Phoebe Yeh on the Modern First Library: I Need a Diverse Book


The BookPeople Modern First Library Initiative: Pairing beloved picture books that will never go out of style along with other favorites that reflect the diverse, global society of the 21st century, we’ve set out to make building a thoughtful library for any child in your life easy.

Today in the Modern First Library blog series, we have guest blogger Phoebe Yeh. Yeh is a current VP/publisher at Crown/Random House, formerly of Scholastic and Harper Collins. Read on for her thoughts on BookPeople’s Modern First Library.

I Need a Diverse Book

Over the years, I have had ample opportunity to contemplate the makings of a child’s first home library.  In my very first publishing job, part of my job was to find books–new picture books and classics–that would be ideal for the home libraries of preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders.  So, then newcomers IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, FLOSSIE AND THE FOX and THE SEVEN CHINESE BROTHERS joined a curated list that included BREAD AND JAM FOR FRANCES and CORDUROY.  Fast forward to the birth of my son Sam.  At last I would have a chance to test out Jim Trelease’s recommendation to read aloud to your four-month-old baby.

Image result for more more more said the babyI started with my childhood favorites, among them ARE YOU MY MOTHER? and CAPS FOR SALE.  Sam was a bi-racial, city baby, so I wanted to expose him to what was familiar – faces that looked like his.  Treasures such as the accordion book MRS. MUSTARD’S BABY FACES and MORE, MORE, MORE, SAID THE BABY were few and far between.  I had better luck finding city books.  Paul Zelinsky’s THE WHEELS ON THE BUS had the added attraction of interactive features which allowed Sam’s toddler fingers to make the wheels go round and round, literally.  Virtually any book about vehicles found favor: Byron Barton’s TRUCKS and TRAINS (Backhoe was an early first word).  For neighborhood stories, I lucked out with BLACK CAT and HARLEM.  For variety, we added animals to the mix: BROWN BEAR BROWN BEAR; THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR and ROSIE’S WALK; folklore, humor and Dr. Seuss, of course.

All too soon, Sam had outgrown his picture book library.  In recent years, I’ve been tasked with recommending books for 21st century families.  While this is still very much a work in progress, I feel that the diversity outlook has improved.  Today there are many more options available for every, unique family

For the anxious first parent, LOVE YOU, HUG YOU, READ TO YOU offers tips for guided reading (and there’s also a bilingual Spanish version).


Image result for a book of sleep il sung naFor mealtime: DIM SUM FOR EVERYONE!; and to celebrate the lunar new year: BRINGING IN THE NEW YEAR (Where were these books twenty years ago?!)

For New York families (like mine!): COUNT ON THE SUBWAY; B IS FOR BROOKLYN


Poetry anyone?  Pick up MY VERY FIRST MOTHER GOOSE edited by Iona Opie and illustrated by Rosemary Wells and HAIKU BABY

And my picks for today’s new classics:

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET – It’s about family, community, diversity

WAITING – the perfect marriage of text and art.  And, a book you won’t mind reading and re-reading a bazillion times.

MY PEN – celebrating you and your imagination: all it takes is you and your pen!

More than twenty years ago, I was deeply committed to giving Sam books that would help him learn that the world was a big place, a diverse place.  I wanted to find books that would help him see how he fit into a global community.  In recent years, this goal has gotten just a little bit easier.  And we owe our thanks to the talented authors and illustrators, committed publishers, librarians, educators, and booksellers for making it possible.

Phoebe Yeh HeadshotPhoebe Yeh is a current VP/Publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House.  Yeh was a senior editor at Scholastic Press, where she edited the Magic School Bus books and was an editor of the SeeSaw Book Club. As Editorial Director at Harper Collins, she acquired the New York Times best-sellers BIG NATE by Lincoln Peirce and THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL by Soman Chainani.  Recent Crown titles include A DRAGON’S GUIDE TO THE CARE & FEEDING OF HUMANS by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder; FROSTBORN by Lou Anders and UP FROM THE SEA by Leza Lowitz.  Upcoming Crown publications include the graphic novel LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL by Jeffrey Brown and FLYING LESSONS & STORIES with WeNeedDiverseBooks, edited by Ellen Oh.

(Book list created in consultation with Heidi Kilgras, Editorial Director/Random House Children’s Books)

Looking for more thoughts on the Modern First Library? Check out the rest of the posts in the blog series:

Our Modern First Library Turns Two by Meghan Goel
Modern First Library by Chris Barton
The Word Library by Ellen Oh
I Need a Diverse Book by Phoebe Yeh

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