Where’s the Diversity, Hollywood? Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blockbusters Overwhelmingly White, Male

Summer blockbuster season is in full swing. For many moviegoers, that means escaping to a galaxy far, far away—or perhaps just a different version of our own planet Earth—through science fiction and fantasy movies. As fans clamor for the latest cinematic thrills, we decided to focus our next Diversity Gap study on the level of racial and gender representation in these ever-popular genres that consistently rake in the big bucks for movie studios. We reviewed the top 100 domestic grossing sci-fi and fantasy films as reported by Box Office Mojo. The results were staggeringly disappointing, if not surprising in light of our past Diversity Gap studies of the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the children’s book industry, The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List, US politics, and the Academy Awards, where we analyzed multi-year samplings and found a disturbingly consistent lack of diversity.

Infographic: the Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films

The Diversity Gap in Sci-Fi & Fantasy Films infographic (click for larger image)

Among the top 100 domestic grossing films through 2014:

• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color
• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)
• 0% of protagonists are women of color
• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ
• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

The following interviews with two prominent entertainment equality advocacy groups shed more light on the subject.

Marissa Lee
Marissa Lee is co-founder of Racebending.com, an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality. Racebending.com advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media and is dedicated to furthering equal opportunities in Hollywood and beyond.

Imran Siddiquee


Imran Siddiquee
is Director of Communications at the Representation Project, which is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness toward change. The Representation project was the follow-up to the critically acclaimed documentary Miss Representation.

 

Jason Low: Do these statistics surprise you? Why or why not?

Marissa Lee: The statistics are certainly striking, especially since sci-fi and fantasy belong to a genre that prides itself on creativity and imagination. These statistics aren’t necessarily surprising, since lack of diversity in Hollywood films is a well-known problem. There have been enough studies and articles, and any moviegoer can pause to notice there is a disparity. . . . Hollywood can’t go on pretending that this isn’t a problem.Hollywood can't go on pretending like this isn't a problem.

JL: Do you think the American movie-going audience would support a big, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy movie with a diverse protagonist if a studio made it?

Imran Siddiquee: Yes, definitely. But I think an important thing to understand about Hollywood blockbusters is that they are almost never flukes; they are preordained. Sure, we have the occasional surprise indie hit, but you need a lot of money and marketing behind you to become a blockbuster. Just look at the top ten films in each of the last five years: nearly every single one had a budget of more than $100 million (a lot of them were also sci-fi/fantasy films).

Meanwhile, there hasn’t been a single film released this year starring a person of color with a budget of more than $50 million, let alone a sci-fi film, which is naturally going to be more expensive. The same goes for most of the last decade. So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” or “there’s no evidence that this would work,” the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.

Studios take a couple of massively expensive chances every year on mostly unknown actors or directors—aka giving the Spider-Man franchise to Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield in 2012—but they just don’t take those kinds of chances on people of color. In other words, if Hollywood wanted to make a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film starring a woman of color, they definitely could.

ML: I think American audiences would support a film with a diverse protagonist, because we already have. One pullout statistic from your infographic is that Will Smith leads six of the top 100 big sci-fi/fantasy films. His race wasn’t a huge impediment to box office success and may have, in fact, been part of what made him all-American and relatable. That was back in the late 1990s, but since then, Hollywood hasn’t tried to find a new Will Smith. This is kind of ironic, given that Hollywood likes to stick to formulas and sequels! They could push forward another actor—or actress—of color with Smith’s charisma. They haven’t.

The American movie audience supports any movie that Hollywood successfully markets well, especially—but not always—if the film is well produced. Hollywood has managed to market some weird stuff, like a tentpole movie about talking teenage turtle martial artists, or cars that change into space robots, and so on. I don’t buy that when it comes to marketing diverse leads, suddenly this giant industry can’t do it.

So for anyone who might say “people just don’t watch sci-fi movies starring people of color,” . . . the truth is that we have no evidence that it wouldn’t work.I’d be interested in seeing how many of these top 100 grossing sci-fi and fantasy films star non-human leads. I wonder if there are more films with non-human leads than minority human leads on the list!

(Side note: Does the infographic count Keanu Reeves as white or as a person of color? I think he has more than one movie on this list given The Matrix trilogy…)

Editorial note: Yes, Keanu Reeves is counted as a PoC and did make the list for The Matrix. The second Matrix film, The Matrix Reloaded was the only installment of the trilogy to make the top 100 list.

JL: What challenges have you faced or seen peers facing as a woman/person of color, etc.?

ML: There are films with built-in audiences that Hollywood still insists on whitewashing, which has a very adverse effect on actors of color. Let’s be honest, audiences would have still flocked to see The Hunger Games or Twilight if characters like Katniss or Jacob had been cast with people of color as they were written in the books. An actor with a disability could have played the protagonist in Avatar—if we have the technology and imagination to animate a fanciful world populated by blue cat people, we could have cast an actor with a disability similar to the lead character’s in that role. As a result of these casting decisions, up and coming actors from underrepresented groups were deprived of career exposure from being a part of these established franchises, making it harder for Hollywood ever to try and launch a new franchise with an actor from an underrepresented group.

Every single Marvel Studios movie has centered around a presumably straight, white, male protagonist, even if white women (mostly love interests) and men of color (support roles) have played roles in the film. The franchise is a box office juggernaut and has a ton of movies on this list, but we’ve gotten two to three movies about each of the men on the Avengers and there’s yet to be a film about Black Widow. Both of Marvel’s ensemble films—The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy—trimmed down the superhero teams for their film adaptations, and the women characters, save for one, were the first to be cut. Most moviegoers will never know that women of color and LGBTQ characters were cut from Guardians of the Galaxy, but audiences will get to relate to the talking raccoon and the talking tree.

More recently, the Divergent franchise cast Naomi Watts to play a character who was a woman of color in the books. It’s a supporting role for an already established franchise, and for whatever reason the production still couldn’t bring themselves to cast an actor of color.

Trends that fans have noted in the media include that in big blockbuster sci-fi and fantasy films, the presence of a straight, white, able-bodied, cis male in some central role in the story is almost guaranteed, while the presence of characters with “minority” identities (e.g. LGBTQ folks, people of color, people with disabilities, women, etc.) is not. Even when a character who isn’t a straight, white cis male is centered in a story, there’s probably a straight, white, cis male character playing second, if not lead, billing. For example, while we can reasonably assume that the next few Star Trek and Star Wars movies will have some diverse characters, we can guarantee that at least one of the leads will be a straight, white man. If The Hunger Games or Twilight had cast actors of color for Katniss or Jacob, there would still have been plenty of lead roles filled by white actors. DC is including Wonder Woman in an upcoming movie, but the film will also feature Batman and Superman.

This means that someone with a lot of intersecting privileged identities (especially straight, white men) will always be able to walk into a multiplex and find a sci-fi/fantasy movie starring someone who shares those identities. If you have a lot of marginalized identities, then representation is a sometimes thing, never a solid guarantee. There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits. But there are just as many, if not more, people who are willing to support, vociferously, films with diverse leads. I wish our money was as good as theirs.There is a very small but vocal minority of people who want to maintain this status quo, and Hollywood seems to cater toward them due to institutionalized racism, fear, and habits.

JL: How can consumers encourage more diversity in movies? 

IS: Avoid buying tickets to films which clearly rely on stereotypes or demeaning portrayals of people based on gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, ability, or circumstance. And anytime you do watch a film, give it The Representation Test afterward. The test grades films on their inclusiveness pertaining to all those above categories. When a movie scores really low on the test, use #NotBuyingIt on Twitter to let the filmmakers and all your friends know how you feel. Since so much of this industry is based on money, this is one way we can express our discontent and get the attention of the studios.

ML: Media literacy is a huge start. As media consumers, we should feel empowered to critique the media we consume, and to decide what media we choose to consume. Beyond helpful steps like going to see movies that feature diverse leads, it’s just as important to start conversations in our own communities and with our friends and family (the people we consume media with!) to raise awareness about diversity and representation. Even if we don’t go to see movies that whitewash or exclude or present discriminatory content, people we know will. One way we can help change things is by continuing to start conversations. We need to create an environment where it is safe to criticize popular franchises for lacking diversity. We also need to keep drowning out the malcontents who cannot even handle actors of diverse backgrounds in supporting roles. Social media has really knocked down barriers when it comes to communicating our opinions with Hollywood brass. It’s also given us several spaces where we can discuss the media we consume with our friends and family. In addition, the internet has really changed how we access and consume media. There are Kickstarters and indie channels and online comics and other outlets so we don’t have to be reliant on big production studios or publishers as our only sources of entertainment.

JL: How close or far do you think we are from getting these statistics to change?

IS: When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up. For instance, 0% for women of color in top sci-fi films means I’m being honest when I say things will certainly improve soon, but that’s not saying much. I think we are pretty far away from true equality, or a cinema that reflects and includes the broad diversity of human experiences in the real world.

When you’re talking about representation that is this low, it’s hard to go anywhere but up.Too many wealthy, white men still run Hollywood, and their decisions still have too much power. As I mentioned earlier, these kinds of movies are very expensive, and so it’s hard for independent or upstart filmmakers to break through or compete.

That being said, the slight increase in success for white women in blockbuster sci-fi movies, such as Gravity, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, means change is possible. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Oscar wins for 12 Years a Slave last year, because while it wasn’t a blockbuster, it is a film that everyone in the industry now knows about and has probably seen. And the whole reason we’re even talking about representation in movies right now is because we know how much seeing different experiences on screen can impact people’s real world thoughts and attitudes. So films like 12 Years a Slave are part of the gradual shifting of consciousness that has to happen in Hollywood to get to a point where studios are consistently greenlighting big-budget films starring people of color.

ML: As budgets for tentpole science fiction and fantasy movies have soared, studios have been more reluctant to take a chance on actors or characters that they perceive as risks. Because people of color and women are also already more likely to consume movies than white people and men, maybe they don’t feel an incentive to change what they are doing because, from their perspective, minorities are perfectly willing to watch films starring white guys. Hollywood is pretty stubborn, especially when it comes to tentpole movies. We are seeing more diversity in television, particularly in children’s television, as well as in online content. The establishment will change when someone influential in Hollywood decides to take the risk and make an effort to diversify their film offerings. The stats in this infographic are focused on profit, not art. For things to change, Hollywood needs to believe that diversity can be profitable.

***

This is not an isolated incident, but a wide reaching societal problem.
Read more Diversity Gap studies on:

The Academy Awards
The Tony Awards
The Emmy Awards
The children’s book industry
The New York Times Top 10 Bestseller List
US politics

Further resources on how to teach content and visual literacy using Lee & Low Books’ infographics series on the Diversity Gap:

Using Infographics In The Classroom To Teach Visual Literacy

CONTACT: For more information or to request permission to reprint, please email hehrlich[at]leeandlow[dot]com

Talking to Kids about Current Events and Conflicts

block quote for jill (1)Breaking stories, developing crises, and unexpected catastrophes often involve more than one country, community, and culture. As our children listen in to the radio while stuck in traffic or the evening news program over dinner, it can be easy to think that if we don’t explicitly bring up the news story, then our children don’t know it’s happening.

In fact, children are incredibly perceptive when their parents and adults close to them are distracted by news or alarming events. Many children also pick up information from their peers.

While we don’t want to overwhelm or scare our children, it is important to discuss what is going on. Children need honest portrayals of a community at its best during a time we might be seeing it at its worst.

How do we talk to children about these events and use these moments as opportunities to have respectful, honest (albeit age-appropriate) discussions?

Picture books are invaluable conversation starters. Conflicts and disasters have complex origins and multiple players. Issues of race, class, religion, and gender are often entangled in the events or portrayal of the events. Children’s books dealing with conflict or natural disasters can frame the event in contexts and meanings suitable to their developmental stage. Stories with children as the main characters allow children to identify with the characters over universal themes.

When a “newsworthy” event happens, this may be the first time the child learns of this country, group of people, or culture. By the same token, the conflict or event may involve the child’s own heritage or culture. Using picture books to talk about a current event or conflict can be an opportunity to learn about a new region and help children see the culture and people beyond this event.

Instead of allowing the media to define the group of people involved, we should seek out and read a book showcasing and reinforcing the positive aspects and pride of the featured group of people and region. In doing so, we present a broader perspective of the community, culture, or people that media coverage is portraying in a negative, humiliating, or victimized light.

In selecting the right book to foster respect and provide an honest portrait of a community in the news, consider:

Books that champion human dignity:

Books that exhibit the strength, courage, and resilience of children:

Books that depict a community’s capacity to endure, love, and give:

“Age-appropriate” can mean truthful, thoughtful conversations. When talking to children, let them guide the discussion. Opening conversation starters include:Going Home, Coming Home

  • What questions do you have? What have you heard?
  • What do you know about the situation or group of people/foreign country involved?
  • Who are the countries or communities involved?
  • How are different communities and countries coming together over this issue?
  • What would you like to do to help?

For further reading:

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, 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. 

 

New Visions Award: What Not to Do

Stacy Whitman photoStacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers. In this blog post, she discusses what she is—and is not—looking for from New Visions Award contest submissions.

This year is the second year we’ve held our New Visions Award, a writing contest seeking new writers of color for middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Tu Books is a relatively new imprint, and so is our award, which is modeled after the New Voices Award, now in its 15th year of seeking submissions.

Much like the editors who are in charge of the New Voices Award for picture books, for the New Visions Award, I love seeing submissions that follow the submissions guidelines and stories that stand out from a crowd. I look for science fiction, fantasy, and mystery stories that understand the age group they’re targeted at, with strong characters, strong worldbuilding, and if there is a romance, I hope that it avoids cliches.

During the first New Visions Award, our readers made notes on the manuscripts explaining what they enjoyed and what made them stop reading, particularly the things that made them not want to read further than the sample chapters in the initial phase of the contest. For the next few weeks, I’ll delve a little further into those things that made readers stop reading, and then we’ll talk about making your writing have the zing that makes an editor want to read more.

Today, let’s cover the most obvious reasons a New Visions Award reader might stop reading immediately.

  • Main character isn’t a person of color
  • Unclear if main character is a person of color (& not made clear in any supporting materials)
  • Basic formatting rules ignored: single-spaced, no tabs, no paragraph breaks, rules of punctuation ignored to the point it was impossible to read the text
  • Chapters at times seemed to be combined to ensure more text would be read, which made them super long and terribly paced
  • Duplicate submission from the author (stopped reading the duplicate—of course we read the original!)
  • Already read as a regular submission and didn’t see any significant changes
  • Author not eligible (published previously in YA or MG, not a person of color, not based in the US)
  • Book was a picture book (this would be a New Voices submission, not a New Visions submission) or a short story (not long enough to be a novel)

The obvious solution to making sure your submission is right for this contest is to make sure to read the contest submission guidelines before sending your submission. If you are not a writer of color, or if you live in a country outside the US, we do want to read your manuscript, but not for this contest. Watch our regular submission guidelines for when we’ll open again to unsolicited submissions.

Make sure you format your manuscript in a way that it can be read. If you’re new to writing, be sure to have someone check it over for typos, correct grammar and spelling, correct punctuation, etc. We won’t reject your manuscript for a typo or two, but there is a point at which the story is no longer being communicated because the reader gets tripped up by the errors. Make sure your manuscript is as clean as you can make it.

Next time, we’ll talk about hooking the reader with your story. Happy writing!

How to Find Time to Write When You Have 11 Children

Pamela TuckPamela M. Tuck is the author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, winner of our New Voices Award and named to the International Reading Association’s Teacher’s Choices list. Tuck lives in Boyerstown, Pennsylvania with her husband and their 11 children. In this post, we asked her to share advice on how to find time to write. 

One common question people ask me is, “How do you find time to write?” I simply answer, “I don’t find time, I steal it, and play catch-up later.” In other words, I MAKE time.

Growing up as an only child, writing served as a source of entertainment for me. I found that expressing my inner thoughts on paper became therapeutic and helped me cope with stressful situations. So, as a mother of 11 children, writing, quite naturally, became a safe haven.

I don’t have a daily writing routine like some writers: waking up at 5 am, going for their morning run, eating a cup of yogurt topped with homemade As Fast As Words Could Flygranola, then sitting at their desk, with the picturesque mountainous view, and writing several pages of their next best-selling novel for 5 hours. Instead, my day begins with waking 11 excessively sleepy children, facing mountainous heaps of laundry, in between cleaning, cooking, homeschooling, and potty training. You get the point. So here’s how I steal prioritize my time for writing.

When I homeschooled my children, I incorporated timed journal writing assignments for everyone (including me). I had my children think of random words, and then I’d write the words on cut pieces of paper, fold them, and place them in a basket. We all picked one word from the basket. I set the timer for either three or five minutes, and we wrote anything we wanted about the word we picked. Some words prompted poetry, non-fiction pieces, nonsense pieces, and creative story starters that could be developed into longer works. That’s just one way I kept my inner writing flame lit.

I usually find inspiration to write from reading articles, seeing interesting photos, hearing conversations, or from life experiences. If I stumble across a story idea, I simply allot time, either during the day or in the evening, to write. These one or two hour time allotments serve as refreshing rewards during my busy days. Fortunately for me, my husband encourages my writing projects and he, along with my children, comply with my writing antics of having complete silence and/or isolation while I write. I use the time allotments to do research, if necessary, and to read other books similar to the type of story I’m writing. My family serves as a huge inspiration for my writing. They are my “sounding boards” as I bounce ideas around, my audience, as I piece those ideas together, and my cheerleaders when those ideas find a home.

So, going from one end of the spectrum (as an only child, with plenty of quiet time for writing) to the other (as a mother of a large family, with hardly anyYou are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule. quiet time at all), I would like to share a little piece of advice that was given to me by my husband. After attending my first writing conference with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in June 2007, and hearing all the wonderful writing regimens of different authors, I thought my lifestyle would hinder my dream of becoming an author. My husband told me, “You are a writer. You don’t have to write on someone else’s schedule. Write on your OWN schedule.”

My husband found out about Lee & Low Books offering a New Voices Award and encouraged me to write my dad’s story of desegregating the public school system in 1960s Greenville, NC. My dad’s experiences of determination and courage inspired me to take my husband’s advice. I submitted my story to Lee & Low Books in September 2007. In December 2007, I received a call announcing me as the winner of the 2007 New Voices Award! Now, my dad’s family story has transformed into a picture book, As Fast As Words Could Fly, that can be shared with many families across generations. So, regardless of your lifestyle, your limitations, your oppositions…grab those ideas that are close to your heart, and write the story that only YOU can write. Unleash your dreams, and let them fly!

New Voices Award sealMore information:

The New Voices Award is given each year to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Find more information on how to submit here.

Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Outdoor Summer Concerts!

I and I Bob Marley

I and I Bob Marley

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Summer is an incredible time to hear and enjoy music. From public parks to local high school auditoriums to subway platforms, many towns and cities offer summer concerts. Whether it is part of an official concert series, a festival, a rehearsal, or an impromptu get-together of musicians, there are a ton of opportunities to enjoy music alongside reading.

Our motto this summer: Love Books + Keep Cool + Learn Something New

Your summer outing: an Outdoor Summer Concert

Book recommendations:

Summoning the Phoenix

Summoning the Phoenix

Questions during reading:

  • What instruments are used in the book?
  • What type of music is featured in this book?
  • How is the music in this book different from other kinds of music?
  • How does music create community?
  • What character traits does someone need to become a successful musician?
  • Why do you think people enjoy music and find it meaningful?
  • Why do you think every culture has created some form of music?

Activities:

  1. Pair the book with a music recording or live performance of the same type of music featured in the book. What instruments do you hear? What patterns do you hear? What mood/tone does the music set? How does this music make you feel (unhappy, excited, calm, agitated)? How many musicians are performing? Is there a band leader/conductor for this type of music?
  2. Drummer Boy of John John

    Design and create a drum! Although many cultures and forms of music have distinct instruments, it is fascinating to note what instruments seem to pop up over and over again. Take for example the drum! Variations of the drum appear in music from all over the world. Check out the drum instructions from Spark!Lab, part of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History.

  3. Turn listening to music into seeing music! Talk about the senses we use to enjoy music. Children may think we can enjoy music with only our ears. Yet, the author and illustrator of the book had to communicate the music and its mood through words and pictures. What words does the author use to describe the featured music? What words does the author use to capture the mood of the music? What colors or actions does the illustrator use to capture the music? After attending a concert or listening to a recording, encourage your child to draw a picture that captures the mood, feeling, or story of the song. What colors would you use for each instrument and why? How would you draw a quiet, slow, fast, or loud moment?
  4. Drummer Boy of John John

    Study the geography of the music featured in the book. Where does this type of music originate? Who are famous composers, contributors, or musicians? What kinds of instruments were/are used? Out of what materials from the region were instruments traditionally made?

For further summer reading and ideas:

Jill_Eisenberg

Jill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, 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. 

ALA 2014 Recap: Diversity All Around

Another year, another fantastic ALA Annual, this time in Las Vegas! While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” we thought it would be OK to break that code, just this one time, in order to share our experiences with you.

Even though the weather was hot (hello triple digits!), attendance was high and spirits were up! We teamed up with the folks of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign to hand out buttons, which were a huge hit! In fact, School Library Journal reported that, “If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas, odds were good that they were sporting a colorful ‘We Need Diverse Books’ button.”

#weneeddiversebooks buttons

#weneeddiversebooks buttons!

We kept a white board in our booth, and got some great answers from librarians on why we need diverse books:

ALA whiteboard

We need diverse books because…

Quite a few of our authors and illustrators made it out to Las Vegas and our schedule was packed with signings! Don Tate, Glenda Armand, Frank Morrison, René Colato Lainez, Karen Sandler, Mira Reisberg, John Parra, Susan L. Roth, Cindy Trumbore, and Emily Jiang all stopped by the booth to sign books. In true Vegas style, we kept the party going at the LEE & LOW table!

lee and low staff and don tate

Don Tate stopped by to sign copies of It Jes’ Happened

We were also pleased to host our second Book Buzz panel, “Moving the Needle: Diversity in Children’s Books and How to Make a Difference.” It’s been one year since our successful Book Buzz with Cinco Puntos Press last year, so we wanted to check in again with librarians about what has changed, what hasn’t, and how to keep moving forward.

ala book buzz panel

Publisher Jason Low on ALA’s Book Buzz panel on increasing diversity in children’s books

During the panel, publisher Jason Low talked about some highlights from the diversity movement over the past year. He emphasized that Lee & Low has stuck to its original mission by continuing to make an effort to publish debut authors/illustrators as well as authors/illustrators of color. “Of our 2014 titles, three out of seven are by debut authors and five out of seven are by authors or illustrators of color,” Jason said.

He pointed out some some great milestones from the past year, including the success of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, Lee & Low’s infographics on diversity going viral, the First Book Stories for All project, and more diversity in the Marvel Universe.

Jason also announced that Kirkus Reviews will be seeking to diversify their reviewer pool, and said that several other major review publications have expressed an interest in doing the same. Diverse reviewer pools mean that books can be evaluated for cultural accuracy and that reviewers bring a wide range of perspectives to the table.

In the end, Jason said, we need to get from Diversity 101 stories—stories focused simply on the lack of diversity in children’s books, in very basic terms—to Diversity 102 stories, which address both the complexity of the problem and the range of possible solutions. He encouraged librarians to keep moving the conversation forward within their own communities, and to help parents and teachers build inclusive book collections by creating inclusive, diverse summer reading lists and other recommendations.

Two more big highlights this ALA were award ceremonies for a couple of our books! Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth, the dynamic author/illustrator team of Parrots Over Puerto Rico, were honored at the Sibert Award Ceremony and we couldn’t have been prouder!

sibert ceremony

Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth at the Sibert ceremony! They’re all smiles with LEE & LOW editor Louise May (left), Sibert committee chair, Cecilia P. McGowan (center), and LEE & LOW publisher, Jason Low (right)

Additionally, Killer of Enemies was honored at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards (AIYLA) ceremony. Tu Books publisher Stacy Whitman attended and shared these photos of children and teens from a local tribe who came to dance at the ceremony:

native american dancers

Native American dancers at the American Indian Library Association Youth Literature Awards ceremony

american indian youth literature award

American Indian Youth Literature Award for Killer of Enemies

While we won’t miss the 110-degree heat, we had a great time meeting so many wonderful people and we can’t wait for next year.

If you were at ALA, what were your highlights?

Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: National and State Parks!

Jill_EisenbergLiteracy Specialist, Jill Eisenberg, 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. 

Grab a flashlight, bug repellent, and binoculars…

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: national or state parks!

Book recommendations:

Questions during reading:

  • How have humans affected the habitat or animal species in the book?
  • What suggestions does this book offer to take care of the world around us?
  • What risks does the animal species or habitat face in the book?
  • How does this person(group) demonstrate respect for the environment?
  • How do healthy animal populations and habitats benefit people?
  • What happens when people do not take care of the environment or an animal species in the book?
  • What does this text teach about sustainability?
  • Do you think communities and governments have a responsibility to protect animals or the environment? Why or why not?
  • Should school field trips include visiting national and state parks? Why or why not? What are the benefits of children visiting national and state parks?

Activity:

1. Sound scavenger hunt!

Many animals rely on sound to detect nearby predators and search for food. For your next scavenger hunt, use the sense of sound to explore the wonders of the state or national park. This activity is a great way to teach young scientists about:

  • our five senses
  • how the human ear, like other animal ears, is a powerful physical adaptation and is very effective in detecting and differentiating sounds
  • how we can appreciate natural beauty as both visual and aural
  • the importance of slowing down and soaking in all the stimuli around us

Make a list of sounds for your child to “find” on the next hike. Together, check off and record as the child hears them! While you will want to adapt specific sounds to the park you are visiting, sound ideas include:

Everglades Forever

  • the local bird species
  • the rustling of an animal in the bushes
  • the wind among grass or tree leaves
  • sound of the nearest water source (river, ocean)
  • the buzzing/humming of insects
  • sound of walking on different types of surfaces: the trail, through leaves, in mud
  • a hiker whistling
  • a swimmer splashing
  • a dog barking or the clinking of a dog collar
  • sound of something being recycled
  • sound of something hollow
  • an echo
  • sound of food being unwrapped
  • horse clopping/trotting
  • a stick snapping
  • a hiker drinking (chugging) water
  • Bonus: the elusive spot of complete silence

To prove that your child experienced the sound, allow your child to:

  • record the sounds on a phone
  • take a picture of the creature or thing making the noise
  • describe the noise in a sentence with a juicy verb, such as chirping instead of singing

2. Animal and ecosystem observation!

Buffalo Song

Even if your nearest state or national park does not have the wildlife or habitat featured in the book, your young scientist can check out the featured animals or habitat in real life and real time from a computer or mobile device. Many national parks, zoos, and wildlife protection groups offer real-time footage of animals that serve as great opportunities to talk about behavioral and physical adaptations and habitat preservation.

Explore.org offers multiple livecam opportunities to observe wild animals outside of zoos. After finishing Buffalo Song, I checked out Canada’s Grasslands National Park for bison. I observed brown bears and salmon from Alaska’s Brooks River in Katmai National Park following I Know the River Loves Me. After A Man Called Raven, I used The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library for videos and audio recordings of ravens.

i know the river loves me 2

I Know the River Loves Me

For further book and activity suggestions to match your summer adventure:

 

 

Join Us Tomorrow in New York City for the Harlem Book Fair!

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 12th is the Harlem Book Fair. LEE & LOW BOOKS will be there from 11 a.m., selling some of your favorite titles. We’ll be at table C32!

harlem book fair

For a full list of tables and exhibitors, please click here.

LEE & LOW BOOKS, along with some other industry professionals, will be participating in a panel discussion on diversity in children’s books:

ABUNDANTLY RICH: HARVESTING THE WEALTH IN MULTICULTURAL BOOK PUBLISHING

  • Where: Langston Hughes Auditorium
  • Time: 12:00pm to 1:15pm
  • More information can be found here.

We hope to see you there!

Book and Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Beaches!

Each week this summer, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Our motto this summer: Love Books + Keep Cool + Learn Something New

Your summer outing: the BEACH

Book recommendations:

Surfer of the Century cover

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

Questions during reading:

  • What is this person’s relationship to the ocean? How does this person’s relationship to the ocean change from the beginning to the end of the story?
  • How does this person show appreciation for the ocean?
  • How is the ocean/beach a part of this person’s identity?
  • Look at a map of the world and locate the island this person is from. What is the capital? What ocean surrounds it? Infer what the climate is like based on the island’s location. What makes this island unique?
  • How does this person demonstrate pride in his/her culture?
  • How does this person remember home even when far away from home?

Seaside DreamActivity:

Create a beach ball collage!

Materials: poster paper, pencil, markers, colored pencils or crayons, assortment of magazines

  1. Using a pencil, draw a large circle on the poster paper.
  2. Inside the circle, draw a small circle about the size of a quarter somewhere off center.
  3. Draw a curved line from the small circle to the large circle. Repeat drawing lines until you have six lines and six spaces. Each curved line should face the same direction in a pinwheel formation. The lines will be different lengths and can be varying widths apart from each other (this will give it a 3-D effect).
  4. With a black marker, trace over the pencil so the beach ball stands out on the poster paper.
  5. Optional: lightly fill in each segment a different color using colored pencils or crayons.
  6. Select and cut out pictures and words from the assortment of magazines to answer the question: What makes the beach special to you?
  7. In each of the six beach ball segments, draw or glue pictures. In one section, think about what foods you eat while at the beach. What animals have you seen at the beach? What do you always make sure to pack before you head out? What activities do you like to do at the beach? Who do you play with while there?

For further reading on book and activity suggestions to match your summer adventures:Seaside Dream

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, 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. 

5 Tips to Engage Latino Families and Students

Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. is Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. is Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

Today we are featuring one of First Book’s celebrity blog series. Each month First Book connects with influential voices who share a belief in the power of literacy, and who have worked with First Book to curate a unique collection that inspires a love of reading and learning. All recommended books are available at deeply discounted prices on the First Book Marketplace to educators and programs serving children in need. Peggy McLeod, Ed. D. the Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), writes on engaging Latino families and children in reading and learning.

Any student who has parents that understand the journey from preschool to college is better equipped to navigate the road to long-term student success. While parent engagement is critical to increasing educational attainment for all children, engaging Latino parents in their children’s schooling has typically been challenging – often for linguistic and cultural reasons.

The National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) parent engagement program is designed to eliminate these challenges and create strong connections between schools, parents, and their children. A bilingual curriculum designed to be administered by school staff, the Padres Comprometidos program empowers Latino parents who haven’t typically been connected to their children’s school. Many of the parents the program reaches are low-income, Spanish-speaking, first and second generation immigrants. Through Padres Comprometidos, these parents gain a deeper understanding of what the journey to academic success will be like, and how they can play a role in preparing their children for higher education. Prior to participating in the program, not all parents expected their children to attend college. After the program, 100% of parents indicated that they expected their children to attend college.

Much of Padres Comprometidos success rests on the program’s ability to address language and culture as assets, rather than as obstacles to be overcome. This asset building strategy extends to NCLR’s partnership with First Book. Together, we’re working to ensure Latino children of all ages have access to books that are culturally and linguistically relevant, books they need to become enthusiastic readers inside and outside of the classroom. Click here to access the three parent engagement curricula developed by NCLR—tailored to parents of preschool, elementary and secondary school students.

Below you will find a few tips and titles that can help you engage families and get children – and their parents and caregivers – reading and learning.

La Llorona

La Llorona

1. Find ways to connect stories that parents know about to help them engage in reading and conversation with their children. This Mexican folktale can open that door: La Llorona .

 

Spanish-English Dictionary

Spanish-English Dictionary

2. Keep an English/Spanish dictionary handy to use when you have a parent visiting or to give away to a parent or caregiver who needs it. It will show them that you’re making an effort to engage in their language of comfort, such as Webster’s Everyday Spanish-English Dictionary.

The Storyteller's Candle

The Storyteller’s Candle

 

3. Learn about the children you serve and their heritage, and identify books that will affirm them. This Pura Belpré award winner is actually about Pura Belpré, the first Latina (Puerto Rican) to head a public library system: The Storyteller’s Candle.

Grandma and Me at the Flea

Grandma and Me at the Flea

 

4. Share books that include some of the everyday experiences of the children and neighborhoods you serve, like this story highlighting the value of community and family: Grandma and Me at the Flea.

My Colors, My World

My Colors, My World

 

5. Bilingual books provide family members and caregivers the opportunity to read the same books their children are reading, but in their language of comfort. Families will love reading about all the colors of the rainbow in English and Spanish: My Colors My World.

Sign up with First Book to access these and other great titles on the First Book Marketplace.

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