Thirty Years and Counting: Our Highlight Reel
There’s magic in doing one thing for many years: it makes you more thoughtful, more intentional, more dedicated. In three decades, our passion for publishing beautiful and authentic diverse books for young readers has only grown.
How has a family-run, minority-owned, independent company been able to thrive in an industry as challenging as diverse book publishing?
One thing has kept us focused these past thirty years: a dedication to our mission. We have earned a reputation for high-quality books that are truly “about everyone - for everyone.” Educators seek out our books for their shelves because they know that Lee & Low’s books are meticulously researched and beautifully produced. Librarians await our new releases because they know our books will meet the needs of their communities. And parents choose our books to read at home because they know our books will celebrate and affirm windows and mirrors.
Over the years, we have discovered that a company’s longevity is based on many things gradually falling into place. Most importantly, the glue that holds a company together is its people. Having the right mix of staff with complementary skill sets and a dedication to the company mission is critical. Retaining long-serving staff, who have seen our company grow and change, adds clarity of purpose. It takes a long time to get this mix right.
The publishing world today holds little resemblance to the publishing world of the past. In order to prosper in today’s publishing industry, companies must remain in a constant state of nimbleness. It is important not to get so close to your business that you cannot see it objectively. In a lot of ways, a business is like a well-edited manuscript—one must not be afraid to “kill your darlings.” When Lee & Low first started, we followed practices that were right for us at the time, like selling exclusively to bookstores, but over the years, these approaches became passé and no longer served our ends. So, we pivoted, adapting to meet the needs of our audience by providing our books in many channels, including classrooms, bookstores, school libraries, curriculum, and electronic formats.
The highlight reel below is a glimpse into how we’ve kept Lee & Low perpetually moving forward. These were the major milestones that let us stay true to our mission: to publish books about everyone - for everyone.
To the journey.
The Staff of Lee & Low Books
1991: Dismayed by the lack of diversity in children’s books, Tom Low and Philip Lee found Lee & Low Books. Its mission: to actively address the dearth of multicultural children’s books in the marketplace and make a special effort to work with unpublished authors of color.
1993: One of the first Lee & Low titles, Baseball Saved Us, is published and receives a full-page review in the New York Times.
1998: In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, receives the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award from the American Library Association. Throughout the years, Lee & Low has been the recipient of many major awards including the Pura Belpré Award for Latinx children’s books, the Jane Addams Children's Book Award, the NAACP Image Award, and many more. See the abbreviated list.
2000: Unsatisfied with the ongoing underrepresentation of diverse creators, Lee & Low establishes its New Voices Award for a picture book manuscript by an unpublished author of color.
2000: Heeding educators’ calls for more diverse reading materials for shared and guided reading in the classroom, Lee & Low establishes Bebop Books as an exclusive imprint offering leveled books for beginning readers in English and Spanish.
2010: Recognizing that the lack of representation extends to books for older readers, Lee & Low establishes its Tu Books imprint to expand the company’s offerings for middle-grade and young adult readers.
2012: Lee & Low establishes the New Visions Award for unpublished authors of color for middle-grade and young adult manuscripts.
2012: Lee & Low acquires Children’s Book Press (CBP), which was founded in 1975 as the first independent press in the United States to focus on publishing children’s literature by and about people of color. Lee & Low commits to bringing CBP’s award-winning list of diverse and bilingual books back into print, and keeping the books in print, for future readers to enjoy.
2013: Lee & Low acquires multicultural children’s book publisher Shen’s Books, whose books emphasize cultural diversity and tolerance with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.
2013: Lee & Low launches its first Diversity Gap study to explore diversity and inclusion in children’s literature. An infographic with the results of the study goes viral and prompts the creation of subsequent infographics focused on film and the Academy Awards, theater and the Tony Awards, television and the Emmy Awards, US politics, the New York Times bestsellers list, sci-fi and fantasy blockbuster movies, and Silicon Valley and the tech industry. The results show alarming similarities in the systemic lack of representation across industries, and provide shareable, viral seeds for activism across many industries outside of publishing.
2014: Foreword Magazine names Lee & Low Books Indie Publisher of the Year for its commitment to diverse books and advocacy work.
2015 The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship is established to address one of the biggest obstacles in bringing more equity into publishing: the pipeline problem. The scholarship is a partnership between the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and Lee & Low Books.
2016: Lee & Low receives the Angel Award from the Carle Honors for "inspiring so many people with its dedication to multicultural books and to a new generation of artists and authors who offer children both mirrors and windows to the world."
2016: Lee & Low sponsors and organizes the Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS), the largest study ever done to examine diversity in the publishing industry workforce. The results spark a renewed sense of urgency on the question of how to recruit and retain more diverse talent in publishing.
2017: We establish a partnership with Storyline Online that results in Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis, Kevin Costner, Jaime Camil, and Dulé Hill, among other celebrities, reading our books aloud on video.
2017: Literacy nonprofit First Book and the NEA Foundation sponsor the publication of an additional debut novel by an author of color under the aegis of the New Visions Award. The resulting book, The Wind Called My Name by Mary Louise Sanchez, is published in 2018.
2019-2020: Lee & Low administers its follow-up Diversity Baseline Survey (DBS) 2.0, adding literary agents and university presses to the pool of respondents. The data from DBS 1.0 and DBS 2.0 is often cited by major news outlets as a way to hold the industry accountable in its equity efforts.
2021: Lee & Low partners with design consultancy OpenIDEO and the William Penn Foundation on their Early Childhood Book Challenge, publishing I’ll Build You a Bookcase in four bilingual editions (Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and Vietnamese) to support early literacy nationwide.
2021: The company celebrates thirty years of publishing beautiful, award-winning diverse books!
Testimonials from Partners and Supporters
Lee & Low Books is proud to work with organizations such as FirstBook, Teaching Tolerance, Reading is Fundamental, We Need Diverse Books, and the National Education Association. Our supporters include librarians, educators, booksellers, and bloggers.
Awards & Honors
Browse a partial listing of the awards and honors our books have received so far.
In the Press
Lee & Low has appeared in the New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, C-SPAN and numerous trade magazines.
The Diversity Baseline Survey
The Diversity Baseline Survey was designed to measure the lack of diversity within the publishing industry. Contact us if you are a publisher or reviewer.
Diversity in Publishing Summer Internship
Lee & Low books established the Diversity in Publishing Internship in response to the lack of diversity in the publishing industry.
Careers at Lee & Low
Interested in working with a publisher that values diversity in literature and the workplace? Apply today!
The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship
The Lee & Low and Friends Scholarship provides opportunities for students of color to enroll in the Simmons University graduate program in children's literature.
Lee & Low Ambassador
Meet Lee & Low's Librarian Ambassador, Andrea Jamison