BookTalk - Lee & Low Authors Speak Out
Lee & Low's website does a great job of featuring authors and illustrators and giving readers access to discussion about their books at its BookTalk section. For example, the author and illustrator of the company's current bestseller, I and I Bob Marley, are interviewed about their book:
Bob Marley’s life and music have left an indelible imprint on the world. In their new book, I and I Bob Marley, poet Tony Medina and illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson illuminate Bob Marley’s journey from young, impoverished boy to famous artist whose music brought people together in Jamaica and around the globe. In this BookTalk, Medina and Watson share how Marley’s story and music have touched their lives and led them to create this book.
Does Bob Marley’s music have special meaning to you? What has it taught you?
Tony Medina: Bob Marley's music is important to me because its beats and rhythms are just as infectious as its message. His political poems are love poems. They show a love for people, particularly those that are oppressed and suffer economic, social, and political hardships. Bob Marley's music continues to inspire me. It continues to show me the way. It helps to reinforce my own worldview and political beliefs when I feel, at times, that no one seems to get it or me. Bob Marley's music reminds me that I'm on the right track. It reinforces my notion of using art to relay important ideas. It reinforces a love for humanity and the world. It humanizes me.
Jesse Joshua Watson: I first heard Marley’s music when I was twelve years old and it opened my eyes in a way I had never experienced. I became an instant devotee. While I love and listen to many other reggae artists, Marley’s music always holds a very special place. I learn from Bob’s songs all the time. I am reminded of the pursuit of righteousness and the never-ending fight against injustice. I learn about the glories of Africa and the ancient history of Ethiopia. I learn what it means to suffer and fight against the system, and the indestructible spirit of the poor. I learn of the heroes forgotten by the history books. I am inspired to do good works and live my life for others more than my own ambitions.
About the Title: “‘I and I’ is a way of referring to oneself, yet it means more than simply ‘I.’ It can refer to the unity of God and every human — God is within all of us and we are all one people, equal under him. In Jamaican grammar, ‘I and I’ can also mean ‘we.’ It discourages thinking of oneself solely as an individual but instead as part of a community.”—Tony Medina
Indie Groundbreaking Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Being inclusive is about living inclusively every day of our lives.
The North American continent is a very culturally diverse place that’s becoming more so at a very rapid pace. The first African-American U.S. president has been elected, the first Latina U.S. Supreme Court justice has been appointed, and many more examples of our cultural diversity are on the streets, in the media, and in politics. But what about books? More specifically, what about books being written and published for impressionable young minds? Does our children’s literature accurately reflect this diversity?
New York children’s book publisher Lee & Low Books is doing its part to make sure that it does. “An independent children's book publisher specializing in diversity,” says the Lee & Low company description, and "About Everyone - For Everyone" is the company motto. A quick look at their list of recent titles proves it to be so: Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan; Crazy Horse's Vision; and Su Dongpo: Chinese Genius. The Lee & Low list goes around the globe and illuminates a rainbow of races and cultures.
“It is the company's goal to meet the need for stories that children of color can identify with and that all children can enjoy. Lee & Low makes a special effort to work with artists of color, and takes pride in nurturing many authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children's book publishing,” continues the company description.
Lee & Low Books was founded in 1991 and published its first list in spring 1993. Co-founders Tom Low and Philip Lee are both Chinese American, making Lee & Low Books one of the few minority-owned publishing companies in the United States. They’ve published over 200 titles in hardcover, paperback, lift-the-flap, and board book formats. Many of their titles have been translated into Spanish. The imprint Bebop Books, under the leadership of publisher Craig Low (son of founder Tom Low) extends the company's mission to bring diversity to children who are just beginning to read. The Bebop imprint has published 255 titles in both English and Spanish.
"When we started the company, there was a lot of interest in books focused on diversity," says Tom Low, "but most of the titles were folktales about exotic people from distant lands. We felt strongly that it was important to have books with a contemporary setting, that reflect how we live today." In September of 2004, Philip Lee retired from the company and the role of publisher was filled by Jason Low, son of founder, Tom Low, who joined the company in 1997. "Publishing diverse books we are proud of is our main focus and we will continue our mission to find new voices and powerful stories," says Jason Low. "Lee & Low's mission to publish books focusing on diversity is as relevant as ever.
Census statistics show the United States is becoming more diverse, not less diverse. Ironically, the number of books published about people of diverse backgrounds remains unchanged since the company was founded in 1991. Despite the need, there is a disturbing shortage of diverse books available to children today. Although we only publish a modest amount of books per year, we have made a difference in children's lives a small difference, but a significant one."
Along with their dedication to publishing diverse books, Lee & Low is dedicated to communicating about related issues. Check out their excellent blog, The Open Book, and the Windows and Mirrors section of their website, with resources for talking to children about race. The name comes from this quote: "A single book can be a mirror for some readers and a window for others." - Rudine Sims Bishop, Ginny Moore Kruse. One of the features in this section is a letter from Lee & Low publisher Jason Low, stating that, “we should be talking about race, but we are afraid to do so." He explains: “Many of the fears and prejudices we hold stem from our upbringing. It is difficult to unlearn what we were taught from an early age. But things can be different for our children. Dialogues about race have to happen early and often so our children's futures will diverge from our past.
"Talk is an important starting point, but along with these dialogues must come action. Good teaching and good parenting are about being consistent in what you say and do. Are your own friends of different races or cultural backgrounds? Do you read about and have books about people different from yourself in your home? Do you listen to music from around the world? Do you speak, or are you learning to speak, a language other than your primary one? What kinds of food do you enjoy on a weekly basis?
"Being inclusive is about living inclusively every day of our lives. Our children are watching, and they will determine what role diversity will have in their lives by watching how we have made it a part of ours.” - Jason Low, Publisher
That’s great advice! And Lee & Low Books certainly fill the need for books about “different races or cultural backgrounds.”
Here’s a selection of 2009 releases from Lee & Low:
I and I Bob Marley by Tony Medina; illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Sacred Mountain: Everest by Christine Taylor-Butler
A very unique new realease, Tofu Quilt, is a collection of poems by Ching Yeung Russell, who grew up in mainland China and Hong Kong and now lives in South Carolina. She captures elements of her youth in rich, vivid snapshots and authentic detail.
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage by Alan Schroeder; illustrated by JaeMe Bereal
Download a PDF with all Lee & Low 2009 titles at http://www.leeandlow.com/images/pdfs/LL09flyer.pdf