Summary: This is a picture book poem written to encourage children to embrace the writing process, even when they feel they don't know what to say. ItSummary: This is a picture book poem written to encourage children to embrace the writing process, even when they feel they don't know what to say. It celebrates the importance of writing about small, everyday moments and experiences.
Response: I started reading this fairly casually, in a mode of "reading to complete an assignment," but as I went along, I was completely taken in by the perfectly natural, almost conversational flow of Janet Wong's poetry. She captures the feelings a writer has and the way a writer's thoughts can run as they sit confronted by the empty page; I particularly liked when she wrote how other kids have fancy houses or take vacations to France, and the illustrations show a classroom full of kids with their thoughts in thought clouds above their heads. I also like how, as Wong moves along in her suggestions of what to write about, she slips in a "sample poem" of what a poem about a library book or taking out the garbage might sound like. Wong's poetry sounds so accessible and natural, that not only does the content of the poem encourage kid writers, but her form makes poetry not sound too intimidating. As a teacher, I would use this at the beginning of a discussion about a writing unit or a poetry-writing unit. It is also a case of a culturally neutral book, where the author's audience is all children and the illustrations reflect that message.
Summary: This informational book about Japan is organized in ABC book format to highlight some of the essential elements of Japanese culture, both modSummary: This informational book about Japan is organized in ABC book format to highlight some of the essential elements of Japanese culture, both modern and traditional.
Response: When I pulled this book off the shelf, I was startled to find that the front looked like the back of a book; then I realized that the actual layout is part of the message. The book is not only about japan, but the experience of reading it is the experience of reading books in Japan, where our front is their back, and the text starts on the right-hand page instead of the left-hand page. While the book itself is written in 1992, and it doesn't contain any informational text features (beyond its ABC organization), it does carefully and thoroughly explain how the books layout and artwork are themselves conveying information about Japanese culture. I really enjoyed the experience of having to pick up and read the book from an entirely new perspective.
Summary: This informational book follows one family in San Francisco as they prepare to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It has wonderful photographs aSummary: This informational book follows one family in San Francisco as they prepare to celebrate the Chinese New Year. It has wonderful photographs and explanations of the many elements and symbols of this two-week long celebration.
Response: The book was written 10 years ago, but the information and treatment seem very authentic and respectful (of course, I say that as someone who knows almost nothing about the holiday, so I can only go by my understanding of portrayals in children's writing). The author covers the information in depth, with lots of explanations of the symbolic meanings of the foods and activities (such as cleaning the house and getting haircuts before the new year). I realized in reading it how much I hadn't known about Chinese New Year myself!
Summary: This is the tale of an old, old man and an old, old woman who both go to the home of the tongue-cut sparrow. the old, old man's kindness is rSummary: This is the tale of an old, old man and an old, old woman who both go to the home of the tongue-cut sparrow. the old, old man's kindness is rewarded, while the old, old, woman's greediness is dealt with more severely.
Response: I have wanted to read this story for years and I am so glad I finally got to it! It is a delightful, classic folktale, and it would be perfect to use in a discussion of folktale elements (the undefined characters who are only known as the "old, old" man and woman, the way kindness is rewarded and greediness is punished). It reminded me of "The Talking Eggs" and would work well in a compare-and-contrast discussion, too. The artwork appears to be very traditional, and the old, old woman in particular is displayed with almost demon-like ugliness.
Summary: This novel tells the story of Moon Shadow's decision to leave the Middle Kingdom and come live in turn-of-the-century San Francisco with hisSummary: This novel tells the story of Moon Shadow's decision to leave the Middle Kingdom and come live in turn-of-the-century San Francisco with his father. It chronicles his life in America, first in the Tang people's part of the city (what white people call Chinatown), and then living alone with his father among the "demons," as he considers white people.
Response: I have never read a Laurence Yep book, and I am so glad I finally did. I will definitely read more. Aside from how much I enjoyed the narrative elements, I enjoyed the perspective-shift that Yep provided me as a white reader. He not only chooses a character who can provide me with a new perspective, but he uses language conventions in such a way as to jar me out of my usual position. For example, he refers to China and the Chinese people by the names they themselves would use (the Middle Kingdom, the T'ang people), and his main character constantly refers to white people as demons. He also italicizes all the American words in the book, a convention that usually highlights the "foreign" words in a story. The cumulative effect of this was to make me feel like the outsider, in a way, because from Moon Shadow's point of view, my familiar world is his foreign world. many writers of immigrant stories convey that very well, but I really enjoyed how Yep accomplished this goal in a very specific way. It is the same reason that I enjoyed the reading experience, as well as the information, in A to Zen, where the book is not only about Japan, but is laid out in a Japanese book format.
Summary: Antonia tells the story of how she longs for a little sister and finally gets her wish when she travels with her parents to China to bring heSummary: Antonia tells the story of how she longs for a little sister and finally gets her wish when she travels with her parents to China to bring her new sister home.
Response: This is a very sweet story told from the perspective of a little girl who longs to be a big sister. I think it would ring very true to litter girls with the same wish. This story also gently reminds us that there are many ways to be a sibling when we learn that Antonia will meet her mei-mei by going to China with her parents to adopt her and bring her home. Antonia feels the same surprise any child might feel when they meet their baby sibling - the baby can't walk, or talk, or play at all yet - so the story is a wonderful way for adopted and non-adopted children to both learn about a different experience and relate tot he main character at the same time. I also like that this story reminds me of the complexity of categorizing literature; this is one of many versions of what it means to be Asian-American, or to be an Asian-American literary work. While Antonia is from China, her name comes from her Italian nonna (grandmother) and her family is brought together by adoption across cultural lines. A teacher could use it to teach many points, or just to enjoy a sweet family story with lovely and peaceful water color illustrations. As a parent, I also loved Ed Young's note of explanation at the back of the book and how he came to write the story of adopting his first child and how, when he saw the story through her eyes, he knew how he wanted to tell it.
Summary: This novel tells the story of Tree Ear, a young orphan in 12th century Korea. Tree Ear goes to work for the master potter, Min, and he learnsSummary: This novel tells the story of Tree Ear, a young orphan in 12th century Korea. Tree Ear goes to work for the master potter, Min, and he learns the craft of pottery making as he finds new family and a new place in his village.
Response: I have never read a book set in Korea, and I love historical fiction, so this was a wonderful historical fiction reading experience. I enjoyed all the details of life in 12th century Korea, and I thought the author did a good job of making all Tree Ear's experiences accessible to modern kids; many aspects of Tree Ear's feelings and reactions will feel familiar to kids even though his circumstances are very different. I read this book more as a teacher than as a reader, as I thought it would be a strong example for teaching the genre of historical fiction; the factual notes at the back of the book support this goal, and there is much that could be done with information reading and maps to support the novel. I also saw many ecological messages in this story, in the way resources were used, the way nothing was wasted, the way the villagers relied on their natural surroundings and therefore lived in better balance with them. I think Tree Ear's reverence for the punnus vase is a good sybol for this message; he describes its harmony and symmetry, the balance between earth and sky, the way the art form reflects the natural world. As we all turn to a more green way of living on the earth in our time, I think kids will be interested to learn how most people through history have lived in better balance, and historical fiction (this book in particular) can help develop this awareness.