I think many children can relate to the idea of a child thinking that her family's traditions or behaviors are strange. Sometimes we may be embarrased...moreI think many children can relate to the idea of a child thinking that her family's traditions or behaviors are strange. Sometimes we may be embarrased by our family's idiosyncracies. I like the fact that the author and illustrator show through lighthearted humor that sometimes people can relate to our family's habits better than we think they can.(less)
There is so much I would love to say about this wonderful book, but rather than writing a huge essay, I will simply touch on a couple of things.
Young...moreThere is so much I would love to say about this wonderful book, but rather than writing a huge essay, I will simply touch on a couple of things.
Young Ju and her parents come to the United States from Korea in search of the American dream, yet as the young girl grows up (the story starts when she is about 4 years old and continues through early adulthood), she realizes that there are many obstacles in their way. An Na masterfully takes us through the life of this immigrant girl as she and her family struggle with language and cultural barriers, economic difficulties, and a search for one’s identity. All of the family’s dreams of a better life come crashing down around them as her father’s alcoholism and abusive behavior come to a head. Young Ju, her brother, and her mother each deal with this in their own ways, trying to survive the torrents of Apa’s (Father’s) rage.
The theme of the story, that of a family torn apart by the abuse of a controlling, alcoholic parental figure, transcends cultural lines. This is a problem that is universal and is not limited to any particular ethnic group. Yet in the case of this story, the culture of the family is an important factor. The father’s alcoholism and need for control is heightened as he feels his grip on things in this new country slip farther and farther from his grasp. With a lack of higher education, understanding of American culture and knowledge of the English language, he cannot be the man in charge of his family as is his tradition. We see this contrast between his home behavior and his experience outside of his domain when he takes Young Ju to get her green card renewed when she is about to turn thirteen years old. Out in the American, English-speaking world, he cannot take care of things himself due to his lack of English and ends up needing to rely on his daughter for communication. This is one of the few times that we (and Young Ju) see Apa’s helplessness. As his alcoholism spins further out of control, his behavior becomes more and more erratic and destructive—to his family and himself—causing his outside-world behavior and his home behavior to jumble together. Alcohol takes over where his pride once stood.
A note on An Na’s literary style in this book: I really loved how through her use of language we can “hear” Young Ju’s voice as she journeys from a very small girl of a bout four up through adulthood. I can imagine the little girl talking about colors not as specifically named hues (like “blue” or “purple”), but as ideas. For example, on page 26 upon seeing her Uncle Tim for the first time, she does not say that her Uncle Tim has blue eyes. Instead she describes them as “daytime, sun-is-shining, sky-color eyes.” Then, on page 28, when Gomo (her aunt) offers her an American drink that she says everyone here loves, the young narrator can only describe it, not having had any experience with this drink called, “Ko-ka Ko-la.” She is not sure what to make of this “cup with dirty black water inside.” She notes that it has bubbles and perhaps it is “a drink from the sea.” When she takes a sip of it, she states that the beverage “bites the inside of my mouth and throat like swallowing tiny fish bones.” She can’t imagine how anyone would love this drink. When she is told to finish drinking it, she unhappily takes “a big swallow of the hurting drink.” I can just picture this little girl saying this, talking in descriptions, especially if she has no concrete word for it like “fizzy.” This is just an example of the imaginative use of language that the author uses to give her narrator “voice.” (less)
Although I know we are supposed to be posting examples of good multicultural literature, I felt it necessary to make a post on this book. The idea of...moreAlthough I know we are supposed to be posting examples of good multicultural literature, I felt it necessary to make a post on this book. The idea of a Korean girl coming to the United States and not liking how different her name sounds from all of her American classmates has some universality to it. I have encountered many bilingual/ ELL students who wanted to be called something else or an Americanized version of their names. However, I had some strong issues with this book, which definitely affected enjoyment of reading this story. First is the main idea of the book. While it might have been well-intentioned to have students come together to help Unhei find a name (she told them she had not chosen one yet), what teacher would have allowed such a disrespectful activity to go on in his/her classroom? It does turn out that one of the boys realizes that perhaps her original name is, in fact, the best and helps Unhei and her classmates to see this. Still, this seems to be a poor approach to showing young readers to have pride in their native or cultural names. The other major complaint I have about the book is that supposedly Unhei just recently arrived in America from Korea, yet she seems to have good enough English to converse with others in English. When she does converse with her mother or the store owner, Mr. Kim, there is no mention or allusion of switching to Korean. It also seems to me that the children’s mispronunciations of her name are more like one’s that would happen if you saw her name written in English and tried to pronounce it, rather than if they had heard it (as they had) and then tried to copy that pronunciation. All-in-all, I was very disappointed with this book and would be reluctant to use it with students.
In this story, Allison is a pre-school-age girl who finds out that she is adopted and is left feeling very different from her parents and classmates a...moreIn this story, Allison is a pre-school-age girl who finds out that she is adopted and is left feeling very different from her parents and classmates and unsure of who she is. Allen Say's illustrations are beautiful and assist to tell this story nicely. The concept is a good one and can easily be used with young children and primary-age grade school students when studying about different types of families. However, there are some things that I would go over such as the words "kimono," "mei-mei," and what it means to be adopted. The word "adoption" is never actually used in the story, nor is the fact that she came from Japan. These are concepts that will require some guidance as they involve some higher-level thinking, as students must use inferential skills. I would pair this book with others that deal with adoption as well as the experience of being raised in a culture different from the character's native one. Current events may be also be tied in, such as the current situation of children from Haiti. How in-depth the discussion is would depend on the age and maturity of the students, especially with the fact that some of these children do have living parents and families back in Haiti, but their families could no longer care for them and desired a better life for them, thus sending them to live with foster or adoptive families in America. I would also be cautious of bringing up the idea of adoption, keeping a positive tone, as some students in the class might themselves be adopted or may not even realize they were adopted. All in all, this book can be a useful addition to a classroom study of families and children's experiences. (less)
In this story, a Korean-Chinese-American boy tells us about his experiences and wishes for good luck as he plans for the Chinese New Year. Based on th...moreIn this story, a Korean-Chinese-American boy tells us about his experiences and wishes for good luck as he plans for the Chinese New Year. Based on the author’s own experiences of celebrating the lunar New Year with both Chinese and Korean traditions, we see how one child’s family celebrates this holiday. The boy tells us about how he helps his mother as she frantically cleans the house in hopes of eliminating bad luck. He does everything he can to make himself completely clean so that he can “soak up some good luck”—even cutting and thoroughly cleaning his nails and flossing his teeth. His He promises to be brave as his family lights firecrackers at midnight and during the firecracker explosions during the Chinese New Year parade. Yangsook Choi’s bright illustrations assist in telling this boy’s story of this festive occasion.
This book would make a nice addition to a K-3 class’s learning of the Chinese New Year. This is a good example of how one boy’s family might celebrate it, even though his family combines Korean and Chinese traditions, explaining that different family’s have different ways of celebrating the same holiday. Students could tell of how they celebrate their culture’s New Year, including the American New Year. I could give examples of how my family celebrates the Jewish New Year with sweet foods in order that we might have a sweet new year. Like the Chinese or lunar New Year, the Jewish New Year is celebrated at a different time of year than the American New Year. I would use this book in conjunction with some other story and informational books to learn more about traditions for celebrating the Chinese New Year, as well as books of other cultures celebrations of non-American New Year to expand students’ knowledge of other cultures celebrations. This would help to not only broaden students’ experiences through books (especially ones containing pictures) if they have little knowledge of such cultural traditions, but to also allow students of other cultures to feel pride and worth in their own traditions. The addition of a guided look at computer websites would add a technology component to this lesson. (less)
I really loved this book. Simple, concise prose and gorgeous illustrations tell the story of the author’s grandfather’s life between Japan and the Uni...moreI really loved this book. Simple, concise prose and gorgeous illustrations tell the story of the author’s grandfather’s life between Japan and the United States. Say’s award-winning illustrations have the soft coloring and style of old photos, which lend to the theme of a nostalgic look at Say’s own history, beginning with his Grandfather’s journey to America in the early part of the 20th century. This would be a wonderful inclusion to an author study of Allen Say as an important author and illustrator, in a 2nd-4th grade classroom. I would absolutely pair this with “Tea with Milk,” which continues the story of Say’s mother, also an Asian-American torn between her love for her first home, America, and her second home in Japan.
A quick note, I was surprised to find out that this book is considered to be fiction, even though it seemed to me to be informational/ non-fiction. Perhaps this is because of when the book was published, and a different determination of what was fiction or non-fiction/informational. I am not sure. (less)
Young Naima, a girl living in Bangladesh, desperately wishes she could help her father earn more money so that he does not have to spend so many long...moreYoung Naima, a girl living in Bangladesh, desperately wishes she could help her father earn more money so that he does not have to spend so many long hours in his job as a rickshaw driver. If only she had been born a boy, like her friend Saleem. Then like him, she could take over the job for a few hours to let her father have a bit of time to rest. Unfortunately, the only thing that she, a girl, can do is help her mother around the hut and paint alpanas (floral, geometrical designs painted using rice powder and colored chalk or other powdered natural substances such as flower petals or lentils) outside their home. While she is the village’s best alpana painter, she does not see how this could be helpful to earn money for her family. After a disastrous attempt to figure out how to ride her father’s rickshaw so that she might dress up as a boy to help him, Naima ends up damaging his new rickshaw, and putting her family deeper in debt. How can Naima ever find a way to help out her family? With a little ingenuity and a little luck, Naima discovers that being born a girl can actually turn out to be a good thing.
Mitali Perkins’s latest novel features two male main characters. Set in present-day, conflict-ridden Burma (Myanmar), two fifteen-year-old boys on oppo...moreMitali Perkins’s latest novel features two male main characters. Set in present-day, conflict-ridden Burma (Myanmar), two fifteen-year-old boys on opposite sides of the war find themselves face-to-face. Chiko, the son of a doctor imprisoned by the Burmese government, has been forcibly recruited into the government’s military. He would much rather be home reading and learning from his father’s (illegal) stash of books and taking care of his mother (as he promised his father), than be fighting out in the jungle. Tu Reh is a Karenni refugee, who wants to be out fighting for his people after his family is forced to flee their home and the bamboo fields that were their life-source. When Tu Reh comes across the wounded Burmese soldier (Chiko), he is forced to make the decision of letting him die or saving him. His decision changes both of their lives as they each struggle to figure out who they are in a land seized by conflict, violence, and prejudice.
It is plain to see why this book has received awards and accolades. Mitali Perkins has written a gripping story of the conflict of cultures in Burma at a level that teenagers as well as adults can understand. Having lived there for three years, her knowledge of the conflict adds vivid and authentic detail to her writing. (less)
In Mitali Perkins’s first book, she drew on her own experiences growing up as a Bengali-American teenager in California. The main character, Sunita S...more In Mitali Perkins’s first book, she drew on her own experiences growing up as a Bengali-American teenager in California. The main character, Sunita Sen, is your typical teenage girl. All she wants to do is fit in and be “normal.” Up until now things were headed in that direction, that is, until her very traditional grandparents arrive from India to spend the year with her family.
Although the plot is a bit formulaic and the story is a bit predictable, this is still an enjoyable look at a 13-year-old girl’s journey in search of self-identity and appreciation of one’s family and culture.
My favorite element of the book is the relationship that blossoms between Dadu (the grandfather) and Sunita. Just as Dadu teaches Sunita to cultivate her plants in their garden, so does he nurture his granddaughter, helping her learn more about herself and where she fits into this life of two cultures.