Recently The New York Times paired articles by Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers, discussing the lack of representation of people of color in children’s literature. Those excellent articles—which pointed out that in the long history of children’s literature we haven’t made much progress—caught the attention of best-selling author Jennifer Weiner, who started the #colormyshelf hashtag on Twitter asking for suggestions of diverse books that she could go purchase for her daughter. What a wonderful way to bring attention to what parents can do!
Just because diverse books don’t always show up front and center in bookstores doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here’s a list of places to find great diverse books for young readers. Buy them, read them, recommend them. Showing demand for diverse books is one of the best ways to encourage the publication of more of them!
1. Publishers: Several small publishers (us included) focus on diverse books. They’re a great place to start, and you can usually buy books from them directly, order them through an online retailer like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or ask your local bookstore to order them (which also displays a demand for diverse titles):
Lee & Low Books (diverse books for young readers featuring a range of cultures)
Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low (diverse middle grade and young adult speculative fiction)
Children’s Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low (bilingual English/Spanish picture books)
Jane M. Gangi is Associate Professor in the Division of Education at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, where she is a member of the Collaborative for Equity in Literacy Learning (CELL); CELL is working with Student Achievement Partners to make Appendix B of the Common Core more inclusive of multicultural literature. She is the children’s literature section editor for the Connecticut Reading Association Journal, and Routledge will publish her third book, Genocide in Contemporary Children’s and Young Adult Literature: Cambodia to Darfur in November.
Most educators realize children need to see themselves in text to become proficient readers and to develop healthy identities. When our classroom library collections largely contain books with white characters, white children have more opportunities to become proficient readers and to develop healthy identities. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) described books that are “windows”—those that offer “views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange” that children “only have to walk through” imaginatively. “Mirror” books are those in which “literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience” (n. p.). What if we could embrace children of color with mirror texts, provide white children with window books (for too long it’s been the reverse), and teach writer’s craft simultaneously?
Writer’s craft is part of writer’s workshop. In a mini-lesson, a teacher might read aloud a beautifully written book and then ask children to respond to what they notice about the author’s writing. Often children notice the format of a book and come up with evocative phrases, images, and sentences they observe in the book. If, however, they do not discover writer’s craft on their own, teachers can help them see components of writer’s craft.
Fall is just a few months away and while we aren’t looking forward to the cooler weather, we’re excited to introduce our new fall releases. Take a look – there’s sure to be something for every book lover you know!
King for A Day
King for a Day takes us to Basant, the springtime kite-flying festival in Lahore, Pakistan. Watch as Malik guides his kite into leaps and swirls, slashing strings to capture the other kites in the sky to become king for a day. Written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer.
Parrots Over Puerto Rico
In light of the recent verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, many parents are wondering, “What should I tell my children?” For parents looking for a place to start, we’ve created a list of five great books for young readers. Books can serve as an opening into serious discussion on race and social justice issues, build confidence and instill pride in young African American readers, and counter negative messages that children may be absorbing from other media outlets.
Ranging from lighthearted stories to titles that deal with serious topics, including loss, inner city issues, and race relations, these books will instill confidence in young readers, build their self-worth, and inspire them to overcome whatever obstacles they may face.
1. Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Don Tate
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: