Category Archives: Dear Readers

Kindle Days Are Here to Stay

Digital books will directly impact the work we do here at LEE & LOW, so I took the plunge and purchased a Kindle so I could gain a hands-on understanding of what the reading experience was like compared to the paper books we know and love.

I have read my last five books on the Kindle and here are my thoughts:

Since the screen on the Kindle is smaller than the pages of most books, and there is a magnification feature that can enlarge the text shown, the reading experience is a fast one, because there are fewer words per “page.” On the Kindle I feel like I’m flying through chapters, and since I have always considered myself a slow reader, the momentum of plowing through a book is kind of exhilarating.

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Majority

Recently I was in Hawaii on vacation and one of the things I noticed right away was how Asians are the majority of the people living there. In the city of Honolulu on Oahu, street signs are in English and Japanese. Generally rice, and even miso soup, are served with all meals, including breakfast. I learned from attending a luau that immigrants from Japan, China, and the Philippines make up a big part of Hawaii’s cultural diversity. When I got back home, a quick web search revealed that Hawaii is the only state in the United States where whites are not the majority of the population.

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Perception and Reality

The number of children’s books featuring racial, ethnic, or cultural diversity has not kept pace with the growing diversity of the United States population. Census data from 2008 shows that 34% of the population is minorities. In contrast, the number of children’s books reflecting diversity is about 13% of the books published each year. Since 1994, when the Cooperative Children’s Book Center started to keep statistics of children’s books published by and about people of color, I’ve watched this percentage inch up and down. But there has never been a significant improvement or decline.

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Black OR White Covers

In August 2009 there was a controversy over a novel with cover art that showed a white face even though the main character of the story was black. The main argument for featuring a white face instead of a black face seems to be a belief that readers are more likely to buy a book with a white face on it. The cover was changed by the publisher because of the uproar it caused on the web, but the incident got me thinking about the images on the covers of our own books, especially since we are a publisher that focuses on diversity.

One hundred percent of the time diverse faces stare out from the covers of our books. Does this mean that only Asian American readers buy Asian books and African Americans only purchase our African or African American titles? If this were the case, we would have been out of business a long time ago. Our publishing mission is based on the idea that the universality of themes contained in our books appeal to a wide audience. A book that takes place in Southeast Asia, for example, should capture the imaginations of both a white child in Minnesota and a child of South Asian descent because of the common themes that bind us together.

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From Noise to Words

I’ve been listening to a Mandarin AM radio station all morning. At home, my family has decided to take on the collective challenge of learning Mandarin. Learning Mandarin is one of the items on my to-do list that has been carried over for a couple of decades. So this year we decided to draw a line in the sand. Personally, I’ve always had a fear of foreign languages, which originated from doing poorly in high school French.

Growing up, English was the language spoken at home. The only time I heard Chinese for any length of time was when we made our weekly visit to my grandmother’s apartment in New York’s Chinatown. My mother would converse in Cantonese for the evening with her mother, while my brother and I ate Chinese take-out and watched Dallas. Listening to them catch up was like background noise; I heard them talking but it meant nothing to me. Years later I went on a foreign exchange program to Taiwan, which resulted in no Chinese learned since I was surrounded 24/7 by “bananas” and “Twinkies” like myself. The only cultural exchange I gained from that trip was my fascination with Chinese Americans who had bona fide Texas drawls.

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The Same But Different

 

In April 2003, researchers completed their analysis of the human genome project. They confirmed that all human beings were 99.9% genetically identical. While science has proven we are nearly the same, why do we continue to judge people based on our perceived differences? Race, religion, politics, meat eaters vs. non-meat eaters—the list is endless. Our life experiences shape us more than the innate sensibilities with which we are born. History also documents the injustices we have bestowed upon each other as a result of deep resentments that have accumulated between groups of people. So while our bodies are the same, our brains—our minds and perceptions—divide us from one another. Ironically, our brains are also the difference between us and the animals who act on instinct alone.

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Stuff That Steams My Clams

I was reading an article about women’s roles in the United States military and was surprised to learn that regulations still prohibit women from serving in combat. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have blurred the lines of warfare to such a degree that women have found themselves, despite the rules that forbid it, fighting alongside men for the first time. The women have proven themselves to be tenacious soldiers and they have earned many medals of valor.

Ad spotted on Madison Avenue
Ad spotted on Madison Avenue

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Ten Wills and Won’ts that Make Lee & Low a Special Place to Publish

What We Will Do:

1. Edit:
Our books are pondered, nurtured, and meticulously edited. Call us old school, but we take the time to really edit books. Several people’s opinions are solicited. We have found this collaborative effort results in books that stand the test of time and are appreciated by readers for many years after publication.

2. Celebrate Unsung Heroes:
While we certainly recognize the contributions of legends like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Gandhi, we also think it is important to acknowledge the contributions of lesser-known heroes. We have published books about Anna May Wong, Paul Robeson, Peg Leg Bates, and John Lewis, to name just a few, and we will continue to tell the stories of courageous people whose lives and actions deserve recognition.

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The Limits of Freedom

When you leave your parents’ home you officially become an adult. Your newfound freedom allows you to make your own decisions without anyone telling you what to do. How exhilarating! You sleep when you’re tired. You eat when you’re hungry and drink when you’re thirsty. But personal freedom extends way beyond one’s basic needs. This freedom also allows you to try things you’ve always wanted to try, like having a Coke for breakfast. How about lunch and dinner? Three to four helpings of your favorite dish, why not? Speaking from a male perspective, there is something really exciting about eating large quantities!

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