In July, the American Journal of Public Health published the findings of a 20-year study that focused on how measuring children’s social-emotional skills in kindergarten may be a predictor of wellness in adolescence and adulthood. Researchers tracked a total of nearly 800 kindergarteners in four locations whose teachers measured their social competency skills in 1991, following their progress and noting key life milestones until each reached age of 25. The kindergarteners who had developed such skills as cooperating, sharing, being helpful, and resolving conflict with peers were more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and obtain full-time employment. The children who had not developed strong social skills in 1991 were more likely to lack higher education or abuse drugs, or to have served time in a juvenile detention center or have been arrested.
This new data reinforces what teachers have witnessed in their classrooms for years. Educators have long incorporated elements of social-emotional learning and character development into their curricula at various age levels. School-based efforts to curb bullying and foster inclusion typically fall under this umbrella. Though the concept is not new, the emphasis on helping children develop skills that will help them grow into better prepared students, successful adults, and good citizens has become a popular topic of discussion and has received increased media attention in recent years. As a result, several publishers are creating focused materials to aid educators in imparting these important lessons. And publishers that have offered such products for some time are seeing increased demand for their titles.
The I See I Learn series by Stuart J. Murphy, designed for pre-K and kindergarten students, was launched by Charlesbridge Publishing in 2010 with four titles, each spotlighting one of four key areas: emotional skills, social skills, health and safety skills, and cognitive skills. Murphy combines simple stories and visual learning strategies (illustrations, symbols, diagrams) so that very young children can clearly identify and connect with each lesson. Titles include Freda Stops a Bully, in which Freda learns how to deal with a boy who teases her about her new pink shoes, and Good Job, Ajay!, whose protagonist is disappointed and needs a confidence boost when he can’t throw a ball as well as his older sister.
The books also contain questions for adults to encourage discussion with children about the information in the story or any ideas it may have sparked. The series has grown to 16 books, and half of those are also available in Spanish.
In 2013, Charlesbridge partnered with Pearson Education to offer the series as a cooperative publishing initiative called Stuart J. Murphy’s I See I Learn at School. The school version packages a full set of all 16 titles, a teacher’s guide containing ancillary activities, posters, a digital version of the story on DVD containing animations and additional activities, and a map of “See and Learn City.”
Donna Spurlock, Charlesbridge director of marketing, notes what makes the books different from others in the category: “The I See I Learn series asks kids to not just learn character skills but to implement them,” she says. “These books have been adopted in many early childhood programs, and teachers find them useful to open discussion and encourage children to act on what they’ve learned.”
Free Spirit Publishing, whose tagline touts “Meeting kids’ social and emotional needs since 1983,” was founded by Judith Galbraith, a former classroom teacher and gifted-education specialist, when she couldn’t find books that both appealed to kids and gave them what they needed to deal with real-life situations and issues. The company’s stated mission, “to provide children and teens—and the adults who care for and about them—with the tools they need to think for themselves, overcome challenges, and make a difference in the world,” remains the guiding principle for its catalogue. The company works with an advisory board of professionals and a teen advisory board to gather feedback on content and design and make sure that its titles are accurate, current, and relevant.
Among Free Spirit’s numerous series that tackle topics of character development are Our Emotions and Behaviors (e.g., Who Feels Scared?), Learning to Get Along (e.g., Cool Down and Work Through Anger) and Best Behavior (e.g., Hands Are Not for Hitting). Educators can find information about how various books align with Common Core, Head Start, and ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success: K–12 College- and Career Readiness Standards for Every Student on the publisher’s website.
According to Free Spirit publicist Anastasia Scott, the buzz around social and emotional learning—as well as the popularity of the Pixar summer film Inside Out—is likely behind the demand for some of the company’s titles. “We’ve definitely been seeing increased interest in our 2014 release, F Is for Feelings by Lisa A. Berger and Goldie Millar, an alphabet book that gives young children the vocabulary to describe the many feelings they might encounter on any given day,” she says. “The idea is simple: kids who know how to describe their emotions are less likely to become frustrated and more likely to get the help they need.”
Diversity, Inclusion, and Tolerance
Another educational trend mentioned by publishers of all types was an emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the books and other materials being made available to educators and students. Much of the rallying cry fueling this trend comes from the grassroots organization We Need Diverse Books, formed in 2014 to address the lack of diversity in children’s literature, which continues to attract professional and media attention. One of the group’s initiatives, WNDB in the Classroom, is a partnership with the Washington, D.C., literacy foundation An Open Book Foundation, First Book, and the National Education Association. Designed to bring diverse authors and books into disadvantaged schools, the program kicked off earlier this year.
“We launched our We Have Diverse Books campaign last fall in response to the We Need Diverse Books movement,” says Lizette Serrano, director of library and educational library marketing at Scholastic. “It has long been a goal at Scholastic to create books in which kids of all backgrounds can see themselves, and learn about other cultures as well.” Serrano, who is Puerto Rican, wrote a heartfelt post for the company’s On Our Minds blog (describing the campaign and explaining her personal connection to it.
Continuing efforts include distributing #WeHaveDiverseBooks buttons and other #WeHaveDiverseBooks promotions, sponsoring author appearances at conventions, and getting the word out via social media and advertising. Scholastic hosted a We Write Diverse Books panel during last April’s TLA conference, which featured talks from Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Varian Johnson, and Pam Muñoz Ryan. A #WeHaveDiverseBooks sweepstakes took place earlier this year, and, according to Serrano, more than 500 educators/librarians entered. Twenty winners received an assortment of diverse books and one of the campaign buttons. For 2016, plans include offering “a #WeHaveDiverseBooks Edelweiss catalogue and a Celebrate Diversity thematic chart featur[ing] new books across our list,” says Serrano.
Triangle Square is one of a raft of companies ramping up marketing for titles on their lists that support diversity and are being discussed and requested by teachers and librarians. Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smith, is aimed at a seven–11-year-old audience and addresses such issues as relationships, body parts, feelings, gender expression and identity, boundaries, and privacy in the form of a cartoon guide. The title has received positive reviews, and Triangle Square continues to do outreach to health education teachers and sex education programs nationwide. Board books Counting on Community and A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara present early-learning concepts (counting and the alphabet, respectively) while depicting diverse communities and spotlighting cooperative play. Both authors appeared on the Pop Top Stage during the American Library Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco in June to discuss diversity in children’s books.
Lois Wallentine, school and library marketing director at Lerner Publishing Group, says that her company “has made a commitment to publishing books by authors of color as well as books dealing with race.” Some of Lerner’s fall 2015 titles that reflect this mission include Game Changer, a nonfiction title about a secret basketball game in 1944 that broke segregation laws; Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, which explores racial tensions in a smalltown in 1920s Texas; See No Color by Shannon Gibney, about a transracial adopted girl; and First Man, a graphic novel inspired by the life of African-American explorer Matthew Henson. Alix Reid, co-editorial director of Carolrhoda Books, explains that Lerner’s definition of diversity extends beyond authors of color and the subject of race. “[It also includes] gay and transgender voices, voices from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union and elsewhere around the globe, and voices of those who are mentally and/or physically challenged,” she says. “We look for voices that have been marginalized and need to be heard.”
Earlier this summer, Listening Library and Penguin Young Readers joined forces for Read Proud Listen Proud, a campaign that shines a spotlight on LGBTQ titles recommended for young adult readers and listeners. Visitors to the campaign’s website will find reading and listening suggestions featuring LGBTQ characters or themes, audio clips, author interviews, and discussion guides. Read Proud Listen Proud made its official debut during ALA, where the publishers gave away rainbow sunglasses both at the conference and at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade on June 28, which was also the anniversary of the 1969 raid and riot at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, considered the spark for the gay rights movement. The hardcover and audiobook editions of Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum (Viking, May) are featured on the Read Proud Listen Proud site. Conversations with Bausum and author Tim Federle (who narrates the Stonewall audiobook) and a sound clip from the audiobook and a “Behind the Audiobook” video are also showcased. According to Katie Punia, director of publicity for Penguin Random House Audio, “There’s nothing else like Read Proud Listen Proud out there for librarians and teachers, and we’ve gotten an incredibly enthusiastic response from librarians.”
The ripples generated by the initial splash of R.J. Palacio’s debut novel, Wonder (Knopf, 2012), continue to spread far and wide. The book’s message of kindness and inclusion has been an inspiration to educators and students alike, as well as a catalyst for them to mobilize and do good. The publisher has tapped into the flow of positivity with innovative campaigns (e.g., Pledge to Choose Kind) and several spin-offs, to encourage fans to keep the compassionate vibe going. In July, The Wonder Journal, a mix of quotes from the book and blank pages, hit shelves; and The Daily Wonder App, inspired by the print book 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, landed in the App Store. This month Knopf releases Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, a collection of Palacio’s e-original tales starring characters from the novel, in print for the first time.
June also saw the kickoff of another Listening Library initiative called Hear Diversity. It’s a complementary resource to Read Proud Listen Proud, and the publisher created signage and CD samplers to feature both campaigns at its booth during ALA. Hear Diversity contains LGBTQ titles, but also casts a much wider net to highlight audiobooks with characters from a broad range of race, ability, socioeconomic status, and religion. The school and library marketing team is planning a larger promotional effort for Hear Diversity this fall featuring a significant push on social media. A message on the site from librarian and former ALSC president Thom Barthelmess explains the many ways that audiobooks play a key role in helping kids connect to diverse stories, including providing “authentic and resonant interpretations of culturally specific language and dialogue.” Hear Diversity also contains interviews with authors and educators and a variety of sound clips.
More specifically on the school front, in July Random House introduced the Certified Kind Classroom Challenge. Students and educators from participating classrooms create an incentive jar labeled “Certified Kind,” and students are challenged to do kind deeds to earn marbles (one marble per kind deed) that will fill up the jar. Classrooms can relay updates on their progress on social media (#choosekind), and when the jar is full they submit a photo to the publisher to become “Certified Kind.” The first 500 classrooms to reach Certified Kind status will receive a choosekind banner, and five of the 500 will be randomly selected to receive a personalized video message from R.J. Palacio and a pizza party.
“We’ve seen how teachers have embraced the spirit of the book and how it’s been making a real difference in their classrooms,” says Adrienne Waintraub, executive director of school and library marketing for Random House Children’s Books, about the Challenge’s origins. “We wanted to create something to help support their efforts. And we also wanted to make it as easy as possible for them because we know how busy they are.”
Step-by-step instructions, best practices for the challenge, and downloadable jar labels are available at choosekind.tumblr.com. “We launched the Challenge at ILA [the International Literacy Association conference in St. Louis] and were happy that the teachers got so excited about it,” says Waintraub. “Many of them said it was right up their alley and that they would try to involve their whole school. Everything we heard was very positive.”
In January 2015, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing launched its Kaleidoscope program, which consists of an annual brochure/magazine and a website that spotlight the publisher’s diverse books published in a given year (the first volume covers calendar year 2015). Jodie Hockensmith, associate director of publicity, explains the inspiration for the project. “For many years we had done a similar magazine/poster called Celebration Song, which featured titles of African-American interest,” she says. “As S&S has published and continues to publish many types of diverse books, we thought of the idea to expand and rebrand Celebration Song to include all our diverse titles.”
On the Kaleidoscope website, the titles are grouped into specific categories, like Black Literature, Asian Literature, Illness Literature, and Disability Literature. Within each category, clicking on the backlist catalogue link will call up additional relevant selections. The site also contains a downloadable version of the brochure/magazine and reading group guides for some of the backlist titles. As an introduction to the program, a video message from Jon Anderson, president and publisher of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, and narrated by S&S author Tim Federle heralds the company’s long tradition of providing books from a spectrum of diverse voices as featured books appear onscreen. The video will be shown at educational and library conferences and will be included in teacher/librarian newsletters, as well as promoted via S&S’s various social media channels.
Many publishers point to the Common Core standards as driving the increasing demand they see for nonfiction, both for informational nonfiction and narrative nonfiction. At Lee & Low Books, “We’ve seen more and more schools looking at whether their nonfiction books are culturally responsive and inclusive,” says Hannah Ehrlich, director of marketing and publicity. “Do their nonfiction picks reflect and represent all students? Do diverse nonfiction books pigeonhole certain cultures (i.e., is all nonfiction about African-Americans focused on civil rights? Is all nonfiction about Latinos focused on immigration?)”
While it can sometimes be a daunting task for educators to find high-quality nonfiction to use in their classrooms, Ehrlich points to the laudable efforts of Lauren Causey, an educator who was inspired to create an online searchable database called Nonfiction Booklist for these books. Causey received a Carnegie-Whitney Grant from the American Library Association to create the site; she describes her bibliography as “my attempt to carve out a space for those books that tell the stories of people of color, books that present counternarratives to dominant ways of thinking, and books that carry forth histories that may otherwise be forgotten.” The list contains more than 300 titles and shows users (via WorldCat) the nearest library where they can locate the books. Ehrlich notes that Lee & Low strives to perform a similar function with its own books. “We are working with educators to highlight titles on our list that can be paired with many different subjects, to help them incorporate diverse nonfiction into all their units,” she says.
Most children’s book publishers offer an array of materials that provide teachers and librarians with information about titles, authors, or products to help them prepare their lessons and programs. More than ever, educators are heading online to find resources to help them do their jobs better, and to find each other. Social media has been a boon for peer-to-peer idea sharing and networking. A few publishers let us know the latest about their efforts in this area. Victoria Stapleton, director of school and library marketing at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, explains how her team aims to meet educators where they are and remind them of the resources that her company has to offer. “The goal in our department is to creatively advocate for our authors and illustrators with librarians and educators who are increasingly active in the digital space,” she says. “Collection and curriculum development discussions are taking place online with greater frequency, and we want to create opportunities and assets that advocate for our books in that space.” As examples, she cites such features as the Little, Brown School & Library podcast (found on the publisher’s website and also available on iTunes), video pieces in the 10 Questions in 1 Minute and Talking Books with @VictoriaLBYR series, as well as what she describes as “our engagement with educational bloggers such as folks active in the Nerdy Book Club and #TitleTalk.” For Stapleton, “It’s all about creating an immediate, intimate connection with people who write innovative, engaging stories for readers.”
At Boyds Mills, marketing manager Kerry McManus mentions how her company has also stepped up efforts to keep pace with educators who are offering each other advice and professional support online. “We’ve recently increased our involvement on social media—especially Twitter—where we find many savvy educators and librarians sharing news on books and how to use them in a classroom or library,” she says. “While on social media, teachers and librarians connect with us, and they can also easily interact with the authors and illustrators of our books, which leads to greater engagement with and understanding of their titles.”
The proliferation of educators looking to the Internet for resources is also one of the driving forces behind Libraries Unlimited’s forthcoming launch of School Library Connection, an online professional development suite aimed at K–12 school librarians. The new product combines the publisher’s longtime publications School Library Monthly and Library Media Connection, and it functions in conjunction with a new collection service called ReViews+. “Our ongoing research shows that needs persist for high-quality, relevant skill-development resources at the building and district levels,” publisher Kathryn Suárez says. “That demand, paired with our awareness of the time and budget restrictions that limit librarians’ access to traditional professional development, inspired us to innovate and launch School Library Connection.” Suárez hopes that SLC “will remove the common barriers to professional development and enable school libraries to instantly connect with peers and mentors and access the content they need.”
A beta version of SLC launches to the company’s magazine subscribers on September 4, and 30-day trials will be available to everyone else in early October. A single log-in gives subscribers access to both the SLC and ReViews+ sites. Among the highlights of the suite, which will be updated with new content monthly, are articles (incorporating an archive of the previous magazines’ pieces from the last five years), columns, ready-to-use-tools, audio and video workshops, and practical tips. In addition, ReViews+ offers more than 5,000 resource reviews searchable by at least 20 different criteria including grade level, awards, reader-appeal factors, and Lexile levels. According to Suárez, a sneak peek session of SLC for a group of school librarians and teachers at ALA this past June yielded “overwhelming praise.”
With the Teach Yourself series, Quercus has been part of a new trend in language learning through the “flipped classroom” model. Flipped classroom is a type of blended learning that flips the traditional teaching structure so that students are self-guided to receive instruction while they’re at home (via video or other format) and then they do activities—including “homework” assignments—collaborate on projects, and ask questions during their classroom time.
Sarah Cole, publishing director of languages for Teach Yourself, believes that this flipped approach has advantages for both teachers and students. “Instead of learning grammar rules and vocabulary in the classroom, students learn it autonomously at home and come prepared to class and more confident to start speaking and using the language,” she says. “Class time can be better used for pair work, fun tasks, games, and practice. And the teacher is more freed to give feedback to students and use class time more creatively. Teachers can truly have a communicative classroom.”
Cole says that the Teach Yourself Chinese with Mike video course and its supplementary course book and activity books provide the kind of blended learning resources teachers are looking for. This coming September, the Teach Yourself line expands with the release of Teach Yourself Languages Online, which contains online versions of the series’s complete French, Italian, German, and Spanish courses. With these products, “teachers have complete flexibility in choosing what their students learn online and what they do in the classroom,” Cole says. “No other online language course provides a perfectly matched book for the classroom.”
Arbordale Publishing has seen a demand for its foreign language books for younger readers in recent years. As a result, “Something that we are championing is learning language at the elementary level,” says Heather Williams, Arbordale’s PR coordinator. “We now have all of our books in Spanish available in print and digital. We have some available in Chinese, and we hope to add to that collection. Kids have such a wonderful capacity to learn at a young age. We have seen this market grow since we first printed our Spanish books and hope that it continues.”
The Long Reach of STEM and Common Core
The shortage of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields has been an ongoing conversation for educators, and one that has come to the attention of Nomad Press. Research from the National Foundation of Science indicates that 66% of girls in fourth grade say they like STEM subjects. But something happens on the way to college, as only 18% of all college engineering majors are women. And while women make up nearly half of the U.S. work force, they account for less than 25% of STEM jobs.
“At conferences such as ALA and NSTA, we hear repeated requests from educators and librarians for materials and resources that address this gap,” says Rachel Benoit, marketing representative for Nomad. “We answered by creating a new series called Girls in Science, which brings stories of contemporary women working in STEM fields to readers, along with an extensive discussion of a particular STEM subject and ways to make a career out of it.”
Benoit hopes that the books can act as a “collection of mentors, which educators have cited as an indicator of success for girls interested in STEM fields. It’s important to see someone else doing what you want to do, and we show girls (and boys!) women achieving cool things in science, technology, engineering, and math.” The books also emphasize other important messages about exploring STEM subjects. “We want to show readers that collaboration can be just as effective as competition, that failure is never the endpoint, and that overcoming challenge is part of every career,” Benoit adds.
Lee & Low is one of a number of publishers finding ways to market its existing STEM-related books with new vigor in order to meet educators’ needs. “With the new emphasis on STEM, many teachers are scrambling to figure out which books in their library can be repurposed for this growing need,” says Ehrlich at Lee & Low. “We want teachers to know that they don’t have to buy an entirely new library—many of the books they already have can be used to teach STEM. Our in-house literacy specialists have been creating teachers’ guides and other supplementary materials to demonstrate how our books can be used in this context, so teachers don’t have to do all the legwork themselves.”
At Abrams Books for Young Readers, meeting teachers’ and librarians’ needs has been part of the impetus for launching a new line of nonfiction paperbacks, Abrams Nonfiction Paperbacks, the company’s first picture book paperbacks. “As our books have gained more and more recognition, more and more of our customers requested certain titles in paperback for schools and libraries,” says Jason Wells, executive director of publicity and marketing. “With the Common Core still so prevalent around the country, there is increased need in some areas for more affordable, engaging nonfiction. Our editors culled our backlist to see which books were the right ones to make the transition into paperback.” The first list was released in spring 2015 with five titles, including Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl by Tonya Bolden and Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitkamp and David DeVorkin, illustrated by Diane Kidd. Five new titles are arriving this month, with Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith, and Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson among them. Wells says that teachers’ guides and raffle giveaways during educator night at various stores and libraries are part of the marketing push behind the books.
At Lerner Publishing, “with the movement to encourage more nonfiction reading,” school and library marketing director Wallentine says, “we’ve seen a demand for ‘browseable’ books where readers can dip in and out of the information quickly, making them attractive to reluctant readers.” This fall her company is launching the Hungry Tomato imprint for ages 8–12, which she describes as “dedicated to high-interest nonfiction designed in an accessible, eye-catching format that readers can easily browse for interesting facts or devour completely in one sitting.” The inaugural lineup consists of seven different series (e.g., Go Wild, Infographic Top 10s) with four titles in each.
McManus at Boyds Mills says her company is focusing on a specific tenet of Common Core. “ ‘Paired reading’ or ‘paired texts’ is a hot topic and a key part of the Common Core State Standards,” she says. “So many of our titles can be paired with other books to deepen a student’s understanding about a certain topic, event, or issue. For example, our recent Calkins Creek title, Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow, can be paired with Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Terrible Typhoid Mary (HMH, Aug.)—both books on the same topic, but featuring two different author perspectives.”
To promote her company’s titles for this purpose, McManus says, “we’ve created a Common Core brochure for teachers and librarians featuring a list of our key frontlist and backlist titles, which also gives paired reading recommendations incorporating other publishers’ titles. We’ve received some nice feedback on this brochure, and we’ve heard that the educators and librarians appreciate the paired-text suggestions we provide.”
The new school year will no doubt bring continued discussion of educational trends and publishers’ initiatives to support them. We plan to explore many of these in future coverage.
In the print version of this article, quotes from Sarah Cole, publisher of Teach Yourself’s Languages, were attributed to Elyse Turr.