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Often when we look at biographies featuring people of color, they repeat the same themes: slavery & civil rights, music, sports. But people of color have contributed positively in every field, including the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. These contributions should be celebrated all year long, not just during heritage months or when there’s a special focus on diversity!
Today on the blog, we feature 5 STEM innovators of color. Who else would you add to the list?
Founder of the Japanese car brand Honda, Soichiro Honda had an inventive mind and a passion for new ideas, and he never gave up on his dream. A legendary figure in the world of manufacturing, Honda is a dynamic symbol of lifelong determination, creativity, and the power of a dream.
Dr. Gordon Sato spent part of his childhood in the Manzanar Internment Camp during WWII, and later became a scientist. He created the Manzanar Project, which found a way to use mangrove trees to provide fuel and food for communities in Eritrea. With alternating verse and prose passages, The Mangrove Tree invites readers to discover how Dr. Gordon Sato’s mangrove tree-planting project transformed an impoverished village into a self-sufficient community.
Wangari Maathai was the first African woman and environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Seeds of Change brings to life her empowering story, from her childhood in Kenya to her role leading a national movement.
Vivien Thomas was an African-American surgical technician who developed the procedures used to treat blue baby syndrome. Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.
Muhammad Yunus is an economist from Bangladesh who founded Grameen Bank and pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Twenty-two Cents is an inspiring story of economic innovation and a celebration of how one person—like one small loan—can make a positive difference in the lives of many.
This award sends 2500 copies of the winning book to schools and programs across the country, and all of a sudden, Tilly was in the hands of young people, in schools, classrooms and friendship centres and it became a YA book.
Thank you for your kind words about My Heart Fills. Working with Julie was a true privilege. We spoke on many occasions about the message and illustrations; it was a beautiful collaboration.
My Heart Fills with Happiness was inspired when I was facilitating a workshop on our history and resilience at an Aboriginal Head Start program.
At lunch, the children joined us and I witnessed a Kookum (Grandma) sitting in her chair and her grandson came running over to her. He stood in front of her and she took his face in his hands and his whole body changed. His shoulders went back, his chin came up and his eyes lit up.
What I saw was the way she looked at him with such love filled his heart with happiness. This got me thinking about what fills my heart and our hearts as human beings. A couple weeks later, I was visiting with five of my dear friends and as we were talking, the book came.
Literally, in one quick write, it was done. Only one line has been changed. My next children's book, called You Hold Me Up has also been inspired by Aboriginal Head Start. This is such a powerful program in our country and now has been running across our country for over 20 years and has 50,000 graduates. Culture and Language as well as Family Involvement are two of the six components of this program and as a result it is a significant aspect to the healing of Residential Schools in Canada.
What were the challenges between spark and publication, and what lessons were learned along the way?
This book was a gift from the Ancestors, I know that with every fibre of my being, Cynthia.
Her first book!
As I said above, there was only one line change and in the end there were three publishing companies that wanted to purchase it.
There were some miscommunications with the design between myself and Orca Publishing and as a result I think we have both learned the importance of ensuring connection throughout the project.
I know that this is a new way of relationships between author and publisher, but in these times of reconciliation, it is critical we work together instead of the publisher having all the power and decision making.
What did Julie Flett’s illustrations bring to your text? (Full disclosure: I'm a fan.)
Oh Julie! As I said above, it was a privilege to collaborate with Julie. When Orca informed me it was going to be Julie Flett illustrating My Heart Fills with Happiness I literally did a happy dance in my office. Not only do I admire Julie's contribution to literature; both as an author and illustrator, but I also have profound respect for her as a human being.
I think Julie's illustrations bring the words alive. The way she was able to capture the tender nuances on facial expressions and body postures is precious!
And the cover, I have had numerous girls say to me, "look, that's me on the cover." I think that says it all! When a child sees themselves on the pages it is incredibly affirming for them and in some ways, their right to be seen.
We all need to be seen and heard, but for generations literature has not only not seen us as Indigenous people, but especially not Indigenous women and girls.
Let me simply say, Julie's illustrations make this book what it is!
Tilly is loosely based on my life through Tilly's journey and the characters she meets they tell aspects of our history as Indigenous people in Canada. It weaves together some of our traditional teachings, culture and ways of being.
It also speaks to my personal journey of alcoholism and recovery and the beautiful relationship Tilly has with her alcohol & drug counsellor, Bea.
How have you grown as writer over time?
Oh yes, I am still growing...and to be honest, hope to never stop growing. I am not a trained writer, so I need exceptional editing support.
One of the aspects where I feel I have grown the most is being willing to let the story flow through me.
I used to want to interrupt and pause the story, but now I close my eyes and type away or I share what I'm thinking into my phone. Especially dialogue between characters, that seems to come to me in the place between wakefulness and sleep.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Pay attention. Notice your surroundings, the mannerisms of individuals, the ways people speak, how the light looks on the land at different times.
I'd also say, put yourself out there: let others read your work, send it in to contests, send it to publishers. And remember, you will get on of three responses. Yes. Not yet. Or I have something even better in mind.
View of Gonzales Bay from Monique's office
How about Native American/First Nations authors?
Our people are craving to read our stories and stories that they can see themselves and their lived experiences in. Write them, share them. And if writing them isn't necessarily comfortable, talk them.
On most phones, there is the microphone app on email, if you record your story and then send it to yourself by email it will come as text and voila, you have your first draft.
I would also remind you of the importance of ceremony when writing. I find it helps ground me and opens me for the story to come through me. Offerings of gratitude help me every single day, not only when I am writing, but every day.
I would also say read as much as you can and raise up and talk about those you are reading.
How fantastic is it that the theme for this year's Banned Books Week (Sept. 25 - Oct. 1) is Frequently Challenged Books with Diverse Content? We are all about books with diverse content here (well, not ALL, but it's one of the themes we feature... Read the rest of this post
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Chess Rumble, which explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life.
Synopsis: In Marcus’s world, battles are fought everyday—on the street, at home, and in school. Angered by his sister’s death and his father’s absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists.
One punch away from being kicked out of school and his home, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. Guarded and distrusting, Marcus must endure more hard lessons before he can accept CM’s help to regain control of his life.
Awards and Honors:
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, American Library Association (ALA)
Notable Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English
Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, International Reading Association (IRA)
Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, BoysRead.org
G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors. Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dove into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”
Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.”
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used across the country in classrooms and libraries today.
Today we are featuring one of our favorite titles: George Crum and the Saratoga Chip.This fun story looks at the history behind everyone’s favorite snack food: the potato chip!
About the book: Growing up in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York, isn’t easy for George Crum. Picked on at school because of the color of his skin, George escapes into his favorite pastimes — hunting and fishing.
Soon George learns to cook too, and as a young man he lands a job as chef at the fancy Moon’s Lake House. George loves his work, except for the fussy customers, who are always complaining! One hot day George’s patience boils over, and he cooks up a potato dish so unique it changes his life forever.
Readers will delight in this spirited story of the invention of the potato chip — one of America’s favorite snack foods. George Crum and the Saratoga Chip is a testament to human ingenuity, and a tasty slice of culinary history.
Awards and Honors:
Texas Bluebonnet Masterlist, Texas Library Association
Best Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
Distinguished Children’s Biography List, Cleveland Public Library
Author Gaylia Taylorbegan writing for children after she retired from many years working as a Reading Recovery® teacher. Taylor stumbled across George Crum’s story while researching African American inventors on the Internet.
“I’m always looking for a story to tell, and George Crum caught my attention because his invention, the potato chip, is loved by so many people,” says the author in an interview. “I have to admit that a story about the potato chip peaked my own curiosity, because it is my favorite snack.” The more Taylor read about George Crum, the more interested she became in his life. The author says that all her research described George Crum as having a very distinct and colorful personality. “I just couldn’t let him go,” says Taylor. “I said, ‘George, we’ve got a story to tell!’”
Resources for Teaching With George Crum and the Saratoga Chip:
Pia Ceres was LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is a recipient of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program grant. She’s a senior at Brown University, where she studies Education & Comparative Literature, with a focus in French literature. When she’s not reading, you can find her watching classic horror movies from under a blanket, strumming pop songs on her ukulele, and listening to her grandparents’ stories about the Philippines. In this blog post, she describes a friendship she developed with a character, and highlights some of LEE & LOW’s Filipino titles.
Do you know my friend Cora? I met her this summer.
Cora is the star of the picture book Cora Cooks Pancit, by Dorina Lazo Gilmore. She’s sweet, tan-skinned with a child’s moon-like face. She dreams of helping her mother cook Filipino dishes like adobo and lumpia and pancit, and one glorious day, she does just that. When Cora sits on the floor thinking about food while licking a spoon, I know we’re meant to be.
Of course, we make friends in books for reasons other than shared cultural experience. (Jo March, you’re my day one girl.) However, it’s increasingly critical that readers see their stories in books. When the values communicated in political rhetoric and popular culture can make a child feel ashamed or threatened for their differences, reflective stories provide crucial opportunity to help reframe their experiences in an affirming light.
When Mama asks Cora what she would like to cook, Cora “scrunched up her pug nose and began to think.” Memories of being teased about my low-bridged nose came tumbling back from time. But now, where there used to be shame, or longing for a Barbie doll’s features, Cora’s story creates the possibility of pride. She has a nose like me, and she’s smart, helpful, and adorable! At last, the positive mirror I didn’t even know I was waiting for until now.
So in the hope of inspiring conversation about taking pride in one’s heritage, and also recognizing the beauty of cultures different than one’s own, I’ve rounded up a few of LEE & LOW’s other Filipino and Filipino-American titles. With hope, they will be just the start of books that capture the Filipino/FilAm experience, making these stories accessible to all children.
Readers will be captivated by lush illustrations in this retelling of Cinderella, set in the little-represented world of the pre-colonial Philippines. Abadeha’s story begins as most Cinderella stories do, but what follows is an enchanting series of events that are deeply rooted in local mythologies. Magic takes unexpected forms, and fairytale fans will find Abadeha’s ending familiar, yet entirely new.
Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella, by Myrna Paz, illus. by Youshan Tang
A warm and whimsical Manilatown, San Francisco, is the setting for a young boy’s adventures catching a troublesome talking fish. As the slippery ectotherm whirls through the streets, townspeople join Lakas’s rag-tag fish-hunting band. The language is doubly musical, as the book is written in both Tagalog and English!
Lakas and the Manilatown Fish, by Anthony Robles, illus. by Carl Angel
When his teacher announces a contest to see who can save the most play money, a baseball-loving Filipino American boy brings his father’s alkansiya, a bank made out of a hollow coconut shell, to school. Even though the bully mocks his “old, dusty shell,” Willie is determined to win the competition and learns an important lesson about his heritage. For any reader who has brought a part of their home culture with them to school and been teased (be it a packed lunch or article of clothing), this book is a reminder that where we come from makes us special.
Willie Wins, by Almira Astudillo Gilles, illus. by Carl Angel
The quest for more diverse books never ends! Do you have any recommendations for books about the Filipino/FilAm experience? When was the first time you saw yourself in a book? Share in the comments below!
After the success of the first #DVpit event in April, #DVpit is back for another round of Twitter pitching fun on October 5th and 6th! If you’re unfamiliar with this event, #DVpit is a Twitter pitch contest created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors.
While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event! The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s #DVpit website.
A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan
October 5, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Children’s and Teen Fiction/Nonfiction
October 6, 2016: 8AM – 8PM ET for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction
What is #DVpit?
#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.
The first #DVpit took place on April 19, 2016 and was a national trending hashtag. There have been over 15 authors signed by agents as a direct result of this event so far, with editors from small to mid-size to Big Five publishers requesting to receive the manuscripts at submission stage.
#DVpit was covered by Bustle, Salon, YA Interrobang, and multiple blog sites like Lee & Low Blog and Daily Dahlia.
The event was created and is moderated by Beth Phelan, a literary agent at the Bent Agency.
When is the next #DVpit?
#DVpit will occur over two days. Please make sure you are pitching your work on the appropriate day; many of the agents and editors will only tune in on a specific day, to see the pitches in the categories they represent/acquire.
October 5th will be for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (picture books, chapter books, graphic novel, middle grade, young adult).
October 6th will be for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (all genres, commercial and literary).
The event will run on each day from 8AM ET until 8PM ET using the hashtag #DVpit on both days.
What kind of work can you submit?
The participating agents and editors will be looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the description here.
Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.
How do you submit?
The event will be broken up over two days, one for Children’s & Teen Fiction/Nonfiction (October 5) and the other for Adult Fiction/Nonfiction (October 6). Please make sure that you pitch on the appropriate day.
Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.
Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags as well.
We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book / you are a diverse author, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc. These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you label your experience. Please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.
Please pitch no more than once per hour. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.
Please do not tweet-pitch the agents/editors directly!
The event will run from 8:00AM ET until 8:00PM ET, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time, on the appropriate day.
What happens next?
Agents/editors will “like” your pitch if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply or quote-tweet with compliments.
Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.
All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), I encourage you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).
If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same company have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy on multiple submissions, or reach out to me and I will be happy to find out for you.
Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!
Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating again this round. So get those pitches ready for October 5th!
If you need help with your pitch, check out these helpful resources here.
Scholastic Book Club will soon be offering my debut tween novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, as a diversity selection through book clubs.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins and Listening Library, 2001)(ages 10-up). Available as an unabridged audio download. From the promotional copy:
The next day was my fourteenth birthday, and I'd never kissed a boy -- domestic style or French. Right then, I decided to get myself a teen life.
Cassidy Rain Berghoff didn't know that the very night she decided to get a life would be the night that Galen would lose his.
It's been six months since her best friend died, and up until now Rain has succeeded in shutting herself off from the world. But when controversy arises around her aunt Georgia's Indian Camp in their mostly white Midwestern community, Rain decides to face the outside world again -- at least through the lens of her camera.
Hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers, Rain soon finds that she has to decide how involved She wants to become in Indian Camp. Does she want to keep a professional distance from the intertribal community she belongs to? And just how willing is she to connect with the campers after her great loss?
In a voice that resonates with insight and humor, Cynthia Leitich Smith tells of heartbreak, recovery, and reclaiming one's place in the world.
“Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself. What’s amazing here is Rain’s insights into her own pain, and how cleanly she uses language to contain it.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. It’s Rain’s story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her ‘patch-work tribe.'”
— School Library Journal
“…readers will feel the affection of Rain’s loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.”
Welcoming Week is a special time of year. Communities across the country will come together to celebrate and raise awareness of immigrants, refugees and new Americans of all kinds. Whether it’s an event at your local art gallery or showing support on social media, the goal is to let anyone new to America know just how much they are valued and welcomed during what is likely a big transition.
And the biggest transitions are happening for the littlest people.
A new country, a new home, maybe even a new language — that would be enough for any kid — but a new school, too? That subject is exactly what author Anne Sibley O’Brien addresses in her book I’m New Here, new to the First Book Marketplace.
Marissa Wasseluk and Roxana Barillas of the First Book team had the pleasure of speaking with Anne about I’m New Here, the experiences of kids new to America, and what kids can do to help create a welcoming atmosphere.
Marissa: So, and I am sure you get this question all the time, but I’m curious — what inspired or motivated you to create I’m New Here?
It’s funny, it’s such a, “where would you start?” kind of question, but I don’t remember if anyone has ever asked me that point blank because I don’t recall ever putting together this answer before. Over the years of working in schools — especially working with Margy Burns Knight with our nonfiction books: Talking Walls; Who Belongs Here and other multi-racial, multicultural, global nonfiction books — I had a lot of encounters, a lot of discussions, a lot of experiences with immigrant students and I was very aware of the kinds of cross-cultural challenges that children and teachers can experience. For instance, Cambodian children show respect by keeping their eyes down and not looking in the eyes of an adult, especially a teacher. In Cambodian culture adults don’t ever touch children’s heads. So you can immediately imagine how those kinds of things would be quite challenging when a Cambodian child comes into a U.S. classroom and suddenly two of those cultural markers are not only gone, but the opposite is what they need to learn.
Somebody might put their hand on your head — it being out of concern and wanting to make a connection — or they might say “I need you to look at me now” and not recognize that that’s cultural inappropriate for a Cambodian child. So growing that kind of awareness of the challenges that immigrant children face — that was the original impetus for the book. Just collecting some of those stories and raising awareness of how many obstacles immigrant children face. From climate to traditions in speaking and in body language, to food, to learning a new language. Not just learning a new language in terms of how you speak and read and write, but also how you interact with people, how social norms work — they just face such enormous challenges. And there were originally six characters so it was trying to cover everything.
Marissa: The characters that are in the book, they cover a child from Guatemala, a child from Korea, and a child from Somalia — did you work with these specific immigrant communities when you were creating this book?
I spoke to individual experts, such as several Somali interpreters and family liaison experts who work for the multi-lingual, multicultural office of the Portland, ME public schools. So I had that kind of expert advice to respond to what I was writing. But the original ideas mostly came from my observations, my interactions with Somali students in the classrooms that I visited. And then with Korean students I met many, many Korean students here in the US and I had my own background to draw on there.
Marissa: Can you tell me a little bit more about these classrooms that you’ve visited? We talk with a lot of educators who work with Title I schools and they often talk about how reserved the English as a second language students can be. There is a silent phase that a lot of kids go through. Have you observed that and have you shared your book with any of these first generation immigrants?
It’s certainly been shared with many. I actually just shared it with a group of students in a summer school program — about seventy students from third to fifth grade who were from East African countries and some Middle Eastern countries. Most of the group were immigrants and I read the book and then we had a discussion about being new and being welcoming. Of all the student groups that I’ve worked with, they were actually the most effusive and had the most to share in that discussion about what it feels like to be new and what you can do to welcome someone.
Marissa: What were some of the suggestions?
They had all kinds of ideas about what you could say and do to make somebody feel like they were at home. You could take them around, go through a list and say, “this is your classroom, this is your teacher, this is your playground, this is your classmate.”
Roxana: You’re taking me back – a few years back I came to the United States when I was twelve from El Salvador, speaking no English. It hits close to home in terms of the importance of the work you are doing, not just for kids who may not always feel like they belong, but also for the kids who can actually help that process be an easier one.
That is wonderful to hear. I was just struck that they had more suggestions than any group I’d worked with, they could hardly be contained. They had so much they wanted to say and I think it’s very fresh in their minds what welcoming looks like and maybe what did or what didn’t happen for them. So the list that they wrote: welcome to my class, say hi, wave, smile, hello, say this is my classroom, these are my friends, do you want to become friends? these are my parents, this is my family, show them around, this is my chair, this is my house, this is your school, this is my teacher, can you read with me? how’s it going? I live here, where do you live? do you need help? welcome to my school.
It was the specificity of it that I just loved.
And they said what it felt like to be new. These kids went beyond with the details so they said: scared, nervous, confused, happy, sad, lonely, shy, surprised. Which is what I get with any group that I talk to — but then they wrote: don’t know how to write, don’t know everybody, don’t know what to do, don’t know what they’re saying, don’t know what to say, don’t think you fit in, embarrassed, don’t know how to read books, don’t know what to think, don’t know how to play games, don’t know how to respond, don’t know how to use the computer. So that is a really rich, concrete list.
Marissa: What about educators, how have educators responded to your book?
It’s been pretty phenomenal. The book is in its third printing and it’s just a year old. Actually, it went into its third print run in June. That is by far the fastest that any book of mine has taken off, so there seemed to really be a hunger. There are quite a number of books about an individual immigrant’s story, but I think what people are responding to, what they found useful, is that this book is different because it’s a concept book about the experience of being new and being welcoming, and in that way it works. A particular story can make a deep connection even if your experience is quite different, you recognize things that are similar. But to have one book that outlines what the experience is like, it is very good for discussions. I’ve done more teacher conferences and appearances, especially in the TESOL community, than I did before. Normally I do a lot of schools where I talk to students, but in the past year the majority of my appearances have been for teacher conferences.
Marissa: Have any of them come up to you and told you how it’s resonated with them? Have you met any educators who are immigrants themselves?
Yes, definitely! The TESOL community is full of people who have immigrant backgrounds. I shouldn’t say full, but there is quite a healthy percentage of the TESOL community who come from that background themselves. Partly because schools often recruit someone who’s bilingual, so you tend to get a lot of wonderful richness of people’s life experiences. They might be second generation or they might not have come as a child but they definitely make a strong connection to children who have that experience. I remember, in particular, some very moving statements that people made standing in line waiting to have a book signed. Talking about how it was “their story” or people talking about and being reminded of their own students. When I talked about the book they were in tears thinking about their own students.
Marissa: Ideally, how would you like to see your book being used in a classroom or a child’s home?
I think I see it in two ways. First, for a child who has just arrived and who is in a situation where things are strange; to be able to recognize themselves and see that their experience is reflected in something that makes them feel less lonely and that there is hope. Many, many people have gone through this experience and it can be so difficult but you can get through.
And to the children who are not recent immigrants, who have been part of a community for generations; that it would spark empathy for children, for them to imagine what it would be like if they had that experience. Starting with that universal experience of somehow being new somewhere and to recognize, “oh, I remember what that felt like” and imagine if it was not only a new school, but a new country and a new language and a new culture and new food and new religions and on and on and on. Particularly for them to imagine what they could do, concretely, to examine what the new children are doing and to see how hard they are working, the effort that they are making. And also how their classmates are responding so that the outcome is the whole group building a community together.
To learn more about I’m New Here and Anne’s perspective, watch and listen as she discusses the book and her insights into the experiences of immigrant children.
"Barefoot Books was founded in 1992 by two young moms working from home with the dream of creating beautiful books that celebrate diversity, spark curiosity and capture children’s imaginations."
There's been an ongoing conversation about diversity in children's literature. What are your thoughts on the subject?
Children's publishers, and the media industry as a whole, have a huge responsibility to create diverse, inclusive content for kids. Barefoot Books has always been committed to celebrating diversity and inclusion; but our mission, and the task of nurturing empathy in our children, has never felt more urgent than it does today.
As our culture faces what President Obama has called an "empathy deficit," it's important for us to work hard to do better by our children. All children deserve to see themselves, their families and their experiences represented in the books they read. They also need to see and understand others, in order to develop empathy, and grow into compassionate, responsible global citizens, prepared to thrive and contribute in their communities and in professional and academic spheres in the 21st century.
Our children look up to us; they're listening to our conversations, soaking in and internalizing our attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and others. It is now more important than ever for parents, educators and caregivers to share diverse and inclusive books with the children in their lives and to start conversations about empathy and compassion.
How is Barefoot Books responding in terms of diverse representation on your list?
This month, we are particularly excited to be introducing what is perhaps our most meaningful, and certainly most timely, publication to date, The Barefoot Book of Children, which empowers caregivers and educators to start important conversations with children about diversity, inclusivity and acceptance.
We worked with a team of both U.K.- and U.S.-based diversity and inclusion experts to represent a wide range of children as accurately as possible; and the result, with meticulously researched hand-painted art by award-winning illustrator David Dean, is a playful, powerful and thought-provoking celebration of both the big ideas and everyday moments that reveal our common humanity and tie us all together.
At Barefoot, we've always been passionate about celebrating diversity of all kinds in our books: it's one of our core values and central to our mission as a company.
We began nearly 25 years ago by publishing myths, legends, folk and fairy tales from all over the world.
However, we aim to celebrate more than just cultural diversity. Many of our picture books - such as Mama Panya's Pancakes and The Girl with a Brave Heart - immerse readers in the experiences of children from around the world and also foster compassion for others.
From The Animal Boogie, which has sold well over two million copies, and our other other best-selling singalongs, to The Boy Who Grew Flowers, which was written by the author for her brother who has autism, our books strive to offer positive, strong, relatable characters to children who may feel different from others.
We also strive to introduce children to other faiths and religions with books like The Wise Fool, a light-hearted introduction to Islamic culture; and The Mountains of Tibet, a gentle story from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
A couple of years' ago, we published My Big Barefoot Book of Wonderful Words, which depicts a multi-racial family in a contemporary urban setting - "Richard Scarry for the 21st century". We worked with Beth Cox, founder of Inclusive Minds, to ensure that we accurately represented people of all races, cultures, abilities and lifestyles.
This book is now available in bilingual Spanish/English and French/English versions.
How about diverse voices (AKA authors) and visions (illustrators)? Do you have a message for those children's book creators?
Being inclusive means relating to each other in ways that give a voice to everyone - and that means publishing books not only for all children, but by a wide range of creators!
When introducing children to cultures from around the globe, it's vitally important to ensure that they're getting an accurate perspective from the authentic voice of a local creator.
From the very beginning, we've commissioned authors and illustrators from all over the world, including Tehran-born Israeli pop star Rita Jahanforuz, author of The Girl with a Brave Heart; Lebanon-born Wafa' Tarnowska, author of The Arabian Nights; and Mexico-born Caldecott Honor-winner Yuyi Morales, illustrator of Sand Sister.
We continually strive to find contributors who can provide that authentic voice and vision; it's a core part of our editorial conversation.
How are you doing outreach to Native children and children of color?
Barefoot is unique in the publishing industry because of our emphasis, not only on creating beautiful books, but also on growing a vibrant community of people who share our core values. We sell our books to schools, libraries and independent retailers as well as through our passionate network of home-based sellers called "Ambassadors" who are united by our mission to share diverse, inclusive and inspiring books.
Many of our Ambassadors use their businesses to give back and raise funds to promote causes that are important to them. Some are involved in promoting literacy in various underserved communities whose children have historically been underrepresented in children's books, including children of color. We are so proud of the incredible work our Ambassadors are doing to advance our mission to share stories, connect families and inspire children.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
For nearly a quarter of a century, Barefoot has been creating beautiful books for children that nurture creativity and compassion, and that celebrate diversity in all its forms. Discussions about race, diversity and inclusion are happening everywhere - in homes, in our children's schools, even in their playgrounds.
Books offer an essential and accessible resource for parents and educators to kickstart crucial conversations about these important topics with our children.
Since our founding in 1992, Barefoot has put nearly 20 million books into the hands of children and we would love to make that 100 million!
We believe the time is ripe to build some real momentum and create a movement of people who want to change the conversation and start to create a more accepting, inclusive world for our children.
Today marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month. During this period from September 15-October 15, we recognize the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States, including people from Mexico.
With the heated current political climate and Donald Trump’s call to “build a wall” across the Mexico-US border, the relationships between Latinos in the US and US politicians have been strained, to say the least. Instead of isolating people because we deem them “others,” we think it makes much more sense to celebrate our differences and the things that connect us. America is great because of the variety of cultures and people that live here–and for many years, Mexico has been a friend and ally to our South, whose immigrants have contributed so much to American history and culture. So let’s celebrate the work and accomplishments of people from Mexico, as well as the beauty and culture of Mexico with these great books:
Guadalupe Rivera Marín shares some of her childhood memories of the world-renowned artist who also happened to be her papá. This intimate artistic portrait will delight readers, from the youngest art lovers to Diego Rivera’s biggest fans.
This is the exciting story of how a Mexican Air Force squadron and an unknown schoolteacher made their mark in history by coming to fight alongside the US Air Force during World War II.
Book available for purchase in October!
Also consider these collections:
Mexican Culture Collection – This collection includes both fiction and nonfiction stories that highlight the work and accomplishments of people from Mexico, as well as the beauty and culture of Mexico.
Carmen Lomas Garza Collection – Carmen Lomas Garza is one of the most prominent Mexican American painters working today. She has many award-winning books including Family Pictures, In My Family, Magic Windows.
Juan Felipe Herrera Collection – Juan Felipe Herrera was 2015’s U.S. Poet Laureate and an award-winning author of four beloved picture books for young readers from our Children’s Book Press imprint.
The National Book Awards Longlist: Young People's Literature from The New Yorker. Peek: "...a novel in verse about a twelve-year-old soccer nut, an illustrated adventure story that draws on Chinese folklore, a work of nonfiction about a woman who survived the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Nagasaki, a surreal love story involving rumored witches, and a graphic novel about the civil-rights movement co-written by a sitting U.S. congressman."
Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award: "This year’s winner is Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir written by Margarita Engle, published by Atheneum...."
Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Peek: "NCTE honors Matt de la Peña for his courage in standing up for intellectual freedom with the NCTE National Intellectual Freedom Award, given for de la Peña’s efforts to fight censorship not only through his words but also through his actions."
Willa Award Finalist
Willa Award Winner and Finalists from Women Writing the West. Peek: "Chosen by professional librarians, historians and university affiliated educators, the winning authors and their books will be honored at the 22st Annual WWW Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Oct. to Oct. 16..."
Lammy Award from Lambda Literary. Peek: "Exciting news for Alex Gino and all of us who want this beautiful and important story of a transgender child in 4th grade to get into the hands of everyone who needs it."
Parents Choice Book Awards: "Parents' Choice Foundation, established in 1978 as a 501c3, is the nation’s oldest nonprofit guide to quality children’s media and toys."
Finalists Announced for the 2016 Canadian Children's Book Centre Awards"The winners of the English-language awards will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at The Carlu in Toronto on November 17, 2016. The winners of the Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse will be announced at an invitation-only gala event at Le Windsor in Montreal on November 1, 2016. Overall, $135,000 in prize monies will be awarded."
International Latino Award (Chap Book)
2016 International Latino Book Awards: "...now the largest Latino cultural Awards in the USA and with the 257 finalists this year, it has honored the greatness of 2,171 authors and publishers over the past two decades. These books are a great reflection that books by and about Latinos are in high demand. In 2016 Latinos will purchase over $675 million in books in English and Spanish."
Writers' League of Texas Book Award Winners, Finalists and Discovery Prize Winners: "With over 1,200 members statewide and growing, the Writers’ League of Texas is a vibrant community that serves to educate and uplift Texas writers, whatever stage they may be at in their writing careers. In addition, the WLT offers valuable service to communities across the state with free programming in libraries and local schools."
Lee & Low New Visions Award: "Manuscripts should address the needs of children and teens of color by providing stories with which they can identify and relate, and which promote a greater understanding of one another. Themes relating to LGBTQ+ topics or disabilities may also be included." Deadline: Oct. 31.
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Check out LEE & LOW BOOKS’ Building Classroom Community Unit for Kindergarten! The FREE and downloadableunit consists of eight read aloud lesson plans to inspire your best classroom community yet.
The start of the kindergarten year is ripe with opportunities for building long-lasting positive school behaviors and attitudes. Time spent building relationships and establishing social and academic expectations can pay dividends all year long.
Using a rich collection of diverse picture books to support this work lays the foundation for a classroom culture of appreciation and acceptance.
TheBuilding Classroom Community Unit for Kindergartenconsists of eight read aloud lesson plans. Each lesson paired with a book is intended for multiple days so that from the beginning students are exposed to close reading and the value of multiple readings. We believe the first eight read alouds, or roughly the first two months of school, are critical to setting the tone of your classroom community, read aloud procedures, and expectations for engagement.
help students connect to one another by discussing things they like and their families
share goals for the kindergarten year to create a sense of shared purpose
establish a common vocabulary for discussing emotions, which will support both social and literacy goals
generate clear, specific expectations for active listening in groups and partnerships, respectful communication, treating one another with kindness, solving problems, and working together as a community of learners.
Each lesson may be used as a stand alone, but we hope that using these books as a broad unit will help lay the foundation for a strong classroom community with strong learning expectations. We designed the unit to spiral. Additionally, each lesson and book can be adapted for other grades (and we hope you will do this!).
Book extension activities provide initial opportunities to practice these crucial behaviors, and the resource materials you create will support ongoing focus on these topics.
I was dimly aware that such a unit existed, so I did some research and found that there are some quite wonderful books which chronicle the story of these amazing men, who fought for their country so bravely while their fellow citizens, whose only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, languished in internment camps.
But it was a story woefully untold for middle grade readers.
Now I had my subject, but how to tell their tale in such a way that it would reach the largest audience? Nonfiction?
There are gifted writers such as Candace Fleming and Steve Sheinkin who can bring history to life with the drama and craft that enthrall young readers, but that’s not really my strength. I’ve spent years as a comedy writer in other fields, and humor and fiction are more where I’m comfortable.
Historical fiction? While I could have set the story in the 1940s, I wanted to make the story as relatable as possible to kid readers today, so involving a young Asian-American boy in today’s world felt right. By now we’d had our son, and as he grew older, I observed his fascination with computer and video games. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a way in!
Maybe I could hook kids with an adventure, one involving computer games, puzzles and suspense. I could weave the story of Melissa’s uncle throughout, using him as a character and the clues could relate to the 100th Battalion.
If I could pull this off, my readers might get a history lesson without even realizing it! Of course, there would be enough there for teachers to expand on and amplify, if they wished to use my book in the classroom. But my goal was to tell the story with lots of humor and keep the kids laughing as they learned.
Finally, to honor my half-Asian son (who still faces many of the same micro-agressions his mother does), I decided to make the protagonist hapa, as half-Asians are called within the community. Note: for positive examples of hapa characters in Disney films please read this excellent post.
So now I knew what the story I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell it. I rolled up my sleeves (okay, I pushed up my sleeves. I wear sweatshirts) and started to write. Click Here To Start was the result.
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Don't miss our interview with author Sherri Smith this Wednesday, as part of the Pasadena blog tour! Synopsis: "The thing I'm finally learning is that someone can be your best friend in the world, but you're not necessarily theirs." Pasadena. It's... Read the rest of this post
How "Girl Books" Could Save the World (Or at Least Help Out) by Jen Malone from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "Guess who’s not being exposed to these main characters? Boys. That’s a problem, because their female counterparts are only too happy to read books featuring male central characters, meaning those girls’ empathy for and understanding of the opposite gender grows, while the reverse isn’t necessarily happening."
Teen Girls Have a Right to Roam, Too by C.J. Flood from The Guardian. Peek: "Was it responsible, I asked my publicist and editor, to show teenage girl friends creeping from their bedrooms after dark, to wander their home turf in the moonlight?"
On Gendered Book Covers and Being a Woman Designer by Jennifer Heuer from Lit Hub. Peek: "What topics are women interested in? All of them. How about that book about sports (and not just one about a female athlete)? History (not just one about suffragettes)? A crime thriller (not just one with “girl” in the title)?"
The Heroine's Journey: How Campbell's Model Doesn't Fit by B.J. Priester from Fangirl. Peek: "Putting too much weight on old myths with antiquated, if not downright misogynistic, attitudes toward women will only reinforce sexist limitations from a sexist time in human history."
LGBT Lit for Children and Teens Comes of Age by Ryan Joe by Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Characters are increasingly certain of who they are, so there’s less drama around the search for identity. This assuredness is evident even in some middle grade novels and picture books."
Latinx Gay YA by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Gay YA. Peek: "Clearly, gay youth are more than their coming out experiences and there is certainly a need to see gay characters live lives that represent that. However, these stories continue to be extremely valuable for Latinx communities."
Transgender Characters Come of Age in YA Lit by Jocelyn McClurg from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "LGBT issues have found a home in books for young readers in recent years, but only now are fictional trans stories reaching critical mass."
Promoting LGBTQIA + YA: A Publicist's POV by Jamie Tan from Gay YA. Peek: "I first wanted to see where this book came from, and if the book was as close to Pat’s heart as it seemed, before doing my duty as a publicist and seeing if I could encourage Pat to talk about these themes in a personal way." See also Pat Schmatz.
In the latest installment of the Marisol McDonald series, Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, Marisol McDonald is confronted with her greatest fear: monsters! In celebration of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, released last month, Lee & Low Staff share the scary things that keep them up at night.
Louise May, Editorial Director
“Having to sing in public. I don’t have a great voice and I can’t carry a tune.”
Kandace Coston, Editorial Assistant
Pia Ceres, Marketing & Publicity Intern
“Not having the courage to speak up when it counts. Also, since I was a kid, I’ve had this fear that someone living in the mirror would reach through the threshold and grab me while I’m brushing my teeth, which is a very vulnerable position if you think about it.”
Randy Eng, Operations Coordinator
Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate
“I have a huge fear of clowns. I think it’s because I watched Stephen King’s “It” when I was young with my cousins and it scarred me for life.”
Jalissa Corrie, Marketing & Publicity Assistant
“I have a fear of ghosts. I think there is one (or more) that lives in my parent’s house in the Hudson Valley. They tend to make themselves known when I’m home by myself.”
Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing & Publicity
“I actually had a very strange phobia when I was growing up: I was afraid of buttons. I would not let my parents dress me in any clothes with buttons, did not like to touch buttons myself, hated sitting on chairs with buttons, and even avoided hugging people who were wearing button-down shirts. For most of my childhood, I thought it was just a weird thing that only I had. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve actually learned that there is a name for this phobia: Koumpounophobia. It’s pretty rare, but it’s estimated that nearly one in every 75,000 people experiences it. Most famously, Steve Jobs admitted that he has koumpounophobia and some speculate that his fear of buttons may have led to the invention of the iPhone and other buttonless devices. My phobia is fairly mild now but I still hate wearing button-down shirts, avoid button-up duvet covers, and prefer not to touch buttons (especially the small plastic ones) if I don’t have to!”
Hsu Hnin, Operations Assistant
“My greatest fear is the darkness; especially when I have to sleep in a place where there’s absolutely no light.”
John Man, Director of Operations
“My biggest fear is running out of poke balls during a hunt.”
You can purchase a copy of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo here.
Don’t miss the first two books in the Marisol McDonald series:
It’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.
At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.
Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.
What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?
Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.
Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.
Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.
What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?
LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.
JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.
How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?
LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.
JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.
What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?
LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.
JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.
How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?
LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.
JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating First Day in Grapes, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. Chico’s story of personal triumph and bravery in the face of bullying is a testament to the inner strength in us all.
Synopsis: All year long Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September they pick grapes and Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him — maybe because he is always new or maybe because he speaks Spanish sometimes.
Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different. His teacher likes him right away, and she and his classmates are quick to recognize his excellent math skills. He may even get to go to the math fair! When the fourth-grade bullies confront Chico in the lunchroom, he responds wisely with strengths of his own.
Awards and Honors:
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor, ALSC/REFORMA
Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
From the Illustrator:
“Stories that help kids become familiar with kids of other cultures or others in different situations are books that I like to illustrate. I appreciate the way the author put the main character in situations that kids deal with daily in real life and how the boy used his wits to get out of tough situations.
I related to the kid in this story in a wacky way when it came to avoiding bullies. When I was about nine years old there was a boy who picked on me daily, until one day I came up with an idea. I thought that if I walked by him making a face that he wouldn’t recognize me and leave me alone. The plan worked, but now that I think of it, I doubt it was because he didn’t recognize me.”
Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.
Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!
Teach us how to read in two languages.
Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
Develop strong critical thinking skills
Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
Expose us to new ways of communicating.
Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
Over the summer, the children's-YA book community has continued discussing diversity, decolonization, authenticity and representation both throughout the body of literature and the industry. Here are highlights; look for more in quickly upcoming, additional update posts.
Twelve Fundamentals of Writing The "Other" and The Self by Daniel Jose Older from Buzzfeed Books. Peek: "Every character has a relationship to power. This includes institutional, interpersonal, historical, cultural. It plays out in the micro-aggressions and hate crimes, sex, body image, life-changing decisions, everyday annoyances and the depth of historical community trauma."
Looking Back: Diversity in Board Books by Joanna Marple from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "...that children as young as six months can judge others by the color of their skin. Even if a caregiver never mentions race, children may well use skin color on their own, along with other differences, to judge themselves and others."
Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books from CCBlogC. Peek: "We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators?"
On White Fragility in Young Adult Literature by Justine Larbalestier from Reading While White. Peek: "...we white authors can support Indigenous authors and Authors of Color by reading their books, recommending their books, blurbing their books, and recommending them to our agents. When we're invited to conferences, or festivals, or to be in anthologies, make sure they're not majority white."
Biracial, Bicultural Roundtable (Part One, Part Two) by Cynthia Leitich Smith from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "According to a 2015 Pew study, 6.9 percent of the U.S. population is biracial. According to the 2010 Census, between 2000 and 2010, the number of people identifying themselves with more than one race rose from 6.8 million to 9 million."
Before my big move to the publishing industry, I worked in the corporate world of fashion and apparel (and a small stint in home furnishings). There were many times when I’d look forward to seeing what new styles would pop up on the runway during NYC Fashion Week. I’d even spend my lunch breaks gazing at every single design captured perfectly by photographers at the right moment. I knew in my head that most, if not all, those pieces I probably wouldn’t wear (and let’s be honest could never even afford), but anyone can dream.
When looking for the perfect piece to add to my wardrobe I’d mainly resort to stores that actually fit my price point including one of my favorites––Uniqlo. From their simple, yet modern designs to their commitment to quality and longevity, I knew that Uniqlo was the perfect place for me to shop and satisfy my need for stylish and affordable clothing.
Recently, Uniqlo, in collaboration with UK fashion designer Hana Tajima, introduced an entire collection featuring kebayas, headwraps, and hijabs. The Uniqlo website says, “From casual pieces including long, flowing skirts, tapered ankle-length pants, and blouses to more traditional wear like kebaya and hijab, this collection fuses contemporary design and comfortable fabrics with traditional values.”
Rarely have I seen a collection from an apparel company of Uniqlo’s size that directly serves anyone other than the mainstream demographic. And what I appreciate the most is that this collection was done with grace and respect.
Over the years, I’ve seen designers co-opt traditional pieces from other cultures to incorporate into their lines. One can argue that many of these designers have and still continue to appropriate aspects of different cultures in order to look edgy and daring while reaping the benefits of accolades and praise for their “newly inventive” designs. But there’s a huge difference between taking from one’s culture in order to make oneself look edgy, daring, or “exotic,” and serving a community with respect, dignity, and keeping the customers’ needs and values in mind.
Other companies including Oakley and Warby Parker have featured collections that are also designed to serve a specific demographic. A few years ago, Oakley introduced the Asian Fit collection, which Jason Low wrote about here, and recently, my favorite eyewear company, Warby Parker, came out with a Low Bridge Fit collection for “those with low nose bridges (if the bridge of your nose sits level with or below the pupils), wide faces, and/or high cheekbones.” Even Warby Parker’s ad for this collection features only models of color, something that I rarely ever see in the fashion world.
So what does this have to do with the publishing industry and Lee & Low Books?
In the publishing industry in particular, there seems to be this common thread that pops up from conversations regarding diversity and serving marginalized groups. We hear that books (and movies) with nonwhite protagonists “do not fit the mainstream” or “do not sell well.” This is unfortunately why we have such a huge diversity gap in children’s publishing. But what about the opportunities that are missed from ignoring entire demographics? Who’s to say that you can’t serve both? Marginalized readers deserve to see their experiences, their communities, their stories, properly represented in the books that they read and the media that they consume.
That’s why at Lee & Low Books we publish books about everyone, for everyone. Because everyone, no matter who they are, deserves to see themselves in books. Everyone deserves to know that their story matters. Everyone deserves to be properly represented––in books, in movies, in fashion, and in life.