Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

Author: Grace Lin
Title: The Year of the Dog
Illustrator: Grace Lin
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: 2006
ISBN: 0-316-06000-3

Pacy’s mother tells her that the Chinese Year of the Dog is a good year for friends, family, and discovering yourself and your talent. Pacy quickly finds a new friend in Melody Ling, another Taiwanese-American. Now she has two good friends, Melody and Becky. But finding out about herself and her talent takes more time. Through stories from her mother and her friendship with Melody, Pacy, also known as Grace Lin, explores her Taiwanese culture and the way other Taiwanese-Americans view their heritage. As the year passes, each of her friends finds their talents, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that Pacy discovers her own, the ability to write and illustrate stories.

Raised in upstate New York, Grace Lin is Taiwanese-American and uses her childhood experiences to create the story The Year of the Dog. Told in first person using the voice of a child, Grace, also known as Pacy by her family, shares her experiences throughout the Year of the Dog as she searches for friends and for her hidden talent; after all, the Year of the Dog is for finding your best friend, “because,” as her mother explains, “dogs are faithful.... The Year of the Dog is also for thinking. Since dogs are also honest and sincere, it’s a good year to find yourself...what you want to do--that kind of thing.”

Pacy shares her everyday experiences from school and from home. The personality of each friend and family member is presented in such as way that the reader feels as if they, too, know the family personally. Some of the stories are funny, bringing to mind episodes of our own childhood. During the Chinese New Year dinner, the fried fish stares at Pacy, “I didn’t like it, so I turned that plate around so it would look at Lissy instead.” They kept turning the plate back and forth until they finally had the fish stare at their younger sister who didn’t notice. Another dinner at her new friend Melody’s house introduced ‘healthy’ Chinese food to Pacy. “Yuck!...How could they eat this?...I just kept pushing the rice from one side of my plate to the other.” How many of us did this when we were younger or even now?

Other stories confront Pacy with her ethnicity in such a way that she is shocked and hurt, like the time her friend Becky tells her that she can’t be Dorothy from Wizard of Oz in the school play. “Dorothy’s not Chinese,” she said. Pacy thinks, “Suddenly, the world went silent. Like a melting icicle, my dream of being Dorothy fell and shattered on the ground. I felt like a dirty puddle after the rain.” She refuses to try out for the part and begins to think that Chinese people aren’t important. “You never see a Chinese person in the movies or in a play or in a book. No one Chinese is important.” The only book Melody and Pacy find in the school library is “The Seven Chinese Brothers” although the illustration shows another title, Five Chinese Brothers. “Those aren’t real Chinese people.... Your brother doesn’t have a ponytail.” From this discovery comes the seed of an idea. Melody challenges her to write her own book; Pacy remembers the book contest and accepts the challenge.

It isn’t only the White American viewpoint that Pacy has to overcome. Pacy also has to face prejudice within her own Taiwanese-American culture. Pacy and her family go to a Taiwanese-American Convention with Melody’s family. After Melody leaves, her mother encourages her to make new friends; however, when some girls discover that she can’t speak Chinese or Taiwanese, the girls treat her rudely. “My mother says she would never let me become Americanized. She said that when you’re Americanized you don’t have any culture.” “You’re a Twinkie!” another girl says. “My brother said Chinese people who are Americanized are Twinkies. Yellow on the outside but white on the inside!” Later Pacy talks to her mother. “It’s not fair. To Americans, I’m too Chinese, and to Chinese people, I’m too American. So which one am I supposed to be?” The mother’s answer, “You don’t have to be more one than the other, you’re Chinese-American.” “Or Taiwanese-American,” Pacy adds. “It’s so confusing.”

Pacy shares stories told to her by her family, relating them to the action of the story so that they become part of Pacy’s story, too. Pacy’s mother tells many stories like “How Grandpa Got Rich” since so many of their New Year foods symbolize wealth and “Mom Sleeps in School” because Pacy is so tired and doesn’t want to go to school. “The Paper Piano” is told by her mother to encourage Pacy “to work on your book a little bit every day, if you want it to be good, just like practicing an instrument.” Pacy enjoys telling her own stories, too. “How My Name Changed from Pacy to Grace” is one of Pacy’s own stories that she shares with her new Taiwanese-American friend, Melody when Melody is confused about why Pacy has two names.

The reader gets to share in some of the celebrations, rituals, and customs experienced by Pacy and her family. For the Chinese New Year, a candy tray is filled. “If it’s full of sweet things, it means your year will be full of sweet things.” However, Ki-Ki eats so much of the special Chinese New Year candy... (“I don’t know why. It isn’t real candy like chocolate or lollipops,” writes Pacy.)... that Pacy fills the rest of the tray with M&M’s. (“That’s real candy.”) Her older sister doesn’t believe this to be right, so they take it to their dad. He replies, “We should have both Chinese and American candy for the new year. It’s just like us—Chinese-American.” They start their own variation of a Chinese tradition.

One time Pacy has a crick in her neck and her grandma uses black stones and water to create black ink. She then paints the Chinese symbol for the tiger on one side of Pacy’s neck and a pig on the other. “The tiger should chase the pig and the running will massage your neck and you’re your neck feel better,” Grandma tells her. Pacy is worried that the paint won’t come off. Surprisingly, her neck feels better.

Then there was the Red Egg party for their new cousin, Albert. Not all Chinese babies get Red Egg parties, but when they do, you have to bring red eggs for good luck. When Pacy saw baby Albert, “He looked like a red egg. But it could have been because he was sleeping on all those red envelopes. Relatives kept coming by and slipping those envelopes stuffed with money into the crib..... Lucky Albert! He was already rich.” About the Chinese, Taiwanese, and American mixture in her life, Grace Lin admits in the author’s note, “At the time, I felt these different threads twisted my life into knots. Now I know that the fabric of my life is richer for them.”

Grace Lin adds little drawings in each chapter to illustrate some of the events, much as a child would do in a journal: “How to draw a dog,” “the fish” from the New Year’s dinner, “Mom sleeps in school,” “Lissy with red dye on her nose,” and “Albert’s Banner.” The simple drawings along with the emotions and stories shared in the text allow the reader to believe that a child is telling the story.

The unveiling of Pacy’s talent at the end of the year is a satisfying conclusion to her search; after all, she has shared herself through her stories and pictures throughout the Year of the Dog. After Halloween, Pacy finally receives the wealth and self-discovery that she sought all year. Grace’s book, The Ugly Vegetables, won fourth place in the National Written and Illustrated Awards Contest for Students. She receives $400! “I found myself!” I told everyone. “I’m going to make books when I grow up.” This was a real contest that existed until around 2005 when the company folded. Grace Lin did write the book, The Ugly Vegetables, but, she admits in the author’s note, Melody’s book, Flower Land, is really her book, Dandelion Story. She really won the prize that year for her science fair project. By weaving the threads of her life stories, and variations of these stories, with her simple pictures, Grace Lin has created a beautiful fabric of her childhood, one that leaves the reader wanting more.

Review excerpts:
Booklist starred
(January 1, 2006) “Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings.... Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace’s parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage. Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimaging them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.” (Gr. 3-5)

Horn Book (March/April 2006) “With a light touch, Lin offers both authentic Taiwanese-American and universal childhood experiences, told from a genuine child perspective. The story, interwoven with several family anecdotes, is entertaining and often illuminating. Appealing, childlike decorative line drawings add a delightful flavor to a gentle tale full of humor.”

Kirkus Review (December 15, 2005) “Occasional black-and-white drawings by the author enliven the text. This comfortable first-person story will be a great for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life.” (8-12)

Publishers Weekly (January 2, 2006) “Lin creates an endearing protagonist, realistically dealing with universal emotions and situations.... Girls everywhere, but especially those in the Asian-American community, will find much to embrace here.” (Ages 8-12)

School Library Journal (March 1, 2006) “At the end of the year, the protagonist has grown substantially. Small, captioned, childlike black-and-white drawings are dotted throughout. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.” (Gr. 3-5)

2006 Fall Publisher’s Pick
2006 ALA Children’s Notable
2006 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Gold Winner
2007-2008 Texas Bluebonnet Award Nominee
2007 Nene Awards Recommended List (Hawaii)
2007 Cochecho Readers’ Award List (NH)
2006 NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
2006 Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books
2006 Booklist Editors’ Choice for Middle Readers
2007 Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choice
Boston Authors Club Recommended Book
2007-2008 Great Lakes Great Books Award Nominee
2007-2008 North Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee
2007-2008 West Virginia Children’s Book Award Nominee
2009 Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award (OR) Nominee
2009 Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (WA, OR, ID) Nominee

If you want to read more about Pacy, read The Year of the Rat: a Novel by Grace Lin (2007). In this story, her best friend moves to California, a new boy comes to her school, and she finds the courage to continue writing and illustrating books.

Explore the Chinese New Year and the Chinese zodiac by reading other fiction and nonfiction books. Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin (2008) is a picture book in which a Chinese American family prepares for and celebrates the Lunar New Year. Story for the Chinese Zodiac by Moniz Chang (1994) is a Chinese/English bilingual story that retells the tale of how the gods named the Chinese zodiac by holding a race for the animals. Cat and Rat: the Legend of the Chinese Zodiac by Ed Young (1995) introduces the Chinese zodiac and the traits for each sign, and it includes a table showing the signs from 1900 through 2007. Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto (2009) provides colorful photos along with information on the history and current practices during the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year’s Crafts by Karen E. Bledsoe (2005) provide step-by-step instructions for creating ten craft projects for celebrating Chinese New Year. Western and Chinese New Year’s Celebration by Elizabeth A. Dice (2009) provides information on both the Western and Chinese New Year’s celebrations, allowing for discussion comparing the two.

The following websites also provide information on the Chinese New Year and the Chinese zodiac:

Have your students or your own child create and publish their own book as Pacy did in The Year of the Dog. Several websites provide information on student publishing. Some of them are free; some charge a small fee. Several of these companies also offer writing contests once a year.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: Kamishibai Man by Allen Say

Author: Allen Say
Title: Kamishibai Man
Illustrator: Allen Say
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication Date: 2005
ISBN: 978-0-618-47954-2

Not so long ago, there lived in Japan an old man and his wife. They called themselves Jiichan (Grandpa) and Baachan (Grandma) even though they had no children. It had been many years since the man had worked, but Jiichan decides to put his paper theater box on his bicycle and ride it into town. His wife makes the same candies for him to sell as she had so many years ago. When Jiichan arrives in the city, he is surprised at the changes, so many cars, tall buildings, and shops and restaurants where a park used to be. He sets up his stage, checks the story cards and candies inside, claps two wooden blocks together, and calls for the children to come. “Come gather around me, little ones, your kamishibai man is here again!” Jiichan recalls aloud the children who visited, the stories he told, the advent of television, and the last child who came to hear his stories. Suddenly, he hears voices asking for his stories. It was the same children, all grown up, ready to hear the kamishibai man once again.

Allen Say was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1937. He grew up during a time when kamishibai (paper theater) was popular. Many people took to the streets using this art form and selling candy in order to make a living during times of economic depression. Eventually, the economy improved and television was invented, making kamishibai unpopular as a reminder of harder times. Allen Say recalls the kamishibai man of his youth with fondness in the foreward. Since the kamishibai man’s stories always left the hero and heroine hanging from a cliff or getting pushed off it, “when I came to America, that (cliffhanger) was one expression that nobody had to explain to me.... Let me be your “paper theater man” for a day.”

Kamishibai Man focuses on the themes of aging and the effects of technological advancements in this heartwarming story of an elderly man’s attempt to recapture the joy he felt when he told stories using his paper theater. Many elderly people recall portions of their life with fondness and want to relive it. Jiichan tries to do just that as he loads up his theater and candy and pedals into the city to tell his stories once again. His legs are still good, he notes, and he almost seems to compare himself to a nearby bridge. “Well, good morning to you, rickety old bridge, still going strong after all these years, um, mmm.” He began humming a tune that his mother had sung to him long ago. When he arrives in the city, he is confused. It does not match his memories. “This isn’t right.... I must have taken a wrong turn.” Even though he recognizes bits and pieces, there were more cars, tall buildings, rude drivers, shops, and restaurants. “You’d think I was in another country!... Don’t remember such rude drivers.” He even notes the missing park and trees, all in the name of progress. After he parks his bicycle, opens his theater, and checks the story cards and candy, he starts to hum again. He is back in his memories of his past. Clapping two wooden blocks together, Jiichan calls the children of his memories to him, for there are none around to hear.

Up until this point, the watercolor illustrations have been realistically rendered using shadows and texture to add depth to the background of the hills, trees, and city and to provide texture to Jiichan’s clothing and expression and emotions to his face. Suddenly, the paintings change. As Jiichan greets the children of his past, the storytelling frame shows them running up to him; however, they are painted in a flatter, cartoon-like manner, in the same style that was used on many of the story cards in kamishibai storytelling. Jiichan’s face is younger, but the expression is similar and just as expressive as in the more realistic style. “Long, long ago, there once lived an old man and his wife who had no children...” he begins just as his own story began before he rode to town.

Then one night he recalls seeing a crowd of people watching a television. “It showed moving pictures; they were all jerky and blurry and had no colors at all,” yet antennas began to “sprout from the rooftops like weeds in the springtime.” It wasn’t long before the children stopped coming to hear his stories. They began to act like they didn’t know him and rudely shushed him for making too much noise with his clappers. Technology had changed the children’s expectations of entertainment, their attitudes toward elders, and their beliefs in what was important in life. Jiichan recalled one boy, a poor boy, who claimed not to like television. He wanted to hear Jiichan’s stories, so Jiichan told one last story, “Little One Inch.” “That was the last time I saw that boy. That was the last day I was a kamishibai man.” The illustration shows Jiichan’s back as the boy runs away, leaving Jiichan alone, never to tell stories again.

Suddenly, the illustrations change back to the original style with an older Jiichan still standing in the same position as his younger self from his memories. Voices are calling out, “I was that boy!” and “We grew up with your stories!” From all around him, people dressed in a variety of clothing began to clap and beg for their favorites. He gave a young man with a camera candy, “Just like the old days!” When he got home, Baachan was waiting amidst traditional Japanese furniture, dressed in a kimono, and watching the evening news on a story about the kamishibai man. “Will you be going out tomorrow?” she asks. “Umm, yes. And the day after.” “Then you’ll need more sweets.” She shuts off the television as we should shut off ours. We are left hanging on a cliff, wondering if Jiichan will be able to continue successfully as the kamishibai man in today’s world.

Japanese folklore scholar Tara McGowan includes an afterword that adds more historical background to the art of kamishibai for the reader. “Eventually kamishibai as a street-performance art all but disappeared. The artists...turned to more lucrative pursuits,...but they never forgot their roots in kamishibai,” just as Allen Say never forgot his roots, successfully blending a modern art style with the kamishibai style to create an unforgettable tale from his past in Kamishibai Man.

Review excerpts:
Booklist starred (September 15, 2005) “The quietly dramatic, beautifully evocative tale contains a cliffhanger of its own, and it exquisite art, in the style of Kamishibai picture cards, will attract even the most jaded kid away from the TV to enjoy a good, good book.” (Gr 1-3)

Horn Book (November/December 2005) “Say’s paintings are lovely: eloquent characterization, evocative landscapes, and, for the memory sequence, a more freely drawn style that recalls the vanished art form he celebrates.”

Kirkus Review (October 15, 2005) “Say effectively incorporates two illustration styles here-lovely soft watercolors and a more cartoonish style for flashbacks to the heyday of kamishibai. A fascinating window on a bygone art form.” (6-10)

Library Media Connection (March 2006) “Sparse text, eloquent in its simplicity, poignantly leads readers deeper into the story line.... Lustrous watercolors provide cultural insights into Japan’s households and cities. Readers will pause to carefully examine the detailed illustrations, which extend the text.”

Publishers Weekly (August 22, 2005) “Say’s gift is to multiply themes without struggling under their weight. Aging, cultural change, the way humans seem to lose warmth with technological advances-he gestures toward all of these while keeping the lens tightly focused on the kamishibai man.” (Ages 4-8)

School Library Journal (October 1, 2005) “Say’s distinctive style and facial expressions are especially touching.... The power of the story and the importance of the storyteller are felt in this nostalgic piece that makes readers think about “progress.”” (Gr 1-5)

2006 ALA Notable Children’s Book
2006 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award
2006 Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature Nominee
2005 Parent’s Choice Gold Award
2005 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

Use kamishibai with your students or your own children. There are a number of resources available to purchase, or you can create your own. The Kamishibi Classroom: Engaging Multiple Literacies Through the Art of “Paper Theater” by Tara McGowan, a noted Japanese folklore scholar, includes step by step instructions to develop this interactive teaching tool to use across the curriculum (2010). Kamishibai Story Theater: The Art of Picture Telling by storyteller Dianne De las Casas (2006) presents adaptations of twenty-five folktales from Asia with tips and suggestions for classroom use. Manga Kamishibai: the Art of Japanese Paper Theater by Eric Peter Nash (2009) offers interested adults a historical background of kamishibai through current use with manga plus several full-length stories.

Several websites provide information and supplies to get started in kamishibai. Kamishibai for Kids at http://www.kamishibai.com/ provides a history, how to use, teacher’s guide, literacy information, resources, and more. An interesting article “Raising literate kids the kamishibai way” can be found in the Education in Japan Community Blog at http://educationinjapan.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/raising-literate-kids-the-kamishibai-way/. Storycard Theater at http://www.storycardtheater.com/ which received Dr. Toy’s 10 Best Creative Products Winner offers kamishibai products for purchase.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park

Author: Linda Sue Park
Title: When My Name was Keoko
Illustrator: none noted
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: 2002
ISBN: 0-618-13335-6

The year is 1940. Sun-hee and her older brother Tae-yul, having grown up in occupied Korea, tell their story in alternating chapters. They are taught Japanese in school, have never seen the Korean flag, and are only allowed to speak Korean in their home. Now, things are changing. The Japanese have decreed that everybody must take a Japanese name. They will be punished if they call anybody by their Korean name. Suddenly, Sun-hee and Tae-yul become Keoko and Nobuo. When the Japanese empire spreads its wings too far by bombing Pearl Harbor, World War II begins in the Pacific. Although Korea never sees any direct fighting, they, too, feel the effects of war. Food, clothing, metal, and young men and women are confiscated in the name of supporting the Emperor. The underground Korean resistence grows stronger, supported by protecting Uncle and providing food and clothing for his family. Sun-hee, the guardian of her uncle’s and brother’s secrets, is left behind with her father and mother. After rigorous training, Tae-yul is chosen to be a Kamikaze pilot. Less than two months after the news of her brother’s death, the war ends. The joy felt by Sun-hee and her parents when Korea is set free from Japanese rule is bittersweet.

Linda Sue Park is the daughter of Korean immigrants. She grew up outside Chicago and has been writing stories and poems since she was four years old. In an author's note, Park writes about some of the facts she discovered during her research and about her family. By including stories told to her by her parents about their experiences as children in occupied Korea, Linda Sue Park wrote When My Name was Keoko, the same Japanese name her mother had to use as a child. A bibliography lists the items used by Parks to research the historical details included in the story. A note on Korean terms of address assists the reader in understanding the importance of family relationships and respect. The research combined with the family stories and Park’s writing style brings the tale of Keoko Kaneyama and her brother to life.

Most history books cover the battles and the experiences of military commanders. Yet war can affect people on the home front, those who never face an actual battle. So it is with Sun-hee, Tae-yul, and the rest of the Kim family in Korea from 1940 through 1945. Through the use of vivid imagery, Sun-hee and Tae-yul alternate telling their story using a first person point of view. Details of their lives, customs, and language are included to authenticate the story, making it more real than a simple textbook rendition would provide. Through these years, Sun-hee and Tae-yul mature, showing their bravery and family loyalty in ways that reflect their personalities.

“I wasn’t supposed to listen to men’s business, but I couldn’t help it.... Ears don’t close the way eyes do.” Despite this, Sun-hee is curious and slowly clears the table hoping to hear more. Girls and women are protected from the ‘outside’ world. The male head of the household tells them what he feels they should know. Yet, Sun-hee is an observer, who likes to discover the deeper meaning behind things and a scholar who likes to learn languages.

Her ability to understand unspoken words was not always accurate. When her Japanese friend Tomo tries to give her a warning about an upcoming Japanese request for all household metals like that used by her uncle, she misunderstands and warns Uncle that the Japanese are coming to get him. He disappears into the underground resistance never to be seen again. From this misunderstanding, Sun-hee learned to act slowly and to seek the advice of others before acting on her interpretations. When her family receives a letter from Tae-yul, Sun-hee reads for the deeper meaning. A reference to a special assignment and to the Youth Air Corps leads her to believe that Tae-yul was going to be a kamikaze pilot. “Remember Tomo—remember Uncle.... Don’t make a mistake this time.” She wants to tell the Japanese that her brother supports her uncle in the underground resistance in order to stop Tae-yul’s flight, but she seeks her father’s advice before acting. Abuji helps her to see that this would lead to either the imprisonment or the death of Tae-yul. Sun-lee knows that she has to leave any actions in her father’s hands.

Sometimes a decision to not act takes more courage than a decision to take action. Sun-hee’s courage is also seen in other ways as she supports friends and family. She helps Omani (her mother) and Tae-yul pot a rose of Sharon tree and hide it from the Japanese who had ordered that all of these symbols of Korea be destroyed. She warns her uncle when she thinks he is in danger. She helps her neighbor, Mrs. Ahn, learn to count to five in Japanese and get her into line in one of the first five spots during neighborhood accounting so that she wouldn’t get beaten again. She defies the Japanese order not to write poetry and stories in a diary by starting a new one after the other is burned. She asks to learn to read Korean from her father even though this is forbidden. And, the hardest of all, she stays friends with Tomo who is Japanese and Jung-shin whose father was chin-il-pa (friend to the Japanese) even though both of these things could have her labeled chin-il-pa.

Unlike his sister, Tae-yul much prefers to work with his hands. Over time, he is allowed to work more often in Uncle’s printing shop where he discovers that Uncle is secretly printing a resistance newspaper. To Tae-yul, his uncle is brave. He begins to question his father’s bravery. Uncle gets mad when their radio is confiscated by the Japanese, but not his father. “Abuji says it’s no use getting angry. But how can he not get angry?” Then Tae-yul’s bike is taken as his father does nothing. Tae-yul says, “You just let them take it. You didn’t even try to stop them. Couldn’t you have thought of something—anything--” Questioning a father’s decision is the rudest thing a son can do. Yet there are moments of understanding, like when his sister’s diary is burned by the Japanese and the family can only watch. Tae-yul is angry, but realizes that, like Abuji when his father’s topknot was cut off by the Japanese, “What could he have done? What could any of us do?”

One day, Tae-yul is picked up by the police and questioned about his uncle. The Japanese want to use Tae-yul as bait to capture Uncle. In order to prevent this, Tae-yul shows his courage by enlisting in the Japanese military, deliberately disobeying a command from his father. “I believe in Uncle and in the things he believes in. I’d do anything not to betray him. Anything. Even join the army of his sworn enemy.” After Tae-yul volunteers to be a pilot for a special mission in order to show that Koreans, too, are courageous, he and other Koreans in his unit are treated with more respect. Yet, Tae-yul knows he can not destroy American ships or planes, so he bravely plans to miss his target and die as he destroys his plane.

When the war ends and Tae-yul is home once more, he does not speak of his time in prison. Then Abuji admires the courage it took somebody to write an article in Uncle’s paper which openly criticized the Japanese economic policy. Tae-yul yells, “What right do you have to speak of courage?” He runs out the door, thinking, “My father is a coward.” “Why should I respect a coward?” he asks Sun-hee. She shows him Uncle’s paper. Abuji wrote many of the articles in the paper, but kept it secret from his family. Tae-yul understands the courage it took for his father to risk writing for a resistance newspaper. “My eyes start to feel hot, and the print slowly goes all blurry.” Tae-yul realizes that courage comes in many forms.

Review excerpts:
Booklist (March 1, 2002) “Park does a fine job of showing how the politics of the occupation and resistance affect ordinary people.” (Gr. 5-9)

Horn Book (May/June 2002) “The boy/girl narrative widens the audience,...but the structure also allows readers to see events from two sometimes-opposing points of view and to witness two different but equally honorable paths of resistance.... The novel provides an accessible introduction to this painful history.”

Kirkus Review starred (February 1, 2002) “This powerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression.” (10-15)

Publishers Weekly (March 4, 2002) “...telling details provide a clear picture of Sun-hee and Tae-yul and their world. Readers will come away with an appreciation of this period of history and likely a greater interest in learning more about it.” (Ages 10-14)

School Library Journal (April 1, 2002) “What is outstanding is the insight Park gives into the complex minds of these young people.... Like the Rose of Sharon tree, symbol of Korea, which the family pots and hides in their shed until their country is free, Sun-hee and Tae-yul endure and grow. This beautifully crafted and moving novel joins a small but growing body of literature...that expands readers’ understanding of this period.” (Gr 6-9)

2006 Sunshine State Young Readers’ Master List
2005 Garden State (NJ) Teen Book Award Nominee
2005 Sequoyah Book Awards (OK) Nominee
2005 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award
2005 Mark Twain Award Master List (MO)
2004 Skipping Stones Honor Award
2004 Maine Student Book Award Master List
2003 Jane Addams Book Award Honor Book
2003 ALA Notable Children’s Book
2003 Notable Children’s Trade Book in Social Studies
2003 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
2003 Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year
2003 NYPL Book for the Teen Age List
2003 CCBC Choices
2002 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
2002 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
2002 NY Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading

Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood by Richard E. Kim (1998) is an autobiography which provides seven stories about the life of a boy living in Korea during the Japanese occupation. This book adds a difference perspective to When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park. Further explore the importance of names by reading The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (2001) in which Unhei moves to the United States from Korea and asks her classmates to help her choose a new name. Have everybody pick a name from a jar. That will be their name for the day. How did they feel?

Read other historical fiction books about things that happened in Korea during, and after, the 1940s. In Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi (1991), a young Korean girl survives the Japanese and Russian occupation of North Korea, later escaping to freedom in South Korea. Echoes of the White Giraffe (1993) is the sequel in which Sookan adjusts to life in the refugee village in Pusan, hoping to be reunited with her family in Seoul. What happened to the Japanese who lived in Korea after WWII? So Far From the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins (1986) is a fictionalized autobiography in which Yoko escapes from Korea to Japan with her mother and sister at the end of WWII.

For more information on Korea during the time of the Japanese occupation, visit http://koreanhistory.info/japan.htm or http://www.lifeinkorea.com/information/history2.cfm.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: A Boy Called Slow by Joseph Bruchac

Author: Joseph Bruchac
Title: A Boy Called Slow
Illustrator: Rocco Baviera
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Date: 1994
ISBN: 0-399-22692-3

In the winter of 1831, the family of Returns Again to Strike the Enemy of the Lakota Sioux tribe was blessed with the birth of a boy. Unknown to the family, this boy was destined for greatness, but first he needed to be given a childhood name. He ate slowly even when hungry; he moved slowly even though he was not sleepy. So they named him “Slon-he” or Slow. Slow did not like his name. He dreamed of earning a powerful new name by having a vision of bravery or by doing a special deed. One day, Returns Again met with an ancient bull buffalo who passed on four more names for Returns Again. Slow was proud of his father and knew that one day, he, too, would have a different name. He was careful and deliberate in everything he did, but once he decided on a course of action, Slow would go forward and not turn back. His name came to mean determination and courage. Still, Slow dreamed of having a braver name.

When he was fourteen, Slow decided to join his father and some other men as they raided the Crow. The war party took their places and waited for the Crow to come nearer. Slow decided it was time. He charged ahead so quickly that the other warriors could not catch up. Slow struck an enemy’s arm with his coup stick deflecting the aim of his arrow. The Crow saw the band of warriors riding toward them and fled. The fight was over. Not one Lakota life had been lost. Slow was a hero. His father gave him a new name, one of the names the old buffalo had given him...Tatan’ka Iyota’ke...Sitting Bull.

Joseph Bruchac is a writer and storyteller of Abenaki, English, and Slovak ethnicity who focuses on northeastern Native American and Anglo-American lives and folklore. The illustrator, Rocco Baviera, has won numerous awards for his artwork. For A Boy Called Slow, Baviera visited the Dakotas, the land of the Sioux, where he met Sitting Bull’s great-great-grandson, Isaac Dog Eagle. Together, Bruchac and Baviera captured the essence of Sitting Bull’s land, life, and people through carefully chosen words and images.

The setting is established on the first page as a child is born in a teepee late at night during the year 1831 to the Hunkpapa band of the Lakota Sioux. Lakota terms printed in italics are used throughout the book, adding a feeling of authenticity to the culture represented. These terms are often defined for the English reader soon after they are used. “U we!...Come here quickly!” “Nihwa hwo?... Are you sleepy?”

The importance of women to the culture is demonstrated. The father, Returns Again to Strike the Enemy, thanks Wakan-Tanka for giving him a son even though he knew “that women are the heart of the nation.” Slow’s mother is shown to be wise, teaching him, “You must always help and protect your people…. A true Lakota shares everything with the people.”

The custom and importance of bestowing a childhood name is described. “Such names came from the way a child acted. So it had been with Returns Again and his father before him.” His tiyospaye, his extended family, all watched the boy closely until a name was chosen. If he had tried to eat everything, he might have been named “Hungry Mouth.” If he had been quick and watchful, he might have been named “Mouse.” Instead, he was slow and deliberate in his actions. “Slon-he,” his father said. “That is the name for our son.”

Storytelling is important to the Lakota Sioux, and so the story of how horses came to the people is told to Slow by his uncle Four Horns. History says the white man or wasicun brought the horses, but Slow’s uncle tells the story of how Wakan-Tanka sent “a new animal as faithful as our dogs but able to pull our loads and carry us as quick as the whirlwind into the hunt, the Shoong-Ton’kah, the ‘Spirit Dog.’”

The respect for nature is seen when Returns Again, who is known for his ability to understand the speech of the animals and the birds, earns him four more names from an ancient bull buffalo after he prevents the buffalo from being harmed. Slow, too, “knew that his gray pony understood him…, it was as if the two of them were one.”

For the Lakota Sioux, adult names have to be earned. New names are given to children after they have proven themselves through a vision or a deed. “Slow wished for this vision of bravery to come to him.” After he had seen fourteen winters, Slow followed his father on a raid. Wearing only his moccasins and his breech cloth with a coup stick in his hand, Slow kicks his horse’s sides shouting, “Hiyu’wo!” as he leads the attack on the Crow. For his bravery, Returns Again gives him one of the names granted him by the buffalo, Tatan’ka Iyota’ke or Sitting Bull. He had earned the respect of his tribe and his new name.

The oil paintings used as illustrations are dark, mysterious, barely defining the faces of the people, yet they add an almost spiritual sense of the land and of the people’s lives to the actions in the story. Touches of color against the darker palette accentuate the action by adding splashes of warmth and light in the morning sky, the glow of the fire, the paintings of the teepees, and the brown hide of the horse and the skin of Slow as they race into battle. Finally, the individual features of Sitting Bull are revealed in a portrait through which the land and the sun can been seen as if they are one.

Although not a true biography given the undocumented words spoken by the characters, A Boy Called Slow is a wonderful historical fiction picture book that will inspire young readers to seek out more information on Sitting Bull and other Native Americans.

Review excerpts:
School Library Journal
(Oct95) “This book works beautifully as historical fiction; it is less successful as biography as none of the dialogue is documented. An inspiring story.” (Gr 1-6)

Horn Book Magazine (Sep/Oct 95) “The pictures evoke a sense of timelessness and distance, possessing an almost mythic quality that befits this glimpse into history.”

Publishers Weekly (January 9, 1995) “Bruchac's meaty yet cohesive narrative is richly complemented by Baviera's large, atmospheric paintings.... Satisfying for its attention to historical and multicultural issues; stirring in its consummate storytelling.” (Ages 5 & up)

Booklist (March 15, 1995) “In brilliant counterpoint to the story's emotional timelessness is Baviera's vision of the Lakotas as spiritually and culturally distant from us.” (Ages 6-9)

Native Peoples Magazine (Spring 95) “Joseph Bruchac, a writer of Abenaki descent, invests Slow’s search for a worthy name with spiritual significance through the tribal wisdom he learns from his elders.” (Ages 5 and up)

Kid’s Choice Award (Buffalo Alliance for Education) 2006
ALA Notable Children’s Book 1995
National Education Association’s Native American Booklist 2010
Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Regional Book Award 1996

Study the Lakota people by reading nonfiction books such as The Lakota by Michael Burgan, part of the First American series (2009) or Lakota Sioux Children and Elders Talk Together by E. Barrie Kavasch (1999). Visit websites such as http://www.lakhota.com/ where you can learn some of the Lakhota language. Facts for Kids at http://www.bigorrin.org/sioux_kids.htm provides background information to compare to other sites and books read while searching for authentic information. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe website at http://www.sioux.org/ will offer current information from an official Sioux site. For fun, read a traditional Lakota story like The Star People: A Lakota Story (2003) or Gift Horse: A Lakota Story (2000) both by S. D. Nelson, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the Dakotas.

You may also want to study Sitting Bull’s life in further detail. Sitting Bull Remembers by Ann Warren Turner (2007) has mixed reviews, but it presents an interesting viewpoint whereby Sitting Bull reflects back on the details of his own life. Seeing the Future: the Final Vision of Sitting Bull by Jennifer Silate (2007) looks at Sitting Bull’s life after he and his people were sent to the reservation at Standing Rock, North Dakota in 1883.

Explore other famous Lakota Sioux. Crazy Horse’s Vision (2000) by Joseph Bruchac centers around Crazy Horse’s vision quest as a child after he sees U.S. Army Soldiers attack his people. Black Elk’s Vision: a Lakota Story (2010) by S. D. Nelson describes how a childhood vision influenced the life of Black Elk, a Lakota-Oglala medicine man.


Review: Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Title: Jingle Dancer
Illustrator: Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Publisher: Morrow Junior Books
Publication Date: 2000
ISBN: 0-688-16241-X

Jenna, a girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent, dreams of dancing the jingle dance in the next powwow, a family tradition. She practices by following every movement made by her grandmother on a video tape. Finally, she asks for her grandmother’s permission. When Jenna gets approval, she has to find enough jingles to make her dress sing. There is not enough time to order the jingles, so Jenna visits neighbors and relatives, asking each of them to lend her one row from their dress. She did not want the other dresses to “lose their voices.” Finally, she has enough jingles. Together, Jenna and her grandmother sew the jingles on Jenna’s dress, and she is able to perform in the powwow.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and writes fiction for children based on modern-day American Indians, a much needed area in children’s literature. Jingle Dancer is a beautifully illustrated and written portrayal of a modern-day Native American girl and her family, a rare treasure to include in your collection. An author’s note at the end provides information on the main character’s heritage (Muscogee and Ojibway, the same as the Smith’s heritage) and community (Oklahoma), the Creek Nation, the story of Bat told by ‘Great-aunt Sis’, the Ojibway people, the jingle dance and dress, the customs surrounding a new dancer, and the importance of the number four which is believed by some Native Americans to be a sacred number symbolizing “the four directions, four seasons, four stages of life, and four colors of man.” A glossary contains the four terms used in the story: fry bread, Indian taco, powwow, and regalia. The information provided combined with the author’s background establishes the authenticity of Jingle Dancer as written by someone who is part of the community.

Being a story about dancing, rhythm and voice are important elements to convey. Smith has successfully integrated these elements through imagery and repetition. “Tink, tink, tink, tink, sang cone-shaped jingles.” Jenna’s heart beat to the “brum, brum, brum, brum of the powwow drum.” The number four is used in the repetition of sounds and in the number of rows of jingles Jenna needs to give her dress a voice. “As Moon kissed Sun good night,” “As Sun fetched morning,” “As Sun arrived at midcircle,” “As Sun caught a glimpse of Moon,” and “As Moon glowed pale,” are phrases used to poetically illustrate the time of day, a link to the natural cycles of the earth. At every house Jenna visits in her quest to acquire enough jingles for her dress to sing, she asks to borrow enough jingles to make one row “not wanting to take so many that the dress would lose its voice.”

The life of a modern-day Native American is revealed through the characters’ occupations, home, and dress. The beautiful watercolor illustrations add details to the story, placing it in the here and now and demonstrate that not all Native Americans today live in poverty. Jenna watches Grandma Wolfe dance on a videotape. Modern-day furnishings, a sofa, a TV, a family room carpet, bookshelf, and lamp, surround Jenna as she practices her dancing. She dances down the street to Great-aunt Sis’s porch, passing middle-class suburban homes and cars. Mrs. Scott’s kitchen shines bright with sunlight on modern-day appliances as they prepare the dough for fry bread, the same type of food Mrs. Scott will be selling at the powwow. Cousin Elizabeth and Jenna carry files from the law firm into the apartment. Even with the modern-day setting, touches of their Native American heritage can be seen in the background including hand woven baskets and blankets, the pattern on the family room carpet, the pouch Jenna carries with the jingles inside, the barrette worn by Mrs. Scott, the dream catcher hanging in Cousin Elizabeth’s house, and, of course, the dresses and beaded moccasins.

A simple plot, to find enough jingles to make her dress sing, is used to demonstrate the love and respect each character feels for each other in the extended family and close-knit modern Native American community. The love and respect Jenna feels for Grandma Wolfe, her Great-aunt Sis, Mrs. Scott, and her Cousin Elizabeth is demonstrated through Jenna’s actions as she visits. Each of them is within walking distance. Jenna puts her head on Grandma Wolf’s shoulder and mimics her dance steps from the video. She listens to the traditional story told by her Great-aunt Sis and kisses her on the cheek. She helps Mrs. Scott make the dough for fry bread and gives her a high five, and she carries in her Cousin Elizabeth’s files and clasps her hands in thanks. In the end, Jenna dances, not for herself, but ...”for Great-aunt Sis, whose legs ached, for Mrs. Scott, who sold fry bread, for Elizabeth, who worked on her big case, and for Grandma Wolfe, who warmed like Sun. Tink, tink, tink, tink.”

Review excerpts:
Booklist (May 15, 2000) “The colorful, will-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story.” (Ages 4-7)

Horn Book (Fall 2000) “The author is deliberately showing us, it would seem, that all Native Americans are not poor or live on rundown reservations. A useful portrayal of an important cultural event in a Creek girl’s year.” (5-9)

Library Talk (September/October 2000) “This book would be a welcome addition to any elementary library.... Highly recommended.”

Publishers Weekly (May 15, 2000) “Smith, a mixed-blood member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, convincingly juxtaposes cherished Native American tradition and contemporary lifestyle in this smooth debut.” (Ages 4-10)

School Library Journal (July 2000) “Seeing Jenna as both a modern girl in the suburban homes of her intertribal community and as one of many traditionally costumed participants at the powwow will give some readers a new view of a contemporary Native American way of life.... This picture book will not only satisfy a need for materials on Native American customs, but will also be a welcome addition to stories about traditions passed down by the women of a culture.” (K-Gr 3)

Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies 2001
2 x 2 Reading List (Texas Library Association) 2001
Oklahoma Book Award finalist 2001
Storyteller Award finalist from the Western Writers Association 2002
CCBC Choice 2001
Read Across Texas Bibliography (Texas State Library and Archives Commission) list 2002
Michigan Reader’s Choice Award List 2002

Jingle Dancer can be used to introduce the continued importance of dance to many modern-day Native Americans, specifically the Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe). History of these tribes can be studied through nonfiction books like The Creeks by Jill Ward (2010) or The Creek by Liz Sonneborn. These books discuss the history and traditions of the Creek tribes of Native Americans. The Ojibwa Indians by Bill Lund (1999) and The Ojibwa by Michelle Lomberg (2004) examines the past and present lives of the Ojibwa people including homes, communities, clothing, food, tools, weapons, defense, religion and beliefs, ceremonies and celebrations, music and dance, language and storytelling, and art. Websites like that from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (http://www.muscogeenation-nsn.gov/), Native American Facts for Kids (http://bigorrin.org/chippewa_kids.htm ) by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee, or, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (http://www.llojibwe.com/) should be included to compare information provided by the books for authenticity.

Study the jingle dance by visiting its history on the Manataka American Indian Council site (http://www.manataka.org/page685.html) or the Gathering of Nations site (http://www.gatheringofnations.com/educational/powwow_dancers/index.htm). View videos of jingle dancers at powwows from across the country by performing a videos search on Google for ‘jingle dance’. Include a visit from a local Native American tribe during which they may share some of their traditions such as the Gathering of Nations traveling show (http://www.gatheringofnations.com/traveling_show/index.htm).


Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Author: Louise Erdrich
Title: The Birchbark House
Illustrator: Louise Erdrich
Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
Publication Date: 1999
ISBN: 0-7868-2241-4

Omakayas and her family live on the Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker, or Moningwanaykaning. The cycle of the seasons rules their life: where they live, what they eat, the type of house that shelters them, the clothes they wear. This is all Omakayas knows. But one winter, the rhythm of life changes. A stranger, a chimookoman (white man) comes to visit, bringing with him an enemy they cannot fight...smallpox. One by one, Omakayas’s family is stricken, until it is up to her to save them. Those who survive are changed forever.

Set in 1847 on an island in Lake Superior, The Birchbark House is based on the traditional life of the Ojibwa. The author, Louise Erdrich, was born in Minnesota to a German-American father and a French-Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) mother. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation. Her parents taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and her grandfather was a tribal chairman for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. As Erdrich states in the acknowledgment, “This book and those that will follow are an attempt to retrace my own family’s history.... All mistakes are mine.” This background served Louise Erdrich well when writing The Birchbark House, giving her an insider’s viewpoint which allows her to include details that an outsider would not think to include.

“Omakayas’s family was Anishinabeg.” Aninishinbeg is the original name for the Ojibwa or Chippewa people, the same tribe that Erdrich is descended from. Throughout the book, the language of the Anishinabeg is used within the text of the story. “Stop it, Pinch! Gaygo, Pinch! Stop it!” “They must have said it more times as they traveled the lake than there were waves or fish alongside of them!” Terms are often defined in English after being introduced, but each term is rarely redefined after the initial introduction. A glossary is available at the end of the book to assist the reader. An author’s note on the Ojibwa language precedes the glossary. “Ojibwa was originally a spoken, not written, language, and for that reason spellings are often idiosyncratic. There are also many, many dialects of Ojibwa in use.” This statement is followed by an apology for any mistakes and the sources that were used for the Ojibwa terms and their meanings.

The setting, customs, dress, food, and shelter all emerge in detail as Omakayas and her family live their lives through the seasons of a year. The book is divided into four sections, each one based on the season for which it is named: Neebin (Summer), Dagwaging (Fall), Biboon (Winter), and Zeegwun (Spring). After tobacco was offered to the birch tree in thanks for its skin, the making of the birchbark house is described in detail as Omakayas helps her grandmother, Nokomis, peel the birchbark from the tree in the summer. Oral storytelling is one of the customs that is woven into Omakayas’s life, as it is found in the fabric of life for many Native Americans. The father, Deydey, and the grandmother, Nokomis, both tell stories to the family, sometimes for entertainment only as in Deydey’s ghost story, sometimes for a life lesson, as in the story of how the earth began, “Nanabosho and Muskrat Make an Earth”.

Illustrations done by Erdrich add to the story. Each individual can be identified through unique features, mannerisms, and dress. Old Tallow has legs like poles, smokes a pipe, and wears threadbare makazins, a dress with the teeth of a fox at the collar and a scraggly, ripped hem, and her braids tucked into a broad-brimmed hat with a little feather from the gold-breasted woodpecker in the band. I only saw one inconsistency within the illustrations. Omakayas’s clothing changed from the scene on page 30 when she meets the Mama bear and the following scene on page 36 after she ran home and started scraping the moose hide to prepare the skin for use. Separately, the clothing in each illustration appears to be authentic, but back-to-back, the unexpected change caught my eye. Other than that, the details provided by the black and white illustrations added to the life and the characters described within the text.

As the seasons passed and life’s events both big and small were encountered, each of the characters evolved. Omakayas discovered healing. “It felt very good to her to heal another human, even if that human was Pinch.” Even Pinch matured as he faced death and survived. “In the old days, Pinch would have teased her and made her feel bad because her bird preferred him. Something had changed,” thought Omakayas after Pinch had helped her get her bird to come back to them. Rich in character development with a well-developed plot, descriptive language, authentic details, and a setting that is woven into the lives of the characters, The Birchbark House leaves me wanting to read more.

Review excerpts:
Publishers Weekly
(5/31/99) “Into her lyrical narrative, Erdrich weaves numerous Ojibwa words, effectively placing them in context to convey their meanings. Readers will want to follow this family for many seasons to come.” (Ages 9-up)

School Library Journal (5/01/99) “While this title will not appeal to fans of fast-paced action, readers who enjoy a variety of deftly drawn characters, relationships that ring true, and fascinating details about the daily life of the Ojibwa will be attracted to this endearing and irrepressible girl.” (Gr. 4-6)

Kirkus Reviews (1999) “With this volume, Erdrich launches her cycle of novels about a 19th-century Ojibwa family, covering in vivid detail their everyday life as they move through the seasons of one year on an island on Lake Superior.... a novel that is by turns charming, suspenseful, and funny, and always bursting with life.” (10-14)

Book Links (July 1, 2004) “Her attention to historical detail perfectly balances the compelling story.” (Gr. 3-6)

New York Times Book Review (7/18/99) “By the book's conclusion, Omakayas's growth into the role of healer seems both realistic and deeply spiritual. As her depression lifts, spring arrives, with ''the sweetness of the maple . . . the warmth of the sun,'' and there is an earned and satisfying sense of completeness.” (Ages 9-11)

Horn Book Magazine (May/June 99) “Along with painstaking descriptions of household tasks and customs, Erdrich crafts images of tender beauty (Omakayas's father's moccasins, "soft and open… seemed relieved to flop inside the door and nestle into the safe embrace of Mama's pair") while weaving Ojibwa words seamlessly into the text.” (Intermediate)

WILLA (Women Writing the West) Literary Award 2000
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award 2000-2001
Wordcraft Circle Writer of the Year Award 2000
National Book Award finalist 1999
American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner 2006
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) “Picturing America” Bookshelf Award 2009
Jefferson Cup Award Honor Book
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Western Heritage Award 2000
Jane Addams Honor Award 2000

Read The Birchbark House, and its companion books, The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year while studying the Ojibwe/Chippewa culture and traditions. Check the authenticity of the information in the historical fiction books by Louise Erdrich. This activity will instill in children the knowledge that not all information provided in literature or nonfiction books is true. Care must be taken in verifying any information that does not match.

Information can be obtained through nonfiction children’s books, such as The Ojibwa Indians by Bill Lund (1999) which “provides an overview of the past and present lives of the Ojibwa people, covering their daily life, customs, relations with the government and more” or The Ojibwa by Michelle Lomberg (2004) which “examines the history of the Ojibwa people, and looks at aspects of their traditional ways of life, including homes, communities, clothing, food, tools, weapons, defense, religion and beliefs, ceremonies and celebrations, music and dance, language and storytelling, and art.” Combine these resources with some websites such as Native American Facts for Kids (http://bigorrin.org/chippewa_kids.htm ) put together by Orrin Lewis, a Cherokee, as he develops his project which provides information about all the Amerindian languages or, for history and current information, including politics, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (http://www.llojibwe.com/).


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review: The Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora

Author: Pat Mora
Title: The Rainbow Tulip
Illustrator: Elizabeth Sayles
Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: 1999
ISBN: 0-670-87291-1

Her name is Estelita at home and Stella at school. She speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Stella loves colorful clothing and fits in well at her English school, unlike her shy, quiet mother who wears dull colors like brown, no makeup, and speaks only Spanish. Although Stella loves her mother, she is ashamed of her. Stella wishes her mother were more like the other mothers with their makeup and short dresses. She wishes her mother could speak English, too.
When Stella finds out that she gets to dress like a tulip for the upcoming May Day celebration, she decides that she wants to be a rainbow tulip. On the day of the celebration, Stella’s mother goes with her to school to watch the festivities, although she stands off to the side by herself since she cannot talk to the other mothers in English. Stella nervously looks around at all the other girls in their dresses of one color, blues, pinks, and yellows. Stella is the only rainbow tulip. Although uncomfortable as people point at her, commenting on her dress, Stella remembers every step of the dance. When she sees her mother smile, she knows that her mother is proud of her. Later, her mother tells her it is hard to be different. Instead of being ashamed of her mother, Stella now understands and asks to know more about her grandparents.

The Rainbow Tulip is a gentle story that will appeal to younger girls who enjoy being different. It is centered on a simple plot from which a lesson is learned. When Estelita/Stella chooses her dress for the upcoming May Day celebration, she chooses to be different. She wants a dress with “colors that sing and dance,” unlike her mother’s dresses which are quiet black, brown, gray, and sometimes light blue. From that choice, Estelita/Stella learns how hard it is to be different from those around her, just like her mother is different in dress, manners, lack of makeup, and language from the other mother’s in the neighborhood. Although proud of her costume, when she sees the other girls in their single-color dresses, she feels “quiet as a snail inside.” The oil-pastel illustrations add depth to Stella’s character and her emotions through body posture and facial expressions. Learning to accept and enjoy your differences is a good lesson for younger children, especially for the bilingual students who are learning to adjust in schools that are predominantly White.

Within the story, details of Estelita’s home life are included which draw the reader into her world. At home, Estelita is given thick, yellow cod liver oil every morning because her mother thinks “a strong desert wind could blow me away.” A contrast between her house and the outside world is established. One of the differences is her name. At home, she is Estelita, but at school, her name is Stella. Another difference is the language she speaks. “My brothers and I speak English outside the house and Spanish inside the house. My father says, “Hija, this house is a piece of Mexico.”” Their house is also “a quiet house” where their father likes to read; running and shouting is for outside. Her father was a judge in Mexico; “he never yells, but when he looks at you, you behave.” Even the pictures provide contrast. The illustrations of her home are in muted tones, like the clothes that her mother wears. Outside the home are the brighter tones of reds, pinks, yellows, purples, and greens. In her aunt’s home are “rainbows of threads and clouds of cloth.”

Spanish words are scattered throughout, just like a bilingual child may speak. Because Estelita/Stella tells the story, the use of Spanish words in the English text adds to Estelita’s cultural background. Most of the Spanish words depend on context for interpretation, but occasionally a side-by-side interpretation is provided like when Estelita’s Tia Carmen tells her “that I will be the most beautiful tulip, el tuipan mas lindo, in the whole world, en todo el mundo.” This is awkward but necessary for the statement to be understood by English-only readers. All Spanish words and phrases are printed in italics.

Review excerpts:
(November 1, 1999) “What many immigrant kids will enjoy is the bicultural experience.... Estelita/Stella comes to value her dual heritage, even though it is hard to be different.”

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 1999) “With warmth and directness, Mora celebrates diversity, but provides a balanced view of assimilation as well.” (5-9)

Children’s Literature (1999) “The sensitive, muted watercolor illustrations suit the story’s mood, while the charming facial expressions help the characters come alive in this timely book.” (Ages 4 to 8)

School Library Journal (1999) “Based on a story from the author’s mother’s childhood, and perfectly extended by soft, warm pastel drawings framed in white, this tale of family love and support crosses cultural boundaries and may remind youngsters of times when their families made all the difference.” (K-Gr 3)

Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award Nominee 1999
Growing Up Latino in the U.S.A. list (ALSC American Library Association) 2004
Kaleidoscope, A Multicultural Booklist for Grades K-8, Fourth Edition (National Council of Teachers of English) 2003
Texas Reading Club (State of Texas booklist) 2004

Extend The Rainbow Tulip by Pat Mora with an exploration of other holidays in May that include dancing. May Day written by Jeffrey Kent (2008) is a nonfiction book that includes two titles issued back-to-back and inverted: May Day -- Lei Day. This book introduced children to the holidays of May Day and Lei Day and describes why they are celebrated, what traditions are associated with each, and how they differ. Further information on Lei Day can be found via several websites including http://www.leiday.net/ and http://www.honolulu.gov/parks/programs/leiday/history.pdf. This is a fun way to introduce some of the Hawaiian culture.

Add some dances from Mexico by studying Cinco de Mayo, another May holiday that is celebrated in Mexico and in the United States. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with the Mexican Hat Dance by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, illustrated by Marcela Gomez and David Silva, and translated by Joe Hayes and Sharon Franco (2006) also comes in its original Spanish-only version, Celebra el Cinco de Mayo con un jarabe tapatio. In this picture book, a teacher introduces her students to the Mexican hat dance in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. It includes details on the holiday's history and traditions. Include a nonfiction book about this holiday such as Cinco de Mayo by Aurora Colon Garcia (2008). Here you will find information on how Mexican-Americans celebrate their heritage with parades, music, dancing, and festivals, in honor of the freedom they won on May 5, 1862, in a battle against the French army.

Have a day of dance! Find dance troupes to demonstrate a variety of dances. Find parents or neighborhood volunteers to teach the students some of the dances you have read about. Dance your way into spring!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: The Afterlife by Gary Soto

Author: Gary Soto

Title: The Afterlife

Illustrator: none noted

Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.

Publication Date: 2003

ISBN: 0-15-204774-3


Chuy was an average high school guy, not good-looking, not great at school or sports, just average. He was looking forward to a night out with a beautiful girl, maybe getting lucky and steal a kiss. Then he was dead... for no good reason. He only complemented a guy on his shoes. For this, Chuy was stabbed three times and left for dead on a bathroom floor in a club. Chuy couldn’t believe it! But death isn’t final, yet. Chuy visits friends, family, and enemies as he tries to understand what happened and didn’t happen in his life and death. He discovers compassion for others, even for the one who killed him, and he discovers true love in the spirit of a girl named Crystal. Why now, as he is slowly disappearing, part by part? Together Chuy and Crystal make peace with their life and set out to explore the rest of their future.


The Afterlife is a story designed to define and build Chuy’s character. It includes details that draw the reader into Chuy’s world, with some cultural descriptions and Spanish language that add authenticity. The main event, Chuy’s death, occurs at the beginning of the first chapter. He is a young man looking forward to a date with a beautiful girl and planning his strategy. After all, he is only an ordinary-looking guy. After complimenting a guy on his shoes, Chuy is stabbed three times and left to die in a pool of blood “the color of pomegranate juice” on the bathroom floor of Club Estrella. “How come?” he asks, but he never receives an answer. As he leaves his body, he realizes his life is gone. He worries about his friends, Angel and Rachel, who were waiting for him, his primo Eddie, his Tio Richard, and his parents who would now be all alone since he was an only child. At the same time, he realizes that he doesn’t feel any anger toward the murderer.

His initial fear as he floats upward soon turns into a young boy’s excitement over new sensations. “I could see the outline of myself, which was sort of like a figure penciled in and then erased on paper...It’s a trip,” Chuy thought. “I had nothing to fear.” He karate chops a bus, socks the wall of a church, and slips through walls and doors. He thought could even go into a bank vault, but he couldn’t take any of the feria. Chuy floats around town, sometimes with control, other times without, like a balloon kicked along by the wind. The sounds of radios “crying out Mexican songs” and the aroma of carne asada or chicharrones make him wish he could eat. He thinks about his parents and grandfather, and apologizes for little misunderstandings, for stealing, for poor grades, for denting the car. He realizes that he may not have messed up big-time, but he never focused on a goal or did anything really good.

He sees Yellow Shoes, the kid with “the mean face of a teenage rat,” the kid who killed him. Chuy follows him in anger, hitting him with a ghostly fist, then riding him like a burro, only to discover the life Yellow Shoes leads under the control of an old school bully is pathetic. It’s hard to hate something that pathetic. Chuy visits his school and his friends, finding that he can make them sense his presence through the chill of his touch or breath. He leaves behind comforting words and compliments, helps a helpless dog, intervenes in an unhappy marriage, and tries to stop his cousin and his mother from taking revenge on an unidentified killer. His compassion is rewarded when he meets Crystal, a girl who recently killed herself. Like a typical teenage boy, Chuy becomes “all macho,” showing off by letting a car go through him, but he teaches her how to control her spirit body. Over time, he helps her to come to terms with her own actions and death even though he is slowly disappearing. Chuy tries to save the life of a homeless man, someone he would have previously ignored when he was alive.

Despite all of the growth in compassion and concern for others that Chuy has experienced, he is still a teenage boy who enjoys going to a last ball game for free and who falls in love with the first beautiful girl he sees that pays attention to him. In this, he remains the young man who dreams of a happy ever after. “They say autumn is the color of death.... We were like the tint of fallen leaves, grass burnt by the first frost, and the ashen-colored fog that sometimes rises from the valley floor and smothers our dreams.” Chuy’s dream of a regular life had ended abruptly, but he had “received a portion of that dream (with Crystal) and felt grateful for it.”

My only criticism with the book is in regards to the use of Spanish words amidst the English text. This was necessary to establish the character’s culture and language, but there were many times that the Spanish language, although used as it would naturally occur, was not decipherable through the context to an English-only reader. The need to use the glossary at the end of the book occurred too often. Footnotes, in addition to a glossary, would have assisted the English reader without breaking up the flow of the story.

Review excerpts:

Booklist (August 2003) “He (Soto) not only paints the scenery brilliantly but also captures the pain that follows an early death. In many ways, this is as much a story about a hardscrabble place as it is about a boy who is murdered. Both pulse with life and will stay in memory.” (Gr. 7-10)

Horn Book (November/December 2003) “Soto send the couple floating toward the afterlife with poetic metaphors of autumn, defining the book not as tragic reality but ghostly romance.”

Kirkus Review (September 15, 2003) “Soto writes with a touch as light as Chuy’s ghost and with humor, wonderment, and a generosity toward life.” (12+)

Publishers Weekly (August 25. 2003) “The author counterbalances difficult ideas with moments of genuine tenderness as well as a provocative lesson about the importance of savoring every moment....” (Ages 12-up)

School Library Journal (November 1, 2003) “Soto’s simple and poetic language, leavened with Mexican Spanish with such care to context that the appended glossary is scarcely needed, is clear, but Chuy’s ultimate destiny isn’t.” (Gr. 6 Up)


The Skipping Stones Honor Awards 2004

Americas Award Commended 2003

California Recommended Readings in Literature List 2004


Death visits us in many ways, strangers, pets, friends, and family. Whatever you may believe happens after death, the ones left behind must find a way to cope, just as Chuy’s friends, family, and even his murderer had to deal with Chuy’s death and their survival. If none of your students have experienced a recent death, a class discussion about grieving can be built around several good books. (A child who has experienced a recent death in their life may not be able to handle a class discussion.)

A number of good picture books can be introduced that deal with death. Bird by Zetta Elliott is the story of a young boy whose brother dies from a drug overdose. An elderly family friend helps Bird to come to terms with his brother’s life and death. Everett Anderson’s Goodbye by Lucille Clifton deals with the death of a father. I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm is about the death of a pet.

Just as in The Afterlife by Gary Soto, Alice Sebold’s adult novel The Lovely Bones is from the victim’s perspective after a violent death. A few good chapter books for younger students (4th grade-up) include Blackberries After Dark by Mavis Jukes (death of a grandfather), Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (death of a friend), Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (death of a great-uncle), Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (death of a sister), Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (death of an aunt), and Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff (death of a brother).

The following books are nonfiction books that may help children deal with death and the grief that they, and those around them, feel.

Beyond the tears : helping Jewish kids cope with death by Eugene I. Kwalwasser (2006). This book provides help for Jewish children dealing with the loss of a loved one and explains Jewish mourning customs.

Death by Janine Amos with photographs by Howard Davies (2010) uses letters, stories, and informational text to provide advice for children on how to cope with the death of a loved one. (K-3)

Death by Sarah Levete (2010) explores the religious customs and beliefs on death from Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh perspectives. (Gr. 5-8)

Death and dying by Carol Antoinette Peacock (2004) defines grief and discusses ways to cope with the death of a loved one. (Middle school)

Death & dying by Bruce Sanders (2007) presents information on death in a question-and-answer format, discussing fear, funerals, the process of grief, and how to help someone who is grieving.