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LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used across the country in classrooms and libraries today.
Today we are featuring one of our favorite titles: George Crum and the Saratoga Chip.This fun story looks at the history behind everyone’s favorite snack food: the potato chip!
About the book: Growing up in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York, isn’t easy for George Crum. Picked on at school because of the color of his skin, George escapes into his favorite pastimes — hunting and fishing.
Soon George learns to cook too, and as a young man he lands a job as chef at the fancy Moon’s Lake House. George loves his work, except for the fussy customers, who are always complaining! One hot day George’s patience boils over, and he cooks up a potato dish so unique it changes his life forever.
Readers will delight in this spirited story of the invention of the potato chip — one of America’s favorite snack foods. George Crum and the Saratoga Chip is a testament to human ingenuity, and a tasty slice of culinary history.
Awards and Honors:
Texas Bluebonnet Masterlist, Texas Library Association
Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
Distinguished Children’s Biography List, Cleveland Public Library
Author Gaylia Taylorbegan writing for children after she retired from many years working as a Reading Recovery® teacher. Taylor stumbled across George Crum’s story while researching African American inventors on the Internet.
“I’m always looking for a story to tell, and George Crum caught my attention because his invention, the potato chip, is loved by so many people,” says the author in an interview. “I have to admit that a story about the potato chip peaked my own curiosity, because it is my favorite snack.” The more Taylor read about George Crum, the more interested she became in his life. The author says that all her research described George Crum as having a very distinct and colorful personality. “I just couldn’t let him go,” says Taylor. “I said, ‘George, we’ve got a story to tell!’”
Resources for Teaching With George Crum and the Saratoga Chip:
Pia Ceres was LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is a recipient of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program grant. She’s a senior at Brown University, where she studies Education & Comparative Literature, with a focus in French literature. When she’s not reading, you can find her watching classic horror movies from under a blanket, strumming pop songs on her ukulele, and listening to her grandparents’ stories about the Philippines. In this blog post, she describes a friendship she developed with a character, and highlights some of LEE & LOW’s Filipino titles.
Do you know my friend Cora? I met her this summer.
Cora is the star of the picture book Cora Cooks Pancit, by Dorina Lazo Gilmore. She’s sweet, tan-skinned with a child’s moon-like face. She dreams of helping her mother cook Filipino dishes like adobo and lumpia and pancit, and one glorious day, she does just that. When Cora sits on the floor thinking about food while licking a spoon, I know we’re meant to be.
Of course, we make friends in books for reasons other than shared cultural experience. (Jo March, you’re my day one girl.) However, it’s increasingly critical that readers see their stories in books. When the values communicated in political rhetoric and popular culture can make a child feel ashamed or threatened for their differences, reflective stories provide crucial opportunity to help reframe their experiences in an affirming light.
When Mama asks Cora what she would like to cook, Cora “scrunched up her pug nose and began to think.” Memories of being teased about my low-bridged nose came tumbling back from time. But now, where there used to be shame, or longing for a Barbie doll’s features, Cora’s story creates the possibility of pride. She has a nose like me, and she’s smart, helpful, and adorable! At last, the positive mirror I didn’t even know I was waiting for until now.
So in the hope of inspiring conversation about taking pride in one’s heritage, and also recognizing the beauty of cultures different than one’s own, I’ve rounded up a few of LEE & LOW’s other Filipino and Filipino-American titles. With hope, they will be just the start of books that capture the Filipino/FilAm experience, making these stories accessible to all children.
Readers will be captivated by lush illustrations in this retelling of Cinderella, set in the little-represented world of the pre-colonial Philippines. Abadeha’s story begins as most Cinderella stories do, but what follows is an enchanting series of events that are deeply rooted in local mythologies. Magic takes unexpected forms, and fairytale fans will find Abadeha’s ending familiar, yet entirely new.
Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella, by Myrna Paz, illus. by Youshan Tang
A warm and whimsical Manilatown, San Francisco, is the setting for a young boy’s adventures catching a troublesome talking fish. As the slippery ectotherm whirls through the streets, townspeople join Lakas’s rag-tag fish-hunting band. The language is doubly musical, as the book is written in both Tagalog and English!
Lakas and the Manilatown Fish, by Anthony Robles, illus. by Carl Angel
When his teacher announces a contest to see who can save the most play money, a baseball-loving Filipino American boy brings his father’s alkansiya, a bank made out of a hollow coconut shell, to school. Even though the bully mocks his “old, dusty shell,” Willie is determined to win the competition and learns an important lesson about his heritage. For any reader who has brought a part of their home culture with them to school and been teased (be it a packed lunch or article of clothing), this book is a reminder that where we come from makes us special.
Willie Wins, by Almira Astudillo Gilles, illus. by Carl Angel
The quest for more diverse books never ends! Do you have any recommendations for books about the Filipino/FilAm experience? When was the first time you saw yourself in a book? Share in the comments below!
After the success of the first #DVpit event in April, #DVpit is back for another round of Twitter pitching fun on October 5th and 6th! If you’re unfamiliar with this event, #DVpit is a Twitter pitch contest created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors.
While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event! The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s #DVpit website.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
October 5, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Children’s and Teen Fiction/Nonfiction
October 6, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction
What is #DVpit?
#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.
The first #DVpit took place on April 19, 2016 and was a national trending hashtag. There have been over 15 authors signed by agents as a direct result of this event so far, with editors from small to mid-size to Big Five publishers requesting to receive the manuscripts at submission stage.
#DVpit was covered by Bustle, Salon, YA Interrobang, and multiple blog sites like Lee & Low Blog and Daily Dahlia.
The event was created and is moderated by Beth Phelan, a literary agent at the Bent Agency.
When is the next #DVpit?
#DVpit will occur over two days. Please make sure you are pitching your work on the appropriate day; many of the agents and editors will only tune in on a specific day, to see the pitches in the categories they represent/acquire.
October 5th will be for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (picture books, chapter books, graphic novel, middle grade, young adult).
October 6th will be for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (all genres, commercial and literary).
The event will run on each day from 8AM ET until 8PM ET using the hashtag #DVpit on both days.
What kind of work can you submit?
The participating agents and editors will be looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the description here.
Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.
How do you submit?
The event will be broken up over two days, one for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (October 5) and the other for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (October 6). Please make sure that you pitch on the appropriate day.
Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.
Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags as well.
We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book / you are a diverse author, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc. These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you label your experience. Please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.
Please pitch no more than once per hour. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.
Please do not tweet-pitch the agents/editors directly!
The event will run from 8:00AM ET until 8:00PM ET, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time, on the appropriate day.
What happens next?
Agents/editors will “like” your pitch if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply or quote-tweet with compliments.
Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.
All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), I encourage you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).
If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same company have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy on multiple submissions, or reach out to me and I will be happy to find out for you.
Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!
Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating again this round. So get those pitches ready for October 5th!
If you need help with your pitch, check out these helpful resources here.
From a distance, Andrea Faraday looks perfect: she is the junior class valedictorian at the exclusive Woodruff School, where she was voted Most Likely to Do Everything Right. But looks can be deceiving. When her parents disappear, her life—and her Perfect Girl charade—begins to crumble, and her scheme to put things right just takes the situation from bad to so much worse. Pretty soon she’s struck up the world’s least likely friendship with the juvenile delinquents at Justice Academy, the last exit on the road to jail—and the first stop on the way out.
Kimberly Reid’s YA novel Perfect Liarsis an engrossing story that asks a big question: What makes someone a criminal? The discussion questions below, based on Perfect Liars, can help guide a conversation in classrooms about the juvenile justice system and its effects:
In the beginning of the story, Drea has a strong independent streak, almost to the point of being aloof. Why does Drea struggle to make friends and to trust others? Why does her outlook change around friendship and camaraderie?
How does Drea’s perception of adolescents in the juvenile justice system change?
Why is Drea ashamed of how her family attained its privilege?
What connection can be made between Damon’s choices (becoming a police officer) and Drea’s choices (in unrelenting pursuit of perfectionism) and the choices of their parents (being con artists)?
Drea’s friends at the Justice Academy solve the problem with the very skills that led them to being in the juvenile justice system. What do you think the author, Kimberly Reid, wants readers to take away?
Look up imposter syndrome and “Duck Syndrome.” Do either of these describe Drea’s experiences? Is her pursuit of perfectionism unique to Drea’s personality and internal pressures or are there systemic pressures as well? How might Drea’s gender contribute to her anxiety and stress in being perfect? Does Drea face additional pressures or unfair expectations to be successful because she is biracial in an elite, mostly white prep school?
How are Drea and Xavier similar?
Do Drea and Xavier see each other as equals? Why or why not?
Examine the reasons that led to Gigi, Xavier, and Jason each being in the juvenile justice system. Do their actions define them as “bad” people? Does their involvement with Drea mean they are redeemed?
Which characters do you particularly admire or dislike?
Unlike the students Drea meets at Justice Academy, she has had access to elite institutions, privileged experiences, and influential people. Does Drea make the most of these resources?
Drea strives to be independent and self-sufficient. Does she achieve the freedom she seeks? Why or why not?
What impact do you think Drea’s experience in collaborating with the students at the Justice Academy might have on her view of her parents’ choices and lifestyle?
This week we celebrate the release of After A While Crocodile by Dr. Brady Barr and Jennifer Keats Curtis with illustrations by Susan Detwiler.
In the book, a young girl, Alexa, raises an American crocodile with her class in Costa Rica. The story is her science journal of the experience as the crocodile hatches, grows, and swims off after he is released.
Dr. Brady Barr knew he wanted to work with reptiles after spotting his first alligator in the Florida Everglades. Since, he has traveled the world seeking out lizards, snakes, and other creatures to learn more about the 24 different species. In fact, he is the only one to have captured all 24 species in the wild. Readers can watch Brady Barr comb the jungles, forests, and rivers seeking out reptiles on his Nat Geo Wild show Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr that airs on Saturdays at 10:30.
Co-author Jennifer Keats Curtis is most often found in the wild classrooms of Maryland talking with students about animal conservation and how she helps wildlife by telling stories.
Susan Detwiler’s illustrations bring Jefe and Alexa to life with her detailed realistic style. Like Jennifer, Susan is often found in classrooms talking about her art and love for children’s books.
If you want to spy your own crocodile, a trip on a plane might be in order. Get a copy of After A While Crocodile, download the For Creative Minds section to find out where these crocs live, and educators we have a teaching guide for you too! Visit the book’s homepage for all these downloadable extras. If you just can’t wait to start the croco-fun here is a simple craft for the little ones.
Simply use popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners. Paint the popsicle stick green, and then start in the middle and wrap one pipe cleaner toward the front leaving enough to bend for legs and feet. Then wrap the second pipe cleaner from the middle to the back, also leaving enough room for legs and feet. On the front glue googly eyes and cut teeth from some white paper and glue that to the end. Now you have a crocodile buddy!
Today marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month. During this period from September 15-October 15, we recognize the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States, including people from Mexico.
With the heated current political climate and Donald Trump’s call to “build a wall” across the Mexico-US border, the relationships between Latinos in the US and US politicians have been strained, to say the least. Instead of isolating people because we deem them “others,” we think it makes much more sense to celebrate our differences and the things that connect us. America is great because of the variety of cultures and people that live here–and for many years, Mexico has been a friend and ally to our South, whose immigrants have contributed so much to American history and culture. So let’s celebrate the work and accomplishments of people from Mexico, as well as the beauty and culture of Mexico with these great books:
Guadalupe Rivera Marín shares some of her childhood memories of the world-renowned artist who also happened to be her papá. This intimate artistic portrait will delight readers, from the youngest art lovers to Diego Rivera’s biggest fans.
This is the exciting story of how a Mexican Air Force squadron and an unknown schoolteacher made their mark in history by coming to fight alongside the US Air Force during World War II.
Book available for purchase in October!
Also consider these collections:
Mexican Culture Collection – This collection includes both fiction and nonfiction stories that highlight the work and accomplishments of people from Mexico, as well as the beauty and culture of Mexico.
Carmen Lomas Garza Collection – Carmen Lomas Garza is one of the most prominent Mexican American painters working today. She has many award-winning books including Family Pictures, In My Family, Magic Windows.
Juan Felipe Herrera Collection – Juan Felipe Herrera was 2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate and an award-winning author of four beloved picture books for young readers from our Children’s Book Press imprint.
Check out LEE & LOW BOOKS’ Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten! The FREE and downloadableunit consists of eight read aloud lesson plans to inspire your best classroom community yet.
The start of the kindergarten year is ripe with opportunities for building long-lasting positive school behaviors and attitudes. Time spent building relationships and establishing social and academic expectations can pay dividends all year long.
Using a rich collection of diverse picture books to support this work lays the foundation for a classroom culture of appreciation and acceptance.
TheBuilding Classroom Community Unit for Kindergartenconsists of eight read aloud lesson plans. Each lesson paired with a book is intended for multiple days so that from the beginning students are exposed to close reading and the value of multiple readings. We believe the first eight read alouds, or roughly the first two months of school, are critical to setting the tone of your classroom community, read aloud procedures, and expectations for engagement.
help students connect to one another by discussing things they like and their families
share goals for the kindergarten year to create a sense of shared purpose
establish a common vocabulary for discussing emotions, which will support both social and literacy goals
generate clear, specific expectations for active listening in groups and partnerships, respectful communication, treating one another with kindness, solving problems, and working together as a community of learners.
Each lesson may be used as a stand alone, but we hope that using these books as a broad unit will help lay the foundation for a strong classroom community with strong learning expectations. We designed the unit to spiral. Additionally, each lesson and book can be adapted for other grades (and we hope you will do this!).
Book extension activities provide initial opportunities to practice these crucial behaviors, and the resource materials you create will support ongoing focus on these topics.
WASHINGTON – The National Education Association (NEA) Foundation and publisher Lee & Low Books have joined forces with First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise, to expand the Stories for All ProjectTM, First Book’s groundbreaking initiative to increase the diversity in children’s books. The new two-year collaboration, supported with funding from the NEA Foundation, includes the publication of a brand new book by a never-before-published author of color, and the production of thousands of diverse books, companion tipsheets and funds available for educators working with children from low-income families.
The diverse books include eight titles from Lee & Low Books, the largest U.S. multicultural children’s book publisher, and feature first-time authors of color, award winners, or books that previously were only available in hardcover formats. The titles will be printed as more affordable special edition paperbacks and available on the First Book Marketplace, First Book’s award-winning site offering brand new books and educational resources – at the lowest possible prices or for free – to schools and programs serving children in need. A free, downloadable tipsheet will be developed for each title, with guidelines on how educators can use the book to create opportunities for student learning and shared experiences that embrace the importance of diversity and foster understanding both in and out of the classroom setting.
In addition, more than $100,000 from the NEA Foundation will be used to provide educators with credits to purchase diverse books through the First Book Marketplace. Many schools and programs have little or no budgets for books or resources for their programs; 74 percent of educators served by First Book spend their own money on educational resources for their students; national surveys indicate that teachers spend an average of $500 or more annually out of their own pocket.
LEE & LOW’s New Visions Award Expands; Manuscripts Due October 31
First Book and the NEA Foundation are also working with Lee & Low to introduce a new middle grade or young adult book by a never-before-published author of color, as part of the publisher’s existing New Visions Award. The collaboration will enable Lee & Low to expand its New Visions Award by selecting and publishing work by an additional new author of color. The winning book is expected to be released in 2018 as a hardcover edition at retail, and as a special edition paperback available exclusively on the First Book Marketplace. Award submission deadline is October 31; full submission information can be found here.
“Educators around the country have increasingly more diverse classrooms, with children from a wide variety of home environments, family structures, religions, cultures, ethnicities, languages and more,” said Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation. “First Book has been out in front of the need to provide our educators with relevant, affordable books and resources that they can use in their classrooms every day. Diverse books and resources are not only critical to foster understanding and empathy, they’re critical to learning. To have kids see themselves and their families in books lets kids know that books are, in fact, for them! Sharing diverse stories is a powerful tool for learning and belonging.”
First Book, which has operations in both the U.S. and Canada, works with formal and informal educators serving children in need ages 0-18 in a wide range of settings – from schools, classrooms, summer school and parks and rec programs, to health clinics, homeless shelters, faith-based programs, libraries, museums, summer food sites and more. Almost 32 million children are growing up in low-income families in the U.S. alone; in fact, in U.S. public schools, children in need are now the majority. First Book currently works with more than 275,000 under-resourced classrooms and programs; more than 5,000 new programs and classrooms sign up with First Book every month.
The need for books featuring diverse voices was underscored by feedback from First Book’s membership. In a survey, 90 percent of respondents indicated that children in their programs would be more enthusiastic readers if they had access to books with characters, stories and images that reflect their lives and their neighborhoods. Additionally, 51 percent use books and resources from First Book as a way to enable kids to learn about other cultures and experiences. By aggregating the purchasing power of its network, First Book is able to work with publishers to expand content that accurately reflects diversity of race, ability, sexual orientation and family structure in an ever diversifying world.
“Lee & Low has long been publishing multicultural and inclusive content, and we’re pleased to be expanding the New Visions Award in partnership with NEA Foundation and First Book. First Book has been leading the charge to bring this content to a broader market, and for developing partnerships like this one that make diverse content more affordable and more widely available to educators and children in need,” said Craig Low, president of Lee & Low Books, Inc.
“One only needs to read the headlines to know how important it is to help celebrate our similarities and learn how our differences can make us stronger,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book. “We are grateful to the NEA Foundation and the team at Lee & Low Books to help us expand our Stories for All Project and our ongoing effort to arm heroic educators with best-in-class resources of all kinds.”
Organizations serving children in need can sign up to access First Book’s wide range of books and educational resources at firstbook.org/join. For more information on First Book, visit firstbook.org.
About First Book
First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise founded in 1992 that has distributed more than 150 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada, which, with more than 275,000 members, is the largest and fastest growing network of educators serving kids in need. By making new, high-quality books and educational resources available on an ongoing basis, First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education. Eligible educators, librarians, program leaders, and others serving children in need can sign up at firstbook.org/register. For more information, please visit firstbook.org or follow the latest news on Facebook and Twitter.
About NEA Foundation
The NEA Foundation envisions a great public education for every student. We support educators as they pioneer creative and innovative classroom approaches designed to prepare students for college, work, and life. The Foundation’s innovation work identifies new opportunities and pilot approaches in public education aimed towards preparing all students to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
About Lee & Low Books
Established in 1991, Lee & Low Books is the largest children’s book publisher in the United States specializing in diversity. Under several imprints, the company provides a comprehensive range of notable diverse books for beginning readers through young adults. Lee & Low titles have received major awards and honors including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Sibert Medal, the NAACP Image Award, and many more. Visit leeandlow.com to learn more.
# # #
For press inquiries or questions, contact:
Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing and Publicity
Lee & Low Books
212-779-4400 x. 29
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used across the country in classrooms and libraries today.
Today we are featuring one of our most poignant and moving titles: Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan.This powerful story of young refugees fleeing war in Sudan was published in 2005 but remains extremely topical today, more than ten years later.
About the book: Eight-year-old Garang is tending cattle far from his family’s home in southern Sudan when war comes to his village. Frightened but unharmed, he returns to find everything has been destroyed.
Soon Garang meets other boys whose villages have been attacked. Before long they become a moving band of thousands, walking hundreds of miles seeking safety — first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts.
Based on heartbreaking yet inspirational true events in the lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Brothers in Hope is a story of remarkable and enduring courage, and an amazing testament to the unyielding power of the human spirit.
Awards and Honors:
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor, American Library Association
Notable Children’s Book, American Library Association
Best Children’s Books of the Year: Outstanding Merit, Bank Street College of Education
Notable Books for a Global Society, International Literacy Association
Children’s Book Award Notable, International Literacy Association
Children’s Picks List, Booksense
Author Mary Williams is the founder of the Lost Boys Foundation, whose mission is to assist Sudan’s Lost Boys in attaining a college education. Of the Lost Boys she has met, Williams writes, “They have been neglected and endured severe hardship. Some of them saw their family and friends killed in front of them. They could be the most angry, bitter people you ever saw. But they aren’t. They are so motivated and eager to get jobs and go to school. I just knew I had to help them.”
It’s September! And with the opening of a new school year comes the closing of the New Voices Award submissions window. With the deadline just weeks away on September 30, participating writers are putting the finishing touches on their submissions. The ready-to-submit writer has read August’s post about the importance of revision, and revised their cover letter and manuscript correcting all grammatical errors as well as strengthening the voice and structure of their story. If you’re a ready-to-submit writer enthusiastic about sending off your submission, that’s fantastic! But what if you’re a ready-to-submit writer who doesn’t feel ready?
Submitting an original manuscript to a contest can cause conflicting emotions. You may be excited about the possibility of publication, but weary about having your work evaluated by professionals. You may ask yourself: What does it mean if I don’t win?What does that say about my story? These are questions that all writers (even New Voices Award winners) have asked themselves at some point. To ease your apprehension, we interviewed three Lee & Low Books authors whose stories were discovered through the New Voices Award contest but did not win the award.
What inspired you to write your story, and what helped you decide to submit it to the New Voices Award?
Debbie Taylor: I was inspired by Art Kane’s famous photograph, Jazz Musicians 1958. My husband is an avid jazz fan and quite the expert. He was delighted when I bought him a black tee shirt featuring the famous photograph. He could name every musician, their instruments, jazz styles, and could relate details of their personal lives. However, when I asked who the children sitting on the curb might be, he had no clue. I remember asking out loud, “I wonder what those children thought about having all those stars in their neighborhood?” I set out to write a story that incorporated the musicians featured in the photograph. The rich history of the photograph led to some exciting ideas.
I was familiar with many Lee & Low Books and had also read interviews written by two of the editors. I submitted the manuscript and another story to the New Voices Award in September of 2001. Like many folks, I was shocked and saddened by the tragedy of September 11. I remember feeling helpless and depressed, but I also realized that it was useless to wring my hands and weep. So I decided to submit the manuscript to the New Voices Award contest as an affirmation of life and hope.
G. Neri:Yummy came about from a week-long school visit in South Central Los Angeles. It was after the riots, during a gang war that consumed the area. The kids I was working with were so hardened by the events, nothing seemed to phase them. They had been so weighed down by tragedy, nobody was talking. But when we came across the real life story of a kid named Yummy Sandifer, his sad tale made everyone sit up and talk. The discussion of gangs and kids dying led to them opening up about their own hard lives. I was working with gangbangers and trying to rehab them. Me telling them to leave the gangs was meaningless but if I could find a way to show them Yummy’s story, it might scare them straight. I started writing and since the kids I was working with were 7-10 year old non-readers, I wrote it as a picture book. Shortly after that, I met Paula Yoo, who’d just won the New Voices Award. Since I was looking for a way to get this published, she encouraged me to submit.
LaTisha Redding: The memories of my childhood Haitian friends inspired me to write Calling the Water Drum. My friends were new to the United States, navigating a new language, culture and environment. When I wrote this story, I wanted to explore that journey from a child’s perspective. So often stories are told from the point of view of the adult. Adult sacrifices and adult struggles. Children sacrifice and struggle, too, and they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate that experience.
As for submitting my story to New Voices Award, initially, I wasn’t sure where to submit it. Although I knew of Lee & Low, the contest wasn’t on my radar. So after I wrote it, I put it away. Months later, while browsing another writer’s website, it mentioned the New Voices Award and that the deadline was two weeks away. That’s when I remembered my story. I revised it several times and submitted it.
What was it like being contacted by a Lee & Low Books Editor about interest in your New Voices Award submission?
DT: It was simply thrilling. The e-mail arrived with the subject line “On A Harlem Morning” and “Back Door Sugar.” I was informed that neither of my submissions was selected as a New Voices Award winner or finalist, but there was interest in developing the manuscripts if I was willing to revise them. I felt like I had won the contest. Instead of being disappointed, I was excited at the opportunity to work with an editor, Jennifer Hunt. I was thrilled, eager, and only slightly apprehensive.
I realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was pleased that someone recognized the value of the work. I immediately committed to doing whatever was necessary to get the manuscripts ready to resubmit. After months of revision, “Sweet Music in Harlem” was the result. (My other submission, “Back Door Sugar” was eventually published by Cricket Magazine.)
GN: Jennifer Fox contacted me to say that I didn’t win, BUT they’d loved the story. They just felt the format was too young and if I ever considered writing it for an older teen audience, they would definitely be interested. I said I had something and sent them the graphic novel script. Even though they had never done a graphic novel, they connected strongly to the story and a few weeks later, we were off and running.
LR: It was the most exquisite feeling! This picture book is the first story I have ever had published. Like most writers, I had dreamed of the day I would be published with no idea of when it would happen. I didn’t win the Award, so when I received the letter still expressing interest in the story, it surprised me. I read it over and over again, thinking I had misread it. Thankfully, I had read it correctly. I still get excited when I think about that moment. I am deeply grateful to my editor, Jessica, for her insight and guidance. She is a joy to work with and her edits deepened and enriched Calling the Water Drum beyond my expectations.
3. What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?
DT: I learned the value of story boarding and making multiple dummy books. Making the dummy book revealed the rhythm of the story and allowed me to balance the text. I was surprised at the level of investment from my editor. I had expected to revise the work and make changes throughout, but I had not really expected her thorough critiques and her guidance. It was evident that she wanted the book to be a masterpiece. It was like realizing your child’s track coach really wanted your child to achieve his/her personal best.
GN: A funny thing happened while I waited for a response from the competition. A friend was making a graphic novel and showed me the script for his project. Before illustrations, it looked just like a movie script. I had come out of movies and in fact, the first version of Yummy was written as a screenplay. When I saw that, I realized comics were even a better way to go and could reach older ages as well. The format was very cinematic and would appeal to non-readers. I quickly translated my script to a graphic novel and the rest is history.
LR: Two things, actually. First, it surprised me how much additional room was needed for the visual storytelling. When I wrote it, I didn’t think of it from a visual standpoint. For me, the words are the story. But, of course, there’s so much more. The illustrations tell the story just as much as the words and breathe real life into it.
Second, I discovered that with collaboration and publication, what I had considered “my story” was no longer mine, which is as it should be. It belongs to the readers. I knew that intellectually and the publication process has allowed me to experience it.
What advice do you have for writers interested in submitting to the New Voices Award this year?
DT: Use fresh, evocative language to tell a compelling story. Take time to find the right word for each line. Review the manuscript as objectively as possible.
I would also suggest that writers make a simple dummy book, allow trusted friends or critique group members to review the manuscript and make certain to follow submission instructions. Accept that your story is an important one. Take full advantage of this opportunity to have your work seriously considered by Lee & Low. Once you have submitted the manuscript, congratulate yourself for taking that important step and start working on another manuscript.
GN: Go for it. Write something fresh and from today. Be innovative and tell stories no one else is telling. If you’re a new voice, let yourself be heard!
LR: Write the story in your heart. Write what moves you, the story that whispers to you in quiet, ‘in-between’ moments, and let it spill out on the page. Don’t be afraid that your story is too heavy or worry that children won’t understand it. Write it and revise it and submit it. You never know what may happen.
With those final words of encouragement and inspiration, we’d like to wish every writer participating in this year’s New Voices Award the best of luck! We look forward to reading your stories!
Before my big move to the publishing industry, I worked in the corporate world of fashion and apparel (and a small stint in home furnishings). There were many times when I’d look forward to seeing what new styles would pop up on the runway during NYC Fashion Week. I’d even spend my lunch breaks gazing at every single design captured perfectly by photographers at the right moment. I knew in my head that most, if not all, those pieces I probably wouldn’t wear (and let’s be honest could never even afford), but anyone can dream.
When looking for the perfect piece to add to my wardrobe I’d mainly resort to stores that actually fit my price point including one of my favorites––Uniqlo. From their simple, yet modern designs to their commitment to quality and longevity, I knew that Uniqlo was the perfect place for me to shop and satisfy my need for stylish and affordable clothing.
Recently, Uniqlo, in collaboration with UK fashion designer Hana Tajima, introduced an entire collection featuring kebayas, headwraps, and hijabs. The Uniqlo website says, “From casual pieces including long, flowing skirts, tapered ankle-length pants, and blouses to more traditional wear like kebaya and hijab, this collection fuses contemporary design and comfortable fabrics with traditional values.”
Rarely have I seen a collection from an apparel company of Uniqlo’s size that directly serves anyone other than the mainstream demographic. And what I appreciate the most is that this collection was done with grace and respect.
Over the years, I’ve seen designers co-opt traditional pieces from other cultures to incorporate into their lines. One can argue that many of these designers have and still continue to appropriate aspects of different cultures in order to look edgy and daring while reaping the benefits of accolades and praise for their “newly inventive” designs. But there’s a huge difference between taking from one’s culture in order to make oneself look edgy, daring, or “exotic,” and serving a community with respect, dignity, and keeping the customers’ needs and values in mind.
Other companies including Oakley and Warby Parker have featured collections that are also designed to serve a specific demographic. A few years ago, Oakley introduced the Asian Fit collection, which Jason Low wrote about here, and recently, my favorite eyewear company, Warby Parker, came out with a Low Bridge Fit collection for “those with low nose bridges (if the bridge of your nose sits level with or below the pupils), wide faces, and/or high cheekbones.” Even Warby Parker’s ad for this collection features only models of color, something that I rarely ever see in the fashion world.
So what does this have to do with the publishing industry and Lee & Low Books?
In the publishing industry in particular, there seems to be this common thread that pops up from conversations regarding diversity and serving marginalized groups. We hear that books (and movies) with nonwhite protagonists “do not fit the mainstream” or “do not sell well.” This is unfortunately why we have such a huge diversity gap in children’s publishing. But what about the opportunities that are missed from ignoring entire demographics? Who’s to say that you can’t serve both? Marginalized readers deserve to see their experiences, their communities, their stories, properly represented in the books that they read and the media that they consume.
That’s why at Lee & Low Books we publish books about everyone, for everyone. Because everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to see themselves in books. Everyone deserves to know that their story matters. Everyone deserves to be properly represented––in books, in movies, in fashion, and in life.
Dive Into Reading! is LEE & LOW’s new line of early chapter books that focuses on supporting readers in each stage of their reading development.
The Confetti Kids series follows a group of five children from diverse backgrounds living in a friendly city neighborhood, and each book follows a different character as they learn about friendship and how to navigate common childhood experiences.
Synopsis: Lily moves from a quiet suburb to an apartment on a busy street in the city. Lily worries that she’ll never fit in. As she and her parents explore their new, multicultural neighborhood, Lily discovers that sometimes change can be a good thing!
Synopsis: It’s a warm, sunny day, and the gang heads to the neighborhood playground to play. What should they play? Pablo comes up with a great idea: to play pretend. It’s a game that everyone can do easily. They can pretend to be archaeologists, astronauts, and explorers. There’s no limit to what they imagine they can be!
You can purchase a copy of Lily’s New Home or Want to Play on our website here.
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. A biography of the legendary Native American Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), voted the Greatest Football Player and Greatest Athlete of the Half-Century by two AP polls, focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
Synopsis: The biography of the legendary Native American, Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
From the day he was born, Jim Thorpe’s parents knew he was special. As the light shone on the road to the family’s cabin, his mother gave Jim another name — Wa-tho-huck — “Bright Path.”
Jim’s athletic skills were evident early on, as he played outdoors and hunted with his father and twin brother. When the boys were sent to Indian boarding school, Jim struggled in academics but excelled in sports. Jim moved from school to school over the years, overcoming family tragedies, until his athletic genius was recognized by Coach Pop Warner at the Carlisle Indian School.
Awards and Honors:
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Honor, National Council for Social Studies
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Teachers’ Choices, International Reading Association (IRA)
Best of the Best List, Chicago Public Library, Children & YA Services
Storytelling World Resource Award, Storytelling World magazine
Check out thisinterview with author, Joseph Bruchac, about Native American literature.
Resources for teaching with Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path:
Draw attention to the use of similes in the book. For example: Jim took to it all like a catfish takes to a creek. It made him (Jim) feel like a fox caught in an iron trap. Epidemics of influenza swept through like prairie fires. Have students try to write their own similes for other events or actions in the story.
Ask students to explore the National Track & Field Hall of Fame (www.usatf.org ) or the Pro Football Hall of Fame (www.profootballhof.com ) and plan an imaginary trip there or enjoy a visual visit on the Web.
Have you used Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path? Let us know!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Of the billion dogs in the world, three-quarters of them look as much alike as do the individuals of any other species.
A few years ago we asked a Navajo shepherd what a Navajo sheepdog looked like. He said, “A Navajo sheepdog is not too big and not too small.” To us the Navajo sheepdogs were identical in size and shape and color variations with the sheepdogs of Sonora and the village dogs in the mountains of Venezuela or the ones we worked with in eastern and South Africa or saw in India and China.
That is true of the majority of dogs in the world—they are not too big and they are not too small. One of the most fascinating details about that 85 percent of the dogs in the world that control their own reproductive life is: they all look alike.
The similarity between the pigeon world and dog world continues. Pigeons, in some sense, all look alike. The pigeons in the Mexico City dump fly and look just like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, like the pigeons in Istanbul, like the pigeons in Central Park, like the pigeons in Milan. Wherever you go, the pigeons in the park look like the pigeons in every other park.
No two pigeons are the same, of course. No two pigeons are exactly the same color or size or shape. At the same time, they all look pigeon-like. They have an essence that evokes pigeons. “I know one when I see one.”
It is true for every species. The chickadees at our feeders all look very much alike, and it takes practice to see the little differences that distinguish them. They all can get into the bottle feeder as far as we know. The same is true with blue jays and squirrels. The squirrels are intriguing because around here you sometimes see a black one or a brown one, but it still looks like a squirrel. At one time we lived on a small island of nesting seagulls. After a few years, we could distinguish the boys from the girls because of subtle differences in their head shapes.
All wolves look alike. But the wolves also show small variations of a neutral monotone. It could be that wolves vary more in coat color than squirrels do. Thus, a pack of grey wolves (Canis lupis) might have mostly gray animals except for an anomalous white one or black one. In some regions, the wolves are mostly white. Right now there seems to be an increase in frequency of black wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Color variations appear in certain subspecies of the gray wolf: the red wolf (Canis lupus rufus), the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), and the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). Yet even with a color difference, they still look like wolves. (Taxonomists are confused about which scientific name to give to some of these wolves, but they recognize the essence of wolf in all the variations.)
In any given area, the wolves tend to be the same size. From the far north to the east of the Mediterranean, they will grade in size from larger to smaller. A biologist would say this gradation is a cline, that the species follows Bergmann’s rule: it grades from a large animal in the north to a smaller size on the equator. Ecologist Val Geist once pointed out that the cline isn’t always perfect. Wild sheep also exhibit these clines. For example, the bighorn sheep (140–300 pounds, 3–3.5 feet) of the northern Canadian Rocky Mountains grade down to the smaller mouflon of the Iranian desert (90–120 pounds, up to 2–4 feet at shoulder height) with smooth coats. What’s noteworthy is that all those different “species” of sheep along the cline are interfertile from north to south—including domestic sheep. As with the dogs, the spot on the cline from which the domestic sheep evolved is difficult to pinpoint. The big gray wolves in the north are interfertile with all the other members of the genus, all the way to little jackals in equatorial Africa. The genus Canis appears to us to be a single species cline.
Free-ranging street and village dogs, also, tend to be bigger regionally in the north and up into the mountains, and smaller in equatorial regions. In Greenland, on Baffin Island, and over in the Hudson Bay area, the village dogs we have observed can weigh as much as sixty pounds, whereas equatorial dogs are basenji-like and weigh less than twenty-five pounds. With increasing latitude and altitude, dogs tend toward being rough coated.
So, if the village dogs range from twenty to sixty pounds and from smooth coats to rough, how could we say they all look alike? It is a good question. For us, the population density of dogs weighs heavily on our thinking. The farther you get from the equator, or the higher in the mountains, the fewer the street or village dogs. In the warm climates, the density can be substantial. When we want to study village dogs, our preference is to go south (toward the equator) rather than north. Those regional warm-weather dogs, all about the thirty-pound, lion-colored variety, are usually prevalent. This strongly indicates that the overall size and color of the local dog is an adaptation to the local geography, the climate, and the prey base—in other words, the niche in which they make their living.
Every once in a while we will see a report that scientists have discovered a new species of mammal. That means they have discovered a new shape in a population of animals that are sexually isolated from all other species (well, maybe sexually isolated, but not always). They name it with a Latin binomial indicating the genus and species. It might not be a bad system if the biologists stuck to the rules. many people contend that dogs and wolves are in the same species (Canis lupus lupus). The classification of any species should be mostly about biology/evolution but it can also be about beliefs, culture, politics, and numerous other factors. When a wild canid was first discovered in New Hampshire in 1944, after a lot of talk and measurements it was a classified as a coyote (Canis latran). The animals were bigger than the well-known western coyote (also of course Canis latrans). Barbara Lawrence and William Bossert at Harvard measured skulls of wolves, coyotes, and the New England canid and concluded that the New England animal was, although not exactly the same as the coyotes, closer physically to them than to wolves. Well, those of us who had studied with Professor Wood did not believe skull measurements to be accurate indicators of species, and our research, done later with our student, Michael Sands, revealed histologically (shape) that the sweat glands in their feet resembled those of gray wolves in Alaska and not those of western coyotes, although few people seem ever to have read that paper, published in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1976.
It was always suspicious that had the New England canid been classified as a gray wolf it would have fallen under the Endangered Species Act. That would have led to any number of management restrictions about how fish and game scientists in New England states could manage this population. We now have lots of these wild canids in this region. The discussion is heating up as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides whether it is time to take the gray wolf off the Endangered Species list because its population is increasing. If the eastern coyote really is a gray wolf, then it is not rare and not endangered. Again it looks like whatever species it is, the discussion is more political than scientific.
Interested people have debated the ancestry of the dog since the late 1800s. Not only have wolves, jackals, or dingoes been suggested as an ancestor of dogs, but several people argued that dogs were the result of hybridization between wolves and jackals. There were astonishing theories about big dogs (breeds) evolving from the Chinese wolves. The Nobel Prize–winner Konrad Lorenz at one point suggested that some “breeds” of dogs descended from wolves and others from golden jackals. When we met him in 1978, he started the conversation by saying, “Everything I have written about the dog is wrong—but it was better that I discovered it rather than someone else.”
*This excerpt has been adapted (without endnotes) from What Is a Dog?by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger (2016).
“Parks, Biodiversity, and Education” by Edward O. Wilson*
This is a very important meeting and book, and I’m grateful to be part of it. First, I’ll summarize what scientists have learned about biodiversity and extinction, especially during the past 20 years. Then I’ll suggest what I believe is the only viable solution to stanch the continuing high and growing rate of species extinction. Then, finally, I’ll make the point already obvious to many of you, that our national parks are logical centers for both scientific research and education for many domains of science, but especially and critically biodiversity and conservation of the living part of the environment.
The world is turning green, albeit pastel green, but humanity’s focus remains on the physical environment—on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land, and on that great, wrathful demon, climate change. In contrast, Earth’s biodiversity, and the wildlands on which biodiversity is concentrated, have continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. Consider the following rule of our environmental responsibility: If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical nonliving environment, because each depends intimately on the other. But if we save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.
So, what is the condition of the living environment, in particular its diversity and stability? How are we handling this critical element of Earth’s sustainability? Let me summarize the basic information that scientists have assembled up to the present time, most of it during the last decade.
First, what is biodiversity? It’s the collectivity of all inherited variation in any given place, whether a vacant lot in a city, an island in the Pacific, or the entire planet. Biodiversity consists of three levels: an ecosystem such as a pond, a forest patch, or coral reef; then the species composing the ecosystem; and finally at the base, the genes that prescribe the traits that distinguish the species that compose the living part of the ecosystem.
How many species are known in the whole world? At the present time, almost exactly two million. How many are there actually, both known and unknown? Excluding bacteria and the archaea, which I like to call the dark matter of biology because so little is known of their biodiversity, the best estimate of the diversity of the remainder (that is, the fungi, algae, plants, and animals) is nine million, give or take a million. Except for the big animals, the vertebrates, comprising 63,000 known species collectively of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, and 270,000 species of flowering plants, very little to nothing is known of the remaining millions of kinds of fungi and invertebrates. These are the foundation of the biosphere, the mostly neglected little things that run the planet.
To put the whole matter in a nutshell, we live on a little-known planet. At the present rate of elementary exploration, in which about 18,000 additional new species are described and given a Latinized name each year, biologists will complete a census of Earth’s biodiversity only sometime in the 23rd century.
I’m aware of only three national parks in the world at the present time in which complete censuses have been undertaken: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Boston Harbor National Park and Recreation Area, and the Gorongosa National Park of Mozambique. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most advanced, with 50,000 hours of fieldwork by experts and assistants completed, about 18,000 species recorded, and a rough estimate of 40,000 to 60,000 species considered likely when all transient, rare, or undescribed species have been registered. Fewer than 1%, let me repeat, 1%, of the species have been studied beyond this first roll call. (Incidentally, the largest biodiversity in a North American park would be the one under consideration for the Mobile Alabama Delta and Red Hills immediately to its north.)
Next, what is the extinction rate? With the data sets of the best-known vertebrate animal species, and additional information from paleontology and genetics, we can put the extinction rate, to the closest power of 10, at 1,000 times greater than the extinction rate that existed before the coming of humans. For example, from 1895 to 2006, 57 species and distinct geographic subspecies of freshwater fishes were driven to extinction in the United States by human activity. These losses have removed roughly 10% of the total previously alive. The extinction rate is estimated to be just under 900 times the level thought to have existed before the coming of humans.
This brings us to the effectiveness of the global conservation moment, a contribution to world culture pioneered by the United States. It has raised public awareness and stimulated a great deal of research. But what has it accomplished in saving species, hence biodiversity? The answer is that it has slowed the rate of species extinction but is still nowhere close to stopping it. A study made by experts on different groups of land vertebrates, species by species, found that the rate in these most favored groups has been cut by about 20% worldwide. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, by focusing on recognized endangered vertebrates in the United States, with legal process and processes designed for each species in turn, has brought 10 times more species back to health than have been lost to extinction.
Nevertheless, the species, and with them the whole of biodiversity, thus continue to hemorrhage. The prospects for the rest of the century are grim. All have heard of the 2C threshold, 2°C (or 3.6°F), the increase in the ground average temperature above which the planet will enter a regime of dangerous climate changes. A parallel circumstance exists in the living world.
Earth is at or approaching an extinction rate of 1,000 times above prehuman levels, and the rate is accelerating. Somewhere between a rate of 1,000 times and 10,000 times, Earth’s natural ecosystems will reach the equivalent of the 2C global warming threshold and begin to disintegrate as half or more of the species pass into extinction.
We’re in the situation of surgeons in an emergency room who’ve brilliantly slowed the bleeding of an accident patient to 50%. You can say, “Congratulations! The patient will be dead by morning.”
There is a momentous moral decision confronting us here today. It can be put in the form of a question: What kind of a species, what kind of an entity, are we to treat the rest of life so cheaply? What will future generations think of those now alive who are making an irreversible decision of this magnitude so carelessly? The five previous such mass extinctions, the last one 65 million years ago that ended the Age of Reptiles, required variously 5–40 million years to recover.
Does any serious person really believe that we can just let the other eight million species drain away, and our descendants will be smart enough to take over the planet and ride it like the crew of a real space ship? That they will find the way to equilibrate the land, sea, and air in the biosphere, on which we absolutely depend, in the absence of most of the biosphere?
Many of us, I believe, here present understand that only by taking global conservation to a new level can the hemorrhaging of species be brought down to near the original baseline rate, which in prehuman times was one species extinction per 1–10 million species per year. Loss of natural habitat is the primary cause of biodiversity extinction—ecosystem, species, and genes, all of it. Only by the preservation of much more natural habitat than hitherto envisioned can extinction be brought close to a sustainable level. The number of species sustainable in a habitat increases somewhere between the third and fifth root of the area of the habitat, in most cases close to the fourth root. At the fourth root, a 90% loss in area, which has frequently occurred in present-day practice, will be accompanied by an automatic loss of one-half of the number of species.
At the present time, about 15% of the global land surface and 3% of the global ocean surface are protected in nature reserves. Not only will most of them continue to suffer diminishment of their faunas and floras, but extinction will accelerate overall as the remaining wildlands and marine habitats shrink because of human activity.
The only way to save the rest of life is to increase the area of protected, inviolable habitat to a safe level. The safe level that can be managed with a stabilized global population of about 10 billion people is approximately half of Earth’s land surface plus half of the surface of the sea. Before you start making a list of why it can’t be done, that half can’t be set aside for the other 10 million or so species sharing the planet with us, let me explain why I believe it most certainly can be done—if enough people wish it to be so.
Think of humanity in this century, if you will, as passing through a bottleneck of overpopulation and environmental destruction. At the other end, if we pass through safely and take most of the rest of the life forms with us, human existence could be a paradise compared to today, and virtual immortality of our species could be ensured—again, if enough wish it to be.
The reason for using the metaphor of a bottleneck instead of a precipice is that four unintended consequences of human behavior provide an opening for the rest of the century. The first unintended consequence is the dramatic drop in fertility at or below zero population growth whenever women gain a modicum of social and economic independence. Population growth is slowing worldwide, and the world population has been predicted most recently by the United Nations to reach between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by the end of the century. This assumes that the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa will pass through the demographic transition and fertility rates there will drop to levels consistent with the rest of the world.
The second unintended consequence is from the ongoing abandonment of rural, primitive agricultural economies by the implosion of people into cities, freeing land for both better agriculture and the conservation of natural environments by restoration. It’s worth noting also that the present daily production of food globally is 2,800 calories per person. The problem is not food production but transportation and the poor quality of artisanal agriculture. We can fix that. Present-day agriculture is still primitive, with a lot of wriggle room.
The third unintended consequence is the reduction of the human ecological footprint by the evolution of the economy itself. The ecological footprint is the amount of space required for all the needs of each person on average. The idea that the planet can safely support only two to three billion people overlooks the circumstance that the global economy is evolving during the digital revolution, and at a fast rate. The trend is overwhelmingly toward manufacture of products that use less materials and energy, and require less to use and repair. Information technology is improving at almost warp speed. The result is a shrinkage of the ecological footprint. We need an analysis of the trend and its impact. If economists have thought of analyzing this effect and its meaning for the environment, instead of stumbling around in the fever-swamp parameters of the early 21st century, I haven’t seen it.
The fourth unintended consequence is the easing of demand on the natural environment inherent in the evolutionary shift now occurring from an extensive economy to an intensive economy, one that focuses—in the manner of Moore’s law—on improvements of existing classes of products instead of acquisition of new and bigger projects, expanding physical development, and promotion of capital growth based on land acquisition. Humanity may be shifting toward a nongrowth economy focused on quality of life instead of capital and economic power as the premier measure of success.
This brings me to the focal issue of the conference. Inevitably, biodiversity and ecosystem science will move toward parity with molecular, cell, and brain science among the biological disciplines. They have equal challenges. They have equal importance to our daily lives. As this expansion occurs, national parks and other reserves will be the logical centers for fundamental research. They are our ready-made laboratories, in which the experiments have been largely performed. They will also be among the best places to introduce students at all levels to science. We already know that is the case for geology, earth chemistry, and water systems studies. Soon it will be obviously true also for studies of the living environment. Students and teachers alike will have the advantage of hands-on science at all levels. Even at the most elementary level, they are soon caught up in original discoveries of citizen science. After 42 years of teaching experience at Harvard, I believe that natural ecosystems are by far the most open and effective door to science education.
Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.
Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!
Teach us how to read in two languages.
Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
Develop strong critical thinking skills
Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
Expose us to new ways of communicating.
Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
Against this passivity, however, there were those who struggled to hold matter, feeling, and will together: to keep the machinery not just alive but active, life-like. These holdouts accordingly had something very different in mind when they talked about the “animal-machine.” William Harvey, whom we have already seen comparing the heart to a pump or other kind of hydraulic machinery, also invoked automata to describe the process of animal generation. Observing the development of a chick embryo, Harvey noted that a great many things happened in a certain order “in the same way as we see one wheel moving another in automata,and other pieces of mechanism.” But, Harvey wrote, adopting Aristotle’s view, the parts of the mechanism were not moving in the sense of “changing their places,” pushing on another like the gears of a clock set in motion by the clockmaker winding the spring. Rather, the parts were remaining in place, but transforming in qualities, “in hardness, softness, colour, &ce.” It was a mechanism made of changing parts.
This was an idea to which Harvey returned regularly. Animals, he surmised, were like automata whose parts were perpetually transforming: expanding and contracting in response to heat and cold, imagination and sensation and ideas. These changes took place as a succession of connected developments that were also, somehow, all occurring at once. Similarly, Harvey wrote with regard to the heart that its consecutive action of auricles and ventricles was like “in a piece of machinery, in which, though one wheel gives motion to another, yet all the wheels seem to move simultaneously.” Geared mechanisms represented constellations of motions that seemed at once sequential and simultaneous, a congress of mutual causes and effects.
The first appearance of life, as Harvey described it, seemed to happen both all at once and as a sequence of events. Harvey wrote of seeing the chick first as a “little cloud,” and then, “in the midst of the cloudlet in question,” the heart appeared as a tiny bloody point, like the point of a pin, so small that it disappeared altogether during contraction, then reappeared again “so that betwixt the visible and the invisible, betwixt being and not being, as it were, it gave by its pulses a kind of representation of the commencement of life.” A gathering cloud and, in the midst, a barely perceptible movement between being and not being: the origin of life. Harvey invoked clockwork and firearm mechanisms to model a defining feature of this cloudy pulse that was the beginning of life: causes and effects happening all at once, together.
In addition to geared mechanisms and firearms, Harvey invoked another analogy that would become commonplace by the end of the century—we have seen Descartes and his followers invoke it—the analogy between an animal body and a church organ. Muscles, Harvey suggested, worked like “play on the organ, virginals.” Under James I, English churches had resumed the use of organs in services, so they were once again a feature of the landscape and available as a source of models for living systems. The organ signified to Harvey something more like what it meant in the ancient and medieval tradition of animal machinery, rather than the intricate sequence of contrived movements of parts that it later came to signify. Harvey wrote that the muscles performed their actions by “harmony and rhythm,” a kind of “silent music.” Mind, he said, was the “master of the choir”: “mind sets the mass in motion.”
The particular ways in which Harvey invoked artificial mechanisms make it difficult to classify him, as historians have been inclined to do, either as a “mechanist” or otherwise, the problem being that the meaning of “mechanism” and related terms was very much in flux. Lecturing at the College of Physicians in London in April 1616, Harvey told his anatomy and surgery students that anatomy was “philosophical, medical and mechanical.”But what did he mean, and what did his students understand, by “mechanical”?
In part, he likely meant that there was no need to invoke ethereal or celestial substances in explaining physiological phenomena, because the mundane elements seemed to transcend their own limits when they acted. The “air and water, the winds and the ocean” could “waft navies to either India and round this globe.” The terrestrial elements could also “grind, bake, dig, pump, saw timber, sustain fire, support some things, overwhelm others.” Fire could cook, heat, soften, harden, melt, sublime, transform, set in motion, and produce iron itself. The compass pointing north, the clock indicating the hours, all were accomplished simply by means of the ordinary elements, each of which “exceeded its own proper powers in action.” This was a form of mechanism that was not reductive, but really the reverse: a rising of mechanical parts to new powers, which could conceivably include the power to produce life.
Similarly, Harvey elsewhere defined “mechanics” as “that which overcame things by which Nature is overcome.” His examples were things having “little power of movement” in themselves that were nonetheless able to move great weights, such as a pulley. Mechanics, understood in this way, could include natural phenomena that overcame the usual course of nature, not just artificial ones. Harvey again mentioned the muscles. When he said that the muscles worked mechanically in this instance he meant that the muscles, like artificial devices such as a pulley, overcame the usual course of nature and moved great weights without themselves being weighty.
Motion, relatedly, was a term with various meanings, as Harvey himself emphasized. He noted many different kinds of local movement: the movement of a nigh-blooming tree and that of a heliotrope; the movements caused by a magnet and those caused by a rubbed piece of jet. In what were likely some notes for a treatise on the physiology of movement, he jotted down any form of local movement that came to mind, such as the presumably peristaltic and undeniably graphic “shit by degrees not by squirts.” He identified too, as a distinct form of movement, a kind of controlled escalation, as “in going forward, mounting up, with the consent of the intellect in a state of emotion.”
Harvey drew upon another form of casual motion to resolve another critical mystery in the generation of life: how did the sperm act upon the egg once it was no longer in contact with the egg? Like the apparently simultaneous occurrence of causally connected events, this quandary seemed to pose a problem for a properly “mechanical”anatomy. Invoking Aristotle, Harvey proposed that embryos arose form a kind of contagion, “a vital virus,” with which the sperm infected the egg. But after the initial moment of contact, once the contaminating element had disappeared and become “a nonentity,” Harvey wondered, how did the process continue? “How, I ask, does a nonentity act?” How could something no longer extant continue to act on a material entity? The process seemed to involve too a kind of action at a distance: “How does a thing which is not in contact fashion another thing like itself?”
Aristotle had invoked “automatic puppets” to explain precisely this seeming mystery. He had surmised that the initial contact at conception set off a succession of linked motions that constituted the development of the embryo. According to this model, as Harvey explained, the seed formed the fetus “by motion” transmitted through a kind of automatic mechanism. Harvey rejected this explanation along with a whole host of other traditional explanations by analogy: to clocks, to kingdoms governed by the mandates of their sovereigns, and to instruments used to produce works of art. All, he thought, were insufficient.
In their place, Harvey proposed a different analogy: one between the uterus and the brain. The two, he observed, were strikingly similar in structure and a mechanical anatomy should correlate structures with physiological functions: “Where the same structure exists,” Harvey reasoned,there must be “the same function implanted.” The uterus, when ready to conceive, strongly resembled the “ventricles” of the brain and the functions of each were called “conceptions.” Perhaps, then, these were essentially the same sort of process.
Harvey taught his anatomy and surgery students that the brain was a kind of workshop, a “manufactory.” Brains produced works of art by bringing an immaterial idea or form to matter. Perhaps a uterus produced an embryo in the same way, by means of a “plastic art” capable of bringing an idea or form to flesh. The form of an embryo existed in the uterus of the mother just as the form of a house existed in the brain of the builder. This would solve the apparent problems of action at a distance and nonentities acting upon material entities. The moment of insemination endowed the uterus with an ability to conceive embryos in the same way that education endowed the brain with the ability to conceive ideas. Once the seed disappeared, it no longer needed to act: the uterus itself took over the task of fashioning the embryo.
The idea that the uterus functioned like a brain, actively fashioning an embryo the way a brain fleshes out an idea, was for Harvey not only within the bounds of the “mechanical,” but a model that could actually rescue mechanism by eliminating the need for action at a distance.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating First Day in Grapes, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. Chico’s story of personal triumph and bravery in the face of bullying is a testament to the inner strength in us all.
Synopsis: All year long Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September they pick grapes and Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him — maybe because he is always new or maybe because he speaks Spanish sometimes.
Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different. His teacher likes him right away, and she and his classmates are quick to recognize his excellent math skills. He may even get to go to the math fair! When the fourth-grade bullies confront Chico in the lunchroom, he responds wisely with strengths of his own.
Awards and Honors:
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor, ALSC/REFORMA
Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
From the Illustrator:
“Stories that help kids become familiar with kids of other cultures or others in different situations are books that I like to illustrate. I appreciate the way the author put the main character in situations that kids deal with daily in real life and how the boy used his wits to get out of tough situations.
I related to the kid in this story in a wacky way when it came to avoiding bullies. When I was about nine years old there was a boy who picked on me daily, until one day I came up with an idea. I thought that if I walked by him making a face that he wouldn’t recognize me and leave me alone. The plan worked, but now that I think of it, I doubt it was because he didn’t recognize me.”
And in case you missed it, here’s René Colato Laínez’s post about his experience being called an “illegal alien” when he was young.
To find out more about René Colato Laínez and Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. And if you are a blogger interested in being included on this or future blog tours, please reach out to us at publicity [at] leeandlow [dot] com.
Natalie Lloyd is the author of A Snicker of Magic and her newest book The Key to Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She collects old books, listens to bluegrass music, and loves exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit.
And . . . she is a reading superhero! Read her story to find out how she became a reading superhero, and how YOU can too!
Artificial Darkness does not advance the medium of darkness in place of the medium of painting or the medium of film. The histories of art and film presented here demonstrate not only that artificial darkness could operate between media but, more so, that it could only operate between media. Implicit in these histories, therefore, is a more radical proposition—asserted expansively by media theorists like Eva Horn—that there are no media. That is, there are no media “in a substantial and historically stable sense.” Joseph Vogl elaborates:
“Media are not reducible to representations such as theater or film or to techniques such as printing or telegraphy. Nor are they reducible to symbols such as letters or numbers. Nevertheless, media are present in all of these things. They cannot be comprehended simply as a method for the processing, storing, or transmission of data. One can, however, reach their historical mode of existence through a special form of questioning: by asking how media determine the conditions they themselves created for what they store, process, and transmit.”
Artificial darkness was not a medium. Instead, it was a “thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions—in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus [dispositif]. The dispositif itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements.” Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of the dispositif—the French, as addressed below, is decisively more accurate than “apparatus” or “mechanism”—encapsulates the workings of artificial darkness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But in order to transpose Foucault’s verbal genealogy to our visual one, his definition must be extended from the said and the unsaid to the seen and the unseen. For artificial darkness was, above all, a technology of visibility and invisibility. At Bayreuth and in the spaceless darkness of the cinema, spectators “disappeared from the auditorium.” Black-clad subjects similarly vanished before Marey’s black screen. Pepper, Méliès, Schlemmer, Man Ray, and countless others mobilized artificial darkness to render bodies invisible, in whole or in parts. The invisibility engendered by artificial darkness required specific architectures, insensitivities to specific light spectra, specific physiological thresholds, or the reflectivity of specific paints. But it was not medium specific. A matter of ontics rather than ontology, invisibility was among several qualities and subject effects endemic to artificial darkness that were not only the product of any one medium but rather the product of heterogeneous elements assembled in a certain order—in short, the product of a dispositif.
The term dispositif can be traced back millennia. I will limit this inquiry to two centuries. In its modern technological usage, a dispositif is an arrangement of devices or apparatuses (appareil). In nineteenth-century manuals of photography, science, or magic, for example, a camera might be called an appareil, whereas a black screen, photographic darkroom, or theatrical attraction was more likely to be described as a disposition or dispositif. Controlled darkness was almost always an arrangement, a dispositif, rather than a self-contained device. At its most modest, a dispositif is neither more nor less than a proper arrangement. The term’s two other modern meanings, however, point toward the broader network of relations central to this study. In military use, the dispositif is the proper arrangement of equipment and troops. In a juridical context, it is the legal decision, independent of the opinion. At its most forceful, a dispositif disciplines bodies and shapes discourses.But just as there are no media in a substantial and historically stable sense, a dispositif is always provisional, strategic, and historically specific.There was no dispositif of artificial darkness independent of the architectural and artistic forms, regulatory and administrative decisions, scientific and philosophical statements, discourses, institutions, and subjects that produced it and that were produced by it. The recursion inherent in this definition serves as a firewall against axiomatic first causes,such as the autonomy, specificity, and ontology tirelessly—and tiresomely—claimed for modernist arts. Artificial darkness was exploited by modern artists and filmmakers but it was not a modernist medium. In other words, this study of artificial darkness is anchored not in the false bedrock of ontology but in an ocean of discourse and praxis, tethered to a historically contingent dispositif.
Throughout Artificial Darkness we will encounter individuals, techniques, and sites that advanced the positive value of modern darkness. At this introductory stage, however, artificial darkness may be most legible as a negative image of its ancient counterpart. These negations are nuanced throughout the book but warrant brief and schematic summary here. Not total darkness. Not night. Not shadows. Not black. Not race. Not artificial light.
Not total darkness. As a technology of controlled darkness, artificial darkness was incompatible with total darkness. When black screen techniques were exploited for magic performances, for instance, the stage was ringed with dazzlers—gas or electric lights with reflectors directed at the audience—to intensify the contrast and enhance the illusion. Audiences recalled bright lights rather than darkness.
Not night. Artificial darkness was divorced from its natural counterpart, night, and representations thereof in nocturnes or nightscapes—subjects with extensive historiographies of their own. Early seminal manifestations of artificial darkness—such as the Diorama or Marey’s black screen—functioned exclusively by daylight. Others, like cinemas,were essentially blind to nocturnal and diurnal cycles.
Not shadows. Artificial darkness demanded the concentrated presence and strict separation of light and darkness and so suffered few shadows—a penumbral phenomenon with a massive historiography that rarely overlaps with the phenomena in question here.
Not black. Artificial darkness was distinct from the color black and its abundant symbolism. Black monochromes were irreverent jokes or aesthetic provocations that marked the limits of established art, but they rarely channeled the operations of artificial darkness. What is more, the products of artificial darkness were often iridescent. Méliès regularly shot trick films before the black screen only to have them hand colored for distribution. And while most of Schlemmer’s costumes were sewn from light-absorbent black fabrics, they invariably included glistening blue-green-silver overlay, cardinal red tucking, or dazzling yellow spheres. Techniques of artificial darkness often produced variegated, even gaudy color images.
Not race. The history of artificial darkness unfolded by and large independently from discourses on race. Nevertheless, a promising avenue for further critical scholarship is the uncomfortable union of artificial darkness and race instantiated only sporadically in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but explored potently by a number of contemporary artists. Darby English establishes the terms through which any such discussion would have to unfold in his analysis of David Hammons’s Concerto in Black and Blue (2002): “How to see a work of art in total darkness? One cannot, of course, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances, such as when darkness itself forms the condition of the work’s visibility.”
Not artificial light.In name and in practice, artificial darkness was much more proximate to artificial light than to other forms of darkness. Substantial scholarship has chronicled the industrialization of light in the nineteenth century and the use of artificial lighting in art, architecture, and theater. But these histories, too, must be disentangled from that of artificial darkness. At a technical level, artificial darkness could and did function independently of artificial light; as already mentioned, sunlight powered many of the early dispositifs of artificial darkness, not least Marey’s Physiological Station. More interestingly, photographic and cinematic studios erected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were consistent in their deployment of artificial darkness, even as they amalgamated or alternated between natural and artificial light. The histories of artificial light and artificial darkness overlap at important junctures; but ultimately they are distinct.
Nevertheless, the history of artificial darkness cannot be hermetically sealed off from total darkness, night, shadows, black, race, or artificial light. Commonalities could certainly be found in baroque tenebrism; Étienne-Louis Boullée’s Temple of Death; the Claude glass or “black mirror”; the mutual imbrication of gothic tropes and modern media; James Whistler’s nocturnes and “black portraits”; blue tinting or day-f0r-night shooting (nuit américaine); and hosts of recent projects in and around the ascendent black box gallery. (This book’s coda makes a few preliminary gestures in this direction.) Artificial Darkness focuses on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century rise and consolidation of artificial darkness around a specific circuit—black screens and dark theaters—and certain of the art, media, and subjects formed therein. Artificial Darkness does not endeavor, however, to be the last word on artificial darkness.
I’m getting married in a little under two weeks, and a few nights ago I had my first anxiety dream about my upcoming wedding. It went like this: my wedding and the American Library Association Annual Conference (ALA) had been scheduled for the same time. I was arranging books at our exhibit booth in my wedding dress, and when I tried to leave to head to the altar, an author appeared for her signing. She demanded that I stay and fix the lighting, which she said was not flattering. I woke up in a cold sweat.
It doesn’t take Freud to figure out where this dream came from. As any marketing person can tell you, conferences take an immense amount of work, planning, and mental energy. As it turns out, weddings do too. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot in my eight years of planning and attending conferences that helped me stay sane throughout the wedding planning process—and there’s a lot that wedding planning can teach about conferences, too. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to be true for both events:
Always be prepared. Long-term planning is essential, but I’ve found that in order for events to go off without a hitch, a lot of time needs to be dedicated to thinking through the minute details because seemingly small things can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans. Are any of your dinner guests gluten-free? Do you need a reminder to change your watch when you get to a new time zone? In which part of the convention center is the exhibit hall located? How many pens have you brought for your signing? What will you do if your powerpoint was not uploaded as promised?
If you are an author attending a conference, think through all the items you will need and make a list, so you remember to bring them all with you or make sure your publisher has them. If you have an itinerary, look over it carefully and get any questions you have answered early, before the conference starts. The more time you set aside ahead of time to think through the details, the less likely you are to be caught by surprise on the day of your event.
You can’t make everyone happy. In wedding-land, it’s notoriously hard to satisfy everyone and make decisions without some feelings getting hurt. You’d think that conferences would be less emotionally wrought, but I am hear to tell you that’s not always the case. Your book is your baby, and it’s natural to feel disappointed when it doesn’t draw the attention or sales that you hoped it would. Not all signings go well, and not all panels pull a standing-room-only crowd. Not every author gets his or her own publisher-sponsored cocktail party. When it comes to conferences, everyone is working with limited time, attention, and resources. Try to go in with managed expectations, and remember that you’ve created a beautiful piece of art. Even if it doesn’t attract all the attention you hoped it would, it is still something to celebrate and be proud of. And if you connect with just a few new readers who are excited, you never know where that might lead.
Use Institutional Knowledge. When I started planning my wedding, nothing helped me more than speaking with friends who had gone through it before. They pointed me in the right direction, kept me sane, and even shared their spreadsheets with me. If you are an author going to a conference for the first time, don’t reinvent the wheel: use your publisher and peers to help you plan. If you have never done a signing on a conference floor before, ask for some recommendations of ways to break the ice with people walking by (we have some great recommendations from authors here, here, and here). If you are going to a dinner or another event for the first time, ask fellow authors or publishing staff what they use to start conversation or keep it going. What kind of materials are helpful to bring along? If you ask questions you’ll find that people are happy to share their knowledge and experience with you, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture. In conferences and weddings, it’s easy to get bogged down in the small details. But at the end of the day, what’s your goal? If it’s a wedding, your goal is probably (hopefully!) to get married. If it’s a conference, your goal may not be quite as clear, but it’s worth thinking through. Do you want to introduce your book to new people? To connect in person with key contacts? To meet your editor for the first time? To sell copies at your book signing? To drum up new school visits? If you can figure out which goal or goals are most important to you, it’s easier to plan your conference experience around that. Decide where you want to allocate your time, energy, and resources. Let your publisher know what you hope to accomplish, so you’re all on the same page. Your goal can help you navigate the conference craziness and come out sane on the other side.
Whatever you do, don’t let the stress of event planning take away from the joy of the event, whether that means getting married or sharing your book with the world (next time ALA is based in Las Vegas, you could do both at once!). Keep calm, keep your eye on the prize, and you’ll get through just fine.
Although few Americans had read The Stranger in French—it had been hard enough to find a copy in wartime France—word of the novel had crossed the ocean. Blanche Knopf had founded the US publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., with her husband Alfred in 1945, and she had a special interest in publishing English translations of contemporary European literature. She had been cut off from France for the duration of the war, but by February 1945 she was back in touch with Jenny Bradley, Knopf’s agent in Paris. Sartre had lauded a new Camus novel, still in manuscript, called The Plague, in a lecture he gave at Harvard, and Blanche Knopf cabled Bradley, asking to see the proofs. The Plague, with its link to the suffering and heroism of France during the German occupation, was bound to make a splash, and she understood that Knopf might also have to buy The Stranger in order to get it. Alfred Knopf cabled Bradley in February, eager to acquire The Plague, although Camus hadn’t yet finished it, but he was still hesitating about The Stranger. In March 1945, he made up his mind and offered $350 for it.
Not an ideological or interpretive divide, not even an aesthetic quarrel, but rather a question of timing and marketing explains why L’Étranger and The Outsider were born into the English language as fraternal twins—same text, different typography, covers, and titles. The doubling has continued to this day, even as new translations have replaced Gilbert’s: no matter who is translating, the British edition is called The Outsider, the American edition The Stranger. Books about The Stranger/The Outsider, when they’re published in both the United States and England, have to keep the titles straight for each country or risk disorienting readers. If you ask someone, English or American, which title they prefer, chances are they will answer: “the one I’m used to.”
In England, Jamie Hamilton was certain he had a bestseller on his hands, and he planned a first print run of 10,000 copies—over twice Gallimard’s wartime print run on 4,400. At Knopf, there was much more hesitation. In-house readers’ reports were less than stellar.
Herbert Weinstock, a specialist in nineteenth-century opera and a Knopf advisor, had this to say about the novel: “This extended short story (the translation does not exceed 30,000 words) is a pleasant, unexciting reading. It seems to me neither very important nor very memorable—and it also seems to me to be padded with extraneous detail.” He attributed the piling up of details, the flat tone, and what he called “deliberate artlessness” to a “philosophic theory called existentialism,” of which The Stranger could be considered a demonstration: “My best guess is that it will appeal to very few readers and produce something less than a sensation”
Knopf’s publicists had a formidable task. As The Stranger was about to go on sale in American bookstores, the publisher placed a full-page advertisement in Publishers Weekly (an American trade magazine for publishers, librarians, booksellers, and literary agents). It was signed by Blanche Knopf and entitled “On the New Literature of France.” Jamie Hamilton referred to it as “Blanche’s existentialist ad.” She was going to do everything possible to make The Stranger accessible and exciting.
The advertisement began by sympathizing with the average reader’s dilemma: “There is no use trying to talk about new French literature unless you are willing to tackle ‘existentialism.’ Now this is a frightening word. . . . Everyone likes to show that he can pronounce it, but no one enjoys undertaking to define it. Well, here goes.”
Existentialism, the ad continued, is the notion that a consciousness of the universe’s meaninglessness can make us free. Passing mention was then made of the fact that Camus, whose somber countenance gazed out from the upper right of the page, refused to be classified with the existentialists, because their emphasis on meaninglessness was at odds with his belief in political justice. The author of The Stranger was introduced as a man who had lived a double life during the Occupation—publishing with the approval of the Nazi censor while editing a Resistance newspaper underground. The Stranger was then presented in a few words—a novel as simple and straightforward as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Pitching The Stranger as both a lofty existentialist work and a straightforward populist novel was clever, since reviewers could take up either strand, high or low. Pitching Camus as an existentialist and a champion for social justice was also a good idea—here was an author both intelligent and heroic. After a month of what Blanche Knopf considered “fantastic” press, 2,500 copies of the novel had sold. In 1946, The Stranger was not yet a bestseller. In the long run, the ad accomplished something more important than immediate sales: it introduced Camus to American magazine and newspaper publishers as a leading figure of a school of French literature called “existentialist,” and it established that school as the most important new intellectual current coming out of France.
You would have to read the advertisement in Publishers Weekly more than once to glean that Camus disavowed the existentialist label, and that in fact he detested it. He joked in an interview with a French magazine that he and Sartre decided they ought to put out their own ad “stating that the undersigned have nothing in common and refuse to respond to any debts they might have incurred mutually.” Yet it was Sartre who prepared the way for Camus’s New York welcome.
New York had been a privileged refuge for exiled intellectuals during the Occupation years, and as of 1945, when travel became possible once again on the big liberty and cargo ships, Sartre, Camus, and Beauvoir all made the trip. Sartre was first. In spring 1945, he filed stories from New York for both Combat and Le Figaro, and he returned in 1946 to speak to American universities about the literary scene in Paris.
In Vogue magazine, in 1945, Sartre described Camus as the emblematic writer to emerge from the Resistance—the only writer who corresponded to his theory of a “committed literature” essential to France’s renewal. Sartre had read an early version of Camus’s forthcoming novel, The Plague, in manuscript, and he was ready to vouch that the world was about to see a new Camus: the absurdity of the world in The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus gave way in this new work to positive revolt and struggle. The Plague, based on Camus’s own commitment to the Resistance, demonstrated that the human spirit could come to rule over “the absurd world.” Sartre described, as he had done in the Cahiers du Sud essay in 1943, Camus’s somberness and his debt to the classical moralists, though now he underlined the potential of those qualities for a literature to come: “It is likely that in the somber, pure work of Camus are discernible the principal traits of the French letters of the future.”
For Sartre, Camus represented most vividly the aspirations of postwar literature at a shining moment when writers and intellectuals felt the world was theirs to remake. No other writer could have fit the bill for Sartre: Malraux was too much of an individualist; Guéhenno and Mauriac, much older men, had refused to publish above ground, and the Communists were indebted to their own masters. Camus had done exactly what needed to be done during the Occupation: he had marked time but he hadn’t accepted the oppression; he had chosen struggle rather than silence. At thirty-two years old in 1945, he had reached the perfect age when youth meets maturity.
In January 1946, speaking to students at Yale about the French view of the American novel, Sartre singled out The Stranger as “the French novel which caused the greatest furor between 1940 and 1945.” He placed his emphasis differently in this American context than he had in his Cahiers du Sud essay of 1943. Gone in his American lecture are references to Voltaire and the eighteenth-century morality tale. His focus now was on Camus’s debt to Hemingway, the short disruptive sentences that in Hemingway were a feature of the writer’s temperament but in Camus were rather a deliberate technique for expressing a philosophy of the absurd. Sartre entertained his audience with stories of the symbolic value of American literature when France was under German Occupation. He described the Café de Flore as the headquarters for a black market in American books. Not only did reading Faulkner and Hemingway novels become a symbol of resistance, he claimed, it was even the case—he couldn’t resist a joke—that secretaries “believed they could demonstrate against the Germans by reading Gone with the Wind in the Metro.” Sartre promised his audience, three months before the English-language publication of The Stranger, that French novels written during the Occupation would start to appear in translation. He was rolling out a thick red carpet for his friend.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Synopsis: Babu’s Song is the story of a young Tanzanian boy who learns a lesson about family love after selling the special music box his grandfather made for him. Set in contemporary Tanzania, this story is a tender testament to the love between grandchild and grandparent.
Awards and honors:
Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
“Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
40 Books About Sports, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Parents’ Choice Recommended, Parents’ Choice Foundation
South Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee, South Carolina Association of School Librarians
Storytelling World Resource Award,Storytelling World magazine
Children’s Africana Book Award, African Studies Association
Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Master List, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
West Virginia Children’s Book Award Master List, West Virginia Children’s Book Award Program
The story behind the story:
“To this day Babu’s Song is still one of my favorite books and though I’ll illustrated over 20 books since then, I still go back to it when I’m speaking with kids and other artists. Babu’s Song is such a beautiful story and it is still one of my most requested books when I talk to people.
Working on Babu’s Song continues to touch my life as an artist as much today as it did when I began illustrating it. Not only because it’s one of my most recognized and colorful books I’ve illustrated, but also because it helped set the trajectory of my artistic and social conscious. Growing up where books (and movies) too often didn’t contain subjects or people that I saw in my own life I knew that when I began illustrating books my priority would be to capture people and places that we don’t often see or know on a map.
In Babu’s Song I got to show a boy and his father in Tanzania dealing with poverty and loss that while not uncommon in the world are often unseen by most of us, even when next door. And while this story does deal very honestly with the boy’s struggles, it always keeps its heart and shows us that there is a way to persevere. So a story about a little boy and his grandfather on the other side of the globe becomes someone we can begin to see (empathize with) thus bringing us all a little closer. “
Book activity: Ask students to write a letter to their grandparent or grandparent-figure in their life. Review the structure and tone of a friendly letter. Students should describe what they admire about this person and include questions to learn more about them.