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In Hammer of Witches fourteen-year-old bookmaker’s apprentice Baltasar, pursued by a secret witch-hunting arm of the Inquisition, joins Columbus’s expedition to escape and discovers secrets about his own past that his family had tried to keep hidden. In this BookTalk, Shana Mlawski shares her views on Christopher Columbus, working with students and what she’d wish for if she had three wishes.
Hammer of Witches deals with some hard topics (rape, abandonment, war, and torture). What do you hope readers take away from Hammer of Witches?
Shana Mlawski: When I was first outlining Hammer of Witches, I knew I wanted it to be an epic adventure about sorcerers in 1492 Spain, and that’s what it is. I didn’t go in thinking, “Oh, boy! I can’t wait to write about rape and torture!” It was more like, “Okay, it’s going to be about this wisecracking kid and a girl genie and a dragon and a golem and…”
But history is history. I’m not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world’s largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It’s a complex, fascinating era, but it’s a tragic era, as well. Ultimately, though, Hammer of Witches is an optimistic book. It’s about that moment when you accept that the world is more complicated than you were led to believe, and it’s at that moment you can start trying to make a difference.
Do you feel like schools glorify Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World? Do you think schools need to paint a more accurate portrayal of his journey to students?
SM: The fact that we use the word “discovery” shows how skewed our view of the voyages can be. I prefer “contact” and “conquest,” words that remind us we’re talking about two groups: the European explorers and the Taíno living in the Caribbean at the time. If you ask me, the Taíno side of the story needs to get much more play in classrooms and in the media.
I’d also prefer if teachers stopped asking whether Columbus is a hero or a monster, as if those are the only two options. When we answer “hero,” we disappear the Taíno from history or write off their struggle as unimportant. To argue the “monster” side, we often pretend the Taíno were passive (if noble and pure) victims. The story is so much more complicated than that, and so much more interesting. History is only useful to us when we remember it’s about humans like us, not cartoons.
Baltasar befriends a genie in Hammer of Witches, who, unfortunately, can’t grant wishes. If you met a genie who could grant you three wishes, what would you wish for and why?
SM: Oh, I’m not going to fall for this one. I’ve seen and read enough “Monkey’s Paw”-type stories to get involved with a genie. Next thing I know I’ll be sitting in a post-apocalyptic library with my glasses broken and no one left alive to fix them.
How has working directly with middle and high school students impacted the kind of stories you want to share with YA readers?
SM: My teaching experience has definitely sharpened my desire to tell stories about characters from different backgrounds. When I was a young nerd-in-training, most of the available fantasy books were about white, Christian kids in the U.S., Britain, or U.K.-inspired settings (the big exception being Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series). Although I’m white, those monochrome stories never reflected my experience as a child growing up in the New York Metro area. When I started teaching and tried to recommend books to my students, I saw how little things had changed. A black boy wanting to read about a kid who looked like him usually had to go for a “problem” book about drug use or gang violence, even if he wanted a sword-and-sorcery adventure. A girl looking for a Latina protagonist could find a book about the immigrant experience but not one about, say, sexy vampires. That’s why I’m not sucking up when I say I love that Lee & Low and Tu Books exist, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of the gang.
Did you have a favorite hero or heroine in a fantasy/sci-fi novel that inspires your writing?
SM: I don’t actively model my characters on heroes or heroines from other books, but that doesn’t mean inspiration doesn’t slip in from time to time. It does, but I usually don’t notice until long after I’ve finished writing the story. This time around, it occurred to me that the relationship between Baltasar and Catalina has a lot in common with the Taran/Eilonwy relationship in Lloyd Alexander’sChronicles of Prydain (although Bal has some Fflewddur Fflam in him, too). In any event, I’m cool with the connection, because Hammer of Witches is meant to be a play on Prydain-like stories. It’s what happens when you take that old quest story, brush off the dust, and stick it in the real world in 1492.
Shana Mlawski is a native New Yorker who writes educational materials and tutors middle and high school students. She has written more than a hundred articles for the pop culture website OverthinkingIt.com, some of which have been featured in The Atlantic Monthly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Ms. magazine. She graduated cum laude from Yale with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing, and received a master’s in education from Columbia University Teachers College. Hammer of Witches is her first novel.
The weather is crisp and the leaves are starting to change color…it must be fall! Now that we’ve made it to October, we wanted to help you plan out the month with these book recommendations and resources:
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:
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.
Next Monday is Columbus Day, but in recent years, there’s been a movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Columbus Day occupies a dubious spot in our nation’s calendar, ostensibly commemorating both the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus and the subsequent destruction and enslavement of countless indigenous people. Today we’re pleased to share this guest post from educator and writer Tami Charles on rethinking how we acknowledge Columbus Day.
As children, we probably have all commemorated Columbus Day by singing the popular rhyme:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain.
He sailed through sunshine, wind, and rain.
Singing this song typically initiated elementary lessons on Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of the Americas. This was sometimes followed by a coloring activity of the three ships: the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, which often led to decorating feathered headbands as a symbol of the friendship between Columbus and the Native Americans he encountered on his voyages. This whitewashed version of history often overshadows the brutal truth: Christopher Columbus led numerous devastating movements against Indigenous peoples. Additionally, his voyages played a large part in the growth of the transatlantic slave trade.
Teachers of students in the lower grades may or may not touch upon such controversial topics when discussing this famous segment of American history. But how exactly is Columbus’s legacy addressed in middle and high schools today? Are schools inclined to teach from both the Anglo-American and the Indigenous viewpoints?
As such, it is imperative for educators to teach from a place of truth, be it easy or uncomfortable. The truth is that while Columbus was known for his expert navigational skills in travelling to the New World, the indigenous people suffered at the hands of this exploration.
Upon first encountering the native people of the Americas, on October 12, 1492, Christopher wrote the following in his journal: “They should be good servants . . . . I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.” Columbus lived up to his promise, eventually capturing six natives and parading them around the streets of Spain. On October 14, 1492, Columbus also wrote, “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.” It is clear that Columbus had domination in mind, and he proved this after his second voyage, when he captured 1,200 native people to be sold as slaves in Spain. The rest, as they say, is history. As Columbus claimed land for Spain, the freedom and lives of the indigenous people were taken as well.
A culturally reflective teacher will expose students to literature that speaks to both sides of this history and allow them to develop their own hypotheses.
If we are to acknowledge Columbus Day, it cannot be done without acknowledging Indigenous People’s Day, too. Exploring both stories is a must if we are to develop students into citizens who are capable of critical thinking. We can begin by evaluating the following trusted links to resources, lesson plans, and articles:
Middle and high school students typically have the prior knowledge of Columbus’s famous expeditions, dating back to lessons taught in elementary school. Yet, according to an ongoing survey by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Native Americans are among the least represented groups in children’s and young adult literature. For these reasons, there is a heightened need to bring in rich texts that reflect Native voices to stand alongside the mono-cultural, Eurocentric texts that are prevalent in many classroom libraries today.
Consequently, Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski is the type of novel that could spark deep conversation about this very subject. Hammer of Witches is a historical fantasy layered in rich cultural references dating back to the Columbus expedition era. After witnessing the murder of his uncle and aunt, young Baltasar Infante sets out to find his father, but unexpectedly finds himself travelling west with Cristóbal Colón, historically known as Christopher Columbus. Throughout the novel, a prophecy looms that a dark force will journey west and destroy the New World. (Hmmm, we wonder who that can be?)
Filled with magic and Old World tales, the novel itself challenges the meaning of “history,” in that one story can have multiple interpretations. The reader isn’t swayed to believe that Christopher Columbus destroyed an ancient civilization. On the contrary, readers are also not forced to think that the Indigenous people willingly surrendered their land to a complete stranger. It is here, on this level of objective reflection, where the novel shines! In turn, these are the exact ideals teachers should impart upon their students when discussing the upcoming holidays.
Using this novel as an anchor text, here are some learning activities teachers can use to add to the conversation of Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day. Each can be scaffolded to align with the Common Core State Standards for grades six through twelve:
Using a graphic organizer, identify the religious and ethnic conflicts presented in the text. Present your findings to the class in the form of a team debate. Highlight any similarities or differences between the conflicts of the past and the conflicts of today. (Common Core State Standard.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.6)
Compare and contrast—Use a Venn Diagram to identify key components of the story of Christopher Columbus as it’s presented in more juvenile texts, versus what you’ve learned from Hammer of Witches. Be sure to identify similarities, if any are noted. Present your findings to the class. (Common Core State Standard.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9)
Citing text evidence, analyze the overarching theme of the novel Hammer of Witches. Create a Power Point presentation to visually reflect how this theme is developed over the course of the text. (Common Core State Standard.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2)
State your case! Research primary and secondary resources to justify whether schools should acknowledge Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day (or both). Present your case before a mock panel of school board members. (Common Core State Standard.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9)
Interested in more books that highlight indigenous voices and the power of story? Take a look at some of our recommendations below:
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: When the matriarch of a close-knit Mexican American family falls ill, Lupita must find a way to navigate through the pain and keep her family afloat.
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac: Lozen is a seventeen-year-old Apache hunter with one mission in life: to kill the genetically engineered monsters that threaten human life.
Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: A retelling of The Odyssey in which five sisters must fight evil on their journey home from Mexico.
Trail of the Dead by Joseph Bruchac: The second installment of Killer of Enemies, in which Lozen must find refuge for her family from the despotic Ones. Little does she know, new monsters and secrets await her in this new world.
Shame the Stars by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: A reimagined tale of Romeo and Juliet, set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.
*Guadalupe Garcia McCall identifies as Mexican American. We have included her books here as an acknowledgement of indigenous Mexican voices, as children’s literature scholar Debbie Reese notes here.
You can also browse our Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day YA Collection by clicking here.
Teaching our children about the power of story is not a responsibility that lies solely in the hands of the educator. At home, parents can create discussion and spark critical reflection, too. In these pivotal moments, we can all celebrate the undying spirit of indigenous people, who in the face of oppression, have continually risen above to keep their cultures, their honor, and their stories alive. So, how will you acknowledge Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day? Let us know in the comments below!
Hanke, Lewis (1949). The Spanish struggle for justice in the conquest of America. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Nguyen, Tram (2009). Language is a Place of Struggle: Great Quotes by People of Color. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. (p. 174.)
For fourteen years, Tami Charles served as a public school educator but now writes full time. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
If you’re a new writer, looking for ways to publish a book can be daunting. It’s great that we live in a time where there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips, but a simple Google search may not get you the results that you’re looking for. So where should a writer go to find resources on how to get published as well as resources on craft?
Below we’ve compiled a list of websites, interviews, and blog posts from our very own editors that discuss writing and the publishing industry. We hope these resources serve as a starting point for any budding writer embarking on their very first writing journey.
Advice for New Writers
In this blog post, editor Stacy Whitman answers questions with author Joseph Bruchac about writing, query letters, and publishing. You can also read the full AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Reddit here.
We’ve chosen the following sites as useful places to gain knowledge about the publishing industry and writing. We’ve even added a few links for illustrators. Click here for a list of recommended books for writers.
The Children’s Book Council (CBC)
CBC offers an up-to-date listing of its member publishers and contact names, as well as a diverse range of resources for writers and illustrators.
The online resource for children’s illustrators, publishers and book lovers.
Write for Kids
This site is dedicated to writing children’s books, with message boards and other helpful articles for published and aspiring writers. Recommended by Andrea Huelsenbeck.
Poets & Writers
A more adult-oriented site, but there are listings of calls for submissions for writers, a listserv for people to discuss writing issues, and other resources particularly for writers. They also have a news section where they keep people updated on the most recent happenings in publishing.
Pubishers Weekly (PW)
The electronic version of the print magazine. PW serves as a resource for following the publishing industry.
As we all know one of the best ways to catch an editor’s eye is to submit a grammatically correct manuscript. These should help:
The Elements of Style (online)
Believe it or not, this little manual which is required reading for every writing course is on-line. As far as convenience, I think the paper edition is more portable, but if you’re writing at your computer anyway and need to look something up you’re just a mouse click away.
The Society of Illustrators
Mission: To promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future, and to give impetus generally toward high ideals in the art by means of exhibitions, lectures, educational programs, social intercourse, and in such other ways as may seem advisable.
We hope these websites, blog posts, and interviews serve as great resources for any writer preparing their work for publication.
Is there anything that we missed? Please share in the comments below!
Red pandas? Done. Quokkas? Yawn. Pikas? Boooring. Here are six reasons why you need to know about the olinguito.
1. The discovery of the olinguito was only just announced in 2013, meaning this cutie is ready to take over the internet!
2. It looks like a cross between a cat and a teddy bear. ‘Nuff said.
3. It is an adept jumper that can leap from tree to tree in the forest canopy. Skillzzz!
4. Scientists hope that the olinguito might serve as a charismatic ambassador for the conservation of dwindling Andean cloud forest habitats. How can anyone say no to that face?
5. As Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, says, “The discovery of the olinguito shows us that the world is not yet completely explored, its most basic secrets not yet revealed. If new carnivores can still be found, what other surprises await us? So many of the world’s species are not yet known to science. Documenting them is the first step toward understanding the full richness and diversity of life on Earth.”
Award-winning author and illustrator Lulu Delacre uses lyrical text in both Spanish and English to take readers to the magical world of a cloud forest in the Andes of Ecuador. Discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there, and of course help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito!
Pia Ceres is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is a recipient of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program grant. She’s a rising 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 talks about her first book fair with LEE & LOW BOOKS.
By morning, a sticky summer swelter had set in, but the anticipation was unmistakable, electric in the air. They would be coming soon. Across two blocks, along 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, booksellers, authors, and representatives from nonprofits fussed with tents and paraphernalia. Somewhere I couldn’t see, a live jazz band began to practice; its strident trumpet blared the beginning of a celebration. In moments, the hot asphalt would be teeming with families and lovers of literature from around the country gathering for the Harlem Book Fair.
The Harlem Book Fair is the largest African-American book fair in the country. With the aim of celebrating literacy within the Black community, the fair, held annually, offers a full day of presentations and rows of exhibition booths. Although it kicked off its 18th successful year last Saturday, this was my very first time participating in a book fair. Helping Keilin and Jalissa represent LEE & LOW and sell some of our books, I was open to every possibility.
The challenge came early on: Someone asked me to find a book for her niece, then added, “She hates reading.” Yikes. Sounds like a tall order, but not surprising. Most of the educators and families who stopped by our booth were concerned that their kids didn’t see themselves in the books assigned at school. It reminded me of when I was a kid and had to read about primarily white boys and the wilderness or dogs or something. For this woman, I suggested The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen. Maybe, I hoped, this would be the book that would start to change things.
At a book fair, one sees firsthand that books, particularly children’s books, are a meaningful part of relationships – an aunt wishing her niece a story that reflects her. I spoke with a dad who wanted an exciting bedtime story; a soon-to-be teacher, eager to fill her first classroom with books as diverse as her students; a mom who wanted to share her native language, and her young daughter who wanted to read it. As I listened to people’s requests, the book fair revealed a striking truth: For a lot of folks, books are expressions of love.
Of course, the day ended with a sudden and cinematic downpour, with jabs of wind that caused our white tent to take to the air like a storm-battered sail and had Keilin, Jalissa, and I drenched, scrambling to protect the books! Because if any day reminded us that books are precious, it was this one.
If books bridge worlds, then book fairs are a space for bridging those connections. The Harlem Book Fair allows diverse stories to come into people’s hands and helps create a world-full of readers – reflected, interconnected, loving and loved.
Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the compelling story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children. In this interview, author Gwendolyn Hooks discusses the legacy of this medical pioneer and what inspired her to write about a man whose research helped to save countless lives.
What inspired you to write about Vivien Thomas?
A friend’s grandson was diagnosed with tetralogy of Follet. She watched the movie Something the Lord Made which is the story of Vivien Thomas. She loaned me the movie and the rest is history! He is a hero. He did so much and so few know his name. I saw his portrait at Johns Hopkins Hospital and felt him saying “Tell my story.”
In what way is Vivien Thomas a relevant role model for young readers today?
Vivien is a strong role model for young people even after all these years. Sure he was disappointed and mad after he lost his money when his bank closed during the Great Depression. Vivien was tough and resilient. He put aside his college dreams and found a way to support himself. A door closed, but he opened another. I think one of his messages to young people would be to find that other door.
What did you find most surprising in your research of Thomas’s life?
Even as a young boy of 13, his mind was on his future. He worked afterschool and summers with his father. Other boys were playing sandlot baseball and I’m sure Vivien did on occasion, but he was passionate about earning money and putting it to good use. He bought his school clothes and deposited the rest in a savings account.
Is there a fact about Thomas that you didn’t get to put in the book?
Before Vivien found the job at Vanderbilt, he worked for a contractor. One time he had to repair a wooden floor. He repaired it, but it wasn’t his best work. His boss could tell where he laid the new wood and told him it wasn’t acceptable. Vivien did it over and the second time, it was seamless. He learned a lesson that day that he never forgot. Do your best work the first time. In medicine there might not be a second time.
The most painful parts of Tiny Stitches, for us, were the scenes in which Thomas encounters the injustices of racism in spite of his achievements. Why was it important for you to write about these realities, and what do you think young readers can learn from them?
I wanted readers to know he didn’t lead an easy and carefree life. Despite your intelligence and achievements, there are some who will never give you credit for it. It’s important to know who you are, what you are capable of and never let anyone tell you otherwise.
Vivien Thomas was not given the credit he deserved for his leadership in “blue baby” operations until 1971, how do you think Thomas must have felt once he received recognition?
He was overjoyed that the Old Hands Club asked him to sit for his formal portrait (the one in Johns Hopkins Hospital) and planned a formal recognition ceremony. That and the honorary degree, the faculty appointment were all appreciated by Vivien. He had such a generous spirit. I’ve talked with a former surgical resident who remembers his generous spirit even after his contributions were ignored. I think it’s only human to feel discouraged, but those feelings did not deflate his love of research.
What advice would you have for young readers about following their dreams in spite of obstacles?
If an obstacle is placed in your path, veer left or right, but keep going. Keep stretching and moving forward. Read books, especially biographies, and learn how others did it. Vivien prepared himself for his dream. He was an excellent student. Study. Join organizations in your school or community. This is a perfect way to learn about careers you never knew existed and perhaps find a mentor.
What do you hope readers will take away from Vivien Thomas’ story?
I hope readers and especially young ones will remember that dreams and goals can change, but your life won’t if you don’t go after new ones. If Vivien did it with all that was set against him, you can do it now.
Learn more about Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomashere.
Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks was born in Savannah, Georgia. Her father was in the Air Force, so Gwen and her family moved a lot when she was a child. Her first stop in every new city was the local library where she got her new library card. Gwendolyn is the author of many books, including Bebop Books’ Can I Have a Pet? and Lee & Low’s Tiny Stitches. Gwen now lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and their three children. Visit her online at gwendolynhooks.com.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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!
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):
Half World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa – Allie Sekemoto survives by scavenging for food by day. She hates the vampires who keep humans like cattle for their food. Until the day she dies and wakes up as a vampire.
Liar by Justine Larbalestier – Micah is a liar; it’s the only thing she’ll tell you the truth about. But when her boyfriend Zach is murdered, the whole truth has to come out.
Battle Royale by Koushan Takami – A group of junior high school students are sent to an island and forced to fight to the death until only one of them survives.
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad – Three teenagers win the vacation of a lifetime: a week-long trip to the moon. But something sinister is waiting for them in the black vacuum of space.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter, called to Thunder Bay, Ontario to get rid of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, who has killed every person who has stepped foot in the house she haunts.
Book title mashups are when you take two book titles, put them together and create a synopsis based on the title. We took some of our favorite Lee & Low and Tu Books titles to come up with some new and fun stories!
Etched in Ink and Ashes( Etched in Clay + Ink and Ashes): Claire Takata never knew her father. When she stumbles upon a basement full of clay pots inscribed with poems that he wrote detailing his daily life and his dedication to the abolishment of slavery worldwide, she discovers that there may be more to the Takata family than she realized.
Finding the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen (Finding the Music +The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen): Reyna and her best friend Kameeka love to go hoopin’ around their block. One day they receive a mysterious invitation to a hula-hoopin’ contest from none other than the Hula-Hoopin’ Queen. She leaves hints around the neighborhood so they can find her whereabouts.
Trail of Witches (Trail of the Dead + Hammer of Witches): Lozen flees with her family from a deadly hunter. She must pick her way across a hidden trail created by witches.
Parrots Over the Mudball (Parrots Over Puerto Rico + The Monster in the Mudball): Jin and Frankie are parrots living in the Puerto Rican rainforest. Their habitat is being destroyed by a mud ball monster and they don’t know what to do! Then the mysterious Mizz Z appears and tells them she can help, but on one condition: they have to join her team, the PRPRP, and dedicate their life to conservancy and recovery efforts of the rainforest!
Summer of Galaxy Games (Summer of the Mariposas + The Galaxy Games) : Odilia and her sisters are swimming in the Rio Grande one afternoon when they chance upon a dead body. When they examine it closer, it turns out it’s a robot from another galaxy inviting them to go on a scavenger hunt across the universe.
Call Me Cat Girl (Call Me Tree + Cat Girl’s Day Off): Natalie Ng is your typical high schooler: she plays sports, has a close-knit group of friends, and loves pizza. One day, she decides to take a yoga class, only to discover that it’s in the middle of a forest. Full of cats. Natalie is weirded out and vows to never return, but she soon discovers that she’s drawn to the class, as well as the cute yoga instructor who seems to have an uncanny ability to communicate with the cats…
Monster in the Ashes ( The Monster in the Mudball + Ink and Ashes): On the anniversary of her father’s death Claire Takata discovers an urn with his ashes. A monster summoned by her father’s enemies, the Japanese mafia known as the yakuza, starts hunting her and her family. Claire has to figure out how to stop it before it’s too late. . .
How would you mash up your favorite book titles? Let us know in the comments!
Today is Human Rights Day. It commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists basic rights and freedoms that every person should get, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender.
Books are a great way for readers to learn about history and culture, and develop empathy for other people.
Our Human Rights collection explores the issues of human rights around the world and in the United States, and the great leaders who have fought to protect those rights:
Twenty-two Cents: Growing up in Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus witnessed extreme poverty. He later founded Grameen Bank, a bank which uses microcredit, lending small amounts of money, to help lift people out of poverty. In 2006, Dr. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Brothers in Hope: Thousands of boys from southern Sudan walk hundreds of miles to seek safety, from Ethiopia to Kenya. This inspiring story is based on the true events of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
When the Horses Ride By: These poems from the point of view of children during times of war let readers experience the resilience and optimism that children who go through these situations experience.
Irena’s Jars of Secrets: Irena Sendler, a social worker born to a Polish Catholic family, smuggled clothing and medicine into jewish ghettos during WWII and then started to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghettos. Hoping to reunite them with their families, Irena kept lists of children’s names in jars.
John Lewis in the Lead: After high school, John Lewis joined Dr. King and other civil rights leaders to peacefully protest and fight against segregation. In 1986, John Lewis was elected to represent Georgia in Congress, where he continues to serve today.
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow: This bilingual Japanese-English picture book depicts life in a Japanese interment camp inspired by author Amy Lee-Tai’s family’s experiences during WWII. Young Mari wonders if she’ll be able to come up with anything to draw in a place where nothing beautiful grows.
Seeds of Change: As a young girl, Wangari Maathai was taught to respect nature and people. She excelled in science and later studied abroad in the United States. When she returned home, she helped promote the rights of women and also began to plant trees to replace those that had been cut down. Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace prize in 2004.
Etched in Clay: This biography in verse follows the life of Dave the Potter, an enslaved young man in South Carolina who engraved poems into the pots he sculpted despite the harsh anti-literacy laws of the time.
Yasmin’s Hammer: Yasmin and her family are refugees in Bangladesh. Young Yasmin works at a brick yard to help her family out, but she longs for the day when she can attend school.
A Song for Cambodia: This the inspirational true story of Arn Chorn-Pond, who was sent to a work camp by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. His heartfelt music created beauty in a time of darkness and turned tragedy into healing.
The Mangrove Tree: Dr. Gordon Sato, himself a survivor of a Japanese Internment Camp, travels to an impoverished village in Eritrea and plants mangrove trees to help the village of Harigogo become a self-sufficient community.
Want to own this book list? Purchase the whole collection here.
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 – 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!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Out last fall from LEE & LOW BOOKS, Ira’s Shakespeare Dreamis a picture book biography that tells the story of Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who defied convention and prejudice to become one of the most celebrated Shakespearean performers of his century. While much has changed since Ira’s time, the conversation around diversity at the Oscars reminds us that actors of color still struggle to find ample opportunities to practice their art.
We interviewed author Glenda Armand about why she chose to write a book on Ira Aldridge and how far we’ve come when it comes to diversity in the arts.
What drew you to Ira’s story? What about his story made you want to write it for children?
I came across Ira Aldridge when I was researching my first book, Love Twelve Miles Long. I was fascinated by his story and amazed that he was so little known. His life reminds me of the variety of experiences that people of African descent have had on this continent–before, during, and after the founding of the United States. There are so many stories to be told! Specifically, this is what drew me to Ira Aldridge:
That he was born free in New York during the time of slavery. Most of the African Americans we know about who lived during this time were born slaves in the South. Ira’s story expands our understanding of African American history.
That he attended the famous African Free School, which was founded in 1785 by the New York Manumission Society, an organization that advocated for the full abolition of African slavery. The Society’s members included the Founders, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. Another notable alumnus of the African Free School is Dr. James McCune Smith, the first African American to become a university-educated physician.
His story is unique, yet universal. How many people throughout history have gone against their parents wishes’ to follow their own dream?
Finally, there is the Shakespeare angle. I loved Shakespeare long before I majored in English Lit in college. I was introduced to the Bard by my older sister, Jenny (who became a librarian). She used to entertain my younger siblings and me by reciting lines from Shakespeare. I can hear her, broom or mop in hand, bellowing, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me yours ears…”, “To be or not to be,” or “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”
I thought of Jenny when I included the last two quotes in Ira’s Shakespeare Dream.
How important is it for parents to support their children’s interests? How do you think Ira’s story would be different if his father had supported his dream?
It is always important for parents to support their children. I think that Ira’s father believed he was doing what was best for his son when he encouraged Ira to become a preacher. His father was looking at the realities of life for African Americans in the early nineteenth century. And Ira might have had a good life, if he had followed his father’s wishes. What his father did not know was that Ira was destined for greatness.
What do you most admire about Ira Aldridge? Do you believe Ira is a relevant role model for young people today?
I admire Ira for knowing that, in this case, father did not know best, and for being strong and determined enough to follow his own dream. Ira had the self-confidence to blaze his own path. He did not let the lack of role models deter him. He worked hard, prepared himself for success, and was ready when the Wallack brothers gave him the break he needed.
I think Ira is a strong role model for young people today. He shows them that, despite life’s obstacles, they can follow their dream. We all face obstacles even though they may not be the ones that Ira faced. Young people can also follow Ira’s example by finding a way to use their talents and success to help others.
As a former teacher, which Shakespeare play is your favorite?
As a teacher, I would have to choose Romeo and Juliet. It is the play best known by young people. It is the one still being taught in most middle and high schools. Students readily identify with the two main characters. The plot is easily understood, and it is always fun to compare the original with various updated versions.
Though we have come a long way since Ira’s time, diversity in theater and screen time is still a topic of heated discussion today. Where do you think we’re at in this battle, and how far do you think we still need to go?
I tend to be optimistic. In theater, movies and literature, I want to see more good stories. That will necessarily include stories from people of all backgrounds.
We must take responsibility for our own success. Everyone faces obstacles. How we overcome those obstacles becomes part of our unique story. I believe that those who have talent, determination, discipline and patience will eventually succeed.
What we have today that Ira could not imagine, are people and companies like Lee and Low, whose mission is to produce work based on the experiences of people of diverse backgrounds. This does not mean that everything we submit will be accepted but it does mean that our work will be carefully considered. It means that we may be given advice and ideas to help us grow and improve our craft. This is a great time to be a story teller.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up ten of our books that feature some amazing women of color! From a baseball player to an American politician, these women have helped pave the way for many others.
7. Patsy Mink, How We Are Smart – an American politician from the U.S. state of Hawaii
8. Hiromi Suzuki, Hiromi’s Hands – one of a handful of women in the male-dominated world of sushi chefs
9. Rosa Parks, Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth – Mrs. Parks changed the course of history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, sparking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people after they’ve witnessed a shocking or traumatic event. People experience shock after traumatic events, but those who don’t recover from the initial shock are more likely to develop PTSD. After a distressing or upsetting event, it’s important to seek support.
While literature cannot take the place of a support group or therapy, it can help us process grief and trauma. Teens are not immune to PTSD, and several YA novels explore this disorder in different ways: through fantasy, dystopia, or realistic fiction. Some are from the perspective of the person suffering, while others explore what it’s like to be a family member or friend.
Here is a list of four young adult books that deal with PTSD:
Trail of the Deadby Joseph Bruchac – In the follow-up to Killer of Enemies, Apache teenager Lozen protects her family and friends as they travel in search of refuge in a post-apocalyptic world. Though Lozen has only taken the lives of others to protect herself and her family, the killings take a toll on her spirit and Lozen finds herself with what her people call “enemy sickness,” another name for PTSD. With the support of her friends and family, she is healed in a ceremony that reflects the traditional healing of her Apache ancestors.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – Hayley Kincaid and her father have moved around a lot in the past five years due to his job working on the road. They return to his hometown so that Hayley can have a shot at a normal life. However, after her father’s tours in Iraq, he developed PTSD. Hayley isn’t sure if being in her father’s hometown will help with his PTSD, or push him over the edge.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce – Evvy and
Rosethorn are sent to the island of Starns to help residents with a dormant volcano. While there, Evvy has flashes of a war from which she recently escaped.
Fallen Angelsby Walter Dean Myers – After his dreams of attending college fall through, Perry, a teenager from Harlem, decides to volunteer for the service and joins the Vietnam War. Perry and his platoon are sent to the front lines and come face-to-face with the horrors of war. Perry begins to questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments and why the U.S. is in Vietnam at all.
We are always excited to hear about unique ways in which our books are being used, and were thrilled to come across this review of Under the Mesquite that outlines how to use the book in a very special way: to help medical students gain cultural awareness and insight into the experiences of patients from different backgrounds. Author Mark Kuczewski kindly gave us permission to cross-post this review from the Reflective MedEd blog.
Helping medical students to gain cultural awareness and insight into the experience of patients and families from backgrounds different than their own is no small task. And the search for poignant materials that are easily fit within the demanding environment of a medical school curriculum is never-ending. The good news is that I can unequivocally recommend Under the Mesquiteby Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Lee & Low Books, 2011). This narrative will help students to gain insight into the meaning of illness within families, especially within the context of a particular contemporary newly-arrived Mexican-American family…
The author, known as “Lupita” within the story, recounts experiences from her high school years when her mother suffered from cancer and underwent extensive treatment, sometimes for long periods at a medical center far from home. Because the author’s father accompanies his wife on these journeys, Lupita, the oldest daughter, takes on responsibility for the family. We are treated to her perspective in coping with her mother’s illness from spy work to find out the secreto that the adults guard in their hushed whispers to the difficulties that come when her parents are away such as being unable to keep order among her siblings. Lupita paints a portrait of a prudent family that begins a savings account with the birth of each child but whose resources are exhausted by the medical bills leaving her struggling each day to procure food to put on the table. And we come to know the importance of the arts, acting in school plays and writing in journals, as means to channel her anxieties and craft something beautiful.
Of course, the particular flavor of the narrative comes from the perspective of one who has significant roots on both sides of the border. She simultaneously gives us a window into the challenges of growing up bicultural and navigating the conflicting demands of loyalty to la familia that nurtured her and pursuing the dream of achieving a different kind of life that is available in the new world. The author lets us taste the bittersweet nature of this ambivalence both in her day-to-day growth as she is accused by her adolescent peers of trying to be something she is not as she loses her accent and in the more profound and cyclical heartbreak of separation. She relates her grief at abandoning her precious sunflowers when her father uproots her from her familiar home in Mexico and she in turn must break his heart as she heads off to college to pursue her dreams.
In sum, this book is among the most usable I’ve found with medical students for two reasons. First, it meets the main requirement of being an enjoyable and quick read. This autobiographical account is most likely to be devoured within a single day. The author is a superb writer and some of our medical students repeatedly commented that they wish she said more in most passages. Second, she enables us to easily identify with her struggles. Because all adults were once adolescents, we have a framework regarding the struggle for self-discovery and identity into which her cultural context is infused. She enables us to access the different through the familiar. Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a first-rate guide and mentor to those of us who seek insight into the Mexican-American experience and the particular strengths and means of coping that a family steeped in this hybrid culture might possess.
Mark G. Kuczewski, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Medical Education and the Director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Purchase Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall here.
Today we are pleased to share this guest post from Librarian and Diversity Coordinator Laura Reiko Simeon on ageism in children’s literature. Welcome, Laura!
Super Grandpaby David M. Schwartz was inspired by the true story of Gustaf Håkansson, who in 1951 at age 66 won a 1000-mile bike race in Sweden after being banned from entry on the grounds that he was too old. Before reading this inspiring tale to my elementary-aged students, I asked them to say the first words that came to mind when they heard the word “grandpa.” Some of them were positive to be sure (kind, gentle, loving, cheerful), but most were far less so: slow, bent, broken down, tired, sleepy, weak, cane, and, ahem, smelly! Of course, they cheered for Super Grandpa and were deeply indignant that he wasn’t even officially allowed to try to race (given how often children are forbidden from doing things on the basis of age, I suspect the injustice of this resonated on a personal level)!
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about their initial responses to the word “grandpa.” As I began to pay closer attention, I noticed that a significant number of picture books about older people seemed intended to help children come to terms with their grandparents’ death or mental deterioration. I also observed that older people were often shown as lonely, objects of pity, or cantankerous and vaguely alarming. The AGHE Book Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging encourages “positive portrayals of older adults in children’s literature” to help counteract this, but is unfortunately not yet very well known.
Surveys of children’s literature confirm my impressionistic observations, but also offer reason for hope. Edward Ansello’s groundbreaking 1977 study found that the three adjectives most frequently used to describe old people in children’s literature of the time were “old,” “sad” and “poor.” In J.B. Hurst’s 1981 survey, older adults were referred to as “nice” or “wise” in three of the books sampled, but in the remainder were described as “funny, small, little, grumpy, lonely, poor, and weak.” In a 1993 study, Sandra McGuire wrote that, “The literature is almost void of older people; frequently fails to fully develop older characters; often focuses on illness, disability and death; and gives children little to look forward to as they age.” Jessica L. Danowski‘s survey of picture books published between 2000-2010 found that the elderly were disproportionately portrayed as white (77%) and male (60%), and that they comprised only 5.6% of all characters. On the bright side, however, the portrayals overall were positive in nature, and most frequently showed older adults who were physically active.
As increasing numbers of people live healthy, vibrant, active lives ever later in life, we need more of these types of picture books that reflect the true gamut of roles older adults play in our society. Given the reverence and respect shown to elders in many cultures, diverse literature is a natural place to look to fill this need.
An immigrant grandmother turns innovator in Frances and Ginger Park’s The Have a Good Day Cafe. Tired of her family’s leaving her at home while they go out to run their hot dog stand, Grandma declares, “I did not travel ten thousand miles just to stay home and rest my feet day after day.” Observing that the stand is suffering from competition from other vendors, she and her grandson come up with a plan to differentiate themselves by selling her Korean specialties, leading to an upsurge in business. This is an enterprising woman who isn’t about to let the grass grow under her feet!
You’re never too old to be a hula-hooping champion, or so proves Miz Adeline in Thelma Lynne Godin’s The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen, set in a gloriously diverse New York City neighborhood. After Kameeka gets distracted while running an errand, her mother is unable to make a birthday cake for their beloved elderly neighbor.
Far from being a pitiful recluse or a crotchety old scold, Miz Adeline is popular and high-spirited. Her friend and hula-hooping rival Miss Evelyn is no slouch either, and the two older women breathe life into the party! Godin handles this skillfully, making hula hooping something that forges a bond across generations rather than turning Miz Adeline into a “bizarre and comical” old person, another common stereotype.
In A Morning with Grandpaby Sylvia Liu, Mei Mei learns tai chi from her grandfather, Gong Gong, and in turn teaches him some yoga. The ebullient little girl struggles to achieve the fluid, deliberate grace of tai chi, while the older man has a bit of trouble with some of the more challenging asanas. Together they have a ball, laughing and encouraging one another, each doing their best while trying something new. It is a charming portrayal of a playful, loving intergenerational relationship.
In Holly Thompson’s touching The Wakame Gatherers, biracial Nanami heads out into the surf collecting seaweed with Gram, her white American grandmother visiting from Maine, and Baachan, who is part of her multigenerational household in Japan. Neither woman speaks the other’s language, but they are bound together by their love for their granddaughter and a spirit of open-mindedness. In this lovely story, two women who lived through a world war that pitted their countries against one another now embrace new cultural experiences, from trying new food to embarking on trans-Pacific travel.
Books that help children come to terms with the loss and bereavement, as well as distressing medical conditions, are certainly necessary—but these tragedies can afflict the young and middle aged as well the old. Greater diversity in picture book portrayals of the elderly benefit readers of all ages.
The daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over the US and the world. An alumna of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to fostering cross-cultural understanding, Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle where she is the Diversity Coordinator and Library Learning Commons Director at Open Window School.
Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we can’t think of a better way to remember and celebrate than with some of our award-winning books!
Teachers- Looking for a way to talk to your students about war this Memorial Day?
Parents- Trying to make your kids understand the importance of remembering those who gave their lives for our country?
We have some great titles that will get your kids interested and help them understand the great sacrifices made by our men and women at arms, what really makes someone a hero, and the impact of war on a level they can relate to.
Set during the ’60s with the Vietnam war going on and World War II popular in the media, Japanese American Donnie Okada always has to be the “bad guy” when he and his friends play war because he looks like the enemy portrayed in the media. When he finally has had enough, Donnie enlists the aid of his 442nd veteran father and Korean War veteran uncle to prove to his friends and schoolmates that those of Asian descent did serve in the U.S. military.
A biography of Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who was one of the six soldiers to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during World War II, an event immortalized by Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph.
Through rhythmic words, photos, and original art, this collection of poems about children throughout history focuses on their perceptions of war and how war affects their lives. A great way to introduce the topic of war into discussion with your children and the ramifications they may not have considered.
For some insight from the author, take a look at this interview with Eloise Greenfield. Purchase the book here.
Be sure to leave comments below on how discussions about war went in your classroom or with your own children; we’d love to hear from you!
May 2016 signified the opening of Lee & Low Book’s seventeenth annual New Voices Award contest! To kick off the season, we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her writing process and how she prepared her winning story, A Morning with Grandpa, for the New Voices Award. Learn more about our New Voices Award here.
What inspired you to write A Morning with Grandpa? Did you write it specifically for New Voices, or was it something you were working on already?
I was inspired by my dad, who was doing qi gong (a mind-body practice involving moving “qi,” or energy, around one’s body through breathing techniques), while we were vacationing together. He taught my daughters his breathing techniques, and that inspired the story of a grandfather teaching his granddaughter both qi gong and tai chi.
I wrote the draft as part of a year-long challenge, 12×12, where the goal is to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. After I wrote this story, I realized it was a great fit for the New Voices contest.
What did you do to prepare your manuscript for submitting to the New Voices Award?
My critique group gave me excellent feedback that improved my story. I also got invaluable feedback from an agent as part of a critique that came with a Writer’s Digest course.
While writing your story did you encounter writer’s block? What did you do to overcome it?
This was one of the few stories I’ve written where I didn’t experience writer’s block. The initial story came to me very quickly, though it was different than the final form. The first draft was told mainly in dialogue, and one of my critique mates encouraged me to incorporate more lyrical language.
A Morning with Grandpa is a story about trying new things. When was a time you tried something new and how did it turn out?
About seven years ago, some friends and I took a women’s surf camp. It was so much fun that we kept going back for several years. At some point, I realized that surfing was not my sport, but my friends and I still occasionally get our boards and go out into the water. Last summer, our beach had several shark sightings so I stayed out of the water for the most part.
Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Are there any books or writers that inspire you now?
Growing up, I loved reading science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers. My favorite series as a child was Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three series. In my teens, I inhaled the entire oeuvres of Agatha Christie, Robert Ludlum, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Stephen King.
Nowadays, I’m inspired by author-illustrators who tell stories in intriguing and beautiful ways, like Shaun Tan and Gene Luen Yang.
Finally, what advice would you give new writers interested in writing children’s books?
Read as much as you can, both in and outside the genre you are writing in, and read recently published books. As the head of my daughters’ school recently said, good readers make good writers; great readers make great writers. And knowing what is being published today will help you gauge where you are on your writing journey.
Take the time to learn the craft of writing, connect with other authors, and have fun.
Sylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the US Department of Justice and the nonprofit group Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book.