Monday, August 31, 2015

Why #BigFiveSignOn? #WNDB

Dear Publishers,

Please sign up for the Diversity Baseline survey designed by Lee & Low. As they state,
Our goal with the Diversity Baseline Survey is to establish a baseline that shows where we are now so we can start taking concrete steps to address the problem.
The purpose is not to point fingers or to shame anyone. The purpose is to find out exactly who we are and where we are, as an industry, at this moment in time. You've seen the numbers: while more than 50% of our entering kindergarteners are children of color, only around 10% of our books depict children of color. 

In other words, somehow, despite all kinds of good intentions, this is where we are now: 
Our children's books don't look like our children.

Actual numbers telling us what we're working with now is the only way we can figure out how we need to address the complex, intertwining systems that result in the current outcome. We need to know what to address, where and how.

Changing systems and institutions is like turning around enormous ships at sea: it doesn't happen without intense, persistent action by many people armed with specific information, goals and targets. We're all invested in making a change to address this challenge.

Why does this matter to me, personally?

  • I was raised in South Korea as the daughter of medical missionaries. From the example of my parents who chose to work, play and live side-by-side with Korean colleagues, friends, and extended family, and from countless Koreans who welcomed me as a guest, a friend and a little sister, I absorbed the deep knowledge that across all our differences, we are one human family. I want books that reflect this truth.
  • As I became a published author and illustrator, I longed to portray the beauty and glory of human difference. My books had to be diverse; that was the world I knew.
  • When our daughter joined our family by adoption from Korea, and my husband and I were raising her and her white brother, I knew that having diverse books, lots of them, depicting all kinds of people, was essential to their wellbeing and development of healthy identities. In different ways, they both needed to see both themselves - and others - reflected in the books they read.
  • I've been following the research of neuroscientists on the development of unconscious bias. I work with a colleague, Professor Krista Aronson of Bates College, whose research demonstrates that books portraying positive relationships across race can actually reduce prejudice. 
  • Some recent studies show that we may be able to interrupt the development of racial bias in infants by creating positive associations with faces of racial groups they're unfamiliar with. The researchers used photos, but why not picture book illustrations?
  • Now I am participating in raising our biracial grandson and my passion for and delight in sharing diverse books has only increased
Ensuring that our children have access to books in which they can see themselves and others reflected is our essential task. It won't be easy, but we can do this. 

Please sign up for the survey, and let's all get to work, together.

"The literature of America should reflect the children of America."
Lucille Clifton

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Story First: Using Children's Books to Explore Korean Culture & Identity

Once again I participated in a National Association of Korean Schools teachers conference - the second in a week - this one the New England chapter, in North Andover, MA. (It's a complete coincidence that I did them back-to-back; this invitation came through another Korean acquaintance.) Annual gatherings like the two I attended offer teachers (mostly volunteers) from across a region the chance to connect and to gain new knowledge, skills and inspiration to improve the effectiveness of their instruction.
Korean schools usually meet on Saturdays or on Sunday afternoons after church, when Korean American families bring their children to study reading, writing and speaking as well as to learn more about Korean culture. The schools also attract families formed by interracial adoption or marriage, and a surprising new trend is non-Korean teens showing up motivated to learn the language based on their love of K-pop and anime!

It's interesting to note the similarities in the two events: Korean churches as venues; a preponderance among teachers of recent immigrants whose first language is Korean, rather than 2nd- or 3rd-generation members; and opening with the singing of both the "Ae-guk-ga" - the Korean national anthem, and "The Star- Spangled Banner". These traits seem typical of that segment of the Korean American community whose adult members are foreign-born; it's Korean-language-based, centers around Protestant churches, and claims both Korean and American allegiance.

My presentation (in Korean again, but this one benefited from last week's warm-up) focused on using books in Korean language school classrooms to help children absorb culture, strengthening their connection to Korea and their bicultural identities. I featured two of my titles, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea, and What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, which I illustrated, as examples of how books can be used, and shared a list of titles, most by Korean American authors, for further exploration.
Some recommended books on Korean culture
Preschool - 2nd grade
Bae, Hyun-Ju, New Clothes for New Year's Day
Park, Linda Sue, Bee-bim Bop!
Schoettler, Joan, Good Fortune in a Wrapping Cloth
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Park, Linda Sue, A Single Shard; Seesaw Girl; The Kite Fighters; & Archer’s Quest 
Middle/High School
Kim Dong Hwa, The Color of Earth, The Color of Water, and The Color of Heaven  (graphic novels)

Some recommended books on the Korean American experience
Preschool - 2nd grade
Park, Frances, Good-Bye, 382 Shin Dang Dong
Older Elementary (3rd-6th grade)
Han, Jenny, Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream
Yoo, Paula, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story
Middle/High School
Lee, Marie G., Necessary Roughness & Finding My Voice
Na, An, Wait for Me 
Woo, Sung J., Everything Asian
Yoo, David, Girls for Breakfast
Yoo, Paula, Good Enough 

Questions for discussion: 
How are the characters like you? Different from you? 
How was being Korean an asset for the character? A challenge? 

Did you learn anything cool about Korean culture or about being Korean? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

More Korean Connections

At her invitation, I joined my friend, Dr. Agnes Ahn, one of the founders and program coordinators of the Korea Studies Workshop at University of MA Lowell, for a whirlwind trip to Philadelphia this weekend.

Agnes and I keynoted at the National Association of Korean Schools, Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting. We each shared an overview of our life stories and our work: on Agnes' mission to get Korea and Korean history into the Common Core, and on my book, The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea,

 as a tool to explore Korean history, culture and positive bicultural identity.

We had a warm and enthusiastic response from this delightful group of people - and a delicious Korean box lunch before we were whisked back to the airport to fly back to Boston.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


My latest book, I'm New Here, launches into the world today! Though it's brand new, some exciting things are happening with it already:
  • In June,  children's book advocate extraordinaire, Kirsten Cappy of Curious City and I presented a workshop, "New Immigrants, New Approaches: Serving Your Community's Deep Diversity with Programming and Acquisition," at the American Library Association conference in San Francisco - and just received the report that we got stellar evaluations! We introduced I'm New Here as we talked about the stages of adjustment for immigrant children and our project about children's literature featuring new arrivals, I'm Your Neighbor Books.
Our entire presentation is available as a pdf here.
  •  In late July, marvelous videographer Fred Ben (above, with me), Kirsten Cappy (below, R), and I met with 25 fabulous children - including Fatho (below, center) - and their wonderfully supportive teachers (thanks for making it happen, Tina Massa Mikkelson!) at Hall School in Portland, Maine.

I shared the book and we talked about being new, being different, and being welcoming. Each child drew pictures and made posters of their thoughts and feelings. The next day, we got to interview the child individually as they talked about their work. So delightful; I fell in love with every single face.

The footage from two days of filming will be shaped into a short book trailer and a longer teaching tool, to spark discussions about immigration and welcoming at schools across the country and around the world, available for the September launch.
  • On Saturday, September 19, I'm New Here will be launched at an all-ages event at Portland Public Library, Portland, Maine, 2:00-4:00 p.m., during National Welcoming Week.
Immigrant Children in Picture Books
A review of recent, recommended titles featuring refugee and immigrant children, focusing on the countries of origin of those currently settling in Maine. We'll explore how these books can be used to support students - and their mainstream classmates - as they move through stages of adjustment.
  • On November 7, I'll be presenting I'm New Here and many other titles in a workshop for K-12 teachers entitled, "'That’s My Story!' Young Refugees and Immigrants in Children's Books," at the Northern New England TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) conference at UNH in Durham, NH.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Must Read

From sociologist Joe Feagin, interviewed in the New York Times, "American Racism in the 'White Frame'":
"To understand well the realities of American racism, one must adopt an analytical perspective focused on the what, why and who of the systemic white racism that is central and foundational to this society ... 
"Prejudice is much less than half the story. Because prejudice is only one part of the larger white racial frame that is central to rationalizing and maintaining systemic racism, one can be less racially prejudiced and still operate out of many other aspects of that dominant frame."
I'd advise skipping the comments which are, for the most part, a display of White Fragility (see previous post).
Feagin references one of his books, The First R: How Children learn Race & Racism, reviewed here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Black Lives Matter

Those of us who create and share children's books don't do so in a vacuum. This has been a heartbreaking year of growing awareness of and horror at the depth and pervasiveness of violence directed at the African American community. The frequency of the news stories and the terrible circumstances and outcomes can overwhelm any viewer with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.

But as advocates for children, when events shake our nation, we don't have the option of being paralyzed. We are compelled to respond, to try to do something - anything - to make the world better for our children. All of our children.

With that challenge in mind, here are some links to some of the most compelling ideas that I've seen in the last several months, ideas to propel us one step forward in what many people are calling the civil rights movement of our time:

  • Robin DiAngelo, Associate Professor of Critical Multicultural and Social Justice Education at Westfield State University, has coined the term "White Fragility" for the ways white people respond to racial stress:
"Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race... 
"This systemic and institutional control allows those of us who are white in North America to live in a social environment that protects and insulates us from race-based stress. We have organized society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good. Thus, we move through a wholly racialized world with an unracialized identity (e.g. white people can represent all of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves). Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable."

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates' brilliant, much-talked about new book, Between the World and Me, written as an extended letter to his teenage son, is a searing, penetrating read, the cumulative effect of which is to catch a glimpse, at a visceral level, of the reality of living in a black body in America:    
"The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practiced habit of jabbing out one's eyes and forgetting the work of one's hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning towards something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But this is your work. Its must be, only to preserve the sanctity of your mind."                                                                         

"If books and stories change lives, if diverse books allow children of color to be seen and validated, then why is book purchasing not a major charitable action?"
In the face of hundreds of years of race-based dehumanization and violence, institutionalized racism and white supremacy, I may feel paralyzed. But I can take the next step in educating myself. I can start conversations about race with any and everyone I come into contact with. And I can keep figuring out ways to get more books featuring Black lives into the hands of all our children.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Collection Launched!

We had a delightful gathering for our reception last Thursday for The Picture Book Project: A Bates College Collection Portraying People of Color.

The Picture Book Project team: Bates College Professor Krista Aronson, with baby Hope; me; students Gift Pola Kiti, Caroline Kern and Brenna Callahan

Attendees included students and faculty from Bates and people from the wider community including Tilbury House, the Maine State Library, and the Maine Humanities Council...
and best of all, children.