Tuesday, February 9, 2016

No Straw Hats! Stereotypes about Agriculture in Children's Books

From Celebrate the 50 States!
This January I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the first On the Farm Experience for children's authors, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. The program was designed to educate authors about issues related to agriculture, with an emphasis on cattle ranching in this case.

The twelve selected authors had a wide variety of backgrounds including some who grew up on farms, a current cranberry farmer, as well as city and suburban folk. Many fun and fascinating things took place (e.g. a hay ride with cattle running behind) but this post is about how farms and farmers are depicted in books for children. For the sake of convenience, the terms "farm" and "farmer" are intended to include ranch/rancher.

The relevant activity was to have the authors draw a farm on several large pieces of paper in a conference room. The illustrators among us grabbed the markers and doodled away. The sketch included sun, hills, grass, cows, sheep, a hog, a fence, a red barn, and a some farmers/ranchers. Fortunately, the artist drawing the man had been warned not to give him a straw hat. What's wrong with straw hats, you ask? There are some things people in agriculture are tired of seeing endlessly in the media, and some they would like to see. If you are writing and/or illustrating a children's book or classroom resource about agriculture, this information could affect your book's reception in the farm community. The general theme of the items listed below reflects a desire for accurate depictions of 21st century agriculture.

• STRAW HATS are so last century, or maybe the one before that. Most farmers wear baseball caps these days. In the west, cowboy hats remain popular.

• BIB OVERALLS are not the garment farmers usually wear nowadays.

• A RED BARN is ubiquitous when an artist wants to portray a farm. However, real barns are quite diverse, usually made with regional materials and building methods.

• MALE FARMERS ONLY, as if women and girls don't work on farms, own farms, and other sexist assumptions. Big misconception.

• A PIECE OF STRAW IN THE MOUTH might seem cute but has insulting associations such as implying that farmers are clueless bumpkins lacking in intelligence.

The next one is going to be painful, so consider yourself warned:

• TALKING ANIMALS as characters do not align with the goal of giving a factual presentation of what life on a farm or ranch is all about. Farm animals are not pets and are raised for food or fiber, so giving them human characteristics clashes with reality.

We had quite a discussion about how anthropomorphic animals can be a useful literary device and so on, but the takeaway is this: if you would like your ag-themed book to be embraced by farmers and ag literacy facilitators, that audience prefers realistic animals. Food for thought, no?

As for what farmers would like to see, one topic that stands out is technology. Like everyone else, farmers use mobile devices…for example, to monitor animals or crops. People farm in greenhouses, underwater, in urban areas, and are gearing up for skyscrapers and space. Have you ever seen an illustration in a children's book of a farmer using a drone to check a field? Probably not…but soon, perhaps?

I haven't had the occasion (yet) to illustrate many farmers but found a few in my 1999 book Celebrate the 50 States! There was a gal in overalls (uh-oh!) in Missouri talking about "our mules," a couple of historic farming illustrations, a rancher in Wyoming, and the above image for Iowa with a red barn, a girl and her winning calf. No straw hats in sight, so that's good. As writers and artists, it can be tempting to just repeat stereotypes without thinking much about it, but a better approach is to do in-depth research or better yet, meet some actual farmers. Outdated images and accounts that don't reflect how farmers live and work today serve little purpose (aside from historical depictions, of course.)

Jack & the Hungry Giant
Speaking of children's books with an agricultural theme, there is a database for ag literacy that includes children's books called the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix. Educators can find K-12 lesson plans and companion resources on various topics from planting seeds to "feeding a digital world." Authors can submit an appropriate book as a companion resource by finding a lesson plan to link it with. My most recent books that relate to agriculture are Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right with MyPlate and Amazing Plant Powerswhich was co-authored with my husband Andrew Schuerger, a plant pathologist.

Amazing Plant Powers
I'm happy to say that both books were accepted into the matrix, despite some anthropomorphic plants in the latter. It probably helped that most of the images in the book are photographs of real plants. Neither book is an obvious "ag book" per se. As a matter of fact, the facilitators from the Ag Foundation and National Agriculture in the Classroom recommended that authors refrain from writing an "ag book." Instead, they suggested writing a great book that just happens to take place on a farm or otherwise has ties to farming. Sounds like excellent advice, no?

Loreen Leedy
My Web Site

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's Snowing Symmetry!

There's no snow here in central Florida, but that doesn't mean I can't draw a flurry of line symmetry designs, right?
Snowy Symmetry has designs for Winter and Christmas such as a penguin juggling snowballs, silly snowflake and star characters, a walrus, a teddy bear, a gingerbread boy, girl, and house, and Santa holding a gift. There are 16 designs with 3 levels of difficulty, making 48 designs in all.
Teachers have left enthusiastic feedback on my fall and spring symmetry packets such as
Great symmetry lessons that scaffold for younger students.
My kids love these and the differentiated variety meets everyone's needs!
Loved this activity. The kids wanted to do it all afternoon

If you would like to combine math and art in a seasonal project, please check out Snowy Symmetry. There is a FREE sample to try in the Preview.
Click cover to view Snowy Symmetry!
Another chilly option is one of the first classroom resources I made, Ready, Set, Snow! Printable Snowflakes to Match Pairs and Halves:
Click cover to view Ready, Set, Snow!
I wish you a very happy holiday season!

My web site

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Andy's famous spiced cranberry sauce

If you'd like to try something a little different for Thanksgiving, check out this easy recipe. My husband Andy tasted this at a party a couple of decades ago and has been making it ever since. It gets gobbled up in a hurry every year!

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

4 cups fresh cranberries (2 standard-sized bags)
2 cups water
3 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger

Wash cranberries and drain. Combine rest of ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil. Add cranberries, cook at medium heat for 7 to 10 minutes until the skins pop (see below.)
Mash the berries (below.) Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes with the lid on but askew to allow steam to escape. Stir occasionally until dark red and thickened.
Remove from heat, pour into glass or ceramic container, and chill.
Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

My web site

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Deadlines...love 'em or hate 'em?

Like many of us, I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines. On the one hand, who needs the pressure? On the other hand, it motivates us to get things done. This post has two deadlines...for you, not me (hee hee!)

The first one involves 6 teaching resource bundles and 1 clip art bundle to benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It's a great cause and the feedback has been terrific. The benefit is over at the end of October and the current price per bundle of around 25 resources is discounted to only $20. The Grades 3-5 ELA and Math covers shown are the ones I donated to but there are also K-2 and 6-8 grades also. Click here to see all of them.
Click to visit bundle page
Click to visit bundle page

The second deadline is tomorrow (October 30th)...it's the last day to sign up for a chance to win 1 of 5 copies of Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right With MyPlate on Goodreads. The giveaway was supposed to end after the 31st, but based on what the site says, it's going to end on the 30th. I hope some of my blog readers will be the winners! Click here for more info about this book and a link to a FREE book activity.

Good luck!

My web site

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Two Book Giveaways and a TpT Flash Sale!

Because TeachersPayTeachers has reached 100,000 followers on Facebook, they've decided to have a sitewide 10% sale until midnight on Sunday, October 13. And everything in my shop is 20% off, so that adds up to a big discount. My sale actually runs through Monday the 14th to give my followers some extra time. Click here to visit my shop.

My brand new Radiant Rainbow Brushes, Pencils, Clouds, Drops, and Borders clip art graphics are included in the sale.

There are only a few hours left in the Jack & the Hungry Giant book giveaway on the Bunting, Books, & Bainbridge blog, so it's enter now or never!

The book giveaway on Goodreads runs until the end of October and there are 5 copies of Jack to win there.

Good luck and happy shopping!

My web site

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Giveaway of Jack & the Hungry Giant!

During the month of October, my publisher (Holiday House) is sponsoring a giveaway of 5 copies of Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right with MyPlate on Goodreads! For more about the book and a link to a free activity, read this post.

I happened to meet a teacher a couple of weeks ago at the UVU Engaged Reading conference who teaches health topics in elementary...she was SO excited to find this book. Apparently, she has a tough time finding fun resources for certain topics. Guess I should keep writing and illustrating!

This #giveaway is a first for me, so it will be yet another "learning experience," no doubt. Click "giveaway details" on the widget below or use this link. I did figure out how to upload an excerpt from the book onto Goodreads, so that's something.

Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right with MyPlate by Loreen Leedy

Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right with MyPlate

by Loreen Leedy

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crazy Like a Fox nominated for the ORA Gallagher award...yahoo!

It was a wonderful surprise this week to find out that Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story has been nominated for the Patricia Gallagher Picture Book Award by the Oregon Reading Association. Here is the page with all the nominees.

It's a children's choice award, so the winner is chosen by kiddos across the state. All the books are good ones so they'll have a tough decision to make! In the meantime, it's a fun way to promote literacy and celebrate reading.

The trailer gives a sense of what the book is about without giving too much away:

To visit the book's page on Amazon, click this link: Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story  
My article about the process of writing the book is on the I.N.K. blog: Crazy About Similes!

This FREE follow-up slideshow has photographs of the the items used in the similes such as a log, a lion, a leaf, and so on. It's a great way to help kids understand the comparison each simile is making. The PowerPoint is located in my TpT shop at this link: Crazy for Similes Book Activity 

I drew and painted the illustrations in Adobe Photoshop. The image below gives an idea of the process. I make fairly rough sketches, either in color or black and white. The artwork is divided into layers so each piece can be moved independently. The layers also allow me to try out different colors very easily. It's akin to word processing in that you can keep fine-tuning the artwork until the very last second.

By the way, if you haven't travelled to Oregon, it is a wonderful place to go...there are mountains, the Pacific ocean, fossils, lava fields and tubes from volcanic eruptions, rainforests, lakes, rainbows, fabulous pies, and much more.

Thanks for stopping by!

My web site
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