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1. Part 2–Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It Is

Guest BloggerEarlier this month, we highlighted the impressive work happening in the classroom of Jessica Lifshitz, veteran educator in Northbrook, Illinois. Following her popular essay on how Jessica empowered her fifth grade students to analyze their classroom library for its culturally responsiveness and relevancy, she shares in this interview with LEE & LOW BOOKS why she wanted to take on this project with her students, where families and administrators fit into this process, and her hopes for her students.

LEE & LOW: What inspired you to have your students analyze your classroom library?

After the events surrounding the shooting and death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, I felt compelled to find a way to bring more discussions on race into my classroom. I teach in a suburb of Chicago, where the vast majority of my students are white. There were little or no conversations about race at all taking place. I knew that if things were going to ever have a hope of getting better in this country, my mostly white students HAD to be a part of the solution. They had to recognize the bias that exists in this country and then find a way to fight against it. But that is really hard to do when the concept of race is not one that my students have had much, if any, experience dealing with. So, like with most problems, the first place that I looked to try and find a solution was with the very books that make up a huge part of the work that my students and I do together.

We began by doing a small experiment (explained here) where we looked only at the images on the covers of picture books and made predictions on what those books would be about. Based on our results, we realized that we made MANY predictions because of the race and gender of the people shown on the covers of those books. After a powerful discussion with my students, they crafted the following inquiry question: Where do the biases and stereotypes we carry around related to gender, race, family structure, religion, etc. come from?

We then set out to try and answer that question. This eventually led us to think about the picture books in our classroom and that led us to the work of analyzing our books to look at how they represented or misrepresented different groups of people.

So the short answer really is that this work was inspired by students and the conditions of the world that they are living in.

LEE & LOW: Why do this at all? This project is not a part of the curriculum or scope & sequence for fifth grade—why did you think this was important enough to use instructional time?

As teachers, we have an incredible opportunity to truly make the world a better place. Not to sit and wait for others to fix the problems, but to ask our students to join us in the powerful work of actually starting to make the world a better.

I think that a lot of times we waste this amazing opportunity because we feel limited by standards and objectives and curriculum. But what I have found is that if I begin with what work I want my students to be engaged in and then work backwards to connect that work to the standards, I am then able to do the work that I feel is most important AND meet the standards and objectives that I am asked to teach.

For example, the work that we did here was a part of our unit on synthesizing. We looked at how we could pull pieces of information together in order to gain a better, more complete understanding. So we took the issue of stereotypes and biases and that is what we worked to understand. We looked at advertisements, fairy tales, modern day picture books and novels. We pulled all of these pieces of information together to grow our understanding of how biases form. This allowed us to cover many standards and learning targets.

But more importantly, the kids were learning about their world. They were studying the problems that surround them and thinking of ways to begin to solve those problems. That is learning that will last. That is learning that will make a difference. So if I am able to help them to do that kind of work AND I am able to cover the skills I need to teach in the process, then everyone wins and the world gets better.

BiasesLEE & LOW: What foundation, classroom work, or background context do you think was imperative before leading your students through this project?

I think that one of the most important pieces of work that allowed this project to happen was that, from day one, we had worked to create a culture of trust in our classroom. We practiced making ourselves vulnerable and we practiced listening to the ideas of others without passing judgments on people. These things were absolutely necessary for our work to take place because part of our work involved sharing things about our own thinking that we weren’t necessarily proud of. No one likes to admit that they carry biases, and yet we all do. Ignoring that doesn’t help anything. Confronting that and working to dismantle those biases is what leads to real change. But that takes a lot of trust. So from the start of the school year we talked about big issues.

We began with during our unit on memoirs and on making connections to the texts that we read. These units became a chance to study the power of a person’s story. We learned the power of sharing our own stories and the power of learning from the stories of others. This work allowed my students to open up to each other about their own lives and also allowed us to practicing listening to people whose lives are very different than our own in order to learn more about them and build empathy. These were skills we needed for this project as well.

When we started to look at biases and stereotypes, we began first with gender before tackling race. We began by looking at catalogues like Pottery Barn to notice the differences in what was marketed towards girls and what was marketed towards boys. We did work that helped us to distinguish the actual things we observed from the more hidden messages that this sent. We started with gender because I think it is easier for kids to grapple with. It is more concrete. While my students had almost no experience discussing issues of race, they did have some experience discussing issues of gender. So we started with where they were and then moved on from there. That was really important because I think that if I had just thrown them in to the discussions of how races were misrepresented in the books in our classroom library, they would not have been ready. The work we did with issues of gender helped us to better understand the work we later did with issues of race.

LEE & LOW: For teachers interested in leading their students through similar thinking and analysis, what would you recommend they prepare either for themselves or their students?

I hope that others want to take on similar work and I know that so many already have. The beauty of this kind of work is that is uses materials that are already present in your classroom. We have books and we can all look more closely at those books.

One thing that I would recommend is a whole lot of communication before beginning. I had several conversations with my principal about the work we were taking on. It was never to ask permission to do the work, but instead to just let him know and make sure I had his support in case of any push back from parents. Issues of race often spark fears and concerns with parents and having administrator support makes all of that much easier. On that note, keeping parents informed of the work was also really important for me. I wanted to make sure that parents knew what we were doing so that the conversations we were having could be continued at home. I also made sure to let parents know how our work was connected to our curriculum and our standards and learning targets. Therefore, when questions were asked, I was able to refer back to the information that I had already shared. This was extremely helpful.

Other than communication, I would also just encourage teachers to not say too much. Instead, allow the students observations to drive the conversation. We began by looking at the infographic and then jumped pretty quickly into the data collection in our own classroom library. I have a terrible habit of telling my students all of the things that I want them to discover on their own. I have really had to work to stop myself from doing that because taking away that power from my students takes the learning right out of their hands. So I wouldn’t recommend preparing too much and allowing the students to really guide this work.

LEE & LOW: Is this only valuable for classrooms with a majority of students of color? What can classrooms of various demographic configurations take away from this project?

As I mentioned before, my students are mostly white. Because of that, this work is especially important for them. So often, our white students do not ever think about race. That is part of the privilege they are living with. But that makes it really easy for them to ignore what others have to deal with precisely because of their race. I believe that my students MUST be a part of a solution to the many problems connected to race in this country. But they cannot be a part of that solution if they are not even able to recognize that the problems exist.

For Further Reading:


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Jessica Lifshitz is a fifth grade teacher in Northbrook, Illinois and has been teaching for 13 years.  She believes in teaching her students that reading and writing can make the world a better place and is honored to learn from her students and to be inspired by them every day.  She writes about teaching and learning at crawlingoutoftheclassroom.wordpress.com.

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2. Celebrating 25 Books Over 25 Years: Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.

 

Featured title: Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa

Author: Matthew Gollub

Illustrator: Kazuko G. Stone

Synopsis: This award-winning book is an introduction to haiku poetry and the life of Issa (b. 1763), Japan’s premier haiku poet, told through narrative, art, and translation of Issa’s most beloved poems for children.

Author Matthew Gollub’s poignant rendering of Issa’s life and over thirty of his best-loved poems, along with illustrator Kazuko Stone’s sensitive and humorous watercolor paintings, make Cool Melons—Turn to Frogs! a classic introduction to Issa’s work for readers of all ages. With authentic Japanese calligraphy, a detailed Afterword, and exhaustive research by both author and illustrator, this is also an inspirational book about haiku, writing, nature, and life.

Awards and honors:

  • Notable Books for a Global Society, International Literacy Association (ILA)
  • Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  • Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies, Children’s Book Council (CBC) and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
  • Children’s Books Mean Business, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Not Just for Children Anymore selection, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Outstanding Merit, Children’s Book of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
  • Books to Read Aloud with Children of All Ages, Bank Street College of Education
  • “Editor’s Choice,” San Francisco Chronicle
  • Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award finalist
  • Children’s and Young Adult Honorable Mention for Illustration, Asian Pacific American Award for Literature (APAAL)
  • “Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • ALA Notable Children’s Book, American Library Association (ALA)
  • A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year, The Horn Book Magazine
  • California Collections, California Readers
  • Utah Children’s Book Award Masterlist
  • Children’s Book of Distinction, Poetry Finalist, Riverbank Review
  • Read-Alouds Too Good to Miss, Indiana Department of Education
  • Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
  • Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine

From the author: “A haiku, because of its brevity, resembles a quick line sketch. It’s up to the reader to imagine the details and to make the picture complete. In a sense, we can think of a haiku as a telegraph; for example: “Should arrive Tuesday, supper time.” From this short message, we can infer that, weather permitting, the sender will arrive early on Tuesday evening, and that after the long, tiresome journey she would appreciate a good meal.

Often, haiku describe two events side by side, such as: “Plum tree in bloom—/ a cat’s silhouette/ upon the paper screen.” Does the silhouette of the plum tree also appear on the paper screen? Does the plum tree in bloom suggest the warmth of a spring day? Again, it’s up to the reader to imagine how or if the two things are related.

Haiku tend to be simple and understated, so there’s never one “correct” way to interpret them. The idea is to ponder each poem’s imagery and to discover and enjoy how the poem makes you feel.”

–Matthew Gollub, from “What is a Haiku?

Resources for teaching with Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa:

Book activity:

Expand students’ experience with haiku by having them read and discuss works by other seventeenth century and eighteenth century poets such as Basho, Jöso, Ryota, Buson, or Sanpu. Students may also enjoy reading more contemporary haiku and comparing the contemporary poetry with the more traditional.

cool melonsHow have you used Cool Melons–Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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3. 25 Books from 25 Years: Richard Wright and the Library Card

Lee & Low 25th AnniversaryLEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Today, we are celebrating Richard Wright and the Library Card, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. This book shares a poignant turning point in the life of a young man who became one of this country’s most brilliant writers, the author of Native Son and Black Boy.

Featured title: Richard Wright and the Library Card

Richard Wright and the Library Card cover imageAuthor: William Miller

Illustrator: Gregory Christie

Synopsis: The true story of the renowned African American author Richard Wright and his determination to borrow books from the public library that turned him away because of the color of his skin.

Awards and Honors:

  • Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
  • Honor Book, Society of School Librarians International

Other Editions: Did you know that Richard Wright and the Library Card also comes in a Spanish edition?

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Purchase a copy of Richard Wright and the Library Card here.

Resources for teaching with Richard Wright and the Library Card:

Richard Wright and the Library Card Teacher’s Guide

Learn more about Richard Wright:

Additional LEE & LOW titles by William Miller:

Have you used Richard Wright and the Library Card? Let us know!

Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

 

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4. How to Be an Explorer in Your Own Backyard: The Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide

Have you ever wanted to take a trip to the cloud forest? Explore the Andes of Ecuador? Discover a new species? Well, you’re in luck.

With ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito from A to Z! travel to the unique world of the cloud forest and discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as you help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978.olinguito spread 1

But the adventure doesn’t stop there. Anyone can learn to be an explorer in their own backyard with the FREE Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s GuideLearn more about the cloud forest and other ecosystems, including all of the important animals and the adaptations that help them survive in their environment with the many interdisciplinary ideas, projects, and engaging activities.

Content themes and subjects covered:

  • ecosystems and habitats
  • biodiversity
  • animal classification and adaptation
  • vertebrates and invertebrates
  • competition and predation
  • world geography

Here’s a preview of the types of engaging projects and activities youOlinguito Activity Sheet.indd can find in the Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide:

Observe an Ecosystem!

You will need:

  • a notebook
  • a pen or pencil
  • a camera
  • a thick, old paperback book
  1. Make note of the time of day you are making your observations. Is it morning, afternoon, or night?
  2. Record all the plants and organisms you see, including trees, shrubs, bushes, grasses, ferns, mosses, and lichens.
  3. Record all the animals you see in the area, including insects, arachnids, mollusks, reptiles, birds and mammals.
  4. Gather fresh leaves of different shapes from trees and shrubs and put each separately between two pages of the paperback book. You may also gather small, colorful flowers or flower petals and put them between pages of the book.
  5. Take photos of any animals you see.
  6. Once you are back inside, place the paperback book under a pile of heavy books for a week or two to let you pressed leaves and flowers dry.

Design a Cloud Forest Travel Brochure!Olinguito Activity Sheet.indd

Have students research cloud forests in the Andes and create an informative and persuasive travel brochure. Include headings, subheadings, pictures, maps, and informative captions.

  • Where are the cloud forests located?
  • What plants and animals live there?
  • Why are cloud forests valued or important?
  • What is the climate like?
  • What will people see there?
  • What environmental and human threats do they face?
  • Why should someone make the cloud forest his or her next vacation destination?

Create a Cloud Forest Alphabet or Glossary Book:

  • card stock
  • hole puncher
  • string or twine
  • art decorating supplies (crayons, colored pencils, markers. etc.)

Alphabet Book: include the featured letter, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and the name of the plant or animal.

Plant/Animal Glossary Book: include the name of the plant or animal, a picture or drawing of the featured plant or animal, and an informative description of the plant or animal: where does it live? what does it eat? how is it classified (plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, etc.)?

For more fun and exciting activity ideas, including I-Spy Fun and learning to create you own pressed leaf print, check out and download the FREE Olinguito Activity Kit and Teacher’s Guide.

You can purchase a copy of ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Forest on our website 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 or hanging out with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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5. How to Use Family Diversity and Family Structures to Teach Empathy

Guest BloggerIn this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director of Not in Our School, shares the organization’s latest video release about families and family structures. Not in Our School is part of the larger organization of Not in Our Town and focuses on empowering students to create safe, inclusive, and empathetic communities. 

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” from “Human Family” by Maya Angelou (listen to Maya Angelou read the poem here)NIOT 2

At Not In Our Town, we are extremely pleased to be sharing our film, “Our Family,” with the Lee & Low Open Book Blog community. Our hope is for our film to become part of the growing collection of resources that educators are using to create identity safe classrooms where children of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. These classrooms should not be colorblind spaces, where differences are ignored or where students must leave their identities, stories, and experiences at the door. It is our belief that belonging is created through drawing on the diversity in every classroom as a resource for learning. And quickly, we learn that, as Maya Angelou so aptly pointed out, we are more alike than different.

LEE & LOW: What inspired you and your team to create this video focusing on family configuration and family diversity? Put another way: Why create a film about family configuration and diversity from an organization that fights prejudice, bullying, and discrimination?

Part of fostering a sense of belonging for children is creating an environment where they feel fully accepted for who they are. Even from a young age, children are aware of and have many aspects that make up their social identities. That includes: how they look, the language(s) they speak and the way they express themselves, as well as their culture, religion, race, and gender identity. Their families, a huge part of their lives, form a crucial part of their identities.

Children need to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, on the walls, and throughout their school life. They need to see others like them and they need to learn to appreciate those who are not like them. That does not always happen. My daughter announced at age four that she wanted a sex change operation to become a boy. At that time, we had no idea where she heard about this (she is now 33) because nobody was talking about transgender issues and back then. She did get strange reactions at preschool when she told people she was a boy. I remember she loved doing Mexican dancing, but when they insisted she wear the girl’s outfit, that was the end of her preschool dancing career. As she grew up we did not counter her feelings or ideas. However, now, married and openly a lesbian, she says she does not feel that way anymore, but that she always knew she was different in some way.

Some children grow up and never see a family like theirs celebrated in any way. They may be teased for being adopted, for having two moms or two dads, or for having a mixed-race family. A child whose mother has different color skin than he or she does may experience rude comments or stares. I raised my oldest daughter, who was from my husband’s first marriage. She had dark skin and we got many stares and she heard some rude remarks as people looked from her dark skin to my light skin and asked, “Is that your mother?”

We are approaching Mother’s Day. I wonder about all the children who don’t have mothers. How do they feel when their classrooms are making gifts for their mothers? (At Not In Our Town, we suggest that you celebrate Caregiver’s Day and children can honor those who care for them.)

We made this film for elementary students to see themselves reflected and hear the voices of children like themselves, and to see validation of those who might be different. They also can see how all these families can join together and be friends, and have fun. We kept the film short so teachers can show the film and then open a discussion with the students. We also have our Lesson Guide with activities for students at different grade levels to celebrate their families.

Our organization features communities of all backgrounds who come together to stand up to bullying, hate, prejudice and intolerance. We have always been proactive in seeking to create safety, acceptance, and inclusion. For this film, we partnered with a wonderful organization, Our Family Coalition, which focuses on supporting schools and communities to create acceptance for LGBTQ families. Our shared goal with the film is to support children from all kinds of families.

The best way to address hate and prejudice is by creating identity safety, and preventing hate and prejudice before they rear their ugly heads. Researchers have known for a long time that getting to know people who are different from you will reduce prejudice. New research has shown that it also will reduce implicit biases—the unconscious attitudes we all pick up from living in a society that has much underlying racial bias. According to the article, “Long-term Reduction in Implicit Race Bias,” fostering empathy is another way to reduce prejudice and implicit bias. Children can learn to be empathetic, but it will only stick if they also see empathy and acceptance expressed and modeled by all the adults in their world on a regular basis.

LEE & LOW: How can schools encourage children to appreciate their own family’s configuration and diversity?

The best way to celebrate families is to open the doors of the school and invite all the families in. Other activities include times where students invite their caregivers to volunteer or share expertise in one area or another. Also, students can write about their families, read books (like the excellent collection from Lee & Low), and use family diversity lesson plans and materials from the organizations Welcoming Schools and Teaching Tolerance. In our Lesson Guide we suggest having a Family Diversity Extravaganza where students organize an event and everyone gets involved and has fun together. When students experience acceptance of all kinds of families, they feel pride in their own families and their awareness is built for others.

Not in Our Town blog postLEE & LOW: What is at stake if parents, educators, and administrators do not purposely model tolerance and inclusion for children?

We are at a frightening moment in our nation’s history. While many gains have been made to promote equity in our country, our current climate and electoral process is rife with hate rhetoric. In a recent online survey by Teaching Tolerance, educators shared that many of their students—especially immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election. Educators also reported they have witnessed an increase in anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant sentiment in their schools.

Additionally, according to the National Crime Prevention Council, youth ages 15-24 commit half of all hate crimes in the United States. In The New York Times op-ed, “White, Bigoted and Young: The Data of Hate,” economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz explored the demographics of Stormfront, the most popular U.S. white supremacist website. His findings revealed that the most common age of Stormfront members is 19. He also found that the most venomous hate was displayed against African Americans and Jews, often with tremendous ignorance about those targeted groups.

Much is at stake for all of us if we do not make it a priority to teach empathy, and model positive attitudes towards those who are different from ourselves. We need to openly discuss and work together to find ways to address all forms of intolerance. We made our film freely accessible on Youtube in hopes that it goes viral and the voices of children are shared. PLEASE SHARE WIDELY! I close with the wise words of young Nathan, a student in our film:

“It is important to have diverse children, to have diverse families in a school so you know how to include everyone… you don’t just go to the people who are like you, you reach out and embrace everyone.” —Nathan, student, Peralta Elementary School, Oakland, CA in “Our Family


 

DSC_0427Dr. Becki Cohn-Vargas is the co-author, with Dorothy Steele of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn published by Corwin Press. Currently as director of Not In Our School, she designs curriculum, coaches schools and produces films on models for creating safe and inclusive schools, free of bullying and intolerance at the national non-profit, the Working Group. She presents internationally at conferences and provides professional development in schools and districts. Dr. Cohn-Vargas began her 35-year career in early childhood education at the Multicultural Center in Sonoma County, California. She did community service in the Guatemalan Highlands and produced educational films for the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education. She returned to California and worked as a teacher and principal in Oakland, a Curriculum Director in Palo Alto, and as Superintendent in San Jose. In each setting, she focuses on educational equity and effective strategies for diverse populations. Dr. Cohn-Vargas and her husband live in El Sobrante, California and have three adult children. With her husband, she is developing an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest.  

Family Diversity Book Collection from LEE & LOW BOOKS

Further reading and learning from Not in Our School:

Additional resources on family diversity and family structures:

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6. Author Rosanne Parry on the Benefits of Reading Levels

The topic of reading levels is always contentious foGuest Bloggerr librarians, educators, booksellers, and authors. A recent article by author Sergio Ruzzier argued against the merits of using reading levels to determine which book is right for a child. In this guest post, author and bookseller Rosanne Parry offers her thoughts on why reading levels can be valuable, despite some of the drawbacks. Welcome, Rosanne!

Reading levels posted on trade fiction for children are a bit of a hot-button issue for those who work in the book world and periodically I hear calls for their complete abolition.  I agree that people use reading levels on books unwisely all the time. I believe that in general kids ought to have the widest possible access to the books they choose for themselves. I think there are many mistaken assumptions about what those reading levels mean. However there are useful purposes for reading levels on books.

I started my career as a teacher with a specialty in reading. I did most of my work with learning disabled students. If you are choosing books to use in school for instruction with children who are struggling, then keeping them within the parameters of a book that is just challenging enough but not too frustrating gives optimal progress toward reading fluency. An accurate reading level, manageable book length, accessible font, generous leading and kerning, and affordable price all help a teacher choose useful material for each student.

The temptation to make reading instruction leak over into at-home recreational reading is very strong for a highly motivated parent who is ashamed of a child’s low reading level or overly impressed with a high one. Sometimes this prompts a parent to steer their child away from high quality books that would be developmentally appropriate and captivating, and push them toward books that are decodable but outside the child’s emotional sphere and therefore not very engaging.

Most of the reading levels that publishers put on books are there as a shelving aid for booksellers, rather than a prescription for readers. They have almost nothing to do with the readability of the text and much more to do with the maturity of the content. To be perfectly honest, the vast majority of adult books are written at a 5th-6th grade reading level. The current literary fashion is toward a plain-spoken prose style and simple sentence structure.  This drives down the reading level of adult books. But it doesn’t make adult content in a book appropriate for children.

Here’s an example of where I think the publisher’s reading level is helpful. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is a short novel Anna and the Swallow Manabout a seven-year old girl. At first glance a bookseller might just toss it on the shelf with Clementine and Captain Underpants. Fortunately, the reading level says 7th grade and up (12+ years). It’s a story about the atrocities of WWII. The seven-year old girl is a fugitive on the run with an adult of dubious motives. She steals from battlefield corpses; she is raped; the ending is ambiguous and not particularly hopeful. It’s a stunning piece of writing and will likely be in the buzz come book award time and rightly so. Nevertheless it’s not a book that serves a second grader well. The reading level helps us get the book in the right spot in our store and because it’s at a discrepancy with the outward appearance of the book, it encourages us to read the whole book and figure out where to best recommend it.

Sometimes we decide to ignore the reading level on a book. When we got Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson last year, we opted to ignore the grade level recommendations and shelve it in adult history where our avid World War II buffs and professional musicians were most likely to find it. It would be less work for the bookseller to shelve all of an author’s work in one spot. But if the author is Ursula LeGuin or Suzanne Collins or Neil Gaiman, the reader is better served by having the adult, young adult, middle grade, and chapter books shelved in separate areas.

Reading levels are one tool among many a bookseller can use. Even in a small bookshop we get in hundreds of new books a week in addition to the classics we always carry. There’s no way even a cohort of dozens of booksellers can analyze every book we carry. So I’m glad there’s a reading level marker that we can use or ignore as we see fit. I’d love for it to be in a magical ink that only a bookseller can see, but until then, part of a booksellers job is to help anxious parents feel good about the quality of books their child is choosing and help them anticipate other books that will give their family joy.


Rosanne ParryAbout Rosanne Parry:  Rosanne Parry is the author for four middle grade novels from Random House, including her most recent title, The Turn of the Tide. She has been an elementary teacher and is now a part-time book monger at the legacy indie bookstore Annie Blooms. She also teaches children’s and YA literature in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State University. She lives in Portland, Oregon and writes in a treehouse in her back yard.  You can find out more about her online here.


Further Reading:
Lexile: A Bookseller’s Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

5 Strategies to Help Parents Navigate Lexile

7 Strategies to Help Booksellers and Librarians Navigate Lexile

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7. 2016 Diverse Summer Reading Lists Grades PreK-8

Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone, which can only mean one thing. The end of June is right around the corner (hang in there teachers!).

Now, we are all well aware of the importance of having access to books and the harmful effects of the slippery slope that is the summer slide.

So, to keep the kids reading all summer long, LEE & LOW has put Diverse Summer Reading List 2016together a Diverse Summer 2016 Reading List for Grades PreK-8 and printables which you can freely download here or find listed below. Each list contains books that not only highlight different grade-appropriate interests, such as sports, music, sci-fi/fantasy, and the environment, but also explore diverse cultural backgrounds and traditions.

These lists are not only an excellent tool to help you include diverse books in your summer suggested reading lists, but a way to begin diversifying the books available to students in your classroom libraries. It is important to remember that diverse books are not only for diverse readers. Reading books featuring diverse characters and communities mirror experiences in their own lives, allowing children to see themselves reflected in the stories they love, but they also provide windows into other life experiences to understand and be more accepting of the world around them.

Finally, there are many great organizations compiling and creating Summer Reading Book Lists and offering free, exciting programs for the summer. 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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8. Celebrating 25 Books From 25 Years: Baseball Saved Us

Lee_Low_25th_Anniversary_Poster_2_LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.

Featured title: Baseball Saved Us

Author: Ken Mockizuki

Illustrator: Dom Lee

Synopsis: Shorty, a Japanese-American boy, learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II. Shorty quickly learns that he is playing not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect as well. Read The New York Times review and article.

Awards and honors:

  • 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • Not Just for Children Anymore Selections, Children’s Book Council (CBC)
  • Parents’ Choice Gold Award
  • “Pick of the List,” American Booksellers Association
  • Washington State Governor’s Writers Award
  • “Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
  • “Close the Book on Hate” Reading List, The Anti-Defamation League
  • “Editors’ Choice,” San Francisco Chronicle
  • Washington State Children’s Choice Award Finalist
  • Best Multicultural Title, “Cuffies Award,” Publishers Weekly

The story behind the story:

“During August 1991, I received my first phone call from Philip Lee, who tells me he has founded a children’s picture book company called Lee & Low Books in New York City. He was searching across the country for authors and illustrators to launch his first set of books, and got my name through his wife Karen Chinn, a former Seattleite and colleague of mine at the International Examiner newspaper. Up to that point, I had never authored anything in the field of children’s literature, but would I be interested in writing a children’s picture book? I remained open to the idea, and Philip sent me an article from an East Coast magazine about Japanese Americans forming baseball teams and playing the sport within the American incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. A non-fiction story about this subject? he suggested. I decided I wanted to make it historical fiction, and create a young hero who hits not only one home run during a clutch situation, but two!

With good reviews – particularly a write-up in The New York Times Book Review – and over a half million copies of this book later sold, my career began as a children’s book author and presenter.”

Ken Mochizuki, author of Baseball Saved Us

Resources for teaching with Baseball Saved Us:

  • Explore a reading guide and learning activities for Baseball Saved Us from OurStory, a website created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to encourage adults and children in grades K–4 to read historical fiction and biography together.
  • For ideas on how to teach World War II and the roles children can play in solving national problems, check out the NEH lesson series, On the Home Front, featuring Baseball Saved Us from EDSITEment, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) website for K–12 teachers, school librarians, and students.
  • Learn about the experiences of children and teens in World War II interment camps with “The Japanese American Internment: How Young People Saw It,” a set of four lesson plans divided into grade bands featuring Baseball Saved Us, produced by the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies.

Book activity:

Have students imagine they are Shorty in the story. Encourage them to write as Shorty a letter to a friend outside the internment camp or a diary entry describing how they feel about being in the camp and what life is like there.

How have you used Baseball Saved Us? Let us know!

25 years (1)Celebrate with us! Check out our 25 Years Anniversary Collection.

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9. Part 1–Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It Is

Guest BloggerWe at LEE & LOW BOOKS are excited and honored to share the impressive work happening in the classroom of Jessica Lifshitz, veteran educator in Northbrook, Illinois. In an excerpt of her essay, Jessica describes how she empowers her fifth grade students to analyze their classroom library for its culturally responsiveness and relevancy. She provides students with background information, including LEE & LOW BOOKS’ visualization of the lack of diversity in children’s books. Originally posted at Jessica’s blog, Crawling Out of the Classroom, this excerpt is reposted with permission.

Having Students Analyze Our Classroom Library To See How Diverse It IsI truly believe that books, of all kind, play a large role in shaping how our students see the world. So often, children have little choice in what kinds of books surround them. Even in classrooms and schools where children are free to choose to read whatever books they want, they are still often limited by the choice of books that we adults have placed around them. And too often, we adults do not think carefully enough about what books, with what images of race and gender and family structure, we are surrounding our children with.

So that is where I wanted to look. At the books I was choosing to put into my classroom library. I wanted my students to join me in looking more closely at the books that I had in my classroom and how they represented and misrepresented the world they are living in.

So we began with an infographic. In fact, the majority of my students had no idea what an infographic was. So first. We had to learn. This was a good reminder to me to use these rich conveyers of information more often through the year. Anyway, we began by looking at THIS infographic, which shares the disturbing statistics on diversity in children’s literature. This, alone, led to incredible discussion about so many things.

We began with a discussion of the term, “people of color.” So many of my almost all-white students had never heard this term before and it took a while for them to grasp its meaning. We then had a discussion on the difference between white writers writing about people of color and writers of color writing about people of color. Then we entered into a discussion of how it might be harder for writers of color to get their books published in the competitive world of children’s publishing. And finally we ended up at a discussion of our own reading preferences and how sometimes we are tempted to read books that discuss lives similar to our own and how much more rewarding it can be to push ourselves to read books that teach us about the lives of others whose lives are different than our own.

All from one infographic.

The children were so eager for the discussion. We actually ended up looking at an entire series of fascinating infographics that show how different kinds of diversity are represented or misrepresented in different areas of society. That series of infographics CAN BE FOUND HERE.

img_0992And then we turned to our own books. I wanted to start in my own classroom. I have shared openly with my students that all of this work, on race and on gender, it is work for me too. I know that I make mistakes often and I wanted them to see that I, too, need to constantly do better to work past my own biases and stereotypes.

So I gave my students the chance to audit our own classroom library to find out how different genders and races are represented and how we could do better to make sure that different genders and races were more accurately represented by the books in our classroom.

I asked the students to each randomly grab 25 books. And for each book they were to look to see if there were people on the cover. If there were, they were to note if all of the people on the cover were white and if all the people on the cover were boys. They kept track on this simple data collection sheet.

img_0994Now, I recognize that this is FAR from a thorough and scientific analysis of the books in our classroom library. I recognize that just because there is not a person of color on the cover of a book that does not mean the book does not contain a person of color in it. I recognize the flaws. I am shared them with my students. And still, it was something.

Because even more important than our results was the task of looking at the images on the covers of the books that surround us. More important than the numbers that we wrote down, were the discussions we had about why book publishers make the decisions that they make about who goes on the covers of our books. More important than the percentages that we ended up with were the realizations that we all made as we learned to look at the world differently. To see who was represented and, more importantly, to see who was NOT represented. This was the important work that we were doing.

Once the students finished collecting their data, they entered their results into a Google spreadsheet. HERE ARE OUR RESULTS.  

After spending time looking closely at the books in our classroom library and after spending time looking at the numbers we collected, we had a discussion of what they noticed. Here are some charts that we used to capture our observations:

I was kind of blown away, once again, by what my students discovered. I thought I had a diverse library. I really did. In fact, I have worked over the past two years to make sure that I was buying the kinds of books that would help all of my readers to see themselves reflected in the pages of the books in my classroom.  But what I forgot is that the vast majority of my readers are white. They see themselves, in terms of race, in almost every book they pick up.

What they need is something else. They need to be able to see into the lives of others. To use books as windows so that they can gain an understanding of what it means to be a race other than white. They need books to help them grow and become more empathetic citizens of this world. And while I have tried to provide books for them that would do just that, I realized from their work that I have a LONG way to go.

I need to do better. I need to do more.

And showing my students that I can look at where I am and find ways to do better in terms of making this world more equitable and just, that is no small thing.

So together we brainstormed ways that I can work to improve our classroom library. We talked about starting with sports fiction. The students noticed that while the nonfiction sports books were filled with African-American people, the books in my sports fiction bin barely had any characters of color.  The exception was The Crossover, which just goes to show how important it was for that book to win the Newberry last year.

Here we have taken an area of our society that is rather diverse and the books that I have purchased that have fictionalize that area of society have completely sucked all of the diversity right out of it.  So I must do better.

In the same area, we saw how few girls were represented in our sports fiction books. I have so many girls in my classes who don’t just play sports, but whose lives revolve around their favorite sports and still, we could only find one book, The Running Dream, in our sports fiction books that had a female main character. I must do better.

And then, we moved on to my fantasy and science fiction books. This was an area that was also very much lacking in racial diversity. And so I will now be on the lookout for books with characters of color in these two genres. I must do better.

And one of the most powerful observations that a student made was that while he did see books with African-American characters on the cover, he did not see many other races represented. He did not see any Native American characters, Asian American characters or Middle Eastern characters on the covers of the books that he looked at. Again, I must do better.

These suggestions came from my students and I am so proud of the work that they have done. As I shared with my students, I continue to be proud of our classroom library. I am proud of the choices that I have made in the books that I have put into our classroom library AND at the same time, I know now that I can and must do better. I shared with my students how grateful I am for the work that they have done to help me to see this.

After our counting books, we then used the following pages to look more closely inside of our picture books in order to see how races, genders and families were being represented. The kids chose one of these types of diversity to focus on and then pulled a few books to record their observations and evidence.  Here are the sheets that they used for:

Race

Gender Roles for Children

Gender Roles for Adults

Family Structure 

Again, the students had time to discuss their observations and I was blown away by what they were picking up on.

Finally, we headed to our school’s library, to again count books. We collected the same type of data, but this time for our school library. HERE WERE OUR RESULTS. 

We realized that many of the trends that we saw in our classroom library, also existed in our school library. One of the greatest parts of this work was listening to the students talk to our school librarian (who is amazing) about the changes that we were hoping to make to our classroom library. This led to other powerful conversations between the librarian and me and I was so grateful for her input and her support.

This work has been incredible. It has, at times, left me feeling doubtful. Doubtful of myself, of this world we live in, of the way we misrepresent so many of the people who surround us. But ultimately, after watching and listening to my students, I was left hopeful. Hopeful because once my students began to see what was around them in new ways, they couldn’t un-see things anymore. They couldn’t not see. They were running up to me when they came across stereotypes that were perpetuated in their books. They had their parents send me pictures from bookstores when they noticed books that either reinforced or fought against stereotypes in some way. They noticed things on the news, on TV shows, on social media. And I believe that noticing is one big step towards making change.

There were times during this work when I felt like I had to rush through. There were times when I questioned if I really had time to be spending on this work. But the truth is, there is no way that I don’t have the time. This world we live in needs changing and the students that I am teaching must be a part of that change. And so though it feels like there is never enough time to do things that we most believe in, this work has showed me that we must find a way.

I am grateful, yet again, for what my students have taught me. And grateful, even more, for the hope that they give me for this world of ours.


IMG_1316Jessica Lifshitz is a fifth grade teacher in Northbrook, Illinois and has been teaching for 13 years.  She believes in teaching her students that reading and writing can make the world a better place and is honored to learn from her students and to be inspired by them every day.  She writes about teaching and learning at crawlingoutoftheclassroom.wordpress.com.

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10. 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

Eligibility:

  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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11. 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.

libraries!

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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12. 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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13. 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?
20150930_143539
Great discussion with author Joseph Bruchac!
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Grace Church School students William, Sabina, Ufon, and Eleanor with librarian Sarah Couri

 

20150930_154638

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)

BOWMAN’S STORE

BUFFALO SONG

CRAZY HORSE’S VISION

JIM THORPE’S BRIGHT PATH

KILLER OF ENEMIES

ROSE EAGLE

TRAIL OF THE DEAD

WOLF MARK

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
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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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14. “¿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.

BY SANDRA L. OSORIO

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.

Resources:

  • 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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15. 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.”

PISAB-logo-2

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.

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16. How to Create a Schoolwide Program to Celebrate Student Writing and Heritage

Want to inspire future poets, writers, and dreamers? One elementary school in San Francisco did just that with an author study of U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Lorraine Orlandi, Community School Coordinator, shared with us the goals, preparation, and impact of their Latino Heritage Celebration.

With National Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, Paul Revere School K-8 selected Juan Felipe Herrera to study and honor for Herrera’s activism and body of work, as well as his ties to San Francisco.How One School

When do your school make time for artist studies?

“We have three major cultural celebrations each school year: for Latino heritage, African American heritage and Asian-Pacific Islander heritage. For each, we have an intensive artists residency of about six weeks to prepare students to perform in school-wide assemblies and at an evening event for the entire community.”

Why choose author Juan Felipe Herrera?

“We have struggled to connect the history and values being taught through these artists’ residencies with our day-to-day classroom teaching and learning. Juan Felipe Herrera’s work provided the perfect vehicle for our school, which includes a Spanish Immersion strand in addition to the general English strand. Students in all classes could access the work and it provided a unifying element for the learning and celebration. The project fit within our school-wide literacy goals. It was a breakthrough that we hope to be able to extend to all of our cultural celebrations in the future.”

Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8
Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8

What kind of work is involved for staff?

“Preparation included teacher training around materials — we bought a bunch of books, found videos and teaching guides online. Teachers had an opportunity to meet all together and in grade-level groups to discuss how to use the materials. As you know, some of the work was eventually posted for colleagues and families to see.”

How does the program pair the content with literacy?

“In our school-wide project for grades K-8, students across grade levels responded to the work of Juan Felipe Herrera as a way to learn about and celebrate Latino heritage and consider their own identities within our diverse school population. The books and poetry gave teachers wonderful tools for strengthening our commitment to using culturally responsive materials in the classroom, and to connect students’ learning to their own experiences.”

How do teachers incorporate Juan Felipe Herreras work into their curricula?

  • Two fifth-grade classes worked with a teaching artist to learn the poems “Laughing out Loud, I Fly” (Harper Collins) and the poem “(Vamonos La Kiva Casa Libre)” (from 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, City Lights) and choreograph movements to the poems. They read the poems and performed the dances at the assemblies and evening event.
  • Our sixth-graders presented the poetry they had written in response to “Quien Quiere Correr Conmigo?”.
  • Our kindergarten classes and a special day class for K-2 created work in response to Desplumado and Grandma and Me at the Flea.
  • Our first-grade Spanish Immerison class created work inspired by reading Upside Down Boy.
  • We also featured some of this work in the final performances and presentations.

    desplumado-1
    Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8

Juan Felipe Herrera Book Collection (4 Paperbacks)

Ready to bring books to life and allow students to see themselves as creators? Start with some resources:

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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17. Year of the Monkey: Books and Activities for Chinese New Year

2016 Chinese New Year is Monday, February 8th and it’s the year of the Monkey. How can you celebrate with students?

Cross-Curricular Activities

Here are some ideas to help you and your students get involved with reading and writing about the Chinese New Year.  Additional ideas can be found in individual book teacher guides and the LEE & LOW Chinese New Year Resource Guide for Teachers.

Art:

  1. Explain that the Chinese dragon represents strength and goodness. The dragon appears at the end of the New Year parade to wish everyone peace, wealth, and good luck. Have students draw a picture of a Chinese dragon and describe the dragon in a paragraph. Instruct students to draw the dragon so it has the features of several creatures. Chinese dragons often have the scales of a fish, the beard of a goat, the claws of an eagle, and the body of a snake. For an excellent and more detailed lesson on drawing a Chinese dragon, check out the Art Institute of Chicago.
  2. Provide students with construction paper, tissue paper, colored cotton balls, crayons, safety scissors, glue, and other art supplies to make their own lanterns, masks, flags, and other items for a Chinese Lunar New Year Parade. Several students may even wish to work together to make a lion or a dragon. Let students carry their creations and hold their own parade. You may wish to download some Chinese music to play during the festivities.

Science:

  1. For the New Year, Chinese children are given red envelopes with brand-new money inside. Make a solution of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup salt in a nonmetal bowl. Let students drop pennies into the solution, wait a few minutes, then remove and dry the coins with a paper towel. Students will have shiny “new” pennies to wrap in red paper and give as gifts to their friends and families.
  2. The Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar as opposed to the solar calendar. Have students investigate the two calendars and compare them using a Venn diagram. Why does the Chinese New Year fall on a different date each year?

Writing:

  1. Encourage students to describe a New Year’s celebration that they spent with their families. What kind of activities took place? How did they celebrate?
  2. Have students write an original story about a holiday they celebrate.

Social Studies:

  1. Many video clips of Chinese Lunar New Year parades are available online. One example is from the History Channel. If possible, let students view one or more of these to see a real parade. Have students describe the excitement, preparation, and festivities of the parade.
  2. Teach students about the history of Chinese Americans. When did they first immigrate to the United States? What were the reasons they left their homeland? In which cities did they settle? What were the origins of Chinatowns? What challenges did Chinese people and Chinese Americans face in the United States? One place to learn more is the timeline of Chinese in America from the Museum of Chinese in America.
  3. Have students locate China on a map or globe and tell students that China is one of the largest countries in the world. Have students mark the capital of China, as well as their location in the United States. On what continent is China? Which countries border China? What are some major rivers in China? What seas and ocean border China?
  4. Explore the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar with EDSITEment’s lesson on the Chinese Zodiac and video, “Why the Rat Comes First: A Lunar New Year Story,” from the Asian Art Museum.

Math:

  1. Students may enjoy learning how to write the Chinese characters for the numerals 1 through 10. Here are the characters for 1 through 10 from the BBC for students.
  2. Write the Mandarin numbers, their pronunciations, and their numerical equivalents on the whiteboard. Have students practice saying the number words until they are familiar with their pronunciations and meanings. Then give students simple math problems  to solve using these number words. For extra challenge, encourage students to write a simple math problem in Chinese and share with their peers to try.

Books for Chinese New Year

(Download the list as a PDF here).

SPOTLIGHT: The Magical Monkey King: Mischief in Heaven This is an adaption perfect for elementary schools of one of China’s favorite classics, Journey to the West. This Monkey is arrogant, bold, clever, and hilarious. Every child in China grows up listening to stories of the irrepressible Monkey King. Join Monkey as he wins his title as King of the Monkeys, studies with a great sage to learn the secrets of immortality, and even takes on the job as a royal gardener in the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Chinatown Adventure A young Chinese American girl is spending the day in Chinatown with her mother. With so many interesting things to buy, how will she spend her money?

 

 

D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture and I Love China: A Companion Book to D is for Doufu This book introduces readers to Chinese culture, beliefs, and legends in today’s context. It explores the meanings of 23 Chinese words and phrases while providing an interesting historical and cultural background.

 

 

 

Golden Dragon Parade Chinese New Year is here. Come along to the Golden Dragon Parade.

 

 

 

Sam and the Lucky Money Sam can hardly wait to go shopping with his mom. It’s Chinese New Year’s day and his grandparents have given him the traditional gift of lucky money. Yet, Sam discovers that sometimes the best gifts come from the heart.

 

 

 

The Day the Dragon Danced Sugar and her Grandma are going to the Chinese New Year’s Day parade, but Grandma is skeptical about New Year’s in February and scary dragons.

 

 

 

 The Dragon Lover and Other Chinese Proverbs These proverbs are used in everyday Chinese life to illustrate moments of humor or clarity in our actions. Each of the five stories collected here feature animals that help readers shed light on the truths of human nature.

 

 

 

The Monster in the Mudball When Jin’s little brother is kidnapped by the monster Zilombo, Jin teams up with Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts Mizz Z on the streets of England to find him and defeat the monster.

 

 

 

The Wishing Tree Every Lunar New Year, Ming and his grandmother visited the Wishing Tree. Grandmother warned him to wish carefully, and sure enough, Ming’s wishes always seemed to come true. But one year—when Ming made the most important wish of his life—the tree let him down. 

(Download the full book list and activities as a PDF here).

Chinese New Year

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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18. 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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19. Classroom Library: 5 Things to Consider

“Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”– Mason Cooley13089CT01.tif

Mason Cooley took the words right out of my mouth. As an avid reader, I have experienced the beauty of finding myself lost in another world within the pages of a book. Unfortunately, not all students may have had this type of opportunity. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first step to creating a well-rounded classroom library should not only intrigue and motivate students to want to open a book but also meet their diverse learning needs.

Here are my top 5 ways to build a classroom library:classroom lib 1

  1. Create a classroom library without breaking the bank. Check all of your resources before heading to the closest department bookstore or even the school book fair. You can find gems while visiting local garage and yard sales, as well as thrift shops. Ask for donations from your family and friends. Look into your school’s policies in terms of grants or donors, and explore resources like Donors Choose to request materials for your classroom and First Book for discounted books.

2. Listen to and know your students. Think back to your favorite book, author, or series that you loved at your students’ age. Even though you ate them up, these types of books may or may not be as relevant to your group of students. If you want to have books in your library that students want to read, you need to ask them and get to know your students. Reading conferences can serve as a time to discuss books that students are currently reading or topics that they would be interested in learning more about. Readers notebooks can also provide insight into the reading patterns of your students. Have students record how often they read and the title and author of each book to open up your library to books you may have not considered.

3. Be thoughtful about your classroom community. The books in your classroom library need to not only reflect the topics and interests of your students but your students themselves. Can your students see themselves in these books? Do the characters and stories build understanding of diverse cultures and experiences? Reading books with diverse characters and content not only builds self-confidence through making personal cultural connections but also promotes empathy and understanding. A truly culturally responsive library does involve awareness and research. For more information, check out 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection.

4. Consider the more formal aspects of a library. In addition to finding books that fit classroom lib 2.pngstudent interest, it is important to consider the accessibility of your books. Having a variety of books that cover a range of genres from graphic novels to biographies to poetry allows students to not only read for personal interest but supplement grade-level content learning in the classroom. So organizing books by not only theme but also level is also important to support students when selecting independent books within an appropriately challenging range. This includes having books both below and above grade level. But this doesn’t mean you should discourage a child from picking up a book just because it is not necessarily at his or her level, as their interest and motivation in the book’s topic plays a significant factor in overall comprehension.

5. Overcome the bumps with inspiration. “Reading is SO boring.” “There is nothing here that I want to read.” “I will never finish a book.” “I HATE reading.” Resistance and frustration are sometimes unfortunate parts of the process, but if met with a student-driven effort to identify each reluctant reader’s obstacles and ways to overcome them, negative attitudes toward reading can be turned around. Besides assessing your students’ reading levels and stocking your library with a wide range of interests, sometimes it is worth the time investment to go beyond the classroom for a little added spark. For example, inviting authors and illustrators to your classroom to share their writing or drawing processes can be a game changer for students. Many students have never met an author or illustrator before, and meeting the minds behind the books they’ve read is an inspiring experience for students.

Authentic reading experiences beyond your classroom, such as class trips to the local public library or bookstore, can help get your kids excited about reading. It’s important to provide students with experiences that show them that reading isn’t just an activity done in school. Personally, the best field trip I have attended so far was to Belmont Library in Bronx, NY. M class was able to have free reign of the library for nearly two hours and browse the selection to find their “just right” books. The highlight of the day was a student walking toward me with an armful of books asking, “How many books can I check out, Ms. Panko?” Giving students the opportunity to explore with your support gives them the freedom to internalize a love of reading.

PankoBioPictureLindsay is a recent graduate from Mount Saint Mary College and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Literacy Education. She currently holds New York State certifications for childhood (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6). Lindsay is a first year teacher in the Bronx working as a sixth grade special education teacher. She enjoys hiking throughout the Hudson Valley and baking during her free time.

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20. Interview: Why Culturally Responsive Literature Matters

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 4.21.07 PMGuest BloggerIn this interview with The Open Book, guest blogger R. Joseph Rodríguez, Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, shares strategies on teaching Guadalupe García McCall’s novels in middle and high school English Language Arts, as well as discusses the impact of culturally responsive and relevant literature in the classroom.

What inspired you to write about Guadalupe García McCall, her literature, and classroom applications?

 Guadalupe García McCall’s writings create many connections and destinations in my life, crossing many geographies and memories across time—from my growing up to today. As I read her books, I travel in conversation with her characters.

In literature, we enact the elements of storytelling and literacy by becoming involved with all the facets that make a story readable, understandable, relatable, and enjoyable.

The worlds García McCall creates in her literary works mirror my childhood and journeys. Specifically, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, México, where García McCall was born, is the home of my maternal aunt Cristina, uncle Andrés, and cousins. While growing up, my parents, siblings, and I traveled from Houston to visit them.

Like in García McCall’s novels and poems, many families and cultures are before us—en vivo and in print—with storytellers and cuentos crossing the national grids of the U.S. and México borderlands.

For teachers interested in using Summer of the Mariposas and/or Under the Mesquite—what would you recommend they use the texts for? What part of curriculum? What could they pair this with—any literature or primary source documents? 

The novel in verse Under the Mesquite meets various standards in English language arts that include poetry and various literary elements as well as other disciplines. The book presents an adolescent female who creates poetry and dramatic performances, supports her siblings as a caring problem solver, and seeks ways to keep her mother’s memory alive. The text can be paired with other novels in verse that feature characters with dilemmas and choices that lead to trials and triumphs.

Several primary sources can be considered such as the literary works within the novel, diaries and ballads with historical and personal accounts, and excerpts from classics and contemporary classics that feature first-person point of view such as A Good Long Way, American Ace, Brown Girl Dreaming, CrashBoomLove, My Own True Name, Locomotion, and Republic, among others.

How do you think Under the Mesquite or Summer of the Mariposas could be used to support student writing? What student work or output could teachers have students create to demonstrate understanding? 

As teachers, we can welcome diverse voices in our classrooms and students’ lives by allowing characters to move from the page to other media: performing and visual arts. Reading García McCall’s novels and poetry remind us of the varied stories we carry with our families and in our interior—alive and in memory.

We carry these stories beyond our own biological families to the literary characters and families we meet through the mirrors, windows, and doors of their lives created by our author and medium García McCall and our very own lives. Student can write about these memories with an image that launches the conversation to a recording that can create a collage of storytelling with varied techniques and improvisation for the classroom stage.

Rodriguez pull quote 1There are no required texts for the Common Core State Standards, but we still see that schools and districts can be shy to branch out from more classic texts (“classics” as in texts that seem to appear in every high school year in year out as well as many that are Caucasian and European American literary canon). Why do you think that is? What can teachers do to include more contemporary and/or culturally responsive and relevant texts with limited time and flexibility in the year and curriculum?

Becoming aware of the civic communities that border our schools, the cultural resources and references that inform ideas and decisions, and students’ everyday resilience are key insights to create community through literature and even transport readers to other places in time, to the present, and toward the future.

As teachers, we can also plan literary experiences that create dialogue across borders, cultures, and migrations. Our lessons can reflect adventure, drama, choice, conflict, dilemma, and triumph experienced by characters through literature from diverse experiences, places, and realities. This requires deliberate planning with concepts and competencies for culturally responsive and sustaining instruction that places classics and contemporary classics in dialogue with deeper learning, thinking, and questioning.

Lastly, through the guidance of their teachers, many students are book borrowers who experience libraries in classrooms, schools, homes, and civic communities. As a result, students are permitted self-selection of both print books and e-books.

Is it enough to select a “culturally responsive” book for the curriculum? What does culturally responsive and relevant instruction look like? How can high school teachers make the whole process from book selection, introduction, instruction, and student work/output culturally responsive and relevant? 

When I found García McCall’s novels, which were recommended by Pat Mora, I heard the familiar voices come alive and the stories speak to me from the print and digital pages of our national and binational literary canons. Culture is really about imagination and knowledge and how these sustain us as communities. Thus, as teachers we must be in conversation with our teaching colleagues as well as readers who are among us: our students, their families, librarians, and critics.

There are several book awards that can inform our literary selection and introduction. For instruction and student work, we can rely on resources from the American Library Association, Edutopia, ReadWriteThink.org, and publications from ILA and NCTE. Moreover, the process for selecting a book can take into consideration teaching standards and student learning outcomes that promote growth with interdisciplinary thinking and learning.

Teachers interested in the inclusion of diverse literary traditions understand the role of reading, writing, authorship, and representation in the literacy classroom. The research informs us that students seek literary characters and favor reading and writing experiences that reflect their life choices and questions in both public and private spaces. These choices and questions can be explored through both classics and contemporary classics.

Rodriguez pull quote 2What is at stake if educators do not include culturally responsive and relevant works like García McCall in middle and high school classrooms?

What is at stake here is our democracy and shared efforts for global world understanding. Like García McCall and her characters reveal, we barter through world languages and literature. As a result, we have examples of human cultures meeting and sharing in the making of civilizations, languages, and stories. My earliest memories of family gatherings reflect bilingualism and biculturalism with biliteracies bringing us the warmth and energy to express ourselves so freely and with laughter and occasionally some of life’s sorrows.

Partly driven by fear and also by limited access to print and marketing, diverse voices were missing in textbooks and shelves across the country. This is changing as the U.S. mirrors more who its inhabitants have been: a country of diverse citizens with shared values about literacy and learning. We cannot succumb to fear with non-publication and non-participation if we are to keep our reading public alive for democracy to survive.

I remember the great importance placed on attendance in my schooling. In retrospect, many went uncounted and unaccounted for in my schooling: the literary characters who could forge new ways of seeing, reading, and interpreting adolescent life and thought, yet remained absent. That need not happen any longer as we rethink language arts and literacy education. Our teaching profession calls us to be committed to social change, reflection, and action by bringing more literacy opportunities into the lives of our students—of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, colors, and reading interests—and their diverse communities.


Joseph Rodríguez is Assistant Professor of Literacy and English Education at The University of Texas at El Paso, located on the border across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, México. His research interests include children’s and young adult literatures, socially responsible biliteracies, and academic writing. Catch him virtually @escribescribe or via email: rjrodriguez6@utep.edu.

For further reading by R. Joseph Rodríguez:

Why Culturally Responsive Literature MattersUnder the Mesquite:

Summer of the Mariposas:

Guadalupe García McCall:

 

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21. Celebrating Día at School

 El día de los niños / El día de los libros is turning 20!

Join Spanish Playground, MommyMaestra, American Immigration Council and LEE & LOW BOOKS for a dynamic discussion on how to create an effective and meaningful Día celebration at schools.

Sign up to learn how to:

  • start/magnify a Día celebration at your school
  • invest stakeholders
  • select culturally responsive and relevant books
  • engage English Language Learners and bilingual/multilingual families

Dia Day 2016

Panelists will offer examples and strategies they’ve used to promote multiculturalism and inclusion through books and storytelling techniques to celebrate Día any day.

Meet the Panelists

  • Claire Tesh, Senior Manager of the Community Education Program at American Immigration Council
  • Susan K. Coti, professional storyteller and educator
  • Monica Olivera, Founder and Lead Education Writer at MommyMaestra and Co-Founder of Latinas for Latino Lit
  • Carolyn Vidmar, Public Librarian and Summer Reading Program Coordinator at Spaish Playground

Meet the Moderator

At the end of the panel discussion, all attendees will receive a FREE, ready-to-go toolkit with tips and strategies from American Immigration Council, MommyMaestra, Spanish Playground, and LEE & LOW. Additionally, proof of attendance and participation is available for professional development credit.

Overview

Title: Celebrating Día at School

Date: Thursday, April 14, 2016

Time: 04:00pm Eastern Daylight Time

Duration: 1 hour

Cost: FREE

Recommended for: Educators, Caregivers, and Community Coordinators teaching K-5 students in traditional and non-traditional classroom settings

Learn more: #TeachDia @SpanishPlaygrd @LatinMami @LEEandLOW @ThnkImmigration

Register here!

 together in a panel discussion-Sources with ideas for celebrating El día de los niños / El día de los libros

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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!

Poetry

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. 

Summer

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. 

Silly/Humor

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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25. 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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