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Notes from Beijing: Chinese Children’s Books and Other Thoughts, Part 1

FCLBeijingThese thoughts went through my mind as I visited Beijing and the International Book Fair with a focus on the local books published for the Chinese young readers.

First, simply about communication and information exchanges.

It was quite an education for me to truly understand that the “WORLD” wide web as I see and use it is definitely NOT so “world wide.”   YouTube, Google-platform, Facebook, and Twitter are all inaccessible in China, unless someone has installed IP masking devices (VPN, etc.)   So, when I tweet or share something on Facebook from New York City, I cannot guarantee to reach the millions of potential internet users in China.  According to the editor of one of the publishers, Fairrosa Cyber Library site often shows up without her being able to load the included images — and no YouTube videos can be displayed either. Furthermore, since my recent reports on Newbery & Caldecott winning publishers feature Google spreadsheet graphs (pie-charts), the information, without a plain text summary, was inaccessible to the Chinese readers of my blog.

Although I always knew about the differences in accessibilities of certain sites in China, experiencing it first hand definitely made me think twice about my comfortable assumptions.

Another striking realization came after I spoke with several representatives of major children’s book publishers: either with the editors, publishers, or rights managers: each told me that they have all sold their best titles internationally.  Upon further inquiry, “internationally” means Korea and other Asian countries such as the Philippines, and France, and other European countries such as Germany.  They almost NEVER meant North America, especially The United States.  They all told a similar tale: the U.S. publishers of children’s books only wish to sell Chinese language rights and have the books available in China for sale; very rarely would a U.S. publisher seriously consider buying and translating Chinese originals into English editions for American children.  I wonder if this situation will change any time soon?

I have always noticed that translated children’s books are scarce on the U.S. market and felt sad that the U.S. children do not have the same level of exposure to world literature and diverse viewpoints and sensibilities that I had the good fortune to have, growing up in a small island country.  I read books translated from all over. Some of my all time favorite books that were re-read many times were from Italy (Heart or Education of Love), France (Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Thief series), Cuba (Malfada – a satirical comic strip series), Japan (manga) and India (Buddhist allegories.)  And while there have always been publishers who work hard at bringing books from other cultures to the U.S., there seems to be some difficulty to sell these titles when the cultural landscape and sensibilities differ greatly from the everyday, presumed mindset of the U.S. children.

Case in point: One thing I noticed was how the strong Chinese tradition of not shying away from sad endings remains evident even in picture books for fairly young children.  Tragedy is quite common in traditional Chinese literature, theater, and now TV shows and movies, and children are often familiar with many somber tales.

Take these two books by Cao Wenxuan (曹文轩) for example:

lastpatherThe Last of the Panthers shows the devastating scenario of the “last” of many species and there is no uplifting or hopeful ending when our Panther gives up on itself and falls into the perpetual sleep.  It is heart wrenching but so effective.  A young person reading the simple text and looking at these gorgeous pictures would acutely feel the pang of loss of such majestic animal and might be inspired to be more responsible in caring for our natural world.
kingofthecapAnother title is the Hat King.  A story set during the Sino-Japanese war when the boy and his grandfather (a magician skilled in “hat tricks”) had to endure the deaths of the boy’s parents at the concentration camp and even when they successfully escaped from the camp, they had no house to go back to any more.  And that’s how the tale ends. This is a story almost never told to the children in the U.S. It’s powerful and bleak — but it’s also real and full of familiar affection.

Will either of these titles, which are top-selling picture books, or dozens of other quality peers, ever find their way to the general U.S. mass market? And if and when they do, will they be translated faithfully and stay intact?


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Who Publishes Newbery Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Last Monday, I published the statistics of Caldecott publishers from the last 20 years.  This week, I offer the results of my spreadsheeting for The Newbery Award.  Sampled years: 1996 to 2015 (20 years.)  Two comparative highlights:

The Newbery gold and silver medals have gone to fewer publishers than the Caldecott medals.  (28/13 for Newbery and 32/17 for Caldecott.)

The Newbery Gold Medal winners are mostly female while women have only won four Caldecott gold.  (13x vs 4x)

Again I ask the Children’s Lit experts in the field to correct information when you spot errors so I can update and make this report more accurate for everyone.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:


  • 84 Winning and Honored Titles total (20 winner and 64 honor)
  • 19 Individuals won — (Kate DiCamillo won the gold medal twice.)
  • 12 women are named award winners (63%)
  • 4 Winners are POC: Kwame Alexander, Christopher Paul Curtis, Cynthia Kadohata, and Linda Sue Park
  • 41 Honor titles are written by women and 23 are written by men (64% vs 36%).
  • Multiple winners of Gold + Silver seals: 4 times: Jacqueline Woodson; 3 times: Christopher Paul Curtis (1 gold), Kate DiCamillo (1 gold), Jennifer Holm; 2 times: Richard Peck (1 gold), Jack Gantos (1 gold), Nancy Farmer, Sharon Creech (1 gold), Kevin Henkes, Laura Amy Schlitz (1 gold), Jim Murphy, Gary D. Schmidt, and Patricia Reilly Giff.

Imprints & Publishers

  • 28 Different Imprints
  • 13 Different Publishers after consolidation*

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (FSG, for example, was independent, then part of Macmillan.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.

Newbery Wins by Imprint

The reddish area represents about 50% of the total, split between 7 imprints while 21 other imprints share the rest 50%.  Clarion had a large share and now counts as part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. FSG did exceedingly well as a small publishing house (Frances Foster and Melanie Kroupa were both acknowledged as their imprints) before becoming part of Macmillan.  So did Henry Holt, now also part of Macmillan.

Nancy Paulsen, Joanna Cotler, Frances Foster, Richard Jackson,Melanie Kroupa, and Wendy Lamb are all editors with their own named imprints, making up for almost 10% of the total.

Newbery Wins by Publisher

The reddish area represents about 89.5% of the total, split between 8 publishers while 5 other publishers took home 10% (7 titles) of the win. Penguin and Random House are still counted separately even though they are technically merged.  Together, these two publishers combined would have 30% (25 titles) share of the total wins for the last 20 years.  Front Street is no longer a stand-along publisher and their backlist titles are now sold by Boyds Mills and also absorbed into Namelos, under the steerage of Steven Roxburgh, former publisher of Front Street.


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Who Publishes Caldecott Winning Titles (1996-2015)?

Inspired by Barbara Genco’s Caldecott by the numbers: Brooklyn edition (math is fun!), I did a little bit of my own unscientific investigation playing with a spreadsheet and a couple of charts: for the past 20 years of Caldecott winners and honor titles.  There are people more knowledgeable about the publisher/imprint situation and also where they are located (and were located when each individual title won the award) so please feel free to comment and correct.  I will update the blog entry when corrections are received and verified.

Summary by the number, from 1996 to 2015:


  • 87 titles received gold and silver medals (20 winner, 67 honor)
  • 18 individual Caldecott winning illustrators (David Wiesner and Chris Raschka both won twice)
  • 4 women were named medal winners (20%)
  • Out of the 67 honored titles, some illustrators were named more than once like Jerry Pinkney: 4x, Mo Willems, Brian Collier, and Peter Sis: 3x, Kadir Nelson, Melissa Sweet, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Jon Klassen, 2x — not an exhaustive list, and some honored illustrators were also winners in other years, such as Jon Klassen, Brian Selznick, and David Wiesner.
  • 58 out of the 87 titles are illustrated by men (67%)

Imprints & Publishers

  • 32 individually named imprints
  • 17 publishers were named (after some consolidation*)
  • 10 titles are from publishers that do not operate mainly from the NYC offices – as to the best of my knowledge: Candlewick: 4x, Chronicle: 1x, Eerdmans: 2x, Harcourt: 3x, Beach Lane: 1x (11%)

* Please bear in mind that due to the nature of large companies incorporating smaller publishers with previous wins, the accounting can not be perfect.  (Roaring Brook, for example, was independent, then part of Millbrook, and now part of Macmillan, which in turn is actually a part of an even bigger company, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group.)

Also recognize that children’s book publishing is a small world and there are but a few dozen companies operating in the U.S., eligible for the award.

Here are the two charts I made.  If you can’t see them here, please click on the links.

Caldecott Wins: By Imprint — The reddish area represents about 60% of the pie

Caldecott Wins: By Publisher — The reddish area represents about 87% of the pie

The information gathered for these charts are from the Official Caldecott Award Page. Readers might find it of interest to browse older winners and honor titles and discovered more facts, such as:

Finding some publishing names no longer with us: Lothrop, Bradbury, Scribner, Four Winds and the “original” Macmillan Children’s publishing group.

Some years the same publisher is awarded 2-3 times, for example: Orchard in 1997, 3 wins; Macmillan in 1972, 3 wins; Harper in 1971 2 wins

Before 1980s, Newbery and Caldecott were the SAME committee.


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The Ever Expanding Bubble of Knowledge and Facts

A former student shared this article by Jef Rouner, “NO, IT’S NOT YOUR OPINION. YOU’RE JUST WRONG” on facebook and I reshare this here.

It is definitely a quick and worthwhile read, especially for those who are in the profession of educating young minds and often struggle with how to guide young people toward more fact-based opinion forming, something that I have to face frequently.  As mentioned in the article, young children often believe that what they know is the totality of certain area of facts (about dinosaurs, about Star Wars, about the Civil Rights movement, etc.,) and thus they easily believe that their opinions, based on all that they know, are 100% accurate and valid, even sacred, and cannot be challenged: by peers or teachers whose knowledge bases are a lot bigger.

But my students are in their pre-teen and early/mid-teen years and are still quite flexible in becoming better informed. I just have to keep pointing out (and sometimes bursting) the bubbles they find themselves in.  In fact, we all operate within our own knowledge/information/social bubbles.  All our knowledge bases have to have some sort of limitation, even when we are well-informed.  In order for me to be less limited, I need to keep identifying the boundary of each bubble and see how to expand the size of that bubble to include more facts and thus strengthen or even alter my opinions.  I hope I can continue modeling this behavior in front of my students so they can accept when their bubbles are being challenged or burst!

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Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/


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The INjustice in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 8.04.06 AMI posted this to Facebook just now, thinking that it has little to do with Children’s or YA literature so the paragraphs do not belong on this blog. However, when I consider the reason for We Need Diverse Books movement and the imagery of young black males portrayed in some “gritty” modern teen novels, I found myself compelled to post my facebook update here as well:

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” for status update. What’s been on my mind so much lately (because I’m listening to Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow) is the INjustice in our Criminal Justice system. Looking to verify some of the scenarios she cites in her book, I looked up the current prison fact sheet and found this (and other facts) on the NAACP site:

Drug Sentencing Disparities

  • About 14 million Whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug
  • 5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites
  • African Americans represent 12% of the total population of drug users, but 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59% of those in state prison for a drug offense.
  • African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). (Sentencing Project)

What I now realize is that — these African American prison inmates do not just serve time and endure unfair punishment, they also lose many of their civil rights: including the basic right to vote to change the societal bondage of such unfair conditions.

We need to be aware and demand and SEE change in our Criminal Justice system and not allow the local and federal governments to keep funnel precious resources and huge amount of money into maintaining a penal system that does nothing to improve our society for all (building more prisons instead of training teachers and supporting education, for example!)


Link to the PDF of “Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers” by The Sentencing Project

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Whom To Thank? Considering The Caldecott/Newbery Acceptance Speeches

Sunday evening, June 28th, was a highly anticipated night for those involved in Children’s literature:  the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet at the American Library Association’s annual conference where honor authors and illustrators were recognized and received their official citations from the Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) and the three winners gave their acceptance speeches.

The speeches have always been the highlight of the evening — they are often enlightening, finely crafted, and always genuine.  This year was no different.  We heard how Kwame Alexander wooed his wife with sensual poetry, how Dan Santat turned down a cushy job at Google to continue his passion as a children’s book illustrator, and how Donald Crews collaborated with and still misses his late wife, the brilliant Ann Jonas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 10.41.11 AMAnd of course, they thanked many people.  Their agents, editors, publishers, loved ones, and the librarians who bring books to young people.  The usual.  And they thanked the Committees for their collective work. But this time, as I sat in the room, listening with rapt attention to Dan Santat: his Google story, his conquering of the relentless self-doubt, his Asian identity (Dan is Thai,) I also noted the way he thanked several bloggers and twitterers (is this even a word?) who publicly supported his work through the years, personally acknowledging those individuals by name. In contrast, his appreciation of the Caldecott Committee, although heart-felt, seemed formal and definitely not personal.  Later on, I was reminded by a friend that in 2013, “my own” Newbery winner, Katherine Applegate, also specifically and heartily thanked the same group of social media children’s book promoters by name in her acceptance speech.  (I myself had no recollection of this and had to read the speech in the Horn Book to confirm.)

I have been pondering this in light of the author/reader relationship (especially via social media) ever since.

It is simply natural for the authors or illustrators to want to thank people whom they consider champions of their books, and with whom they have formed close bonds via social media and real life interactions.  However, I do hope that naming book champions (and sometimes it feels like they are also “author champions”) does not eclipse the fact that public opinions or support from certain individuals or blog sites have absolutely no influence over the Award Committees or Committee Members in selecting winners and honor books.  I also hope that all who listened to or read the speeches realize that just because most librarians or teachers do not promote specific titles on public forums such as blogs or twitter feeds or interact with authors directly on social media, it does not mean that the front-line librarians are not also champions of the winning titles, before or after the award announcement.  (Librarians are usually also thanked collectively in the formal and generic “you’re good people who bring books to children, yay” way.)

I am probably one of those who straddle a bit of both worlds: when I I LOVE love love a book (which I do, a lot!) I might write a really positive review of the book and tag “highly recommended” here on this blog.  And then, I go into my real life, school librarian mode and “push” the book like mad. The beloved book goes on my summer reading lists, it is purchased for a bunch of teachers who attend my monthly faculty children’s book club, and gets recommended whenever I book talk or conduct one on one reader’s advisory. It might even make its way to become a finalist of SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books.

The difference?  I simply do not record all these enthusiastic actions in details on my blog or twitter feed.  I also rarely become close friends (online or in RL) with children’s book creators, even when I absolutely admire all their work with all my heart.  Partly because I’d like to maintain my objectivity when reading and writing about their next books.  Thus, I know that I will probably never be thanked by name as a champion for a particular book or book creator in an award acceptance speech.

My name will especially not be cited individually if I have served on that year’s Newbery or Caldecott Committee.  Why?  Because serving on these major children’s literature award committees means to go into a sort of review hiatus and anonymity.  According to ALSC regulation, during the year of service, Committee members can not publish personal opinions on eligible books (as blog posts, tweets, or in published reviews with bylines.)  There are multiple reasons for this regulation. One is to avoid public perceptions of inappropriate lobbying of any specific title.

After serving on two wonderful Newbery Committees with great Chairs, I came to truly value the process.  I value that we collectively examined hundreds of books in a wide range of genres, themes, age brackets, styles, and forms, from large and small publishers (and self-published work.)  I value that we always adhered to the criteria and discussed the literary merits and drawbacks of each and every nominated title with care.  I value that we all understood that the discussion would change our original thoughts on many books and that not one single book was a shoo-in, ever.  I especially value that we all went into the discussion without knowing much (if any) of each other’s opinions on the group of books we had to discuss, so we could really listen without preconceived biases. This is why I came to value ALSC’s tough rule against reviews, online or in print, by Award Committee Members.  Since social media have greatly enabled instant, and continuous, connection between readers and book creators, it is much easier for an author or illustrator to note what has been the reception of his or her book and who is or isn’t supportive of that title.  It does not help the process (or the perception of the process) if some of the Committee members appear to have close ties with certain authors or have shared strong opinions on eligible titles in the public arena.

Newbery or Caldecott award committee members must come to terms with the fact that in the winners’ minds (and in the acceptance speeches) we are just that: a collective whole.  In 2012-2013, I served, along with 14 other dedicated, thoughtful, passionate book champions, on the Newbery Committee.  We voted and decided that the Newbery Medal would go to Katherine Applegate for The One and Only Ivan.  I could not have interacted with Applegate when Ivan was published (early in 2012) or when it gained wide appreciation through the year in the blogsphere. I could not have told her how I might have thought her skill in getting inside Ivan’s mind stunning. Or how much attention I might have paid to the rhythm of the sentences.  Or how I might have felt that everyone, regardless of age, should read this book because it is important and because it possesses layers of meanings.  And I could not have shared with her how lovingly my students might have reacted to Ivan.

So, it was only natural that Katherine thanked the Committee as a whole and thanked individually a few bloggers who were free to gush publicly and to tell of their acts of admiration for her to witness and appreciate.

No one can dictate whom the authors or illustrators feel compelled to thank in their speeches.  In the formal speeches, the Committee as a whole often comes across as a collective, impersonal, cool headed group who sit in judgment of books.  I simply wish to emphasize that Award Committee members are just the opposite of cool or impersonal: they are as warm and passionate and would incessantly push books wherever they go (much like the individually thanked bloggers and twitterers) even if they do not publish blog posts, tweet, or form close individual relationships with the award winners.

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