EmbraceRace

Finding and Reading GREAT Stories For And With Children

a biracial girl stands infront of her reading circle and points to the book her teacher is holding

Lee and Low Books is the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the United States. For over 25 years their mission has been to publish contemporary diverse stories that all children can enjoy. For this Talking Race & Kids online conversation, we spoke with Lee & Low Books' Literacy Specialist, Katie Potter, who shared ideas and resources for finding and sharing such books with children. Watch the video of the session, read her tip sheet on how to use "read-alouds" to spark conversations with kids, and check out the four (4!!) children's booklists she made to help you nurture kids who embrace race. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. 

EmbraceRace: Excited to be here with Katie Potter who is the literary specialist for Lee & Low Books.

Lee & Low Books is kind of more than a book publisher because they're the biggest book publisher of multicultural children's books. That's what they do. That's what they do. No adult books. I [Melissa] see them as field builders because they've been doing a lot to mentor young writers, to publish writers of color in particular and First Nation writers who were not in the pipeline, were not getting published. Katie will tell you more of it, but we really appreciate how hard that must be and what a relief it must be that we're in a moment where people want diverse books. So there's a little bit more action in that area. But there could be more, as Katie will tell you.  So we're talking about books. We're talking about how to read books aloud to your kids and your students to spark conversation.

EmbraceRace: First, a little more about Katie! As the Literary Specialist at Lee & Low, Katie Potter is responsible for writing and developing the teacher's guides and educator resources. And she works also with academics and nonprofit organizations to figure out how to incorporate diverse multicultural literature into curriculum and syllabi, which is awesome. She's also an educational researcher, a teacher, a literacy instructor, and she has lots of degrees. We're really excited to have her here. Katie welcome!

Katie: Thank you so much for such a warm welcome, Melissa. I'm so excited to be here and I feel that our organizations are so aligned and I'm really excited to share more information.

[Katie presents, followed by a conversation with Andrew & Melissa of EmbraceRace and then by questions and comments from the EmbraceRace community.]

The Diversity Gap in Children's Books

Katie: So before we, you know, dive into to the conversation I wanted to give some context to you all said about our mission as an organization. As Melissa mentioned, we are the largest multicultural children's book publisher in the country and our mission is to publish books about everyone and for everyone. I like to start with this infographic. It's the The Diversity Gap in Children's Books that we produced and it features statistics that were compiled by the Cooperative Children's Book Center. And it was updated just last year with the new publishing statistics from 2017. 

https://blog.leeandlow.com/2018/05/10/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2018/

​Katie: And you can see here the different numbers that were generated. So while 37 percent of the U.S. population are people of color, 13 percent of children's books in the past 24 years contain multicultural content. And you can see in 2017 the number has gone up slightly but we still have a very long way to go.

Lee and Low Books, Mission Driven

So our role at Lee & Low is to really publish books that are multicultural and diverse. And that has always been our mission since we began in 1991. At the bottom you see a little bit of information and statistics about authors. So while we publish multicultural and diverse children's books, we also are really dedicated to working with new debut authors and illustrators of color. So I'll just read you this statistic here.

You'll also notice in this infographic that Black, Latino, and Native authors combined wrote only 7 percent of the new children's books published in 2017. I'm going to talk a little bit more about how we work with new authors and illustrators, specifically of color. But these are just statistics that kind of set the framework and the context for the conversation that we're going to have today.

[Find the Lee & Low's Diversity Gap in Children's Publishing graphic as well as their Diversity Baseline Study - which focuses on the publishing industry in general -  and many other resources, on their blog.]

a group photo of the multicultural team of lee and low books

The Lee & Low team!

Katie: Along those lines, this is our team. We're very small. We're a family-owned, minority-owned book publisher! So you can see we have a lot of different staff from different backgrounds. We also have other fellow teachers who are staff members. So it's really nice to have that perspective when you're working specifically with children's books because we work a lot with schools and non-profit organizations and universities who are working closely with librarians and community organizations in schools. So we come from a range of backgrounds.

an image of the owners of lee and low books

Thomas Low, left, is one of the cofounders of Lee & Low. His sons Craig and Jason run the company.

Katie: I wanted to talk about our editorial priorities, what we look for when we see manuscripts and also what we're publishing every year.

So we have an emphasis on people-centered stories. Children and people are always at the center of our books. And those stories should center children, people of color, and or Native children and people. So again it's a testament to our mission that those two are the first priorities that we hold true to.

We have a dedication to working with creators of color and nurturing new talent. We take unsolicited manuscripts and submissions which I think is rare in the publishing industry. We have a dedication to telling a wide range of stories in many genres as well as a commitment to cultural authenticity and accuracy, more importantly, and to keeping diverse books in print. We do not take our books out of print. That will rarely happen.

Katie: We have two awards that are exclusively for writers of color and Native nations. So the first one is The New Voices Award and that's for a picture book manuscript. And then the other one is the New Visions Award and that is for a middle grade or young adult novel submission. And you can find this out more on our Web site, at our editorial page. It also talks about how you can submit and it really breaks down the guidelines very specifically. 

​Now I'm going to delve into a little bit about some of the resources that we produce - those are available to everyone. 

Katie: ​First I wanted to show the Classroom Library (or Home Library!) Questionnaire. It's called classroom library questionnaire, but you can really use it in any capacity or setting where you're working with kids and you have access to books. So it's essentially a checklist of going through your library, your inventory of books and examining what you have or more importantly what you might not have. This is a really powerful tool, not only for yourself as a caregiver or librarian or teacher, parent. It's also a great way to get kids involved and give them agency in the books that they're examining and selecting, whether it's from the library or wherever. What am I working with and what do I need more of? 

As the Literacy Specialist [at Lee & Low], I also help to curate specific lists. These lists are designed with families, teachers, librarians in mind into what is needed and how we can help curate and select the books that are relevant to what's being taught in schools or what's being discussed in home settings.

I created the Social and Emotional Learning Diverse Reading List last year. It's arranged by six different themes and then broken down by grade levels. And this was in response to an overwhelming request for, what are your books that tackle social and emotional learning. And while we have so many books that do that, I really took the time to select the ones that targeted the theme that you can see in the list the most.

The Social Activism Diverse Reading List is similar. It's broken down by grade and then each book is tagged with a specific theme. Whatever you're working with- whether it's race or gender or environment. They all have specific tags. So these can be accessed at the links that I provided below.

​Now we're getting to helpful selection criteria [pictured below] for a great multicultural children's book and questions that you can ask yourself whenever you're reading a book or engaging with a text. Things that you can ask before you either read it to a child or take it home. And they're mainly about really digging in and examining the roles that the characters or people are playing in the book. Really taking the time to think about where the author and illustrator come from.

Katie: Is it an #OwnVoices book, meaning does the writer come from that culture where they're writing from? Are there any possible offensive or stereotypical representations present? These are all questions that you can ask yourself when you're looking for a great multicultural children's book.

​I love to share this next list whenever I present - resources for further learning about diverse books based on specific categories and themes. So you can go on to any of these websites, whether you're looking for African American books, Native books, Latinx books. There are more I'm sure, but these are the ones that I have been sharing the most. So please take the time to check these resources out. They're super helpful.

Katie: And the last resources I want to point you towards are award lists. Awards are a really great way to tap into more diverse books, current awards and archived awards. And these are all online.

As I said before and will repeat, the Lee & Low blog is a really great place to look for content. We have a lot of educator-based blog posts. We have some for caregivers -  we're working to add more of our caregiver presence on the blog. Librarian posts. Also you can find out about new releases and we have tons of author and illustrator interviews which I personally love reading, about the creation of the book and where the ideas come from. So it's a really great place to read more.

How to use "read-aloud" opportunities with kids: A demonstration with two books

Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match by Monica Brown

Katie: I want to talk about a couple of books and give suggestions for how to read them aloud with kids. 

The first book is one of our best sellers: Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match/Marisol McDonald no combina. It is a bilingual book, written by Monica Brown, who's a beloved author in the children's book community. Marisol McDonald is also a series.

From the back of the book: "Marisol McDonald has flaming red hair and nut-brown skin. Polkadots and stripes are her favorite combination. She prefers peanut butter and jelly burritos in her lunchbox and to Marisol, these seemingly mismatched things make perfect sense together. But some people look at Marisol in confusion. "Can't she just choose one over the other?" In a world where everyone tries to put this biracial Peruvian Scottish American girl into a box, Marisol McDonald doesn't match. And that's just fine with her."

That's the description of Marisol. I'm going to read a little bit from it. Not the whole thing. But I wanted to talk a little bit about Monica Brown.

She's a Mestiza Peruvian American of European and Jewish heritage and she wrote this story to reflect her own experience of being mismatched to life. So it's a very gentle way to begin the race conversation. This book is really fun. It also talks about identity and what makes you special and unique. And you can also tie race into that as well. And talking about where Marisol's parents come from, what areas of the world, why she might have that skin color with that type of hair. It's a really great you know beginning way to talk about those types of things. So I'm just going to read a little bit.


​Katie:
 "I play soccer with my cousin Tato and he says, 'Marisol, your skin is brown like mine, but your hair is the color of carrots. You don't match!'" "'Actually, my hair is the color of fire,' I say and kick the ball over Tato's head and into the goal."

​Here you can literally, this is a question that gets right at your objective, which is to talk about Marisol as a biracial, Peruvian, Scottish girl. You could ask: Why do you think Tato said that Marisol doesn't match because her skin is brown but her hair is the color of carrots?That's a question that begins the conversation and really, how you respond [being open and positive] is how the child that you're working with also responds.

Katie: ​Next page: "My brother says, 'Marisol, those pants don't match that shirt! They clash.' But I love green polka dots and purple stripes. I think they go great together, don't you?"

So this is a spread where you can talk about what it means to clash and why the reader thinks that the brother said that to Marisol. What does it mean to clash? Why is he saying it in that way?

Katie: Marisol says: "I also love peanut butter and jelly burritos and speaking Spanish, English, and sometimes both. 'Can I have a puppy? A furry, sweet perríto?' I ask my parents. 'Por favor?' 'Quizás,' Mami says. 'Maybe,' Dad says, smiling and winking."

​You could also talk about language and which parent uses what language and also the different Spanish words on this page. I also thought that this is a great spread to talk about what makes you unique and what you love about yourself. Because Marisol has the ability to really convey that to kids. Like just because she kind of goes and she expresses herself in a way that suits her own identity. And talking about that too is a great opportunity to do with Marisol McDonald Doesn't Match. 

Tan To Tamarind book cover

Katie: The other book I wanted to share is Tan to Tamarind. And this is a collection of poems about the color brown. So the poet, Malathi Michelle Iyengar, she was inspired by her own skin tone and things that she observed in her environment around her. And it's a really beautiful collection of poetry so I'll read a quick description of it.

"When you look in the mirror what do you see? Tan, sienna, topaz, or tamarin? Poet Malathi Michelle Iyengar sees a whole spectrum of beautiful shades of brown. Swirls of henna decorate ochre hands and feet at an Indian wedding. Cinnamon lips smile over a cup of café con leche. And maple leaves dripped like stars onto upturned russet faces in the fall. This warm and inviting poetry collection helps young readers discover that no matter what your skin tone, every shade is beautiful."

​So you can see the cover is absolutely exquisite. And the cover alone can guide the conversation that is explicitly about race and in this case it's about all the varying skin tones. So I'll read a few poems.

a spread from a book about describing skin color
a page from a book about describing skin color

Katie:  [Reads poem above, then ...] So there's so many different ways that brown is described in this poem and to get kids thinking about not only the different skin tones and the shades of brown that are associated with skin, different objects. Beautiful objects that are associated with the color brown. We also have teacher's guides and activity guides for these books and the author created an activity guide for this book and wanted children to think about creating their own poem about the beautiful color brown. 

​The next poem I want to read is called "Topaz".

a spread from a book describing skin color
a page from a book about describing skin color

Katie: From here it's easy to get kids to consider, what do you think of when you think of the color brown?There are so many different opportunities to think about that. And then the last poem is when you can dig into, you have all of this different imagery and figurative language that's used to describe the color brown and describe the children's skin tones and you can use this as an opportunity to talk about your own skin color and skin tone and to talk about how the author was inspired by everyday objects that you see in the book here.

a spread from a book about describing skin color
A page from a book about brown colors

Katie: ​So I don't know if you wanted me to go back, Andrew and Melissa, to any of those slides. Also, anyone can reach out to me if you have any questions I'm happy to share any of these resources with you. Answer anything that you are thinking about or wondering about. Please don't hesitate. ​

EmbraceRace: Thank you so much Katie. Yeah That was beautiful. I want to say that both of those books, by coincidence, I have read and loved with my kids.

Katie: Oh, great!

EmbraceRace: Yeah. And I love the idea of you know, Marisol is sort of everybody. I mean she's not but she is, right? We're all different but some more saliently so. Kids like Marisol have to learn that they're different early, who have to fend for their identities and differences early. So it's really important, not only to help other kids understand and embrace difference, but also to help the kids who stand out as different to have an answer when someone says, "But you can't be black and white!" or whatever it is. Or "you can't self-identify. I identify you this way," and so I love those conversations. They're so interesting because just the further you go, and that book does that in a lovely way, the more you get down to the individual level and realize that generalizing and stereotyping doesn't really make sense. 

Katie: Yeah because when you hear people interrogating Marisol, kids as readers come to her defense and realize that those words are not the nicest or friendliest. And that really provides a different perspective that I think is necessary and not always available or explicit in books that talk about race in that sense.

EmbraceRace: Yeah. I also think brown is just an underrated color, right?

Katie: Yeah!

EmbraceRace: I love just thinking of it as you know chai tea or tamarin or just all of these things that are just warming and lovely. So I really appreciate those two books.

Community Q & A


​EmbraceRace: We got lots of questions in previously and one that I have also is, you work a lot with teachers. I'm wondering when you talk to teachers and groups of teachers, what the biggest hang ups are in terms of exploring issues that might be more difficult?

Katie: I think that's a great question. There are several different elements to the response. We oftentimes get asked, "Well, you know, I would never be able to read this book in my school," or you know, "I would love to read that book but I'm not really sure how." So what we do and part of my job is to create these guides that you can look at online. And there's oftentimes a home-school connection and there are lots of different questions. And if it's a specific topic, we work with what we call a targeted editor, someone who is an expert and provides that cultural accuracy that is so essential to that book. And that also goes for our editors as well. And what we say you know when people get pushback, I find that librarians are such a great resource and sometimes under utilized. Not in all cases but librarians have such a great knowledge of how to use these books. Also you know basically just educate, all these different resources that I gave, educating yourself, doing your best to doing that prior research. When you read that book beforehand oftentimes that goes hand in hand really intimately with doing that background research and getting to know about the topic and how to talk about the topic in more detail. I hope that answers your question.

EmbraceRace: No, no that does. And then are there the guides that you make for teachers, does it make sense for parents to use them, too?

Katie: Definitely. [Lee & Low Teacher guides are free on their site.] There is a school home-connection and also lots of different questions whether they're literal questions where you're asking simply what's happening in the story, or extension higher level thinking questions. That also takes the onus off of the caregiver or teacher or librarian to come up with all these different questions to guide the children's answers. But sometimes it's on the part of the teacher or caregiver to do that background research about the book.

​Also our books, if it's dealing with a historical information or sensitive content, we have extensive back matters at the end of the book. For example, in like a Marisol book, Monica Brown would write an afterword about her experience and how to talk about Marisol with kids or something like that. So it really depends on the book but the editors work really diligently on making that historical context for whatever, social, racial context that's provided in the back of the book really really helpful and useful to readers whoever they may be.

EmbraceRace: Yeah, I find the resources on your website even as stand alone are very rich and helpful and sort of anticipate all of these issues. It's great.

Katie: Yeah. I mean as a small publisher, I have such a wonderful independence in working with the author and illustrator and incorporating their ideas into the resources and guides and also working with targeted editors and the editors themselves and our marketing team. We all work together as one and I think that's what makes us really special and unique especially when when using our books.

EmbraceRace: Fabulous. Next couple related questions. Kim wants to know more about the selection criteria. She also asks about the issue of universal themes and story lines. How should we balance universal themes with particular individual identities and stories? 

Katie: Okay great question, Kim. Thank you. So for example Marisol is the perfect way to mix the two of those. That's like the epitome of that question. So you're talking about Marisol's biracial identity as Peruvian Scottish and you're also talking about universal themes such as uniqueness, identity. Sometimes bullying. Standing up for yourself. Our books make sure that those two [universal themes and particular stories] are intertwined. Too often books about race come off as didactic or preachy. That happens when they're not delivered in a compelling or natural story line. And I think that's what really makes our books special. 

EmbraceRace: Yeah for sure. So we're getting a question about whether you have pre K and toddler books?

Katie: We have a few bedtime stories but they tend to skew like maybe 3, starting at 3. But check out our website and see. And you can reach out to me and I can send you links to specific books that I think your toddler would be interested in. We have staff members who bring their Bebop books home to their kids and their kids love them. Just like looking at the pictures and you know getting kids in front of books is so essential at that age and understanding concepts of print and how to flip the pages. 

EmbraceRace: Katie as you know the teaching force, especially with the younger kids, right, elementary school certainly, are disproportionately female and within that disproportionately white, even allowing for the effect that whites are a racial majority. And so this question goes to that and it's from Susan and she says you know there are a lot of situations that involve white adults reading aloud to children. Do you think it affects the way, or does it matter if the audience is mostly children of color or white children? So to reframe slightly. How does the, let's say white teacher account for her identity in reading to a predominantly or exclusively white versus kids of color audience?

Katie: We get asked that a lot actually and I don't have the perfect answer but I will do my best and tell you what I have said. I don't think there is a perfect answer. I think it completely depends on the school and the classroom and whatever capacity you're working in.

So if you are a white teacher in front of a whole white classroom, you are just perpetuating the racism that is evident in this country, if you are not diversifying your library. I think it's our, as a white teacher, it's a responsibility to diversify your library and that's why our classroom library questionnaire is so essential in making sure that you are incorporating titles from a whole range of races and cultures and ethnicities.

We use Dr. Rudine Smith Bishop, her metaphor, the windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. Mirror where you can see yourself. Window where you can see into the life of another child or person and sliding glass doors were you can actually enter that world and be a part of it. So those books are all important when you are reading to a classroom with predominantly children of color. I think that's an opportunity to share and get to know your students and to really bring books that feature their cultures into your library. I think that historically and for so long, children of color did not see themselves in books. So when children of color have the opportunity to see themselves, that works wonders and has changed the lives of so many students. So I think that fear I think is there. But getting past it and when you get to see the smiles and the joy on children's faces when they recognize themselves in the book and say, "That's me." I mean that is the ultimate goal of whether it's parenting or teaching. So yeah.

EmbraceRace: We also got a question in the registration about finding books featuring kids of color that aren't about oppression. And I wondered, I know that you spoke a bit about this, about how all of your books feature multicultural characters and you're focusing on the story, not being didactic. So probably you would say for someone looking for those books, go to LeeandLow.com. But I wonder whether another thing that makes you guys special is that it's actually if you're not going to a Lee & Low or another indie press, it's hard to publish those stories. It's as if the major publishers have, maybe not literally a quota, but it seems like, "These are our three black books and they're going to be about Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman." Am I off the mark on that one?

Katie: No. I think that, to go back to the first part of your question about books that are not about oppression. So some of our books are and they feature what we call unsung heroes historical figures that we don't necessarily learn about in school which I think is also essential. Like what you said Melissa, not about Martin Luther King. These are different people who are really important and are worthy of learning about. And they do approach oppression and systematic racism that is historically evident in this country. So you can certainly find those books.


However it's also important to publish books that are not about that. Marisol and Tan to Tamarin are two of those. We have a blog host actually that did really well. It's 10 books that are not about oppression. And they're all about celebrating identity, talking about kids being kids. And they just so happen to be kids of color. We have a book it's on the list, it's called Black all Around. It features a black girl. It's similar to Tan to Tamarin, celebrating all things that are black. Everyday things. So these books talk about race but they're not about, they're not about slavery or Japanese concentration camps. So we really do have a wide range. And I think that, as you said Melissa, that's also important in creating a library that's all encompassing. And where you can celebrate your identity but also learn about the essential history. 

EmbraceRace: So in terms of using books as tools to help have these discussions or raise kids that are brave about race, which is what we're trying to do. Part of it is, you don't even have to have the conversation necessarily. I mean sometimes you have the conversation. But you as a teacher or caregiver you teach children to value people people who look like them and who really don't with your library.

Katie: Right. Some of our books don't mention race at all but of course feature and center characters of color. So I think it's perhaps on the caregiver or teacher or librarian if that's going to be a part that conversation. Because there are plenty of other themes or issues that can be talked about in that specific book. Of course race is super important if you wanted to use that book. I think it's also important to see characters of color in books that have really engaging storylines and you can talk about it if you want to or you can talk about, for example, neurodiversity instead.Katie: So there are some books that are flexible in that way. Others not so much but I think it's, again, it goes back to the tipsheet [How to use books to engage kids in rich conversations about difference? Plan your "read-aloud!”] and thinking about why are you reading this book? What do you want to accomplish with it? Do you have a conversation with your child that you really want to address with this book because sometimes books takes the onus off of you as the teacher or caregiver. Sometimes messages are best conveyed through a character that your child or a child really relates to and it gets on their level in a different way than explaining it to a child.

EmbraceRace: You know Katie, I love the idea of having essentially somewhat of an agenda before you pick up a book or before you start reading the book. And of course we also know that kids will go places that you may not have anticipated and, for example, bring up race even in books where race doesn't seem to be a salient feature.

Someone sent in a question, if I'm remembering right it was a white mom with an adopted African-American daughter. And the mom says that they have a house full of diverse books, books with all sorts of diversity and the child didn't want to read those books. We know that sometimes that's because the stories might not be that compelling. Do you want to speak to that?

Katie: Sure. So there are a few different ways to approach it. It's a great question. My first inclination, whenever I'm working with kids and they're not interested in the book, why is that? What do they like? What are their interests? If she loves soccer, then try to, if you have the ability and the resources then try to research books that have diverse characters playing soccer. And so you can think about it in that way, through that lens.

You can also ask the child, and I'm not sure if this parent had because it's a tough conversation. "Why, why are you not interested?" And it doesn't have to be accusatory. It's just an open casual conversation. "Why are you not enjoying these books? What is it about them that you don't really like?" And have them try to give concrete details so you can think about that.

Also agency is powerful whenever kids are selecting books whether that's in a classroom, a library, or at home. Kids could feel so much more engaged if they have the ability to choose. So those are three different ways to kind of go about that issue.

EmbraceRace: So here's a question that I don't know if you have the answer to but I'd love to know too. Is there a way to evaluate the effectiveness of specific books in terms of children's validation, developing children's identification confidence, etc? And if so, does Lee & Low evaluate the books you publish with real audiences? I love this question.

Katie: I love it too because as a former educational researcher and I always think about this, you know. If you were to do a study with like engagement of a specific book or the research question, how does reading diverse literature and having multicultural literature in the classroom affect children's social and academic lives and engagement in school? So we unfortunately don't have studies about that yet. And I think it would be it would certainly be hard to measure. But I'm hoping that professors and researchers are out there trying to study this. We have had professors express interest in using our classroom library questionnaire in that kind of capacity. I would love to know. So If the questioner would love to take that on, that would be great.

EmbraceRace: Katie, this is just a curiosity question. So Lee & Low is being political. This is an intervention, a needed intervention in the culture, really. You've been around for a while and I imagine you have a trajectory in mind. Can you share anything about where do you go with this? What do you hope to do in the next 5, 10 years?

Katie: Well, we always are examining what we have in our inventory and what is missing. So on the literacy team and the editorial team, we talk in terms of the gaps, what are the gaps, and what do we need to fill and what are people going to be looking for? Because when you acquire a manuscript sometimes, it doesn't get published for years. You have to have that kind of futuristic mentality in mind.

Currently we have a special call out, and you can see it on our editorial page, for LGBTQ submissions. So that is a gap that we are looking to fill. We have a book coming out featuring a transgender boy in the spring. But we're really looking to add more titles. So sometimes on our Twitter and Instagram feed, you can see if we do specific call for manuscripts. But in terms of our literacy goals in the next 5 years I think it's to continue partnering with amazing organizations such as yourselves and really working within the community and different universities to try to reach more teachers and librarians and caregivers across the country to get everyone on board.

EmbraceRace: Let me ask a quick follow up to that. And I'm just asking for your speculation because I don't know that anyone really knows but, whether with respect to books you know or toys and games, you think about dolls and so on. On one hand we're seeing more deliberate effort at diversity of different kinds. You're dealing with all kinds of diversity right. So LGBTQ you just mentioned, race, ethnicity, religion, and so on. When you consider that half of all children below age 16 or so are kids of color and then add to that kids with disabilities, with non-mainstream religious identities, the children in LGBTQ families, children who are themselves trans, clearly there's a huge audience. I would think a huge audience. How can it be that you know the production of books where this huge variety of kids can see themselves or their families, why that huge lag when presumably there's a huge market and money to be made? I don't get it.

Katie: Well I think, Andrew, that is the big question. And first it starts with the gatekeepers. And the gatekeepers are the publishers who are run historically and consistently by white people. So that is an issue. And so you have the publishers who are ultimately responsible for putting books in kids hands. So we hope that the publishing industry overall will change and then it trickles down to districts who are responsible for the decision making of what books goes into the classrooms. And then you have the schools and principals.

So there's all these different gatekeepers and people in charge who then are completely the decision maker of what books kids pick up in their hands. And then at home, it's the bookstore owners. It's also libraries and the publishing. And the publishing industry is still at the top. There has been an upswing. So we're optimistic and hopeful about that. So we hope and aspire to continue to change and to keep doing what EmbraceRace is doing and what we're doing at Lee & Low in providing resources that people can access.

EmbraceRace: Thank you so much, Katie. So that went by so quickly.

Katie: I can't believe it! I'm so happy that I got to be a part of this. Thank you both for this opportunity. ​

Katie Potter

As the Literacy Specialist at Lee & Low Books, Katie is responsible for writing and developing the rigorous Teacher’s Guides and Educator Resources, in addition to working with university professors and nonprofit organizations on how to incorporate diverse, multicultural literature into curriculum and syllabi. She has also worked as an educational researcher, teacher, and literacy instructor.
Katie Potter
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