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1. Is Staff Diversity Training Worth It?

diversity102-logoRecently, we sent a number of LEE & LOW staff members from different departments to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.” The workshop, jointly taught by a white leader and a leader of color, was a three-day intensive that covered everything from a history of race and racism to the power dynamics at play today in various systems. Participants were encouraged to reflect on their own experiences and identities, as well as to listen deeply as others shared.

We decided to do this workshop because even with LEE & LOW’s focus on diverse books, we felt that our staff would benefit from specific training in anti-racism concepts.  “Even though Lee & Low’s mission is to address the lack of representation of marginalized groups through publishing diverse books, the workshop hammers home how deep institutional racism goes,” said publisher Jason Low. “The intimate setting also makes issues of racism more personal. Instead of reading about racism in the paper or online you are hearing firsthand experiences, from a person sitting three feet from where you are sitting.”


The recent problems found in books like A Fine Dessert and The Hired Girl, along with long-standing problems in publishing in general, indicate that now more than ever, publishing staffs need diversity training. While the burden of mistakes can be placed on the author and illustrator, in truth publishers share an equal part of the responsibility in making sure that the books they produce are accurate and do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Racial insensitivity and stereotypes making it past the editorial process are expensive mistakes–in terms of both cost and impact–but they are avoidable. Below is our staff’s reaction to the workshop, plus a follow-up meeting we held in-house. Our plan is to hold monthly meetings on racism and diversity moving forward. (Note: Answers have been condensed and edited for length.)

1. What did you learn that you did not know before attending the workshop?

Stacy Whitman, Editorial: I didn’t know some of the history before. For example, I knew about indentured servitude (I actually had a couple ancestors who were indentured), but I didn’t realize the way that indentured labor and slavery were wedged against each other, and the way whiteness was created out of that time period. I had known that church had been used as a way to keep slaves in line, and I had known about slave rebellions, but hadn’t realized how those pieces fit together with indentured servitude and creation of a status of whiteness.undoing-caption1

Jessica Echeverria, Editorial: One of the biggest takeaways was how the deeply-entrenched history of racism in this country is never really taught in school. This was clear from some of the participants’ reaction in learning that race was a social construct. I think back to my own education growing up in Florida, and the topics of race and racism were not examined until I was in college. And even then, they were courses I elected to take and not required for all students. So yes, racism stems from ignorance, but we should be aware that this ignorance was purposeful.

Hannah Ehrlich, Marketing: One of the main things that the workshop showed me was that having open conversations about race is just really, really hard – and rarely do we white people get it right the first time. While I had thought about white privilege before, I hadn’t really thought much about the internalized superiority that white people have absorbed over generations and generations. Because of that, even when we want to be allies, often racial conversations end up with us in a defensive stance, trying to define why we are “good” white people instead of accepting our own complicity in an unfair system and spending our time listening. Conversations that center whiteness are the default, and it takes a lot of hard work to move past that. It was moving to see this play out over the course of three days, and definitely made me more aware of how, as a white person invested in racial justice, I can be a better ally by letting go of the need to define myself as “not racist.”

undoing-caption2Louise May, Editorial: There was a good presentation of theories on the origins of institutional racism. I had not before seen the information put together this way. It was quite impactful.

Jill Eisenberg, Literacy & Sales: The workshop and follow-up discussions with my colleagues have encouraged me to examine how adults present history and historical people/groups to children. Much of the workshop was spent exposing the historical narrative of America as racist and capitalistic. I was particularly disturbed about the lack of recognition and respect Native peoples had (and have). Our presenters showed us that this explicit invisibility is even written into our Constitution (Article 1, Section 2).

Rebecca Garcia, Marketing: The facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.

Veronica Schneider, Literacy & Sales: Being in literacy & sales and working at a diverse children’s publisher, I think I was aware of my role as a gatekeeper. Reflecting in the workshop, however, showed me just how strong of a gatekeeper position I maintain. I choose what kind of information reaches others-from educators to children-as I develop questions and activities for our teacher guides and carefully align Lee & Low books to schools’ curricula. Conversations with educators may begin with them sharing their needs in terms of thematic units or student reading levels, but then I take that information and decide which books would ultimately work best for various academic and social-emotional reasons. Diversity is certainly an issue that is close to our hearts here at Lee & Low, but how we approach and communicate this information to others is different based on your department and on an individual basis.

undoing-caption3Additionally, the systemic nature of racism is a powerful concept that although I was aware of, is all the more apparent once analyzed in depth. Tracing the roots of racism to highlight the gaping holes in our knowledge in history was both eye opening and frustrating. Why aren’t we being taught this in schools? Why aren’t we openly having these discussions?

Keilin Huang, Marketing: The idea of being a “gatekeeper” really resonated with me. The LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300+ likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300+ people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.

2. How will you apply what you have learned from the workshop to your job at Lee & Low?

Stacy, Editorial: Editorially, I’m continuing to interrogate my biases and assumptions. Thinking about further ways I can include voices of color in the projects I work on, and continuing to seek out more authors of color. Thinking about how I contribute to systemic bias, and how I can counteract it.

Jessica, Editorial: Further inspired by the workshop, I plan to continue working on books that will hopefully fill in the gaps of what’s not being taught in school. I keep thinking about Texas and the new textbooks that have whitewashed parts of US history.

Hannah, Marketing: The workshop has definitely made me more undoing-caption4aware of my own whiteness, and how that affects the dynamics among our staff, with our authors and illustrators, and with other people we work with. It has encouraged me to examine my own culture and the lens through which I see the world – what am I missing? What am I not getting? Because I work in marketing and publicity, a big part of my job involves communication, and it’s worth exploring how racial dynamics affect that communication. Are we using language that reinforces institutionalized racism?  Am I being a good ally personally, and is Lee & Low being a good ally as a company? These are all things that are important for us to consider in our work.

Louise, Editorial: The workshop reinforced my commitment to the need to acquire diverse stories that accurately represent stories from an insider point of view.

Jill, Literacy Specialist: We at Lee & Low Books publish and offer many books by and about Native peoples. It is critical to show that Native peoples aren’t just “were,” but also “are.” Our students need to read stories about and by Native peoples in recent times, not just suspended in a simplistic time capsule whether a folktale without additional background knowledge and proper context or a “by the way” side blurb in a history textbook. As I work closely with schools and organizations serving children, I want to make sure that the books we do have get in front of students before they internalize and perpetuate racist views on American history. These topics need to start early and often.

Veronica, Literacy & Sales: When speaking to schools, educators, teachers, nonprofits, and other organizations, we need to make sure to not only consider their requests and needs but to be clear/open about the different ways in which our titles can enrich + open their world.  I need to keep stressing the importance of windows + mirrors concept in my work. This means showing non-diverse (mostly white) schools that diverse books have a place there, too.

Keilin, Marketing: One of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching thousands of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.

3. What do you hope to continue to learn about and explore in post-workshop meetings with fellow Lee & Low staff?

undoing-caption5Stacy, Editorial: How to know what I don’t know, and how to share that knowledge with others in a way that they’ll listen. I guess this has been my quest, editorially, all along, but the process of the workshop in particular was interesting because while it was emotionally draining, everyone in the room was listening. Everyone was participating (even the slightly weird woman who wouldn’t shut up) and working through their resistance. There was a range of resistance, of course, but the process worked to get people talking and listening.

This applies to how marketing is already thinking about audience with social media and other sales channels—who we need to discuss the importance of diversity with before introducing our books.

Jessica, Editorial: I’m excited to see how our discussion will produce new and valuable content for our readers.

Hannah, Marketing: I look forward to talking more in the future with staff members about challenges we face in our respective departments. How does editorial handle a historical manuscript that uses language we deem problematic? How does sales handle administrators who don’t think their students would be interested in diverse books? Discussing these challenges as a company will help make us stronger and more aware of the issues that we face in our work, and it will allow us to develop company-wide policies to address difficult questions.

Louise, Editorial: It would be interesting to discuss what we can do to move ourselves further to toward being a “Fully Inclusive” institution.

Veronica, Literacy & Sales: Increase the sharing of articles and books about racism. Come up with ways to address problems that are occurring in the news/present day and how Lee & Low can be part of the solution.


Has your company undergone staff diversity training? If so, we’d love to hear about what worked and what didn’t in the comments section below.

2 Comments on Is Staff Diversity Training Worth It?, last added: 11/12/2015
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2. “¿Qué es deportar?”: Teaching from Students’ Lives

Guest BloggerWe at LEE & LOW BOOKS believe that high-quality bilingual books help build a solid foundation to achieve literacy in any language while affirming and validating a child’s identity, culture, and home language. We are so excited and honored to share this one educator’s example of why books featuring characters like her students belong in her classroom and curriculum.

In this guest post, Sandra L. Osorio describes using books that captured her students’ bilingual and bicultural experiences. An elementary bilingual teacher for eight years, Osorio is now an assistant professor at Illinois State University. This article originally appeared in Rethinking Schools magazine, and is cross-posted here with permission. Article is also available in Spanish from Rethinking Schools.


I was sitting around a kidney-shaped table with Alejandra, Juliana, and Lucia, 2nd graders who had chosen to read Del Norte al Sur (From North to South) by René Colato Laínez. I read the book’s introduction out loud, which included the word deportado (deported). I asked my students: “¿Qué es deportar? ¿Ustedes saben qué significa?” (What is deported? Do you know what it means?) Lucia looked straight at me and said, “Como a mi tío lo deportaron”. (Like my uncle, they deported him.)

For an inclusive bilingual classroomOur class was part of a developmental bilingual program with all native Spanish speakers. I had introduced literature discussions the previous year when I had the same students in 1st grade, but now I was carefully choosing books with themes I thought would resonate with my students’ lives, including the complexities of being bilingual and bicultural. In Del Norte al Sur, José desperately misses his mother, who has been deported to Tijuana because she doesn’t have the right papers to be in the United States. I knew that some of my students were also missing members of their families. One student’s father had been deported back to Mexico and he had not seen him in years. Another student’s father had separated from her mother and moved to a city more than three hours away. I hoped these two students would connect with José’s problems and begin to talk about their feelings. I soon learned that many other students shared similar feelings and experiences.

Although immigration is passionately debated in the media, it is an issue often ignored in schools, even though it’s central to the lived experiences of Latina/o children—even those born in the United States. This was something I didn’t realize until I created space for students’ lives in the curriculum.

I originally decided to teach bilingual students because of the struggles I had faced as a bilingual child myself. I attended a bilingual (Spanish-English) preschool, but when my parents enrolled me in a private, English-only kindergarten, they were told to immediately stop speaking Spanish to me because it would “confuse me.” This was surprising to my parents—I had not even entered the classroom yet. My parents made the decision to continue to speak Spanish in our household; they wanted me to be able to communicate with our extended family in Colombia. I am grateful for this decision because it allowed me to grow up bilingual and maintain ties to my bicultural heritage.

At school, I don’t remember ever reading a story with a main character who was bilingual or bicultural. Because Latina/o culture and people were invisible in the curriculum, I felt I had to keep my Spanish language knowledge at home and hidden from my teachers and classmates.

I did not want another generation of students to feel like I did. I wanted to help students build and nurture their cultural and linguistic pride. I wanted to make sure that bilingual students were held to the same high expectations as other students. And I wanted them to understand that they did not have to give up their home language to be successful.

So I fulfilled my dream and became a teacher. All of my students were emergent bilinguals who spoke Spanish as their home language and were born in the United States, many in the same town where our school is located. Of my 20 students, 16 were of Mexican descent, three were Guatemalan, and one child had one Guatemalan parent and one Mexican parent.

Bilingual Isn’t Necessarily Bicultural

Our program was supposed to be one of academic enrichment, using both the students’ native language and English for academic instruction. The primary goal was development of biliteracy. In 2nd grade, 70 percent of the school day was to be in Spanish and 30 percent in English. But since 3rd graders in the program were not “making benchmark” on state tests, I was pressured to introduce more English in my 2nd-grade classroom.

For the first couple of years I was a rule follower. I implemented the exact curriculum passed down from the administration without question, including the required language arts curriculum. It was a scripted basal reader program—the exact same one used by the non-bilingual classrooms—only it had been translated into Spanish. Each week we read a story from an anthology and worked on the particular reading skill dictated by the manual.

Diversity Gap in Children's Books Infographic 2015
Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015 – click for larger image

This was convenient for me as a beginning teacher because it is challenging to find quality texts in Spanish. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, of an estimated 5,000 children’s books published in the United States in 2014, only 66 were about Latinas/os. At least, I told myself, my students were reading in their native language on a daily basis.

Yet I began noticing that my students were not seeing themselves in the stories we read. The basal reader had more than 20 different stories, but only one that included a Latina/o-looking individual, and nowhere in the story did it talk about any of the complexities of being a bilingual or bicultural child.

My students were learning to read in Spanish that had been translated from the English, with texts that were Latina/o-culture free. The basal reader conveyed a clear message: Diverse experiences don’t matter. Every student was treated the same, given the same story to read, and taught the same skills. There was no differentiation. There was no mirror. There was no joy.

I began to question whether what I was doing was in the best interests of my students. I realized that I had to be the one to advocate for them.

I decided to bring in more literature written by Latina/o authors about Latina/o children. I began to compile a list of books by award-winning authors on such lists as the Pura Belpré, the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, and the Américas Award. I also looked for additional books by authors I already knew: Alma Flor Ada, Gloria Anzaldúa, and René Colato Laínez. In addition to Del Norte al Sur, the books I chose included La superniña del cilantro, by Juan Felipe Herrera; Esperando a Papá, by René Colato Laínez; Prietita y la llorona, by Gloria Anzaldúa; and Pepita habla dos veces, by Ofelia Dumas Lachtman.

The greatest challenge I faced was getting multiple copies of the books I wanted my students to read in small groups. To clear this roadblock, I applied for and received a grant to purchase books. I also borrowed copies from colleagues and scoured the shelves of multiple public libraries around the area. One way or the other, I was able to get four to five copies of each book.

I centered the literature discussion groups around four themes: Family, Cultural Stories, Language, and English. For each theme, I gave students four or five titles to choose from. I started each unit by giving a book talk in which I shared a few passages from each of the book choices. Then I gave students time to browse through the books and fill out a ballot ranking their top choices. Each group of literature discussions was five days long, including two days of preparation and three days of group discussion that I facilitated. Students prepared for discussions by reading the story and marking the book with sticky notes. They used the sticky notes so they would remember what they wanted to say in the discussion group. To help with that process, I gave them a sheet with sentence starters.

When our classroom shifted from basal-based reading instruction to literature-based discussions, I noticed an immediate change in my students. They were more engaged in the stories. Through the personal connections they shared, I learned new things about them and their families. Our literature discussion groups became a place where we came together and shared our joys and the difficulties we were going through. It became a place where we learned that we were not alone, and that the curriculum could be a space for reflecting and holding our own experiences. Students who had been labeled with “low proficiency” in reading on the benchmark test at the beginning of the school year were often the ones talking the most during the discussions. Our conversations helped them feel more comfortable, see themselves in the curriculum, and explore their multiple identities. They were acquiring the tools and space to unpack complex issues in their lives.

Making Space for Students’ Fears

In Del Norte al Sur, one of the books in our Family theme, we read about José going with his father to Tijuana to visit his mother, who is staying in a women’s shelter while she tries to assemble the documents to return to the United States. José, who lives in San Diego, is able to go visit his mother on the weekends and help her with the garden at the shelter; his father pays for a lawyer to process the paperwork. Although the situation is challenging for José and his parents, it is far milder than the reality of most individuals who are deported. Most children are not able to see members of their families who have been deported for extended periods of time. Many who are deported are never able to return to the United States.

Even though the story wasn’t a perfect match to my students’ own experiences, they started making personal connections to the text. When Lucia shared that her uncle had been deported, I asked her to explain what that meant. “Es cuando la policía para a una persona y les toman los fingerprintes y después se fija en una máquina si los deportan o no, pero deportar significa que los van a mandar a México”. (It’s when the police stop someone, take their fingerprints, and look on a machine to see if they will deport them or not, but deporting means they send them to Mexico.)

Although I was excited that my students were discussing this topic and I asked questions to further the conversation, I wanted to make sure I didn’t push them into an uncomfortable or upsetting space. I paid close attention to everyone, looking for cues about how they were feeling. My ultimate goal in the introduction of these literature discussions was to get my students to develop their critical thinking skills, but first I had to make sure they felt safe enough to share their stories. Before we began the literature discussions, we had developed community norms. Two of our norms were “we feel safe” and “we respect and listen to others.” When we created and reviewed the norms, my students and I talked about not making fun of each other, not laughing at individuals who were sharing, and not interrupting.

When Lucia shared her uncle’s story, it opened up a group discussion. Alejandra told us about a time her father was stopped by the police while they were driving to a nearby city. She also told us about a time her family was driving and her mother spotted a police officer. Her mother said, “Bájense porque ahí está la policía y qué tal si nos detiene”. (Get down because the police are there and what if they stop us.) Alejandra demonstrated how she slouched down in her chair. Her mother told Alejandra and her sisters, “No escuchen lo que está diciendo el policía”. (Don’t listen to what the police officer says.) Alejandra said, “Entonces no escuchamos”. (So we didn’t listen.) As Alejandra talked, we just listened. I made sure not to ask questions because I wanted to allow Alejandra the opportunity to share just as much as she wanted to.

Staying silent took lots of practice. I was so accustomed to jumping in and guiding my students in a particular direction. The pressures I felt to cover the curriculum and raise test scores made me want to push my students along at a faster pace. I had to change that mentality. I wanted my students to do most of the talking because I wanted to open up space for their lives. I didn’t want them to feel judged. I wanted our discussions to be a place where they felt safe discussing any topic. Too often, I found my students waiting for me to speak so they could agree and repeat what I said. I wanted to move away from the idea that teachers were the only ones with answers. My students had important things to share. I wanted them to realize that their experiences could help us understand each other and the book.

Alejandra finished her story by saying that the police officer followed them home and talked again to her father when they arrived. She explained that she and her younger sister were born in the United States, so they are allowed to stay, but her parents and older sister don’t have this advantage. If they are stopped again by the police or ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), her family might be split apart. I had never seen her so vulnerable.

I turned to Juliana and asked if she had anything she wanted to share, or if she knew anyone who had been deported. She fidgeted with her hands, staring at the table, before looking up and saying “Sí, mi papá”. (Yes, my dad.) Lucia nodded. “Oh, sí, ella ya nos contó la historia”. (Oh, yes, she already told us the story.)

Taking Time to Listen

At one point in our discussions Lucia announced, “No me gustan los Estados Unidos para nada.” (I don’t like the United States at all.)

This caught me off guard. “¿Por qué?” (Why?)

Lucia said that here in the United Stated she felt enclosed, but in Mexico she was free to go outside every day.

Alejandra added, “Mi mamá dice que no le gusta aquí”. (My mom says she doesn’t like it here.) She told us about a lady who helped her mother fill out some paperwork and told her mom to call her if she ever got stopped by the police. The lady told Alejandra’s mom that the police had gotten harder and that they didn’t want people from Mexico. They wanted to deport everyone.

Lucia jumped in. “Sí, están mostrando mucho de eso en Primer Impacto, que tratan de sacar a los mexicanos”. (Yes, on First Impact, they are showing lots of that, that they are trying to get rid of the Mexicans.) Primer Impacto is a popular Spanish-language, daily news program. My students were watching the media alongside their parents. This is where they were getting a lot of their information about the current political context in the United States, including hostility toward immigrants, harsh deportation policies, and family separations.

Although I felt pressure to keep the students reading and to move things along so that they could answer specific questions about the text, I resisted the temptation and asked, “¿Cómo se sienten ustedes con eso, ustedes siendo mexicanos y americanos?” (How do you feel about this, being both Mexican and American?)

Alejandra answered: “Yo me siento mal ser mexicana y americana porque mi mamá dice que si la van a deportar que no sabe a quién llevarse, porque le toca llevarse a Perla pero puede dejar a mi hermana y a mí. Y dice mi mamá que si llegan a pararla, que puede que ya nunca la veamos”. (I feel bad being Mexican and American because my mom says that if they are going to deport her, she won’t know who to take because she’ll have to take Perla, but can leave my sister and me. And my mom says if they stop her, we might never see her again.)

Hearing Alejandra talk this way made me extremely sad. Why did a child this young have to deal with issues normally reserved for adults? When I was growing up, I didn’t realize my parents were undocumented. They had overstayed the tourist visas they used to enter the United States, but I only learned about it when I was 10 years old and my parents became U.S. citizens. Both of my parents were given amnesty under the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed by President Reagan. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to worry about my parents possibly not coming home.

My students’ narratives shed light on the complex lived experiences they navigate on a daily basis. On the one hand, they want to be in Mexico or Guatemala with their extended families; on the other hand, they know how hard their parents are working to stay here. As a child, I had many of the same contradictory feelings. My entire family, other than my parents and brother, were in Colombia. I felt like I didn’t belong here in the United States. At the end of one trip to Colombia, I cried and begged my father to leave me there to continue school. He said no, that there were more opportunities for me in the United States, but I’m not sure he realized the impact of the fact that none of my teachers or classmates acknowledged the difficulty of being in a learning environment that ignored and devalued my language and culture.

Embracing Complexity

While Lucia, Juliana, and Alejandra were reading Del Norte al Sur, the other literature groups were reading La superniña del cilantro and Esperando a Papá. (So many students wanted to read La superniña del cilantro, we ended up with two groups working with that book.) Both of these books also raised issues of family separation and the border.

1. Recognize that bilingual isn't necessarily biculturalStudents in the group reading Esperando a Papá told personal stories about family members crossing the border. One day, I explained that, according to the U.S. government, it’s against the law to cross the border without the right documents. I asked them what they thought about that—was it a fair law? Was it OK to break that law? Camila said, “Mi mamá y mi papá nomás cruzaron, porque querían a lo mejor ver lo que estaba aquí, pero si tú matas a alguien y te vas entonces eso es como no seguir la ley”. (My mom and dad only crossed because maybe they wanted to see what was over here, but if you kill someone and then you leave, then that’s not following the law.) Camila was talking back to the dominant discourse that says it is “wrong” to cross the border without papers and expressing a more complex view of the moral issues involved.

When I brought up the same question to the whole class, the children saw both positive and negative aspects to crossing the border illegally. In terms of positive aspects, they knew and retold stories about family members coming over to find a better life or get a better job. But many of them experienced the constant fear of family members being deported, and they had heard stories about hardships in crossing the border. For example, one child said her female cousin had to cut her hair like a boy for fear of being hurt as she tried to cross over. When Eduardo talked about how hard it was for his dad to climb over the fence, Carlos looked confused. I pulled out my iPad and showed the class pictures of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Together, we read stories about immigrants to the United States from other parts of the world and the difficulties they faced, including In English, of Course, by Josephine Nobisso;I Hate English!, by Ellen Levine; and No English, by Jacqueline Jules. I wanted my students to understand that they shared experiences with people from other cultures, places, and times. I wanted them to see the injustices and prejudice they faced as part of a bigger pattern of power and marginalization. I tried to help them better understand these aspects by connecting them directly to the stories they shared.

For example, one day Camila told us about a conflict she and Lucia had during recess with English-speaking students from another class. Camila and Lucia were playing on top of the play structure when two girls started pushing them and calling them names. Camila said she told them “That’s not right,” but they continued. Then, Camila told us, “Yo le dije a Lucia en español que mejor nos vayamos de ahí y nos fuimos.” (I told Lucia, in Spanish, that it would be better if we left and we did.) After we gave Lucia and Camila support, we talked about the lack of integration between the bilingual students and non-bilingual students at the school. We discussed what they could do to make friends from other classrooms.

Soon these conversations influenced my planning across content areas. I realized I had to make space for students’ stories beyond literature discussions—in writing, math, and social studies. In social studies, for example, students and their parents became experts as we studied their home countries.

My students’ stories were different from my own. Lucia’s, Juliana’s, Alejandra’s, Eduardo’s, and Camila’s stories have similarities, but also differences. I realized the importance of not grouping all Latina/o narratives into one stereotypical box. Giving my students voice and exposing them to a range of multicultural literature gave us the opportunity to dig deeper and see broader vistas.


  • Get 30% Off Magazine Subscriptions Purchased on Rethinking Schools Magazine Website with Discount Code: LLJ15 (discount taken at checkout!)
  • Buy From North to South/Del Norte al Sur
  • Browse bilingual Spanish/English books on the web and in our catalog from LEE & LOW
  • Teacher’s Guide for From North to South/Del Norte al Sur by LEE & LOW

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3. Connecting Teens With the Authors They Love

“My advice on writing?” asked Joseph Bruchac, author of KILLER OF ENEMIES and sequel TRAIL OF THE DEAD, recently to a group of high school students gathered in our Lee & Low office.

Student Voices- Exploring the World of“Read. Read a lot and read widely. Don’t just read on the Internet; read books. If you have a favorite writer, take a look at what she does and how she does it across her books. Also, write. Write a lot and write every day. My third piece of advice is revise—make writing worth reading.”

For our virtual author event, Joseph Bruchac called in to join the students from Grace Church School who were visiting our Lee & Low office in Manhattan. The students had read both books in Bruchac’s KILLER OF ENEMIES series and were interested in learning more about the main character Lozen, the world she lives in, and the inspiration behind the books.

During our conference call with Joseph Bruchac, students came prepared with their own questions, which included:

  1. What was society and the world like before the coming of the Cloud? What was your vision of the world?
  2. Luther’s chapters have a very different narration from Lozen’s chapters. What was the thinking behind this choice?
  3. Whose side is the Dreamer on?
  4. Did the Cloud make every One insane or are there some Ones who are still good?
  5. Coyote has a particular place in much Native American folklore but TRAIL OF THE DEAD has a lot of sci fi/fantasy monsters and mythical creatures. Where does Coyote fit in?
  6. Is Lozen’s journey similar to your own?
  7. How long did it take you to write the book? What advice do you have about writing?
Great discussion with author Joseph Bruchac!
Grace Church School students William, Sabina, Ufon, and Eleanor with librarian Sarah Couri



Looking to lead your own book discussion with teens?

Check out our Discussion Questions for KILLER OF ENEMIES series with a focus on the latest release, TRAIL OF THE DEAD:

  1. Before the Silver Cloud, humans with computer-generated enhancements, called the Ones, controlled the world. Do you think author Joseph Bruchac’s vision of the future is convincing? Why or why not? What similarities do you see between the pre-Cloud world that the Dreamer described and our own world today?
  2. What role does community play in TRAIL OF THE DEAD? How is Lozen’s community critical to her healing?
  3. The Dreamer decides which books to save. Which book would you save?
  4. Do you have theories on who Hally is? What do you think motivates Hally and what do you think Hally wants?
  5. Author Joseph Bruchac alternates between first-person narration of Lozen to third person omniscient narration with Luther—why would the author do this? How does this build suspense? With whom does Joseph Bruchac want us to empathize? Does this affect our perception of Lozen as a trustworthy narrator?
  6. Joseph Bruchac, as an adult, created Lozen (her background, voice, and perspective) and chose to write her as a teenager. She can be very opinionated, sardonic, and mocking. Do you think Lozen is a representative teenager? Why or why not?
  7. Main character, Lozen, uses humor and sarcasm throughout the series. Why do you think author Joseph Bruchac uses humor in the telling of a post-apocalyptic tale? How is this story unique from other texts set in extreme and violent environments? How does humor and sarcasm help Lozen and the other characters cope or heal with their environment and experiences? In what circumstances in our world today do we see people using humor in difficult and stressful situations?
  8. The ending of TRAIL OF THE DEAD is left open for a follow-up (or perhaps a conclusion). What do you hope to see as Lozen’s (and the other characters’) story continues?

Resources and activities for engaging students on the KILLER OF ENEMIES book series:

1. Author Joseph Bruchac reads from TRAIL OF THE DEAD, the sequel to his post-apocalyptic Apache steampunk, KILLER OF ENEMIES.

2. Author Joseph Bruchac writes about KILLER OF ENEMIES in this exclusive Tu Books interview.

3. Have students write their own story after reading Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman share how writers go about worldbuilding with the focus on post-apocalyptic settings.

4. Author Study- Joseph BruchacStart an author study of Joseph Bruchac with his website and then explore his range of works, topics, and themes:

AMAZING FACES (poem contributor)

AMAZING PLACES (poem contributor)









5. Have students blog about and map through Google Maps the journey and world of Lozen in KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD. This project was designed by Dr. Lisa Hager, Associate Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

6. Have students write their own book reviews to submit to the school newspaper or present to the class. Students can read the reviews of KILLER OF ENEMIES and TRAIL OF THE DEAD at the bottom of the book pages for ideas.

Diversity Gap in Children's Books Infographic 2015
Diversity Gap in Children’s Books Infographic 2015 – click for larger image
Tu Books Publisher Stacy Whitman

Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman broadened the discussion with looking at the challenges in children’s publishing today. As a group, we analyzed The Diversity Gap in Children’s Books infographic.

Possible questions for students:

  • What trends do you see?
  • What is the central idea?
  • What is the context of this infographic? What are student and general U.S. population demographics today?
  •  What might some causes be for the lack of diversity in children’s books?
  • What might the impact of a lack of diversity among authors and characters be on students reading books that were either assigned or self-selected? What might it mean for a young child growing up and reading? What will she see? What will she not see?

20150930_145425 (1)How to bring a LEE & LOW author or illustrator into your classroom live or virtually:

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA as a Teach for America corps member where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

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4. Using Picture Books to Teach and Discuss Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera with Students

Congratulations to Juan Felipe Herrera who has just been appointed the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (or PLOTUS for those in the know) by the Library of Congress!

To introduce students to Juan Felipe Herrera and his body of work, we have put together a collection of resources and activities for an author (and poet!) study. We’ve structured this Author Study Unit off of Reading Rockets’ Author Study Toolkit (available as a PDF and online).

Juan Felipe Herrera1. Set a purpose and goals for the author study

Have students read these books to find out:

  • who Juan Felipe Herrera is
  • how he uses his background, life, and experiences as inspiration for his stories and writing
  • what themes Herrera writes about in his stories and what themes these books share
  • which story (or moments in a story) the students connect to the most and why

2. Choose an author

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States and the first Latino poet.

3. Read and respond to the books

  • From where do you think Juan Felipe Herrera gets his inspiration for his stories and settings? What makes you think so? How does he include his culture and heritage in his works?
  • How would you describe Juan Felipe Herrera’s writing style?
  • What themes or topics are most meaningful to him? Why do you think that?
  • Compare two of his books. Use a Venn diagram to collect ideas on how these books are similar and unique. What is the central idea of each? Is the book written in verse or prose? Compare the topic, main figures, setting, and text structure of each.

4. Research the author

  • There are a ton of news articles celebrating and reporting the announcement of Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate. Build excitement and interest for students at the beginning of the unit with a couple of the articles, such as this one from the Los Angeles Times.
  • As a class, create a timeline of major events in his life and keep it posted in the classroom throughout the unit. Have students explore Herrera’s website, this curated Library of Congress collection of web resources, and bios from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets, and the Library of Congress.
  • Show students this YouTube collection of videos featuring interviews with Juan Felipe Herrera or the PBS clip of Herrera reading his poem, “Five Directions to My House.”

5. Culminating projects and reflection:

Here are just a few ideas:

  • Several previous Poet Laureates created projects to share poetry with the public. Have students read about the Past Poet Laureate Projects from the Library of Congress. Knowing what they now know about Juan Felipe Herrera, have students brainstorm and discuss what project Herrera might create while Poet Laureate. What topics and themes are meaningful to Herrera? What makes you think that?
  • The main figures in each of these stories draw a lot of strength from a special adult in their lives. Who in your life helps you when you are having trouble, feel scared or doubtful, or have a goal you want to achieve? What advice has this person shared with you? What actions and qualities do you admire most about this person?
  • A major focus for Juan Felipe Herrera in his writing is family or community. Encourage students to write a poem or paragraph about a big or small tradition that is important in their own family or community.
  • Juan Felipe Herrera has written a lot on his migrant background. Encourage students to interview their parents or guardians about their family’s migration or immigration history. When did you or our family come to this city/community? Why did you or our family come to this place (was it voluntary or forced)? From where did you or our family come?What traditions does our family have?
  • What does “home” mean to you? How might this word mean more than just the place where you live? What does “family” mean to you? How might this word mean more than just your mother and father? How might these words mean something different to various people?
  • Have students write a letter to Juan Felipe Herrera. In their letters, students may describe which story, poem, or moment in one of his books they connected to the most and why. Students can also include any questions they are curious about concerning Herrera’s life and work.

Picture book recommendations for the author study:

Calling the Doves / El canto de las palomas

Bilingual English/Spanish. Poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s bilingual memoir paints a vivid picture of his migrant farmworker childhood and his road to becoming a writer. Calling the Doves won the 1997 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award for New Writing.

The Upside Down Boy / El niño de cabeza

Bilingual English/Spanish. Award-winning poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s engaging memoir of the year his migrant family settled down so that he could go to school for the first time. The Upside Down Boy captures the universal experience of children entering a new school feeling like strangers in a world that seems upside down at first.

Grandma and Me at the Flea / Los Meros Meros Remateros

Bilingual English/Spanish. Every Sunday Juanito helps his grandmother sell old clothes beneath the rainbow-colored tents at the remate, the flea market. Juanito learns firsthand what it means to be a true rematero, a fleamarketeer, and understands that the value of community can never be measured in dollars.

Featherless / Desplumado

Bilingual English/Spanish. At his new school or on the soccer field, all everyone wants to know is why Tomasito is in a wheelchair. His Papi gives Tomasito a new pet to make him smile, but this bird is a little bit different from the rest. Juan Felipe Herrera scores again with this sparkling bilingual story of self-empowerment and friendship. Featherless won the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Award for Multicultural Fiction.

What are your recommendations for a successful author study? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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5. The Perfect Picture Book for the Last Day of School

The Perfect Picture Book for the Last (2)Your last day with this class is here. You have one last time to share the moment when you gather for a read aloud. How will you honor the moment?

The last day of school is hectic, a blur, a blast, sweet, and wistful.


Will you pick a book you already read this year with your students to live again in that moment? Or will you pick a book to launch your students toward their summers and the rest of their education journey?


Will your last read aloud be nostalgic or hopeful? 

We’ve gathered some of our favorite Lee & Low titles to conclude and celebrate a year’s worth of reading with your students. Let us know what you recommend (any book!) and your reading tradition on the last day of school!


Amazing Faces

An anthology of universal poems focusing on the human experience–emotions, perceptions, and understandings–as expressed by poets of diverse heritage and reflected in illustrations featuring people of all ages and backgrounds.

Confetti: Poems for Children

The renowned poet Pat Mora celebrates the culture and landscape of the southwest through the eyes of a Mexican American girl. 

I and I Bob Marley

A biography in verse of reggae legend Bob Marley, exploring the influences that shaped his life and music on his journey from rural Jamaican childhood to international superstardom. 


My Steps

An African American girl shares her private world of playtime on her front steps over each of the four seasons. 

Quinito’s Neighborhood/El Vecindario de Quinito

This bilingual book takes readers around the buildings, streets, shops, and people that make up Quinito’s neighborhood. 

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy

A biography of William “Dummy” Hoy, one of the first deaf major league baseball players. 

Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story

The inspirational true story of Sammy Lee, a Korean American who overcame discrimination to realize both his father’s desire that he become a doctor and his own dream of becoming an Olympic champion diver. 

Strong to the Hoop

A boy finally gets to play basketball on the main court with the older boys, and has to prove he can hold his own. 

Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon

Ruth Forman offers a poetic testament to childhood, language, and play, bringing to life the streets of South Philadelphia. Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon is a celebration of city summer memories, and of African American culture and community.

Drummer Boy of John John

A joyous picture book set in the Caribbean  during Carnival, based on the childhood of one of the inventors of the steel drum. 

The Power of Learning and Education

Armando and the Blue Tarp School

The story of a young Mexican boy living in a colonia (trash dump community) who takes the first steps toward realizing his dream of getting an education. 

Chess Rumble

A story in free verse about a troubled boy who learns to use his mind instead of his fists through the guidance of an unconventional mentor and the game of chess. 

How We Are Smart

Readers will learn that being smart is about more than doing well in school. There are eight ways to be smart, and they are reflected in how a person uses his or her body, relates to the natural world, responds to music and art, and more.

Love to Langston

This inspiring biography on Langston Hughes celebrates his life through poetry. 

Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace

A picture book biography of scientist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman–and first environmentalist–to win a Nobel Peace Prize (in 2004) for her work planting trees in her native Kenya.

Yasmin’s Hammer

A young Bangladeshi girl who helps support her family by working in a brickyard finds a way to make her dream of going to school and learning to read a reality. 


George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

An account of the life and career of George Crum, a biracial chef who is credited with the invention of the potato chip at a Saratoga Springs, New York, restaurant in 1853. Based on historical records. 

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji

Overflowing with family, food, and a tall stack of fun, this story is sure to warm the heart and tickle the tummy. A fun way for children to learn about the cultural traditions and foods of India. 

Jazz Baby

A celebration of music and movement, this story in verse is inspired by the riffs, rhythms, and freedom of jazz.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald no combina

A mestiza Peruvian American of European, Jewish, and Amerindian heritage, renowned author Monica Brown wrote this lively story to bring her own experience of being mismatched to life.

Sunday Shopping

Every Sunday night a young girl and her grandmother go on an imaginary shopping trip in this delightful picture book.

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen

A spunky African American girl has a hula-hooping competition with her friends in Harlem, and soon everyone in the neighborhood–young and old alike–joins in on the fun.

Where On Earth is My Bagel?

A young Korean boy gets a craving for a New York bagel and goes on a journey to fulfill his hunger. 

Believe in Yourself

Allie’s Basketball Dream

Basketball is Allie’s favorite sport–she’s loved it ever since her father took her to her first game at Madison Square Garden. 

Call Me Tree/Llámame Árbol

An imaginary  tale of self-discovery told by a child who grows, learns about the natural world, embraces others, and is free to become who he or she is meant to be–a child as unique as a tree. Gender neutral.  

Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream

The spirited story of Marcenia Lyle, the African American girl who grew up to become “Toni Stone,” the first woman to play for an all-male professional baseball team.

Cora Cooks Pancit

Cora and Mama work together to cook up pancit for the family in this celebration of Filipino heritage and foods. 

Crazy Horse’s Vision

The true story of the great Sioux warrior who, as a young boy, defies tradition and seeks a vision on his own in hopes of saving his people. 

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para soñar juntos

A bilingual collection of poetry by acclaimed Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcon celebrating family, community, nature, and the positive power of dreams to shape our future.

The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story

Meena, a young Asian Indian American girl, grows in self-confidence when she learns to practice yoga and apply the underlying principles to her performance in the school play.

Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree

The true story of the famous writer, who as a young girl, learned about hope and strength from her mother.

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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6. 10 Myths about Teaching STEM Books and How You Can Teach STEM in Your Classroom Now

STEM Friday + Lee & Low Books (1)Join Lee & Low Books and Anastasia Suen, Founder of the STEM Friday blog and award-winning children’s book author, for a dynamic discussion on how to teach STEM in your classroom starting this fall. Share My Lesson is hosting a Summer of Learning professional development series and Thursday, July 9 focuses on all things STEM.

With the right tools and support, we will show how educators can support all students to become successful in learning STEM content knowledge and conceptual understanding.

We will look at persistent myths about teaching STEM, explore the intersection of STEM and English Language Arts, and reexamine what makes a great STEM read aloud.

Sign up to learn how to discover the right STEM book and hands-on activities for your students’ interests and learning needs. We will cover strategies on inspiring and supporting underrepresented groups in STEM as well as how to differentiate for special populations.

In addition to learning about how Lee & Low titles can fit into your science and mathematics units and how to integrate STEM learning throughout your literacy block, teachers can earn an hour of professional development credit! The whole series is FREE and open to all.

At the end of the presentation, you will have strategies you can apply immediately to your classroom and resources for further exploration.

share my lesson 2Overview:

Title: Teach STEM Now

Date: Thursday, July 09, 2015

Time: 01:00PM Eastern Daylight Time

Duration: 1 hour

Cost: FREE

Register here!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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7. New York City Teachers: How Do You Discover Diverse Literature For Your Students?

It can be challenging to create an inclusive book collection or curriculum. For even the most committed and informed teachers, there is a diversity gap in children’s literature. In addition, there are also the issues of support from colleagues and administrators, time (and money) for discovery, and acquiring best practices.

For those in New York City education, here is an opportunity to share your experiences teaching and searching for culturally relevant and responsive curriculum and books!

Snapshot_20140113Dr. Marilisa Jiménez-García from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY is gathering information about diversity in children’s and young adult literature from the perspective of Literature and Language Arts instructors in New York City public schools. Take her ten-minute survey here.

The goals of the survey are to understand how educators learn about books in their professional development and to find better ways to connect educators to diverse teaching materials.

A message from Dr. Jiménez-García:

Your perspective as a practitioner is important to creating a productive dialogue about today’s Language Arts classroom. I want to learn about your experiences as a teacher in NYC public schools teaching literature in classrooms. 

How are you and your students exposed to diverse stories, authors, and characters? What are some resources that would help you increase the kind of diversity your students receive in literature instruction? What development opportunities would you like to participate in that would enrich your experience as a NYC teacher?”

diverse books teacher surveyDue date: September 15, 2015

Time: Ten minutes


  1. You must be a current New York City public (district or charter) school teacher
  2. Your area of instruction must be Literature/Language Arts/English and/or English Language Learner instruction

Survey link here.

Responses are confidential and will be used in a larger study on diverse books in schools that Dr. Jiménez-García is doing as a National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Fellow. She can be reached at @MarilisaJimenez.

For further reading on Dr. Jiménez-García’s work:


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8. 8 Ideas for Educators to Get Students Excited About the Public Library This School Year

Do you know how many books your students or their families own or even have access to? The start of school is a great time to introduce (or reintroduce) children (and their families) to the public library.


In the home visits many of us make at the beginning of each school year, it is an unique opportunity to see not only where our students live, but also where they study and keep their books. I learned that many of my students had only a few books in their homes and our classroom libraries would be vital to enabling student discovery of new interests and topics, as well as access to texts at and above their levels.

Families may not be able to afford books or find few books for sale. For example, one study of low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia found one book for sale for every 300 children.

As we set out to create literacy-rich environments in our classrooms this school year, let us remember a powerful ally in the community: public libraries.

September is also Library Card Sign-Up Month so many public libraries have programs and resources available to students of all grades. Check with your nearest branch to see field trip availability, possible funding, and to download and distribute the library card application.

Before You Go

1. Read Aloud Book Recommendations


The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos

Richard Wright and the Library Card and Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Destiny’s Gift (setting is a bookstore, but applicable themes)

Questions during reading

  • Why does this character/historical figure believe in the power of books?
  • What obstacles does this person have to overcome to achieve his/her goal?
  • How do reading books change the main characters/historical figures?
  • How does this person demonstrate respect or show appreciation for books and the library space?
  • Why are libraries an important part of a community?
  • Should having a library in a community be a right or is it a privilege?

2. Shared Reading ActivityThe following articles, which can be downloaded as a PDF file, contain information at just the right level for readers. Comprehension questions also included:

*note: must sign-up to read, but free for teachers

A Helper at the School Library” by ReadWorks.org

A New Kind of Library” by ReadWorks.org

Homework takes over the library for kids without Internet” by Newsela

A Chicago library’s books hit the road on two wheels” by Newsela

3. Bring in a library book for students to observeCompare the library book to a classroom book. Note the spine label on the side, the barcode label on the back, the plastic covering, the library pocket, and so on.

Finally, before your class visits the library, print off library card applications for students to fill out in class or at home with their families. This will streamline the process at the library and students will have the necessary information like their home addresses to obtain the cards. With cards in the hand, students can borrow some books!

If Doing a Visit or Field Trip, Here Are Some Activities at the Library:

4. Interview a librarian—Have students brainstorm a list of questions before they visit to ask, including:

  • What motivated him/her to become a librarian?
  • What is his/her favorite part of being a librarian?
  • What are some of the challenges of a library?
  • Why is it important for communities to have libraries?
  • How have libraries changed? How has this library changed since it first opened?
  • What can someone do at a library in addition to reading books?
  • What if someone does not speak English (or very well)? What resources can he/she use to get the most out of the library? How does the library make an inclusive space for multiple languages?

5. Library scavenger hunt—Premade lists for grade bands are available from ALA. Ideas include:

  • Get the signature of two librarians.
  • What is the name of the Children’s Librarian?
  • How much does it cost to make a copy in the library?
  • List two magazine titles the library has available to read.
  • Find a chapter book with an author whose last name begins with “D.” What is the title of the book?
  • What newspaper does the library have for reading?
  • How many computer stations does the library have for visitors to use?
  • Have students try to find a couple of the read alouds you have already read in class this year, such as The Storyteller’s Candle / La velita de los cuentos or Richard Wright and the Library Card.

Activities After the Visit to the Library

6. Create a poster to advertise the local libraryWith words and pictures, explain the benefits of visiting a library and highlight the perks of the space. How is the library rewarding to one’s education? How can a library help with homework? Depending on the class size and the amount of posters, encourage students to donate their poster to each classroom in the school as well as the main office to post on the bulletin board.

7. Write a thank you letter to the children’s or teen’s librarian or community volunteers. Encourage students to include what book title they would like to borrow first with their new library cards.

8. As a class, brainstorm a list of ideas on how to responsibly treat a borrowed library book. What does being responsible with a library book look like? Record student ideas on a chart. Look up the behavior rules on the library website. Post this list in the classroom library as a reminder for all borrowed books throughout the year.

How to make a trip to the library affordable and achievable:

  • Most important: TALK to the librarians! Many public libraries have back-to-school programs available (or preferred times for such visits) and schedules that work with the school calendar. The children’s or teen librarian may also know of funding or grants available specifically for school visits to the library.
  • Make it a family affair. While optional, encourage students’ families to join you on a Saturday at the library. This will save you having to pay for bussing or coordinate chaperones as students will attend with their families.
  • Absolutely can’t get off campus? Make sure to prioritize a program at your school library or see if the public library has school-visit programs.
  • Virtual field trips: (elementary school age) KidVision VPK Library Field Trip and (middle school age) Tour the Library by Harper College Library or Check It Out by Topeka Library

For further reading on educators engaging librarians for student achievement:

Dear librariansWhat other ideas do you suggest or have you seen work well for encouraging students to discover all that the library has to offer them (and their families) this school year? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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9. A Heartfelt Thank You

Letter from Euclid OhioLetter from Euclid OhioLetter from Euclid OhioOne of the best things about working at First Book is receiving thank you notes from the educators and kids we serve.

Cathy Stang, a Learning Resource Teacher from Adrian Elementary School in South Euclid, Ohio, recently sent a HUGE stack of silly, sincere and sweet notes from her students. She even included a note from a parent of one of her students:

Dear Mrs. Stang,

I just wanted to write you a note and thank you for your work at Adrian, especially with First Book. Caleb has grown so much in his love of books and reading this year. Since receiving his first Mo Willems’ book, Caleb fell in love/became obsessed with the Gerald and Piggie characters. He now owns 11 of them. He has used his own allowance money, asked his grandparents and basically any way he could think of to get more. When he gets a new one, he will bring it everywhere he goes and read it to all his friends. I am not even exaggerating. Thanks for making a difference in life of a kid.

We’re grateful to Cathy and all the wonderful educators and kids who share their notes and their love of reading with us. You are OUR heroes!

Want to see your story or thank you note featured on our blog? Share it with us here.

The post A Heartfelt Thank You appeared first on First Book Blog.

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10. 10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom

Think there’s no need for sepia-toned filters and hashtags in your classroom? Don’t write off the world of #selfies just yet.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media channels among generation Z, or those born after 1995 and don’t know a world without the Internet. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is a generation of visual learners and communicators, where sharing your life-from the food you’re about to eat to your thoughts about anything and everything-is a part of your everyday routine. So, why allow Instagram in your classroom?

For starters, preparing students to be college and career ready involves helping them build their digital literacy skills on a professional level, and Instagram is a technological tool that offers educators innovative ways to motivate and engage students, opening up a new platform for collaboration, research, and discussion. Secondly, we all know the importance of interest and ownership for getting students excited about learning, and since your students probably already love Instagram you’ve already won half the battle.

Teacher/Classroom Instagram Accounts

Create a private classroom Instagram account that you control and instagramcan use to connect with your students, their parents and guardians, and other grade team members. Invite them to follow your account and catch a glimpse of your everyday classroom moments and adventures.

  1. Student of the Week: Each week, feature a different student on the class Instagram account, posting photos-with their permission- of their favorite classroom projects and other examples of their hard work and achievement. This is a fun opportunity to highlight your students’ individual strengths, positively reinforcing their behavior and progress.
  2. Daily/Weekly Classroom Update: Similar to student of the week, you can instagram your students’ classroom projects and activities on a daily or weekly basis. From photos of new classroom reads to capturing field trip memories, this is an excellent way to build a sense of community while allowing parents to see what lessons, topics, and exciting activities are happening in your classroom. This is also a great way to easily and quickly share your classroom ideas with other grade team teachers.
  3. Student takeover: If you’re not able to encourage students to create their own individual Instagram accounts, invite each student to “take over” the classroom account for a day or week by sharing photos from his or her everyday life. This is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their peers by instagramming their interests, hobbies, routines, and even cultural traditions.
  4. Photo Inspiration: Finding inspiration to write can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Spark your students’ imaginations and help them discover new ideas through instagramming writing prompts by playing with different angles, perspectives, and filters to capture random moments and objects that you encounter throughout your day-to-day.
  5. Caption That! For a variation of the writing prompt, post an interesting photo and ask your students to write a descriptive caption in the comments. Differentiate how challenging this task is by asking students to write their caption using specific sentence types, different parts of speech, clauses, prepositional phrases, and their current vocabulary words.
  6. Daily challenges: If your students are able to follow the classroom Instagram account on a regular basis, you can use it to post daily challenges in the form of visual word problems, review questions, and bonus questions. Instagram photos of important learned concepts and pose questions to your students in the caption, asking them to write their answers in the comments. For example, this fifth-grade teacher used Instagram to review who Henry Ford was and other important events in history.

Student Instagram Accounts

Asking your students to follow the classroom Instagram account with their personal accounts is one, highly unlikely, and two, probably not the best idea. What you can do is ask your students to create additional Instagram accounts that would only be used for school or classroom purposes. You know how LinkedIn is your professional Facebook? A similar idea applies here.

  1. A Day in the Life: Challenge students to assume the role of a classroom longfictional literary character and share images that he or she believes the specific character would post, highlighting the character’s interests, personality traits, and development throughout the story. The 15-second video option is a great way to really let students get into character through recorded role-playing and even performance reenactments. These activities can also be applied to important figures in history, such as the creator of Honda, Soichiro Honda, or jazz musician, Melba Liston.
  2. What the Kids are Reading: Students can snap photos of their favorite reads and write a brief 1-5 sentence review in the caption. To take it a step further, ask them to record 15-second long persuasive book trailers to hook their peers. Boost further discussion among your students by asking them to comment on other book reviews and book trailer videos to share their opinions. Tip: Encourage your students to use a unique #hashtag (ex.: #SMSGrade4Reads) for each book review posted, and by the end of the year you will have a visual library of all of the books your class has read.
  3. Math Hunt: “Why do we have to learn this?” “I won’t need this in my everyday life.” Sound familiar? Help your students see the real-world math applications all around them by sending them on a hunt to document or illustrate their knowledge of different math concepts:
  • Geometry: lines (parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting), angles (right, acute, obtuse, etc.) symmetry, and three-dimensional shapes (prisms, cubes, cylinders, etc.)
  • Everyday fractions and arrays
  • Concepts of money
  • Examples of volume vs. mass, area vs. perimeter
  1. STEM Research: Students can watch, observe, and record science experiment data and results over time by documenting any step-by-step process with photo and video narration of learned science concepts. Outside of the lab, students can use their Instagram accounts for observing science in nature or sharing their own scientific findings. What makes this special is how quickly and easily students can share and revisit their visual references and recorded data.
  • Physical & chemical changes
  • Weather patterns and phases of the moon
  • Animal adaptations
  • Habitats in nature

Note: Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat, has a minimum age limit of 13 to open an account, but according to Instagram’s parents’ guide, there are many younger users on Instagram with their parents’ permission since you don’t have to specify your age. Always check with your school’s administrator and obtain parental permission before sharing photos of students or their work.

Know of any other interesting ways to use Instagram or other social media sites in the classroom? Already using Instagram in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

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

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11. The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley has been the darling of the US economy for decades. Creativity, leadership, risk taking, and hard work are all attributes of American innovation at its finest. Though lauded as a true meritocracy by the business world, the truth is that Silicon Valley that suffers from a similar lack of representation among women and people of color as other industries. In our past Diversity Gap studies of the Academy Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films, and US politics, we have shown that there is a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity across the boards.

The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley
The Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley (click for larger image)

Those who worked in Silicon Valley knew the industry had a diversity problem. But exactly how big the problem was, was anyone’s guess. That’s when Tracy Chou, an engineer at Pinterest, stepped up and asked a key question: Where are the numbers? She argued that in an industry obsessed with analytics and data, there was no baseline for evaluating the diversity problem and thus no way to track improvement. She wanted to know how many women were working at tech companies, especially in engineering. And she offered Pinterest’s numbers to start.

Then something revolutionary happened—more tech companies came on board and offered their numbers. Soon it wasn’t just small and mid-size companies, it was Apple, Google, and Facebook. In all, more than two hundred tech companies of all sizes have now publicly released statistics about diversity among staff—a bold display of transparency. In response, several companies have stepped forward with solutions, Google has offered to pay for 1,000 women to take coding classes, and Intel has committed $300 million to diversifying its workforce in three to five years. While Silicon Valley has many of the same diversity problems as everyone else, it is addressing the problem in very real and practical ways from which other industries (like publishing) can learn a lot. We spoke to three tech industry professionals and a diversity expert for their thoughts:

Kimberly BryantKimberly Bryant is Founder and Executive Director of Black Girls CODE, a non-profit organization dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color (ages 7–17) to the field of technology and computer science with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts.

Rosalind HudnellRosalind Hudnell, Vice President Human Resources, Chief Diversity Officer, Intel Corporation, was recognized in Black Enterprise magazine’s 2011 list of “Top Executives in Diversity.” This recognition places Rosalind in an elite group of diversity officers and vice presidents that are considered to be the nation’s highest-ranking and most influential executives leading corporate diversity initiatives.

Leah SmileyLeah Smiley is President and Founder of The Society for Diversity, the #1 professional association for diversity and inclusion. With 15 years of corporate human resources experiences and more than 10 years of experience in diversity, Smiley has served over 400 members and thousands of non-members through the Society for Diversity since 2009. She also has extensive training and consulting experience in every sector, allowing her to obtain publicity in traditional, and social, media outlets throughout the world.

Tracy ChouTracy Chou is a software engineer and tech lead at Pinterest, currently on the monetization team; she was previously at Quora, also as an early engineer there. With initiatives in the workplace and the community, Tracy works actively to promote diversity in the tech industry and has pushed for greater transparency and discussion on the topic with a Github project crowdsourcing data on women in software engineering. She was named Forbes Tech 30 under 30 in 2014 and recently profiled in Vogue for her work.


Jason Low: Let’s start with Kimberly Bryant and Black Girls CODE. Kimberly, why don’t more parents and teachers encourage girls to pursue and excel in STEM subjects and careers? Where does this gender bias come from and why does it persist?

Kimberly Bryant: There are many issues why parents of students from underrepresented communities don’t encourage their girls to pursue STEM subjects and careers. Some of the reasons are culturally based and rooted in the perception of the industry as a male dominated and female “unfriendly” field. These parents are more apt to direct their girls into career fields that are perceived as safer or more welcoming to women (such as medicine, healthcare, teaching, etc). So the stereotypes influence parental guidance. These communities of parents are also unaware of the opportunities, which exist in a more broader section of STEM fields. In this case the lack of exposure to STEM careers is a large driver in parents lack of focus on these opportunities for their girls.tech_caption1

In terms of educators the issues seem to be a bit different. There is still quite a bit of implicit bias exhibited by educators throughout the K–12 pipeline and beyond which reveals itself in some educators becoming the defacto “gate keepers” to a career path in tech for girls. These educators whether willingly or unwillingly carry perceived biases into the classroom which manifest in both explicit and implicit messages which tell female students that they are not equipped to pursue more rigorous STEM study. We’ve heard many cases where girls are discouraged from pursuing classes in technology and science and instead steered into a less rigorous curriculum path. This gender bias is present throughout our society so it also reveals itself in this way in the classroom. There is a perception that one is “born” with talent innately to pursue rigorous study in the field rather than fluidity in STEM subject matter being a learned skill.

JL: I noticed that there is a NY chapter of Black Girls CODE. I read that BGC has worked with 3,000 girls so far and has a goal of working with a million girls. In order to make a dent in the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in technology will it be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in every major city? What will it take to replicate the Black Girls CODE model across the country?

KB: We do believe it will be necessary to have a Black Girls CODE chapter in multiple cities across the US in order to reach our goal of teaching one million girls of color to code by 2040. In fact we try to model our organization as the “girl scouts of technology” with this very idea in mind—our organization must become widely available and synonymous with girls of color in tech in urban, rural, and suburban communities across the nation in order to reach this goal. tech_caption2It’s a daunting task to say the least but definitely achievable as we continue to seek support for our growing list of chapter across the country and internationally as well. It will take many additional partners stepping up to support this work across multiple sectors including philanthropic entities, government, and corporate partners to make this reach possible. Yet even if we reach this goal we will only reach a fraction of the girls from underrepresented communities that will compose our population demographics by the year 2040, which highlights the fact that this is not a problem that one organization alone can solve. We stress the need for coding to be taught in all schools in addition to the work that organizations such as Black Girls CODE is doing in the non-profit sector.

JL: There have been a number of recent articles that show that 41% of women leave technology mid career as opposed to 17% of men. This is an equally troubling trend given that organizations like yours are working so hard to make qualified women available for the industry to hire. What are some basic solutions to retain the future pipeline of women coming into the industry?

KB: When we look at the issue of diversity in tech today the issue is often described as a “pipeline” problem. In most cases when this terminology is used it directs the focus to the K–12 sector as representing the tech pipeline. I believe this is an incorrect description of the tech pipeline. If we describe the tech pipeline as more circular and encompassing in this analogy it would incorporate the K–12 segment, post-graduate students, and career women in technology. In this description of a much broader pipeline I believe it becomes very clear that we have leaks in every conceivable segment of this pipeline. With attrition rates for both women and minorities at such high levels it really is indicative of a much more endemic issue in tech culture and structure than simply an early pipeline issue. So although the work of orgs such as Black Girls CODE can go far in terms of front-loading the pipeline, we are preparing these students to go on to careers in technology. If the companies that meet them when they begin their careers are not culturally sensitive to valuing and supporting the career growth and needs for a diverse pool of employees then we will continue to see the high attrition numbers described above. There is a need for some serious analysis and transformation of corporate culture to create more nurturing environments for women and people of color if we truly want to see the diversity numbers improve. One key facet of this transformation specifically is to see broader representation of women and minorities across all levels of the corporation (from the board room to entry level) and then a transformation in corporate culture to a more diverse and culturally sensitive environment.


JL: Next up is Rosalind Hudnell. Rosalind, for many years, technology leaders would always state that the industry was a true meritocracy and that the applicants of color and women candidates were simply not out there to hire. Being that Intel is now leading the charge to diversify its workforce, what kinds of programs, partnerships, and/scholarships will Intel be investing in to develop future diverse applicants who will be interviewing for jobs in technology in 3-5 years?tech_caption3

Rosalind Hudnell: Intel has a long-standing history of diversity and full inclusion work and we’ve learned a great deal over the last decade. We intend to apply these learnings in a more intentional way to achieve our diversity goals in hiring, but also in retaining and growing our people, especially women and under-represented program. Research shows that there is a significant dropout between year 1 and year 2 of engineering programs. When we learned this, we launched our Stay With It engineering program. We believe that we can shift students to staying with these careers if we share more of why these careers matter and make a difference while also providing an environment that inspires and gives practical hands on experience with role models and mentors. People connect with what they see and believe for themselves.

JL: $300 million is a substantial investment on Intel’s part toward diversity. What are the advantages of having a more diverse workforce? How will having more equal representation in Intel’s ranks result in better products and a more successful company?

RH: The business case for diversity and inclusion has been widely researched and proven. We believe that full inclusion, without artificial barriers or bias, is critical to Intel’s long-term business success and essential to achieving our vision of creating the world’s best smart and connected technology. Doing so will help us better reflect our customers, consumers and global marketplace. Creating an inclusive culture that consistently leverages the full range of all our employees’ perspectives and capabilities is critical to innovation and achieving our business objectives.


JL: Now some questions for Leah Smiley. Leah, past and current diversity efforts have mostly been driven by people of color and have largely excluded white people. Last year, you wrote some observations/advice regarding Google’s diversity efforts. “Make current staff part of the solution” was one of your tips. Please expound upon this for us.

Leah Smiley: It’s important to include current staff when transforming the cultural fabric of an organization. But I admonish you to proceed with caution because the knee-jerk reaction can be worse than inaction.tech_caption4

Often times, an organization will gather all of the diverse people and take a lot of pictures for marketing purposes, or they will promote a person from an under-represented group to the role of Chief Diversity Officer. These are examples of knee-jerk reactions—and should be avoided at all costs.

A better approach would be to: (1) clearly define the purpose of the diversity officer role (i.e., how does it correspond to organizational goals); (2) seek to fill the position with smart people who have the skills to accomplish intended results—regardless of race/gender/etc.; (3) create high-profile and high-potential diversity councils or employee resource groups to support the diversity officer role.

Diversity discussions must be led by all people and they can’t exclude divergent thoughts or beliefs. Education and training can always supplement any person who fulfills the role, but there is no substitute for credibility. Placing smart people in the Chief Diversity Officer role (regardless of their differences or similarities) allows the organization to effect genuine change without sacrificing professional integrity.

JL: Addressing inequality issues is often times referred to as necessary but “messy work”. What are some of the most ideal factors that can make diversity work (a) successful (b) sustainable, and  (c) lasting?

LS: I once presented an employee benefits presentation where I was tasked with delivering the bad news: your benefits are changing, your cost are going up and you’re not getting a raise. I did so many of these talks in the past that I could deliver a great message with my eyes closed. But one tech group didn’t receive my message too well. Although they were highly compensated, in comparison to every other meeting I facilitated, these employees went bananas! I didn’t know where I went wrong. When I talked to my boss afterwards, he schooled me about ignoring the elephant in the room. The bigger issue was that the company was in financial trouble, and the benefits were just one of many that had recently changed for the worse. In my arrogance, I proceeded with a “business as usual” attitude, and things went very wrong quickly.

In the same way, addressing “inequality” can be messy if you are not dealing with the bigger issues, which may include, but are not limited to:

(1) Perceptions of management (i.e., Is management too lax? Is the management team akin to the “good ‘ole boys club”?)

(2) Communication (i.e., Was this person hired because he is black or because he is the best qualified for the job? Why was the Office of Diversity created in the first place?)

(3) Informal rules (i.e., Is hiring based on “who you know” or is there a formal process? Is discipline informal or are there written policies?)


JL: The last question is for Tracy Chou. Tracy, your initiative to create a gender baseline for the Silicon Valley’s workforce was an important first step toward improving representation. One question: Pinterest’s diversity numbers among tech workers has grown from 13% to 20%. This news, along with Intel’s recent announcement of committing $300 million dollars toward diversifying their workforce is great news for diversity. What do you think the future looks like for addressing this issue and are you encouraged?tech_caption5

Tracy Chou: The first part of addressing this issue, which is already underway, is heightened awareness and sensitivity to it. We still have a long way to go on this front, though. In the immediate future, we’re still working towards broad-based awareness, a more nuanced understanding of pipeline and retention issues, cutting across gender, race, and other lines, to drive a deep commitment to change. It’s not enough for PR to pay lip service to change and throw some money around. It’s everyone’s job to care and to ensure that change is effected at all levels. To that end, the next part of addressing this issue is an orientation towards outcomes; we need to try different approaches, learn which ones work and which ones doesn’t, and iterate. This will all go much faster if we are honest with each other and willing to work together. In the same way that publishing statistics on current demographics has been critical to establish a broad baseline and thus our starting point, continued transparency on the various strategies and tactics being deployed, and their efficacy, is important for us as an industry to figure out the right direction to go and how to accelerate our movement in that direction.

I’m generally very encouraged by the heightened discourse on diversity issues in the past year; it’s starting to reach prominence even in mainstream media. I see momentum and I am hopeful we can capitalize on it.

Special thanks to all who contributed. More to come.

Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The Academy Awards
The children’s book industry
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics
Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

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

Using Infographics In The Classroom To Teach Visual Literacy

For press inquiries or permission to reprint, please contact Hannah Ehrlich at hehrlich[at]leeandlow[dot]com.



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12. Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and You Should Too)

  • Gleam and Glow written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Peter Sylvada
  • Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
  • Hiroshima No Pika written and illustrated by Toshi Maruki
  • Fox written by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ron Brooks
  • The Harmonica written by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
  • Peppe the Lamplighter written by Eliza Bartone, illustrated by Ted Lewin
  • The Shark God written by Rafe Martin, illustrated by David Shannon

What do they all have in common?

  1. They have very sad and dark themes
  2. I love to read them to third graders

According to the What Kids Are Reading report from Renaissance Learning and Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic, it seems pretty clear that funny books are the most popular when choosing books for unassigned reading. In the Kids & Family Reading Report, 70% of 2,558 parents and children look for a book that “makes me laugh.” As you scroll across the top fiction titles per grade of the 9.8 million students from 31,633 schools nationwide who read more than 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year tracked in the What Kids are Reading, you see the same lighthearted, amusing titles appear over and over again.

Although these reports do not encompass all the books students read or measure all the students in the United States, these do provide useful snapshots into the homes and schools of today’s young readers.

I get it: Light humorous fiction provides much-needed escape and reminds readers not to take the world or ourselves too seriously. These books offer an escape from harsh realities and a place to dream and imagine another, better, or different world.

Sad and Dark Books for ChildrenWhile I encourage all readers to choose their own books based on their interests, needs, and experiences, our unique roles as educators make us critical influencers on exposing students to a wide variety of texts they might not have considered for themselves.

Some of my most meaningful teaching moments and conversations came when the 27 of us would be clustered together on the carpet reading one of those texts. When we read Fox, my students were disturbed at the Fox-Magpie-Dog relationship and were dismayed by Magpie’s actions. This led us to a discussion (and away from the day’s read aloud lesson plan…) about betrayal they had experienced in friendships and families.

The world is messy, sad, and dark. Kids face racism, poverty, homelessness, neglect, violence, hunger, sexism, divorce, disempowerment, and more. Sharing sad or dark books with students starting in elementary school, like A Shelter in Our Car and When the Horses Ride By, challenges students emotionally and recognizes their realities and capacity to empathize.

Using books with dark themes or settings in the classroom can give students the language to express their emotions, models for how to discuss and engage on these topics with adults and peers, and a safe space to explore difficult topics. When students read about characters struggling with abuse, bullying, or poverty, they also see how the characters found strength and resources to cope and thrive.

Think of your most memorable texts from middle school, high school, or college. The further students advance into social studies and literature they engage with darker subjects and content. Incorporating such texts early on stretches the types of books young readers can see themselves reading and liking, as well as prepares students for analyzing complex themes and characters.

Next read aloud, choose a sad, dark book because it can:

  • provide an opener into difficult conversations and topics
  • offer complex themes, characters, and motivations worthy of multiple readings
  • give young readers words to express what they are feeling or experiencing
  • model how we act and talk about tough situations, including the grieving process, processing anger, witnessing trauma or violence
  • reinforce the development of the whole child: we want children to explore the whole human condition and develop empathy
  • prepare young readers for the world they belong in and will someday lead
  • prepare them for profound, challenging books to come in middle school and high school  (hello, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Metamorphosis, Their Eyes Were Watching God among so many others)

When I look for a meaningful text, I am on the hunt for authors and illustrators who have tackled difficult topics with not only respect, but also with honesty and with the perception that even the hardest topics like racism, sexism, poverty, and war can be understood by children.

Things to think about when selecting a sad or dark book:

  1. What is the purpose of introducing a sad, dark book?
  2. Is this the best book for the unit’s content or skill?
  3. Where do parents fit in this?
  4. What background information do students need beforehand to handle, appreciate, and comprehend this book and its message(s)?
  5. What follow-up discussion or activities should I organize to help students process and appreciate this book?

There are many authors and illustrators who are finding powerful stories, communicating difficult subjects to children, and treating young people with respect and dignity. Looking for your next thought-provoking book to explore with students? Try…

What are the saddest, darkest books your students love? Share with us!

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

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13. Where to Find Culturally Diverse Literature to Pair with Your Required Curriculum

We hear over and over again from teachers across the country how they want to infuse more culturally responsive and relevant texts into their district or school-mandated curriculum.

It’s challenging to do, but what if we had some resources to share to help you out?

First, read: If you haven’t read this article from Reading Teacher, here’s your chance. Authors Fenice Boyd, Lauren Causey, and Lee Glada offer teachers great suggestions for culturally diverse literature that addresses Common Core standards in this Reading Teacher article (PDF).

What is “culturally relevant teaching?” Heather Coffey at LEARN NC, a program of the UNC School of Education, shares the history and theory.

Culturally Diverse Lit

Here are some places teachers are finding culturally relevant / responsive texts and (just as vital) ready-to-go lesson plans. Check out:

  • The Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project (TCICP) offers concrete examples for teachers to make their classrooms more inclusive, such as the Culturally Relevant Curriculum practice and inquiry. These were created by (NYC) teachers for teachers
  • Utah public school teachers created these multicultural lesson plans during their Center for Documentary Expression and Art course, “Multiculturalism and Storytelling,” available through the Utah Education Network (UEN) lesson library
  • The Lewis Library at the Loyola University Chicago Libraries has created this amazing visual resource for teachers at its School of Education to find multicultural books right for their students and instructional strategies
  • POV at PBS provides lessons exploring multiculturalism to pair with its films for grades 6 and up
  • TeachPeaceNow has literature-based lesson plans covering social justice topics to include in your curriculum
  • ArtsEdge, an education program of The Kennedy Center, has written detailed ready-to-implement lessons on American culture and comparing cultural holidays (just to highlight a few)
  • TeachableMoment from Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers inquiry-oriented lessons on current issues and social and emotional learning

For even more ideas for discovering diverse literature that’s will pair with your curriculum, check out A More Diverse Reading List: Resources to Expand CCSS-aligned Texts compiled by Lee & Low Books.

Where do you recommend teachers find lessons plans that align with their curriculum and incorporate diverse literature? Share with us!

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

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14. 4 Mentor Texts and Activities for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. With so many forms of poetry to explore and share with students, what will you choose? 

Here are 4 ideas for using mentor texts to guide students in poetry study.

Additional bonus: a letter to teachers from author and poet, Pat Mora, on the power of poetry.

Poetry MonthPoem type: FOUND POETRY

Mentor Text: Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet

Activity with students: Students select words and phrases from a primary text and use those words to create their own unique poems.

As “Primary Sources + Found Poetry = Celebrate Poetry Month” suggests, the Library of Congress proposes an innovative way to combine poetry and nonfiction. Teaching With The Library of Congress recently re-posted the Found Poetry Primary Source Set that “supports students in honing their reading and historical comprehension skills by creating poetry based upon informational text and images.” Students will study primary source documents, pull words and phrases that show the central idea, and then use those pieces to create their own poems.

This project not only enables teachers to identify whether a student grasps a central idea of a text, but also encourages students to interact with primary sources in much the same way as Etched In Clay’s Andrea Cheng. When researching Dave’s life and drawing inspiration for her verses, Andrea Cheng integrated the small pieces of evidence of Dave’s life, including poems on his pots and the bills of sale.

Lee & Low teacher’s guide

Poem type: HAIKU

Mentor Text: Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Activity with students: Students write haiku using sensory language and drawing inspiration from body movement, music, and art to create their own haiku.

Check out the classroom-tested, standards-aligned lesson plan Experiencing Haiku Through Mindfulness, Movement & Music by Rashna Wadia with Cool Melons— Turn to Frogs! provided by ReadWriteThink.org, a website developed by the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Additional resources:

Lee & Low teacher’s guide


Mentor Text: Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Activity with students: Students choose a building to describe in a poem and shape the poem to look like the building.

In Reading is Fundamental’s educator activity guide for, Dreaming Up, encourage students to try the writing activity “Shape It Up:” Let students pick a type of building and write a poem describing that building (how it looks, its purpose, etc). Students should write their poems on white paper in the shape of the building and decorate the background. (RIF)

Lee & Low teacher’s guide


Mentor Text: Chess Rumble

Activity with students: Students compare narrative and lyric poetry and write their own narrative poem based on real or imagined experiences or events.

Check out the research-based novel study unit for Chess Rumble created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org. Students will compare the story elements of Chess Rumble to Where the Sidewalk Ends and Keeping the Night Watch.

Next, students write their unique narrative poem—for tips “by youth for youth” check out How to Write a Narrative Poem from Power Poetry.

Further reading on using poetry in the classroom:

What are your favorite poems to enjoy in the classroom? Share with us!

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

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15. 7 End-of-Year Field Trips and Book Pairings That Your Students Will Love (but won’t break the bank)

Assessments may not feel far enough in the past (or perhaps haven’t even started!), but the end of the year is fast approaching and field trip planning is in full force!

It can feel like a scramble. For our final science unit in third grade, my colleagues and I wanted to teach our students about animal adaptions by raising trout in the classroom. It was an incredible opportunity to study the behavioral and physical adaptions of a specific species, but timing their release with a scheduled field trip was tricky. We didn’t know until a week ahead when the fish would be ready for release, which led to a mad rush to book buses.

In case you want to plan a field trip with more than a week of planning, here are some ideas with book pairings to get you ahead of schedule and your students excited!

Field trips

If your unit is…

  1. Habitats, Ecosystems, & Biodiversity

NYC field trip: Central Park Zoo

Book Pairing: Puffling Patrol

How to find puffins near you (if outside of NYC): Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo or aquarium close to your school. Most zoo and aquarium websites will list the animals they have.

Virtual field trip: Puffin burrow bird cam from Explore.org

The art and facts are stunning in this Lee & Low book where children can learn about puffin adaptations and their life cycle. After reading about the adorable creatures, fall in love with the real deal: tufted puffins at the Central Park Zoo.

  1. The Solar System & the Moon

NYC field trip: Hayden Planetarium or Hudson River Museum

Book Pairing: A Full Moon is Rising

How to embark on moon exploration near you (if outside of NYC): Go-astronmy.com has put together a national map to search for local planetariums.

Virtual field trip: Amazing Space

Alongside the science, students love to study folktales and mythology from around the world featuring and explaining the solar system and moon. Introduce the significance of the moon in world cultures, with this Lee & Low title which gives readers a world tour of diverse celebrations and beliefs regarding Earth’s only natural satellite.

  1. Plant Adaptations

NYC field trip: Queens County Farm Museum and other farm field trips from GrowNYC.org

Book Pairing: Rainbow Stew, Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué rico! America’s Sproutings, and Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic

How to find a garden near you (if outside of NYC): Check out Better Homes and Gardens’ Garden Locator and the National Gardening Association’s Public Gardens Locator

Virtual field trip: My First Garden from University of Illinois Extension program

Share the joy of growing healthy food and the experiences of working the land with these Lee & Low titles!

  1. Life Cycles and Animal Adaptations

In NYC field trip: The Butterfly Conservatory at the Natural History Museum

Book Pairing: Leo and the Butterflies, Animal Poems of the Iguazu, and Butterflies for Kiri

How to find butterflies near you (if outside of NYC): Discover a butterfly house in your state. Also, the  Association of Zoos & Aquariums makes it easy to find a zoo close to your school.

Virtual field trip: Butterflies and Moths of North America, Journey North with monarchs, and Wildscreen ArKive

What better way to celebrate these amazing creatures than to marvel at their incredible adaptations up close?


  1. Natural Resources, Human Impact, & Sustainability

In NYC field trip: Hudson River Park

Book Pairing: Water Rolls, Water Rises and I Know the River Loves Me

How to find a body of water near you (if outside of NYC): The National Park Service has created the Find a Park search tool to discover a park by location, activity, or topic.

Virtual field trip: Interactive animation, “The NYC Water Story,” from American Museum of Natural History’s Water: H2O=Life exhibit

Foster respect and a sense of responsibility about the environment with hands-on, outdoors learning and these stunning stories that pack a powerful message about one of our most precious resources.

  1. Recycling

In NYC field trip: Sims Municipal Recycling: Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility in Brooklyn

Book Pairing: The Can Man

How to find a recycling center or landfill near you (if outside of NYC): Many recycling centers and landfills offer student tours and you can find one near your school here.  It is recommended to call to see if the nearest one to you does school programs.

Virtual field trip: My Garbology from Naturebridge.org

Learn about the impact of recycling on the environment and human relationships.

  1. Physics: Forces & Energy

In NY State field trip: Baseball Hall of Fame or professional baseball stadium

Book Pairing: Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy, Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream, and Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer

How to find a baseball stadium near you (if outside of NYC): Maps are available to find the nearest major league baseball stadium and most offer student discounts or field trip tours. Minor League Baseball also has a map for its stadiums. For the most accessible option, check here and you can find a local baseball field for students to play themselves or see community members try out the laws of physics.

Virtual field trip: Exploratorium’s Science of Baseball

Long considered America’s “national pastime,” baseball has had major historic milestones paralleling societal changes and attitudes. Readers of all ages delight in learning about overlooked, but nevertheless significant, pioneers in the sport and trivia like the origins of baseball coaching signals.

Pair a Lee & Low title to your beyond-the-classroom-walls adventure to deepen background knowledge and create an interdisciplinary, multi-media experience. Young learners will never forget the time you made the book come alive with a visit to any one of these sights.

You may have a dozens of reminders set, but here is a thorough list to help you plan and execute a successful field trip from the educators at Learn NC.

Field Trip Funding:

  • DonorsChoose.org –For inspiration and proposal models, be sure to study what other teachers in your area and around the country are requesting for their field trips
  • Target Field Trip Grants—These are accepted in August and September only, but this grant option is one of the most popular for teachers around the country
  • ClassWallet
  • Every Kid in a Park—new initiative to help all fourth graders and their families explore our national parks for free
  • Ticket to Ride—National Park Foundation’s answer to transportation costs to and from the national parks and monuments
  • Student Achievement Grants—from the NEA Foundation
  • Road Scholarship from Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA) Foundation—financial aid for individual students unable to afford to travel
  • PTA—your local PTA may have additional opportunities, ideas, and grants to fund your field trip

Local funding options:

Resources for virtual field trips:

Free ipad Apps for Virtual Field Trips from Edutopia

What are your experiences and tips on bridging a field trip with classroom content? What books have you used in the classroom or at home to begin or culminate a learning adventure? Share with us!

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

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16. Interpreting César Chávez’s Legacy with Students

Guest BloggerIn this guest post, Sara Burnett, education associate at the American Immigration Council, presents strategies and resources to enrich the classroom with the legacy of César Chávez. This blog post was originally posted at the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration blog.

“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.”   — César Chávez

César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rightsWhen the man who feeds the world by leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.

One group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL has done just that by writing and producing a short news broadcast “The Hands That Feed Us: A Migrant Farm Workers Service Project,” highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Their teachers are winners of the American Immigration Council’s 2014 community grants program which helped to fund this service-learning opportunity. Their project culminates with a school-wide donation drive for materials sorely needed for migrant farmworkers.

Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez? 

Start with a lesson

Interpreting the Impact of César Chávez’s Early Years

In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements.  First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy.  Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development.  This Common-Core aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels.

Use visuals and picture booksCESAR

Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.

Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California’s Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.”

First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school

Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the poet’s account of his own childhood as a migrant farmworker.  Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.

A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.

Initiate a community service project

Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families.  Take inspiration from the students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive project and let us know about it and apply for our community grants.

Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers

Read How Inaction on Immigration Impacts the Agricultural Economy (American Immigration Council) and What happens when more than half of migrant workers are undocumented? (Michigan Radio)  Ask students: What is the status of migrant labor today in the U.S.?  How much has changed and stayed the same since Chávez’s early childhood?

Read Interview with a Crab Picker (Public Welfare Foundation) and explore what it is like to apply for U.S. jobs while residing in the home country.  Pair this reading with the short film about a Public Welfare Foundation grantee: Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc. available on their website. Ask students:  How do these recent interviews and stories compare and contrast with the conditions facing Chávez and his family? How are some individuals in home countries benefitting from sending migrant workers to the U.S.?

Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students?  We’d love to hear them.  Email us at teacher@immcouncil.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.

Sara SelfSara Burnett is the education associate at the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to honoring our nation’s immigrant past and shaping our immigrant future. She was a former public high school English teacher in Washington D.C. and Vermont. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught a service-learning and creative writing with undergraduates and recently immigrated high school students. Additionally, she holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont, and a BA in English and Economics from Boston College. 

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17. Reading for the Earth: Ultimate Earth Day Resource Roundup

Earth Day, April 22nd is right around the corner, and we at Lee & Low are some pretty big fans of this blue planet we live on. So, whether you choose to plant a tree or pledge to better uphold the 3 R’s -reduce, reuse, recycle- we are celebrating and promoting awareness the best way we know how- with books!

Here are 5 environmentally friendly collections to bring nature READING FOR 1 yellowindoors & encourage “thinking green”:

Save the Planet: Environmental Action Earth Day Collection: Be inspired to be an advocate for planet Earth through the true stories of threatened ecosystems, environmental recovery efforts and restorations plans, and heroic actions. Like the individuals and communities explored in these stories, children everywhere will realize the difference they can make in protecting our planet and preserving its natural resources.

Earth Day Poetry Collection: Through rhythm and verse, float down the cool river, reach as high as the tallest tree, and search for all of the vibrant colors of the rainbow in the natural world. This collection of poetry books are inspired by the joy and wonder of being outdoors and brings the sight and sounds of nature and all of its wildlife to life.

Seasonal Poems Earth Day Collection: Travel through winter, spring, summer, & fall through a series of bilingual seasonal poems by renowned poet and educator, Francisco Alarcón.  Learn about family, community, and caring for each other and the natural environment we live in.

Adventures Around the World Collection: Explore Africa while traversing Botswana’s lush grasslands and Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest, celebrate the deep-seeded respect for wildlife in India, Mongolia and on an island off the coast of Iceland, and journey to Australia to explore animals found nowhere else on Earth.

Vanishing Cultures Collection: The 7-book series introduces readers to the Yanomama of the Amazon Basin, Aborigines of Australia, Sami of the European Arctic, Inuit of the North American Arctic, Tibetans and Sherpas from the Himalaya, Mongolians of Asia, and Tuareg of the Sahara.

Lesson Plans & Ideas:

What fun is Earth Day if you don’t get your hands a little dirty? Bring some of the outdoors into your classroom-or vice versa- by engaging students in various hands-on and project-based Earth Day lessons and activities:

Earth Day Curriculum Resources, Grades K-5 from The National Earth Day BooksEducation Council. Features lesson plans, units, useful websites, games & activities, printables, and video.

Environmental Education Activities & Resources from The National Education Council. Features lesson plans, activities, projects, games, and professional development ideas.

Celebrate Earth Day! from ReadWriteThink. Features a classroom activity, 6 lesson plans for grades K-2, 6-8, and 7-9 & other Earth Day resources for kids.

Nature Works Everywhere from the Nature Conservancy. Features lessons, video, and tools to help students learn about and understand nature in various environments and ecosystems across the globe.

Check out the research-based read aloud and paired text lessons for The Mangrove Tree created by the staff at the award-winning, non-profit ReadWorks.org

Explore the educator activities for The Mangrove Tree and Buffalo Song, titles featured in RIF’s Multicultural Book Collections. To find other free activities that inspire young readers as well as learn more about Reading Is Fundamental, visit RIF.org

Activities, Projects, & Video:

Greening STEM Educator Toolkits from National Environmental Education Week. Features toolkits for activities based on water, climate, energy, and engineering a sustainable world through project-based service learning.

NOVA Earth System Science Collection from PBS LearningMedia. Standards-based video collection that explores important Earth processes and “ the intricate web of forces that sustain life on Earth.”

22 Interactive Lessons to Bring Earth Day to Life from Mind/Shift. Features informational videos, images, and other forms of multi-media highlighting research on biodegradation, climate change, waste, energy sources, and sustainable practices.

I Want to Be Recycled from Keep America Beautiful. Find out how different kinds of materials are recycled, transforming trash into new things. Students can play a super sorter game and start a recycling movement in their community.

Journey North: A Global Study of Wildlife Migration & Seasonal Change from Learner.org. Track various migratory species with classrooms across the world.

The Global Water Sampling Project from the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE). Students from all over the world collaborate to compare the water quality of various fresh water sources.

Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Learn how to begin a waste reduction program in your school or community with helpful guides and resource tool kits.

Wildlife Watch from the National Wildlife Federation. Learn about and monitor the wildlife where you live, helping track the health and behavior of wildlife and plant species across the nation.

What’s Your DOT (Do One Thing)? from the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Pledge your DOT (Do One Thing) to take action and inspire others to make a difference.

Plant a Poem, Plant a Flower from the blog Sturdy for Common Things. Since April celebrates both National Poetry Month & Earth Day, why not plant a little poetry in nature?

And finally… some Earth Day treats!

Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips
Earth Day Cookies from Tammilee Tips at tammileetips.com


Earth Day Cookies

Earth Day Dirt Cup

Earth Day Cupcakes






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

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18. What is Día de los niños/Día de los Libros? 5 Questions for Pat Mora

Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) is an annual celebration of books and literacy that takes place each year on our near April 30. The American Library Association says:

Día is a nationally recognized initiative that emphasizes the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds. It is a daily commitment to linking children and their families to diverse books, languages and cultures.

Pat MoraDía’s founder, and one of its biggest proponents, is award-winning author Pat Mora. We asked her 5 questions about the holiday and how to celebrate it:

What is bookjoy and how do you hope Día will cultivate it in young/early readers?

I coined the word bookjoy to convey the private and delicious pleasure of enjoying time with books. Little ones can thoroughly experience bookjoy long before they’re readers if the adults around them share excitement about books.

What impact is Día having on communities where it is celebrated?

Día strengthens communities because it brings diverse children and families together to celebrate all our children and to connect them to bookjoy. Día is a year-long commitment to share literacy creatively with culminating celebrations held in April on or near How to Celebrate Día de los niños/Día de los LibrosApril 30th.

Do you feel that the recent push for more diversity in publishing (especially with the We Need Diverse Books community campaign) has sparked renewed interest in Día?

I hope so. We celebrate Dia’s 20th Anniversary April 2016. For years, I’ve written and spoken about the importance of a national book community, including publishers, authors, illustrators, and award committees, and reviewers that reflect the diversity of our children. Those of us in this community need to participate in creating a body of children’s literature that honors our plurality.

What would you say to a library or school that wants to celebrate Día but doesn’t have many resources at its disposal?

Those of us committed to Children’s Day, Book Day, in Spanish El día de los niños, El día de los libros are creating a tradition in the same way that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are traditions in our country. Exciting: honoring all children and sharing bookjoy with them. Some April observances are small and some are big, but the important element is annually sharing this tradition. Literacy is essential in a democracy. Let’s celebrate kids and books!

What role does community play in the celebration of Día? How can individual readers support or celebrate Día?

Readers enjoy sharing an important value in our lives: books! We can ask our nearby or local schools and libraries if they celebrate Día and be prepared to explain what it is and why it’s important. We can volunteer to help or provide a donation. Many Día celebrations include book-giveaways and books as prizes. Schools and libraries welcome our support. When diverse groups of diverse ages join together for children, it energizes communities.

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19. Pinterest Roundup: 100’s of End-of-the-Year DIY Ideas for Teachers & Students

Pinterest has become a teacher’s go-to source for all sorts of curation inspiration. If you’re like me, you can browse and pin for hours without even once questioning when you’ll have time to DIY your heart out or eat everything pinned to your food inspiration board.

So, since June is right around the corner we thought we’d help you get a head start thinking about and planning some fun end-of-the-year tokens of appreciation. Whether you’re a teacher, student, or parent, Pinterest has an overwhelming amount of DIY-inspired gifts to celebrate the end of the school year and kick-off the start of the summer.

 Teachers: 8 gift roundups (& no apples in sight!)Pinterest roundup

101 Easy & Creative Teacher Gift Ideas from The Dating Divas. An impressive list of over 100 teacher gift ideas broken down by category: the first day of school, appreciation gift ideas, end-of-the-year ideas, and even 2 bonus gift ideas for the bus driver.

Teacher Gift Ideas in Mason Jars from Mason Jar Crafts Love. If I had to describe Pinterest in two words it might just be mason jar. But dare to challenge their all-inclusive, miscellaneous nature and you’ll surely be disappointed.

20 Cheap, Easy, Cute & Practical Teacher Appreciation Gifts from It’s Always Autumn. You’ll find less of the cutesy, where-am-I-going-to-put-this DIY projects and more practical gift ideas that teachers can actually use, from classroom supplies to gift cards.

28 Pun-Tastic Teacher Gifts from BuzzFeed. A laugh-out-loud collection of “punny” printables and DIY ideas for your “uh-mason” teacher or “berry sweet” students.

DIY Treat Bag Tags-Teacher Appreciation from The Busy Budgeting Mama. You can never go wrong with an edible gift, particularly those made with sugar. Here are 5 printable tags to say thanks in a sweet way.

25 Teacher Appreciation Ideas That Teachers Will Love by Crazy Little Projects. This roundup of 25 usable and practical DIY gifts hits it on the head for most teachers. I would be ecstatic to receive anything on this list.

4 Gifts That Teachers ACTUALLY Want (told by teachers!) from A Girl and a Glue Gun. This roundup of teacher-minded gifts shows you how to make what teachers really need and want-from cleaning wipes to pizza gift cards- feel personal and special.

from the blog Love The Day

 FREE Teacher Appreciation Cards from The Chickabug Blog. Overwhelmed by Pinterest’s crafting skills? Are you a self-aware last-minute gifter? Or maybe you just have a sarcastic sense of humor? Look no further. This list of printable teacher gift card holders is here to save the day.

The Archives: These blogs are a treasure trove of teacherappreciation gift ideas, many more than can be covered in 

thisroundup. Here, you’ll find teacher gifts for any and every occasion throughout the school year.

Teacher Appreciation Ideas from Skip to My Lou. 10 whole pages worth of ideas to thank a teacher. Need I say more? This is one you’ll want to bookmark for later.

Teacher Appreciation/School from Eighteen 25. Printables, printables, printables! This blog is chock-full of cheesy tags & quick DIY gift ideas for teachers that are practical, yummy, and great keepsakes.

Teacher Appreciation/School from The Domesticated Lady. An archive of teacher gift ideas and even “s’more” puns.

Teacher Appreciation Gifts from The Happy Scraps. Teacher gifts for any occasion, these DIY ideas are quick and as simple as possible without breaking the bank.

Students: 8 ways to settle those testing nerves and end the year on a high note with your students.

 End of the Year Gifts! from Lessons With Laughter. Your students’ futures are bright! But with cool sunglasses to wear, a survival kit bucket for life by their side, and having had you as a teacher they’re sure to be headed in the right direction.

Smartie Pants from The Muddy Princess. These are the best kinds of “smartie pants.” All you need is some cardstock, brads, glue, and Smarties!

Sidewalk Chalk End of School Year Student Gift Idea & Free Printable from My Sweet Sanity. Puns make the teacher and student DIY gifts really special, and this “chalk full” of fun idea is no exception. Any inexpensive, summer-themed gift that encourages kids to head outdoors is definitely a winner.

from the blog The Muddy Princess

Have a “Kool” Summer- End of Year Goodbye Gift for Classmatesfrom The Crafted Sparrow. Oh so “kool!” Kool-Aid packets and crazy straws just might make you the koolest teacher/parent around.

End of the Year Gift for 2nd Graders from Drama Mama’s LittleCorner. There is only one small problem with this ice-pop gift idea and it’s that it’s being limited to second grade. Ice pops RULE!

Easy End of the Year Student Gift from Happy Home Fairy. Just like the school year, these Frisbees will fly (just hopefully not at your head!).

Candy Gram Ideas from Happy Home Fairy. Candy grams are always sweet motivation for either starting or ending the school year.

Graduation Gift Idea Printable Seed Packets from Pre K-Pages. Just as you helped them plant seeds of knowledge, encourage students to keep growing their minds with this gift. Not only perfect end-of-the-year gifts for students and teachers, Forget Me Not seedlings make memorable graduation gifts.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Pinterest then we want to connect! Follow Lee & Low Books on Pinterest here.

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

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20. How to Read With Your Rising First Graders and Kinders This Summer

For parents of soon-to-be kindergartners and first graders, helping their children be prepared for the start of school can be exciting and daunting (and not just for students).

What can parents do over the summer to help their children maintain the growth they made this past year in preschool or kindergarten and be ready to tackle new topics and skills in the fall?

Below is one way parents can read and explore books over the summer. This model can be adapted for both fiction and nonfiction texts and follows how many teachers practice guided reading, which children may experience the first time in the upcoming school year.

I’m going to model how parents can practice reading using the text, David’s Drawings.

We do not need to, nor should we, ask every question for every book during every reading time. We may have only four minutes of our child’s attention one day and maybe twenty on another. The goal is not to drill our youngest learners in Common Core standards by the start of school.

Rather, the ultimate goal here is to show our beginning and soon-to-be readers how reading can be a joyful, positive experience. This mindset will set them up for the best start to their school journey.

Getting Ready to Read

1. Questions to ask and talk through with our rising kinders or first graders about the book:

  • Who is the author? / Show me where the author is on the cover. What does an author do?
  • Who is the illustrator? / Show me where the illustrator is on the cover. What does an illustrator do?
  • Where is the front cover? The back cover? The title page of the book?
  • As we read, which direction do we read the words?

2. Practice making predictions:

  • Together, look at the front cover. Using the title and picture on the cover, ask: what might happen in the story? What makes you think that?
  • Take a picture walk through the book. Ask: What do you think this story will be about? What do you notice when you look through this book?

3. Build background schema and draw on your child’s past experiences:

  • What do you know about drawing, or making a picture?
  • What types of things do you like to draw?
  • Where do artists get their ideas for drawings and paintings?
  • Who might help you draw a picture?

Reading the Book

  • As you begin to read, make sure the book is between both of you so your child can clearly see the text (and illustrations) and be in the position of the reader (rather than a regular listener at a group story time).
  • Make sure to point your finger to each word as it is read aloud. In doing so, your child can follow the text as well as the storyline and learn that we derive meaning from print—we in fact are not just making up a story to match the pictures we are seeing!

Video examples of parents reading with primary grade students:

After Reading

Discuss the meaning of the text. Here are some questions to check comprehension during and after the reading. (CCSS Key Ideas and Details)

  • Who is the main character? Or, who is David?
  • Where does the story take place? When does the story take place?
  • Where does David get his idea for his picture?
  • What details do his classmates add to David’s tree?
  • How does David feel when the other children draw on his picture? Share a time you felt the same way.
  • Why do you think David decides to make another drawing when he arrives home?
  • What does this story remind you of?
  • Could this really happen?
  • Do you think David is polite? Why or why not?
  • If you were to add one more page to the story, what do you think would happen next?
  • Why do you think the author, Cathryn Falwell, picks the title, David’s Drawings? Do you think this is a good title for the book? Why do you think so?
  • What do you think might happen the next time David starts a drawing in class?
  • Why do you think David isn’t shy anymore at the end of the story?
  • What was an interesting part for you in the story? Or, what part of the story made you smile? Why?

Video examples demonstrating book comprehension:

rising kinder readingExplore foundational skills and language:

  • Please show me a word that starts with the uppercase letter D. Show me a word that starts with the lowercase letter p.
  • Put your finger on a word that starts with b. Put your finger on a word that ends with e.
  • Can you think of another word you know that rhymes with day?
  • Can you show me a sentence that has a question mark at the end? A period? An exclamation point?
  • Can you show me a word that ends in –ed? –s?
  • Find a word that starts with the same letter as your name.
  • Find a word that ends with the same letter as your name.
  • Find a word that has a letter that is in your name.
  • Can you show me the (high frequency) words: the, of, and, a, to, you, on, I, me, my? Many primary grade classrooms build reading fluency with sight word practice. For a review for rising first graders or a peak for rising kinders, here are kindergarten high frequency word lists:

Post-Reading Activities

Done with sitting still? Time to move but keep the connections going!

1. Write or draw an answer to this question: Would you be friends with David?

2. Find a tree near school, at a park, or near your home. Sketch it using a pencil and then later decorate it.

3. Re-read the story or have another adult read the story—re-reading stories is great for helping children practice fluency, make predictions, retell events, and build confidence in eventually reading parts on their own.

For more further ideas on early literacy:

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. In her weekly column at The Open Book, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

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21. 2015 Diverse Summer Reading Book Lists K-8

June is finally here! Winter is already a long distant memory and students are becoming more and more fixated on the summer vacation countdowns they started in January, daydreaming of exciting and unknown summer plans, camp adventures, and seemingly endless free time.

But just because school year is (almost) over, doesn’t mean reading has to come to a halt. In fact, we are well aware of the importance of having access to books and the harmful effects of the slippery slope that is the summer slide:

To keep our children reading all summer long, LEE & LOW has put together several Diverse Summer Reading Book Lists and printables for grades K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-8, which you can freely download and share here or find listed below. Each list contains books that not only highlight different interests, such as sports, music, sci-fi/fantasy, and the environment, but also personally connect with students of diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions.

Diverse Summer Reading ListsLEE & LOW Summer Reading Book Lists by grade:

LEE & LOW Summer Reading Printables:

It is important to remember that diverse books are not only for diverse readers. Reading books featuring diverse characters and communities not only mirror experiences in their own lives, allowing children to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but also provide windows into other life experiences to understand and be more accepting of the world around them. If you’re still wondering why diverse books then take a look here:

There are many great organizations compiling and creating Summer Reading Book Lists and offering free, exciting programs and challenges. Be sure to check out your local library as well as the following groups for additional summer reading tips, suggestions, and ideas:

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

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22. Choosing the World Our Students Read

13089CT01.tifteaching toleranceEmily Chiariello is a Teaching and Learning Specialist with Teaching Tolerance. She has 15 years’ experience as a classroom teacher, professional development and curriculum designer in public, charter and alternative school settings, as well as with non-profit organizations. She holds a master’s degree in philosophy and social policy and is certified in secondary social studies.

Here she discusses Teaching Tolerance’s new curriculum tool, “Project Appendix D,” that empowers educators to identify texts that both meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and reflect the world in which our students live. This blog post was originally posted at the Teaching Tolerance blog.

Teaching Tolerance image (2)

by Emily Chiariello

Does the Common Core limit what texts teachers can use? While many people think so, we don’t. Teaching Tolerance believes it is possible—and important—to choose texts that are both rigorous and relevant. Read on to learn about a new approach to text selection: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts. This exciting project goes beyond the resources offered in Appendices A and B and offers a new world of possibilities within literacy instruction.

Appendices A and B

Teachers are expected—per the CCSS’s Appendix A—to select more complex texts, teach more nonfiction and ask more text-dependent questions. But do they feel less empowered to choose readings about social justice or to locate texts that reflect the identities and histories of their students and communities? We’re concerned the answer is yes. We know that teachers want texts that mirror their students’ lives. And to achieve equitable outcomes, the Common Core must be implemented in culturally responsive ways that address social emotional learning as well as academic goals. Yet, this kind of implementation is not happening in most districts.

At first glance, one might think that the “Reader and Task” portion of the text selection model in Appendix A makes room for culturally responsive instructional decisions. Instead, there’s only a brief and bland mention of “reader variables”—motivation, knowledge and experiences—ultimately eclipsed by the other two measures: hard Lexile scores (quantitative) and subjective interpretations of meaning and purpose (qualitative).

pull-quoteAnd then there’s the stark imprint of privilege found in the gaps and silences of Appendix B, a list of “text exemplars” that meet the aforementioned approach to text complexity, quality and range. Too many publishers—and districts, too—have interpreted the text exemplars listed in Appendix B as a required reading list.

Woefully few examples of cultural relevance can be found in “Common Core-aligned” materials and trainings, including Appendix B. Jane M. Gangi, professor of education at Mount Saint Mary College, has analyzed Appendix B and found that, of the 171 texts recommended for children in K-5, only 18 are by authors of color, and few reflect the lives of children of color and children in poverty.

Appendix D

We believe that educators—teachers, librarians and literacy specialists—who work in classrooms every day are in the best positions to identify texts that engage diverse students.

That’s why we’re excited to share our new project: Appendix D: A Tool for Selecting Diverse Texts. Traditionally, tools that support text selection have focused on quantitative and qualitative measures only. But Appendix D promotes a multi-dimensional approach to text selection that prioritizes complexity as well as critical literacy and cultural responsiveness.

Appendix D empowers educators to rely on their knowledge of their students, rather than a prepopulated lists of titles, when selecting texts. The tool walks users through four distinct—but interconnected—text-selection considerations: complexity, diversity and representation, critical literacy, and reader and task. And it’s an editable PDF, allowing folks to document, save and share their text-selection process. (Be sure to download to unlock the editing capabilities.)

So, why a tool and not a list? There are commendable lists out there. Gangi and the Collaborative for Equity Literacy Learning (CELL) assembled an alternative list of multicultural titles, but they are not leveled for teachers to assess text complexity. Others, like publishers LEE & LOW, work to bring more diversity and representation into classroom libraries, and to the task of text selection. However, none of the lists we’ve investigated encompass texts that are both culturally relevant and meet the Common Core’s requirements for complexity. And, unless it is dynamic, any list of diverse books is only as diverse as the person—or people—who made it.

We hope the TT community will use Appendix D to help us grow a dynamic and diverse list of texts based on the four considerations and on the diverse needs of our students. We’ve started with the titles currently found in Perspectives for a Diverse America, our new anti-bias curriculum. In the months to come, as you use the Appendix D tool in your own practice, think of which complex, culturally relevant titles you think your fellow social justice educators would want to know about—and be on the lookout for an invitation to submit your texts to the ever-growing, ever-changing TT community list!

Paulo Freire wrote that, when we read words, we read the world. Don’t we owe it to our students to consider them when choosing those words?Gracias

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

2 Comments on Choosing the World Our Students Read, last added: 12/8/2014
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23. Protesting Injustice Then and Now

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

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

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

Jim Crow Row
from Love to Langston
By Tony Medina

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

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

I make signs
that read
that read

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

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

So we protest
with our parents
and let everybody
know about

Jim Crow Jim Crow
not allowing us
to grow

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

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

I, Too
By Langston Hughes
From the Poetry Foundation

I, too, sing America.

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

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

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

I, too, am America.

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

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

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

Further reading:

Books on Protest:


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

1 Comments on Protesting Injustice Then and Now, last added: 12/17/2014
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24. What I Learned from a Nonverbal Autistic Classroom-Part 2

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

 What is autism?:

Autism copy

For people on the autism spectrum:

For families of people with ASD:

 Early intervention services & treatment options:

For educators of people with ASD:

Get involved:

Books with characters with disabilities:

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

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

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25. 7 Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month

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

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

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

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

Perseverance, Determination, & Grit

Leadership & Couragemain_large-4

Teamwork & Collaboration

Responsibility & Commitmentmain_Mooncover

 Optimism & Hope

Compassion & Love

Passion & Pridemain_large

Discussion questions when reading and learning about core values:

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

Further reading on teaching core values with students:

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

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

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