Every child deserves the chance to learn and thrive in an environment that is enriched by the latest technology. Two years ago President Obama announced ConnectED, a signature initiative focused on transforming teaching and learning through digital connectivity and content. Today, building on the progress made to date, at the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., the President will announce two new efforts to strengthen learning opportunities by improving access to digital content and to public libraries: new eBooks commitments and the ConnectED Library Challenge. LEE & LOW BOOKS is excited to be a part of this new program!
Amy Cheney is a librarian and advocate who currently runs the Write to Read Juvenile Hall Literacy Program in Alameda County, CA. She has over 20 years experience with outreach, program design, and creation to serve the underserved, including middle school non-readers, adult literacy students, adult inmates in county and federal facilities, students in juvenile halls, non-traditional library users and people of color.
Cheney was named a Mover and Shaker by Library Journal, has won two National awards for her work, the I Love My Librarian award from the Carnegie Institution and New York Times, and was honored at the White House with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Her six word memoir: Navigator of insanity, instigator of enlightenment. Her theme song is Short Skirt, Long Jacket by Cake.
Thank you for being with us, Amy! Let’s start with the basics: how would you describe your job, for someone who has no idea what you do?
Entrepreneur, innovator and relationship builder. But my overall job title would be Schlepper.
How did you become a librarian for incarcerated youth? Was it something you always knew you wanted to focus on, or did you begin your career with a different focus?
When I was a teen, a neighbor was friends with Maya Angelou, and they invited me to hear her speak in a church basement. I remember clearly not wanting to be there, and then as Maya Angelou spoke with such passion and intensity, I felt the hard armor around my heart begin to crack. I remember the struggle to hold onto what I thought was me, or at least my protection: the rage, indifference and sullenness. I recognized that if I was struggling with it, then I wasn’t a fundamentally hateful person. That was life changing for me. I felt such a deep connection with her as a result of this inner experience, I read every book she wrote as it was published.
It took me a long time to realize that this experience is the basis of my passion for bringing in speakers and activities to stimulate the minds and hearts of those incarcerated. From Shakespeare to Cupcake Brown to Ishmael Beah to MK Asante (wonderfully, one of Maya Angelou’s protege’s), I see kids feel encouraged, enthusiastic and interested in a place that tends to dampen all of that.
In the 80’s I was a part of the anti-nuclear protests – when my friends were released from jail I was horrified to hear there were no books where they had been housed. I immediately started a book drive for the jail and that ultimately led to employment at the library serving those incarcerated in Alameda County.
Stacy Whitman is the founder and publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books that publishes diverse fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. This post is cross-posted with permission from Stacy’s blog.
In celebration of their exhibit The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, the New York Public Library has released a list of 100 great children’s books from the last 100 years. I’m pretty happy to see that 27 of the 100 titles are diverse (in humanity) titles, and that there’s even more diversity in the authors (Donald Crews’s Freight Train, for example, doesn’t feature human diversity in the text, because the main character is a train, but the author is African American). How many of them have you read?
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 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.
Will you be at ALA 2013 this year in Chicago? If so, we’d love to meet you! We’ll be in booth #2305. Here’s what’s happening:
Killer of Enemies, by Joseph Bruchac (fall 2013)
Bruchac’s newest YA novel retells the story of Lozen, the monster slayer of Apache legend, with a post-apocalyptic steampunk twist.
The Monster in the Mudball, by Susan Gates (fall 2013)
In this middle grade fantasy/mystery, Jin accidentally awakens a monster and must team up with the Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts to save his baby brother and, perhaps, the world.
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.
In this guest post, Dr. Henrietta M. Smith, Professor Emerita and the first African-American professor at the University of South Florida, School of Information shares her memories of how the Coretta Scott King Award began:
The news of the damage sustained by the boardwalk in Atlantic City during Hurricane Sandy brought back memories of where the Coretta Scott King Award started. This writer’s mind went back to an earlier time, to an American Library Association annual meeting in Atlantic City. The year was 1969. Two librarians walking through the exhibit hall stopped by a booth where a poster of the late Martin Luther King Jr. was on display. This was the start of a genial conversation that evolved into the observation that never since the inception of the Newbery Medal in 1922 and the Caldecott Medal in 1938 had any award committee recognized the work of a person of color.
John Carroll, a publisher from a small company in New York, overheard the conversation. It was reported that he said, rather matter of factly, “Then why don’t you ladies establish your own award?” The seed was planted. Before the conference ended, in an informal meeting on the boardwalk in Atlantic City under the leadership of Glyndon Greer and Mabel McKissick, the idea of a award for African American authors was shared with a group of African American librarians, including Augusta Baker, Charlemae Rollins, Ella Mae Yates, and Virginia Lacy Jones, to name a few. At this seaside gathering, the struggle for recognition began.
Author Richard Wright was born on September 4, 1908 on a plantation in rural Mississippi. He attended school through the first few weeks of high school before he dropped out to work, but always maintained a deep love of reading. As a black man in the South at that time, he was not allowed to borrow books from the library, so he borrowed the library card of an Irish American co-worker to access books. He later became a respected author of such classics as Native Son and his autobiography, Black Boy. Happy birthday, Richard Wright!
In honor of the upcoming release of our new YA anthology, Diverse Energies, we thought we’d put together a list of dystopias with diversity. For the purposes of this list, our definition of diversity is: 1.) A book with a main character of color (not just secondary characters), or 2.) A book written by an author of color. Of course, all types of diversity are worth celebrating, so if you know of other diverse dystopias (with, for example, LGBT diversity) please share them in the comments as well.
Note: I have not personally read all of these books, but have tried to confirm the inclusion of diverse main characters whenever possible. However, mistakes are bound to be made, so if you’ve read something and don’t think it belongs on this list, please let us know. Likewise if we’ve missed something that should be here.
If you’re a visual learner, the whole thing is on Pinterest:
And now, onward:
Above World, by Jenn Reese: (middle grade) In this dystopia, overcrowding has led humans to adapt so that they can live under the ocean or on mountains.
The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg van Eekhout: (middle grade) In this dystopia, the last boy on earth teams up with an overprotective broken robot to survive.
We had a great time this year at the American Library Association in Anaheim! It’s been a while since we were out on the West Coast, and it was fun to be able to see old friends who we haven’t seen in a while and make some new ones, too. Attendance was high, enthusiasm was up, and we had a lot of fantastic conversations about both bookish and non-bookish things. A few things I learned from the people I met at ALA, in no particular order:
1. E-books haven’t wiped out hard copies of books yet – especially picture books, and especially in school libraries. “Please don’t stop printing your books,” one school librarian told me. “We can’t do anything with e-books; we need hard copies.”
2. Everyone loves nonfiction these days. Or, if they don’t love it, they’re still looking for more of it, thanks to the new Common Core State Standards.
3. The West Coast equivalent of the Mets/Yankees “Subway Series,” a game between the Angels and the Dodgers, is called a “Freeway Series.” Go figure!