Sunday Select, November 29, 2015


Quote of the Week

I can’t change the color of my skin or where I come from or what the teacher workforce looks like at this moment, but I can change the way I teach. So I am going to soapbox about something after all. Be the teacher your children of color deserve. In fact, even if you don’t teach children of color, be the teacher America’s children of color deserve, because we, the teachers, are responsible for instilling empathy and understanding in the hearts of all kids. We are responsible for the future of this country.

So teach the texts that paint all the beautiful faces of our children and tell the stories of struggle and victory our nation has faced. Speak openly and freely about the challenges that are taking place in our country at this very moment. Talk about the racial and class stereotypes plaguing our streets, our states, our society. You may agree that black and brown lives matter, but how often do you explore what matters to those lives in your classroom?

— words from a speech by Emily E. Smith
as reported by Valerie Strauss
 “Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then.’
 for The Washington Post

Thanksgiving Weekend — A Single Highlighted Selection

Teacher: A student told me I ‘couldn’t understand because I was a white lady.’ Here’s what I did then by Valerie Strauss — from The Washington Post

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Sunday Select, November 1, 2015


Quote of the Week

It was interesting to hear my White students say that they think that books do a good job of representing diverse characters. My students of color at this time did not say anything. I did not add to the conversation and I ended the conversation at this point.


It was eye opening to my students. My White students seemed surprised by what my students of color were sharing. I then wrapped up our conversation saying that history and books often overlook certain groups of people and that this year we will be learning about many points of view.

— by Sarah Halter Hahesy
 “Transparency About the Lack of Racial Diversity in Children’s Books
 from Raising Race Conscious Children

Viewpoints & Practical Suggestions

Transparency About the Lack of Racial Diversity in Children’s Books by Sarah Halter Hahesy — from Raising Race Conscious Children

Supplement Materials to Top Ten Things You Need to Know About Children’s/YA Publishing in 2015 by Harold Underdown — from The Purple Crayon

YA Authors Talk Social Media, Research Process…and Spill Secrets by Mahnaz Dar — from School Library Journal

‘Tis The Season (to contemplate on best books for young readers)

Calling Caldecott (for potential Caldecott Contenders) moderated by the Horn Book staff  — from The Horn Book Magazine

Heavy Medal moderated by Jonathan Hunt & Nina Lindsay (for potential Newbery Contenders) — from The School Library Journal

Someday My Printz Will Come (for potential Printz Contenders) moderated by Karyn Silverman, Sarah Couri, and Joy Piedmont — from The School Library Journal

The National Book Award Winners 2015  — from The National Book Foundation

CYBILS Awards — from CYBILS

I gathered these entries from various sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and specific sites that I follow such as Educating Alice, Pub Peeps, Book Riot, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s literature, etc.

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Sunday Select, November 15, 2015


Quote of the Week

While the burden of mistakes can be placed on the author and illustrator, in truth publishers share an equal part of the responsibility in making sure that the books they produce are accurate and do not reinforce harmful stereotypes.

— by Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books
 “Is Staff Training Worth It?
 from The Open Book

The Most Important Industry News of the Week

This week, I am featuring only ONE industry news link herebecause I don’t want to dilute its significance.  Hopefully, we’ll start hearing from other publishers, large and small, that take their staff on this worthwhile journey.  As an educator who partook in similar trainings in recent years, I have to say that I believe everyone in the United States should have the experience of going through such tough journeys: self-examining, questioning, and re-affirming ideologies that will help create a more equitable society for our own future.

Is Staff Training Worth It? by Jason Low — from The Open Book (Lee & Low Books Blog)

Authors, Books, & Book Lists

A Conversation With Philip Pullman by Katy Waldman — from The Slate: Book Review

APALA Author Interview – Gene Luen Yang by by Jaena Rae Cabrera — from APALA (Asian Pacific American Library Association)

Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman by Neil Gaiman– from National Novel Writing Month

The Little Black Fish and other stories: Iranian illustrated children’s books – in pictures by David Almond and Saeed Kamali Dehghan — from The Guardian

Thinking About Thanksgiving by Nina Lindsay  — from Reading While White

Family Ties  by Elissa Gershowitz — from The Horn Book Magazine

OPL 2015 Holiday Gift Guide–Children’s Books by Amy Martin — from Oakland Public Library

I gathered these entries from various sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and specific sites that I follow such as Educating Alice, Pub Peeps, Book Riot, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s literature, etc.

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Trying to Hold Multiple Sides of the Same Truth

This is the image I hold in my head these days whenever entering a difficult, complex, multi-layered conversation.  I imagine a room where the TRUTH is placed in the center, and I have to make sure that I walk around this virtual room, examining the matter from as many angles as possible, even though of course I have my starting point and an original perspective.  I cannot trace the original maker of this graph (from 2005) but am grateful for his/her help in keeping me from completely unbalancing myself:


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Publishers, Editors, Everyone: Keep Your Courage and Keep Up the Good Work!

I unpacked a box of galleys for early 2016 titles from a children’s publisher yesterday and noted that quite a few titles feature POC characters or are written by POC — in all genres and reading levels.  I hope this is not just a fad, not a trend, not a reactionary act to a current movement, but the sign of real change and the harbinger of the new norm!

I want to publicly say this to publishers, editors, marketing folks, sales reps, authors, agents, anyone working in the Children’s publishing world:

With recent disputes on many titles for young readers, it might seem extremely daunting to move forward, to have to tread so carefully, to have to hear so many conflicting and often angry voices, to have to defend or admit missteps — especially if and when you are all trying hard and working diligently and honestly to AVOID offenses or mistakes. Just know that mistakes will be made, the readers and critics will continue pointing things out and reminding all of us how to do it better the next time, and It will take a while and much learning before any equilibrium is even a possibility.

I know this must seem such a heavy burden and you might just want to put it down and forget about all that’s unpleasant or painful.

But, please keep up the good work. Actually, please do a lot more good work. Please do listen. Please listen for the message and do not stop listening simply because you do not like the tone the message is delivered in. Please continue to to evolve.

We are all lovers of literature.  One thing I see literature lovers most capable of is the immense scope of our imagination in dealing with complex issues.  Do we not always applaud great children’s literary works for their complexity, for their bravery, and for their visionary integrity?

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of these much valued qualities in times of conflict?

Please tell each other and yourselves that, “No, this is NOT the time to put down the heavy pack of all the issues. It is NOT the time to turn away from the road leading to a better future.  It is NOT the time to leave other travelers by the road side to struggle by themselves. And, it is NOT the time to seek each other’s defeat.”

I know that I need to consciously remind myself all of these on a daily basis and it is taking a toll on my own sense of balance. But then I think of all the good that this will accomplish and believe that the peace of mind will come and it will all be worth the burden.

We need to help each other understand and unpack superbly complicated and often painful issues. The ultimate goal shall be that we all succeed TOGETHER. Just know that it will take a lot of determination and courage — especially from those whose daily jobs are to produce children’s books.

We need you to continue the journey upward, especially when the going gets really really tough.

Let us walk and talk in each other’s company, help each other grasp difficult and emotional concepts. And let us find each other in the not too distant future on the summit of true equity, TOGETHER.


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Sunday Select, November 8, 2015


Quote of the Week

Updated — I have now included also the entire Panel discussion — which Sean Qualls & Sophie Blackall also shared their views.  They all do not agree with each other.

Around 26:00 — Sophie Blackall talked in details about her own reactions toward the controversy over her book A Fine Dessert; 35:00 – Sean Qualls starts talking; 38:00-ish, he touches briefly on A Fine Dessert; keep watching and you’ll hear Susannah’s views as well.

— Daniel Jose Older
 “Daniel José Older on A Fine Dessert

A Fine Dessert – Multiple Conversations

Collected below are various online articles, conversations, and comments about the picture book A Fine Dessert written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, published by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint at Random House.  The book has been under careful scrutiny by many – when it was highlighted as one of the Caldecott hopefuls, when it was among the 10 illustrated books of 2015 chosen by The New York Times, and when it received objections by readers who found certain text and images hurtful.  I did not read or look at the book until this past Monday, after many others already grappled with the book for a while.  The conversations are important to note and should continue, not only about one book, but about the entire Children’s Publishing industry.  More on that from my own viewpoint is forthcoming.  Since Debbie Reese has been diligently documenting and collecting all the pertinent links.  I’m providing only ONE link here in this section.  Do read as much as you can and consider and re-consider!

Not recommended: A FINE DESSERT by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall by Debbie Reese — from American Indian in Children’s Literature

Books & Awards

The Scholastic Picture Book Award 2015 Winners  — from Scholastic Book Award/Asia


An Interview with Kate DiCamillo — from The Horn Book Magazine

Please don’t air brush African teen fiction by Ellen Banda-Aaku — from The Guardian

‘Monstress’: Inside The Fantasy Comic About Race, Feminism And The Monster Within by Graeme McMillan — from The Hollywood Reporter

I gathered these entries from various sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and specific sites that I follow such as Educating Alice, Pub Peeps, Book Riot, School Library Journal, The Horn Book, We Need Diverse Books, American Indians in Children’s literature, etc.

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Can We Talk of Solutions? Regarding Diversifying Children’s Literature

Over at Horn Book, I joined the conversation over this month’s Editorial by Roger Sutton, entitled, “We’re Not Rainbow Sprinkles.” It is a heated conversation over representation and lack of fictional existence (of marginalized characters: non-white ethnicity, not-straight sexual orientation, or other non-dominant identities.) For the most part, the people who commented read the article and others’ comments carefully before they expressed their highly varied viewpoints. I wrote in one of my comments about my own emotional distress over the tumultuous debates all over the internet over such topics within the children’s and YA literary world:

It weighs on me. It makes me tear up on an hourly basis: seeing people here and elsewhere (Fuse8, Heavy Medal, Facebook — I dare not go to Twitter), in their earnest to “defend their own ways of thinking,” use hurtful words, seething comments, words that simply want to get a reaction but not advance anyone’s causes. It makes me worry about what all these negative energy will translate eventually into the literary works that are meant to reflect and uplift. That are meant to be Free and Beautiful and Cathartic (even and sometimes when they are Painful.)

The heavy burden manifests itself in many ways: I feel exhausted, my shoulders are hunched more and tense, I cannot focus on simple daily responsibilities, I can’t remember minor or even major facts, all because my mind has been so preoccupied by the many ideas presented to me and sought out by me. My desire to simply “put it down” is great.  I want to stop dealing with all of these issues and just get back to simply enjoy great books for kids and teens!!!  But, I find myself incapable to unburden my mind. I am compelled to continue thinking and learning and writing and talking about these topics.  And today, I want to talk about the Publishers and what I think as their responsibilities in redressing the balance of the industry:

Case Study One:

Twenty-one years ago, I was a lowly subsidiary rights assistant in a large children’s publishing company — Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (a different entity from the current Macmillan publishing company).  A brand new children’s picture book was to be released by the revered Chinese American author Amy Tan.  I got a chance to look at the F&G (folded & gathered pages of a picture book proof) and noticed that Ms Tan used the concept of punctuation AND musical notes within the storyline — indeed, the use of these devices helped move the plot along.  Not one to keep my mouth shut, I raised the question of how if the tale was set in ancient China, both western musical notation and the use of punctuation would have been totally, utterly, culturally inaccurate.  But of course my views were deemed completely insignificant: I wasn’t in the editorial department and who could question Amy Tan, the author of Joy Luck Club and her knowledge of the Chinese culture?  And, even if the inclusion of such details was anachronistic and culturally inaccurate, so what?  No one was going to be hurt.  Right?  And it’s just about to be published — too late to make such major changes!  So the book, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat, was published exactly as it was written and illustrated and has been enjoying great success for almost a quarter of a century, with a host of PBS cartoon episodes based on the characters and the setting in the book, even if it didn’t receive very positive reviews.  Oh, also, do you know that Sagwa literally means a stupid person?

Case Study Two:

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, in a casual conversation with a non-white editor, I first heard how one of the largest stumbling blocks in publishing diverse books by diverse authors is the sales force in each publishing company.  When editorial teams present in house their potential future publications to the sales reps, if their proposed titles receive the verdicts of “We don’t know how to sell this or that title…” or “I don’t think this will sell…,” then it is pretty much dead in the water.  And according to this editor acquaintance of mine, the sales reps are overwhelmingly white and the titles rejected often include many diverse titles.

Case Study Three:

Fast forward further to this past month.  While attending a publisher’s preview, a young, white editor talked about a book that is set in a major foreign city. She kept referring to the city as “New Delhai.” And I was superbly puzzled: I’ve never heard of such a city.  (Although I must admit that I’m not a geography wiz!)  I glanced at the printed description and realized that the city the editor was referring to was New Delhi, in India.  I was completely floored by this lack of cultural literacy as we sat in the room being told how so many the books published would enrich our young people’s lives and give them an expanded sense of the world.  However, no one else seemed a least bit bothered by it.  Or that no one cared?  Or were we all just too polite to point out this mistake?  Later on, I learned from another friend that there is a town in New York State called Delhi and it is pronounced DelHai.  This young editor could have just always thought that the city in India shares the exact name and pronunciation as the New York town.  (Like Houston – Hauston – Street in NYC and the City of Houston -Hueston- in Texas.) Still… I was flabbergasted. And I was surprised at how no one else seemed to find this bothersome and at how the helpful friend tried to find a reason or an excuse for the mispronunciation of one of the largests city on earth.

Case Study Four:

During the translators panel at the recent USBBY Conference, the Chinese translator of John Muth’s Stone Soup (a story that’s NOT originally Chinese, made to be against an ancient Chinese setting, translated into Chinese from English) pointed out that one of the ingredients that went into the soup had to be changed when he translated the text into Chinese because it wouldn’t have been readily available in the setting and the Chinese seldom use that ingredient in making soup.  Also the fact that there are architecturally inaccuracies in the paintings as well.

Case Study Five:

Yesterday, I visited Baker & Taylor’s book ordering site where I purchase most of the books for my Middle School Library.  I wanted to buy about 20 copies of Marilyn Nelson’s My Seneca Village which has garnered lots of praise and is my pick of the month for the faculty book club.  I was totally surprised that B&T does not carry this title.  Then I went to another wholesaler, and the book is listed as Print on Demand, with a 2% discount (as opposed to the usual 40%).  Amazon carries some new copies but not enough for all my teachers in the club.   It is available in eBook form and that’s how I got my own copy. The publisher’s site only offers eBook format.  So, even though this book has received 3 stars by now, is penned by a Newbery honor author (Carver,) and totally fits the #weneeddiversebooks movement bill, it must be deemed too difficult to sell by Baker & Taylor.  I wonder if Ingram & Follett carry the title and how many copies are ready for purchase?

So, what conclusions I drew from reflecting on all of the above experiences?

  • Whether the author or illustrator of a book is of a particular culture matters less than if they do their homework and work diligently to produce authentic and culturally sensitive books.  I am hopeful that many authors and illustrators will become more and more culturally aware and do not find such demand unreasonable or burdensome — or, perhaps it is burdensome but not something that can be shirked!
  • Wouldn’t it be great if publishers encourage or even create professional development opportunities for their sales, marketing, and editorial teams to enrich everyone’s understanding of the importance of diversity, respect, and inclusion?
  • Wouldn’t it be great if publishers hire more diverse employees to allow for better understanding of varied cultural contents in the manuscripts or illustrations?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier to verify authenticity and spot questionable treatments if there are enough pairs of culturally sensitive eyes to review and evaluate the books in-house, prior to publication, and not wait to put out fires after the book lands in the hands of the readers?
  • As consumers, we hold much power in our hands as well.  If we keep buying the same-old same-old, and do not seek out or demand availability of the much needed diverse books, there will be no incentives for the publishing industry to heed such need: since it needs to survive and meet the bottom line, after all.

It is late.  I need to sleep.  Please talk to me and share ideas and solutions!


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