Paula Yoo on Muhammad Yunus, Banking Smarter, and Managing Finances

paula yooPaula Yoo is a children’s book writer, television writer, and freelance violinist living inGuest blogger Los Angeles. Her latest book, Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank, was released last month. Twenty-two Cents is about Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank. He founded Grameen Bank so people could borrow small amounts of money to start a job, and then pay back the bank without exorbitant interest charges. Over the next few years, Muhammad’s compassion and determination changed the lives of millions of people by loaning the equivalent of more than ten billion US dollars in micro-credit. This has also served to advocate and empower the poor, especially women, who often have limited options. In this post, we asked her to share advice on what’s she’s learned about banking, loans, and managing finances while writing Twenty-two Cents.

What are some reasons why someone might want to take out a loan? Why wouldn’t banks loan money to poor people in Bangladesh?

PAULA: People will take out a loan when they do not have enough money in their bank account to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a house. Sometimes, they will take out a loan because they need the money to help set up a business they are starting. Other times, loans are also used to help pay for major expenses, like unexpected hospital bills for a family member who is sick or big repairs on a house or car. But asking for a loan is a very complicated process because a person has to prove they can pay the loan back in a reasonable amount of time. A person’s financial history can affect whether or not they are approved for a loan. For many people who live below the poverty line, they are at a disadvantage because their financial history is very spotty. Banks may not trust them to pay the loan back on time.

In addition, most loans are given to people who are requesting a lot of money for a very expensive purchase like a house or a car. But sometimes a person only needs a small amount of money – for example, a few hundred dollars. This type of loan does not really exist because most people can afford to pay a few hundred dollars. But if you live below the poverty line, a hundred dollars can seem like a million dollars. Professor Yunus realized this when he met Sufiya Begum, a poor woman who only needed 22 cents to keep her business of making stools and mats profitable in her rural village. No bank would loan a few hundred dollars, or even 22 cents, to a woman living in a mud hut. This is what inspired Professor Yunus to come up with the concept of “microcredit” (also known as microfinancing and micro banking).

In TWENTY-TWO CENTS, microcredit is described as a loan with a low interest rate. What is a low interest rate compared to a high interest rate? 

PAULA: When you borrow money from a bank, you have to pay the loan back with an interest rate. The interest rate is an additional amount of money that you now owe the bank on top of the original amount of money you borrowed. There are many complex math formulas involved with calculating what a fair and appropriate interest rate could be for a loan. The interest rate is also affected by outside factors such as inflation and unemployment. Although it would seem that a lower interest rate would be preferable to the borrower, it can be risky to the general economy. A low interest rate can create a potential “economic bubble” which could burst in the future and cause an economic “depression.” Interest rates are adjusted to make sure these problems do not happen. Which means that sometimes there are times when the interest rates are higher for borrowers than other times.

confused about money

What is a loan shark?

PAULA: A loan shark is someone who offers loans to poor people at extremely high interest rates. This is also known as “predatory lending.” It can be illegal in several cases, especially when the loan shark uses blackmail or threats of violence to make sure a person pays back the loan by a certain deadline. Often people in desperate financial situations will go to a loan shark to help them out of a financial problem, only to realize later that the loan shark has made the problem worse, not better.

Did your parents explain how a bank works to you when you were a child? Or did you learn about it in school?

PAULA: I remember learning about how a bank works from elementary school and through those “Schoolhouse Rocks!” educational cartoons they would show on Saturday mornings. But overall, I would say I learned about banking as a high school student when I got my first minimum wage job at age 16 as a cashier at the Marshall’s department store. I learned how banking worked through a job and real life experience.

TWENTY-TWO CENTS is a story about economic innovation. Could you explain why Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank was so innovative or revolutionary?

PAULA ANSWER: Muhammad Yunus’ theories on microcredit and microfinancing are revolutionary and innovative because they provided a practical solution on how banks can offer loans to poor people who do not have any financial security. By having women work together as a group to understand how the math behind the loan would work (along with other important concepts) and borrowing the loan as a group, Yunus’ unique idea gave banks the confidence to put their trust into these groups of women. The banks were able to loan the money with the full confidence in knowing that these women would be able to pay them back in a timely manner. The humanitarian aspect of Yunus’ economic theories were also quite revolutionary because it gave these poverty-stricken women a newfound sense of self-confidence. His theories worked to help break the cycle of poverty for these women as they were able to save money and finally become self-sufficient. The Nobel Committee praised Yunus’ microcredit theories for being one of the first steps towards eradicating poverty, stating, “Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty.”

twenty-two cents: muhammad yunus and the village bankTwenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank is a biography of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who founded Grameen Bank and revolutionized global antipoverty efforts by developing the innovative economic concept of micro-lending.

Inspiring the Next Architects: Children’s Books About Design, Building, and Architecture

Celebrate architecture and design for Archtober with students!

October, or “Archtober” as it is called, marks the 4th annual month-long festival of all things architecture and design in New York City.

Architecture Children's BooksRecommended reading to teach about architecture for students:

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building

Sky Dancers

The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan

 Shapes Where We Play

STEM + Literacy Activities:

1. Encourage students to examine the differences between architecture and engineering. How do these two fields depend on each other? What is unique about each field? What do architects contribute to building a structure? What do engineers contribute? For a simplified breakdown of the duties of an architect and an engineer, the New School of Architecture + Design has a clear infographic.

2. Have students in small teams research a well-known structure in their community, city, or state (such as a museum, performing arts center, or place of worship). Who built it and when? For what is the structured used? Where is it located? What is it made of? Why were those materials used? What is special about the design? What challenges did the architect have in creating this structure? In addition to online and print resources, students can interview someone who works at the structure, if possible. After research is complete, students can create a model of the structure, design a poster advertising it to tourists, or write and present a report on the structure to the class.

3. Ask students to imagine that they are architects assigned to design a new school. Describe the materials you will need and what the building will look like. As you think about the design and materials needed, consider the types of spaces children in the school will need to learn, read, eat, study; what you will need to make the building safe and sturdy; and what will make it an attractive place in which to learn.

4. Set up a hands on, or sensory, station with materials from home or a local hardware store that are used to build structures. Examples could be a wood spoon for wood, a cooking pot for steel, etc. Have students touch and record the characteristics of each sample material. Why might an architect use steel instead of wood, or bamboo instead of concrete? Students can make a chart of popular building materials to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each. Have students study the physical characteristics (based on sight, touch, sound, and even smell) of brick, wood, bamboo, clay, concrete, steel, glass, iron, rock, straw, recycled materials, and more. For advanced or older students, topics to compare include cost of the material, availability, resiliency in natural disasters, typical lifetime, flexibility and ability to shape the material, environmental friendliness, and beauty/appeal.

5. Have students study the roles that appeal/beauty, safety, and function/purpose play in the design of a structure. Is one preferable over the other? Why? Do these factors all work together or can they be in conflict with one another? Students can look at one specific structure to see how the architect addressed each of these issues. If possible, ask a local architect or professor from an area college to discuss these factors.

6. Watch PBS’s “Building Big,” a five-part miniseries on bridges, domes, skyscrapers, dams, and tunnels. Each one-hour program explores the different type of structures and what it takes to build them. An educator’s guide of activities from PBS is available online.

7. Lead students in a step-by-step activity to create their own geodesic dome, sandcastle, toothpick structure, or floor plan. Instructions can be found online at the archKIDecture website.

Jill Eisenberg

Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

Recap: Diversity Panels at New York Comic Con 2014

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman, Publisher of the Tu Books imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, gives us a recap of the 2014 New York Comic Con (NYCC) event and two big panels on diversity.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #geeksofcolor hashtags were well represented at Comic Con this year, with three panels discussing diversity and several more panels where the subject came up. Publishers were showcasing their diverse titles among their frontlist promotions. And panels about diversity topics, even those held in large rooms at inconvenient times, were standing room only all weekend—a clear sign to me that this subject is on the minds of more and more people lately.

I missed the #WeNeedDiverse(Comic)Books panel, but you can see a recap of it here. Read on for recaps of the panels I attended:

Geeks of Color Go Pro panel

I arrived early, wanting to be able to get a good seat, and only two people were waiting in line—which made me nervous. Last year, the Geeks of Color panel was packed full. Would they repeat that this year the 8pm Thursday time slot, which admittedlywas less than ideal?

I needn’t have worried. Soon the room filled to capacity, perhaps 400-500 people, mostly people of color who were fans, interested in writing or illustrating themselves, or who had family members interested. Diana Pho, an editor at Tor, moderated the panel. Panelists were LeSean Thomas (BLACK DYNAMITE: THE ANIMATED SERIES; THE LEGEND OF KORRA; THE BOONDOCKS), Tracey J. John (MTV.com; Gameloft), Alice Meichi Li (Dark Horse), Daniel José Older (Author, HALF-RESSURECTION BLUES); and I. W. Gregorio (Author, #WeNeedDiverseBooks).

Geeks of color go pro panel

from L to R: Diana Pho, LeSean Thomas, Alice Meichi Li, Daniel José Older, I.W. Gregorio, and Tracey J. John

Most of the time was taken with each panelist sharing their story of how they went pro. Their answers for how they became an animator, a writer and editor, an illustrator, a video game writer, and a surgeon and writer were as diverse as the panelists themselves, showing how many paths there are to a professional creative career. For example, Boondocks and Legend of Korra animator LeSean Thomas grew up in the projects and never attended college, but instead got into comics because the materials to draw were pretty cheap, he said. He found opportunities when he showed his work to his boss at a sports store where he worked after high school, and learned as he worked his way up.

Daniel José Older, on the other hand, was a paramedic and antiracist organizer. Getting published took him six years. “The publishing industry will make you learn patience,” he said.

I.W. Gregorio wanted to become a writer but followed the path to becoming a doctor because that was what one did in her family. But one day, someone told her, “you’ll never become a writer,” and that, she said, ticked her off enough to want to prove them wrong. She also mentioned that her job as a surgeon makes her writing career possible and gives her stories to tell.

Others spoke of internships, art classes, balancing day jobs, getting master’s degrees, and community building.

Tracey John, when asked what she wished she knew when she began, said that she wished she had known to challege the status quo. Now, she’s more willing to ask tough questions, she said—such as “why does Princess Peach need saving?”

Older suggested that writers of color need to “reimagine what success means for each of us” and to build community “rather than think of it as networking.” For people who are getting started, he suggested to find people who are willing to ground you and challenge you.

Alice Meichi Li said that “you are an average of the five people you interact with most in your life,” so look for people who fit three categories: an older mentor, an equal, and someone you can mentor, because you learn a lot from teaching.

The big question of the night came from one of the last audience members to ask a question: Why are we still having this conversation? When will we not need a geeks of color panel at 8:00pm in the corner? Diana Pho replied that she thinks we’ll need such panels until we hit critical mass—not just at Comic Cons, but in all of pop culture, of people who believe diversity matters. We here at LEE & LOW agree with Older’s concluding remark: the more people speak up, the less circular the conversation will be, and we can push the conversation forward.

Women of Color in Comics panel

Friday was the Women of Color in Comics panel, which I was thrilled to see was an equally packed room. Moderated by Regine Sawyer of the Women in Comics Consortium, this panel also featured Alice Meichi Li (Dark Horse), Alitha Martinez (penciler and inker for Marvel), Jamila Rowser (Girl Gone Geek blog), Juliana ‘Jewels’ Smith (comics artist, (H)AFROCENTRIC), Barbara Brandon-Croft (cartoonist), Geisha Vi (cosplay model), and Vanessa Verduga (actor, writer, producer).

A packed audience for the Women of Color in Comics panel

A packed audience for the Women of Color in Comics panel

From L to R:

From L to R: Geisha Vi, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Jamila Rowser, Vanessa Verduga, Alice Meichi Li, Juliana ‘Jewels” Smith, Alitha Martinez, Regine Sawyer

The moderator, Regine, started out by asking what drew the panelists to comics and how they got started. Again, a diverse range of answers—from family influence to students introducing their teacher to comics, to a natural desire to draw as a child—led to a diverse range of paths into their professional work.

The panel also discussed the ongoing harassment issue in comics as well as genre and gaming. Young women are the fastest growing demographic, changing the base of the comics industry. The panelists were asked how they address feminine issues in their work. Alice Meichi Li (who was on the Geeks of Color panel), said that she loved how panels such as these were getting bigger. She addresses feminine mythology, the heroine’s journey, in her work, and argued that visibility made all the difference for readers. She told a story of reading Wizard magazine growing up, where the list of top ten writers in the back of the magazine were all white guys every time, except occasionally Jim Lee. To be able to see all kinds of people creating comics helps create demand from more diverse readers.

Jamila Rowser from the Girl Gone Geek blog said that from a fan perspective, the changing face of the industry shows the demand and the need for representation of women, particularly accurate representation of women of color. “When you don’t see people like you doing things you love, it’s discouraging,” she said.

The panelists also spoke of how sometimes they might feel invisible in the industry—Alitha Martinez, who has worked at major comic book houses as an artist, including work on a Batman comic, said that she’d been mistaken for cleaning staff before when arriving for a panel or other major professional event. Vanessa Verduga mentioned that sometimes she feels an expectation to whitewash herself, to fit within an expected personality structure rather than to be herself.

When asked why diversity was important in the first place, Jamila Rowser answered that a lack of diversity can stop readers’ enjoyment, but it can also discourage future creators, and stories set in the future with no diversity “erase our presence in the future.”

Alitha Martinez noted that women of color can’t remain on the fringes, shouting from the outside. She said that women tend not to approach editors at Marvel and DC, and that those are the places where change needs to happen most because they’re the biggest. In addition, Alice Meichi Li said that if we want to see change, as readers, we need to support that change with our wallets. “Ignoring creations by women and people of color is ignoring community,” she said. “Find your audience, know your community, know how to speak to them, and create your own niche.”

Throughout the weekend, I saw a widely diverse audience excited about comic books, animation, science fiction, fantasy, and games. Cosplayers were in abundance, including people of color. Here are a couple of my favorites:

baby captain america

iron man storm cosplay

Korra cosplay

NYCC is a great example of why #WeNeedDiverseBooks, like those we publish!

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition

Thirteen Scary YA Books (diverse edition)
Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces! Here’s a lucky thirteen list of our favorites (all featuring diverse characters or by diverse authors):

  1. Half WorldHalf World by Hiromi Goto – Melanie Tamaki lives with her mother in abject poverty. Then, her mother disappears. Melanie must journey to the mysterious Half World to save her.
  2. Vodnik by Bryce Moore – Sixteen-year-old Tomas moves back to Slovakia with his family and discovers the folktales of his childhood were more than just stories.
  3. The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa – Allie Sekemoto survives by scavenging for food by day. She hates the vampires who keep humans like cattle for their food. Until the day she dies and wakes up as a vampire.
  4. Liar by Justine Larbalestier – Micah is a liar; it’s the only thing she’ll tell you the truth about. But when her boyfriend Zach is murdered, the whole truth has to come out.
  5. Battle Royale by Koushan Takami – A group of junior high school students are sent to an island and forced to fight to the death until only one of them survives.
  6. Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall – Odilia and her sisters discover a Wolf Mark coverdead man’s body while swimming in the Rio Grande. They journey across Mexico to return his body in this Odyssey-inspired tale.
  7. Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – Zombies, ghouls, and vampires all make appearances in the story of Bilquis SanGreal, the youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar.
  8. Panic by Sharon Draper – Diamond knows better than to get into a car with a stranger. But when the stranger offers her the chance to dance in a movie, Diamond makes a very wrong decision.
  9. Ten by Gretchen McNeil – Ten teens head to a secluded island for an exclusive party…until people start to die. A modern YA retelling of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
  10. Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac – Inspired by the Abenaki skinwalker legend, this YA thriller is Burn Notice with werewolves.
  11. The Girl From The WellThe Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco – A dead girl roams the streets, hunting murders. A strange tattooed boy moves to the neighborhood with a deadly secret.
  12. 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad –  Three teenagers win the vacation of a lifetime: a week-long trip to the moon. But something sinister is waiting for them in the black vacuum of space.
  13. Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – Cas Lowood is a ghost hunter, called to Thunder Bay, Ontario to get rid of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, who has killed every person who has stepped foot in the house she haunts.

What else would you add to the list?

Teaching Cinderella Stories from Around the World

CINDERELLA world hands smallerWith the welcoming of ghoulish decoration displays and the buzz of Halloween costume ideas, the streets will soon be filled with candy-hungry witches, superheroes, and beloved fairy tale characters. Of all the many treasured fairy tale characters that come and go in popularity, none seems to be more resilient than Cinderella. But this Halloween, Cinderella doesn’t have to just mean the classic blue ballroom gown and glass slippers…

Whether you are planning your Cinderella unit this time of year or are brainstorming with young readers on Halloween costume ideas, Lee & Low Books is proud to present the Cinderella Around the World series. This collection of five diverse Cinderella stories from our Shen’s Books imprint features stories of Cinderella from several different cultural perspectives. Cinderella has been told for centuries across many distant lands and cultures from around the world. Readers will discover a range of settings, cultures, traditions, and characters as they explore Cinderella tales from Southeast Asia, India, and Mexico.

CINDERELLABLOGPOSTIMAGEOn our Cinderella Around the World webpage, you will find recommendations for classroom-tested, educator-created resources to utilize with this five-book series collection. We are grateful to the educators at ReadWriteThink.org and EDSITEment from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for sharing exemplary lesson plans for teaching diverse Cinderella stories.

But the resources don’t stop there! Check out our Cinderella Around the World Pinterest board to discover more ways to teach these treasured retellings, where we are compiling the most extensive collection of related content, enriching activities, and instructional plans for teaching Cinderella both in the classroom and at home.

We believe that collaboration and sharing of resources is key to furthering a more global mindset and education. Therefore, if you are interested in connecting with our broader educator and parent community through collaboration on Pinterest or know of even more high-quality resources to share on our webpage, please contact us at curriculum@leeandlow.com.

A Win for Diversity in the News

It finally feels like autumn is here and if you don’t mind us saying, we’ve been “fall-ing” for all the diversity-related stories that have been in the news recently! Here are a few that we were especially excited to read:

malala yousafzai and kailash satyarthiMalala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ rights to education, and Indian children’s right activist Kailash Satyarthi, both won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for their fight against the oppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education. In light of the recent violence that has broken out between India and Pakistan along the border of the disputed, mainly Muslim region of Kashmir, the Nobel Peace Prize committee said it was an “important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

In the entertainment industry, we’ve been seeing more positive changes when it comes to representation and shonda rhimes the hollywood reporterdiversity in television and movies. Shonda Rhimes, creator of the popular TV shows Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, was featured on the cover of The Hollywood Reporterwhere she talked about her success and what she’s learned from previous on-set controversies. Rhimes is also executive producer of the new TV show, How to Get Away with Murder, which just recently got a full season order from ABC along with Black-ish. Sullivan & Son, a TV show that is written by and stars Steve Byrne, is also renewed for its second season. Steven Byrne is an Irish-Korean American, one of a handful of writers of color that has found success in Hollywood. The fall television programming this year has been great for diverse representation, which is a breath of fresh air considering an infographic we did on the Emmy Awards.

On the movie front, Lionsgate is teaming up with Women in Film to create a series of short films based on the Twilight franchise. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, only 7% of major film directors around the world are women. Whether you’re a fan of the Twilight series or not, we love the fact that an effort to get more female directors out there is a good thing!

There’s no denying the fact that computer science is a popular field to get into; however, Google recently looked over their annual diversity reports and found that 70% of their workforce is male, with 61% being white. In an effort to get more women to take an interest in coding, Google announced that they were launching a new program called Made with Code that “includes a mix of coding projects, partnerships with youth organizations, and $50 million in funding Google says will help get more females involved in the field of computer science.”

Some of the Girls at Made to Code from Tarrant County

See any stories that we missed? Feel free to share them in the comments! Happy Friday everyone!

An Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI’S Emerging Voices Award

On this blog we’ve often discussed our own New Voices and New Visions awards for unpublished authors of color. Today we wanted to spotlight another great award specifically for authors of color: the On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

scbwi Emerging Voices Award

The On-The-Verge Emerging Voices Award is a grant created to “foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books.” It offers two writers or writer/illustrators from under-represented backgrounds the chance to receive:

  • An all-expense paid trip to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles August 1-4, 2015 (transportation and hotel)
  • Tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference
  • A manuscript consultation at the Summer Conference with an industry professional
  • An additional meeting with an industry professional
  • Tuition to the Summer Conference Writers or Illustrators Intensive
  • A press release

We interviewed Lin Oliver, Executive Director of SCBWI, about the creation of the award and the role of SCBWI in diversifying the world of children’s book publishing.

When was the Emerging Voices Award established?

The SCBWI Emerging Voices Award was established in 2012, with funding from Martin and Sue Schmitt of the 455 Foundation.  The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books. Each year, we select two writers or writer-illustrators for an all expense paid trip to the summer SCBWI conference, which includes a manuscript consultation and additional mentoring.  Qualified applicants must be from an ethnic or cultural background that is under-represented in children’s literature in America, such as Black or African-Americans, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, American Indians or Asian-Americans.

Why did the SCBWI decide to establish the award?
The SCBWI is committed to encouraging the creation of a diverse body of literature for children. We believe that all children should be able to see themselves on the page and all readers will benefit from participating in diverse experiences through literature.  The representation of many cultures of ethnicities is vastly under-represented in today’s marketplace, and we hope this Award is a step to correcting that situation.

Have any past Emerging Voices winners gone on to receive publication contracts or publish books?

The award is still very young—there were three winners in 2012, and two in 2013.  As of now, all five winners are having their work-in-progress shared with editors and agents in the field.  There are no sales to report yet, but we feel confident that their work is in professional hands and receiving every possible consideration.

Emerging Voices Award winners

From L to R: Martin Schmitt, award winner Jennifer Baker, award winner Dow Phumiruk, and Sue Ganz-Schmitt

How do you perceive the SCBWI’s role in the greater movement for more diverse children’s books?

As the largest organization of children’s book writers and illustrators, we believe we play a leadership role in the movement to increase diversity in our field. We always make sure that the faculties of our national conferences include publishers, agents, authors and illustrators of diverse backgrounds.  We encourage our members to support and promote books from these publishers, authors and illustrators.  We often publish articles and papers about the role of diversity in children’s books, and work with other organizations such as the Children’s Book Council, First Book and We Need Diverse Books who are involved in this important initiative.

We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace.  It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable.From your perspective at the SCBWI, what are a few of the biggest obstacles that you see aspiring authors of color facing?

We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace.  It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable.  This is a challenge not just for children’s books but for our whole society—-we need to all show interest in and embrace all the diverse cultures that make up America.

Has the SCBWI taken any other steps to promote diversity among its membership?

In addition to the Emerging Voices Award, we have a special category in our Work in Progress Awards for multi-cultural books.  Many of our scholarships have been awarded to students of color. And our Amber Brown Grant sends authors to low-income schools who have never been able to afford an author visit.

How can publishers and the SCBWI work together to create a more inclusive industry?

In the past year, the We Need Diverse Books campaign has done a wonderful job of creating awareness of the lack of diversity in our field. That is the first step. The SCBWI will continue to provide opportunities for publishers to discover new talent. The publishers need to put forth their best effort to publish those books, and together, the SCBWI and the publishing community need to market those books and help bring them to the forefront in the consumer consciousness.

More information about The Society of Children’s Book Writers and all of its programs can be found at scbwi.org.  Please visit us.

How Common Core’s book choices fail children of color

The Common Core has become a hot-button political issue, but one aspect that’s gone larGuest postgely under the radar is the impact the curriculum will have on students of color, who now make up close to 50% of the student population in the U.S. In this essay, Jane M. Gangi, an associate professor in the Division of Education at Mount Saint Mary College and Nancy Benfer, who teaches literacy and literature at Mount Saint Mary College and is also a fourth-grade teacher, discuss the Common Core’s book choices, why they fall short when it comes to children of color, and how to do better. Originally posted at The Washington Post, this article was reposted with the permission of Jane M. Gangi.How Common Core's Book Choices Fail Children of Color

Children of color and the poor make up more than half the children in the United States. According to the latest census, 16.4 million children (22 percent) live in poverty, and close to 50 percent of country’s children combined are of African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American heritage. When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were introduced in 2009—2010 , the literacy needs of half the children in the United States were neglected. Of 171 texts recommended for elementary children in Appendix B of the CCSS, there are only 18 by authors of color, and few books reflect the lives of children of color and the poor.

When the CCSS were open for public comment in 2010, I (Gangi) made that criticism on the CCSS website. My concerns went unacknowledged. In 2012, I presented at a summit on the literacy needs of African American males, Building a Bridge to Literacy for African American Male Youth, held at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Emily Chiarello from Teaching Tolerance acknowledged the problem and connected me with Student Achievement Partnership, an organization founded by David Coleman and Sue Pimental, “architects” of the English Language Arts standards.

In the fall of 2012, representatives from Student Achievement Partnership came to Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, to ask our Collaborative for Equity Literacy Learning (CELL) to help right the wrong. SAP wanted us to provide an amended Appendix B. In July 2013, CELL presented SAP with a list of 150 multicultural titles, which were recommended by educators from across the country and by more than thirty award committees. All the books were annotated and excerpts were provided. The 700+ PowerPoint slides of the project can be found here. SAP then sent the project to Stanford University’s Understanding Language Program for validation of text complexity. The Council of Chief State School Officers has yet to make the addition to the CCSS website.

Why does seeing themselves in books matter to children? Rudine Sims Bishop, professor emerita of The Ohio State University, frames the problem with the metaphor of “mirror” and “window” books. All children need both. Too often children of color and the poor have window books into a mostly white and middle- and-upper-class world.

This is an injustice for two reasons.

One is rooted in the proficient reading research. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers asked, “What do good readers do?” They found that good readers make connections to themselves and their communities. When classroom collections are largely by and about white people, white children have many more opportunities to make connections and become proficient readers. Appendix B of the CCSS as presented added to the aggregate that consistently marginalizes multicultural children’s literature: book lists, school book fairs and book order forms, literacy textbooks (books that teach teachers), and transitional books (books that help children segue from picture books to lengthier texts). If we want all Children must be able to envision possibilities for their futures. And they must fall in love with books. Culturally relevant books help children discover a passion for reading.children to become proficient readers, we must stock classrooms with mirror books for all children. This change in our classroom libraries will also allow children of the dominant culture to see literature about others who look different and live differently.

A second reason we must ensure that all children have mirror books is identity development. For African American children, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are not enough. They must also see African-American artists, writers, political leaders, judges, mathematicians, astronauts, and scientists. The same is true for children of other ethnicities. They must see authors and illustrators who look like them on book jackets. Children must be able to envision possibilities for their futures. And they must fall in love with books. Culturally relevant books help children discover a passion for reading.

I (Benfer) was one of the annotators for the project. Each year I tell my incoming fourth-grade students, “None who enter here remain unchanged” (from Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven). Participating in this project made this statement come true for my students and me. Before working to amend Appendix B, I had been teaching for 16 years, and had always been serious about my classroom library.

Reading a great book changes us. I had not yet encountered the metaphor of mirrors/windows until hearing Gangi’s talk in our children’s literature course, based on her article “The Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction.” After the talk I Lakas and the Manilatown Fish coverfound myself reflecting on the books to which I was exposing my students. I expanded my library to include many texts reviewed in the project, which allowed my students to see the wonderful diversity in the world. As my classroom library grew, my students began to read and discuss these diverse texts I began to hear students say things like, “I like books which have a black main character,” and parents emailed me to say, “I just wanted to say thank you for acknowledging Black History Month and having such a wonderfully diverse reading library for fourth grade.” Filipino students gave me a standing ovation when I purchased Anthony D. Robles and Carl Angel’s Lakas and the Manilatown Fish/Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatow (see Lee & Low Books for this and other multicultural books.)

I recommended Rukhsana Khan’s Wanting Mor, the story of a young girl in Afghanistan to one of my students (see Groundwood Books for this and other multicultural books). This student’s parents were astounded by the change in their daughter. She had been an uninterested reader and was transformed into an enthusiastic one. She began to request copies of books featuring girls in Afghanistan. The students and I spent countless hours creating lists of recommended texts.

What do we do with this issue now, educators? The CCSS have yet to adopt the expanded and enhanced Appendix B, but the message is too important to be filed away. This work must be must shared with educators. The expanded Appendix B contains recommended texts that are mirrors and windows for our students’ worlds.

“None who enter here remain unchanged.” Teaching Tolerance will be publishing the list in the near future. In the meantime, children of the United States are waiting for us to make this change for the better.

Jane M. Gangi is an associate professor in the Division of Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Nancy Benfer teaches literacy and literature at Mount Saint Mary College and is a fourth-grade teacher at Bishop Dunn Memorial School.  Gangi is the author of three books: “Encountering Children’s Literature: An Arts Approach,” “Deepening Literacy Learning: Art and Literature Engagements in K-8 Classrooms (with Mary Ann Reilly and Rob Cohen),” and “Genocide in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Cambodia to Darfur.” Both are members of the Collaborative for Equity in Literacy Learning at Mount Saint Mary College. Gangi may be reached at jane.gangi AT msmc.edu; Benfer at nb6221 AT my.msmc.edu.

Poetry Friday: Hair

Happy Friday everyone! We’ve chosen a poem from Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving to kick off the weekend:hair poem

Hair

It took six years

to grow my hair this long.

A few quick snips

and most of it will be gone,

a ponytail

in the US Mail,

off to be part of a wavy wig

worn by someone

whose hair

sickness stole.

I don’t suppose we’ll ever meet,

but if we do,

maybe we’ll look

like sisters.

If you’re interested in donating your hair, please check out a few of these great organizations:

Locks of Love

Pantene Beautiful Lengths Campaign

Wigs for Kids

 For more poems about giving, check out Lend a Hand:

Lend a Hand

Your Legend of Korra recap post

The Legend of Korra’s fourth and final season, Book 4: Balance, returns this Friday! You’ll be able to watch here. Trying to catch up with all three seasons in one day is a pretty tall order, but luckily the weekend will soon be here! The first three books (as seasons are called Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra) are available streaming on Nick.com.

Avatar: the Last Airbender follows Aang, the last airbender, who survived the Air Nomad genocide from the Fire Nation. Together with his friends Sokka, Katara and Zuko, Aang fights to prevent the Fire Nation from taking over the whole world, all the while mastering all four elements.

The Legend of Korra is the direct sequel to Avatar: the Last Airbender, taking place 80 years after the end of ALTA. Korra, upon discovering she was the avatar at the age of four, was placed under the direct care of the Order of the White Lotus and learned to water-, fire-, and earthbending. Korra sneaks away from the Order of the White Lotus compound to learn airbending from Tenzin, the son of Avatar Aang, in Republic City.

Important Terms

Elements: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire.

Bending: The ability to control one of the aforementioned elements, i.e. waterbending. A person who bends an element is known as a bender.

Avatar: one person who has the ability to control all four elements. The avatar is born into one of the four nations and learns to bend the four elements. The Avatar is supposed to help maintain balance between the Four Nations and the spirits.

The Four Nations

Four Nations: Air Nomads, Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, Water Tribe.

Team Avatar: the team of people who help and fight alongside the Avatar.

Pro-bending: a sport where benders fight each other with the elements. There are three benders per team: water, fire, and earth.

Order of the White Lotus: a formerly secret order that transcended the Four Nations to share philosophy and wisdom. Later, on the orders of Avatar Aang, they search and protect the next Avatar.

Red Lotus: a group that splintered off from the original White Lotus because they thought that the Order of the White lotus had become the bodyguards of the Avatar. They sought to free the world of its governments and have humans and spirits coexist. During Book 3, Zaheer leads them.

 The Major Players

Team Avatar:

Team Avatar: Asami, Mako, Korra, Bolin and Pabu (from left to right).

Korra: Korra is from the Northern Water Tribe. She is born when Avatar Aang, the protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender died. Korra can bend all four elements.

Asami Sato: The only nonbender on Team Avatar. Asami is the owner of Future Industries, a company that makes cars known as the Sato-mobile and other technology.

Mako: former street rat turned cop. Former captain of the pro-bending team the Future Industry Fire Ferrets. Mako is a firebender and both Korra and Asami’s ex-boyfriend. He is Bolin’s older brother.

Bolin: formerly an actor and pro-bender, he is the funny-man of Team Avatar. He is an earthbender and has the special ability to lavabend. He is Mako’s younger brother.

Other important characters

Katara: Aang’s wife, waterbending master and Korra’s teacher.

Tenzin, Bumi, and Kya: Aang’s children. Tenzin is an airbender, and Korra’s airbending instructor. Kya is a waterbender. Bumi is a retired Fire Nation general who later gains the ability to airbend after Harmonic Convergence. You may refer to them as the “cloudbabies.”

Pema: Tenzin’s wife, a nonbender.

Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, and Rohan: Pema and Tenzin’s children. All airbenders. You may refer to them as the “airbabies.” Jinora is the first airbending master in a generation.

Lin Beifong: Chief of Republic City Police, metalbender. Toph Beifong’s daughter.

Book 1: Air

Korra has a difficult time learning how to airbend, because she’s unable to tap into the spiritual side of bending. She joins a pro-bending team known as the Fire Ferrets. An anti-bending movement known as the Equalist Movement gains in popularity. The leader, Amon, wants to get rid of bending and benders. Korra tries to balance learning to airbend, practice with the Fire Ferrets and defeating Amon. Korra finally learns to airbend, when Amon seals off all of her other bending abilities.

Book 2: Spirits

Six months after the end of Book 1, Republic City has a president who is supposed to represent the interests of benders and non-benders alike. When a spirit attacks at a festival that Korra attends, she decides to focus on learning spirit-bending instead of airbending, and her uncle Unalaq becomes her teacher. Unalaq tricks Korra into opening the spirit portals. Unalaq wants to join with a dark spirit to become the Dark Avatar and destroy the Avatar cycle. Korra learns of Won, the first Avatar. With the help of Jinora, Korra defeats Unalaq. Spirits and humans were never meant to live apart, so Korra doesn’t close the Spirit Portals. The world enters a new age where spirits and humans live together.

Book 3: Change

The spirits are disrupting life in Republic City, but Korra can’t get them to live peacefully with humans. When reports of people suddenly gaining the ability to airbend reach Korra, she travels with Tenzin, his family, and team Avatar to restore the Air Nomads. The Red Lotus, a criminal organization that tried to kidnap Korra when she was young, escapes from prison. The Red Lotus’s leader, Zaheer, is one of the new airbenders. Zaheer and his cronies go on a quest to rid the world of its leaders and the Avatar. Zaheer kills the Earth Queen and Ba Sing Se descends into chaos.

When Zaheer threatens all the new airbenders to get to Korra, Korra risks her life to save them.

Several weeks later, we see Korra in a wheelchair getting ready to attend Jinora’s airbending master ceremony. Jinora, Avatar Aang’s granddaughter becomes the first airbending master in a generation. Tenzin announces that the airbenders will regain their nomadic roots

Korra returns with her parents to the Northern Water Tribe to heal.

Legend of Korra returns THIS FRIDAY.

The trailer: with Korra kicking major butt and new hair!

Watch the opening clip.

This is a clip of Kai and Opal airbending some bad guys!

I hope you’re just as excited to return to Republic City as I am!

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