NAPIBOWRIWEE 2014: Day Two – Lee & Low Books Interview, Part 1 of 2 (May 2)

The next NAPIBOWRIWEE will take place May 1-7, 2014
The next NAPIBOWRIWEE will take place May 1-7, 2014

(NOTE: For this entire week, I will post a new blog every day by 6 AM PST here. So check back daily! Also – I will post fun Tweets live each day! Follow me on Twitter @paulayoo and use the hashtag #NAPIBOWRIWEE)

WELCOME TO DAY TWO OF NAPIBOWRIWEE!!!!

A lot of folks posted in my Day One blog that they wrote and completed their first draft! YAY! Congrats! But remember – pace yourself! We still have six days left. 🙂

MY DAY ONE UPDATE: I barely finished my Book #1 in time! Unlike previous years, I usually at least have 7 ideas or some research done before NAPIBOWRIWEE begins. Because I’ve been so busy this year, I didn’t have time to prep. So I’m just flying by the seat of pants and getting whatever I can done off the top of my head. 🙂 LOL! Let’s see how this goes!

My week was busy with other writing deadlines for my next picture book coming out plus some orchestra rehearsals (for those of you who don’t know, I’m also a violinist). So I decided my Day One book would be very short and for super young children. For fun, I bought this poetry app that a lot of people have given good reviews to on my new iPad (birthday present!).

It’s called the POET’S PAD. Here’s the link and a screenshot below:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/poets-pad/id385127840?mt=8

Poet's Pad iPad app from Paragoni, LLC
Poet’s Pad iPad app from Paragoni, LLC

It has a huge 70,000 word rhyming dictionary, a recording device (designed for spoken word artists and if you want to hear your poem out loud), and other great features.

So I wrote my Book No. 1 with this iPad app! Yay! It was SUPER short. But at least it had a beginning, middle and end. I really love those good-night lullaby poem books so it was my attempt at one.

BTW… If you are writing any poetry for NAPIBOWRIWEE, check out this helpful article on other fun poetry apps:

http://appadvice.com/applists/show/apps-for-poets

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2014 NAPIBOWRIWEE THEME: DIVERSITY IN CHILDREN”S LITERATURE

As I mentioned before, this year’s theme for NAPIBOWRIWEE is multiculturalism in children’s books. I’ll be featuring some interviews with authors and a list I compiled of some great multicultural books that should be in every school library and home.

In fact, coincidentally, a viral social media campaign was launched for May 1-3, 2014 called “WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS.” For May 1-3, people are posting photos with the tagline “We need diverse books because…” and it’s getting posted on Twitter (#WeNeedDiverseBooks) and at this blog: http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com

For more information on this viral social media awareness campaign, read this PUBLISHERS WEEKLY article on it:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/62094-diversity-social-media-campaign-goes-viral.html

Here’s my picture that I posted (any excuse to take photos of my cats! LOL!). (Beethoven and Charlotte pictured below. Oreo was napping somewhere.)

For the #WeNeedDiverseBooks May 1-3, 2014 Social Media Awareness Campaign (http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com)
For the #WeNeedDiverseBooks May 1-3, 2014 Social Media Awareness Campaign (http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com)

In the meantime, for Day Two, here’s Part One of a Two-Part interview with LEE & LOW BOOKS.  For more than twenty years, LEE & LOW BOOKS has published award-winning children’s books that are “about everyone, for everyone.” The company is committed to fostering conversations about race, gender, and diversity in publishing and beyond. For more information, visit leeandlow.com.

(Keep reading after the break for our Q&A with LEE & LOW BOOKS!)

Diversity Gap in Children's Literature (1994-2012)
Diversity Gap in Children’s Literature (1994-2012)

LEE & LOW BOOKS is an award-winning independent multicultural children’s book publishing company. They’ve recently gone viral this past year with their intensive research into statistics about diversity in children’s books as well as in larger media arenas, including Hollywood. Their meticulous charts and statistics on diversity have been published in hundreds of news outlets including The New York Times and spurred a national debate on the importance of diversity and multiculturalism in the arts.

TK HERE We spoke with Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing & Publicity at LEE & LOW about the far-reaching effects of Lee & Low’s diversity research. Here’s what she had to say…

QUESTION: Lee & Low has gotten a lot of national media attention for its recent charts posted about diversity in not just kid lit but in Hollywood. What motivated Lee & Low into doing such in-depth research on these statistics?

ANSWER: Lee & Low Books is a children’s book publisher that specializes in diversity, so apart from promoting our books we are also always working to foster conversation about why diversity matters. We were founded 20 years ago because of the dearth of children’s books by/about people of color, but lack of representation is not a problem confined to publishing. It repeats itself over and over across many industries including film, and the root causes and challenges are the same nearly everywhere. The same issues that keep books by authors of color from being published keep films with main characters of color from being greenlit. We wanted to do these studies to look at those issues in a comprehensive way and through hard data, to really prove that this is a consistent problem. We’re hoping the studies encourage people to think a little more about the nuanced ways in which race affects all forms of media: which movies get made, which books get published, which TV shows get made, and on and on.

QUESTION: Was Lee & Low surprised by the startling statistics revealing how things have not improved that much for diversity in either the children’s book world or Hollywood? Are there any theories or answers behind these dismal numbers? What can we do to improve it?

For years we were perplexed by why it was so difficult for the overall number of diverse books to increase from year to year. So we became curious, and began measuring diversity levels in other media outside of publishing. We weren’t that surprised to see that television, theater, and film all suffer from the same lack of diversity we face. But the actual level of underrepresentation was pretty shocking.

Underrepresentation in any particular industry is a symptom of larger inequalities: in the way we perceive people who are different from us, and whose stories matter. We are definitely not in a post racial society yet. Stereotypes and racism persist, and there’s entrenched institutional racism in a lot of places so that leaving things as they are or just going along with the status quo naturally results in the exclusion of many people.

Luckily there are some small, concrete things that anyone can do to help change the situation. The biggest one is to vote with your wallet. It’s often said that “buying books is a political act,” and this is true for all forms of media. If you want more books or movies about people of color, support the ones that come out to prove there’s a market. Aside from that, continuing to talk about the issues and think critically about what is and isn’t being made – and to challenge companies that are not inclusive – is important.

QUESTION: Lee & Low is a famous and award winning multicultural publisher that has been around for many years. What goals does this company have for the future in terms of promoting more diversity in children’s books?

ANSWER: We always joke that our goal is to one day become obsolete: that eventually children’s book publishing will be so inclusive that we no longer have to focus on diverse books in order to fill a gap. However, we are still a long way away from that. So our goal is to continue to publish great, high-quality books that feature a wide range of characters and stories, to continue expanding our definition of diversity to include other underrepresented groups, and to keep the conversation going in any way we can.

QUESTION: Why is multicultural children’s literature vital and important to our society? Is it for everyone? How can we inform our readers that multicultural literature is universal and appealing to people of all backgrounds? (Some readers worry that it’s divisive or fear they can’t relate to a diverse child character – why is that not true?)

Diverse children’s literature is vital because we live in a diverse society: even from a black-and-white economic standpoint, if you want to raise young people to compete in a global society you have to make sure they grow up learning and being comfortable with other cultures. For young readers of color, it’s also important that they have access to books in which they can see themselves so they don’t grow up feeling erased or invisible.

But ultimately it’s all about a good story, and a good story has nothing to do with the race of the main character. For many years, people of color have read and loved stories about white characters because that’s what was primarily available, so it is definitely possible to identify with a character who doesn’t look like you. Why can’t white readers do the same with books about characters of color? And, as people who love books, don’t we want access to stories that truly reflect the wide range of human experience?

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Thanks again to LEE & LOW BOOKS for taking time out to answer our questions. We also appreciate all the hard work they’ve done to promote diversity as well as diversity awareness in the media.

Stay tuned for DAY THREE’s blog tomorrow featuring more interesting (and shocking!) statistics from LEE & LOW BOOKS about diversity in the media and Hollywood. All of this does pertain to children’s literature as well.

Until then, please comment below on how your DAY TWO went. Hope everyone is having fun! As always… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂

32 Comments »

  1. I intend to get started earlier today on my draft so I’m not freaking out at the midnight hour again. LOL! That said, I have to say that the story I wrote yesterday isn’t as raw as I was afraid it would be.

    I’ll definitely check out the poetry app! I’ve been taking this amazing poetry course ( http://www.nowaterriver.com/the-lyrical-language-lab/ ), and want something to supplement it after I’m done.

    I’m delighted that Miranda Paul’s #WeNeedDiverseBooks efforts are so successful! Hooray for diversity and for all these multicultural books that I never had as a kid. 🙂

    Have a wonderful Friday, Paula! Kisses for the kitties!

  2. Love that app, Paula. I agree we need to show the entire rainbow. It’s sad that we have not improved diversity in books. So many kids are left out. Let’s work together to fix this! Writing draft two for NAPIBOWRIWEE!! 🙂

  3. I’ve read that a writer should not write of another ethnicity/culture other than there own. The thought being that they cannot and do not know enough to do so.

    I honestly don’t know if I could write about a child from another culture since I have never walked in their shoes.

    I do most definitely agree that there should be more diversity in children’s books. What better way to teach our children the similarities, differences, beliefs etc that others may have but when they are young.

    So where does the problem lie? Is it that publishers aren’t publishing these types of books or there isn’t enough diversity in writers themselves? Or should writers be making an attempt to write about cultures other than their own?

    • Hi Laura. That is a very thoughtful comment and I greatly appreciate it. Yes, a lot of times it is very difficult – and sensitive – for people to write about characters who are not of their own ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation. Someone is always bound to be offended. For example, some Korean Americans like Rainbow Rowell’s Korean American character in her acclaimed and bestselling YA novel Eleanor & Park, while other KA’s are offended and felt she had no right to write the character. Rainbow’s defense was that she knows the community well and wanted to have her book be diverse. Ultimately, whether or not you agree with her characterization of Park (and his mother, who was the main point of criticism), Park is a fully fleshed out universal character that anyone can identify with. (For the record, despite some reservations about the mother character, I cried at the end of her book.) And even if you grew up in a diverse community or speak the language, there are certain nuances that can be missed. It’s a very touchy subject. BUT… even if one is not comfortable writing about a character from another culture, race, ethnicity, gender or orientation, what about colorblind casting? Why not have a friend or someone in the book be diverse but not bring attention to it? Kelly DiPucchio’s GRACE FOR PRESIDENT picture book is a great example. She is white and wrote a picture book about a little girl who wants to run for class president. Kelly never once identified the race of the girl because that was not important to the story and it was not necessary. The artist’s depiction of Grace was as a little African American girl. Race is NEVER covered in that book. The artist made an artistic choice. As a result, Grace embodies a universal character that all children of all backgrounds can relate to. Kelly will be discussing this in one of our upcoming blogs, so please stay tuned. I purposely asked her to talk to our group about this since she has a famous picture book featuring a child who is diverse and from a different background than Kelly but yet embodies the spirit of Kelly’s text so wonderfully. Phew, this is a long comment, so I should go. I think this comment will be longer than my Book 2. hahaha! 🙂 xo P.

  4. Yesterday’s MS was pretty somber and featured a narwhal; today’s is much more upbeat and involves a squid and related marine mammals. (My diversity is all biological.) In any case, I so appreciate the structure NAPIBOWRIWEE has given me. Thanks!!

  5. Thank you for the post and information! Do you feel that authors who are not from an underrepresented race or ethnic background should tackle topics in diversity in their writing?

  6. Great interview and I finished my second draft. What a great day. I just can’t thank you enough.
    Have a wonderful day.
    holly

  7. I’m getting ready to start the 2nd book. Then I think I will doodle some sketches. 1. The Bear of Spring, 2. Dance with me, Bella Marie. That’s all I know so far. Like you I am writing as a pantster. BTW, is 57 too old to learn the violin? I have wanted to that since I was a little girl. I play the piano (badly) and the harmonica!You have such an interesting life!

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  9. It is a touchy and, frankly, confusing subject, authors writing about a culture/ethnicity other than their own.

    I think if, as you mentioned yesterday, the story is universal, then the color of the character may be incidental to story. A multicultural book doesn’t always have to BE about diversity, does it? It might just be a good story with a protagonist of color.

    But then, is a book where the character just happens to be of color, really considered multicultural? And is an author going to be questioned for an authentic voice if the protagonist is different from one’s own ethnicity?

    I think these are the questions that we authors are struggling with when we try to address diversity in our writing. I’m looking forward to what Kelly has to say!

    Also, I’m a little worried I’ve used up all my good brain cells to come up with a comment today rather than a PB. 🙂

  10. Thanks for the post, the app info, and interview with Lee & Low, Paula. I also enjoyed LauraJ’s comment and your response. I love reading books with characters from cultures different than my own. I think kid-lit needs to improve in that area. Thought provoking and makes me think about the characters in my MG WIP. Oh, and I finished my 2nd draft. 🙂 Have a good night.

  11. I’m looking forward to checking out the poetry app. And I will delve into the multicultural-side of your posts when I have time to give it some time. Thanks for bringing an important topic to the forefront of your platform. Day 2 draft is done! Thanks to the hubby playing outside with the kids. So what if it is way past their bath time?

  12. Great content today, thanks! I finished my second draft, a sequel to a picture book in my portfolio. It’s been nagging at me for awhile now, so thanks for the opportunity to get it written.

    As for the diversity issue, I want to add that it’s a challenge I’ve been tackling in my work for years. I am sometimes reprimanded for illustrating/writing outside my own culture, but I’d rather be criticized for being diverse than for failing to represent the mix of cultures I see around me. Just as I have to research the clothing for a book about the 1800’s, I have to research to represent cultural characteristics I don’t share. Here’s to true diversity in Kidlit!

  13. Great interview! Sadly, the lack of diversity in children’s books is a symptom of a much larger problem, that of inequality in this country.

    Day 2 – just put the finishing touches on two more rough drafts. I can easily see the second one turning into a chapter book

  14. Thank you for raising and continuing to discuss this important issue, and I’m glad it’s gotten more visibility recently. I’m woefully behind on the challenge, but am enjoying the blog posts.

  15. I’ve been loving the #WeNeedDiverseBooks conversations on Twitter.

    Day 2’s rough draft was MUCH rougher than yesterday’s, but at least it exists! Thanks for this push!

  16. Thanks for another interesting post Paula. I’m posting today that I finished a #2draft yesterday. No draft for day 3. My older stories are interfering too much.

  17. Second story went faster and I feel like I am on a roll because third story is done too. Ideas have been simmering on the brain for the stories I plan to write next. I cannot say they are great stories yet, but I think I have some pretty good rough starts.

  18. Completed the Day 2 draft late that night after kicking off the first day of NE-SCBWI! Although this one does not appeal to a diverse crowd, I am waiting for inspiration to strike in this area. I have just the beginnings of an idea for this area, but it may be catered more to a middle grade crowd.

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