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.

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

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. 

catchingthemoon022

Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

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

Your summer outing: the Ballpark, Baseball Hall of Fame, or Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Book recommendations:

William Hoy

William Hoy

Questions during reading:

  • What position does this ball player hold and what responsibilities are involved in that position?
  • Why does this person have a difficult time being allowed to play baseball?
  • How does this person demonstrate persistence?
  • What do you think this ball player accomplished for ball players of today?
  • How has baseball and who can play changed (or not changed) over time?
  • How does baseball encourage tolerance or acceptance?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the statement: Baseball is America’s favorite pastime? Why?


Activities
:

Louis Sockalexis

Louis Sockalexis

Create a baseball trading card!

Materials: a school individual-sized milk carton, white paper, glue stick, markers or crayons

  1. Using the book or the baseball museum websites, research the player’s full name, position, team(s), league(s), dates of career, any honors, batting average, and a fascinating fact.
  2. Cut the individual-sized milk carton with scissors so that you have one rectangle side panel. The rest of the carton can be discarded.
  3. Cover both sides of the side panel with white paper and secure with a glue stick.
  4. On one side, draw the player’s portrait or picture of the player in action. The picture is typically portrait orientation, but it can be landscape orientation.
  5. At the bottom of the picture, write the player’s name.
  6. On the other side of the trading card, write the player’s position, team(s), league(s), dates of career, any honors, batting average, and a fascinating fact (if there’s room!).

Write and think like a ball player!

Imagine you are the ball player you just read. As this person,

  • Write a diary entry about one or more of the events in the story: when you first found out you were selected to play on the team; how you felt the first time a fan, coach, or other player treated you poorly; or when you finally felt accepted by fans and other players for your abilities.
  • Write a letter or email to your parents about why you want to play baseball and what support you are or are not getting from fans and the other players.
  • Write a blog post or letter to the editor to your fans describing your abilities, what makes baseball rewarding for you, and how your role as a minority in baseball is important.
Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

Marcenia Toni Stone Lyle

For further reading on books and activity suggestions to match your summer adventures:

Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part II


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. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

Last week, I discussed why worldbuilding in speculative fiction can be so challenging for authors. How do we introduce a completely new world without infodumping or confusing readers? I gave some examples of worldbuilding done well in popular YA science fiction and fantasy: The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight. In all these cases, the starting point is in some way relatable, or there is something about the character (Tris, Katniss) that hooks the reader. First pages should be character- and plot-driven, and worldbuilding should support rather than dominate. That gives these books an easy entry point and wide appeal.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Readers of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Twilight figure out the world alongside the main character. Information is spooled out as the character learns it, so the reader doesn’t have to absorb everything at once. This is a low bar for entry, not requiring much synthesis of information. The character is almost a stand-in for the reader.

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

What about Hunger Games? Now it gets a little tougher. Suzanne Collins starts out with a perfectly relatable (if a tiny bit cliche) situation, the main character waking up and seeing her family. We get some exposition on Katniss’s family and the cat who hates her.

But it becomes non-cliche by page 2, when we learn about the Reaping. Ah! What’s the Reaping, you ask? We don’t know yet. Now the bar for entry is raised. There is a question, the answer for which you’re going to have to read further to find out. The infodumpage level is low, but there is still some exposition in the next few pages, letting us know that Katniss lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, and that her town is enclosed by a fence that is sometimes electrified—and which is supposed to be electrified all the time.

Collins’s approach to spooling out a little information at a time is to explain each new term as she goes, but some readers think that feels unnatural in a first person voice because the narrator would already know these things, so why is she explaining them to the reader?

It depends on the story, in my opinion—Collins makes it work because of how she crafted Katniss’s voice. It is a very fine line to walk—I can’t tell you how many submissions I’ve received that start out with, “My name is X. I am Y years old. I live in a world that does Z,” an obvious example of how this approach becomes downright clumsy when not handled with Collins-esque finesse.

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the reader is given clues to work out rather than having any new terms explained to them. This approach needs just as much, if not more, finesse. It’s a process that some readers who are new to speculative fiction might stumble over the most, which is why I think there’s so little of it in middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction. I’ve seen it called “incluing,” which is a silly word, but I don’t know of another name for it and the description of incluing in that Wikipedia link is exactly the kind of worldbuilding I—as a lifelong fantasy fan—prefer to see in the beginning of a book, particularly one set in a world that has no connection to our own, or if it’s in the future of our world far enough into the future that the society is unrecognizable to us, such as the society in Tankborn. Karen Sandler does a wonderful job at incluing readers as we read chapter 1 of the first book in the Tankborn trilogy.

The prominent example I like to give writers for this kind of worldbuilding is from The Golden Compass. Check out the first paragraph of that book:

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen. The three great tables that ran the length of the hall were laid already, the silver and the glass catching what little light there was, and the long benches were pulled out ready for the guests. Portraits of former Masters hung high up in the gloom along the walls. Lyra reached the dais and looked back at the open kitchen door, and, seeing no one, stepped up beside the high table.”

Pullman jumps right into the scene, with Lyra sneaking down the dining hall with her daemon. We’re hooked—she’s doing something sneaky, and we don’t know what. And we want to know. We don’t even know what the daemon physically looks like until paragraph 4, and even then we don’t know why he’s called a daemon or what makes a daemon special.

What is a daemon, anyway? We don’t know! In fact, this is one of the major conflicts of the book—we need to read more to find out about daemons, and further mysteries are revealed as we read that deepen our understanding of daemons and of Lyra’s world in general. As we discover more clues that intrigue us, we want to know more, and keep reading.

But the line between intriguing the reader and confusing the reader is very thin, and I would argue that for some readers it’s in a different place than for others. Those of us who are familiar with fantasy might be more willing to patiently wait for more information about daemons because we trust that this author will let us know what we need to know when the time is right. We know that they’re teasing us with this information so as not to overburden us within the first few pages of the book (or, in the case of The Golden Compass, because the reader can’t know what the majority of people in that world don’t know, either).

Tankborn coverIn situations in which you need to establish a world that’s entirely different from our own, I find that putting a character in a situation that’s somewhat familiar to the reader can help with establishing the unfamiliar. In Karen Sandler’s Tankborn, for example, Kayla has to watch her little brother instead of going to a street fair with her friends. While Kayla calls him her “nurture brother” instead of just her brother, it’s still a situation to which a lot of readers can relate, even if it is set on another planet and her brother is catching nasty arachnid-based sewer toads instead of familiar Earth frogs and toads.

M. K. Hutchins, author of Drift, approached it in a completely different way. She starts with a dangerous situation—a family on the run from authorities, splitting up. The mother, our main character Tenjat, and his sister Eflet are embarking on a terrible journey that’s almost certain death, setting off on a raft in the middle of the night into an ocean full of snake-like monsters, and leaving the family’s father and smallest brother behind to face unknown punishment. While perhaps no reader has been chased by authorities in the middle of the night, it is a dangerous situation and a parting of family—mixing the familiar (family) with the unfamiliar (a dangerous situation in a completely new setting).Drift

It’s the difference between showing and telling. Philip Pullman, Karen Sandler, and M. K. Hutchins all show us how their worlds works, rather than pausing to tell us how it works (“in this world, all people are born with an animal companion called a daemon”).

Telling can work, though, especially in small doses—Katniss’s voice is so conversational that the brief moments of telling in the first few pages of The Hunger Games work, particularly because Collins is mostly showing what Katniss is up to. The brief pauses to “infodump” feel like the reader is being told a story by a storyteller, like a friend telling a story over the kitchen table after a nice big meal would pause and explain something you didn’t understand (a friend who’s a very good storyteller). It’s an awareness of audience that most speculative fiction doesn’t have the luxury of.

Showing isn’t always better, and telling isn’t always bad, when done right and mixed in with showing. Whichever method you use, remember that sometimes readers will trip over new words so you need to give them as much context as possible without over-infodumping.

And here is where the art comes in. I can’t tell you what that balance is, but if you look at examples like the ones above, you’ll get a better feel for how much to reveal and how much to hold back in your first few pages—revealing enough to orient your reader and give them a sense of the differences of this world (while grounding them in something familiar like Lyra’s hallway or Katniss’s humble home) while seeking to avoid overburdening them with too much all at once.

What about you? How have you found the right balance of introducing your world without overburdening the reader? What books do you recommend that do this particularly well?

 

M.K. Hutchins Blog Tour: On Mythology, Maya Culture, & More!

To celebrate the release of her debut novel Drift last week, author M.K. Hutchins has been stopping by blogs throughout the week to talk about her writing process, Maya culture, and more.

drift, m.k. hutchins

Here’s a bit about Drift:

There’s no place for love on the shores of hell.

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day.

But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. Handlers never marry, and they can even provide for an additional family member. Against his sister’s wishes, Tenjat joins the Handlers. And just in time: the Handlers are ramping up for a dangerous battle against the naga monsters, and they need every fighter they can get.

As the naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for Avi—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

You can read sample chapters from Drift online hereKirkus Reviews has called it “totally fresh” and Sarah Beth Durst, author of Vessel and Conjured, has called it “a fantastic adventure set in a stunning, original world. . . . Some of the best worldbuilding I’ve ever read.”

M.K. Hutchins’ tour schedule is below, so if you haven’t picked up Drift or you have and loved it, check out the following blogs for some great insight and conversation into this fantastic world!

June 19: John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog – M.K. Hutchins on worldbuilding and cultural ecology here

June 20: Supernatural Snark – M.K. Hutchins on being inspired by Maya mythology here.

June 23: It’s All About Books – M.K. Hutchins’ top 5 most influential books here.

June 25: Read Now Sleep Later – DRIFT giveaway here.

June 26: The Brain Lair – M.K. Hutchins on Tools of the Trade here.

Still want to learn more about M.K. Hutchins and Drift? Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter!

Submitting to our New Voices Award: Tips from an Editor

In this blog post, our editorial assistant Samantha shares her thoughts on the New Voices Award and what she’s looking for from this year’s submissions.

The beginning of summer is my favorite time of year. School’s out, the weather brightens up—although this year in New York, it’s been a bit shaky—and New Voices season begins. This year marks our 15th annual New Voices Award contest, and I can’t wait to watch the submissions come rolling in!

Over the last fourteen years, LEE & LOW BOOKS has published more than ten books that have come to us through It Jes' Happened coverthe New Voices contest, including Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo (2003 Winner) and Seaside Dream by Janet Costa Bates (2006 Honor). It Jes’ Happened (2005 Honor) received three starred reviews, and author Don Tate won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor. And we’re very excited about several New Voices winners and honors that will be published in upcoming seasons. We just love reading the amazing stories that have been submitted to the contest, and it’s inspiring to us to work with first-time picture book authors.

Last year we were thrilled to receive 165 New Voices submissions from authors all across the Unites States. With so many great manuscripts to read, we look for stories that stand out from the crowd. We love to be surprised by a Seaside Dreammanuscript, whether it’s a biography of a fascinating but little known historical figure or an everyday story told from a unique perspective. A submission will catch our eye if it is something we haven’t seen before. Just as the New Voices contest seeks out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing, we love to read stories about characters and subjects that are similarly underrepresented.

Another small but important detail that we appreciate when reading New Voices submissions is when an author pays close attention to the contest guidelines. It might seem trivial, but a good cover letter that follows the guideline requests—especially author information—creates a great first impression. You can see the full submission guidelines here and the answers to some frequently asked questions here.

We look forward to reading a great batch of stories this year and to discovering talented new authors through the New Voices contest. We hope you will help us spread the word to eligible authors!

 

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

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. 

What to do…what to do…If you are like us, the summer is an exciting time to discover new books, break out the art project we’ve been promising ourselves to start since February, and try every popsicle flavor from the ice cream truck.

Summer is the time to beat the heat, right? Whether that means hunting for air conditioning or jumping into a pool, we are here to keep you and your family loving books while you keep cool.

Over the coming weeks, we are pairing Lee & Low titles to your favorite summer destinations with fun activities!

Your summer outing: the ZOO

Book recommendation: Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

 

Questions during reading:

  • How have humans affected Puerto Rican parrots and Puerto Rico?
  • What physical and behavioral adaptions help the Puerto Rican parrots survive in their environment?
  • How do the scientists demonstrate persistence and creativity?
  • What are the purpose and activities of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program?
  • How has Puerto Rico changed over time?
  • What does this book teach about sustainability?
  • Do you think communities and governments should save endangered species? Why or why not?

Activities:

Recipe for Parrot Crackers!

Ingredients: avocado, lemon, raisins/dried cranberries, banana chips, round crackers

Parrot Crackers

Parrot Crackers

  1. Peel half an avocado. In a small bowl, mash half the avocado with a fork until it is lump-free.
  2. Squeeze and mix in a little lemon juice into the mashed avocado to prevent it from turning brown.
  3. With a bread knife, spread the avocado over one side of each of the round crackers.
  4. Place two raisins or dried cranberries on top of the avocado side of each cracker for eyes.
  5. Cut or break a banana chip in half and place both below the eyes on the cracker to make the parrot’s beak. The two halves will stand off the cracker.
  6. Admire and eat!

Chef’s Note: We originally tried this with cream cheese and lime zest instead of avocado. We loved how the lime zest looked like real feathers and matched the collage work of illustrator, Susan L. Roth, but the lime zest had a wacky flavor so we went for the milder avocado!

Create a Food Web!parrot1

  1. Use Parrots Over Puerto Rico to make a list of all the plants and animals important to the Puerto Rican parrots existence in the book. The list should include: red-tailed hawks, humans, black rats, honeybees, Puerto Rican parrots, pearly-eyed thrashers, and sierra palm trees.
  2. Label which of these is a predator of, competitor to, and food source for the Puerto Rican parrot.

More resources for Parrots Over Puerto Rico and ideas for your summer adventures:

Strategies For Teaching English Language Learners—Part 4: Writing, Speaking, & Listening Practice

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. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science (IES) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released the latest educator’s guide to present best instructional practices for English Language Learners. Over the last several weeks, I’ve looked at several different strategies for teaching English Language Learners based on that guide’s recommendations.

Today, we’ll take a look at how to incorporate vocabulary instruction into activities that support listening, speaking, and writing practice for English Language Learners. This is the final week I will focus on the guide’s first recommendation: Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Drumbeat in Our Feet

Using the Lee & Low informational text, Drumbeat in Our Feet, as my model text, I applied the guide’s recommendations on how to choose an appropriate text and words for English Language Learners and how to teach the vocabulary over several days. See how I chose these words here and taught their meanings here.

Using Drumbeat in Our Feet and the IES’s process, my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt.

1. IES: Facilitate structured discussions to increase opportunities for students to talk about academic words. Always anchor these discussions around the topics that are present in the text and that do not have a clear-cut right or wrong answer. The goal is for students to learn to articulate a position or point of view and learn to defend their perspective or analysis. (P. 20)

Lee & Low: Over the course of multiple days, I am teaching a different part to each word’s meaning. After doing so, I want to create open-ended questions for whole or small group discussion that will allow my students to practice using the target words.

As my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt in Drumbeat In Our Feet, I would use these throughout the week for peer-to-peer discussion. This looks like:

  • Why would the authors want to discuss the diverse land and countries of Africa in a book about African dance?
  • Why might African dance vary in form?
  • Why should we study the origins of African dance today?
  • What factors might contribute to the diversity in African dance?

2. IES: Require students to use target words in their writing activities. (P. 21)

Lee & Low: Use the prompts above or focus on vocabulary-specific prompts. This looks like:

  • What are the origins of your family?
  • Write about the origins of a superhero.
  • Create a story about the origins of the universe or how life began.
  • Is it important to you to feel unique? Why or why not?
  • What are at least two things vital to all life forms?

Although we cannot explicitly teach all academic and content-specific words our students will need to know in their educations and careers, we can be strategic in how we teach 5-8 words a week so they can apply these word strategies to new words they come across on their own.

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom:

 

Ask an Editor: Worldbuilding in Speculative Fiction, Part I

Stacy Whitman photo

Stacy 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. Parts of this blog post were originally posted at her blog, Stacy Whitman’s Grimoire

During the first week of June, I attended the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore. At the conference, I met writers from all over Asia and the Pacific, discussing craft, marketing their books at home and abroad, and translation. I even ran into Mark Greenwood and Frané Lessac, the Australian author/illustrator team behind the LEE & LOW picture book The Drummer Boy of John John. I enjoyed all the panels and the chance to see Singapore and meet so many people from the other side of the world—it gives you a perspective as an editor you might not otherwise have.

One of the panels I participated in was a First Pages event, in which I read about 20 first pages of picture books, middle grade, and YA novels and then gave feedback on whether the pages were working for me and if I’d want to read more.

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

Stacy Whitman with author Mark Greenwood and illustrator Frané Lessac

For the fantasy and science fiction entries, a common problem was—and is in any new writer’s writing—revealing enough about the world that you create interest and intrigue, but not too much. Too much, and you risk alienating your audience, confusing them, or simply not hooking them. Reader reactions are so subjective. One person might think there’s not nearly enough worldbuilding in a book (“give me more! MORE!”) and another might say of the exact same book that what worldbuilding there is was way too confusing (“I couldn’t keep all those made-up words straight!”).

So how do you, as the author, balance the needs of such a wide range of readers when you’re working in a complex world? And how do you balance the need to establish your characters, setting, and plot with the need to spool out information to your reader to intrigue them rather than confuse them?

This is a question that almost every author and editor of speculative fiction struggles with, particularly because we, as veterans of the genre, are already more comfortable with a lot of jargon than your average teen reader, particularly teen readers whose preference for fantasy runs more toward the contemporary paranormal variety.

Singapore 2

Stacy Whitman at the famous Singapore merlion fountain

There are a number of reasons why I think Twilight was so popular on such a broad scale, but one of the biggest ones was the relatability of the initial situation. Not vampires showing up at school—before that. We start with a simple story about a girl who is leaving her mother behind in Arizona to live with her father in an unknown small town on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Relatable: divorced parents, fish out of water, adapting to a new school and a new climate.

Think about all the really big fantasy hits of the last decade or so in children’s and YA fiction: Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent. Of these books’ beginnings, only the dystopian tales start all that far outside the everyday experiences of your average young reader, and even The Hunger Games starts with a relatable situation—a coal mining family lives in a desperate situation and must hunt for food.

While most kids who would have access to The Hunger Games don’t live under a despotic regime, it’s plausible that it could happen in the real world. Every kid has been hungry at some point, though perhaps not as hungry and desperate as Katniss. Every kid has taken a test in school, and sometimes it feels like those standardized tests do determine your everlasting fate, as they do in Divergent, even if Tris’s Abnegation explanations are a little tedious. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are ordinary kids going to school, living somewhat normal lives (even if abusive ones, in the case of Harry) before their worlds change with the discovery of magic.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children's Content.

Stacy Whitman speaking on a panel at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content.

There are three primary approaches to worldbuilding:

Reader learns world alongside character

Exposition: questions raised, then answered

“Incluing”: questions raised, then reader infers answers bit by bit

Next Thursday, I’ll go into detail about each of these techniques and give some examples. In the meantime, think about your favorite science fiction and fantasy books. How do they bring you into their world? What works best for you as a reader? Answering these questions about your own reading preferences can help guide you as a writer.

 

Out today: Drift and Rebellion

Warm weather is finally here! Get those summer reading lists ready because we’re excited to announce the release of two new YA novels from our Tu Books imprint: Drift, a high fantasy adventure that takes place on the shores of Hell, and Rebellion, the thrilling final book in Karen Sandler’s Tankborn series.

drift, by m.k. hutchins

In Drift, Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Tenjat is poor as poor gets: poor enough, even, to condescend to the shame of marriage, so his children can help support him one day. But Tenjat has a plan to avoid this fate. He will join the Handlers, those who defend and rule the island. As an epic naga battle approaches, Tenjat’s training intensifies, but a long-hidden family secret—not to mention his own growing feelings for his trainer—put his plans in jeopardy, and might threaten the very survival of his island.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about Drift and author M.K. Hutchins here.

rebellion

In Rebellion, the Tankborn story comes to its thrilling conclusion as questions are answered after the devastating bomb blast that ended Awakening. Kayla has been brought to the headquarters of the organization that planted the bomb, and many others like it, in GEN food warehouses and homes. Her biological mother tells her that Devak is dead and that Kayla must join their terrorist group, which is ramping up for something big. Now Kayla must pretend to embrace this new role in an underground compound full of paranoia as she plots a way to escape and save her friends.

Read an excerpt. Learn more about the Tankborn trilogy and author Karen Sandler here.

Happy book birthday to our newest releases! You can purchase them on our website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller (if copies are not in stock, they can always order them for you). And of course, they’re also available as e-books.

Tearing Down Walls: The Integrated World of Swedish Picture Books

Laura SimeonThe daughter of an anthropologist, Laura Reiko Simeon’s passion for diversity-related topics stems from her childhood spent living all over guest bloggerthe US and the world. She fell in love with Sweden thanks to the Swedish roommate she met in Wales while attending one of the United World Colleges, international high schools dedicated to promoting cross-cultural understanding. Laura has an MA in History from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. She lives near Seattle.

As the Librarian and Diversity Coordinator at a school with a global population, my guiding vision is that the books I offer must be both mirrors that reflect children’s lives and windows that open up new worlds. This is a challenge when the small percentage of children’s books in English showing people of color is largely restricted to stories of oppression far removed from my students’ daily lives of homework, soccer, and wishing for a puppy. Of Maskerad by Kristina Murray Brodincourse it’s important to be aware of injustice, but it sends a powerful message if we only show racial diversity in settings of suffering and conflict.

While “diversity” is not generally the first word that comes to mind when Americans think of Sweden, today fully 20% of Swedes are either immigrants or children of immigrants, many from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Combine this with Swedes’ commitment to children’s rights and a vibrant literary and artistic community, and you have the perfect setting for stimulating debates and boundary-pushing creativity.

A grant from the Swedish Institute allowed me to visit Stockholm last year to interview librarians, authors, illustrators, publishers, and teachers about how recent picture books reflect their multicultural society. During my visit I learned about a fundamental distinction between their approach to diversity and our own. There is a concerted effort to publish works of artistic and literary merit, free from heavy moralizing, that express a child’s perspective and tear down the walls that segregate people of color into a few categories: civil rights hero, the downtrodden, and token exotic friend.

Bridget and the Gray Wolves by Pija Lindenbaum

from Bridget and the Gray Wolves by Pija Lindenbaum

There is a firm belief in Sweden that the problem in stories must be about something other than differences.Marie Tomicic, of the Swedish multicultural publisher OLIKA, explained that when the problem in the story is the fact that a boy is playing with a doll, that sends a very different message from a book where the boy’s choice of a doll is unremarkable and the conflict “emerges from the play itself,” such as arguing about what scenario to act out.

This is why recent Swedish picture books that show ethnic diversity involve conflicts about ordinary, universal topics such as sharing. Several authors who are passionate about diversity proudly told me that if you were to read the text alone, you would never know that the illustrations in their books showed characters of many races. Often it’s even hard to tell exactly what ethnicity characters are meant to be. The Swedish Institute for Children’s Books monitors and publishes detailed data about gender – but not race – largely because of this ambiguity.

Gunna Grähs, a prolific author and illustrator, writes about a multicultural Swedish suburb where immigrants from several continents pursue ordinary daily activities such as buying lottery tickets or helping a neighbor who forgot to feed his cat. For decades Siv Widerberg has written stories in which multiethnic groups of children build sandcastles at daycare, collect sticks in the woods, and more. Anna Bengtsson shows characters with different ethnic backgrounds going to the hairdresser or playing in a pile of snow. Similarly, Eva Lindström, Lena Anderson, Eva Susso, Pija Lindenbaum, and many other Swedish writers are revolutionizing children’s literature simply by bringing people of color out of the margins and into the mainstream of daily life."When children read books featuring racially integrated groups of peers doing fun things together, it has a lasting positive impact on their play with members of other races."

This is not to say that Swedes have arrived at a place of perfect enlightenment. Many of them admire our willingness to publish children’s books that explicitly talk about prejudice, since history and culture have made this topic uncomfortable in their own country.

Controversy erupted in Sweden 2012 over Little Heart, a character intended to reclaim and empower the pickaninny stereotype. There was also heated debate about whether hip hop artist and children’s culture advocate Behrang Miri was justified in moving Tintin in the Congo to the adult section of a library. In response to these painful incidents, Professor of Illustration Joanna Rubin Dranger has been working on improving Swedes’ visual literacy Moa och Samir i lekparken by Siv Widerbergaround racial stereotypes through her fascinating School of Images.

Yet recent research supports a significant benefit of the Swedish approach: when children read books featuring racially integrated groups of peers doing fun things together, it has a lasting positive impact on their play with members of other races. (This was not the case when they read diverse books showing members of just one race.) The bad news? There are so few of these types of books that likely “most American children have rarely or never seen a cross-race friendship depicted in a picture book.”

What can we do without access to most of these wonderful Swedish books? We can bring greater intentionality to how we choose diverse books. We can search for and purchase books that show diversity as a natural and positive aspect of daily life. We can discuss the implicit and explicit messages in diverse books with young readers, helping them learn to read with awareness. Children deserve more from their diverse books: let’s start tearing down those walls.

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