Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Pirate of Kindergarten

by George Ella Lyon
illustrated by Lynne Avril
Lyon, George Ella. The Pirate of Kindergarten. Ill. by Lynne Avril. New York: NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. ISBN 9781416950240

Plot Summary
Ginny is a kindergarten student who has double vision. The problem is she doesn't know it. She is constantly tripping over and bumping into things, and therefore gets made fun of. It isn't until the clinic performs vision tests, that her double vision becomes apparent to the adults and herself. Ginny believed that everyone saw things the way she did, so she never said anything. After going to the eye doctor she finds out she needs to wear a patch and later glasses to see clearly. She embraces the patch and does everything she couldn't do great before.

Critical Analysis
The combination of Lyon's text and Avril's illustrations make this a wonderful teachable moment book. While creating a story on a character with a vision disability, Lyon completed a cute, humorous and informational book. The text is simple yet detailed. The story is told through narration and includes quotes from the characters. 

Avril's illustrations make this book come to life. She used chalk pastels mixed with acrylic medium and prismacolor pencils to create the colorful drawings. Readers may get dizzy when looking at some of the illustrations because they are drawn the way Ginny sees. She has double vision, so images of chairs and people are drawn as doubles. Once Ginny learns of her vision problem and starts wearing the patch, the illustrations are all clear. This is an amazing way to put the reader in the characters shoes, or eyes for this book. 

This a great read aloud for ages 4 to 8. Some students my even be able to relate to the story through similar vision problems or other impairments. There is also a great lesson in overcoming and embracing your problems.

Review Excerpts
  • Lyon's short, descriptive sentences set up the situation deftly, and Avril's astute chalk, pencil, and acrylic drawings of 'two of everything' provide a vivid window into Ginny's pre-treatment world." -School Library Journal
  • "Based on Lyon's own experience, the sensitively written story radiates empathy and good humor." -Booklist

Similar books.
  • The Patch by Justina Chen Headley
  • Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw and Jacob Shaw

Ask Me No Questions

by Marina Budhos
Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No Questions. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. ISBN 9781416949206

Plot Summary
This is a story about fourteen- year-old Nadira and her family who emigrated from Bangladesh. They are living in New York City and hoping to become legal U.S. citizens soon. Currently they are living in the states on expired visas. Their lives turn upside down after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In their attempt to cross the Canadian border, Nadira's father is arrested. It is now Nadira and her older sister, Aisha's job to carry on like normal without both their parents. When her sister falls apart, Nadira has to step up and be the strong one to bring her family back together.

Critical Analysis
This moving story consists of finding one's identity, patriotism, family, and what it meant to be Muslim in America after 9/11. Budhos' does an excellent in describing Nadira's feelings and emotions throughout the story. While readers will feel sympathy for the characters, the settings throughout the story could be more detailed. I couldn't really visualize the settings while reading. To me that was the only down fall of the book. In chapter five, Budhos makes the connection to the title, "Ask me no questions. Tell me no lies." This is the policy at the girl's school. At the end of the story there is an "Endnote" from the author. This is where Budhos describes the actual events that led to her inspiration for this work of fiction.

The culture of the characters in the story is apparent throughout. From names, food, and vocabulary readers can experience the Muslim American culture. Budhos does not provide a glossary, so readers may need to look up some words to know their meaning. Most of the non-English words are italicized Nadira never mentions her father's name but calls him Abba. One can assume that this name means father, but I had to look it up to find out for sure. In Arabic, Abba means father. Nadira's family is described as modern thinking Muslim Americans. Nadira, Aisha, and Ma do not wear scares on their heads.

I would definitely recommend this book for all middle school libraries and public libraries. Readers will gain insight and understanding into the struggles Muslims faced after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. 

Review Excerpts
  • "...this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention." -School Library Journal
  • "...the events of the novel are powerful enough to engage readers' attention and will make them pause to consider the effects of a legal practice that preys on prejudice and fear." -Publisher's Weekly
  • "The teen voice is wonderfully immediate, revealing Nadira's mixed-up feelings as well as the diversity in her family and in the Muslim community." -Booklist
More books with similar stories and hardships.
  • Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • Habibi by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Lost Boy, Lost Girl: Escaping Civil War in Sudan by John Bul Dau and Martha Arual Akech with Michael S. Sweeney and K.M. Kostyal

Mommy, Mama, and Me

by Lesléa Newman
Illustrated by Carol Thompson
Newman, Lesléa. Mommy, Mama, and Me. Ill. by Carol Thompson. Berkeley: Tricycle Press, 2009. ISBN 9781582462639

Plot Summary
This is a simple story of a day in the life of a young toddler. The toddler describes what his/her mommy and mama does with them.

Critical Analysis
Lesléa Newman's easy text consists of one sentence per page. One every left page of the book is a sentence about what the toddler's mommy, while every right page is about the toddler's mama. This is the main point in the story where the LGBTQ culture is expressed. The story has a nice flow with the end rhyme on facing pages. The story shows readers that happy families come in all varieties, including having two mommies.

Carol Thompson's illustrations are colorful and bright and definitely enhance the impact of the book. In all the drawings the toddler's mommy has short, curly, dark brown hair with earrings, and it's mama has red hair that is pinned up. The toddler has short curly brown hair. I haven't mentioned the toddler's gender because I am actually not sure. Newman does not mention a gender in her text, and Thompson's illustrations lean toward boy but it could be a girl. I see this as another cultural marker, no matter how subtle it may be.

Review Excerpts & Awards
  • "The soft, realistic illustrations expand the simple texts." -School Library Journal
  • "The bright colors (a green claw-foot tub has froglike feet) and pleasing verse offer a simple lesson about love that same-sex parents should embrace." -Publisher's Weekly
  • 2010 Stonewall Honor Book Award
Read aloud Daddy, Papa, and Me created by Newman and Thompson

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Year of the Dog

A novel by Grace Lin

Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316060004

Plot Summary
Grace, aka Pacy, is a Taiwanese American girl living through the Year of the Dog, the Chinese New Year tradition. For Grace this means that this is the year for family, friends, and to find herself. She is determined to decide what she wants to be while discovering new talents this year. Throughout the school year Grace gains friends and participates in school activities, like the science fair and the school play. In her quest, Grace overcomes stereotypes, obstacles, and learns more about herself.

Critical Analysis
In this novel, Grace Lin presents a beautifully written humorous and touching story. Her inspiration for writing her first novel comes from wishing there was a book like this when she was a young girl. The Taiwanese American culture that Lin writes about helps educate others on this culture that many people may not be familiar with. It also gives Taiwanese American children a glimpse into a life that may be similar to theirs.

The text flows nicely which makes for an easy read that is very descriptive. Readers will be able to sympathize and/or empathize with the characters' emotions, especially Grace's. I was able to feel Grace's frustration, disappointment, excitement, and hope through Lin's words. The main character is a Taiwanese American girl who has two names. Her name is Pacy, but everyone except her family calls her by her American name, Grace. This story has many cultural connections with names and traditions. One experience Grace has with her culture is when her grandma paints Chinese symbols on her neck to help with her neck pain. In the story, Lin provides readers with the actual Chinese symbols for tiger and pig. The tiger is believed to chase the pig which will massage the neck muscles. Grace is amazed when it actually works. There is a section of the book where Grace and her friends go to the library to search for a Chinese book. To their disappointment, they come across The Seven Chinese Brothers, which is not a true representation of Chinese people. Grace also gets told that she can't be Dorothy in the school play because "Dorothy's not Chinese." Even though she is dealing with prejudicial people and situations, Grace shows strength in her will to keep on pushing and trying.

Throughout the story, Lin has cute little sketches and drawings that provide visual entertainment for readers. Each chapter starts with a title arced over a sketch to represent the content in the chapter. In the back of the book there is an Author's Note from Grace Lin, a Reader's Guide, and a sneak peek at the book sequel, The Year of the Rat.

Children will be able to relate to this light-hearted story. I highly recommend this book for public and school libraries to enhance their collections through multicultural literature.

Review Excerpts
  • "A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist." -School Library Journal 
  • "Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today's young readers." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life." -Kirkus
More books with Chinese and Chinese American culture for elementary school age children.
  • Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look
  • The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin
  • The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng

The Favorite Daughter

Written & illustrated by Allen Say
Say, Allen. The Favorite Daughter. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013. ISBN 9780545176620

Plot Summary
After bringing a photo of herself to class of when she was young, Yuriko has decided she does not like her name anymore. The students and even the new art teacher are calling her "Eureka." She is a beautiful half Japanese half American girl who has blond hair. She doesn't want to be different, she wants to be a normal girl with a normal name like Michelle. Fortunately, Yuriko has a kind and understanding father who uses gentle ways of reminding her who she is and how to appreciate her Japanese American culture.

Critical Analysis
This is an autobiographical book about Allen Say's daughter growing up as a bi-cultural child in America. The text does not describe the physical attributes of the characters, so the illustrations and photographs are very important to the visual aspects of the story. Say does incorporate the Japanese culture with character's names and the descriptions of areas at the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park. The main character's name is Yuriko, and when her and her father go to a Japanese sushi restaurant the chef addresses her as "Yuriko-chan." While Yuriko and her father are in the Japanese Garden they watch the sumi-e demonstration. Say has to clarify this word for his daughter and explain that it means "Japanese ink painting." The story exemplifies modern Japanese American culture. Readers may not understand the different ways Yuriko is addressed. At the sushi restaurant she is addressed as Yuriko-chan and the Japanese artist addresses her as Yuriko-san. Say does not explain the differences in these two names, but this can lead to good discovery in a classroom.

Say's illustrations drawn with watercolors, ink, and pencil are beautifully executed. He has also incorporated two real photographs of his daughter. The first photo of his daughter when she was young shows Yuriko's Japanese eyes that are really her only visual Japanese feature. The last page of the story has a photo of Yuriko when she actually visited Japan with her father years later. The majority of the Japanese men in the book, including Say, have dark or gray hair with mustaches. There is only one illustration that shows Yuriko's eyes looking like slits or slanted, but she seems to be looking down. There are only a few places in the story were traditional Japanese attire is worn. One is when Yuriko is wearing her red Kimono, another where a worker at the tea house is dressed up, and the last one is the photo of Yuriko in Japan at the end.

As a whole, this is a heartfelt story of modern family cultures, family values, self identity, and fitting in. I would definitely recommend this book for school and public libraries. It would make a great addition to any library's multicultural books.

Review Excerpts
  • "Say's command of watercolor, ink, and pencil develops the visual narrative through a combination of uncluttered interiors; peaceful, restorative gardens; and emotionally complex portraits." -School Library Journal
  • "Still, the genuine warmth and nontrivializing look at childhood troubles should endear this to a young audience. And the emphasis on celebrating one’s culture while finding common ground with others is universally handy." -Booklist
  • "As the story of a young artist's coming of age, Say's account is complex, poignant, and unfailingly honest. Say's fans--and those who also feel the pull of the artist's life--will be captivated." -Publishers Weekly
More books by Allen Say for Preschool to 3rd grade children.
  • Grandfather's Journey (9780547076805)
  • Tea with Milk (9780547237473)
  • The Bicycle Man (9780395506523)

Apple Pie 4th of July

By Janet S. Wong
Pictures by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Wong, Janet S. Apple Pie 4th of July. Ill. by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. ISBN 9780152025434

Plot Summary
"No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July, I say." A Chinese American girl is not happy that her parents are making Chinese food on the 4th of July. Neither of her parents were born in America, but she is trying to educate them on how things really are. As the day goes on, she watches the parade go by her parent's store, and she soon changes her tune on thinking people do not want Chinese food on an American holiday.

Critical Analysis
Margaret Chodos-Irvine's artwork for this book was created with a "variety of printmaking techniques on Lana printmaking paper" (Harcourt, 2000). An interesting element to Chodos-Irvine's illustrations is her inspiration. To gain inspiration she visited family-owned markets in Seattle, Washington where she lives, and she also attended parades near by. A variety of skin tones are represented in this story. The main character is Chinese American with tan skin, black hair, and dark eyes. Customers that come into her parents store range from brown skin with dark eyes and hair to tan/peach skin tone with light brown eyes and hair. There is even one customer with light skin and gray hair. There is no cultural reference in the clothes of the people in the illustrations.

Janet Wong has created a simple, fun, and multicultural story told from a young girl's perspective. Wong never reveals the main character's name in the book. There is only one name that is mentioned, Laura, who is not ever seen in the book. The food the young girl's parents are cooking is Chinese food; egg rolls, chow mein, and sweet and sour pork. Wong's words combined with Chodos-Irvine's illustrations present the disappointment of the young girl when she realizes she can't blame her parents for not knowing how to celebrate an American holiday, like the fourth of July. Wong's simple text exhibits some rhyming that makes the story fun to read aloud. This story with the artwork provides a great multicultural connection for young elementary classrooms.

Review Excerpts
  • "This excellent read-aloud will partner well with books that emphasize American patriotism..." -Booklist (starred review)
  • "This second successful collaboration by the creators of Buzz (Harcourt, 2000) is one you won't want to miss." -School Library Journal
  • "The art resembles cut-paper collage. Chodos-Irvine deploys sharply defined objects in a range of colors and patterns to construct harmonious, forthright compositions that will likely prove inviting to readers of many backgrounds." -Publishers Weekly
More Asian American children's books about celebrations, American and Asian.
  • Bringing in the New Year (Read to a Child) by Grace Lin
  • Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look
  • Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin
Have students share some of their own traditions and celebrations. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Between Earth & Sky

Legends of Native American Sacred Places
Written by Joseph Bruchac
Illustrated by Thomas Locker
Bruchac, Joseph. Between Earth & Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places. Ill. by Thomas Locker. San Diego, CA: Harcout Brace & Company, 1996. ISBN 0152000429

Plot Summary
This inspiring book consists of ten Native American legends spoken through poems. The majestic illustrations tell the story of sacred lands that the Native American cultures cherish. 

Critical Analysis
Bruchac provides readers with important background information about the book at the very beginning. It stresses the importance of the North American landscape that the Native American culture hold sacred. He also teaches readers that Native American cultures recognize seven directions, North, South, East, West, Earth (Above), Sky (Below), and the direction within all of us. In the back of the book is a map of North America with tribe names, separation of the continent, and symbols of some of the sacred places the Native Americans hold dear, like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. There is also a guide for pronunciations of words used throughout the book. At the end of each poem the direction it represents and the tribe are listed. This book screams authenticity for Native American culture. Bruchac's Abenaki-Native American ancestry plays a major role in the true essence and true meanings of his culture.
Locker's quiet yet magnificent illustrations of the lands were created with oils on canvas. He uses such detail that readers can view the markings and reflections of the trees, mist from the waterfalls, and sun rays through cloudy skies. The few illustrations with people have them dressed in a more traditional buck-skin with bows in their hands.

Review Excerpts
  • "Each tale is a model of economy, gracefully distilling its message, while Locker's landscapes capture the mysticism inherent in each setting." -Horn Book
  • "It is difficult to convey the beliefs of an entire people in one brief legend divorced from the rest of their tradition, yet these selections point to the richness possible in looking at the sky in a spiritual way." -School Library Journal
  • "Here, short, easy-to-understand legends are accompanied by full-page oil paintings in Locker's dramatic signature style." -Booklist
More books by Joseph Bruchac
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back [9780698115842]
  • The Earth Under Sky Bear's Feet [9780698116474]
  • The First Strawberries [9780140564099]