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This post is part of an ongoing series at The Open Book answering questions about book marketing and publicity.
One of the questions I get most often from authors—both new and experienced—is, “Which social media platforms do I have to be on?” There are a lot of ways to answer this question but I want to start by addressing the question itself, which is often phrased in exactly this way. The answer is: you don’t have to be on any social media platforms that you don’t want to be on. Social media can help you connect with new readers, raise your discoverability, and sell books, but it can also be a drain on your time, attention, and ideas. Social media is not for everybody, and not every platform is for every writer. So the first thing to do is let go of the guilt and pressure you feel to be on every social media platform that exists, posting content in real time. Almost no authors can pull this off and it’s not worth losing your sanity to attempt it.
With that in mind, the question to ask becomes not “which platforms do I have to be on,” but “which platform(s) would benefit me most to be on, and which are the best fit for me?” When considering where to be on social media, the number one thing you should ask yourself is whether a particular platform will be enjoyable and sustainable to you. Here are some things to consider:
- How often do I want to post?
- Realistically, how often will I have time to post?
- What kind of content do I enjoy posting most? (i.e. do I enjoy curating content by others, creating my own content, or a mix of both)
- What subjects will I be posting about?
- How much time will I be able to dedicate to each post?
- Am I text-driven or image-driven?
- Do I want a platform that is very interactive or less interactive?
While you could make any platform work for you no matter how you answer the above questions, it helps to find the platform that’s the best fit for you, so social media can become an activity you enjoy instead of a slog or obligation. So, here’s a rundown of some of the most popular social media platforms and a couple things to consider about each:
Ideal frequency of posts: At least once a day, preferably more
Type of content: Mixture of curation and new created content
Time commitment: Surprisingly high
Interactivity level: Varies, but higher interactivity is recommended
Twitter is a weird social media platform- even though it’s been around for several years now, it can still be hard to describe, and even harder to understand the purpose of. Think of Twitter as the world’s biggest cocktail party, happening online 24/7 without end. It can drive you crazy, but it’s also a great equalizer: where else can you tweet to celebrities and have them answer you directly? Where else can readers and authors come together so seamlessly?
Twitter is what you make of it: you can have a minimal presence there and use it mostly for “lurking,” but the truth is that unless you are very, very famous, you will get almost nothing out of Twitter unless you are on it frequently and using it in a very interactive way. Yes, it can be overwhelming and a total time suck, but it can also be a nice break from your other projects and an easy way to key yourself in to important conversations going in within the industry.
Bottom Line: If you want to do it right, Twitter takes a lot of time and attention – but the rewards can be big.
Ideal frequency of posts: once a week minimum
Type of content: More created content than curation
Time commitment: Low-medium
Interactivity level: Medium-high
Remember when Facebook was a novelty? Over the years it’s morphed into something more akin to an Internet staple, right alongside Google. If you’re not on Facebook, you’ve probably been met with shock and awe more than once. If you are already on Facebook, you may think you’ve already got this one in the bag. However, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made here between personal pages and fan pages. As an author and therefore a public figure, you should absolutely have a separate Facebook account for your author persona apart from your personal Facebook account. This allows you to build a following, tweak your privacy settings, and save your family and friends from seeing posts about your book in their feed all the time (unless they want them).
Once you set up a fan page, what you post and how often is up to you. Unlike Twitter which is really pretty useless if you’re not using it frequently, I think there are still benefits to having a Facebook fan page even if you only update it every couple of weeks – it’s a way to allow people to demonstrate that they like you, and allows them to “subscribe” to get updates from you. It won’t let you meet new people as easily as Twitter does, but it can help you build a stronger relationship with your fans, and that’s always a nice thing.
Bottom Line: A little effort can go a long way when it comes to Facebook, so it’s a good place to be.
Ideal frequency of posts: Once a week minimum
Type of content: All created content
Time commitment: High
Interactivity level: Low-medium
I don’t technically consider blogs to be a social media platform but they always seem to get tied into this discussion, so I wanted to address them here. The number one thing to remember about blogs is that they are a LOT OF WORK, and that amount of work never really diminishes. When you start a blog, you are essentially starting the equivalent of a one-woman (or one-man) newspaper and giving yourself the job of creating all new content for it. You may think you have blog ideas aplenty, but will you still want to be writing new posts every week six months down the road?
There are a couple questions you should keep in mind when considering starting a blog: How much extra time do I have to write? Will my blog have a specific theme or focus? A helpful thing to do is to sit down and create a list of 20 blog post ideas, and see where that gets you. If you find this exercise fun and can’t wait to start writing some of your ideas up into posts, a blog might be a good platform for you. But if getting to 20 ideas is a bit of a struggle and you can’t see yourself doing this kind of thing for a couple of hours each week, a blog might not be right for you.
A big thing to keep in mind about blogs is that if you want to get the most out of your blog, the time demands go way past writing the posts themselves. It takes time and effort to build a blog readership, and requires a good deal of marketing. So if you begin a blog, you will also probably want to be on Twitter and/or Facebook so you can use those platforms to share your content – otherwise you’re just putting your great content into the black hole of the Internet.
That’s not to see blogs can’t be worth it. When done well, blogs give you a terrific platform as an author. There’s nothing better than writing a blog post you’re proud of and seeing it reshared in many different places. Blogs can help new readers discover you and can help you connect with readers, reviewers, and other authors. Just have a sense of what you’re signing on for before you start.
Bottom Line: Probably the most demanding of all the social media channels, blogs can offer a lot but should be started with an understanding of the work they will entail.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Ah, to go back to the days when you could count the number of social media platforms out there on one hand! The fact that we now have Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Vine, Instagram, and many others only seems to make writers more anxious about where they “need to be.”
When it comes to these more peripheral platforms—and I mean peripheral specifically in the context of online presence for authors—my advice is simple: have fun! Love photography? You might enjoy connecting with readers on Instagram. Love design? You might have fun making Pinterest boards inspired by your books. If you’re intrigued by a platform, try it out – there’s no rule that says you have to stay on it forever (though you should delete your account if you decide it’s not for you, rather than being inactive). Ultimately, all of these platforms are about the same thing: connecting with people. So if you want to be on any of them, make sure that’s what you’re getting out of it in the end, and that you’re enjoying the ride.
More Marketing 101 Posts:
What to Put on Your Author Website
Five Things to Do Before Your Book is Released
Blog: The Open Book
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Exciting things have happened with the Diversity Baseline Survey since our last update!
The Diversity Baseline Survey gathers statistics on publishing staff and reviewers in four major categories:
3) Sexual Orientation
These categories will be further broken down by department. The goal is to have all major review journals and publishers—from small, to mid-size, to large— participate in this project. If we are serious about trying to address the lack of diversity in the publishing world, this is the very first step we need to take. Sharing our numbers as an industry will not only clue us in to important patterns that may be missing, it will also show that we are committed to change.
Since our last update, several new publishers have joined the survey, including Bloomsbury, Lerner Publishing, Chronicle Books and Abrams. More small publishers have joined, including Clean Reads, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C., and Owlkids Books. Macmillan, one of the “big five” publishers, has also joined. You can see the full list here.
All in all, almost 30 publishers and 8 major review journals will be administering the survey. This is huge.
This week, a supporter created the hashtag #BigFiveSignOn to encourage more publishers to join the survey, including the rest of the “big five” publishers (HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, and Hachette), in advance of the mid-September deadline. We were thrilled to see the hashtag trending on Monday! Check out some great media coverage of the campaign from around the web:
“Diversity Matters: Lee & Low Push for Diversity in the Publishing World” at BookRiot
“Diversity Survey Deadline Nears” at Publishers Weekly
“Why I’m Asking that the #BigFiveSignOn” at SC Write
“The Page is a Mirror…Or Is It?” at Jamie Ayres’ blog
“Why #Bigfivesignon? #WNDB” at Coloring Between the Lines
Over at Change.org, our petition encouraging publishers to join the survey is now at almost 1,900 signatures. Have you signed yet?
The deadline for joining the survey is September 15, 2015. Help us encourage remaining publishers to join by spreading the word on social media using hashtag #bigfivesignon and by signing the petition!
Read our previous update on the Diversity Baseline Survey.
Learn about why we are asking publishers to join our Diversity Baseline Survey.
Sign the Petition.
Blog: Ink Splot 26
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James Patterson Talks About His Life as an Author!
Q: How many books have you written?
Patterson: I lost count. A little over 100. I write a lot of kids’ books. I write a lot of things that are different — that’s what keeps me excited. The kids’ books range from Maximum Ride, about kids who can fly to I Funny, about a kid who wants to be a stand-up comedian but he can never be a stand-up comedian because he’s in a wheelchair.
Q: Which ones would you like to see as movies on screen?
Patterson: All of them! Maximum Ride is very visual, these flying kids. I hope that will get made. We are shooting Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life at the end of the summer. It’s a cool story about how kids get lost in the education process. This kid in it is bright, brilliant as an artist, but there’s no way for him to express himself in school so he’s looked at as a dummy.
Q: Do you ever get writer’s block?
Patterson: No, I don’t. I’m always working on more than one thing. I have a big imagination and I’ll just go to another project. I have a folder this thick of ideas for novels. Writing stories comes very easily to me.
Q: What first inspired you to write?
Patterson: I was working my way through school at a mental hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I had a lot of free time so I started reading like crazy and then I started scribbling stories. Somebody once told me, you’re lucky if you find something you like to do and it’s a miracle if someone will pay you to do it. I love doing it. I love writing stories. As a kid, I grew up in the woods. I used to wander around the woods and make up stories in my head. I think that talent was there, I just wasn’t aware of it.
Q: You often write with co-authors. Why?
Patterson: It allows me to combine strength with strength. I’m a very good storyteller; I’m a little lazy as a stylist. So it allows me to work with a better stylist. Collaboration is OK!
Are you a fan of James Patterson’s books? Tell us which is your favorite in the Comments!
Our free e-book for September:
Into Africa by Craig Packer
Craig Packer takes us into Africa for a journey of fifty-two days in the fall of 1991. But this is more than a tour of magnificent animals in an exotic, faraway place. A field biologist since 1972, Packer began his work studying primates at Gombe and then the lions of the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater with his wife and colleague Anne Pusey. Here, he introduces us to the real world of fieldwork—initiating assistants to lion research in the Serengeti, helping a doctoral student collect data, collaborating with Jane Goodall on primate research.
As in the works of George Schaller and Cynthia Moss, Packer transports us to life in the field. He is addicted to this land—to the beauty of a male lion striding across the Serengeti plains, to the calls of a baboon troop through the rain forests of Gombe—and to understanding the animals that inhabit it. Through his vivid narration, we feel the dust and the bumps of the Arusha Road, smell the rosemary in the air at lunchtime on a Serengeti verandah, and hear the lyrics of the Grateful Dead playing off bootlegged tapes.
Into Africa also explores the social lives of the animals and the threats to their survival. Packer grapples with questions he has passionately tried to answer for more than two decades. Why do female lions raise their young in crèches? Why do male baboons move from troop to troop while male chimps band together? How can humans and animals continue to coexist in a world of diminishing resources? Immediate demands—logistical nightmares, political upheavals, physical exhaustion—yield to the larger inescapable issues of the interdependence of the land, the animals, and the people who inhabit it.
Download your free copy of Into Africa here.
The Hogwarts Express Leaves Today!
If you received your Hogwarts letter this year, you are probably just now getting ready to board the Hogwarts Express to start your wizarding education. Congratulations! To help you get ready for your new life at Hogwarts, I created this Harry Potter name generator so you can invent yourself as a character in the wizarding world.
I tried not to include any actual character name combos. So you can be Ginny Wizangamot, but you can’t be Ginny Weasley. (But oh my goodness, how awesome would it be to actually BE Ginny Weasley???) For first name, you have the option to choose either a boy’s name or a girl’s name that starts with the first letter of your Muggle name. There’s nothing that says you have to choose the boy’s name of you’re a boy or the girl’s name if you’re a girl, but you have the choice. I tried not to choose any evil character names, but for some letters, it was impossible. (Sorry Yaxley Umbridge! I’m sure you’re very nice in real life.)
First name choices:
- Albus or Arabella
- Buckbeak or Bellatrix
- Cedric or Cho
- Dobby or Demelza
- Errol or Enid
- Firenze or Fleur
- Grawp or Ginny
- Harry or Hermione
- Igor or Irma
- James or Jewelweed
- Kreacher or Kendra
- Ludo or Luna
- Mundungus or Minerva
- Neville or Nymphadora
- Orion or Olympe
- Patronus or Parvati
- Quibbler or Quietus
- Rubeus or Rosmerta
- Severus or Sibyll
- Trevor or Thistle
- Urg or Unicorn
- Viktor or Veela
- Wulfric or Walberga
- Yaxley or Yew
Tell us your Harry Potter name in the Comments!
— Sonja, STACKS Staffer
This blog post is sponsored by T. Rowe Price.
Are you a money confident kid? Here’s a chance to win one of six different prizes including $1,500 and a library of books for your classroom! All you need to do is interview your parent or guardian and write a short essay about the experience. Go to scholastic.com/mck/entryform.pdf for all the details and to download the entry form.
Questions? Post below!
Do you know how many books your students or their families own or even have access to? The start of school is a great time to introduce (or reintroduce) children (and their families) to the public library.
In the home visits many of us make at the beginning of each school year, it is an unique opportunity to see not only where our students live, but also where they study and keep their books. I learned that many of my students had only a few books in their homes and our classroom libraries would be vital to enabling student discovery of new interests and topics, as well as access to texts at and above their levels.
Families may not be able to afford books or find few books for sale. For example, one study of low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia found one book for sale for every 300 children.
As we set out to create literacy-rich environments in our classrooms this school year, let us remember a powerful ally in the community: public libraries.
September is also Library Card Sign-Up Month so many public libraries have programs and resources available to students of all grades. Check with your nearest branch to see field trip availability, possible funding, and to download and distribute the library card application.
Before You Go
1. Read Aloud Book Recommendations
The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos
Richard Wright and the Library Card and Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca
Destiny’s Gift (setting is a bookstore, but applicable themes)
Questions during reading
- Why does this character/historical figure believe in the power of books?
- What obstacles does this person have to overcome to achieve his/her goal?
- How do reading books change the main characters/historical figures?
- How does this person demonstrate respect or show appreciation for books and the library space?
- Why are libraries an important part of a community?
- Should having a library in a community be a right or is it a privilege?
2. Shared Reading Activity—The following articles, which can be downloaded as a PDF file, contain information at just the right level for readers. Comprehension questions also included:
*note: must sign-up to read, but free for teachers
“A Helper at the School Library” by ReadWorks.org
“A New Kind of Library” by ReadWorks.org
“Homework takes over the library for kids without Internet” by Newsela
“A Chicago library’s books hit the road on two wheels” by Newsela
3. Bring in a library book for students to observe—Compare the library book to a classroom book. Note the spine label on the side, the barcode label on the back, the plastic covering, the library pocket, and so on.
Finally, before your class visits the library, print off library card applications for students to fill out in class or at home with their families. This will streamline the process at the library and students will have the necessary information like their home addresses to obtain the cards. With cards in the hand, students can borrow some books!
If Doing a Visit or Field Trip, Here Are Some Activities at the Library:
4. Interview a librarian—Have students brainstorm a list of questions before they visit to ask, including:
- What motivated him/her to become a librarian?
- What is his/her favorite part of being a librarian?
- What are some of the challenges of a library?
- Why is it important for communities to have libraries?
- How have libraries changed? How has this library changed since it first opened?
- What can someone do at a library in addition to reading books?
- What if someone does not speak English (or very well)? What resources can he/she use to get the most out of the library? How does the library make an inclusive space for multiple languages?
5. Library scavenger hunt—Premade lists for grade bands are available from ALA. Ideas include:
- Get the signature of two librarians.
- What is the name of the Children’s Librarian?
- How much does it cost to make a copy in the library?
- List two magazine titles the library has available to read.
- Find a chapter book with an author whose last name begins with “D.” What is the title of the book?
- What newspaper does the library have for reading?
- How many computer stations does the library have for visitors to use?
- Have students try to find a couple of the read alouds you have already read in class this year, such as The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos or Richard Wright and the Library Card.
Activities After the Visit to the Library
6. Create a poster to advertise the local library—With words and pictures, explain the benefits of visiting a library and highlight the perks of the space. How is the library rewarding to one’s education? How can a library help with homework? Depending on the class size and the amount of posters, encourage students to donate their poster to each classroom in the school as well as the main office to post on the bulletin board.
7. Write a thank you letter to the children’s or teen’s librarian or community volunteers. Encourage students to include what book title they would like to borrow first with their new library cards.
8. As a class, brainstorm a list of ideas on how to responsibly treat a borrowed library book. What does being responsible with a library book look like? Record student ideas on a chart. Look up the behavior rules on the library website. Post this list in the classroom library as a reminder for all borrowed books throughout the year.
How to make a trip to the library affordable and achievable:
- Most important: TALK to the librarians! Many public libraries have back-to-school programs available (or preferred times for such visits) and schedules that work with the school calendar. The children’s or teen librarian may also know of funding or grants available specifically for school visits to the library.
- Make it a family affair. While optional, encourage students’ families to join you on a Saturday at the library. This will save you having to pay for bussing or coordinate chaperones as students will attend with their families.
- Absolutely can’t get off campus? Make sure to prioritize a program at your school library or see if the public library has school-visit programs.
- Virtual field trips: (elementary school age) KidVision VPK Library Field Trip and (middle school age) Tour the Library by Harper College Library or Check It Out by Topeka Library
For further reading on educators engaging librarians for student achievement:
Dear librarians—What other ideas do you suggest or have you seen work well for encouraging students to discover all that the library has to offer them (and their families) this school year? Share with us!
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Hippolyte posted this awesome-tastic challenge for you on the Fan Fiction Message Board!
So! This is a thing I saw in a STACKS Message Board a LONG time ago and though I’ve never participated myself, I figured it’s high time someone brings a new writing challenge. Here’s the deal:
You are to write a drabble inspired by the first song that comes up on shuffle. Grab your phones/ipods/mp3s/playlists or anything you have with music stored in it and a shuffle option, and enable said option. Your task is to write a short story (fan fiction or original) inspired by the song, for as long as the song is playing. Once the song is over, you stop writing and completely leave it be.
- You may skip songs in case you can’t get inspired, but don’t be too picky or you’ll just be shuffling forever.
- You must skip any songs that are inappropriate either because of language or content. Any song that receives a rating beyond PG 13 according to your judgment should better be avoided. We trust your judgment.
- In case you feel that a song with questionable content is still appropriate enough for this board, please mention all warnings that apply. Your story has to be 100% appropriate for all people on this boards. (As Moderator Katie says, don’t write something you wouldn’t say to a 7/8-year-old.)
- Your drabble can be a fan fiction or an original one. No preferences, but in case of fan fiction, make sure that the fandom you’re writing for is appropriate for younger kids on STACKS (PG 13 at most).
- “Completely leave it be” is just that. Don’t correct anything. Don’t play the song again. Don’t touch it; it’s already a masterpiece.
- Stories are expected to be short. Just brainstorm something and leave it in its raw beauty for the world to see.
- Of course, you’re never obliged to post what you just wrote if you don’t want to. We’re only doing this for fun.
I hope everyone has fun! I also hope you’re not weak enough to decline the challenge. Mwahaha!
So leave your song title and artist in the Comments, and then go to the Fan Fiction Message Board to share your whole story.
Every school visit I always learn something interesting from teachers and students. My last author visit was no exception because I discovered a genius idea called Genius Hour. During my presentation I’d shared the proof pages of my upcoming picture book, The Inventor’s Secret
. Later, one teacher came up and said The Inventor’s Secret
would be perfect to kick off her Genius Hour program.
I was excited to see her so enthused about a book I’d worked on for four years, yet I was a bit embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of Genius Hour. So she kindly explained—Genius Hour is a program where students work on a project of their choosing for one hour each week. The great part about this student-driven program is that children are highly motivated to learn about their topics.
Genius Hour lends to a wide variety of projects in one classroom, as each student selects the subject he or she wants to research. For example, at the school I was visiting—Meadowview School in Woodridge, IL—fifth graders in Ms. Wright’s Genius Hour program baked up cotton candy cookies, built battery-powered cars out of spare parts, and much more!
Meadowview students building a battery-powered car from leftover parts from science kits and spare toy parts.
Fifth grade Meadowview student decorating cotton candy sugar cookies with blueberry drizzle.
During my school visit this teacher also explained the message of persistence in The Inventor’s Secret would help inspire young inventors working on their own contraptions in school “makerspaces.”
Now my son had tinkered on gadgets for years in our basement, which slowly aquired an assortment of tools, wires, and electronics equipment (including a 3D printer that he used to make his own inline skates), so I understood the enormous potential of a school makerspace.
Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t know what a makerspace
was either! So I did a bit of research and found out makerspaces (aka fab labs or hackerspaces) are workspaces in schools and libraries where students can brainstorm, experiment, and create their own projects. Makerspaces are filled with various kinds of equipment, such as 3D printers, electronics, tools, computers, hardware, craft supplies, and more.
Since learning of makerspaces, I’ve enjoyed reading about school labs around the country and the incredible projects children are creating in them. Would you believe students at Fox Meadow Elementary in New York made models of Lincoln’s face in their makerspace using a 3D printer and files of Lincoln’s actual life mask from the Smithsonian 3D image library? How awesome is that? (FYI - A technology teacher at Fox Meadow, Peter McKenna, started a School Makerspace forum where teachers can exchange ideas and projects.)
Fox Meadow school makerspace
3D printed model of Lincoln life mask
Actual Lincoln life mask
So as another new school year begins, I can’t wait to learn more fascinating things from students and teachers during my author visits. I’d also be thrilled to receive pictures of your school’s creative projects, including the sling shot cars, electric circuits, or flip books your students make using The Inventor’s Secret
free Teacher’s Guide
Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books (and former engineer who working on car brakes and Delta IV rockets.) Her latest picture book, The Inventor’s Secret, shares the fascinating, true story of persistence (and friendship) of two of the world’s most famous inventors—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Use it to kick off your Genius Hour, inspire young inventors, or celebrate National Inventor’s Day (February 11.) Also, check out the book’s trailer and look for more teacher resources on Suzanne's website. The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford
ISBN: 978-1-58089-667-2 HC $16.95Available September 8, 2015
The novelist and occasional raconteur Jonathan Ames was asked by the Big Issue to name his “Top 5 Books for American Anglophiles.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, he named a cadre of authors instead, Anthony Powell among them, and Ames had this to say, in particular, about Powell and his work:
About 15 years ago some snobby writer in New York told me he was reading Powell’s epic 12-novel series, A Dance to the Music of Time, and wanting to be this writer’s intellectual peer (a hopeless endeavour), I set out to read it as well. I spent nearly a year absorbing all 12 books, and especially enjoyed the beautiful edition that had been put out by the University of Chicago Press—the spines of the books, when all lined up, formed the painting of the same name by Nicolas Poussin, which had been, in part, Powell’s inspiration for the work. A lot of Dance was rather boring but it was also quite wonderful to follow Powell’s characters over 70 years, and I saw resonance in my own life—how we keep re-encountering the same people over and over, how we keep struggling with the same issues over and over. Powell certainly intended this, as he wished to demonstrate in his fiction, I believe, aspects of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence.
To read up on the many works of Anthony Powell published by the University of Chicago Press, click here.
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In this post, Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman discusses why avoiding discussions of race with young people can do more harm than good.
Many African American parents already know what “the talk” is. It’s not the talk that many white parents might expect—we’re not talking about the birds and the bees. No, this “talk” is the one where black parents have to sit with their children and discuss how they might be perceived by the world around them: particularly police, but also teachers, neighbors, and friends who are not from their racial background.
Though the burden often falls on parents of color alone to discuss these issues with their children, in reality all parents should address race with their kids in a conscious and meaningful way. Communities are also seeking ways to address interpersonal racial issues, particularly in schools. Having the tools to know how to discuss racial matters is essential for children from all backgrounds.
Research has shown that the “colorblind” approach—teaching children that it is racist to acknowledge racial and ethnic differences—is doing no one any favors, and in fact can reinforce racist attitudes and assumptions, and especially reify systemic racism. “Black children know irrefutably that they’re black by the time they’re about 6 years old and probably earlier,” one article noted in our research. Do white children know they’re white? If not, how do they think of themselves?
At Lee & Low, we’ve always believed that even the youngest readers have the capacity to understand and appreciate difference—that’s why many of our children’s books address issues like racism and discrimination. But you don’t have to take our word for it: many experts, educators, and academics have done work on this topic as well and their recommendations can help point parents and teachers in the right direction.
“Young children are hard-wired in their brains to notice difference and to categorize it. So it is vital during early childhood to put some context around making sense of differences,” said Shannon Nagy, preschool director in 2011 at Lincoln Park Cooperative Nursery School in Chicago.
Studies have also shown that not addressing difference does not make children colorblind—it only encourages them to absorb the implicit racial messages of American society. Children learn that race is a category even when parents try to teach them not to recognize race. Much like children learn to perform regional accents even when their parents are from another location, children learn how the larger society around them views race, via inference and transductive reasoning. “In other words, children pick upon the ways in which whiteness is normalized and privileged in U.S. society.”
Teaching children to be “colorblind” has led children (and adults) to believe that it’s rude or racist to even point out racial differences—even kids of color. This makes it exponentially harder to have frank discussions about racial issues when they need to be had.
“Nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents,” said a 2007 study. “It’s the children whose parents do directly address race — and directly means far more than vaguely declaring everyone to be equal — who are less likely to make assumptions about people based on the color of our skin.”
One study even had white parents dropping out of the project when the researchers asked them to discuss racial attitudes with their children, even when they went into the study knowing that it was intended to measure children’s racial attitudes.
Many argue that “the talk” should happen far more often than once, and that parents shouldn’t bear the sole burden to teach their kids about race—that it is a community-wide issue.
Erin Winkler provides several ways for parents and teachers to address the biases that children might pick up, including discussing the issue in an age-appropriate way, with accurate information that doesn’t shame or silence children for having questions. They also suggest encouraging complex thinking and taking children’s questions and biased statements seriously—“When children are taught to pay attention to multiple attributes of a person at once (e.g., not just race), reduced levels of bias are shown,” the author notes, and suggests that the most important thing parents and teachers can do is to give children information that empowers them to be anti-racist.
One New York City-area school asked, “Can racism be stopped in the third grade?” They began a “racial affinity program,” in which elementary-age kids were sorted by racial groups for discussions of questions that “might seem impolite otherwise,” and to then come together as a school community to discuss these questions and experiences in a way that fosters greater communication. Parents and students are mixed on whether this program succeeded, with Asian students noting that the discussions of race still focused on the dichotomy of black and white, and some parents uncomfortable with the idea of discussing race at all. The administration notes, however, that many of their students of color needed this program—mandatory for all students—to combat microaggressions between students.
Allie Jane Bruce, the librarian at Bank Street School in New York City, has been discussing race, biases, and stereotypes with the students in her school for three years, using children’s book covers as a launching point. “I’m constantly delighted by the new discoveries kids make, and by the wisdom and insight already present in 11- and 12-year-olds,” Bruce noted in her most recent series of blog posts about the curriculum, which she has named “Loudness in the Library.” She notes especially that kids at this age tend to feel very uncomfortable with discussing race at first. “The fact that race-related conversations are so very fraught is a huge part of the problem. We must be able to communicate in order to solve problems that exist at interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels. If kids in 6th grade already have the inclination to stay silent in conversations on race, how much stronger will that inclination be in adults? And if we can’t talk about race and racism, how will things ever get better?”
Parents, what does “the talk” look like in your home? Teachers and librarians, how do you approach discussions about race with your students and patrons?
Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.
Kandace Coston is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is one of five recipients of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program inaugural grant. She graduated from Barnard College where she majored in music and took every creative literature class possible. In her free time, Kandace pursues her other interests, which include American Sign Language, handmade jewelry, and composing cinematic adventures!
I’ve always loved personality quizzes. As a teenager I was obsessed with brightly-colored magazines promising to reveal and explain different traits of my personality. I spent hours answering quirky questions, deciphering ambiguous logic, and debating results. Often the answers were frivolous and vague like a daily zodiac reading; but every once in a while I got an explanation that cut through my skepticism and perfectly pinched my persona. It felt as though an omniscient force was watching me from within the glossy pages. Those goose bump-inducing quizzes got neatly cut out and taken to school to entertain, and discreetly dissect, my friends.
When I was offered the opportunity to write a personality quiz for Tu Books’ popular YA mystery Ink and Ashes, I jumped at the chance. Creating the quiz would allow me to play haunting omniscient force! I was determined to craft a quiz so poignant and accurate it would induce goose bumps across the arms of every reader in the land! *Evil Laugh*. I immediately set to work in the dark lair of my cubicle.
My first step was to evaluate the six personality types I would use as results: Forrest, Nicholas, Claire, Parker, Fed, and Avery. I assigned each character a different color sticky tab and reread passages of the novel marking moments that revealed their different personality traits. I oversimplified each character’s persona by condensing it into three adjectives. Next I drew a line and plotted the two most opposite personalities, Nicholas and Avery, on either side. Everyone else seemed to fall in between these two characters. I plotted them appropriately completing the personality gradient.
Next, I began building questions that centered around an outing to the mall. The mall served as a great theme because it’s a natural setting for character-revealing situations. I crafted six questions that related to the novel and are circumstances readers can identify with. I thought four multiple-choice answers per question would suffice but it proved problematic. More than two characters were associated with one answer which made the personalities indistinguishable and muddied the results. Although each character is distinct, they possess certain overlapping traits. For example Parker is smart like Fed, who likes video games like Avery, who embraces conflict like Claire, and so on. The characters’ intersecting personalities led me to a significant realization: they shouldn’t be plotted on a line, but on a triangle.
With this new discovery I tried a different tactic. Instead of the quiz determining which character the reader was most like, it would determine which characters the reader was most unlike. The process reminded me of how doctors diagnose patients. The answers to questions would reveal symptoms of personality, and with each symptom the quiz would eliminate the character with contrasting personality traits. Through process of elimination the reader would be left with the character he/she has the most in common with. This seemed like a solid, plan until one of my Quiz Testers managed to perfectly eliminate all six characters with her six answers. This showed me I needed additional questions, more specific answers per question, and that this diagnosis-based grading mechanism was unnecessary.
After a few more adjustments to structure and questioning my quiz was finally complete. It turns out crafting a quiz doesn’t entail the wisdom of an omniscient force but rather focused trial and error. The quiz may not be perfectly accurate or provide poignant personality revelations but that’s not the point. The point is to engage fans of Ink and Ashes by giving them something fun to discuss and results to agree or disagree with. The quiz serves as another way for readers to see themselves in literature.
To take the Ink and Ashes quiz for yourself, check it out here.
Blog: Ink Splot 26
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If you like the Bad Kitty chapter books by Nick Bruel, try these other funny books about mischief and mayhem for ages 7-9.
Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist Book #1: Lunch Walks Among Us by Jim Benton
Mad scientist Franny is having trouble making friends at her new school, so she begins to experiment with fitting in. The result of her experiment is not so great though. You could even call it . . . monstrous.
Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
Danny Dragonbreath and his iguana best friend, Wendell, attend the Herpitax-PhibbiasSchool for Reptiles and Amphibians, and deal with bullies, bad grades, nerves of steel, and of course, fire breath. See also the other books in the Dragonbreath series.
Great Critter Capers: The Great Hamster Massacre by Katie Davis
After years of begging their parents for pet hamsters, Anna and Tom’s beloved pets mysteriously die! Anna and Tom begin a humorous murder investigation throughout their neighborhood. See also the other books in the Great Critter Caper series.
Geronimo Stilton Book #1: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton
Search for buried treasure, uncover a great pyramid of cheese, and uncover haunted cats with famed mouse reporter Geronimo Stilton and his sister Thea. See also the other books in the Geronimo Stilton series.
Babymouse Book #1: Queen of the World! by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Meet the wildly imaginative Babymouse as she rocks out, camps out, and breaks hearts. See also the other books in the Babymouse series.
Stink Book #1: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald
Judy Moody’s little terror of a brother now has his own series full strange antics, from getting free candy to super stinky sneakers. See also the other books in the Stink series.
Cat Diaries: Secret Writings of the MEOW Society by Betsy Byars, Betsy Duffey, and Laurie Myers
At the annual gathering of the MEOW society, cats of all kinds gather to tell cat stories. Find out the stories of Chico, the smallest cat in the world, a Pirate Cat, and Georgio the chef cat.
Dog Diaries: Secret Writings of the WOOF Society by Betsy Byars, Betsy Duffey, and Laurie Myers
It is the first annual meeting of the WOOF Society, a yearly storytelling extravaganza where dogs from all over the world gather to share funny diary entries from their ancestors.
Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami
In this adorable manga, Yohei and his family learn how difficult it is to keep their mischievous kitten a secret from their landlords. See also the other books in the Chi’s Sweet Home series.
Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires
Binky prepares for his first trip into space, but begins to worry how his humans would protect themselves if he left for good. See also the other books in the Binky Adventure series.
Golden Hamster Saga Book # 1: I Freddy by Dietlof Reiche
Intelligent golden hamster Freddy aspires to escape captivity and to become an independent and civilized creature.
Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper
After a stack of fashion magazines falls on Kiki Kitty’s head while she is blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, Kiki turns into Fashion Kitty, a feline superhero who saves other kitties from fashion disaster.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who tries to convince the farmer that Wilbur is no ordinary animal.
Amanda, STACKS Writer
The Phi Beta Kappa Society recently announced the shortlists for their 2015 book awards, and several books published by university presses made the cut. The awards include the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award (which honors the book “that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity”), and the Christian Gauss Award, described below:
The Christian Gauss Award goes to books in the field of literary scholarship or criticism. The prize, created in 1960, honors the late Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher, and dean who also served as President of The Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Among those books shortlisted for the Gauss Award was Ramie Targoff’s Posthumous Love: Eros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England, which considers the boundaries that Renaissance English poets drew between earthly and heavenly existence, as they transformed the concept of posthumous love—so dominant in the days of Dante and Petrarch—and instead introduced a new mode of poetics that derived its emotional and aesthetic power from its insistence upon love’s mortal limits.
Winners—each of whom will receive a $10,000 prize—will be announced on October 1, 2015.
To read more about Posthumous Love, click here.
Epic Character Questions Quiz
PurpleFashionista86 posted these questions on the Harry Potter Message Board but they could also apply to any characters in any book series.
- Who is your favorite character?
- Which character would you go on a date with?
- If you were away, what character would take care of your pet for you?
- What character would you like to live with?
- What character would be your best friend?
- If you could take a character camping who would it be?
- If you had the choice to go anywhere with a character, what place would you go, and whom would you go with?
- If you could be a character, which one would it be?
- Which character would you want in your dorm?
Leave YOUR answers in the Comments!
Blog: The Open Book
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LEE & LOW BOOKS has two writing contests for unpublished authors of color: the New Voices Award, for picture book manuscripts, and the New Visions Award, for middle grade and young adult manuscripts. Both contests, which are now open for submissions aim to recognize the diverse voices and talent among new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing.
In this guest post, we wanted to highlight another groundbreaking writing contest that’s bringing attention to marginalized voices and fostering a love of writing in students: the Celebrate America Writing Contest run by the American Immigration Council. Coming into its 19th year, the Celebrate America Writing Contest for fifth graders has been bringing attention to the contributions of immigrants in America through the eyes and pens of our youngest writers.
In this guest post, Claire Tesh, Senior Manager of Education at the American Immigration Council, discusses the mission of the Celebrate America Writing Contest and how it has helped to shape the immigration narrative.
It is impossible to escape the negative vitriol and hateful rhetoric around the issue of immigration that dominates the headlines, talk radio, popular culture, and in some cases the dinner table. In an effort to educate children and communities about the value of immigration to our society The American Immigration Council teams up with schools and community groups to provide young people the resources and information necessary to think critically about immigration from both a historical and contemporary perspective, while working collaboratively and learning about themselves and their communities.
The American Immigration Council developed “Celebrate America,” an annual national creative writing contest for fifth graders, because they are at the age where they are discovering their place in the world both locally and globally. They are also finding their own voice, opinions and ideas through writing, creating and sharing. Students at this age start making sense of current events; they have a better working knowledge of basic history, and have a sense of global awareness.
Thousands of Entries
“Celebrate America” began 19 years ago with just a couple dozen entries. Today it has grown to over 5,000 entries annually! Since 1997 a total of close to 75,000 students have participated in two dozen cities, in nearly 750 schools and community centers across the nation.
As the lead on the contest since 2006, I have read thousands of entries and have attended numerous events featuring the writers. It is difficult to pick just one example, but in 2008 the winning entry America is a Refuge really showed how much a 10-12 year old can comprehend about the issue. That year, the winner, Cameron Busby, explained to a reporter from the Tucson Citizen that “I want to be a horror writer when I grow up,” and in order to tell the story of America being a place people come to be safe and thrive, he used bits and pieces of some of his classmate’s true horror stories of their own or their family member’s immigration journeys. This excerpt shows the young writer’s entry and how he made sense of injustice and how America has always been a nation symbolic as a beacon for hope:
A small child holds out a hoping
a crumb of bread,
or even a penny just to be fed
Hoping America is a refuge. A
child weeps over her mother’s
the tears streaming down her
Praying America is a refuge.
Part of the reason why it’s a popular contest is because it fits neatly with the fifth grade curriculum and it is easy for teachers to implement by offering timely lessons and expository learning opportunities from classroom visits by experts to interactive web-based games. The contest is unique in that it allows for any written work that captures the essence of why the writer is proud that America is a nation of immigrants and students can express themselves through narrative, descriptive, expository, or persuasive writings, poetry, and other forms of written expressions. The teaching and learning opportunities the contest brings to both the classroom and the community has made it very popular and most teachers who participate do so year after year.In the Classroom
Monica Chun, a teacher from Seattle who has participated in the contest for several years and whose student, Erin Stark, was a national winner in 2013, starts the assignment by asking students to ask their relatives at home a question: “Who was the first person in our family to come to America?” No matter what ethnicity or how recent or distant a family’s arrival be, every student is going to have a unique answer to this question.
Involving the Community
”Celebrate America” encourages youth, families and surrounding communities to evaluate and appreciate the effects of immigration in their own lives. The unique contest includes the following components:
- Immigration attorneys or trained volunteers visit classrooms, whether in person or virtually. The visitors give short presentations about the history of American immigration and the contributions immigrants have made over the years;
- Teachers complement the contest by implementing lessons about immigration, social justice and diversity into their curriculum;
- The American Immigration Council provides classrooms with innovative, relevant, and interactive lessons and resources;
- Communities organize events, naturalization ceremonies and other celebrations to showcase the local winners;
- The winning entry from each locale is sent to the national office and judged by well-known journalists, immigration judges and award winning authors;
- The winning entry is read into the Congressional record, a flag is flown over the Capitol in the winner’s honor and the winner reads their entry at a 700+ person event that celebrates immigration; and
- In the submissions the youth voice brings hope that there will be solutions to the immigration debate.
The American Immigration Council believes that teachers, parents, and students are essential to building a collective movement toward a better future: in our classrooms, in our schools, and in the larger society. With the community’s engagement, educators, parents and students can help bridge this divide and approach the issue of immigration with intelligence and empathy.
The contest has an impact not only in the schools and communities that participate, but also in the halls of Congress. Each year when the winning entry is read into the Congressional Record, it is rewarding to know that our leaders are hearing words of wisdom from a young person who has big ideas and who has chosen to use their voice to invite others to learn about immigration and to celebrate America’s diversity.
When the winning entries are read to new citizens at naturalization ceremonies or at dinner galas in communities of all sizes, almost every attendee has tears in their eyes because the young readers are speaking from their hearts and they represent the future. Each and every year the young writers continue to surprise us with the depth and empathy in their writings whether it is their common sense solutions to an immigration system or the story of their own immigrant background. Any writer, no matter how old and how experienced, should look at these entries to get a sense for authentic voice and various styles of writing. The thousands of students who submit to the contest get recognized in their communities and the affect is exponential because students start in the classroom and their voice continues to be shared within their schools, within their communities and beyond.
The students participating in “Celebrate America” are America’s future citizens, voters, educators and activists and it is truly an honor to shape the contest so that it provides some of the tools to think critically about immigration and to learn to explore the economic and moral effects of immigration policy as they engage in the public debates. But, today as we try to navigate the complicated maze that is immigration law and policy, it is through their incredible choice of words, that they are our guides, our teachers, and our voices of reason.
For further information on eligibility and submission process:
Write A Back-to-School Poem With Our Back-to-School Poetry Generator!
It’s that time again. Back. To. School. To get you in the back-to-school zone, for today’s Writing Prompt, your “homework” is to take the 25 words below and generate your own poem. The poems you guys came up with for the Spring Poetry Generator totally gave us spring fever!
You can add articles (little words like “a”, and “the”), verbs, or anything that will help it flow, but try to include as many of these 25 words as you can in your poem. Any style of poem works – rhyming, non-rhyming, couplet, haiku, free-form, or even random. It’s up to you!
- 7 am
- pencil sharpener
Leave your poem in the Comments. We can’t wait to take a lesson . . . from YOU!
-Ratha, STACKS Writer
from Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries
Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!
William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
“You’re in Berlin because you feel like a failure.”
I had met this man all of ten minutes ago and he was already summing me up neatly. I made subtle readjustments to my clothing, as if it had been a wayward bra strap or an upwardly mobile hemline that had given me away. More likely it was my blank stare in response to his question, “So, what brings you to Berlin?”
He has had to do this a lot, I imagine: greet lost boys and girls, still wild with jet lag, still unsure how to make ourselves look less obviously like what we are, we members of the Third Great Wave of American Expatriation to Berlin. This man before me was second on the list of names that everyone gets from worried friends when resettling overseas: Everyone I Know in the City to Which You Are Moving (Not Totally Vouched For). I had lasted about a week before I sent e-mails tinged with panic to everyone on my list. He had been the first to answer.
I must have blushed at the accuracy of his remark, because he immediately qualified it. “Everyone who moves to Berlin feels like a failure. That’s why we’re here. You’ll have good company.” Still embarrassed, I scanned the menu for one of the four German words I had mastered and, failing, pointed helplessly to a random item when the waiter returned. It would prove to be a strange Swiss soda of indeterminate flavor. It tasted like the branch of a tree, carbonated. It was not unpleasant. I had been shooting for something alcoholic, but I was already too laid bare to have admitting to a mistake and reordering left in me.
At this moment it seemed unlikely this American could commiserate. My own failings were too grandiose, the depths to which I had fallen too abysmal. I was narcissistic in my failings, and he looked like he was doing pretty okay. He sat across from me confident, knowledgeable. He had ordered in German. The people in the restaurant had greeted him by name. He talked about artistic projects he was working on. He was certainly sweating less than I was on this hot July day. Later a tale would unravel, one that mimicked the stories of so many of the Americans who had flocked here over the last decade. Unable to survive financially in New York without having to abandon their writing, their art, their music, they came to a city of cheap rents, national health insurance, and plentiful bartending jobs that could cover a reasonable cost of living. He had an apartment. It had hardwood floors. A failure, my eye.
In contrast, there I was, ten days into my new city and still stumbling around like a newborn calf. I was tired of being the person I was on an almost atomic level. I longed to be disassembled, for the chemical bonds holding me together to weaken and for bits of me to dissolve slowly into the atmosphere. It was not a death wish, not really. Not anymore. I was hoping something in the environment, some sturdier, more German atoms, would replace them.
Because there does seem to be something about Berlin that calls out to the exhausted, the broke, the uninsurable with preexisting mental health disorders, the artistically spent, those trapped in the waning of careers, of inspiration, of family relations, and of ambition. To all those whose anxiety dreams play out as trying to steer a careening car while trapped in the backseat, come to us. We have a café culture and surprisingly affordable rents. Come to us, and you can finish out your collapse among people who understand.
* * *
Let’s say, for a moment, that the character of a city has an effect on its inhabitants, and that it sets the frequency on which it calls out to the migratory. People who are tuned a certain way will heed the call almost without knowing why. Thinking they’ve chosen this city, they’ll never know that the city chose them. Let’s say, for a moment, that the literal situation of a city can leak out into the metaphorical realm. That the city is the vessel and we are all merely beings of differing viscosity, slowly taking on the shape of that into which we are poured.
If that were the case, what to make of the fact that Berlin is built on sand? Situated on a plain with no natural defenses, no major river, no wealth of any particular resource, it’s a city that should not exist. It can’t be any wonder that Berlin has for hundreds of years—no, longer than that, past Napoleon, past the medieval days when suspected witches were lined up at the city gates and molten metal was poured between their clenched teeth, past the whispers of the Romans that those who inhabited these lands were not quite human, back to the days of the people residing here who are now known to us only by some pottery shards and bronze tools—been a little unstable. It would explain the city’s endless need to collapse and rebuild, even as the nation that engulfs it marches on confidently, linearly.
Perhaps its unstable nature is what beckons the unstable to its gates. The Lausitzer. The Jastorf. The Semnonen. The name-less and the preliterate. A shifting bunch of conquerors and the conquered. On through invaders and defenders, and populations reduced by half in war, disease, and the destruction of whoever pulled the short straw for being the scapegoat this century. The process merely sped up in the twentieth, oscillating madly through world wars and grotesque ideas, crashing economies and blind eyes turned.
It plays out seasonally as well here in the northern reaches of Germany. The lush highs of summer, everything green and tangled with a sun reluctant to leave its post at night and overly enthusiastically trying to rouse you from bed in the very early hours of the morning, crash endlessly down toward the darkness of the winter solstice. The trees that had been blooming in a state of fecund glory when I arrived in the city lost their leaves, revealing that the only things behind them were the endless concrete boxes of Soviet midcentury “architecture.” The sun shunned us and rarely peeked out from behind its thick cloud cover. When it deigned to, it gave off all the glow and heat of a porch light. The gray of the sky matched the gray of the buildings matched the gray of the thick coating of ice that remained on the sidewalks all winter. I fell on it one night, or early one morning, I guess, a little worse for wear, accompanied by a man I met at a bar, whose entire seduction strategy was just to follow me home, despite the fact that I kept trying to shoo him away like a stray dog.
I was six months into my Berlin residence. And from my akimbo position I threw the holy tantrum of a sailor-mouthed two-year-old. “Fuck this city. Fuck it. Why the fuck did I ever move here, god fucking damn it.”
“You’re strange,” said the German man, still resolutely standing by.
“Help me up.”
* * *
That’s when I took my William James essays off the shelf. I found in his works of philosophy a friend, a mentor, a professor, and some sort of idealized father. It was his works on the more mundane matters that I relied on—how to make changes in your life, how to believe you can make changes in your life, how to convince yourself to get out of bed in the morning, how not to be a worthless slug—rather than his more important pieces about war or whatever.
James is now a bit of an odd fellow in philosophy. More widely influential than widely known, his theory of pragmatism and his groundbreaking work in the field of psychology make him something of a hidden mover. If you do seek him out, it’s not generally in the way one reads Descartes or Kant or Nietzsche, as a refinement of the intellect or in the pursuit of one’s studies. One finds James when one needs him. He makes quiet sense of the world in all its glories and deprivations, its calamities and its beauties. As a philosopher, James is able to hold all of the sorrow and violence and pain of the world in his mind and remain somehow optimistic. It doesn’t wipe out the goodness of the world, it just sits beside it. It’s no wonder then that people get a little religious about this agnostic philosopher, this man who can restore your faith in the world without necessarily bringing god into it.
I sought out William James because I needed him. He and I were now separated by about a century of death, but we found ourselves occupying the same biographical eddy: bottoming out in Berlin.
* * *
Here is how William James found himself in Berlin: a failure. He had tried and failed to become a painter, failed to become a doctor, failed to become an adventurer. He was not yet a writer, but he was almost certainly still a virgin. He was in his mid-twenties and painfully aware that he had failed even in deciding what it was he wanted to do. He stood there, absolutely calcified with indecision and doubt, while his soon-to-be-famous friends like Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. made decisions and started careers, and his soon-to-be-famous younger brother, Henry, started his literary apprenticeship with the Atlantic.
Whereas he—well, he fled. First to Dresden and then to Berlin. He arrived under the pretext of furthering his education, but that may have simply been a way to convince his parents to pay for the trip because, despite his advancing age, he had yet to make an income. At any rate, he failed to go to class, ever. Instead he holed up in his Berlin guesthouse, learning German, training his telescope on the legs of the occupants of the all-girls’ school across the street, and failing to figure out a way to flirt with the pretty woman who played the piano downstairs. All the while in his letters to his brother he was alluding to a daily battle not to do himself in.
James lightly fictionalized this time in his life in Varieties of Religious Experience, passing off the breakdown to someone he knows who told him about it. (He’s French, you don’t know him.) In that work he described the sensation of his suicidal idyll as “desperation absolute and complete, the whole universe coagulating about the sufferer into a material of overwhelming horror, surrounding him without opening or end. Not the conception or intellectual perception of evil, but the grisly blood-freezing heart-palsying sensation of it close upon one, and no other conception or sensation able to live for a moment in its presence.” And while his letters to his parents hint at some of this darkness, there he mostly chats about that other Berlin experience, the roast veal and the beer and the music and the philosophy.
Here is how Berlin responded to William James’s time in Berlin: they built a center in his name. At the place of his greatest misery and torment, they built a permanent structure. Although maybe at this point they couldn’t help it. After all the documentation they had to do of the horrors of the twentieth century, maybe now it’s an unconscious reflex to throw up a memorial on the site of every trauma.
Well, not really a structure, I guess. More like a small room. The minute I learned of the center’s existence, I sent off an e-mail to make an appointment. I expected a hall of philosophy on the university campus, maybe in that glorious red brick so many of the buildings in James’s time had been constructed with. I scribbled the address down on a piece of paper, and I took the train to the outskirts, to the University of Potsdam campus. It’s situated next to Sanssouci and its gardens, the former playground of the Prussian king. While the main path through the gardens is still marked with magnificent elm trees, most of the grounds have been allowed to go to seed. It’s not a tourist destination on par with Versailles, and so it is kept in only middling shape. There is a lovely rose garden, but that is surrounded by tangle and bramble. It’s been let go in the Berlin way, all of those straight German lines blurring a little into chaos.
Past the garden gates, into the campus, into the main philosophy hall, up the main staircase, down a hallway, to the left and then right, I came to my destination. It was a small door. The William James Center proved, despite its authoritative name, to be the work of one man. Herr Doktor Professor Logi Gunnarsson. Or is it Herr Professor Doktor . . . I should have remembered to look up the proper order before I left. “It’s Logi, call me Logi.” Luckily Dr. Logi is Icelandic and not beholden to the German titling system. The center’s archives are really just the contents of Dr. Logi’s office. A desk, a computer, some bookcases. Dr. Logi is slight and sandy, and he has the wonderful awkwardness that comes with too many hours spent in the company of dead men.
He is, he tells me, attempting to re-create William James’s personal library as part of his administration of the center, so that he can be surrounded by the same books that surrounded James. It’s a devotional act couched in a scholarly one. It’s an act I can understand. Dr. Logi pours me a cup of tea, and we chat about our good friend William James. Up for discussion, a traumatic encounter with a prostitute, alluded to in letters to his brother and in a journal. He did, it seems, either lose his virginity to the prostitute or, perhaps even more traumatically, fail to.
“The poor dear,” I say.
“Yes, quite. He was hopeless with women. It seems, though, that after he married Alice Howe Gibbens, the physical ailments he was treating in Berlin, the bad back and so on, disappeared.”
“Were they caused by the burden of a protracted virginity?”
“Perhaps. The poor dear.”
I am keeping Dr. Logi from professional duties, but I don’t care and it appears he doesn’t either. I imagine it might be a relief for him, as it is for me, to have someone to converse with about our favorite person. Or willingly converse, as I’m sure he inflicts William James on the people around him like I do.
“What do you make,” I ask slowly, “of the fact that his first book wasn’t published until he was forty-nine?”
Part of William’s freakout, Dr. Logi had mentioned earlier, sprang from an enormous need to be seen. By the public, by his friends, by his father. He wanted to “assert his reality” on the world, as he wrote in his letters, and it took approximately twenty years after writing that statement until he would.
“Surely not . . .” Dr. Logi starts, but then he does the math in his head. “I guess I knew that but had forgotten. I mean . . . And he could not have known he would eventually succeed.”
We both sit quietly, drinking the dregs of our tea and feeling the long expanse of the years before us. The weight of uncertainty. Whether it’ll be a late blooming or whether the soil will prove to be infertile.
* * *
Whenever James was corresponding with a colleague or an inquirer, Dr. Logi told me, he would request from them a portrait. It was important for him to see the whole of the person, at least a bit of their humanity, and not only their written representation.
In that spirit, I have before me two images of William James. The first was taken around the time he moved to Berlin. He looks stricken, pale and withdrawn. It is as if he had recoiled into a permanent flinch. He looks off to the side, unable perhaps to meet the camera’s gaze. There is something fractured deep at the heart of him.
In the other, it is a few decades on. There is gray in his beard and his face is worn. He exudes charm, warmth, and wisdom. It is a William James in whose lap you want to sit and listen to stories. He is keeping some secrets, but he will share them if you draw near.
It is the distance between these two photographs that is so fascinating. Not simply in age but in substance of the man. Biographers are interested (I am interested) in the Berlin breakdown because of the distance traveled between the two Jameses and the quality of the end result. It’s a favorite myth in our culture that hardship makes you a better person, that it is merely the grindstone on which your essence is refined and polished. But the truth is that scarcity, depression, thwarted ambition, and suffering most often leave the person a little twisted. That is the territory where mean drunks and tyrannical bastards come from.
Not so with James. He may have always been a little hopeless with women (he sent a series of hilarious and heartbreaking letters to his Alice in the months before their wedding, in a vein that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever gotten a little sullen after a bottle of wine and decided to start texting), and the weight of depression did occasionally re-descend, but he walked out of that phase with dignity and great compassion. He used his experiences, both the good and the ill, for the base of his incredibly humane body of work.
So then what’s the magic formula? Can his transition be distilled down to a scientific protocol to be reproduced at home in your own basement laboratory? Could we use William James’s example to turn our respective chemical imbalances into alchemical processes?
* * *
There are persons whose existence is little more than a series of zig-zags, as now one tendency and now another gets the upper hand. Their spirit wars with their flesh, they wish for incompatibles. Wayward impulses interrupt their most deliberate plans, and their lives are one long drama of repentance and an effort to repair misdemeanors and mistakes.
William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
It is difficult today to imagine the Berlin that James encountered in the nineteenth century. So much of the city was reduced to rubble and ash in the intervening years. I can look at photos and get a sense of who the city might have been. But when I’m out, actually walking around on the streets, it is an entirely different place.
Most of the surface of the city was bulldozed after World War II, and the unsalvageable and the unclaimed was dumped in Grunewald on the outskirts of town. The pile of junk that used to be houses, used to be bakeries and hat shops, used to be attached to human bodies, was covered in dirt, and the wild was allowed to reclaim it. Now it is something of a park or nature preserve, with hiking trails through the woods—the trees still looking suspiciously young—up and down this artificial hill. One of the only hills in this swamp-turned-into-a-city.
The Germans may look like proper churchgoing Lutherans on the outside, but they are all at heart tree-worshiping animists from way back, starting with the pagan cults in the Schwarzwald, to the nature idolatry of the romantic and counter-Enlightenment movements in the nineteenth century. It still bleeds through in their songs and in their art. A few decades before James arrived, Bogumil Goltz wrote, “What the evil over-clever, insipid, bright cold world encumbers and complicates, the wood-green mysterious, enchanted, dark, culture-renouncing but true to the law of nature must free and make good again.”
So maybe that is where James’s Berlin still resides, out in Grunewald, buried in some sort of purification rite inspired by a mysterious calling from deep within the German DNA. The wood-green making all of those horrors good again. It’s a calm place, soothing. But also policed by territorial wild boar.
To read more about The Dead Ladies Project, click here.
Blog: Ink Splot 26
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New El Deafo Book Trailer!
Have you seen STACKS Writer En-Szu’s awesome video for El Deafo by Cece Bell? If you love hilarious graphic novels about unusual superheroes, watch this video!
Tell us what you think in the Comments! Are you already a fan of El Deafo?
Sonja, STACKS Staffer
Blog: The Open Book
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When we talk about reading diversely, the conversation often focuses on representation and social justice: making sure that our books don’t reinforce inequality by stereotyping, marginalizing, or erasing groups of people. This is urgently important.
But what often gets left out of the conversation is how reading diversely can be a matter of pure enjoyment. For those of us who love books because they help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, reading diversely can be the icing on the cake of a spectacular reading experience.
Here are our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. What are yours?
- The world is diverse, so why shouldn’t our books be?
- It’s boring to only read about people just like you.
- Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
- Diverse books inspire us to be the authors
of our own stories.
- Walking in someone else’s shoes builds empathy.
- Diverse books make us feel seen and understood.
- Reading diversely can help turn nonreaders into readers.
- Understanding different cultures helps us succeed in a global world.
- Magic happens when we step outside of our comfort zones.
- Diverse books redefine who and what we can be.
Click here for a larger image. Want a copy of our Reading Diversely poster? Comment below with your name and email address and we’ll send one out to you! (US addresses only).
Why do YOU think it’s important to read diversely?
Everyone else is doing it, so I thought I'd post my five reasons why you should apply to be a Cybils Awards judge.
As you would expect, there's a lot of overlap with other people's reasons, but I'll add my own spin on them, and with an emphasis on my category, Young Adult Speculative Fiction. For those who don't know what speculative fiction
is, it includes fantasy, science fiction, horror, dystopian, steampunk, and basically anything else with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.1. Read and discuss good books.
Hopefully you don't need an excuse to read, but it doesn't hurt to be able to say, "Sorry, I can't do the dishes, I have to finish this Cybils book." Cybils judges engage in intense reading - and for Round 1, a LOT of reading - and intense discussions with a small group of people who share your book passion.
In YA Spec Fic, we've sometimes had upwards of 200 nominated books in Round 1, and while you don't have to read them all, Round 1 judges in YA SF can expect to have to read at least 40 books over a 3 month period. (Presumably, you'll already have read some of the category nominations). It's crazy intense, but so much fun! Round 2 judges have to read 5 to 7 books in a little under 6 weeks, but they get to read "the best of the best" and choose a winner.2. Make lifelong friends.
Those intense discussions with like-minded people? Turns out they're a great basis for a friendship. I've made lifelong friends from serving together on a Cybils panel. (And KidLitCon
is a great place to meet up with them in person!)3. Influence the books available for children/teen reading.
Yup, awards do have an influence. And while the Cybils don't get as much media as, say, the ALA awards, we have a pretty big and dedicated following that includes teachers, librarians, and booksellers. The books you choose may end up on reading lists, getting purchased by a library, or in bookstore displays. Books that win awards and get that attention may be more likely to be reprinted or have a sequel or other books by the author published.4. Get your blog better known.
Did I mention we have a following? Round 1 judges are encouraged to blog about the books you read, and while Round 2 judges can't blog the finalists during the round, they can post reviews after the winners are announced. Throughout the Cybils season, we post review excerpts with links to reviews by both Round 1 and Round 2 judges to the Cybils blog, thus further aiding discovery of judges' blogs. During the summer, you can contribute themed book lists for posting on the Cybils blog. Being a Cybils judge can bring greater visibility to your blog, increase your traffic, and give you greater credibility with publishers.5. Learn a lot.
I mean, a lot. I sometimes think I know a lot about YA SF, but every year I'm blown away by the knowledge and expertise of my fellow judges, and every year I learn more from them.
What I'm looking for
As Category Chair for YA Speculative Fiction, I have the responsibility to choose the judges for my category. It's my least favorite part of the Cybils: I hate having to choose one person over another, but unfortunately we usually don't have room for everyone.
Here are some of the things that I look for:1. A passion for speculative fiction.
If your "about" on your blog says that you don't really like most spec fic, then I'll most likely pass. If you don't post about SF much, I'll think long and hard before choosing you.2. Knowledge of spec fiction and its subgenres.
Speculative Fiction is a very diverse genre. One day you might be reading a scary ghost story, and the next a futuristic dystopian. I look for people who have read broadly within the genre and can discuss the various aspects, literary elements, and tropes of the genre.3. Critical thinking skills.
I have to know that you can think critically about books and analyze the literary elements and readability of a book. Reviews are a great way to demonstrate this, but if you don't review books, hopefully you can submit other blog posts that demonstrate your critical thinking skills.4. Open to diverse perspectives.
I want to see that you have a demonstrated interest in diversity, and a tolerance for worldviews different from your own.5. Diverse backgrounds.
I mean this in two ways. First, I look for people who can bring expertise or experience with one or more under-represented groups, in what we usually mean when we say diversity. For example, do you blog about people of color, LGBTQA+ characters, differently-abled characters, different religious or worldviews, etc.? Second, I look for a variety of personal and work experience, so that the panel is hopefully made up of a good mix of librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers, authors, etc.
So I have I scared you off yet? Oops, I was supposed to be convincing you why you should apply! Please do apply,
and if YA Speculative Fiction isn't your thing, we have plenty of other categories ranging from Easy Readers to Young Adult. We even have a book apps category!Here's the information on how to apply!
Also, see the following posts for more reasons to apply!
An excerpt from Jacqui Shine’s review of Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars at the LA Review of Books:
Though the allegiances of the culture wars tend to fall along predictable political lines, Hartman gives special attention to surprising moments of reversal and repetition. He notes, for example, that colorblind conservatism actually marks something of a reversion to an earlier colorblind liberalism, rather than the invention of a new ideological stance from whole cloth. After 1965, Hartman argues, a “reconstructed racial liberalism favored a proactive government that would guarantee black Americans not only ‘equality as a right and a theory’ but also, as the nation’s leading liberal Lyndon Johnson famously put it, ‘equality as a fact and a result.’” The fruit of this strategy was the rise of affirmative action, and “the line that divided opponents in the affirmative action debate … was the line between an older colorblind racial liberalism and a newer color-conscious racial liberalism that had incorporated elements of Black Power into its theoretical framework.” Thus, when conservatives took up the rhetoric of colorblindness to oppose racial quotas, they were repurposing an earlier liberal position. Hartman likewise stresses the peculiar politics of the national debate over pornography, in which “the logic of anti-porn feminism influenced the Christian Right,” and William Buckley Jr. found himself agreeing with Andrea Dworkin that pornography should be banned, though not about why.
Read the review in full here.
To read more about The War for the Soul of America, click here.
Blog: Ink Splot 26
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Quick Tips for Back-to-School
AmusedBrain4 has some back-to-school tips for freshman on the Reading Buzz Board, but they can really help for any grade, so take a look and see what you think.
Ahhhh, so school is just around the corner. I thought I would give some quick tips for those who are starting their first year of high school . . .
- Don’t sign up for more than 2 Honors classes your first year. You might regret taking too many.
- It’s okay to make new friends.
- Don’t stress yourself out over school work. I know it can get overwhelming but you don’t want to look back on your first year and remember hating it.
- If you have been studying for hours IT’S OKAY TO TAKE A BREAK. Go out with some friends, and eat lots of ice cream. Ice cream makes everything better!
- If you get a bad grade on something remember that someone else probably did worse.
- Make sure you eat lunch! (Even if you only have 20 minutes, grab a yogurt or some fruit.)
- Have at least one fun class like band or art or something you love.
- After-school clubs are worth it. It can be scary joining stuff but trust me, you won’t regret it.
- Try new things. Join the school play, or marching band, or something you’ve never thought of trying. Freshman year is a year for you to figure out what you want to do.
- Lastly, don’t let one bad teacher ruin your year. It’s just one class, and it won’t ruin your grades.
Do you think these tips will help you this school year? Whatever grade you are starting this year, tell us your tips in the Comments! Happy new school year!
Sonja, STACKS Staffer
In this guest post from the Lee & Low archives, professor Katie Cunningham discusses ways to diversify Common Core recommended texts. As we gather resources to begin the new school year, Katie’s post is a good reminder that each year offers a fresh opportunity to look at the books we use with new eyes to see if they are serving us, and serving our students.
We live in an increasingly diverse society. Nowhere is this more evident than in classrooms, in both urban and suburban schools. Nationally, our classrooms are almost 45% non-White and the trend toward greater diversity is expected to continue. Our classrooms reflect this trend, but our classroom libraries do not. The New York Times found that despite making up about nearly a quarter of the nation’s public school enrollment, young Latino readers seldom see themselves in books. Those of us in schools working with children from minority backgrounds know this to be true as we scan our bookshelves and find protagonists that are overwhelmingly white and living in suburban, privileged settings. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that in 2011, only 6% of children’s books featured characters from African American, American Indian, Asian Pacific/ Asian Pacific American, or Latino backgrounds.
Toni Morrison said, “National literature reflects what is on the national mind.” More than ever, we have a responsibility to reflect national population trends through our literature selections. As of 2011, teachers are being directed to the Common Core State Standards and its corresponding Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Performance Tasks, which has suggested texts for read-alouds and independent reading for students at grade level bands K-12.
While not required reading, there remains confusion among teachers and administrators about how to approach the list. As you scan the suggestions, you’ll quickly find a return to traditional texts like Black Stallion in fourth grade and Little Women in sixth through eighth grade. I’m of the opinion that reading traditional texts like the Preamble and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (also in Appendix B) can give students cultural capital needed to be successful within the educational system.
Yet, while we can turn to the Standards for suggestions, we need to turn to the children in our own classrooms and ask ourselves whether they see themselves represented in books. Not only a responsibility, this is a moral imperative. We need to ensure a balance between traditional texts and books that offer contemporary portrayals of life and youth today, that reflect the lived experiences of the students in our classrooms.
The Uncommon Corps has started a campaign to better Appendix B and has a running Better B list worthy of checking out to hear what’s on the national mind. Teachers searching for a solution can also consider classic and contemporary multicultural pairings such as those below, especially when searching for titles that represent childhood. If we keep questioning what’s accepted as our national literature for children, we will rightfully start to see books that provide mirrors for every child in every class.
Classic and Contemporary Multicultural Pairings
CLASSIC: Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant
CONTEMPORARY: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo; Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen; Loose Tooth by Margaret Yatsevitch Phinney; Bird by Zetta Elliott
CLASSIC: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
CONTEMPORARY: Angel’s Kite by Alberto Bianco; Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
CLASSIC: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
CONTEMPORARY: Alicia Afterimage by Lulu Delacre; Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley
CLASSIC: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
CONTEMPORARY: Galaxy Games: The Challengers by Greg Fishbone; Chess Rumble by G. Neri; Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri
ABOUT KATIE CUNNINGHAM: Guest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal.
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Goosebumps Movie Comes to Theaters October 16!
I love the Goosebumps series so much because it’s just the right amount of scary and surprising! So it was a dream-come-true when I was invited to an early screening of the Goosebumps movie (rated PG).
Let me tell you, the movie does not disappoint! It is so cool to see all the monsters from R. L. Stine’s stories come together in one action-packed movie. Jack Black does a wonderful job playing R. L. Stine, and the whole cast really brings the Goosebumps series to life on the big screen! The movie features all my favorite Goosebumps monsters and shows Stine’s huge imagination and creativity to the fullest. I was hanging on the edge of my seat and wishing it would never end!
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
At one point in the movie, the R. L. Stine character says, “A good story has three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the twist!” I think that quote sums up the movie for me because it includes all of my favorite classic Goosebumps moments while also ending with a shocking twist! Sorry, no spoilers! You have to wait until October 16 when the movie comes to theaters.
photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
If you were writing your own Goosebumps story, which monsters would you include? Would you keep all the classic characters or make up your own? And what fun twist would you throw in to take readers on your exciting and spooky journey?
Let us know the details of your Goosebumps story in the Comments below, and remember not to be too graphic or scary for kids younger than you!
Megan, STACKS Intern