BtB hits the Brooklyn Book-Fest!

BtB hits the Brooklyn Book-Fest!

We’re off to the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday!

We love the Book Festival: We get to hang out all day and meet fantastic authors, teachers, parents, potential volunteers, and then maybe – if we’re lucky – play matchmaker.

If you’re an author with a penchant for encouraging young readers, come over and introduce yourself. If you’re a young reader, a parent of a young reader or a teacher and you like the idea of having established authors come to your school to talk about writing – come talk to us. Graphic designers, illustrators, teaching artists – please drop by and let us know what you do!

Or if you’re just browsing the book fair and you’re interested in children’s literacy, we want to meet you too.

We love the Brooklyn Book Festival because we love meeting people. The more people we know, the more access our underserved school communities have to enriching literacy programs.

Also, we don’t mind a good chat. We’ll be at table 426, by the garden near the fountain.

See you there!


An Afternoon with Joan Biskupic

As readers of this blog probably know, every summer we run a reading series at different corporate offices in New York. For this year’s Summer Law Reading, we featured author and veteran Washington journalist, Joan Biskupic. Joan’s career as a Supreme Court correspondent and her coverage of some of its most well-known judges has imbued her with fascinating insight into the minds of those who wield the law in order to carry out justice.

We met Joan in the lobby of the offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. She was warm, inviting, and down-to-earth. She maintained this demeanor as she regaled her audience with tales about Supreme Court Justices worthy of their own entertainment series. With her knowledge and welcoming personality, it was easy to see why some of the most powerful people in the country had no qualms about letting her into their world.


American Original, a biography about Justice Antonin Scalia has been recommended by Harvard University Law Professor Laurence Tribe as a must-read “for anyone who wants to understand the most influential and interesting voice of the most powerful movement in contemporary American law.”

After a quick introduction by BtB Executive Director Jo Umans, Joan spoke about examining the connection between her subjects’ early lives and where these justices landed toward the latter end of their careers. She was particularly interested in understanding what sort of mantle people carried when they were a groundbreaking individual; for example, what is it like on the Supreme Court when you’re the first woman, African American, or Latino justice?

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Joan remembers speaking to Justice Sotomayor about how her upbringing affects her when she hears discriminatory rhetoric used in court cases

This question inspired the mantra that she used to guide her when gathering and relaying information about her subjects. In an anecdote about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joan emphasized how interviewing Ginsburg influenced her philosophy. Justice Ginsburg once said, “a wise woman and a wise man will eventually come to the same conclusions,” but, in a one-on-one conversation, she also revealed how personal experience could inform very different views of the law.

In an interview in 2009, Ginsburg recalled a case about a young girl who had been strip-searched (in the presence of a female nurse and female teacher) under suspicion of carrying illegal drugs. The girl didn’t have to remove all her clothing, but the experience was harrowing enough that she was mortified by her ordeal. The sentiment that Justice Ginsburg’s male colleagues had was essentially, “what’s the big deal?” Ginsburg’s resolved their lack of understanding with a simple phrase, “you know, they’ve never been a 13-year old girl.”

Joan realized that though wise people reached the same place, we were all informed by our background and our experiences in life. She also understood that in making decisions, there were no hard and fast rules, but shades of gray and that some justices–informed by their upbringing–didn’t have these experiences to necessarily recognize those shades of gray.

Before concluding, she took a few questions from the audience, and helped us speculate who could be next in line to succeed  several Supreme Court Justices after Obama’s term ended.

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All too soon it was time for Joan to leave, but not before chatting with law interns and signing a few books. She was especially pleased to meet a fan of hers who had read one of her biographies in high school.

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We couldn’t have asked for a more eye-opening and captivating literary experience and we’re thankful that Joan chose to spend her afternoon with us.

If you’d like to understand the inner workings of the Supreme Court, you can find her guides and biographies about Justice Scalia and Justice O’Conner on shelves now. Her latest book, Breaking In, an account of the political history leading to Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment will be in stores this October.

BTB Presents a One-Day Pop-Up Gallery Show

After several months of authors visits, dozens of broken pastels and BtB pencils reduced to stubs, some accidentally glued fingers, and pages of rewrites, Behind the Book’s spring programs finally winded down. As always, students impressed us with their level of creativity and dedication to their work.

Successfully completing a writing-based project is an essential part of our program. It is through the final project that students practice their new knowledge and skills and demonstrate how they’ve mastered those skills.  As regular readers of this blog and BtB supporters know, we most often celebrate these achievements by creating published books of our students’ work.

Publishing helps us communicate several important messages to students: they have the potential to be something they might have thought was impossible (a published author), the world cares about what they have to say, and they have something important to contribute. But creating published books takes several months, and for some of our spring programs, they started too late in the year to be able to publish those books on time. We had to find another way to celebrate our students.


Students of PS 46’s After School Program view their art and writing

We decided that a gallery show displaying art and writing created during these programs would be the best way to celebrate everyone–from our students, to our staff, and our donors as well.

One of our Young Executive Board members connected us to BOSI Contemporary, which graciously loaned their space to us for a day. We spent weeks preparing, even during the big move we had earlier this year. On June 16th, the staff mounted work from several classes and prepared the space.

On the day of the show, we brought the students in the show on a field trip to the gallery to see their work and learn about the work other classes around the city had contributed as well.


Everyone waited eagerly for their turn to enter through BOSI Contemporary’s silver doors.

When they walked in, indescribable expressions of wonder and pride appeared on their faces as they saw their work adorning the walls.

They pointed excitedly at which pieces belonged to them, and their friends.

Students also chose their favorite pieces from other classes.

Additionally, they had the opportunity to read some of their poems and prose out loud. Board president Staci Barber made a speech congratulating and thanking the students and their teachers.

Later in the evening, our donors, faithful supporters, and staff visited the space. They marveled at all the great work the kids had produced.

Annmarie Mcleoud, the librarian of CS 21 and Karyn Nicholson, principal at PS 46, came to support their students and schools and share some kind words about BTB’s programs.


Some of our authors attended as well, including Anne Capeci, Nina Crews, and Sofia Quintero. Each author made a small speech about participating in our programs. Sofia spoke about how much she loves hearing a student express that they didn’t enjoy the ending of her book, because it shows how invested they are in reading her story.

The event was a great success and went off without a hitch. A big congratulations to all our participating students and teachers, thank you to all our supporters who attended the evening event, and a huge, immense wave of gratitude to BOSI’s owner and staff!  We couldn’t be more proud of or more grateful to you all.

Check our facebook for more photos from the show!

An Abstract Exploration of Bullying

One in seven students in grade K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying, and about 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying.

Students express their emotions through abstract art

Students express their emotions through abstract art

We saw this bullying epidemic as an opportunity to help students translate their feelings through poetry and art, and it’s no surprise that the 3rd and 4th grade students at PS 46’s BTB Extended Day Program took to the challenge.

First, students read Love to Langston and DeShawn Days by Tony Medina. Over two workshops with Tony, students wrote persona poems about bullying. They had the option to take on one of four personas: the bully, the victim, a conflicted friend who can’t decide whether to step in, or a protector. Most students chose to portray the bully or the victim of bullying.

Tony shares laughter with students of BTB's After School Program

Tony shares some laughter with students

Having written their poetry, students were ready to begin the art portion. Our teaching artist, Barb Korein, illustrated the difference between abstract and realistic art.

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We encouraged them to reinterpret their writing into expressive abstract pieces using three different mediums of art: collage, watercolor, and cray pas.

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Students later revealed their final pieces!

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RSVP to have an exclusive look at this amazing abstract art project and other student work at our upcoming one-day pop-up exhibition on June 17th at Bosi Contemporary. More details can be found here. We hope to see you all at the show!

Meg Wolitzer Visits Kirkland & Ellis

On Monday, author Meg Wolitzer visited the summer law interns at Kirkland & Ellis, LLP. Meg’s visit was the fourth visit in our Summer Law Firm Reading Series.

Ms. Wolitzer’s visit began with a luncheon, featuring Thai cuisine and conversation between the audience and Ms. Wolitzer herself. Following the meal, Jo talked about Behind the Book and welcomed Meg to the podium to begin the reading. She chose a passage from her latest book, The Interestings, a novel that follows the lives of six teenagers from the beginnings of their friendships in the summer of 1973, through middle age.

After reading, Meg gave the interns some valuable insight into her writing process. “When I write, I try to stay open to what might happen. Suppose I want to kill a character, but they just don’t want to die, I have to leave room for the story to go somewhere else,” she said. This discussion evolved into a question-and-answer session, in which the interns asked about her inspiration and how she chose the cover for her book.

One of the more poignant questions was, “How do you develop such rich characters?” To which Ms. Wolitzer sagely responded, “When you remember a good book, you don’t remember plot, you remember characters. And so with this book, instead of writing lyrically, I focused on character development. I was inspired by the British longitudinal documentary series Up, in which a group of twenty kids are filmed every once seven years. You could see their progression through time and how their lives changed so drastically, and that’s what I wanted for the characters in this book.”

Ms. Wolitzer then signed the law interns’ books, and chatted with them as they stood in line.

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The Behind the Book Law Firm Reading Series is also a gateway for young professionals to learn more about getting involved with our Young Executive Board. The YEB is an opportunity for young professionals to support literacy, meet other like-minded professionals, and gain experience being on a board without having to make the same time or financial commitment as a regular board member would. If you are, or someone you know would be, interested in getting involved with our Young Executive Board, please contact Mica at

If you are interested in hosting a reading at your place of employment, women’s group, parents’ group, or other group within your firm or corporation, please contact Jo at

Building Intrigue Around Mysteries

Last Monday, Behind the Book made a final visit to Ms. Brown’s fifth grade classroom at PS 76.  The room was all decorated for our arrival.

Everyone was really excited to see Elizabeth Levy, the author whose book, Danger and Diamonds, they had all read. With her help, they wrote their own mystery book, which featured all the students, Ms. Brown, and even their principal, Mr. DeBerry, in starring roles!

After everyone got settled in, Liz showed them the published book on the Smart Board.

Then, everyone read the book all together. There was even a special guest – the principal, Mr. DeBerry!

Mr. DeBerry takes a look at the book his students wrote.

After reading, the students each got their own copy, and were treated to Munchkins and hot chocolate. They signed Liz Levy’s copy, and had a blast celebrating their accomplishments.

And, of course, we’re indebted to Columbia Community Service for their grant, which made these programs possible.

It was really fun!

If you’d like to see more photos from the event, you and find them here.

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern