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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.
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!
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.
This past weekend, we noticed an unusual number of superheroes, cosplayers, and characters from our favorite TV shows flooding thesubways, buses, and streets of New York City. Did we unknowingly fall into an alternate universe?
Turns out that it was just New York Comic Con, the annual pop culture phenomenon dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, video games, movies, and television. The first convention was held in 2006 and it has continued to grow steadily over the past several years, bringing an ever-growing number of comics and pop-culture fans to New York City. And not only has Comic Con continued to grow, but so has programming dedicated to issues of diversity and diverse creators. We were lucky enough to get a pass for LEE & LOW staff. Below, three staff members share their highlights from the show:
Keilin, Marketing and Publicity Associate
Oh Comic Con. What a crazy event to go to, but definitely worth every minute!
I went to a Geeks of Color Meetup, hosted by Diana Pho (editor, Tor Books), and featuring Shelley Diaz (editor, School Library Journal), and author Melissa Grey (The Girl At Midnight). It was great to mingle with other “geeks” and to get to know Diana and Shelley.
The greatest thing about the Meetup was seeing the diversity in the room. There was one group of people that I joined that was talking about the new Star Wars movie coming out, and it didn’t matter that we were all from different backgrounds because we all could geek out about something we were all collectively excited for. Diana often hosts these types of meetups for people of color, and if anyone is interested, you can contact her on her website, Beyond Victoriana.
After the Geeks of Color Meetup, I booked it over to the Asian American Comics and Creators panel, which unfortunately was full. On the positive side, that just meant that there was a full house to participate in a discussion on Asian Americans in the comic book industry. While the depictions of Asian Americans in comic books has improved, there is more that can still be done.
The thing I like most about conventions like these is that it shows you the wide spectrum of people within fandoms, whether it’s seeing a black Wonder Woman or an Asian Peggy Carter. Nerding out is for everyone!
Rebecca, Marketing and Publicity Assistant
Thanks to things like the We Need Diverse Books campaign, diversity has been on people’s minds more than ever before. Last year, we saw one of the most diverse television seasons we’ve gotten in a while. It’s no surprise that diversity in comics and geek culture was on a lot of people’s minds at New York Comic Con! I attended 4 panels focused on various aspects of diversity at the show this year.
At the Pushing Boundaries panel, there was a discussion about representation. Author Marjorie Liu spoke about the burden that authors of color often face when they are the only ones representing entire cultures. They have to make sure that their characters are “perfect” and not stereotypical; however, trying to tell a “perfect” story gets in the way of an authentic narrative. This is the danger of a single story: one person from a marginalized or underrepresented group can’t represent everyone from that group.
Some of the other panelists, like Jeremy Whitley, the creator of Princeless, spoke about using their work to fill a need. Jeremy Whitley’s daughter is a person of color, so he wanted to write a comic where a young black girl would see herself as a princess that went on adventures. Geek Out was started as a space for LGBT+ fans of comics. At one point in the discussion, the panelists spoke about bad representation. Is bad representation better than no representation? There was no clear answer, as one panelist said he preferred bad representation to none at all. But author Marjorie Liu said, “As a woman of color, I’m allergic to bad representation.”
The pervading feeling at the “Geeks of Color: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” panel was that while people are paying more attention to diversity and things with diverse content, we still have a long way to go. Industries need to diversify from within as well as to seek out diverse creators. Diversity naturally happens when there are a variety of people creating things.
Authors Melissa Gray, Daniel Jose Older, Sara Raasch, and Kim Harrison discussed what made the protagonists of their novels “kick ass.” Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight) discussed how female characters are never allowed to be unlikable, like male characters often are. They’re usually expected to be “nice.” Daniel José Older wants his books to show the diversity in Brooklyn, because a book should be like a friend and tell you the truth.
At the Women in Geek Media panel, the panelists encouraged the room full of people to create their own works. Everyone, they told us, has a unique story to tell. Many of the women talked about having to create their own spaces and writing with a unique voice, which is what made them stand out. They also encouraged everyone there who was fed up with the lack of representation of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups in media to channel their anger thoughtfully and to hold content creators accountable.
All the panels I attended were full almost to capacity. It was great to see how much people are clamoring for more diverse representation. But the real highlight of Comic Con was meeting Amandla Stenberg!
Stacy, Publisher of TU BOOKS
On Thursday night of Comic Con, I went to the #BlackComicsMonth panel moderated by Dean MizCaramelVixen. It was an all-star lineup, including Chad L. Coleman (who played Tyreese on The Walking Dead), who is producing a new comic that stars his likeness, and comics artists and writers Scott Snyder, David Walker, Mikki Kendall, Shawn Pryor, Steve Orlando, Christine Dinh, Mildred Louis, Jeremy Whitley, and Afua Richardson. If you want to see the whole panel, you can view it on YouTube.
The panel started out by talking to a standing-room-only crowd of at least 300 people about what “diversity” meant to them. Christine Dinh spoke about how there are more young women reading comics—that kids are more diverse than ever. Another panelist talked about how what it means to be black could mean so many different things, and that all those representations were important—that there is no one way to be black.
Everyone on the panel emphasized how important the voices of people of color are in comic books. Kendall said, “If you don’t see yourself out there, put your stuff out there.”
Later that night was a fangirl panel (“She Made Me Do It: FanGirls Lead the Way”) discussing how important women are not only in the creation of art but also in the appreciation of it. On the panel were Jamie Broadnax, who created Black Girl Nerds; Rose Del Vecchio and Jenny Cheng from myfanmail.com, a site that sends fandom products to subscribers; and Sam Maggs, author of The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and writer for The Mary Sue.
One of the main topics of the panel was discussing how women and girls get challenged to show their “credentials” as geeks. “I’m so over the cred thing. You don’t have to prove anything to show your passion for fandom,” Broadnax said. Maggs agreed and went on to discuss how those fans should also be reflected in the stories they consume, saying, “A range, diversity of stories can only mean better content for everyone. Why can’t white dudes look up to a black girl protagonist and have her be their role model?”
On Sunday, the We Need Diverse Books panel focused on the hashtag #IAmNotYourSidekick, discussing the importance of narratives that center the experiences of characters of color. On a personal note, the panelists discussed the first time they’d ever seen a “mirror” of themselves in a book. Some never did, at least until adulthood. Dhonielle Clayton, a Harlem Academy librarian and WNDB VP of librarian services, mentioned that she had mirrors, but only about slavery and civil rights, not fun books. Variety in representations of marginalized people is so important, she said.
The panel also discussed the importance of opening doors for writers of color, talking about the quotas of some houses (“we already have our ‘black book,’” even if the topics are completely different), and how writing cross-culturally is possible to do well, but how it must be done responsibly. Daniel José Older pointed out that too often white writers want to jump on the bandwagon of “diversity” as if it were a trend, but, he asked, “We talk about writing the other, but can you write about yourself? Can we write about whiteness?” (Older wrote an excellent article on this topic last year at BuzzFeed.)
Everyone on the panel agreed that the way to fix the problem was to talk up diverse books. “Buy diverse books!” YA author Robin Talley said. “The more you do, the more there will be.” Older also noted not to assume that a traditionally published book that stars a diverse character will have a million-dollar marketing campaign. “It likely won’t!” he said. Panelists agreed that word of mouth is one of the most important marketing tools for diverse books—sharing them with friends, talking about them on social media, and requesting them from libraries and bookstores were all mentioned as important methods of helping diverse books grow in the market.
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.
Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got something even better than treats today: great news in diversity!
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently came out in an editorial published by Bloomberg Businessweek, saying that he is “proud to be gay,” and making him the first openly gay leader of a major U.S. company. This was the first time Cook addressed his orientation publicly, saying, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.” With more states and people accepting gay marriage and supporting LGBTQ rights, Cook’s move is inspirational and will hopefully lead to more acceptance within the workplace.
From left: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), and Chris Evans (Captain America) at a Marvel event in Hollywood
Monday kicked off Random Acts of Kindness Week, a time when people are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and do something nice for others. Our picture book, Lend a Hand: Poems About Givingis a collection of poems about different ways to help others. From planting trees to tutoring students, Lend a Hand shows that there are lots of small things you can do to make a big difference in someone’s life.
Here’s what reviewers are saying about Lend a Hand:
“At once familiar and slightly out of the box, these giving scenes gently suggest that even the smallest acts can inspire and achieve great ends.” –Kirkus Reviews
“In conjunction with home or classroom discussions about social responsibilities, waging peace, or bullying, these instances of individual and collective giving may serve as inspiring models.“–Booklist
“It would be easy for a book with this title to hit readers over the head with its message. Instead, this is a gentle book that will add value to any classroom or library collection.” –School Library Journal
In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week, we’re offering a 25% off coupon which you can use through February 15. When you’re checking out, use the code KINDNESS. Purchase the book here.
Struggling to think of some ways to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Week? Here are ten ways to lend a hand:
We’d love to hear what you’ve been doing for Random Acts of Kindness Week – let us know in the comments below!
Amy Koester is the Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie Public Library, where she selects fiction for youth birth through teens and oversees programming aimed at children through grade 5. She is the chair of the ALSC Public Awareness Committee, and she manages LittleeLit.com and is a Joint Chief of the Storytime Underground. Amy has shared her library programs, book reviews, and musings on librarianship on her blog The Show Me Librarian since early 2012.
There is a conversation happening on the Storytime Underground Facebook Group right now. It’s been going on for a few days, actually, and it seems to have started innocuously enough: with a question about folks’ thoughts on the Youth Media Award winners, asked by a person who expressed “major shock” and disappointment (via frown-y face emoticons) about one of the Caldecott honors. As I said; innocuously enough.
Some folks who added to the thread brought up the perennial gripe that not all the recognized titles seem to have much kid appeal; other voices jumped in to clarify that kid appeal is not part of the criteria for any of the major YMAs awarded by ALSC and YALSA. I find this argument annoying the same way I do a mosquito bite, because it pops up every year around the same time and is irritating but will disappear in a week. After all, there are awards that take kid appeal into account.
But. Then something ugly and uncomfortable popped up. People started talking about certain books not appealing to kids or their entire communities for one reason: because said certain books have diverse protagonists.
Things people have said*:
“Sometimes I pass on even well reviewed books because I know they just won’t circulate. There aren’t any Greek gods in it! I also have a difficult time getting uh, diverse books to circulate in my community. When I started my job and weeded the picture books a huge number of non circulating titles had POC on the cover. ‘Brown Girl Dreaming?’ That’s a hard sell.”
“You can have my copy then. Because it won’t circulate where I am.”
“I just know it’s going to be a hard sell.”
“We have a copy, but I can count the number of black patrons my library has in two weeks on one hand. It is rural, middle class, white West Michigan. The only black author that circulates…at all…is Christopher Paul Curtis and that’s because some teachers require it. It’s not just the race of the characters either. If our young patrons want sports fiction they are going to choose Mike Lupica or Tim Green. The crossover has not circulated even one time since we got it. It’s not like Kwame can’t write. Acoustic Rooster checks out frequently.”
After reading the full thread and seeing this build-up of negative dialogue specifically around diverse award-winning titles in collections, I responded:
“I find it extremely problematic to suggest that a library doesn’t need a book–award-winner or not–that features a minority protagonist on the basis that there aren’t many readers of that minority who use the library. To me, that suggests both a bias on the part of selectors as well as a lack of trust in the readers we serve. We know verifiably that young readers do not only want to read about characters whose lives are like their own, and keeping them from even having the option to try a book about a person who is different from them is bordering dangerously on censorship. If a particular child does not want to read a particular book, so be it; but, especially in a public library, children should have that option.”
I am going to expand on that a bit.
First, and frankly, I find the position “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” to be racist. This position implies that we as selectors view diverse books as inherently less-than. If we argue that only black youth will want to read about black youth, we are really saying that the experiences of black youth have no relevance or meaning to youth of any other race. We are saying that the experiences of the youth in the books we do buy have broader relevance and resonance. That is the very definition of otherizing and making a particular perspective, experience, or group less-than.
The position that “because we don’t have X readers in my library, we don’t need X books” also denotes a fundamental lack of respect for the children we are supposed to be serving. It suggests that we think our young readers cannot handle, relate to, or be expected to understand an experience that does not mirror their own. Not collecting—and collecting but not promoting—titles with diverse protagonists projects the selector’s own bias onto the reader instead of letting readers freely encounter stories and information.
Also, I feel very strongly that if the excellent diverse books in your collection do not circulate, you are not doing your job of getting great books into the hands of readers. As librarians, we can sell any great book to the right reader. We can find the aspects of a title that will appeal to the range of readers we serve. Diverse books have the exact same appeal factors as the whitewashed majority of children’s publishing. So we can be professionals and make our readers’ advisory about appeal factors, or we can continue to always take kids interested in sports reads to Matt Christopher or Tim Green instead of to Kwame Alexander. But if we do the latter, we are part of the problem. If we omit diverse titles from our RA even though those exact same appeal factors are there, we are perpetuating a racist status quo.
I want to take a moment to step outside of what I have to say on this topic and share what some other professionals have said*:
“Good collection development policies should emphasize a variety of things, but one of them should most definitely be diversity. The goal of a public library is not just to serve as a mirror for our community, but to serve as an open door to the world, which includes giving our communities opportunities to walk in the shoes of characters very different from them. This, to me, is part of our education goals, to help our patrons gain a broad perspective of the world. If books don’t circulate there are things we can do to help promote circulation, including book displays, book talks, sharing book trailers and more. Yes, budgets are tight every where, but we should absolutely make sure that we actively are working to build diverse collections because it is an important part of helping us fulfill our primary mission to our local communities. And the idea that not one single person in our local communities wants or needs to read books that highlight diversity concerns me because it suggests that we don’t have enough faith in our kids to learn, grow and step outside of their comfort zones.”
“I think it is a PRIMARY JOB of librarians, specifically youth services librarians, to promote and encourage diversity in our collections, budgets be damned. After all, I spend way too much of my money on crap like Barbie and Disney princesses … which circulate like *gangbusters*. But if I went on just that, I’d have a very shallow collection.”
“The point: if the only way you know how to sell a book is ‘it’s got brown people’ then you might’ve missed the point of the story.”
“If you want to champion diversity in a place where people are resistant, sell the story, not the character’s color or orientation.”
“And I absolutely hate that people use the excuse ‘well, they just don’t circulate in my library.’ That speaks the the librarian’s failings.”
When it comes down to it, a major aspect of this topic is selection/collection development, and the fact that selection is a privilege. If you select materials for your readers, you are privileged to get to influence not only what children read, but what they have access to in the first place. And when I read arguments against including diverse titles, or questions about why we have to talk about this topic, it puts into sharp focus for me the fact that we have to recognize our privilege as selectors, and, more than likely, as white selectors for diverse readers.
If you find yourself thinking “I don’t need this title because we don’t really have many X readers here,” your privilege is showing. You have probably never had to open more than one or two books in a row in order to find a character who looks/speaks/lives like you do. That is privilege. And whether we intend it to or not, our privilege influences our thinking and our decisions. This is a problem because our decisions affect the capabilities of young readers to find books in which they can find themselves and in which they can meet new people.
Confronting our privilege is hard. It is uncomfortable. I am acutely aware that, because of my privilege as a white woman, I don’t have to write this post. No one would begrudge me for not speaking up on this topic publicly. In fact, it would probably be a lot easier, and I would seem a lot nicer, if I didn’t write this post.
But that course of action is no longer acceptable to me. I am no longer going to privately roll my eyes when professional colleagues make privileged statements about their exclusionary practices, or when reviewers ignore microaggressions in books for youth. I am going to say something, because ignoring it only lets it perpetuate. And when someone calls me out on something I say or causes me to think critically about my own practice, I am going to try really, really hard not to get defensive and to just listen and reflect and improve. It is hard. And I don’t need to do it.
Except that I do, because the ability of every child I serve to feel valuable and see themselves as a beautiful, complex individual is what hangs in the balance.
This is not about our comfort, or our personal convictions, or what we think we know definitively after doing this job a particular way for so many years.
It is about the children we serve. Every single one of them.
*Because these conversations have been happening in public forums (a public Facebook group and on Twitter), I feel that sharing direct quotations is not a breach of anyone’s privacy. I have made the decision to share these quotes without identifying the speakers, as my ultimate goal is constructive conversation about privilege in selection for youth libraries, not alienating or shaming members of the community.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas and more generally the emancipation of African American slaves throughout the Confederate South.
Author Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Juneteenth Jamboree, wanted to celebrate this “emancipation celebration that is said to have begun on June 19, 1865, when Union Army soldiers arrived in Texas and informed slaves that they were free.”
According to Weatherford’s author note, the news of emancipation took two years, six months, and nineteen days to reach Texas after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Today, African Americans come together all around the country to celebrate Juneteenth with traditions from the early days, including parades, picnics, music, speeches, crafts, and African dance. In 1980, June 19 was made a legal holiday in Texas.
Think about Juneteenth as a companion holiday to the Fourth of July. While Independence Day celebrates freedom for our country, it is important to remember that not all people in America were free at this country’s birth. As Dr. Charles Taylor writes:
Juneteenth has come to symbolize for many African-Americans what the fourth of July symbolizes for all Americans — freedom. It serves as a historical milestone reminding Americans of the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery. It honors those African-Americans ancestors who survived the inhumane institution of bondage, as well as demonstrating pride in the marvelous legacy of resistance and perseverance they left us.
150 years later (better late then never?), several representatives will push for legislation to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance in America. Currently, 43 states recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.
Learn more about Juneteenth Celebrations 12 Facts About the History of Black Independence Day Purchase a copy of Juneteenth Jamboree, by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
Kandace Coston is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is one of five recipients of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program inaugural grant. She graduated from Barnard College where she majored in music and took every creative literature class possible. In her free time, Kandace pursues her other interests, which include American Sign Language, handmade jewelry, and composing cinematic adventures!
Intimate. Calm. Inviting. That’s the atmosphere of the LEE & LOW BOOKS office in New York City. Twelve floors removed from the noisy hustle and heat of the city streets, this diverse books publisher’s office is a small levitating oasis.
I first noticed the Quiet during my interview in late May for the summer internship position in Marketing and Publicity. I stepped off the elevator, opened the door slowly (in compliance with the instructional sign), and instantly noticed the cool and calm. Initially I found the Quiet unnerving like the eerie silence in a horror movie that cues a tragic event. But the inviting display of bright books put my nervously pounding heart at ease. They make children’s books. I thought to myself. They make magic. I gazed at the sunny, shiny titles and was instantly relaxed.
One month later I started my internship excited to be a small part of the magic LEE & LOW BOOKS creates. I was also excited to step over onto the other side of the Quiet. Now that I was an official member of this exclusive team I was sure my ears would tune into the buzz of the office like a radio tuning into a tricky channel. What I found instead was an immense Quiet accompanied only by the hum of a distant printer and the occasional disembodied sneeze. By July I’d surrendered. My ears stopped scanning for transmissions within the white noise that is the office’s Quiet.
As I ceased my mission for sound, I began my mission of getting to know the office. I made appointments with personnel in various departments to learn how the largest publisher of diverse books in the country operates. Everyone I reached out to was more than happy to oblige me which I was grateful for but not surprised by; the office is incredibly friendly and welcoming.
With each interview I learned new facts about children’s books and the publishing industry:
Children’s books take over a year to create.
Marketing a book entails intensely creative work.
The difference between dystopian and post-apocalyptic.
How to spell apocalyptic.
With each interview I also noticed a recurrence: every person I spoke to is excited about the work they do here. Their faces lit up as they eloquently, passionately, and patiently explained to me how they contribute to the LEE & LOW BOOKS message. Each person brings pride and a distinct expertise to their work that makes them invaluable. Many people in my life are not content with the way they earn a living. It seems the team at LEE & LOW has that life conundrum figured out. I found everyone’s enthusiasm refreshing and encouraging.
Nowadays when I enter the office I’m not caught off guard by the Quiet. Instead I’ve realized that within the Quiet is progress. The diligent staff members of Lee & Low Books are busy bettering the world through children’s literature. In this intimate oasis of an office the Quiet is a sound; the sound of focus and fulfillment.
Out this September from the Children’s Book Press imprint of LEE & LOW, Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Mayaputs a child-focused Latino spin on the traditional Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mir a Mantl” (“I Had a Little Coat”) about a piece of fabric that is made into smaller and smaller items. We interviewed author Monica Brown about how she’s been inspired by the book.
1.What inspired you to write a children’s book based on the Yiddish folk song “Hob Ikh Mira Mantl”?
I’ve always loved the idea song, which is as much about creativity as it is about recycling and creating something from nothing. The song has inspired several books, in fact, and still inspires me. I often draw on my cultural heritage for inspiration, and Maya’s Blanket/La manta de Maya is no exception, paying homage to different aspects of my Jewish and Latina identity. It celebrates the two languages I speak, side by side on the page, along with a history of multigenerational storytelling passed down from both sides of my family.
I love the message of the song–that an object can be transformed again and again, and ultimately into something intangible and lasting through effort, creativity, and imagination. I like the idea that we can extend the life of things we love—with our own two hands or our imagination.
2.Did you have a favorite lullaby that your parents sang to you growing up? What about a lullaby that you sang to your daughters?
My mom sang me wonderful songs in Spanish. As a child I loved in particular Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul, which translates into I have a doll dressed in blue. When her granddaughter and namesake Isabella was born, my mother, Isabel Maria, made up a special song for her. It started with this line “Isabelita, Chiquita bonita de mi Corazon” and ended with “Corazon de melon!” It was a silly sweet line, but I’ve forgotten the lines in between, and now my mother is gone.
As a child, my only babysitters I knew were my tías and my Nana, my paternal grandmother, who taught me to embroider and sew. I stayed overnight at my Nana’s often and when I did, “the sandman” would visit us at night. For those who don’t know, the Sandman myth, which originates in Europe, is of a character who sprinkles sand on children’s eyes, bringing them happy dreams. My Scottish and Italian Nana would be sure the sandman visited each night. If I behaved just okay during the day the sandman would sprinkle regular sand on my forehead to help me fall asleep. If I was good, I would get silver sand, and if I was very, very good, I would get gold sand sprinkled on my forehead. I could feel the different types of sand as my Nana’s hands smoothed across my forehead, hair, and closed eyes.
3. Do you have an object today that’s your “Maya’s blanket,” i.e. that you are continually finding new uses for and don’t want to part with?
As an adult I have more of a subject than an object, and it is the subject of childhood memory. I think I became a children’s writer so I can go back and be in that moment of childhood innocence to remember what it feels like to be comforted by a beloved grandmother or my mother, to remember those minutes and hours, forever gone, of days spend with my Nana, who patiently taught me to embroider, and to sew and stitch or my mother, who shared story after story of her childhood in Northern Peru, and her dreams and her art.
I’ve never used an electric sewing machine, but thanks to my Nana I’ve still managed to stitch and mend and sew my daughter’s things—even a Halloween costume or two with those basic stitches my grandmother taught. I have my Nana’s sewing basket still, just as I am surrounded by my mother’s paintings each time I pick up a pen or open up my computer to write.
5. MAYA’S BLANKET provides an important message about recycling! Do you have any tips on how people can be more eco-friendly?
As a teacher, I always think the place to begin with is education and The Environmental Protection Agency has a website with lots of resources for children, parents, and especially teachers: http://www2.epa.gov/students. I also love that the Sierra Club has a student coalition for high school and college students that trains and connects young environmental activists: http://www.sierraclub.org/youth. Finally, well, I want to give a shout out to my fellow writers by highlighting Authors for Earth Day: http://www.authorsforearthday.org, a group that supports conservation through literacy.
It is my hope that children and the adults in their lives can become more aware and conscious of the challenges using our natural resources responsibly, and looking to for more creative solutions to persistent problems.
About the Book:
Maya’s Blanket/ La Manta de Maya
by Monica Brown, illustrated by David Diaz
Out September 2015
Ages 5-9 ~ 32 pp. ~ bilingual
Learn more about the book here.
When we talk about reading diversely, the conversation often focuses on representation and social justice: making sure that our books don’t reinforce inequality by stereotyping, marginalizing, or erasing groups of people. This is urgently important.
But what often gets left out of the conversation is how reading diversely can be a matter of pure enjoyment. For those of us who love books because they help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, reading diversely can be the icing on the cake of a spectacular reading experience.
Here are our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. What are yours?
The world is diverse, so why shouldn’t our books be?
It’s boring to only read about people just like you.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
Diverse books inspire us to be the authors of our own stories.
Walking in someone else’s shoes builds empathy.
Diverse books make us feel seen and understood.
Reading diversely can help turn nonreaders into readers.
Understanding different cultures helps us succeed in a global world.
Magic happens when we step outside of our comfort zones.
Diverse books redefine who and what we can be.
Click here for a larger image. Want a copy of our Reading Diversely poster? Comment below with your name and email address and we’ll send one out to you! (US addresses only).
Why do YOU think it’s important to read diversely?
Kandace Coston is LEE & LOW’s summer intern. She is one of five recipients of the We Need Diverse Books Internship Program inaugural grant. She graduated from Barnard College where she majored in music and took every creative literature class possible. In her free time, Kandace pursues her other interests, which include American Sign Language, handmade jewelry, and composing cinematic adventures!
I’ve always loved personality quizzes. As a teenager I was obsessed with brightly-colored magazines promising to reveal and explain different traits of my personality. I spent hours answering quirky questions, deciphering ambiguous logic, and debating results. Often the answers were frivolous and vague like a daily zodiac reading; but every once in a while I got an explanation that cut through my skepticism and perfectly pinched my persona. It felt as though an omniscient force was watching me from within the glossy pages. Those goose bump-inducing quizzes got neatly cut out and taken to school to entertain, and discreetly dissect, my friends.
When I was offered the opportunity to write a personality quiz for Tu Books’ popular YA mystery Ink and Ashes, I jumped at the chance. Creating the quiz would allow me to play haunting omniscient force! I was determined to craft a quiz so poignant and accurate it would induce goose bumps across the arms of every reader in the land! *Evil Laugh*. I immediately set to work in the dark lair of my cubicle.
My first step was to evaluate the six personality types I would use as results: Forrest, Nicholas, Claire, Parker, Fed, and Avery. I assigned each character a different color sticky tab and reread passages of the novel marking moments that revealed their different personality traits. I oversimplified each character’s persona by condensing it into three adjectives. Next I drew a line and plotted the two most opposite personalities, Nicholas and Avery, on either side. Everyone else seemed to fall in between these two characters. I plotted them appropriately completing the personality gradient.
Next, I began building questions that centered around an outing to the mall. The mall served as a great theme because it’s a natural setting for character-revealing situations. I crafted six questions that related to the novel and are circumstances readers can identify with. I thought four multiple-choice answers per question would suffice but it proved problematic. More than two characters were associated with one answer which made the personalities indistinguishable and muddied the results. Although each character is distinct, they possess certain overlapping traits. For example Parker is smart like Fed, who likes video games like Avery, who embraces conflict like Claire, and so on. The characters’ intersecting personalities led me to a significant realization: they shouldn’t be plotted on a line, but on a triangle.
With this new discovery I tried a different tactic. Instead of the quiz determining which character the reader was most like, it would determine which characters the reader was most unlike. The process reminded me of how doctors diagnose patients. The answers to questions would reveal symptoms of personality, and with each symptom the quiz would eliminate the character with contrasting personality traits. Through process of elimination the reader would be left with the character he/she has the most in common with. This seemed like a solid, plan until one of my Quiz Testers managed to perfectly eliminate all six characters with her six answers. This showed me I needed additional questions, more specific answers per question, and that this diagnosis-based grading mechanism was unnecessary.
After a few more adjustments to structure and questioning my quiz was finally complete. It turns out crafting a quiz doesn’t entail the wisdom of an omniscient force but rather focused trial and error. The quiz may not be perfectly accurate or provide poignant personality revelations but that’s not the point. The point is to engage fans of Ink and Ashes by giving them something fun to discuss and results to agree or disagree with. The quiz serves as another way for readers to see themselves in literature.
To take the Ink and Ashes quiz for yourself, check it out here.
The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.
After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.
One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.
During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.
Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.
There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.
So during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.
Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.
THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.
I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.
I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.
Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.
Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat.
In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks.
Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.
I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.
Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.
When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.
I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”
Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly). I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.
I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).
This past weekend, LEE & LOW staff attended an “Undoing Racism” workshop, held by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The People’s Institute is an organization that “is a national and international collective of anti-racist, multicultural community organizers and educators dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation.”
Throughout this weekend we learned about the definition of institutional racism and its historical context. We talked about the impact of racism on everyone, especially communities of color.
Two LEE & LOW staff reflect on their experience below.
Rebecca Garcia, Marketing & Publicity Assistant: When I learned that I was going to an “Undoing Racism” workshop, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Can racism really be “undone” in a weekend? If that were the case, then I had to be doing something wrong because I haven’t “undone” racism yet.
Surprisingly, we did not start out by talking about racism or defining it. Instead, we began to talk about the different systems that affect poor people and poor families. Different factors that are supposed to help poor people can also serve to oppress them. At this point, it still wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before.
At one point, the facilitators asked the group how many of us were gatekeepers. I had to think about it for a moment before I raised my hand. Having never thought of myself as a person with power, it was shocking to discover that I am a gatekeeper. Before that, I thought of editors as gatekeepers. After all, they’re the ones who decide what books to acquire. But since I regularly disseminate all kinds of information through social media, of course I’m a gatekeeper. Information is power.
Later on, we spoke about the definition of racism. Racism = Racial Prejudice + Power. By understanding what racism is and its historical origins, we then understood that racism and the systems it created and enforces are things that can become undone, even if there is no quick fix. In order to start undoing, or dismantling racism, we have to start having honest conversations about race, even if they will make us uncomfortable.
Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate: This past weekend, several members of the LEE & LOW team went to a workshop called Undoing Racism. To be honest, I already had preconceived notions of what the workshop would be like. I assumed we would get together in a group and talk about our own experiences with racism: what we had encountered growing up, the racism and stereotypes that we saw within our own circle of friends and family; the workshop was going to be something like an AA meeting, but for racism.
After Saturday, however, I realized how wrong I was about the workshop. Yes, there was talk about people’s own experiences with racism. There were some tears, some anger, but there was so much more to the workshop than talking about personal experiences.
We delved into how our society has built up the institution of racism and how the system is skewed to give advantage to those in power. We broke down what power means. We talked about the history of racism and really dove into what race itself even means. We talked about the idea of being a “gatekeeper,” and that really resonated with me. I work in the Marketing & Publicity department at LEE & LOW, and I never thought of that as “gatekeeping.” In my mind, the gatekeepers were the editors, people who worked directly on creating and editing a story that would then reach the public. But part of being in marketing and publicity is working with different social media platforms. For example, the LEE & LOW Facebook page has over 7,300 likes, and whenever I post anything, I’m choosing and determining what those 7,300 people will see. It was a realization of power that I had never thought about in-depth, and it’s a tool to use in the undoing of racism.
Towards the end of the weekend-long session, there was a discussion on culture (what we liked about our own culture and the idea of a “white” culture), and racial oppression that occurs because of racism (the term invisibilized and the gentrification of certain neighborhoods). In the end, we talked about how to organize and process all the information from the weekend, no small task!
One thing that was really emphasized throughout the workshop was the fact that we need to be active participants in undoing racism. For example, we broke out into four different groups to discuss different sectors of society and how these sectors oppress, exploit, and/or reinforce racism. I was in the Social Services sector and, unfortunately, felt like I wasn’t qualified to talk much about racism in this area; however, when I mentioned this after we had all reconvened, one of the leaders said that as advocates of eradicating racism, everyone needs to constantly question the institution of racism. Even with little or no knowledge of something, supporters of undoing racism seek out information and learn as much as they can about a certain institution. They ask questions. They listen. As someone who works in children’s book publishing and has a means of reaching hundreds (if not thousands!) of people every day, this really struck a chord with me. People who want to undo racism don’t always claim to be experts, rather they are proactive in their fight. They don’t stand off to the side and hope that things will magically be fixed. It takes effort, as all of us at LEE & LOW know, and that is something I will continue to strive to do both at work and personally.
This post was originally posted October 8, 2012. We offer some thoughts on reframing the Columbus Day holiday:
Have you ever stopped to think about the implications of celebrating Columbus Day?
While most of us probably grew up associating the holiday with classroom rhymes and mnemonic devices (“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” etc.), days off from school, or sales at the mall, it’s important to remember what really happened in October of 1492. 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.
Check out this video created by Nu Heightz Cinema filmmakers Carlos Germosen and Crystal Whelan in 2009. In order to garner support for a movement to “reconsider Columbus Day,” Germosen and Whelan collaborated with indigenous organizations and community activists, giving voice to the horrific and painful stories behind the mythology of the holiday.
In fact, there’s been a push to eliminate Columbus Day altogether and replace it with a federal holiday in honor of Native Americans. Several states, such as Alaska, no longer recognize Columbus Day, or have replaced it with a day honoring indigenous people.
For example, since 1990, South Dakota has celebrated the second Monday of every October as Native American Day. In California, Berkeley replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, and in 1998, legislation calling for Native American Day to be celebrated as an official California state holiday on the fourth Friday of every September was also passed. Hawaii also celebrates Discoverers’ Day instead of Columbus Day in order to recognize the Polynesian discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. Many tribal governments have also reclaimed the day as Native American Day, or, like the Navajo Nation, have replaced it with a holiday honoring their own tribe.
Here are two books we found that, like the alternatives listed above, aim to dispel the myths around Columbus Day:
A Coyote Columbus Story, written by Thomas King, a Canadian novelist and broadcaster of Cherokee and Greek descent, and illustrated by Kent Monkman, a Canadian multimedia artist of Cree ancestry. It tells the story using the figure of Coyote, a traditional trickster character who, in King’s retelling, is a girl who loves to play ball!
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, edited by Bill Bigelow & Bob Peterson. This collection of essays, articles, poems, teaching ideas, and primary source materials helps educators teach students how to think critically and creatively about the consequences of the arrival of Europeans on the North American continent.
What are some other ways you can think of to observe Columbus Day? Do you have any favorite books or resources that tell the story of Columbus from a Native American perspective? Let us know in the comments below!