This year in Chicago, we hosted a joint book buzz session with Cinco Puntos Press entitled, “Talk is Cheap: A Conversation With Two Multicultural Book Publishers.” The idea was to bring people together to discuss how two small publishers are addressing diversity issues in publishing, and how we can all work together – publishers, librarians, and readers – to bring about real change.
For those who were not able to attend in person, here’s a recap of what was discussed:
Jason Low, publisher of LEE & LOW BOOKS, spoke first. The first thing he emphasized is that, when it comes to more diversity, talking about the problem itself is not enough. Talk must equal action. He gave examples of this mentality from Lee & Low Books’ 20-year history, citing times when the company has identified “gaps” in representation and taken concrete steps to change things for the better: launching several imprints that cover everything from guided reading books in the classroom (our Bebop imprint) to science fiction and fantasy (Tu Books); acquiring Children’s Book Press so their award-winning bilingual titles wouldn’t be lost; and starting the New Voices and New Visions Awards to encourage unpublished authors of color and to help them break into the industry.
Jason also shared some statistics about the makeup of LEE & LOW, both in terms of staff and authors/illustrators:
Jason closed by citing our recent CCBC study, which shows that the number of children’s books by and about people of color has not grown in eighteen years: “Children’s books are not keeping pace with the demographics of this country.” He stressed that in order to enact real change, “we have to cultivate a renewed sense of reader activism.” What does that mean, exactly? That we need to find ways to recommend these books, to make sure they’re visible. He noted that earlier this summer, his son came home with a summer reading list that was completely white. When something like that happens, he said, we as readers and librarians must speak up and ask for more diversity.
This year marks our 14th annual New Voices Award writing contest. Every year, LEE & LOW BOOKS gives the New Voices Award to a debut author of color for a picture book manuscript.
Did you know that last year, children’s books written by authors of color made up less than seven percent of the total number of books published? As a multicultural publisher, we’re dedicated to increasing those numbers. The New Voices Award is one way we can help new authors of color break into publishing.
In this new blog series, we thought it’d be fun to bring together some past New Voices Award winners on the blog to see how they got their start as authors, what inspires them, and where they are now.
Q: How did you start writing picture books?
Linda Boyden, The Blue Roses
Our recent grant from First Book inspired us to ask our authors about the crucial role multicultural books play in children’s lives. Guest blogger, author/poet Guadalupe Garcia McCall, reveals how the mission of First Book, to get low-income children their very first book, is a reality that many children face, including herself when she was growing up.
First Book’s mission to make books accessible to low-income families is very close to my heart. It fills me with joy to hear that such an organization exists. Books are more than important, they fill a basic need in low-income communities—the need to connect to the world. Books for children of poverty represent hope.
As a young girl, I loved books. Books were my friends. They took me places I knew I would never be able to visit because we were poor. After my mother passed away, my father couldn’t leave town to work anymore, so he had to settle for working in Eagle Pass. He did odd jobs, put in a toilet for a friend and got a few bucks. Sometimes he got lucky and someone needed him to take out the flooring on their mobile home and put in a new one; then he had enough money to pay the bills for the month and buy a few groceries. We didn’t have money for anything other than food and bills.
Jaclyn DeForge, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching first and second grade in the South Bronx, and went on to become a literacy coach and earn her Masters of Science in Teaching. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting with a literacy expert who was SUPER involved with the creation of the Common Core Standards (!!!!!), and she gave me some important feedback about the Appendix B supplement I posted last week. To refresh your memory, what we’ve done is compiled a supplement to Appendix B that includes both contemporary literature and authors/characters of color, and that also meets the criteria (complexity, quality, range) used by the authors of the Common Core. We were lucky enough to have this literacy expert take a look at our supplement, and she gave some great suggestions: