Dream Casting for Our Favorite YA Novels

One of the fun things about reading fiction is imagining what the characters would look like, sound like, and act like in real life. And with the recent spike in YA-novels-turned-movies, it’s not a stretch to wonder who might be cast to play some of our favorite characters. There have been some great movies recently based on YA novels, but few of them have featured diverse casts or characters. So we thought we’d give Hollywood a little help and showcase a few of our favorite movie-worthy YA novels, and how we’d cast them:

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz 

What it’s about: This tender novel looks at the deep and evolving friendship between two teen boys in 1980s El Paso.

Why it should be a movie: Although it’s not action-packed, the space this book gives to the quiet moments shared between Aristotle and Dante would make it a great character study. It won a Printz Award Honor and in the hands of a capable filmmaker definitely has potential to win awards on the movie side as well.

Who we’d cast: 

Aristotle:

Diego Boneta

Ari is sensitive and introspective but also big and strong, and he has a melancholy side that comes out sometimes too. We’d cast Diego Boneta as Ari.

Dante:

Tyler Posey

Dante is endearing and earnest, even when he’s struggling with his feelings. He can be full of angst without being angsty. We think Teen Wolf’s Tyler Posey could bring to life Dante’s charm.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor and Park cover

What it’s about: A story of first love that follows two teenagers in 1980s Nebraska who help each other through difficult circumstances. Note: Readers have mixed feelings on Rowell’s depiction of race, specifically Park as Korean American. For thoughtful criticism of the problems with Eleanor and Park, take a look at this review or this one.

Why it should be a movie: Actually, Dreamworks jumped on the movie rights early, so Eleanor and Park is headed to the big screen already. But some readers fear that in the hands of Hollywood, Eleanor and Park could change. In the book, Eleanor is overweight and Park is half Korean, two characteristics not often seen among leading men and ladies onscreen. In a Hollywood is notorious for whitewashing, casting this movie accurately would be nothing short of groundbreaking.

Who we’d cast:

Eleanor:

Emma Kenney

So few women are allowed to appear onscreen overweight that it was really tough just to find someone who might resemble Eleanor. We thought Emma Kenney could be a good fit (though she’s skinnier than Eleanor) but perhaps there’s a great unknown actress out there waiting to be discovered, too.

Park:

Sam TanSo few Asian actors are given big parts that it wasn’t easy to find a potential Park. But we think maybe Sam Tan could pull off that goth exterior and super-sweet center that make Park irresistible to Eleanor.

Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac

Killer of Enemies coverWhat it’s about: In the post-apocalyptic Southwest, Apache teenager Lozen works as a monster hunter in order to keep her family safe.

Why it should be a movie: Killer of Enemies is action-packed so it could pull in a wide audience, and the fight scenes between Lozen and the genetically-engineered monsters she hunts would be incredibly fun to watch. Plus, what’s the last movie you watched with a Native main character?

Who we’d cast: 

Lozen:

Amber MidthunderIf finding other casting options with hard, finding a Native actress to play Lozen was near impossible. But since Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing Native characters (Johnny Depp as Tonto, we’re looking at you) it’s extra-important that Lozen be played by a Native actress. We thought Amber Midthunder, who is an enrolled member of the Ft. Peck Sioux Indian Reservation, could be a good choice. But it would be nice if she weren’t the only choice.

The model who posed for the front cover could be a pretty good Lozen, too:

Killer of Enemies cover image

Hussein:

Avan JogiaLozen’s love interest Hussein is a musician, a sensitive listener who’s a good counterpart to Lozen’s stoic strength. We could see Avan Jogia balancing Lozen out pretty well.

What books are you hoping to see as movies? Who’s your dream cast? Let us know in the comments!

Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement

In the fall of 2012 a news story emerged that astronomers had discovered a planet largely made out of diamond. Third grade at my school spent the first two quarters studying the solar system; therefore, this news was received with irrepressible glee in my classroom. Although the media nickname “Lucy” was lost on my students (as in the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), the wonderment and rejuvenated commitment to the content were obvious.

Seeing that scientists were still studying and discovering facts about our solar system and distant others was exciting to my students and made them feel like they were on the frontier learning alongside real astronomers. Pairing the news article with The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System spurred very creative journal entries throughout the unit, including envisioned future discoveries of all sorts of substances for planets: kitten fur, gold, bubbles.

Incorporating current events and news stories into the classroom can engage students with a renewed sense of purpose and interest. Pairing a news article with a book on a similar topic or theme offers students greater context and a sense of relevancy for the content they are learning, and perhaps a jolt to the creeping apathy over a curriculum students had little input in selecting.

Seven Miles to Freedom (1)So, what does it look like to use paired texts in the classroom?

One example is using the picture book biography, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. In May 2014, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced it had discovered the Civil War ship of Robert Smalls. Pairing one of the articles with the picture book biography provides students opportunity to practice comprehension and the third component of the Common Core reading standards: integration of knowledge and ideas.

Standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

The following example can be adapted for grades 3–7. Read the picture book, Seven Miles to Freedom, aloud to the whole group or have students read to themselves depending on their reading level. Focus questions may look like this:

  1. How does the picture book describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says, does, thinks, feels and what other characters say and think about him?
  3. Why do you think the author of the picture book wants to share this story with young people?
  4. How does this story help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life?

Read the news article second. If the news article is above students’ reading level, read the article aloud as they follow along with individual copies. The questions for the article will mirror those questions for the picture book:

  1. How does the article describe Robert Smalls?
  2. What character trait would best describe Robert Smalls based on what he says and does and what other people quoted say and think about him in this article?
  3. Why do you think the NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program wants to find and rescue the ship/signify the ship’s location now after all these years?
  4. How does this news article help us better understand the events in Robert Smalls’ life and the picture book Seven Miles to Freedom?

 

Follow up questions looking at both texts together:

  1. What events and details do both texts agree on?
  2. Create a timeline of events using both the picture book and news article.
  3. How are these texts both examples of nonfiction? What sub-genres of nonfiction are they? How do they present information similarly and differently?

 

Resources about Robert Smalls:

  • Explore a reading guide and learning activities for Seven Miles to Freedom from OurStory, a website created by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to encourage adults and children in grades K–4 to read historical fiction and biography together
  • Read about Robert Smalls’ ship, Planter, and a report about the discovery from the Voyage to Discovery, a multi-media initiative to highlight African American maritime history from the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers

 

Resources for connecting Lee & Low titles with news:

 

Bonus: A fragment from Amelia Earhart’s airplane was recently identified. What book would you want to pair with this news story for students? Share with us!

Jill Eisenberg

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior 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. 

Sweet News in Diversity

Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got something even better than treats today: great news in diversity!

Appltim cooke CEO Tim Cook recently came out in an editorial published by Bloomberg Businessweek, saying that he is “proud to be gay,” and making him the first openly gay leader of a major U.S. company. This was the first time Cook addressed his orientation publicly, saying, “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others,” Cook wrote. “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.” With more states and people accepting gay marriage and supporting LGBTQ rights, Cook’s move is inspirational and will hopefully lead to more acceptance within the workplace.

Marvel announces next phase of superhero movies

From left: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), and Chris Evans (Captain America) at a Marvel event in Hollywood

Marvel just recently announced their next phase of superhero movies and we’re excited to see that it’s going to include a Black Panther movie! The Black Panther (T’Challa) was the first black superhero in American comics. We’re also looking forward to seeing Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman! DC announced that Momoa would be playing Aquaman in the highly anticipated “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and the Wonder Woman movie will premier in 2017.

Have you heard more good news in diversity? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

Mix it up! 15 Books about Kindness and Giving

Today is Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year. Teaching Tolerance offers some great resources to help schools celebrate Mix It Up At Lunch Day, and we thought we’d add our own list of recommended books that encourage kindness, giving, bravery and open-mindedness!

15 Books About Kindness and Giving

  1. Lend a Hand: Poems About Giving written by John Frank and illustrated by London Ladd- A collection of poems showing the many ways individuals can make differences.
  2. Antonio’s Card written by Rigoberto González and illustrated by Cecilia Álvarez – Antonio’s classmates make fun of Leslie, Antonio’s mother’s partner because of her paint-spattered overalls. Antonio decides to make a card for his mother and her partner.
  3. First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch –  Abaani, a Maasai boy, sees a Kikuyu boy, Haki, tending a new fruit and vegetable stall alongside the road and they take an immediate dislike to each other.  A short while later, a dangerous situation arises near Haki’s stall and Abaani and Haki must overcome their differences and work together.
  4. King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer – Malik wants to become the king of the kite festival, Basant. Using his kite Falcon, Malik becomes the king of Basant! When he sees a bully take a kite from a girl, Malik uses Falcon to give her a nice surprise.
  5. Grandfather Counts written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zheng – Gong Gong, Helen’s grandfather who only speaks Chinese, moves in with her family. Helen is worried about not being able to speak to him. She hears him counting train cars in Chinese, and she reciprocates by showing him how to count in English.
  6. Sam and the Lucky Money written by Karen Chinn and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu – Sam  receives lucky money–red envelopes called leisees (lay-sees), from his grandparents that he can spend any way he wants. When he doesn’t have enough money to buy what he wants, Sam instead decides to give his money to a homeless man.
  7. Birthday in the Barrio written by Mayra Lazara Dole and illustrated by Tonel – Chavi’s friend Rosario wants to have a quinceñera (sweet 15), but her family can’t afford it. Chavi gathers people in the barrio (neighborhood) and throws Rosario a birthday party in the community center.
  8. Brothers in Hope written by Mary Williams and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie – When eight-year-old Garang’s village in southern Sudan is destroyed, he walks thousands of miles with many other boys to seek safety. The boys face numerous hardships and dangers along the way, but their faith and mutual support help keep the hope of finding a new home alive in their hearts.
  9. Destiny’s Gift written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by Adjoa J. Burrowes – Destiny’s favorite place to be is Mrs. Wade’s bookstore; she helps out every Saturday. When Mrs. Wade tells Destiny she has to close the bookstore, Destiny organizes her community to protest.
  10. Passage to Freedom written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee – Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat to Lithuania, helped thousands of Jewish people escape the Holocaust by giving them visas to Japan.
  11. Goldfish and Chrysanthemums  written by Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Michelle Chang – Nancy’s grandmother, Ni Ni, finds out that her childhood home in China is being torn down. After winning two goldfish at the fair, Nancy keeps Ni Ni’s memories of her garden alive by recreating it in their backyard.
  12. Irena’s Jars of Secrets written by Marcia Vaughan and illustrated by Ron Mazellan – Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker, witnesses the injustices committed against Jewish people in Warsaw during WWII. First, she smuggles things they need into the Warsaw ghetto, and then, using false documents, she smuggles Jewish children out of the ghetto. She keeps jars with their information, hoping to reunite them with their families.
  13. Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsey Lewin – Every April, the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland become home to hundreds of thousands of puffins, small black-and-white seabirds with colorful bills. When the young puffins, called pufflings, are ready to make their way into the sea, they’re helped by the Puffling Patrol, children who help guide the pufflings to the ocean.
  14. Rent Party Jazz by written William Miller and illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb – Rent day is coming, and Sonny’s mama has lost her job. Sonny isn’t sure what to do, but a jazz musician named Smilin’ Jack hosts a party to help Sonny and his mama raise money for their rent.
  15. Aani and the Tree Huggers written by Jeannine Atkins and illustrated by Venantius J. Pinto – While Aani sits under her favorite tree, she hears men coming in to cut down the trees, despite protest from the women in the village. When the men return to cut the trees, Aani hugs a tree to prevent them from cutting it down, and the rest of the people in her village follow suit, saving the forest.

For more information about Mix It Up at Lunch Day and how to participate, click here!

How to Teach Close Reading Using a Recipe

What happens if we don’t follow a recipe? Potentially, a disaster. Recipes require careful reading and we can literally taste the consequences of our failure to do so. In this way, a recipe is fantastic for small group instruction, such as guided reading, and for parent-child practice because it is grounded in real world applications and requires multiple re-readings to grasp the information.

For guided reading, there were only a dozen or so book sets that I used with my students because those available to me were dated in content (think: Pluto is still a planet) and image, worn out from being shared across the whole school, and unreliable in student engagement. On one of my monthly trips to a Friends of the Library book sale, where I often scrounged, hunted, and bargained, I discovered a milk crate full of the children’s literary magazine, Cricket. As these were used periodicals, they were available for free. I remember the award-winning magazine as a child myself and quickly discovered that the wide variety of high-quality texts would be perfect for guided reading, including the recipes and craft instructions.

Recipe post (3)Young readers can use recipes to analyze an author’s choices, such as the order of steps, choice of ingredients, and ingredient amounts. Recipes provide hands-on experience at home while building critical background schema and additional practice with a nonfiction text. Recipes are great for teaching close reading because they:

  • naturally engage students with the content (yum!)
  • create real-world connections for why we learn to read and the skill of close reading (look—even adults do it!)
  • provide a small amount of text which can be read in one sitting but requires several re-readings to understand it fully (perfect for 20-25 min. periods)
  • allow students to interpret and solve new words in context
  • require students to visualize and analyze how the individual parts create the final product

As you read and carry out each step of a recipe, students can think about the author’s choices along the way. Why would the author want only ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 2 tsp instead? Why is salt needed in this recipe in the first place? Why do we need to add the salt before we boil? And so on.

Below is an example of questions for close reading using the recipe included at the end of the story, Sweet Potato Pie.

Read and follow along with the full Mama’s Sweet Potato Pie recipe.

First reading: (Literal questions to understand the information)

  1. What are we making? What is the central idea of this text?
  2. How much vanilla do we need?
  3. What are the general steps we need to do to make a sweet potato pie?
  4. What do we have to do first? (This is tricky because you have to make the pie crust before you can do the filling even though it is ordered in reverse)
  5. How will we know the pie is finished?
  6. Why do we use a fork to press down around the rim of the pan?
  7. What step is for attractiveness and not necessary?

Second reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to infer significant ideas)

  1. Why should we cut the potatoes into chunks before boiling? What would happen if we put in the whole potato to boil instead?
  2. Why does the author say only use ¼ tsp of salt? What would happen if we added 1 tsp of salt instead? What would happen if we didn’t add any salt at all?
  3. Why does the author tell us to mash the potatoes AFTER boiling the potatoes and draining the water in, not before?
  4. Why does the author state, “children will need adult help”? Which step should adults do or supervise? Why?

Third reading: (Higher level/open-ended questions to analyze author’s methods, craft, and text structure)

  1. What is the meaning of the word preheat in Step 1 (Preheat the oven to 350 degrees)? What is the meaning of the prefix pre-?
  2. What is the meaning of the word except in Step 4 (Add all remaining ingredients except cinnamon and beat sweet potato mixture until smooth)?
  3. What is the author’s purpose of this text (persuade, explain, entertain, inform)? How do you know?
  4. How is the text organized? Why would the author organize the information as a list of steps? Why would the author separate the steps for the pie crust and filling within the same recipe?
  5. What features show this text is a recipe? How are this text’s format and features different from other nonfiction texts’ format and features? How does this text compare to the story that precedes it?
  6. What type of sentence is used throughout the recipe (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamation)? How do you know? Why would the author choose this type of sentence?
  7. Why does the author put the “children will need adult help” note at the beginning of the recipe?

Book in basketWhere can you find child-friendly recipes and craft instructions? Many food-centric books, such as Sweet Potato Pie, Cora Cooks Pancitand Rainbow Stewwill include the recipe at the end of the book. Children’s magazines, like Cricket and Highlights, have user-submitted recipes and craft ideas with easy to follow steps. Finally, children’s cookbooks are widely available.

How does close reading look in your classroom? Any tricks and tips to share?

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. 

Diversity News Roundup

Though the weather outside has been dreary, some of this diversity news has been anything but!

This week, the We Need Diverse Books campaign announced that they’re naming an award in honor of the late, great Walter Dean Myers! They are currently raising money through their IndieGoGo campaign and the hashtag #SupportWNDB.

School Library Journal and #WNDB also announced their collaboration. The collaboration will include a diversity-themed event at the 2016 ALA Midwinter conference and support for the diversity-themed festival to be held in the Washington, D.C. area in 2016.

We’re also excited to see all of the diverse movies being released: The Book of Life, the Mexican-themed fantasy-adventure was released last week! Manolo, an adventurer, travels through magical worlds to rescue his one true love and defend his village from death! Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a 80% rating! 

Dear White People, the comedy-satire that started as a Youtube concept trailer premieres today. Dear White People was the winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. This comedy is a clever satire of race relations in the age of Obama. Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with a 91% rating!

Disney’s next heroine will be Moana. The eponymous film will be about a teenaged explorer from Oceania who travels the ocean with a demigod named Maui in search of an island.  It’s set to be released in 2016!

Have you seen any great news about diversity this week?

 

A Visit With the Open Book Foundation

Guest blogger iconIllustrator Frané Lessac shares a recent school visit that she and her husband, author Mark Greenwood, did in Washington, D.C. with An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation

One of the highlights of our recent US tour was our visit to Washington, D.C. and our Open Book Foundation day, working with three second grade classes at Savoy Elementary.

The foundation’s mission is to promote literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving books to students and providing access to authors and illustrators – and what a unanimously positive experience it is for all involved!

Frané and Mark at Savoy Elementary

Frané and Mark at Savoy Elementary (image courtesy of An Open Book Foundation)

We conducted a ‘Meet the Author and Illustrator’ presentation followed by an art activity. At the conclusion of each presentation, the Open Book Foundation gave each student a copy of our book, Drummer Boy of John John, to take home, signed and personalized by the people who actually wrote and illustrated it.

Frané Lessac demonstrating the illustration process

Frané Lessac demonstrating the illustration process (image courtesy of An Open Book Foundation)

Here are a few of the student reactions we received:

“You mean we get to keep the book? We don’t have to bring it back?”

“I can keep this book for my entire life. Even when I grow up?”

Wow! While the students might still be talking about the experience, so are we! The Open Book program is as uplifting and rewarding for authors and illustrators as it is for students. We will never forget the look of joy on the faces of the students, who couldn’t wait to take their new books home and share the experience with their families.

Creating art during the visit

Creating art during the visit (image courtesy of An Open Book Foundation)

The fabulous Open Book experience breathes life into writing and art and the process of bookmaking, and opens up the world of reading to students. The Savoy Elementary students were so excited to leave each of our sessions clutching their very own book.

We cannot express our gratitude enough to the Open Book Foundation for the joy and excitement they bring to disadvantaged children. The Foundation’s program of bringing authors and illustrators to their schools, and providing books for their students, classrooms and libraries, is a wonderfully positive step to introduce a lifelong love of books and reading.

Frané and Mark with some happy readers

Frané and Mark with some happy readers (image courtesy of An Open Book Foundation)

To learn more about An Open Book Children’s Literacy Foundation, visit their website.

Frané LessacMark GreenwoodFrané Lessac has illustrated more than thirty-five books for young readers, several of which she has also written. Her husband, Mark Greenwood, is the author of numerous children’s books published in both the United States and his native Australia. They live in Fremantle, West Australia.

Recap: Horn Book’s Mind the Gaps Colloquium at Simmons College

On October 11, 2014, I attended a colloquium called Mind the Gaps, hosted by The Horn Book at Simmons College in Boston. There was an all-star line up consisting of Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild), Gene Luen Yang (Boxers and Saints), Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle), and Steve Sheinkin (The Port Chicago 50), to name a few. Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of The Horn Book, played a big part in pulling all these folks together for a day.

One of the highlights was the keynote by author/librarian Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (No Crystal Stair). Here’s a snippet from her speech:

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Keynote speaker, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Photo credit: Shara Hardeson

“We are here at Simmons trying to solve this problem while one of the biggest stories in the news is that Apple released a new iPhone. Yet ALA struggles to get a one-minute spot on one network to announce the nation’s most prestigious children’s book awards. Is this our world now? To quote one of my favorite library patrons, ‘Have we dumbed down society so much that what is truly significant is not considered important?’ This conversation is significant. So how do we make it important?”

I participated in was called Publishing for the Gaps. The other panelists were Arthur Levine, publisher of Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic but more famously known for bringing Harry Potter to the United States, and Ginee Seo, children’s book director of Chronicle Books. The moderator was Roger Sutton. We covered a lot of ground, from the acquisition process to responding to Roger’s charge that publishers often put out “derivative crap” (Roger’s words, not mine) when it comes to blatantly duplicating what works. This statement was met with Arthur’s vehement defense that he sorely doubted that publishing executives would order their editors to make “more derivative crap!”

While I have been on many panels over the years, what was nice about this one was that the audience of 150 was predominately white. Non-diverse audiences like this usually benefit from hearing about the diversity problem, since some may be hearing about it for the first time. Publishing for the Gaps for me is about publishing the stories about people who are left out, which are most often people of color. I discussed LEE & LOW’s efforts to offer clarity and perspective, to help define the scope of why diversity is met with obstacles across most media channels, and how this remains a society-wide problem.

Arthur Levine, Jason Low

(L-R) Arthur Levine, Jason Low. Photo credit: Shara Hardeson

From the editorial side, the lack of representation can be greatly improved by decision makers who feel a personal stake in publishing diverse books. Ginee, as one of the few Asian American women at an executive level, can and does make a difference. Arthur Levine remarked that it was a part of who he is (as an openly gay and Jewish man) to publish inclusively.

The panel was recorded and is an hour. Note: Since the video is stored on Simmons College’s Google drive you’ll have to log in to view it. I also apologize in advance for the sound quality.

When the colloquium was over, I asked one of the moderators, Nina Lindsay, how she thought the day went. She said, “I was pleased with the colloquium, but feel like we just got the conversation started, then everyone went home. I’m hoping the momentum continues to build on this, and that we don’t all suddenly assume we’re enlightened and part ways.”

Recap of Publishers Weekly Diversity Panel, October 16, 2014

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.

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