principle as saying “just wait till chapter five!”

If the information in your first few chapters are crucial, yet readers are getting bored by it, consider spooling that information out little by little over the course of the book. You need to find the balance between giving enough information for the reader to be intrigued and wanting to know more, without overburdening the reader with so much information that they become overwhelmed or bored.

been there done thatFor example, take the first few pages of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. On page 1, Taylor sets up the scene: it’s an ordinary day in Prague (interesting point number one: how many books are set in Prague?) and Karou is walking down the street toward school, minding her own business. It’s an active scene—something is happening—but it’s more about Karou’s internal mundane thoughts. However, it doesn’t stay mundane for long. By page 2, she’s been attacked.

But it’s not your average “you have to have an action scene in the first scene!” attack. The author plays with expectations, intriguing the reader and making you want to know what happens next. We get some ex-boyfriend banter (also against expectations) and the promise of interesting, embarrassing things to come by the end of the chapter.

It helps that the book is well written. But it’s more than good prose that hooks the reader here—she spools out just enough to let you know that this is a unique book, and that you want to know more. The next two chapters do the same thing, and bit by bit, the reader comes to know Karou’s intriguing magical background.

What she doesn’t do is infodump in a prologue or the first few chapters about Karou’s history, the history of the world, and the history of the strange beings who raised her. Save those details for when they matter.

Look at your favorite books and read like a writer. For hooking a reader, look in particular at excellent examples of the first five pages of a wide variety of books. There are many ways to effectively open a book, and you need to find the way that works for your story. Reading other books like a writer will help you to zoom in on ways to perfect your craft.read like a writer

Another great resource for writers trying to figure out how to hook readers is editor Cheryl Klein’s essay “The Rules of Engagement” in her book Second Sight. It’s no longer available online (and I don’t believe the book is in e-book form), but it’s worth the price of the book for her discussion of various ways to hook readers via character, insight, action, and other methods. (Bonus: you also then get access to all her other thoughts on writing and revision.)

Over-reliance on common tropes

Several readers commented that several books relied too much upon Western European fantasy tropes (elves, fairies, etc.). There are ways of hooking readers with familiar story elements, but often most high fantasy tales boil down to “my elves are better than yours.”

The Coldest Girl in ColdtownLook for new inspiration. (We’ll cover worldbuilding more in full in a few weeks.) But especially in the first few chapters of your book, avoid leading with ideas that have been-there-done that.

If your story concept relies on tried-and-true tropes, it’s not the end of the world. Take a look at books coming out now that are successfully changing the mold—books like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, who has revamped (haha) the vampire genre, for example. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown updates the genre, makes vampires scary again. In what ways can you update and revamp the concepts in your book to hook readers?

The solution to your writing being “not strong enough”: practice 

The number one complaint as to why a reader wasn’t hooked was that the writing wasn’t good. Once you get past obvious grammar and punctuation mistakes, this comes down to a greater need to practice your craft. Write regularly—it doesn’t have to be every day, but do it consistently. If your problem is time, you might find useful this advice from New Voices Award winner Pamela Tuck on how to carve out time to write on a regular basis. She has ELEVEN children, who require a lot of time and attention, especially because she home-schools them.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And next week, we’ll begin to drill down on elements that you can work on in the whole book, such as voice.

Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. 


Filed under: Awards, New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: ask an editor, how to, Laini Taylor, New Visions Award, Science Fiction/Fantasy, stacy whitman, Tu Books, writing advice

0 Comments on Ask an Editor: Hooking the Reader Early as of 7/31/2014 7:16:00 PM
Add a Comment
19. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: National and State Parks!

Grab a flashlight, bug repellent, and binoculars…

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: national or state parks!

Book recommendations:

Questions during reading:

  • How have humans affected the habitat or animal species in the book?
  • What suggestions does this book offer to take care of the world around us?
  • What risks does the animal species or habitat face in the book?
  • How does this person(group) demonstrate respect for the environment?
  • How do healthy animal populations and habitats benefit people?
  • What happens when people do not take care of the environment or an animal species in the book?
  • What does this text teach about sustainability?
  • Do you think communities and governments have a responsibility to protect animals or the environment? Why or why not?
  • Should school field trips include visiting national and state parks? Why or why not? What are the benefits of children visiting national and state parks?

Activity:

1. Sound scavenger hunt!

Many animals rely on sound to detect nearby predators and search for food. For your next scavenger hunt, use the sense of sound to explore the wonders of the state or national park. This activity is a great way to teach young scientists about:

  • our five senses
  • how the human ear, like other animal ears, is a powerful physical adaptation and is very effective in detecting and differentiating sounds
  • how we can appreciate natural beauty as both visual and aural
  • the importance of slowing down and soaking in all the stimuli around us

Make a list of sounds for your child to “find” on the next hike. Together, check off and record as the child hears them! While you will want to adapt specific sounds to the park you are visiting, sound ideas include:

Everglades Forever

  • the local bird species
  • the rustling of an animal in the bushes
  • the wind among grass or tree leaves
  • sound of the nearest water source (river, ocean)
  • the buzzing/humming of insects
  • sound of walking on different types of surfaces: the trail, through leaves, in mud
  • a hiker whistling
  • a swimmer splashing
  • a dog barking or the clinking of a dog collar
  • sound of something being recycled
  • sound of something hollow
  • an echo
  • sound of food being unwrapped
  • horse clopping/trotting
  • a stick snapping
  • a hiker drinking (chugging) water
  • Bonus: the elusive spot of complete silence

To prove that your child experienced the sound, allow your child to:

  • record the sounds on a phone
  • take a picture of the creature or thing making the noise
  • describe the noise in a sentence with a juicy verb, such as chirping instead of singing

2. Animal and ecosystem observation!

Buffalo Song

Even if your nearest state or national park does not have the wildlife or habitat featured in the book, your young scientist can check out the featured animals or habitat in real life and real time from a computer or mobile device. Many national parks, zoos, and wildlife protection groups offer real-time footage of animals that serve as great opportunities to talk about behavioral and physical adaptations and habitat preservation.

Explore.org offers multiple livecam opportunities to observe wild animals outside of zoos. After finishing Buffalo Song, I checked out Canada’s Grasslands National Park for bison. I observed brown bears and salmon from Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park following I Know the River Loves Me. After A Man Called Raven, I used The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library for videos and audio recordings of ravens.

i know the river loves me 2

I Know the River Loves Me

For further book and activity suggestions to match your summer adventure:

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


Filed under: Educator Resources, Summer Tagged: children's books, close reading, Educators, environmentalism, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading, Summer School

0 Comments on Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: National and State Parks! as of 7/13/2014 11:43:00 AM
Add a Comment
20. ALA 2014 Recap: Diversity All Around

Another year, another fantastic ALA Annual, this time in Las Vegas! While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” we thought it would be OK to break that code, just this one time, in order to share our experiences with you.

Even though the weather was hot (hello triple digits!), attendance was high and spirits were up! We teamed up with the folks of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign to hand out buttons, which were a huge hit! In fact, School Library Journal reported that, “If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas, odds were good that they were sporting a colorful ‘We Need Diverse Books’ button.”

#weneeddiversebooks buttons

#weneeddiversebooks buttons!

We kept a white board in our booth, and got some great answers from librarians on why we need diverse books:

ALA whiteboard

We need diverse books because…

Quite a few of our authors and illustrators made it out to Las Vegas and our schedule was packed with signings! Don Tate, Glenda Armand, Frank Morrison, René Colato Lainez, Karen Sandler, Mira Reisberg, John Parra, Susan L. Roth, Cindy Trumbore, and Emily Jiang all stopped by the booth to sign books. In true Vegas style, we kept the party going at the LEE & LOW table!

lee and low staff and don tate

Don Tate stopped by to sign copies of It Jes’ Happened

We were also pleased to host our second Book Buzz panel, “Moving the Needle: Diversity in Children’s Books and How to Make a Difference.” It’s been one year since our successful Book Buzz with Cinco Puntos Press last year, so we wanted to check in again with librarians about what has changed, what hasn’t, and how to keep moving forward.

ala book buzz panel

Publisher Jason Low on ALA’s Book Buzz panel on increasing diversity in children’s books

During the panel, publisher Jason Low talked about some highlights from the diversity movement over the past year. He emphasized that Lee & Low has stuck to its original mission by continuing to make an effort to publish debut authors/illustrators as well as authors/illustrators of color. “Of our 2014 titles, three out of seven are by debut authors and five out of seven are by authors or illustrators of color,” Jason said.

He pointed out some some great milestones from the past year, including the success of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, Lee & Low’s infographics on diversity going viral, the First Book Stories for All project, and more diversity in the Marvel Universe.

Jason also announced that Kirkus Reviews will be seeking to diversify their reviewer pool, and said that several other major review publications have expressed an interest in doing the same. Diverse reviewer pools mean that books can be evaluated for cultural accuracy and that reviewers bring a wide range of perspectives to the table.

In the end, Jason said, we need to get from Diversity 101 stories—stories focused simply on the lack of diversity in children’s books, in very basic terms—to Diversity 102 stories, which address both the complexity of the problem and the range of possible solutions. He encouraged librarians to keep moving the conversation forward within their own communities, and to help parents and teachers build inclusive book collections by creating inclusive, diverse summer reading lists and other recommendations.

Two more big highlights this ALA were award ceremonies for a couple of our books! Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth, the dynamic author/illustrator team of Parrots Over Puerto Rico, were honored at the Sibert Award Ceremony and we couldn’t have been prouder!

sibert ceremony

Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth at the Sibert ceremony! They’re all smiles with LEE & LOW editor Louise May (left), Sibert committee chair, Cecilia P. McGowan (center), and LEE & LOW publisher, Jason Low (right)

Additionally, Killer of Enemies was honored at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards (AIYLA) ceremony. Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman attended and shared these photos of children and teens from a local tribe who came to dance at the ceremony:

native american dancers

Native American dancers at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards ceremony

american indian youth literature award

American Indian Youth Literature Award for Killer of Enemies

While we won’t miss the 110-degree heat, we had a great time meeting so many wonderful people and we can’t wait for next year.

If you were at ALA, what were your highlights?


Filed under: Activities and Events, Dear Readers, Fairs/Conventions Tagged: ALA, ALA annual conference, american library association, diversity, las vegas, librarians, weneeddiversebooks

0 Comments on ALA 2014 Recap: Diversity All Around as of 7/15/2014 3:55:00 PM
Add a Comment
21. Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts!

I and I Bob Marley

I and I Bob Marley

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Summer is an incredible time to hear and enjoy music. From public parks to local high school auditoriums to subway platforms, many towns and cities offer summer concerts. Whether it is part of an official concert series, a festival, a rehearsal, or an impromptu get-together of musicians, there are a ton of opportunities to enjoy music alongside reading.

Our motto this summer: Love Books + Keep Cool + Learn Something New

Your summer outing: an Outdoor Summer Concert

Book recommendations:

Summoning the Phoenix

Summoning the Phoenix

Questions during reading:

  • What instruments are used in the book?
  • What type of music is featured in this book?
  • How is the music in this book different from other kinds of music?
  • How does music create community?
  • What character traits does someone need to become a successful musician?
  • Why do you think people enjoy music and find it meaningful?
  • Why do you think every culture has created some form of music?

Activities:

  1. Pair the book with a music recording or live performance of the same type of music featured in the book. What instruments do you hear? What patterns do you hear? What mood/tone does the music set? How does this music make you feel (unhappy, excited, calm, agitated)? How many musicians are performing? Is there a band leader/conductor for this type of music?
  2. Drummer Boy of John John

    Design and create a drum! Although many cultures and forms of music have distinct instruments, it is fascinating to note what instruments seem to pop up over and over again. Take for example the drum! Variations of the drum appear in music from all over the world. Check out the drum instructions from Spark!Lab, part of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History.

  3. Turn listening to music into seeing music! Talk about the senses we use to enjoy music. Children may think we can enjoy music with only our ears. Yet, the author and illustrator of the book had to communicate the music and its mood through words and pictures. What words does the author use to describe the featured music? What words does the author use to capture the mood of the music? What colors or actions does the illustrator use to capture the music? After attending a concert or listening to a recording, encourage your child to draw a picture that captures the mood, feeling, or story of the song. What colors would you use for each instrument and why? How would you draw a quiet, slow, fast, or loud moment?
  4. Drummer Boy of John John

    Study the geography of the music featured in the book. Where does this type of music originate? Who are famous composers, contributors, or musicians? What kinds of instruments were/are used? Out of what materials from the region were instruments traditionally made?

For further summer reading and ideas:

Jill_Eisenberg

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


Filed under: Educator Resources, Summer Tagged: children's books, close reading, Educators, ELA common core standards, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension, summer, summer reading

0 Comments on Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts! as of 7/21/2014 8:37:00 AM
Add a Comment
22. How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children

Pamela TuckPamela M. Tuck is the author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, winner of our New Voices Award and named to the International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choices list. Tuck lives in Boyerstown, Pennsylvania with her husband and their 11 children. In this post, we asked her to share advice on how to find time to write. 

One common question people ask me is, “How do you find time to write?” I simply answer, “I don’t find time, I steal it, and play catch-up later.” In other words, I MAKE time.

Growing up as an only child, writing served as a source of entertainment for me. I found that expressing my inner thoughts on paper became therapeutic and helped me cope with stressful situations. So, as a mother of 11 children, writing, quite naturally, became a safe haven.

I don’t have a daily writing routine like some writers: waking up at 5 am, going for their morning run, eating a cup of yogurt topped with homemade As Fast As Words Could Flygranola, then sitting at their desk, with the picturesque mountainous view, and writing several pages of their next best-selling novel for 5 hours. Instead, my day begins with waking 11 excessively sleepy children, facing mountainous heaps of laundry, in between cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, and potty training. You get the point. So here’s how I steal prioritize my time for writing.

When I homeschooled my children, I incorporated timed journal writing assignments for everyone (including me). I had my children think of random words, and then I’d write the words on cut pieces of paper, fold them, and place them in a basket. We all picked one word from the basket. I set the timer for either three or five minutes, and we wrote anything we wanted about the word we picked. Some words prompted poetry, non-fiction pieces, nonsense pieces, and creative story starters that could be developed into longer works. That’s just one way I kept my inner writing flame lit.

I usually find inspiration to write from reading articles, seeing interesting photos, hearing conversations, or from life experiences. If I stumble across a story idea, I simply allot time, either during the day or in the evening, to write. These one or two hour time allotments serve as refreshing rewards during my busy days. Fortunately for me, my husband encourages my writing projects and he, along with my children, comply with my writing antics of having complete silence and/or isolation while I write. I use the time allotments to do research, if necessary, and to read other books similar to the type of story I’m writing. My family serves as a huge inspiration for my writing. They are my “sounding boards” as I bounce ideas around, my audience, as I piece those ideas together, and my cheerleaders when those ideas find a home.

So, going from one end of the spectrum (as an only child, with plenty of quiet time for writing) to the other (as a mother of a large family, with hardly anyYou are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule. quiet time at all), I would like to share a little piece of advice that was given to me by my husband. After attending my first writing conference with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in June 2007, and hearing all the wonderful writing regimens of different authors, I thought my lifestyle would hinder my dream of becoming an author. My husband told me, “You are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule.”

My husband found out about Lee & Low Books offering a New Voices Award and encouraged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in 1960s Greenville, NC. My dad’s experiences of determination and courage inspired me to take my husband’s advice. I submitted my story to Lee & Low Books in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call announcing me as the winner of the 2007 New Voices Award! Now, my dad’s family story has transformed into a picture book, As Fast As Words Could Fly, that can be shared with many families across generations. So, regardless of your lifestyle, your limitations, your oppositions…grab those ideas that are close to your heart, and write the story that only YOU can write. Unleash your dreams, and let them fly!

New Voices Award sealMore information:

The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Writer Resources Tagged: As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Award, writing advice

2 Comments on How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children, last added: 7/28/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
23. New Visions Award: What Not to Do

Stacy Whitman photoStacy 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. In this blog post, she discusses what she is—and is not—looking for from New Visions Award contest submissions.

This year is the second year we’ve held our New Visions Award, a writing contest seeking new writers of color for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Tu Books is a relatively new imprint, and so is our award, which is modeled after the New Voices Award, now in its 15th year of seeking submissions.

Much like the editors who are in charge of the New Voices Award for picture books, for the New Visions Award, I love seeing submissions that follow the submissions guidelines and stories that stand out from a crowd. I look for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories that understand the age group they’re targeted at, with strong characters, strong worldbuilding, and if there is a romance, I hope that it avoids cliches.

During the first New Visions Award, our readers made notes on the manuscripts explaining what they enjoyed and what made them stop reading, particularly the things that made them not want to read further than the sample chapters in the initial phase of the contest. For the next few weeks, I’ll delve a little further into those things that made readers stop reading, and then we’ll talk about making your writing have the zing that makes an editor want to read more.

Today, let’s cover the most obvious reasons a New Visions Award reader might stop reading immediately.

  • Main character isn’t a person of color
  • Unclear if main character is a person of color (& not made clear in any supporting materials)
  • Basic formatting rules ignored: single-spaced, no tabs, no paragraph breaks, rules of punctuation ignored to the point it was impossible to read the text
  • Chapters at times seemed to be combined to ensure more text would be read, which made them super long and terribly paced
  • Duplicate submission from the author (stopped reading the duplicate—of course we read the original!)
  • Already read as a regular submission and didn’t see any significant changes
  • Author not eligible (published previously in YA or MG, not a person of color, not based in the US)
  • Book was a picture book (this would be a New Voices submission, not a New Visions submission) or a short story (not long enough to be a novel)

The obvious solution to making sure your submission is right for this contest is to make sure to read the contest submission guidelines before sending your submission. If you are not a writer of color, or if you live in a country outside the US, we do want to read your manuscript, but not for this contest. Watch our regular submission guidelines for when we’ll open again to unsolicited submissions.

Make sure you format your manuscript in a way that it can be read. If you’re new to writing, be sure to have someone check it over for typos, correct grammar and spelling, correct punctuation, etc. We won’t reject your manuscript for a typo or two, but there is a point at which the story is no longer being communicated because the reader gets tripped up by the errors. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can make it.

Next time, we’ll talk about hooking the reader with your story. Happy writing!


Filed under: New Voices/New Visions Award, Publishing 101, Tu Books, Writer Resources Tagged: formatting manuscripts, weneeddiversebooks, writing award, writing contest, writing tips

0 Comments on New Visions Award: What Not to Do as of 7/25/2014 12:22:00 PM
Add a Comment
24. Talking to Kids about Current Events and Conflicts

block quote for jill (1)Breaking stories, developing crises, and unexpected catastrophes often involve more than one country, community, and culture. As our children listen in to the radio while stuck in traffic or the evening news program over dinner, it can be easy to think that if we don’t explicitly bring up the news story, then our children don’t know it’s happening.

In fact, children are incredibly perceptive when their parents and adults close to them are distracted by news or alarming events. Many children also pick up information from their peers.

While we don’t want to overwhelm or scare our children, it is important to discuss what is going on. Children need honest portrayals of a community at its best during a time we might be seeing it at its worst.

How do we talk to children about these events and use these moments as opportunities to have respectful, honest (albeit age-appropriate) discussions?

Picture books are invaluable conversation starters. Conflicts and disasters have complex origins and multiple players. Issues of race, class, religion, and gender are often entangled in the events or portrayal of the events. Children’s books dealing with conflict or natural disasters can frame the event in contexts and meanings suitable to their developmental stage. Stories with children as the main characters allow children to identify with the characters over universal themes.

When a “newsworthy” event happens, this may be the first time the child learns of this country, group of people, or culture. By the same token, the conflict or event may involve the child’s own heritage or culture. Using picture books to talk about a current event or conflict can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the culture and people beyond this event.

Instead of allowing the media to define the group of people involved, we should seek out and read a book showcasing and reinforcing the positive aspects and pride of the featured group of people and region. In doing so, we present a broader perspective of the community, culture, or people that media coverage is portraying in a negative, humiliating, or victimized light.

In selecting the right book to foster respect and provide an honest portrait of a community in the news, consider:

Books that champion human dignity:

Books that exhibit the strength, courage, and resilience of children:

Books that depict a community’s capacity to endure, love, and give:

“Age-appropriate” can mean truthful, thoughtful conversations. When talking to children, let them guide the discussion. Opening conversation starters include:Going Home, Coming Home

  • What questions do you have? What have you heard?
  • What do you know about the situation or group of people/foreign country involved?
  • Who are the countries or communities involved?
  • How are different communities and countries coming together over this issue?
  • What would you like to do to help?

For further reading:

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

 


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, Educator Resources Tagged: children's books, diversity, Educators, Multiracial, Race issues, Reading Aloud, reading comprehension

1 Comments on Talking to Kids about Current Events and Conflicts, last added: 7/28/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment
25. Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male

Summer blockbuster season is in full swing. For many moviegoers, that means escaping to a galaxy far, far away—or perhaps just a different version of our own planet Earth—through science fiction and fantasy movies. As fans clamor for the latest cinematic thrills, we decided to focus our next Diversity Gap study on the level of racial and gender representation in these ever-popular genres that consistently rake in the big bucks for movie studios. We reviewed the top 100 domestic grossing sci-fi and fantasy films as reported by Box Office Mojo. The results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.

Infographic: the Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films infographic (click for larger image)

Among the top 100 domestic grossing films through 2014:

• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color
• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)
• 0% of protagonists are women of color
• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ
• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

The following interviews with two prominent entertainment equality advocacy groups shed more light on the subject.

Marissa Lee
Marissa Lee is co-founder of Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality. Racebending.com advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media and is dedicated to furthering equal opportunities in Hollywood and beyond.

Imran Siddiquee


Imran Siddiquee
is Director of Communications at the Representation Project, which is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change. The Representation project was the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary Miss Representation.

 

Jason Low: Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?

Marissa Lee: The statistics are certainly striking, especially since sci-fi and fantasy belong to a genre that prides itself on creativity and imagination. These statistics aren’t necessarily surprising, since lack of diversity in Hollywood films is a well-known problem. There have been enough studies and articles, and any moviegoer can pause to notice there is a disparity. . . . Hollywood can’t go on pretending that this isn’t a problem.Hollywood can't go on pretending like this isn't a problem.

JL: Do you think the American movie-going audience would support a big, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy movie with a diverse protagonist if a studio made it?

Imran Siddiquee: Yes, definitely. But I think an important thing to understand about Hollywood blockbusters is that they are almost never flukes; they are preordained. Sure, we have the occasional surprise indie hit, but you need a lot of money and marketing behind you to become a blockbuster. Just look at the top ten films in each of the last five years: nearly every single one had a budget of more than $100 million (a lot of them were also sci-fi/fantasy films).

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a single film released this year starring a person of color with a budget of more than $50 million, let alone a sci-fi film, which is naturally going to be more expensive. The same goes for most of the last decade. So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” or “there’s no evidence that this would work,” the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.

Studios take a couple of massively expensive chances every year on mostly unknown actors or directors—aka giving the Spider-Man franchise to Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield in 2012—but they just don’t take those kinds of chances on people of color. In other words, if Hollywood wanted to make a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film starring a woman of color, they definitely could.

ML: I think American audiences would support a film with a diverse protagonist, because we already have. One pullout statistic from your infographic is that Will Smith leads six of the top 100 big sci-fi/fantasy films. His race wasn’t a huge impediment to box office success and may have, in fact, been part of what made him all-American and relatable. That was back in the late 1990s, but since then, Hollywood hasn’t tried to find a new Will Smith. This is kind of ironic, given that Hollywood likes to stick to formulas and sequels! They could push forward another actor—or actress—of color with Smith’s charisma. They haven’t.

The American movie audience supports any movie that Hollywood successfully markets well, especially—but not always—if the film is well produced. Hollywood has managed to market some weird stuff, like a tentpole movie about talking teenage turtle martial artists, or cars that change into space robots, and so on. I don’t buy that when it comes to marketing diverse leads, suddenly this giant industry can’t do it.

So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” . . . the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.I’d be interested in seeing how many of these top 100 grossing sci-fi and fantasy films star non-human leads. I wonder if there are more films with non-human leads than minority human leads on the list!

(Side note: Does the infographic count Keanu Reeves as white or as a person of color? I think he has more than one movie on this list given The Matrix trilogy…)

Editorial note: Yes, Keanu Reeves is counted as a PoC and did make the list for The Matrix. The second Matrix film, The Matrix Reloaded was the only installment of the trilogy to make the top 100 list.

JL: What challenges have you faced or seen peers facing as a woman/person of color, etc.?

ML: There are films with built-in audiences that Hollywood still insists on whitewashing, which has a very adverse effect on actors of color. Let’s be honest, audiences would have still flocked to see The Hunger Games or Twilight if characters like Katniss or Jacob had been cast with people of color as they were written in the books. An actor with a disability could have played the protagonist in Avatar—if we have the technology and imagination to animate a fanciful world populated by blue cat people, we could have cast an actor with a disability similar to the lead character’s in that role. As a result of these casting decisions, up and coming actors from underrepresented groups were deprived of career exposure from being a part of these established franchises, making it harder for Hollywood ever to try and launch a new franchise with an actor from an underrepresented group.

Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.

More recently, the Divergent franchise cast Naomi Watts to play a character who was a woman of color in the books. It’s a supporting role for an already established franchise, and for whatever reason the production still couldn’t bring themselves to cast an actor of color.

Trends that fans have noted in the media include that in big blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, the presence of a straight, white, able-bodied, cis male in some central role in the story is almost guaranteed, while the presence of characters with “minority” identities (e.g. LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, women, etc.) is not. Even when a character who isn’t a straight, white cis male is centered in a story, there’s probably a straight, white, cis male character playing second, if not lead, billing. For example, while we can reasonably assume that the next few Star Trek and Star Wars movies will have some diverse characters, we can guarantee that at least one of the leads will be a straight, white man. If The Hunger Games or Twilight had cast actors of color for Katniss or Jacob, there would still have been plenty of lead roles filled by white actors. DC is including Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie, but the film will also feature Batman and Superman.

This means that someone with a lot of intersecting privileged identities (especially straight, white men) will always be able to walk into a multiplex and find a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring someone who shares those identities. If you have a lot of marginalized identities, then representation is a sometimes thing, never a solid guarantee. There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits. But there are just as many, if not more, people who are willing to support, vociferously, films with diverse leads. I wish our money was as good as theirs.There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits.

JL: How can consumers encourage more diversity in movies? 

IS: Avoid buying tickets to films which clearly rely on stereotypes or demeaning portrayals of people based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance. And anytime you do watch a film, give it The Representation Test afterward. The test grades films on their inclusiveness pertaining to all those above categories. When a movie scores really low on the test, use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to let the filmmakers and all your friends know how you feel. Since so much of this industry is based on money, this is one way we can express our discontent and get the attention of the studios.

ML: Media literacy is a huge start. As media consumers, we should feel empowered to critique the media we consume, and to decide what media we choose to consume. Beyond helpful steps like going to see movies that feature diverse leads, it’s just as important to start conversations in our own communities and with our friends and family (the people we consume media with!) to raise awareness about diversity and representation. Even if we don’t go to see movies that whitewash or exclude or present discriminatory content, people we know will. One way we can help change things is by continuing to start conversations. We need to create an environment where it is safe to criticize popular franchises for lacking diversity. We also need to keep drowning out the malcontents who cannot even handle actors of diverse backgrounds in supporting roles. Social media has really knocked down barriers when it comes to communicating our opinions with Hollywood brass. It’s also given us several spaces where we can discuss the media we consume with our friends and family. In addition, the internet has really changed how we access and consume media. There are Kickstarters and indie channels and online comics and other outlets so we don’t have to be reliant on big production studios or publishers as our only sources of entertainment.

JL: How close or far do you think we are from getting these statistics to change?

IS: When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up. For instance, 0% for women of color in top sci-fi films means I’m being honest when I say things will certainly improve soon, but that’s not saying much. I think we are pretty far away from true equality, or a cinema that reflects and includes the broad diversity of human experiences in the real world.

When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up.Too many wealthy, white men still run Hollywood, and their decisions still have too much power. As I mentioned earlier, these kinds of movies are very expensive, and so it’s hard for independent or upstart filmmakers to break through or compete.

That being said, the slight increase in success for white women in blockbuster sci-fi movies, such as Gravity, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, means change is possible. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oscar wins for 12 Years a Slave last year, because while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it is a film that everyone in the industry now knows about and has probably seen. And the whole reason we’re even talking about representation in movies right now is because we know how much seeing different experiences on screen can impact people’s real world thoughts and attitudes. So films like 12 Years a Slave are part of the gradual shifting of consciousness that has to happen in Hollywood to get to a point where studios are consistently greenlighting big-budget films starring people of color.

ML: As budgets for tentpole science fiction and fantasy movies have soared, studios have been more reluctant to take a chance on actors or characters that they perceive as risks. Because people of color and women are also already more likely to consume movies than white people and men, maybe they don’t feel an incentive to change what they are doing because, from their perspective, minorities are perfectly willing to watch films starring white guys. Hollywood is pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to tentpole movies. We are seeing more diversity in television, particularly in children’s television, as well as in online content. The establishment will change when someone influential in Hollywood decides to take the risk and make an effort to diversify their film offerings. The stats in this infographic are focused on profit, not art. For things to change, Hollywood needs to believe that diversity can be profitable.

***

This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Academy Awards
The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The children’s book industry
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics

Further resources on how to teach content and visual literacy using Lee & Low Books’ infographics series on the Diversity Gap:

Using Infographics In The Classroom To Teach Visual Literacy

CONTACT: For more information or to request permission to reprint, please email hehrlich[at]leeandlow[dot]com


Filed under: Diversity, Race, and Representation, Guest Blogger Post, The Diversity Gap Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, diversity, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, LGBT, Middle Eastern, Multiracial, Native American, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, whitewashing

1 Comments on Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male, last added: 7/29/2014
Display Comments Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts