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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Power of Words, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 27
1. Celebrating 25 Books from 25 Years: Chess Rumble

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

Today, we are celebrating Chess Rumble, which explores the ways this strategic game empowers young people with the skills they need to anticipate and calculate their moves through life.

Featured title: Chess Rumble

 Author: G. Neri

 Illustrator: Jesse Joshua WatsonChess Rumble cover image

Synopsis: In Marcus’s world, battles are fought everyday—on the street, at home, and in school. Angered by his sister’s death and his father’s absence, and pushed to the brink by a bullying classmate, Marcus fights back with his fists.

One punch away from being kicked out of school and his home, Marcus encounters CM, an unlikely chess master who challenges him to fight his battles on the chess board. Guarded and distrusting, Marcus must endure more hard lessons before he can accept CM’s help to regain control of his life.

Awards and Honors:

  • Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, American Library Association (ALA)
  • Notable Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English
  • Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, International Reading Association (IRA)
  • Top Picks for Reluctant Readers, BoysRead.org

G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors. Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dove into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”

Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.

Resources for teaching with Chess Rumble: 

Watch the trailer:

You can purchase a copy of Chess Rumble here.

For more titles about different experiences with bullying and peer pressure, check out our Bullying/Anti-Bullying Collection here.

Bullying Collection Cover Images

Have you used Chess Rumble? Let us know!

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

0 Comments on Celebrating 25 Books from 25 Years: Chess Rumble as of 9/26/2016 12:19:00 PM
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2. 10 Reasons to Celebrate Bilingual Books

Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.

Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!

Bilingual books…

  1. Teach us how to read in two languages.
  2. Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
  3. Develop strong critical thinking skills
  4. Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
  5. Expose us to new ways of communicating.
  6. Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
  7. Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
  8. Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
  9. Expand our vocabulary and lexicon.
  10. Bring readers together.

Lee and Low Bilingual Books Poster

Tell us why you read bilingual books!

2 Comments on 10 Reasons to Celebrate Bilingual Books, last added: 9/19/2016
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3. What is Día de los niños/Día de los Libros? 5 Questions for Pat Mora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

0 Comments on What is Día de los niños/Día de los Libros? 5 Questions for Pat Mora as of 1/1/1900
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4. 25 Books from 25 Years: Richard Wright and the Library Card

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

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

Featured title: Richard Wright and the Library Card

Richard Wright and the Library Card cover imageAuthor: William Miller

Illustrator: Gregory Christie

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

Awards and Honors:

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

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

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

Richard Wright y el carné de biblioteca

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

Resources for teaching with Richard Wright and the Library Card:

Richard Wright and the Library Card Teacher’s Guide

Learn more about Richard Wright:

Additional LEE & LOW titles by William Miller:

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

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


1 Comments on 25 Books from 25 Years: Richard Wright and the Library Card, last added: 7/14/2016
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5. The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process

New Voices Award sealIt’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.

At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.

Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?

 Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.

from The Blue Roses
from The Blue Roses

Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.

Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.

What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?

LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.

JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.

How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?

from Finding the Music
from Finding the Music

LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.

JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.

What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.

JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.

How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?

LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.

 JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.

The Blue Roses by Linda Boyden is available now!

The Blue Roses cover image

Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica by Jennifer Torres is available now!

Finding the Music cover image

For more details about submitting to the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

1 Comments on The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process, last added: 9/8/2016
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6. 25 Books from 25 Years: First Day in Grapes

25th anniversary posterLEE & 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.

Featured title: First Day in Grapes

Author: L. King Perez

Illustrator: Robert Casilla

First Day in Grapes cover imageSynopsis: 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.”

Purchase a copy of First Day in Grapes here.

Other Editions: Did you know that First Day in Grapes also comes in a Spanish edition?

Primer día en las uvas

First Day in Grapes Spanish edition cover

Resources for teaching with First Day in Grapes: First Day in Grapes Teacher’s Guide

For more titles about different experiences with bullying and peer pressure, check out our Bullying/Anti-Bullying Collection here.

Have you used First Day in Grapes? Let us know!

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

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7. “What does this book have to do with me?” Why Mirror and Window Books Are Important for All Readers

Katie CunninghamGuest blogger Katie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal. 

When we lived in Brooklyn, I knew my sons were growing up in a diverse community. They understood that people have different skin colors. That people speak different languages. That people eat different foods. That people believe different things. That we all share a common humanity. That life is full of complexity.

Now we live in the woods and appreciate the quiet of country living but this is far from a diverse community. For my boys, there is greater diversity in the pages of a book than on the streets of their town. Multicultural children’s literature is a doorway into greater understanding that their cultural background is not the only cultural background. That their way of speaking is not the only way of speaking. That their point of view is not shared by everyone.

When we open a book and start to read a story, we use our imaginations to walk through whatever world the author has created. Children’s literature is full of stories about boys and girls that look like my children. Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms mirror books and window books to describe how we both see ourselves and see others when we read literature. The characters my sons encounter are often mirrors and they find their life experiences reflected in the books they read. Children from dominant social groups have always found their mirrors in books, but do they have enough access to high-quality stories that represent other cultural backgrounds in a positive way?

artwork from Amazing Faces

artwork by Chris Soentpiet from Amazing Faces

My sons need more than mirror books. As I scan our reading shelves at home I know we can do better. When I walk into many classrooms, I know they too can do better. My sons and all children need books that provide windows into other life experiences to understand the diverse world we live in and to build connections to all other humans. After all, when the lighting is just right can’t a window become a mirror?

My friend, colleague, and global literacy leader Pam Allyn takes Charlotte’s Web with her when she travels to Lit Clubs in Kenya, Haiti, and South Korea. She takes Charlotte’s Web because even though the children she meets do not look like or speak like Fern, there is a shared humanity in E. B. White’s words that is unparalleled, and all children can find a mirror in Fern’s courageous spirit. Pam has created Lit Clubs and Lit Camps through her organization LitWorld that emphasize the human strengths found in stories. Imagine if all the stories we read with children were framed around human strengths? What strengths would you choose?

Baseball Saved Us cover

Of course, stories also help us understand that the world we live in is not what it should be. Stories can help young children understand that racism very much exists in this country, and that power is unequally distributed based on race, class, and gender. For children from dominant groups, window moments in stories come when the children realize they hold a powerful place in society and that there is something unjust about this. Two stories that center on human strength and offer powerful mirror/window possibilities for children are Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson. Baseball Saved Us is about an underdog believing in himself and the strength that comes from confidence, but it also tells about an ugly chapter in United States history when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II. Seeds of Change is a story of perseverance in the face of political opposition and bias against women. It is also about respecting nature and the power of collective action to change a landscape and the sustainability of a nation. There are many more such stories. Yet, are we reading them to children at home and in our classrooms?

Seeds of Change cover

President Obama in his Second Inaugural Address emphasized the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.” Stories can help children realize this. Isn’t a sense of social justice something we want all children to develop? Through the thoughtful selection of books we read to our children we take a step toward creating adults who desire a world that is better than the one we live in today.

So, parents and teachers, what can you do?

  • Acknowledge that every story has mirror and window possibilities
  • Emphasize that we live in a diverse society
  • Arm students with stories where their background is represented in a positive light and where their life experiences are validated
  • Discuss themes in stories to unpack mirror possibilities for all children
  • Read aloud stories that represent positive aspects of the human spirit and where characters rally together for collective action
  • Be open to discussions of inequality that you see in stories and in life; discuss with children a vision for a better world
  • Look for links to literacy standards such as the Common Core State Standards Reading Literature Standard 6 across grade levels; this is a strand of standards that emphasizes point of view

Further reading:

What’s in your classroom library? Rethinking Common Core recommended texts

A More Diverse Appendix B

Filed under: Book Lists, Curriculum Corner, guest blogger, Resources Tagged: common core standards, diversity, Educators, Power of Words, Race issues, windows and mirrors

1 Comments on “What does this book have to do with me?” Why Mirror and Window Books Are Important for All Readers, last added: 2/11/2013
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8. Meet Our New Visions Finalists

New Visions Award sealLast month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Q: What brought you to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Ailynn Knox-Collins. Redmond, WA:

I came across Tu Books when I bid on a copy of Tankborn for a charitable cause. Soon after, I had the good fortune to sit next to the writer, Karen Sandler, at an SCBWI conference in LA. I was delighted to find an imprint that is dedicated to putting books out there that are written by and feature characters of color.

Why is it important, you say, that there be this need to highlight multi-ethnic writers and stories? Because to me the world is colorful and always has been, but many of the books I love haven’t always reflected it. Too much of my own childhood was spent thinking that to be a hero or heroine, I had to look a certain way, and mostly not like me. Yet, when I look at the amazing people in the world I grew up in, they came from all sorts of backgrounds, colors and cultures.

So I had to be a part of this endeavor and I congratulate Tu Books on their first ever New Visions Award. I submitted my science fiction story and (wow!) now I’m a finalist. The other finalists are remarkable writers from excitingly varied backgrounds. I am honored to be in this group with them.

I’m a person of mixed ethnicity. My Chinese mother married an Englishman at a time when that act alone could get you disowned by your quotefamily. I grew up in several countries from England to Singapore. As a child I had my hair stroked by strangers (“Interesting color.”), my nose pinched (“Your ‘bridge’ is so high” or “flat” depending on the country) and my eyes commented on (“Ooh! Double lids.”). I got used to being asked, “What are you?” and my answer eventually became a feisty, “Human!”

When I began writing seriously a decade ago, my fictional worlds reflected how I see the real world. My characters naturally look like people I’ve encountered in my life, and they are of all colors. In GENERATION ZERO, my entry to the New Visions Award, everyone happens to be of mixed ethnicity for a horrid, sinister reason — “Mixed breeds are sturdier, like mongrel dogs”. Strangely, someone actually said that to me long ago. Astonishing, isn’t it?

I am so excited to play a small part in bringing attention to something that has been close to my heart for so long. I fell in love with books the day a teacher sat our class under the shade of a giant Raintree and read to us from CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I longed to be one of the Pevensies, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that they, and many subsequent heroines I loved, looked nothing like me. I did my best to ignore descriptions, but I couldn’t help feeling left out. If, as a writer, I can make one child imagine herself the heroine of a story, and know that nothing, especially not the color of her skin, can stop her from achieving her dreams, then I will be satisfied and incredibly humbled.

Well done, Tu Books for your vision and congratulations to all the finalists of the New Visions Award.

Ailynn Knox-Collins is a mother and teacher, as well as a ‘crazy dog lady’ with four great rescues who slobber all over the furniture (well, what else is it for anyway). She is an unashamed Trekkie and is learning to speak Klingon to add to the other 6 languages she  already speaks. She loves to read everything and has been inspired to write science fiction so that young people today can experience the same wonder she did growing up. Please visit her at www.taknoxcollins.wordpress.com  and follow her on Twitter @talkc 

Valynne E. Maetani, Salt Lake City, UT

Initially, I heard about Tu Books when it was still Tu Publishing, and I was ecstatic about its mission . . .  and a little dismayed that I didn’t think my book qualified for submission.  At the time, I thought they were only interested in fantasy and sci-fi.  While my book had a fantasy fairy-tale element, it would definitely be classified as a mystery.

Imagine how excited I was when I heard about the New Visions Award given to a fantasy, sci-fi, or mystery novel.  Unfortunately, it was three weeks before the submission deadline.  With so little time and a manuscript in dire need of revisions, I realized I couldn’t make it.  block quote

Determined to support their mission, I told myself I would send a manuscript in through their regular submission process at some later date.

But then someone replied to the announcement for the award with the following response:  “I was slightly concerned to see that this publisher was seeking submissions for a contest, but only from writers ‘of color’ . . . It appears that the means to the laudable end of  ‘true diversity’ in YA/MG lit is more submissions by ‘authors of color.’”  The person went on to ask why it mattered if the writer was “white.”  S/he suggested they get rid of the term “of color” from all the fine print of their website.

I am the first to say that I have read many wonderful books, with diverse characters, written by authors who are not “of color”—books that were meaningful and shed light on different cultures such as The Good Earth by Pearl Buck or Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury.   But to me, underrepresented voices are just as important.  This award matters.  I am a Japanese-American writer, who grew up in Utah, surrounded by people who looked nothing like me, reading books about people who looked nothing like me.  I am an author of color.  Our voices matter.

And so I worked hard to get my chapters ready for submission.

I truly appreciate that Tu Books seeks to encourage diversity in children’s literature as well as diversity in the authors who write these books.  I am humbled and awed by the talent of the other New Visions Award finalists, and I am proud to have my name listed with theirs.

Valynne E. Maetani received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.  She has managed script editing for stories for disadvantaged youth and has edited several screenplays, including My Little War in Juarez, the winner of the 2010 Creative World Award. She can be found at www.valynne.com and on Twitter @valynnemaetani

Stay tuned tomorrow for part II as we hear from our other three finalists!

Filed under: Awards, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing contests

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9. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part II

New Visions Award sealLast month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Q: What brought you to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Rahul Kanakia, Baltimore, MD:
My novel has a number of autobiographical elements. I mean, obviously, I didn’t grow up in a plague-wracked authoritarian dystopia, but I did share many of the troubles and experiences of the character in my novel. I went to Catholic school and I was confused regarding my sexual orientation and I had body image issues. And when I started the first draft of my very first YA novel, all of that came out of me in a crazy rush. Nothing was filtered. Everything was on the paper. Never before nor since have I experienced that kind of pure mind to keyboard translation.

quote 2Except for one thing. The protagonist of that first draft was white. That’s because (kind of funnily, since I’m currently enrolled in an MFA program that’s more-or-less devoted to the creation of fine literature), I’m relentlessly commercial. I can’t ever get up the motivation to write something that I don’t think will sell. And, you know, I believed it was possible to sell a YA novel with a queer protagonist. And I believe it’s possible to sell a YA novel with a protagonist of color. There are (a few) examples of both of those things. But I just was not at all sure that it was possible to sell a YA novel with a protagonist who was both. Somehow, the intersection felt too narrow. I don’t know. Perhaps I was the unimaginative one there. Perhaps I didn’t give the publishing industry enough credit. But before I could even start to write that book, I felt like I had to choose one identity and discard another.

Fast forward a year. I’d had a story appear in Tu Books’ Diverse Energies anthology of YA dystopian fiction. And, because of that, I got forwarded an email where Tu called for submissions to their first contest: they actually wanted novels about people of color. I had this YA novel, which still hadn’t really been marketed to publishers, and, after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to go back in and rewrite it to fit the vision that I hadn’t originally been courageous enough to realize. Because of this contest, my novel exists in a form that it wouldn’t have otherwise had: I was able to overcome that mental block and write that book about a queer Indian kid that I always should have been writing.

I think that’s the benefit of having a publisher for books about and by people of color. It doesn’t only publish diverse and inclusive books…it also widens the entire marketplace. Just knowing that there is a potential home for books that explore all kinds of PoC experiences will do a lot to foster the writing of more and broader types of books.

Rahul Kanakia is a science fiction writer who has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He currently lives in Baltimore, where he is enrolled in the Master of the Fine Arts program in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. If you want to know more about him then please visit his blog at http://www.blotter-paper.com or follow him on Twitter at @rahkan 

Ibi Zoboi, Brooklyn, NY

I’ve known about Tu Books since its Kickstarter campaign.  I did get a little teary-eyed watching that video because a whole world had opened up for me.  Not just for me as a writer, but for me as a reader, educator, and parent.  I was probably one of Tu Books’ first contributors, having prematurely sent an unpolished manuscript.  I’ve been at this writing thing for quite some time—submitting, revising, re-submitting—all while reading the online conversations around diversity in children’s books.  There were some good discussions but they were just that—discussions.  I was doing my part as a writer by working on my craft and submitting work.  What were agents and editors on the other side of the gate doing to actually shift the dynamics and raise the number of books published for children of color?

Lee & Low Books was one answer.  Tu Books was even better by filling the humungous need for genre MG & YA books featuring characters of color.  This was actually doing something!  The New Visions Award was a huge clarion call for us writers of color to step forward and shout like the Whos in Whoville, “We are here!”

I would’ve been first in line sending my manuscript off by Owl Post Express the day the contest was announced, but I’d just gotten into an MFA program and was at the mercy of my adviser.  I planned to work on my manuscript the whole semester and if she said that it needed work, I wasn’t applying.  I’d made a commitment to really learn the craft and wouldn’t dare send out work that wasn’t ready (I’d done that too often).  But she told me, “Get your application in yesterday!” And “yesterday” ended up being almost at the last minute on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.

I’d agonized over whether a story about a Haitian girl was good enough, whether I should send one about a regular black American girl instead and not dig so deep into culture and mythology.  It’s one thing to write fantasy as a person of color, it’s another thing to write as an immigrant and pull from your own culture to tell a story that can resonate with anyone.

There are lots of us writing, and it would be such a disservice to children who are desperately in need of mirrors and windows to not provide resources for writers of color to hone their craft. Prizes, awards, grant money, scholarships—just about anything that would close the gap in some way.  Yep, the New Visions Award is one step towards that, and SCBWI did something similar with their On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award.  Hopefully, with time, more avenues will open up.

And yes, congratulations fellow Whos!  I’m honored to be a finalist and in such great company.

Ibi Zoboi’s short stories have been anthologized in The Caribbean Writer, Dark Matter 2,  and Haiti Noir edited by Edwidge Danticat, among others.  She’s received grants in Writing from the Brooklyn Arts Council and is studying Writing for Children & Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She’s a mom of three, married to a visual artist, and teaches writing in New York City public schools. You can find her at www.ibizoboi.com.

Akwaeke Zara Emezi, Brooklyn, NY

I came across Tu Books by chance, while going through the contest listings on the Poets & Writers website. The New Visions Award struck me because of how specific its guidelines were, and as a writer of color, I leapt at the opportunity to be part of something geared specifically towards children of color. I’m the Igbo and Tamil child of a Nigerian man and a Malaysian woman, and I grew up in Nigeria, straddling cultures like most mixed kids do, marked as ‘half-caste’ and essentially a foreigner in my home community. Finding places where I belong has always been important to me.  quote 4

Both my parents loved reading and made sure I had a constant supply of books as a child growing up in Aba. Most of these books were written by authors such as Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, and they all featured white children as the characters. Therefore, when I started writing books as a child (here’s one of them), all the people I created in my make believe worlds were also white and with Western names, even though I was born and raised in a deeply Igbo region of Nigeria. The books I’d read were the usual portal into other realities, which I ruthlessly applied to my childhood, convinced that pixies lived in the patch of grass in front of our house and that fairies filled my bedroom, entertained by my sister and I playing. It was easier to fit into these imaginary places.

My love for speculative fiction developed from this, and the chance to develop a fantasy world for the New Visions Award was a perfect match for me. I actually wrote Somadina specifically for this award after I found out about it, penning down a few chapters to meet the submission deadline and drawing heavily from Igbo culture and history to craft a world that I would have liked a portal to myself. I wrote with young adults in mind and worried that perhaps some elements of the story would be a little too dark, but I kept reminding myself that the reality for many young adults of color is that they are likely to personally witness or experience the ‘dark’ themes that are present in my narrative. I had to stay true to the story and tell it the way it was insisting on being told.

All in all, I’m deeply honoured to be a finalist with all these other amazing writers, and extremely grateful to Tu Books for its existence and for this opportunity.

Akwaeke Zara Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer who was born and raised in the south of Nigeria. She started writing at five and in the succinct words of her seven year old self- “Her ambition is to be a world famous writer and artist. She has a family of 5 and loves art and books. Her hobby is writing.” Akwaeke now lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at www.azemezi.com.

Meet Our Other Two New Vision Finalists

Filed under: Awards, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing contests

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10. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III

New Visions Award sealLast month we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Q: What has been your experience writing from a different cultural background that may be unfamiliar to most young readers? 

Ibi Zoboi, Haiti.

While most readers are familiar with Edwidge Danticat, there are, of course, other Haitian and non-Haitian writers telling stories about Haitian children. M. Sindy Felin’s Touching Snow was a National Book Award Finalist.  The recent winner of the Printz Award is In Darkness, a story about a Haitian boy during the earthquake written by Nick Lake. One of my favorite Haitian YA books is Taste of Salt by the late Frances Temple.

Haiti has an amazing literary tradition and under a brutal dictatorship, writers either risked their lives or were sent into exile. So, for me, writing about Haiti is very political.  Though, my stories are cloaked in a world of magic.  What better way to convey Haiti’s complex history and mythology than in a young adult fantasy novel?  This simply adds another layer of depth to what young readers already know about Haiti, or any given culture.  They must know that culture is multi-dimensional and is not regulated to the superficial “facts” in the media. This is why mythology breathes life into everything I write.  While the names and magical systems differ, there is an interconnecting power in world mythology that can resonate with any reader.

Ailynn Knox-Collins, Earth.

I’ve lived in six countries and been a citizen of three, so it’s hard to decide where my origins lie. I immersed myself into the language and culture of each of the lands that have housed me and made me feel welcome. Yet, I belong to none in particular. Many people live in a culture different from their ancestors or like me, have ancestors from all over. We learn to hang on to the crucial values and adapt to others within our environment.

As a child, for example, I learned to ‘chameleon’ my accent simply to fit in. I write to discover who I am and I believe I’m not alone in this journey. In my books, I place my characters in almost sterile environments just to see what happens, so what is truly important can bubble to the surface. It seems appropriate in my form of science fiction, where the story is set in space, and humanity must rebuild itself by deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. I pepper the stories with values and beliefs I’ve picked up on the way, hoping that many of these are universal, since in the end, we are all but citizens of this one tiny planet.

Valynne E. Maetani, Japan.

Though I am fourth-generation pure Japanese, there were many traditions that my family maintained.  As a child, I removed my shoes before I entered the house, ate certain kinds of foods on holidays, and threw salt over my shoulder on New Year’s Day. But I had no idea why we did the things we did. For me, writing about the Japanese culture has been a way of sharing and understanding the meaning and purpose behind the traditions.

I like writing for young adults because it’s an age where kids no longer do things just because their parents tell them to. It’s an age where they begin to question why on a much deeper level. In order for traditions to be preserved, I think it’s important to first understand the why and the rich history behind those traditions and second, important to share that knowledge with others.

Rahul Kanakia, India.

There is a lot of literature about the Indian diasporic experience. And, when I was around fourteen years old, I went through a phase where I read a fair amount of it.

And I hated it.

The standard Indian immigrant narrative is about the angst and the pain of being trapped between worlds. It is about attempting to assimilate and finding that assimilation was impossible. It is about attempting to recover an Indian cultural identity and finding that to be impossible as well. It is, fundamentally, about always feeling alone in the world. Kind of a grim future to outline for a fourteen year old who just wants to, you know, experience the world and make friends and write books and be happy.

So I try to write stories where Indian protagonists aren’t oppressed by their heritage. I think part of the reason I like writing science fiction is that in an SF novel, there’s always something else going on. You might be struggling to fit in…but you’re also struggling to fight off the zombie hordes.

Akwaeke Emezi, Nigeria + Malaysia.

My cultural background is blended- I was born in Nigeria and lived there until I left for college, so I identify very strongly with being Igbo. I was also raised with my mother’s Malaysian culture, so although I can’t cook Nigerian food to save my life, I tie my own saris, wear jade, and ritually stockpile Baba’s Curry Powder. However, moving to the States brought my nationality to the foreground as an immigrant, and that was when I realized how much growing up in Nigeria impacted my identity.

I deliberately reached for what felt like home and birthright while I was writing Somadina. I was born where my father was born and his father before him, so I constructed a fantasy world around Igbo culture and traditional religion. Other than Nnedi Okorafor’s delightful work, I hadn’t seen my culture represented in speculative fiction, so I saturated this story in it.

I also write from different points of myself outside of my ethnicities, but elements of my cultures often seep through in a name/food/phrase. After all, where I come from shapes who I am now, with half a body in the otherworld, stories coming through my teeth, and all.

Further Reading:

What brought our New Visions finalists to Tu Books and to the New Visions Award competition in particular?

Ailynn and Valynne answer

Ibi, Rahul, and Akwaeke answer

Filed under: Awards, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: cultural diversity, different cultures, diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing, writing contests

3 Comments on Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part III, last added: 3/1/2013
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11. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part IV

New Visions Award sealIn January we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Previous posts by our New Visions finalists:

Q: What was your relationship to books and reading as a child or teenager?  In what ways did you see yourself represented in books?

Ailynn Knox-Collins

I was seven when I attended my first boarding school. Determined to hate the experience, I succeeded at being miserable. Over the next few years, I changed school six times. I was always the new kid, but I wasn’t the nice one. I got into fights, defied teachers and even started a gang to beat up boys (I didn’t actually beat up anyone). Adults whispered about me when they thought I wasn’t listening. I was the poor child whose parents were getting a divorce. Because of that, I got away with everything which just made me more miserable.

Then one day, a teacher introduced me to CS Lewis and his worlds brought a spark into my self-imposed misery. Books became my escape. I devoured every story, mostly fantasy at first. I began to write as well, putting myself in places where I could be somewhere or someone else. Meeting Austen, Hardy and the Bronte sisters began my love affair with classical English literature. Those were wonderful years. Finally, Asimov came along and that opened the world of science fiction to me. Life became hopeful even while aliens were invading and snatching bodies, because the heroes always triumphed. And that’s where I kept seeing myself, whether or not the characters looked like me or spoke like me. They came out on top at the end and in my darkest moments, that was what I needed the most.

Ibi Zoboi

I was one of those statistical kids who did not own books. My mother worked two jobs to send me to Catholic school and we lived in a part of Brooklyn where little girls did not skip to the library on their own.  We did own encyclopedias, though, but not novels and picture books.  This had more to do with culture rather than economics.  For students in Haiti, reading was more for rote memorization of textbooks. That’s what my mother made me do with the encyclopedias.

I was dealing with some q3serious identity issues by the time I got to high school.  We’d moved to suburban Queens and I went to a mostly white Catholic high school.  I desperately wanted mirror stories but I’d settled on having some sort of movie star idol instead.  Halle Berry was just starting out then and she had starred in the TV movie Alex Haley’s Queen.  That’s what led me to reading the actual book. Then I read Alex Haley’s Roots and looked for other titles in that section of my high school’s library—slave narratives (which at some point led me to Octavia Butler’s Kindred).  Then I got mad at the world and worked in a bookstore all throughout college and read everything I could afford on my employee discount (RIP Waldenbooks).

It all started with wanting to see an image of beauty and success that was real to me. Halle’s hair was short and she was black and she’d been a heroine. I don’t think I would’ve been so superficial if I’d seen some of those images in books as a child.

Rahul Kanakia

My mom gave me Isaac Asimov’s Foundation when I was around 10 years old. She’d first read it as a kid in Mumbai in the 1960s. I loved the book’s thought-provoking premise and epic scope and I knew that I wanted more of that. Until I went to college, I only read science fiction and fantasy novels: mostly hard science fiction, space operas, military SF, epic fantasy, and swords and sorcery.

All of these subgenres are largely comprised of adventure stories. They’re about heroes who triumph over tremendous obstacles. And, because I read hundreds and hundreds of these books, I wanted to grow up and become a hero. Many SF fans of color go through a period of disillusionment when they realize that the genre doesn’t care to represent them. That did not happen to me. For whatever reason, I had no trouble identifying with the square-jawed white protagonists.

My disillusionment arose when I realized that heroism is a bit of a sham. It doesn’t exist in real life. Or, at least, not in the way that they write about it in the stories. Of course, everyone realizes that eventually. And, after growing up, some people are still able to find value in the metaphor: the hero represents some spiritual transcendence or state of striving. But I was never able to get over my disappointment. To this day, I find it difficult to read a traditionally-structured SF novel.

Valynne E. Maetani

In the third grade, I skipped recess so that I could read a series of non-fiction books. Each detailed the life of someone famous in history. Only one of those books was about a woman: Marie Curie.quote2 Shewas smart and brave, and I wondered if I could ever be like her. Often, my father would surprise me with books. Each had strong female characters like those in Little Women or The Good Earth. In our Asian culture, where emotions are rarely exposed, this was his way of telling me that he believed I could be brave and strong like Madame Curie, the March women, or O-Lan.

At some point, I fell in love with mysteries, devouring Encyclopedia Brown and eventually books by Agatha Christie. Yet I realized there were rarely characters of color. So a few years ago I decided to write a book for my youngest sister’s eighteenth birthday. I had a vague idea of the storyline but knew it would be a mystery; the protagonist would be a strong young woman; and she and her family would be Japanese. What I wanted to share through my writing is that as much as we try to fit in with those around us, we will always be different. I realized, once I was older, that being different is the precise thing my friends loved about me and my family. At the heart of it, we are all humans at the mercy of human experiences, and our differences should be embraced and appreciated rather than dismissed.

Akwaeke Emezi

My relationship to reading has always been a huge part of my life and luckily, both my parents were avid readers who happily loaded me up with books. I read everything I could find; my favorites were authors like Lewis Carroll, Kipling, James Herriot, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, etc. I also reaquote1 smalld several classics as a child/teen simply because they were in my house and I needed things to read: Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities, etc. I remember reading Flowers in the Attic before I was ten…that was quite an experience!

I was always reading at the dinner table, at school while on break, by candlelight because the power was always out, in the bathroom- I was insatiable and churned through books quickly. We had an outdoor book market at the Post Office in my town in Nigeria, where you could bring second hand books and swap them out for more, which was a great resource.

As a child/teen, I always felt there was a place for me in all the books I read because that’s what fantasy and fiction had taught me, that I could belong anywhere because everything was possible.

Further Reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists I

Meet Our New Visions Finalists II

Meet Our New Visions Finalists III

Filed under: Awards, guest blogger, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, promoting diversity, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, writing contests

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12. Meet Our New Visions Finalists, Part V: Diversity in Genre Fiction

New Visions Award sealIn January we announced the finalists of our first New Visions Award, a new writing award for a debut author of color for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel. Over the last few weeks, we’ve highlighted these talented finalists on our blog as they answer questions about what inspires them, the writing process, and more. Perhaps among these five finalists you’ll find your next favorite author!

Previously, our New Visions finalists shared their experiences as young readers, and whether they saw themselves represented in books.

In this last post, they share their final thoughts on diversity in genre fiction for middle grade and young adult readers:

Ailynn Knox-Collins

I applaud the efforts that publishers like Tu Books are making to bring diversity into children’s lite  rature. I am humbled and grateful to have been given a small part to play here. I may not ever be published but I will always be writing and will most certainly be a reader for the rest of my life. As a teacher of children from all over the world, I am excited to introduce them to a new stage of diversity in books, where they may find themselves reflected in the stories.

From where I stand, the future of children's fiction is looking up.From where I stand, the future of children’s fiction is looking up. They will see more and more books where the covers feature people like them, of all races and creeds, beliefs and lifestyles. Everyone will have a chance to be a hero and every reader will find a place for themselves in the thrilling worlds of mystery, fantasy and science fiction. I can’t hide the huge smile on my face because the child in me is thrilled. I am so proud to be a part of this movement. I hope more writers of color will be encouraged to write from their cultural backgrounds and enrich the book world with new ideas. It wouldn’t surprise me that although the names and settings have been changed, in the end, we’ll discover that there is much that we share with each other; that we have more in common than we realize.

Valynne E. Maetani

Somewhere out there are children just like me. They use reading as a way to escape life’s obstacles. They enjoy being sucked into magical worlds that challenge their imaginations. Sometimes books help them realize their problems are not as bad as they seem. They realize through characters that difficulties are a part of the human experience, but there are others like them who feel and react the same way they do.

In other ways, those same children might be not like me. They are children who might know little about Japan and its foods or customs. They may not have any idea what’s it’s like to grow up Japanese-American or understand how deep-rooted our traditions are.

For all children, books are a way of making connections and allowing them to experience something new. Diversity in middle grade and young adult literature enriches the reading experience by increasing the breadth and depth of what our children have access to, and because of this, there is also an increased chance for children to connect and learn. Both characters and authors of color can provide an introduction to unique perspectives. I find that most intolerance stems from a lack of understanding, and books are one forum which can equip children with information. I’m not naïve enough to think diversity in genre fiction will change everything, but every time we connect with a child, we open doors, and that makes writing worth it.

Rahul Kanakia

In any discussion of diversity, the shadow constituency is white people. Obviously, it’s really nice for teens of color to see depictions of themselves in the media that they consume. But unless those depictions also appeal in some way to white people, then those depictions will not get the major play People don't consume media because it's good for them. They consume it because they want to be entertained.that they need in order to be published and widely distributed in a way that makes sure they get into the hands of people of color.

And, of course, we all know that it’s good for white people to see the diversity of the world. But that also doesn’t matter. People don’t consume media because it’s good for them. They consume it because they want to be entertained.

So the challenge is to create depictions of PoC that are also entertaining to white people. It’s hard. And it’s often a bit unsatisfying. Writing for an outsider audience means including explanations and “authentic” detail that insiders don’t necessarily need, or want, to see. And if you veer too much in that direction, then you alienate people of your own culture. And that alienation can often be good business, actually, because those people are actually just a tiny fraction of your audience and in terms of getting fame and book sales it makes a lot more sense to feed the preferences of a white audience that hungers for PoC characters who hang around in this tiny sweet spot where they’re alien enough to be picturesque but also relatable enough that they don’t pose a serious challenge to majority culture.

Akwaeke Emezi

I’m curious about what effect it would have had on me as a child and young adult to have had access to more fiction with characters that looked like me, or that came from cultures that I could have related to with more ease. I’ll never know, but I believe that kids nowadays should definitely have access to all that material and I am grateful for all those who are working to make this happen.

Disclaimer- I’m not very immersed in the writer world so this conversation is somewhat new to me. However, it seems to me that diversity in genre fiction (or the lack thereof) is essentially a race issue- who is considered the default race and the limited range of cultures, descriptions, etc that spring forth from that. It’s just not representative of the real world and it does people and children of color a disservice. Stories help people relate to whatever they’re reading about- I had no problem as a child believing that pixies lived in my compound or imagining that the tree in our backyard was The Faraway Tree even though all Enid Blyton characters were white. All children (all people, actually) would benefit greatly from having access to diverse fiction and being exposed to different cultures and people.

Ibi Zoboi

Culturally relevant stories will equip these students with the level of critical thinking skills the standards are asking of them.I teach in New York City public schools as a writer-in-residence.  So I have a pretty good idea of what inner city children and teens are dealing with in terms of literacy. These new Common Core Learning Standards are asking students to read broadly and deeply—more informational nonfiction texts.  And part of my job entails listening to teachers complain how this is a huge leap for many of their students. They’re being asked to argue these complex ideas and think critically, yet they have very little sense of themselves, their world and their place in it.

When I teach fiction in places like Brooklyn and the Bronx, I’d get so many blue-eyed, blonde-haired characters in these stories you’d think we were in Norman Rockwell’s America.  They’re emulating what they have to read. Reading the classics is a good thing. But culturally relevant stories will equip these students with the level of critical thinking skills the standards are asking of them.  A great number of sci-fi classics can be paired with well-written YA dystopian novels, for example.  And what if they can see themselves and their culture in these books?  Orwell’s 1984 then becomes that much more relevant.

Underrepresented students who experience school closures, substandard housing, and violence need to be able to think critically about a genre MG or YA novel and how it relates to them.  They need to see themselves taking center stage in heroic stories before they can begin to affect change in their own communities.

Further Reading:

Meet Our New Visions Finalists I: How we got involved in the New Visions Award

Meet Our New Visions Finalists II: How we got involved in the New Visions Award

Meet Our New Visions Finalists III: Writing for people of different backgrounds

Meet Our New Vision Finalists IV: Your relationship to books as a young reader

Filed under: guest blogger, Musings & Ponderings, Tu Books Tagged: diversity, New Visions Award, Power of Words, promoting diversity, Race issues, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Teens/YA, Tu Books, writing contests

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13. It’s a Words World

Photo | EKHumphrey

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For my editing, I generally use the Merriam-Webster’s or the American Heritage online dictionaries. My books collect more dust than they used to, which means I spend less time distracted by perusing nearby entries. My rate for learning new words has plummeted.
A few months ago, I bought myself a calendar with a word for each day. I hadn’t owned one in several years and this one became lost in a sock drawer until well into January, but that’s for another post.
In addition to writing, I figured I might find the calendar useful to challenge, in the words of the fictional detective Hercule Poirot, the “little gray cells.” (Granted, many online dictionaries provide some way to push out a word per day, but I like the tactile experience of a page to rip off.)
Without any space to write down appointments or accomplishments, I enjoy the daily calendar as a way to mark the passage of time and I’ve saved many of the words I’ve torn off. I keep a stack on my desk. When I have time, I flip through and try to learn some unfamiliar words, such as calenture, moiety and nyctalopia. I position the calendar where I can easily see it and I look forward to the task each day.
It is a gentle reminder to keep learning, while giving me a different challenge than writing, researching or reading gives. And, although there is no vocabulary quiz each week as happened in elementary school, I like to try to keep my word muscles exercising and stretching.
You never know when you’ll get to use trichotillomania (an abnormal desire to pull out one’s hair) in a sentence. Knowing how unique puissantis compared to power and potent, even though they share a common Latin parentage, can help when choosing the perfect word.
With the tens of thousands of words we learn as we grow, I’ve been amazed at how many words and definitions I’ve forgotten, misused or stopped using through the years.
As a writer, I know that words are my business. The calendar reminds me of that each and every day.

Do you try to keep your vocabulary growing? If so, how do you do it?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor. Her The Feminist Movement Today (Mason Crest, 2013) was recently selected for the Amelia Bloomer List.

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14. Protesting Injustice Then and Now

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

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

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

Jim Crow Row
from Love to Langston
By Tony Medina

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

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

I make signs
that read
that read

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

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

So we protest
with our parents
and let everybody
know about

Jim Crow Jim Crow
not allowing us
to grow

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

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

I, Too
By Langston Hughes
From the Poetry Foundation

I, too, sing America.

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

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

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

I, too, am America.

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

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

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

Further reading:

Books on Protest:


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

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15. This Week in Diversity: Appearance

Greetings on another Friday afternoon!

The New Cover

The Original Cover

Steph Su Reads starts us out with Why I Want More Asians on YA Book Covers: My Experience with Racism, in which she shares a personal experience with racism and her dismay over the revised cover of Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix.

Guest blogging at Feministe, Shani Hilton talks about her hair journey as a Black woman, from one who relaxed her hair to one with natural hair. It’s a great personal look at the highly-politicized cultures of Black women’s hair.

Arizona’s racially-charged anti-immigrant bill has lost some of its teeth, but the fallout continues, in Arizona and in other states. In Nevada, Brian Sandoval is running to become the state’s first Hispanic governor—but he says he’s not worried about laws like Arizona’s because “my children don’t look Hispanic.”

The words we use to describe people reflects and shapes how we think about them. Sara Mayeux takes a look at one specific example: the term “illegal alien” and its variant, “illegal” used as a noun.

Enjoy the reading and enjoy the weekend, folks!

Filed under: Diversity Links Tagged: African/African American Interest, Asian/Asian American, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Power of Words, whitewashing

2 Comments on This Week in Diversity: Appearance, last added: 8/2/2010
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16. Radio Thursday: Yes, He’s Mine

We’re taking a break from Thursday videos this week, and listening to the radio instead! NPR’s Tell Me More has a great segment in which several mothers of multiracial children share their personal experiences being asked if those are their kids, or if they’re the nanny or babysitter. It’s a great piece, so check it out:

(18 minutes)

I think one of the most interesting things is the difference in the experiences of the white mother and the mothers of color: “where do you get them?” versus “are you looking for more work?”

Filed under: Diversity Videos Tagged: Multiracial, Power of Words

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17. A sky full of stars!

It’s an exciting day in the office—we just got news of Yummy‘s third starred review! The major review journals give stars to books they consider truly exceptional, above and beyond typical standard for books—and multiple stars show a consensus on the greatness of the book. Three is pretty special!

Here are samples from the stars:

Kirkus Reviews: “A haunting, ripped-from-the-headlines account of youth gang violence in Chicago provides the backdrop for a crucial mediation on right and wrong.”

Booklist: “possesses a realism that grounds the nightmare in uncompromising reality and an emotional expressiveness that strikes right to the heart.”

And the newest, from School Library Journal: “Framing the story through the eyes and voice of a fictional character, 11-year-old Roger, offers a bittersweet sense of authenticity while upholding an objective point of view. . . . Realistic black-and-white art further intensifies the story’s emotion. A significant portion of the panels feature close-up faces. This perspective offers readers an immediacy as well as emotional connection to this tragic story.”

Congratulations to author G. Neri and illustrator Randy DuBurke! We are very proud.

Filed under: Elevator Updates, Publishing 101 Tagged: African/African American Interest, Power of Words, shameless bragging, Yummy

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18. Defending the Book in the Classroom

Recently, I gave a presentation to a college class of future teachers. Their professor asked me: “What advice would you give a teacher who has introduced to her or his class a controversial book that has been challenged by a parent?” I am not sure the answer I gave at the time was a good one, but I have pondered the question some more and would like to offer a few suggestions.

Talk about what the book does well. Point out the main themes of the book and how it is important for today’sfrom Brothers in Hope children to learn about them in a safe environment. Our book Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan tells the story of a group of boys who escape the slaughter of their people in Sudan. I recall a reviewer, who was also a mother, stating that her child did not need to worry that she might come home one day and not find her parents there. I am a parent myself, and I can empathize with this sentiment. But being a New Yorker in a post 9/11 world, I know that bad things can happen to good, innocent people close to home. Brothers in Hope keeps the most grisly violence off the page, and while there are scary parts throughout the book, the story does an excellent job of emphasizing the fact that when faced with the most dire of circumstances, the boys organized, stuck together, and looked out for one another. The boys became a family in the absence of family, and what they accomplished is a testament to children’s courage and the inner strength that enabled them to face insurmountable odds and survive. Brothers in Hope is a sad story, but it teaches children about the world we live in and shows that even acts of extreme cruelty can lead to amazing acts of grace.

Point to the awards. If the book has won awards, have information about them at the ready. Strong reviews and national awards mean the book was deemed exceptional in the eyes of reputable institutions, librarians, and educators—so you are not alone in thinking the book has something valuable to say to young readers. Our book Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty has received five starred reviews. Although many reviews noted that Yummy is a “gut-wrenching” read, it fills an important niche about the perils of gang life.

Authenticity means something. Our book Baseball Saved Us was once banned from a school because it used the term “Jap”. Since the story takes place during World War II, the racist terminology of the 1940s helps define the discrimination experienced by Japanese Americans of that era. Being able to discuss racism in the safety of a classroom gives teachers an opportunity to address why racism is hurtful and how it is still prevalent today.

These were just a few thoughts about how to defend a controversial or challenged book. If you have other ideas you would like to share, please post them below.

Note: The books I’ve mentioned are appropriate for a range of age/reading levels but are not intended for very young children.

Filed under: Dear Readers, Musings & Ponderings, Publishing 101 Tagged: Censorship, Educators, Display Comments Add a Comment
19. Booksgiving!

Turkey Day. Autumn Pie Day. American Gluttony Day.


It’s coming. Are you ready?

Have you picked out a book to get your kids in a spirit of thanks and appreciation for the natural world?

Have you picked out a book to teach your kids the American origins of popular Thanksgiving foods like cranberries, potatoes, and pumpkins, and to get them excited about helping in the kitchen?

Have you picked out a cute, clever, thankful book about family to read aloud between turkey and pie?

We have.

Thanks for the world: Thanks for the food: Thanks for the family:

Do you have book-related Thanskgiving traditions? What do you read while traveling or enjoying a couple days off? And, of course, what do you eat?

Filed under: Musings & Ponderings Tagged: Book Lists, environmentalism, holidays, Native American, Power of Words

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20. For the Holidays, Give Books

What else can you buy that gives hours of fun, kick starts your imagination, requires no batteries, and is powered simply by words? I’ve read so many fantastic books this year that have transformed my combined 90-minute commute into time I look forward to. And it continues most nights—when I read to my sons who are genuinely excited for story time. Without exaggerating, if a hidden camera were to capture us reading together, beaming our image into every household across the country, audiences would think this is staged, but its real. You can’t make this stuff up.

Cool Gifts

Books make cool gifts

Since I work in publishing, one of the perks is that I get a lot of complimentary books. I was able to secure a copy of the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid and passed it to my older son, whose eyes popped out of his head as he exclaimed how he could not believe he had a copy even before the stores did. My wife confirmed on her computer that Amazon.com did not have the book either, which prompted my son to openly contemplate a future in publishing when he grows up.

Book gifts are personal. The books you give signify how well you know someone. You can add to a book’s meaning by inscribing it, so your thoughts become a permanent part of the book. When you inscribe a book, the significance of the writing and the beauty of the cover gets transferred to you, and whenever the recipient of your gift picks up that book, he or she is forever reminded of you.

Finally, as a publisher I have behind the scenes knowledge of what goes into the making of a book. I can tell you that the books we have published since 1993 represent years of dedicated work by a host of talented individuals. Their combined efforts are the heart and soul behind what makes books so desirable in the first place. I am curious to know how many of you out there make it a tradition to give books as gifts for the holidays. What books have you given as gifts, and why? Happy holidays, everyone.

Filed under: Dear Readers Tagged: Power of Words 2 Comments on For the Holidays, Give Books, last added: 12/1/2010
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21. Video Thursday: Shadeism

This week, we have a moving documentary about the distinction made based on skin color, even within a single culture or ethnic group. It’s long, but it’s worth watching the whole thing, from the interview with a four-year-old girl to the academic perspectives of professors.

Contains Adult Language
Shadeism, posted with vodpod, via Love Isn’t Enough

It’s always important to listen to people discussing their own experiences, as this documentary enables us to do—and the filmmaker is right: it’s up to us all to challenge notions of beauty and see the beauty in every skin tone.

Filed under: Diversity Videos Tagged: Power of Words, Race issues, shadeism, South Asian, videos

1 Comments on Video Thursday: Shadeism, last added: 12/10/2010
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22. International Day of Indigeneous Peoples

Today is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples! According to the United Nations, the theme this year is “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices.” It’s nice to see indigenous groups being recognized not as ancient civilizations or oppressed minorities, but as powerful, modern communities actively working to shape their futures. To that end, I came across this video from the BBC and thought it was pretty cool:

Mapuche Rap

Mapuche Rap – click through to view

What a way to preserve language!

Filed under: Musings & Ponderings Tagged: indigenous culture, Latino/Hispanic/Mexican, Native American, Power of Words, videos

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23. When did the word “Dummy” become derogatory?

Our marketing intern, Maryann Yin, explores the origins of the word “Dummy”:

When we first read Silent Star, William “Dummy” Hoy’s nickname perplexed many Lee & Low staff members. We found it strange that the celebrated baseball player embraced the nickname “Dummy.” Shouldn’t he feel hurt by it?Silent Star

I went on a fact-finding mission to work out this mystery by turning to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Here are three different definitions for “dummy”:

1.     A person who is incapable of speaking.

2.     A person who is habitually silent.

3.     A stupid person.

In the 21st century, it has become common practice to use “dummy” with insulting intentions. It’s not surprising that some people may feel confused about why William encouraged people to call him “Dummy.” In this passage from Silent Star, author Bill Wise offers an explanation:

“Today calling a deaf person dumb would be derogatory and offensive, but in Hoy’s day it was acceptable. Hoy carried his nickname with pride. Dummy became the name he preferred, and he often corrected people who called him William.”

William was born in 1862. By then, some version of the word “dumb” had existed within the English language for hundreds of years and meant, “silent, unable to speak.” As English became influenced by German, the definition of “stupid” was also adopted; this occurred in the 1800’s.

Today, synonyms for “dummy” include “airhead,” “dimwit” and “idiot.” Under conventional circumstances, those words don’t promote positive feelings for anyone within society, much less those who are deaf. As a result, the deaf community no longer uses the word “dummy.” They have also acquired a much more negative view towards the terms “deaf-mute” and “deaf and dumb,” especially since most people who are deaf can learn how to speak.

With this mystery solved, let’s embark on a new mission to embrace each other by remembering to choose our words carefully.

Filed under: Musings & Ponderings Tagged: baseball, Deaf culture, Power of Words, Silent Star

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24. Seven Inspirational Speeches and Why They Matter

I was watching President Barack Obama’s re-election speech last week and it got me President Barack Obamathinking about speeches—how historically great speeches really matter. Speeches are like placeholders to mark significant milestones in history. I think the main idea that moved me about the president’s speech was that the message of unity—even after the most grueling, partisan, expensive election campaign ever—is reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The sentiments Dr. King expressed fifty years ago are still being realized today. A truly united United States of America is very much a work in progress.

Here are some favorite speeches of mine:

Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?, 1851Sojourner Truth
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman?” Read more

Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address, 1863President Abraham Lincoln

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” Read more

Winston Churchill: Sir Winston S. Churchill
Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat, 1940
“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.” Read more

Mahatma Gandhi: Quit India, 1942Mahatma Gandhi
“Speaking for myself, I can say that I have never felt any hatred. As a matter of fact, I feel myself to be a greater friend of the British now than ever before. One reason is that they are today in distress. My very friendship, therefore, demands that I should try to save them from their mistakes. As I view the situation, they are on the brink of an abyss. It, therefore, becomes my duty to warn them of their danger even though it may, for the time being, anger them to the point of cutting off the friendly hand that is stretched out to help them.” Read more

John F. Kennedy, Inauguration address, 1961John F. Kennedy
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Read more

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: I Have a Dream, 1963Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” Read more

Do you have a favorite speech that is near and dear to your heart? Please share it below.

Filed under: Dear Readers Tagged: diversity, History, Language, Power of Words

2 Comments on Seven Inspirational Speeches and Why They Matter, last added: 11/16/2012
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25. Turning to Story after the Sandy Hook Shooting

Katie CunninghamKatie Cunningham is an Assistant Professor at Manhattanville College. Her teaching and scholarship centers around children’s literature, critical literacy, and supporting teachers to make their classrooms joyful and purposeful. Katie has presented at numerous national conferences and is the editor of The Language and Literacy Spectrum, New York Reading Association’s literacy journal. 

As we unravel the tragic events that took place in Newtown, CT, I am reminded of the dedication Jan Spivey Gilchrest wrote in When The Horses Ride By: Children in the Time of War:

For the beautiful, powerful and courageous children of the world, you are far more than dolls and toy trucks. You are real people only smaller. Know that we are here to love you, listen to you, respect you and protect you.

Gilchrest’s words remind us as educators, parents, and writers that there is great beauty and strength in the children who fill our lives. As the process of healing begins, stories can remind us of just how beautiful, powerful, and courageous children are. Stories can celebrate the simple acts of care people bestow on one another. Stories can, in turn, inspire acts of kindness.

Every semester I ask my students to consider how they will use children’s literature to help their own young students understand traumatic events. Rather than turning to texts that offer generic historical accounts, I find my students selecting stories that center the human spirit. The Classroom Bookshelf has generated a wonderful book list for supporting children with grief and loss. It’s a resource to turn to in the days and weeks ahead as we come together to grieve and to take action. As we move forward as a nation, we will also need books that celebrate children and the power of love and remind us to give thanks. The following books are stories that I continue to come back to as I work alongside teachers. Consider how these and other stories can provide comfort and build a community of care in your classroom. Let’s continue to recognize what’s most important in our classrooms—the children, their stories, and stories that inspire them.

Children that Inspire

When the Horses Ride By
I continue to turn to The Horses Ride By By to remember the hopeful spirit of children. In this book, it is children who are the helpers and the beacons of peace. It is the children who see beauty in the midst of devastation. It reminds us to see this spirit in the everyday lives of children.

Upside Down Boy



In times like these, many of us feel upside down. Our children feel upside down as they encounter hurt, fear, and sorrow. The Upside Down Boy shares Juan Felipe Herrara’s own story of immigration and what it felt like to be new in a school, new to a country with new words floating around him. This is his story but this is also the story of the power of teachers and families to love and support children to find their voice.

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
What can a child draw when they don’t find anything beautiful in the place where they live? How can art provide a safe place when you are living in fear? A Place Where Sunflowers Grow is the story of Mari, one of the 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. With the help of her art teacher, her family, and her new friend, Mari finds hope in an unquestionably unjust place.

The Can Man

Our capacity to give is a great human strength. In The Can Man, Tim is hoping for a skateboard and inspired by a homeless man he decides to collects cans to have enough money to buy one. As he almost reaches his goal, Tim changes his mind. Your students and children will be left wondering how they can make a difference in someone else’s life?


Stories of Enduring Love and Human Dignity

Love Twelve Miles Long
Frederick Douglass is a figure we traditionally study in school. His words move us to consider his life as a slave and his fight for the rights of all humans. Yet, we don’t study the life of his mother. In Love Twelve Miles Long, Frederick’s mother walked twelve miles to visit him. How her love was with him no matter the distance between them. We need stories that continue to champion the power of love.

Irena's Jars of Secrets
Where does courage come from? In a city ravaged by World War II, Irena Sendler was safe. Yet, at tremendous personal risk she smuggled food and clothing to Jewish prisoners in Warsaw and ultimately smuggled children out of the ghetto. She kept a list of their names in the hopes they would reunite with their families. Turn to Irena’s Jars of Secrets for a reminder of our great capacity to find courage within.


Giving Thanks

Gracias - ThanksAs a classroom teacher, I tried to build in a time at the end of the day to reflect on what we learned. In retrospect, I should have also used that time to share with my class how thankful I was for them. In Gracias – Thanks, this beautiful, colorful, engaging book, Pat Mora continues to wow and gently reminds us of thankfulness through the eyes of children. 

I know of no better way to support the children in our lives to become empathetic, caring people than through the sharing of stories and the modeling of care. What stories are you using to center the strong voices of children? To empower them? To model care?

Filed under: Book Lists, guest blogger, Resources Tagged: Educators, Power of Words

1 Comments on Turning to Story after the Sandy Hook Shooting, last added: 12/21/2012
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