Monday, August 9, 2010

Rules - Inclusive Literature

Lord, Cynthia. 2006. Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. ISBN0-439-44382-2

Plot Summary
Twelve year old Catherine is destined to spend another lonely summer without her best friend but has high hopes that the girl moving in next door might fill the void – if Catherine can keep her little brother David from ruining things. David has autism and Catherine is often too preoccupied with what people are thinking about him to give much effort towards making friends. Fortunately, Catherine is able to become friends with her neighbor and also with a boy from David’s occupational therapy clinic. These new friendships end up teaching Catherine valuable lessons in true friendship and acceptance.

Critical Analysis
This touching story provides insight into the world of physical and mental challenges. First, we learn from David who has autism. His autism causes him to have extra sensitive hearing and David seems to relate to the world best through a system of rules. While he does not necessarily live by the rules, they do help him communicate with the world around him (David drops toys in the fish tank then goes to his sister and quotes the “no toys in the fish tank” rule so she’ll get the toy back out). He also quotes passages from his favorite story of Frog and Toad to help him relate to and communicate within the current situation.

We also learn from Jason, a young man in a wheelchair who communicates by pointing to simple words and phrases. From Jason we learn that while dreaming he can walk is normal, it is important to be realistic when awake. The disability or challenge can’t be ignored. It is a part of who he is and it is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Finally, we learn from Catherine, David’s older sister, Jason’s new friend, and the main character of the book. From Catherine, we learn that being related to someone with challenges does not always make you an expert on how to relate to them. We also learn that this relation can mean that your needs will be neglected at times and is often hard to deal with. Ultimately, this is a wonderful book exploring this sensitive topic with respect and authenticity.

Professional Reviews
From Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 2006 (Vol. 59, No. 9))
Catherine loves her little brother, David, who’s autistic, but his presence and his burden on the family can become exhausting. She’s hoping to be friends with Kristi, the sleek new girl next door, but she’s afraid David’s weirdness will spoil the girls’ nascent relationship. She’s also falling into a friendship with a boy her age who attends occupational therapy at the same place David does; Jason lacks the motor control to walk or to speak intelligibly, so he communicates through a word board, and Catherine has been illustrating his word cards and adding entries. It soon becomes clear that Jason wants to be more than just ‘clinic friends’ with Catherine, but Catherine, with her hypersensitivity to public scorn from her experiences with David, isn’t sure she can face Kristi with Jason as her date. The book deftly manages to interweave its elements without heavy-handed contrivance; it’s perfectly believable that Catherine would get familiar with other OT clients and that she’d get interested in the notion of a word board, so her relationship with Jason seems like something that would actually happen rather than a contrived opportunity for her education. Readers will sympathize with Catherine’s struggle to explain the world to David through his beloved rules and her frustration at his demanding, embarrassing behaviors and his garnering the majority of parental attention. Jason’s expressive limitations will provide considerable food for thought (and maybe even some language arts assignments), with readers considering what words they would require and what words they’d be likely to get if adults were their sole source (Catherine steps up Jason’s expressive attitude, albeit in a very G-rated way, with more rebellious and sarcastic utterances such as ‘Why not?’ ‘Whatever!’, and ‘Yeah, right’). This is an absorbing tale about valuing people even when it’s difficult, and it may encourage readers to consider the benefits and challenges of their own families and friends. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2006, Scholastic, 208p, $15.99. Grades 5-8.

From Joan Kindig, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
Growing up with an autistic younger brother is not easy and it seems far harder when the pre-teen years hit. Catherine feels as though David’s needs far overshadow her own in the family but the embarrassment his behavior causes her is the worst of it. Nevertheless, Catherine understands what David’s world is like and when she snaps at him, she is beset by guilt. It is this sensitivity that allows her to befriend a boy her age with severe communication problems who is wheelchair-bound. Gaining a stronger sense of herself and demanding what she needs as a member of the family allows her to move beyond embarrassment into acceptance. This is a story that depicts the impact of a needy child on an entire family very realistically. One of the treats in this book is that David echoes words rather than generating his own and he frequently speaks in lines he remembers from Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad. 2006, Scholastic, $15.99. Ages 9 to 12.

From Cindy Dobrez (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2006 (Vol. 102, No. 12))
No toys in the fish tank" is one of many rules that 12-year-old Catherine shares with her autistic younger brother, David, to help him understand his world. Lots of the rules are practical. Others are more subtle and shed light on issues in Catherine's own life. Torn between love for her brother and impatience with the responsibilities and embarrassment he brings, she strives to be on her parents' radar and to establish an identity of her own. At her brother's clinic, Catherine befriends a wheelchair-bound boy, Jason, who talks by pointing at word cards in a communication notebook. Her drawing skills and additional vocabulary cards--including "whatever" (which prompts Jason to roll his eyes at his mother)--enliven his speech. The details of autistic behavior are handled well, as are depictions of relationships: Catherine experiences some of the same unease with Jason that others do in the presence of her brother. In the end, Jason helps Catherine see that her rules may really be excuses, opening the way for her to look at things differently. A heartwarming first novel. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Fiction. 2006, Scholastic, $15.99. Gr. 4-7.

In addition to helping readers better relate to people with certain challenges, this book can also be used in art as the main character discusses color, perspective, and other artistic elements. The rules Catherine gives to David could also be used as a prompt in a readers response journal – how the rule can apply to situations other than it’s original intent and/or writing other rules for life not listed in the book. Finally, the book could be used to point out the importance and impact words can have. Since Jason had to communicate using one or a few word phrases, word choice became quite important.

In Our Mothers' House - Inclusive Literature

Polacco, Patricia. 2009. In our mothers’ house. New York, NY: Philomel Books. ISBN 978-0-399-25076-7

Plot Summary
The narrator of this story tells about life in her childhood home. Her home consisted of herself, a brother, a sister, and two mothers. As to be expected, there were people the family encountered who did not appreciate the different make up of this family. However, despite the disdain the family occasionally had to endure, the family was quite happy. The narrator tells of Halloween costumes, Christmas dinners, neighborhood block parties and a mother-daughter tea. The narrator and her siblings grow up and have families of their own but always look back on their lives in their mothers’ house with love and joy.

Critical Analysis
This is a beautiful book. The illustrations add color and details to the story. The story is about family and acceptance. Put it all together and you get exactly what we’d expect from Patricia Polacco. The characters of the book are quite diverse. The narrator lives in a neighborhood with families named McGuire, Goldstein, Brooks, Yamagaki and Abdulla. At the block party, these families bring foods like grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, sushi, fried clams, spanakopita and Greek salad. However, as diverse as the neighborhood seems to be, the family of the narrator seems to receive the most trouble because one family in the neighborhood refuses to associate with them in any way because there’s is a family with two mothers and no father.

The narrator describes her home as one where parents work, kids get sick, and grandparents come to visit. They listen to all different kinds of music and “speak their hearts” at dinner. The kids grow up happy and well-adjusted. Whether one agrees with the lifestyle portrayed or not, one can not deny that the desires and activities of this family aren’t that much different from the desires and activities of most of us.

Professional Reviews
From Linda Perkins (Booklist, May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
The oldest of three adopted children recalls her childhood with mothers Marmee and Meema, as they raised their African American daughter, Asian American son, and Caucasian daughter in a lively, supportive neighborhood. Filled with recollections of family holidays, rituals, and special moments, each memory reveals loving insight. At a school mother-daughter tea, for instance, the mothers make their first ever appearance in dresses. The narrator recalls, “My heart still skips a beat when I think of the two of them trying so hard to please us.” Only a crabby neighbor keeps her children away from their family. Meema explains, “She’s afraid of what she cannot understand: she doesn’t understand us.” The energetic illustrations in pencil and marker, though perhaps not as well-rendered as in some previous works, teem with family activities and neighborhood festivity. Quieter moments radiate the love the mothers feel for their children and for each other. Similar in spirit to the author’s Chicken Sunday, this portrait of a loving family celebrates differences, too. Pair this with Arnold Adoff’s Black Is Brown Is Tan (2002), Toyomi Igus’ Two Mrs. Gibsons (1996), or Natasha Wing’s Jalapeno Bagels (1996) for portraits of family diversity. Grades 1-4

From Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature)
The family ‘in our mothers’ house’ is like many others, filled with love and fun, clearly seen in the smiling characters on the jacket. It is unusual only in that there are two mothers. The narrator is the eldest of three adopted children. She tells the story of her adoption and that of her brother Will and sister Millie. The children play, sing, and dance together, catch the flu, and celebrate holidays with the extended family. Only one neighbor seems to disapprove of the family at a big block party where all others are accepting. The children grow up, marry, have babies; their mothers die, but their hearts remain at the house where they found love. Polacco’s standard pencils and markers fill each double-page scene with active, naturalistic children and adults amid details of clothing, suburban environment, and household chaos. The illustrations make it apparent that the children are genetically different, ranging from African American and Asian American to Millie’s glowing red hair and pale skin. The genuine humane good feeling is only made richer by the contrasting nastiness of the neighbor. The lengthy text is a plea for the acceptance of one kind of the changing American family. 2009, Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group, $17.99. Ages 6 to 9.

This book could be used for lessons in punctuating dialogue. It is also an example of using verbs other than “said” when writing dialogue. It could also be used in a unit studying various occupations as well as an example of “how-to” writing.

Ask Me No Questions - Inclusive Literature

Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask me no questions. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-1-4169-0351-2

Plot Summary
This book offers the unique perspective of people who are living in America illegally. The story begins with the Hossain family driving to Canada to seek asylum. Unfortunately, the Canadian border is flooded with immigrants seeking asylum and the Hossain family is sent back to America. Since their visas have expired, Mr. Hossain is detained at the border to be investigated and possibly deported. For the next several months, the family is separated and must live not really knowing what will happen next. The uncertainty causes a shift in the family hierarchy and shows the main character just how important she is to the family.

Critical Analysis
While this story can be a little confusing at first and can move slowly in some sections, it is still a good resource for learning about different cultures. The main characters are from Bangladesh so the reader is given some background into the political strife found there that sent it’s people to the United States. We learn Bangali words such as doodh-cha (milky tea), shada-chele (white guy), and a few others. We also learn that the traditional dress for women from Bangladesh is shalwar karmeez or saris, bangles, and their hair in a long braid. Men wear long Kurtas and have a beard. Of course, the less traditional wear t-shirts and jeans and wear their hair in whatever style happens to be in fashion. The men often shed their traditional clothes for the uniform of their jobs. The Bangali are typically hard working and the characters in this story were of the Muslim faith though some were more devout than others. The women stayed at home but the more “enlightened” families allowed the females of the family to work part time and further their education. As one character put it, not all families paid close attention to the “gender crap.”

The book offers insight into the culture of an illegal alien living in America as well. These people work many different jobs, often two or three at a time, and are often separated because of work or legal troubles. The main character describes it as a feeling of floating from place to place, always being ready to move again. Sometimes, families are able to settle down for a little while but the threat of being found and the fear of deportation is always present. This book also shows how since an unregistered person is not a U.S. citizen, he/she is not entitled to the same rights. This novel definitely gives readers a sense of the uncertainty an immigrant, especially an illegal one, feels every day.

Professional Reviews
From Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, November 2007 (Vol. 41, No. 6))
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2006: There are thousands of illegal residents in the US, and those from Muslim countries have been targeted since 9/11. Budhos, who has written before about immigrant teenagers, here creates fully realized characters to help us understand the complexities of the immigration system. Nadira and Aisha are teenage sisters whose parents came from Bangladesh and stayed on in NYC with expired visas. The girls are successful high school students who know little of Bangladesh. After 9/11 the authorities are circling in to deport those who are in the US illegally, especially those from Muslim countries. In a panic, the girls’ father decides to drive the family across the border to Canada, where they will seek asylum. But when they get there, Canada refuses to accept them because so many others are swamping the Canadian refugee system, and when the family turns around at the US border, the father is arrested and taken into custody. The girls leave their parents in New England, where the father is incarcerated, and return to NYC to relatives to try to continue their schooling and hope for the best. Aisha is the older sister, the academic success, the one most assimilated--yet as the pressures mount, she is the one who falls into a depression and is lost in hopelessness. Nadira rises to the occasion, pushing forward with the immigration lawyer, discovering discrepancies in the government’s case against her father, pleading with the judge, never giving up. This is a powerful story, especially for those YAs who know something themselves about the immigration situation. Budhos doesn’t make heroes of the illegal immigrants, but she illuminates the reasons why families stay here, and she focuses on the children who have grown up in America but who are threatened with deportation because of the mistakes of their parents. She certainly is critical of the Patriot Act and its repercussions for immigrant families and especially Muslim families. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS--Recommended for junior and senior high school students.

This book could be connected to geography lessons of New England and Bangladesh. It could also be used to discuss the immigration process as well as the college application process.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cockroach Cooties - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Yep, Laurence. 2000. Cockroach cooties. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 0-7868-0487-4

Plot Summary
In this story about two brothers from Chinatown, an older brother must defend his younger brother against a bully. In doing so, the bully decides to make the two brothers his daily prey. One day, the brothers discover the bully’s fear of bugs and are able to capitalize on the concept of “cockroach cooties.” In the end, they make a new friend and are able to better appreciate each other.

Critical Analysis
This is a universal story of brotherhood and of bully versus victim. It is not a book of great literary merit but it is one that many readers will be able to relate to and enjoy. And, while it’s universality could place the story in any setting using any characters, this particular story provides some insight into the Chinese-American culture of Chinatown.

From this book, the reader learns that birthdays are celebrated with banquets where all of the family gathers to eat and enjoy each others company. Banquet food consists of sparkling cider, winter melon soup or shark’s fin soup, paper-wrapped chicken, steamed fish in black bean sauce (fish cheeks and eyeballs are a treat), and a prawn course. However, the birthday cake is not a part of the traditional banquet if dining at a traditional restaurant, must be brought in from elsewhere. Of course, the characters in the story also eat cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, and spaghetti.

In school, the main characters are taught English, math, and history by nuns but then have an hour of Chinese school where they learn Chinese language arts and history from Miss Lee who wears traditional Chinese dresses and has no problem telling a student he is stupid or using a ruler if he gets the answer wrong.

Overall, this is a good book that gives a little insight into the Chinese American culture while teaching readers that looking at a situation from someone else’s perspective can help you get through the situation with a better feeling.

Professional Reviews
From Catherine Andronik (Booklist, May 1, 2000 (Vol. 96, No. 17))
Readers who remember brothers Teddy and Bobby from Later, Gator (1997) will welcome their return here. The brothers are still very different and frequently at odds with each other, but this time they grow closer as they combine forces against a common enemy: Arnie, the school bully. In danger of getting pummeled to a pulp, insect-loving Bobby finds Arnie's weak spot--a fear of cockroaches. Through Bobby, Teddy is introduced to the neighborhood entomologist, as well as to Hercules the pet roach. Bobby ultimately defeats Arnie, not with fists, but with imagination and psychology. But, as in so many of Yep's books, the point is not so much getting even as breaking down barriers: the brothers uncover a grim reason for Arnie's fears and fierceness, and initiate a cautious friendship. A few scenes seem unfocused, and this can't compare to Yep's more mature novels, but for readers in lower grades, this puts bugs and mean bullies against an unusual cultural background. Children need not be familiar with the earlier book to enjoy this one, though they will probably seek out the older title to find out about the alligator Teddy mentions several times. Category: Middle Readers. 2000, Hyperion, $15.99 and $16.49. Gr. 3-5.

From Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June 2000 (Vol. 53, No. 10))
Teddy, older brother to Bobby, wisely tries to keep out of the way of bully “Arnie-zilla,” but when Bobby incites Arnie’s wrath, Teddy reluctantly steps in. Teddy is desperate to avoid a physical confrontation with Arnie, but it isn’t until Bobby discovers the bully’s secret fear (involving insects of all kinds, cockroaches in particular, and some cookies with a secret ingredient) that a truce is declared. Chinese-American brothers Bobby and Teddy are cozily ensconced in their family circle. Narrator Teddy learns to appreciate his pesty younger brother, and their developing closeness is affectionately presented. The writing is occasionally choppy, and the transitions between incidents are less than smooth, but the interactions between the characters have the truthful ring of real conversations overheard; the final truce between brothers and bully is believably if somewhat imaginatively accomplished. The title alone will be enough to attract middle-grade readers of a certain humor, and they may be surprised at Yep’s ability to make even “Arnie-zilla” sympathetic. Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 2000, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2000, Hyperion, 135p, $15.99 and $16.49. Grades 3-5.

This story could be used in a study of insects and/or spiders. However, it more readily lends itself to the study of point of view and perspective. Not only does it give examples within the text of seeing things from another point of view, it more importantly urges the reader to always be thinking outside themselves and to be more understanding of others in the process.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the mountain meets the moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0-316-11427-1

Plot Summary
A fanciful tale of a young girl from a poor village who goes on a quest to ask “the Old Man of the Moon” how to find fortune for her family. Along the way, she befriends a dragon, a Buffalo Boy, a king, a very happy family, and a couple of goldfish. In the end, she and her family find their fortune in each other but the girl’s quest and return home brings fortune to the entire village.

Critical Analysis
This is a wonderfully written fantasy that seamlessly weaves the old stories of Chinese and other Asian folktales into a new story of a family that learns to be content with what they have. Though this is not necessarily an example of Asian-American literature, it does give the reader a sense of the foundation upon which Asian-American literature is built. From this book, we learn that the Asian-American, specifically Chinese-American for this author, heritage is hard-working but poor rice farmers. These poor farmers worked in the mud and lived off what they farmed so they were “brown” and “dull” looking and ate mostly rice. Because of who Minli encounters in the story, we learn that other foods available were peaches, lychee nuts, tea, rice porridge, and tea-stained eggs. Kings dined on shrimp dumplings, noodles and pork, white jade tofu soup, an assortment of cakes, and other delicacies.

The story also gives insight into the beliefs of the culture. The Chinese regard jade to be as sought after as gold and believe that tigers are a fearsome creature to be feared. It is believed that everything is alive – the ground, bark from trees, even stones (though carving gives them more personality [page 145]). And though the culture is very tied to fate and fortune and destiny, the Story of the Goldfish Man tells us that even fates written in the Book of Fortune can be changed and therefore nothing is to be deemed impossible.

The font used to tell the Chinese folktales along with the illustrations that accompany the story also add to the authenticity of the culture in which the story is based. The full-color illustrations help to describe the setting and the characters – buildings, clothing, tools, etc. – and the folklore integrated throughout gives the history of the people. Ultimately, this is a touching story about a good and kind people look who out for one another either by providing advice, nursing the sick back to health, cutting off squares of their own clothes to make clothes for another, or just simply waiting patiently for one’s return. This is a beautiful use of the old traditions to create a new story.

Professional Reviews
From Andrew Medlar (Booklist, May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
Starred Review* In this enchanted and enchanting adventure, Minli, whose name means “quick thinking,” lives with her desperately poor parents at the confluence of Fruitless Mountain and the Jade River. While her mother worries and complains about their lot, her father brightens their evenings with storytelling. One day, after a goldfish salesman promises that his wares will bring good luck, Minli spends one of her only two coins in an effort to help her family. After her mother ridicules what she believes to be a foolish purchase, Minli sets out to find the Old Man of the Moon, who, it is told, may impart the true secret to good fortune. Along the way, she finds excitement, danger, humor, magic, and wisdom, and she befriends a flightless dragon, a talking fish, and other companions and helpmates in her quest. With beautiful language, Lin creates a strong, memorable heroine and a mystical land. Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin’s own full-color drawings open each chapter. Grades 3-6

From Michael Jung (Children's Literature)
Best known as the award-winning author and illustrator of The Year of the Rat and The Year of the Dog, Grace Lin tries her hand at an original Chinese folktale in her new book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. All her life, young Minli has lived in the Valley of the Fruitless Mountain, a valley her storytelling father tells her is barren because the mountain above it is the broken heart of the Jade Dragon who longs to be reunited with her children. When her father tells her about the Old Man of the Moon and his ability to answer any question, however, Minli sets out to find the Old Man--using directions given to her by a talking goldfish--to learn how to improve her family’s fortunes. As the goldfish’s instructions take Minli through the City of Bright Moonlight, the Village of the Moon Rain, and the Never-Ending Mountain, Minli befriends many strange characters, including a trickster king, enlightened children, and a lost dragon, who all tell her stories that make her see the truth in her father’s tales, but as Minli gets closer to the Old Man in the Moon, she realizes her experiences have changed her view of her family’s fortunes, making her ask a question that will alter the future of the Valley of the Fruitless Mountain in unexpected ways. Drawing inspiration from not only Chinese folktales but also American fairy tales like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Grace Lin has crafted a highly accessible and compulsively readable folktale, further enhanced by her beautiful full-color illustrations. Readers who enjoy this tale will be delighted to find that Lin provides a list of books about Chinese folktales that inspired her own story at the end of her Author’s Note, helping them expand their knowledge of stories from other cultures. 2009, Little Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12.

From CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices 2010)
Life is hard in Minli’s Village of Fruitless Mountain, where she lives with Ba and Ma, her father and mother. Despite their hardships, Minli finds joy in the magical stories Ba tells at dinner each evening. When Minli spends her family’s last two coins to buy a goldfish, the fantasy of her father’s stories merges with the bleak reality of their daily life. Unable to feed the fish, Minli releases it in the river, and in payment the fish tells her how to get to Never-Ending Mountain. There, Minli knows, she can ask a question of the Old Man of the Moon. Determined to find out how to change the fortune of her town, she sets off. Grace Lin deftly inserts a series of tales inspired by traditional Chinese folktales into the larger tapestry of Minli’s extraordinary journey that is full of adventure and trials. Gorgeous book design augments this fast-paced fantasy, including occasional full-page color illustrations, chapter heading decorations, and a typeface treatment that visually distinguishes the folktale segments from the overarching story of Minli’s quest. CCBC Category: Fiction for Children. 2009, Little, Brown, 278 pages, $16.99. Ages 8-11.

This story would simply make a good read-aloud but it could also be used in lessons on descriptive writing with phrases like a “sea of shaking heads” (pg. 117) and the description of the palace garden on page 127. There are also many good vocabulary words that could be taught from this book such as chagrined, commotion, flamboyant, and destiny. Many of the folklore included in the story could be used as reader response topics where students have to tell if there was a lesson to be learned from the story or not.

Tea With Milk - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Say, Allen. 1999. Tea with Milk. New York, NY: Walter Lorraine Books. ISBN 0-395-90495-1

Plot Summary
Masako grew up in America outside San Francisco. When she graduated from high school, her family moved back to their homeland of Japan. Masako quickly learned that Japan was not her homeland and that she missed her life in America. She left her family home and moved to the city of Osaka. Here, she felt a little more at home. She was able to get a job after a while using the English she learned in America. Through this job, she me a young man who had grown up in English schools and also felt a little out of place in Japan. The two marry and create their own sense of home together.

Critical Analysis
This is a lovely story about learning to find comfort and a sense of belonging in a world that does not necessarily feel like home. The ending, which describes a culture almost opposite to that of the beginning, brings the story full circle. It also happens to give insight into the Japanese and Japanese American cultures.

The main character is named Masako, or Ma-chan for short. However, in English, she is called May and when she meets her future husband, he tells her that the English school he went to “called him Joseph” revealing that many Japanese people change their names in English. We also learn that at home, Masako’s family at rice, miso soup, and green tea for breakfast but that when “May” was in the home of her friends, she ate pancakes, muffins, and tea with milk and sugar. When Masako’s family moves back to Japan, we learn that her home is drafty with paper windows and they often sit on the floor. Masako must wear kimonos and go back to school to learn Japanese and even though her goal is to go to college and live on her own as American girls do, her family wants her to become a proper Japanese lady and marry a good husband.

When Masako moves to the city, we find that it provides some of the things she misses from America like tall buildings and large stores. It also shows that the opportunities for women in the work force are limited. However, once Masako is able to put her English skills to work in a city that feels a little more like America than where her family lives, she is able to better appreciate her Japanese roots. It is the appreciation and blending of both cultures that truly classifies this as Japanese-American literature.

Professional Reviews
From Hazel Rochman (Booklist, March 15, 1999 (Vol. 95, No. 14))
On the title page of Say's new picture book, there is a small frame from his Caldecott-winning Grandfather's Journey (1993), a picture of his mother, Masako, as a Japanese American child in California. Say tells her immigrant story: how, when she finished high school in California, her restless, homesick father took the family back to live in his village in Japan. Masako becomes a foreigner in her parents' country, longing for home in San Francisco. Instead of college, she has to go back to high school to learn Japanese. She must learn to be a "proper" Japanese lady. Say's watercolors are quieter in line and color this time, and the text is much longer. Together, they tell an elemental story that will appeal to everyone who feels a stranger at home. The pictures of Masako show her sad and wooden, bound up in a kimono, kneeling on the floor, or walking alone in the empty schoolyard. In a climactic scene, she sits fuming on a park bench next to the stuffy banker with whom an arranged marriage is planned. When she rebels and breaks away, the bright red color of her fitted dress is as startling to us as to the staring villagers. Like many foreigners everywhere, she discovers her home in the city, where she finds work, opportunity, and a husband from an even more diverse background than her own. They speak English ("at last, a real conversation"); they drink their tea with milk and sugar; and when their son, Allen, is born, they speak English to each other and Japanese to him. Both an "ugly duckling" romance and a universal story of leaving home, this is a picture book that will have intense appeal for older readers. Category: Middle Readers. 1999, Houghton/Walter Lorraine, $17. Gr. 4-8. Starred Review.

From Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature)
If you loved Grandfather's Journey then Tea With Milk will give you another look at the author's family, only this time it is through the eyes of his mother. Masako has never known her parents' homeland. She spent her life growing up in the United States. Just as she is planning to head off to college, the family returns to Japan. How frustrating--she is an outsider who must wear kimonos, sit on the floor, and worst of all, her parents have hired a matchmaker to find her a respectable husband. Masako rebelled at a time when properly raised girls in Japan just didn't leave home, head for the city, and look for a job. May, as she preferred to be called, found work in a department store where she also met her future husband, another foreigner who was raised by an English family. They discovered that they both share a love of tea with milk and sugar along with a desire to create their own home and place in the world. The poignant story is accompanied by Say's glorious paintings that look like photographs from a family album. They beautifully capture the setting and the emotions. 1999, Houghton Mifflin, $17.00. Ages 5 to 8.

From Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June 1999 (Vol. 52, No. 10))
Writing a family history in a manner that interests anyone but blood relations is surprisingly difficult; putting a family story into a picture-book format is even more difficult, as picture books require an economy of form and style that is not necessarily family-story friendly. Allen Say writes family stories for youth, treading the path of his family’s past with a sure step, never slipping into the chasms of nostalgia that yawn at his feet. A matter-of-fact tone and a certain severity of style serve to discipline his unsentimental look at his family history, resulting in emotionally resonant stories that are crisp and clean, yet not antiseptic. Tea with Milk is a love story, and it is a love story in more ways than one. It is the story of a young Japanese-American woman’s love for her country; it is the story of her parents’ love for their country of origin; it is the story of how Say’s own parents met and fell in love; and it is the story of the love between a mother and child in this son’s tribute to his mother’s life. The opening sepia-toned, snapshot-like illustration shows a little girl dressed in her best clothes; behind the girl is the door to her house where, peeking out from a small window, is the half-hidden face of an observing adult. The accompanying text states: “From the window of her room, the girl could see the city of San Francisco. She imagined that it was a city of many palaces. And one day her father would take her there, he had promised, riding on a paddle steamer across the shining bay.” But the girl Masako’s parents are homesick, and, after she graduates from high school, they return to Japan. Masako had planned to go to college and get her own apartment. In Japan, however, she goes back to high school to learn to speak Japanese, and she takes lessons in flower arranging and calligraphy in order to become “a proper Japanese lady.” When her parents hire a matchmaker to find her a husband and arrange a marriage, Masako realizes that, despite her Japanese parents, she is an “American daughter.” She cannot adjust to the life her parents wish her to live so she moves to Osaka, where, thanks to her excellent English, she gets a job guiding foreign businessmen around an exclusive department store. On one such tour, she meets Joseph, the man who becomes her husband and the author’s father. From the title page illustration of the young Masako standing next to a baby carriage with a blonde ringleted doll, Say renders his mother’s struggle to maintain her balance on the line between her two cultures with compassionate insight. The loneliness of the uprooted Masako, her conflicting desires to please her family and be true to herself, her courage in leave-taking, all are communicated in a telling combination of words and pictures. The full-page watercolor illustrations are thinly outlined in black with wide white borders, and the spare compositions are elegantly balanced within their frames. The face of the main character articulates her changing emotions as her solitary figure stands isolated and apart in several of the spreads. The faces in the crowds are integral to the action of the scene; every now and then a character will look out from the pages, seemingly directly at the viewer, further drawing the reader into Masako’s environment. The illustrations have a translucent, light-infused quality, illuminating both setting and characters with unremitting honesty. The backgrounds, whether busy street-scenes or the palatial store interior, serve as uncluttered settings for the story’s characters. There have been several generations of family stories in picture book format over the last several years; their apparent aim has been to contribute to a sense of personal and family history, to give young readers and listeners a sense of where they come from so as to provide them with a sense of where they might go. Unfortunately, many such books are nostalgia pieces for adults, memory anecdotes that require the reader to bring a certain amount of regret or longing for days gone by to the story in order to appreciate the experience. Say has a gift for descriptive prose that effectively communicates the emotional nuances of his family stories; that gift lifts his stories above nostalgia and invites young listeners and readers to an understanding of the passage of time, the impact of distance. Opening with a snapshot-like illustration of Masako and closing with a photorealistic portrait of his parents, Say’s respectful tribute comes full circle, ending with a gratifying sense of something well-considered and finally understood. Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 1999, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1999, Lorraine/Houghton, 32p, $17.00. Ages 6-9 yrs.

This would be a good book for readers who are new and feeling out of place. It would also be a good book to share with students when asking them to set goals or helping them work through the process of changing goals when those originally set can not be met for some reason.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Code Talker - Native American Literature

Bruchac, Joseph. 2005. Code talker: A novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. New York, NY: Dial Books. ISBN 0-8037-2921-9

Plot Summary
This story follows the life of Kii Yazhi, whose name is changed to Ned Begay by a teacher on his first day of school. After being sent to a boarding school at a very early age, Ned learns English as well as history, math, and such. He also learns that his Navajo language and traditions are not accepted by the white teachers and culture and the consequences of speaking in his native language are severe. However, Ned simply learns to hide his traditions well from his white teachers and otherwise appears to be the perfect student. Because he does so well in school, Ned becomes the perfect recruit for the Marines top secret Navajo Code Talker program during World War Two. Ned proudly joins to help defend “the sacred land that sustains us.” The majority of the book is his journey through the war against Japan – the training, the battles, the hardships, the friends, and the responsibilities of the Code Talkers during the war in the Pacific. The author includes a detailed Author’s Note that gives some history and related information about the Navajo people, the Code Talkers, and about the author’s process in telling this story. A bibliography is given as well as acknowledgements made.

Critical Analysis
This is a well-written story. While the plot, timeline, and battle descriptions can seem to be arduous and almost repetitive, they help to drive home the feeling of the soldiers that the war seemed it would never end. Bruchac tells the story in such a way that the reader is never really bored or disgusted by the details of the story but instead can begin to relate to the anxious soldiers who lived on adrenaline during the seemingly endless cycle of battle, never really being able to relax or rest until the war is over.

Since this is the central theme of the story, the Navajo vocabulary Bruchac provides in the story is probably the most notable insight into the culture. However, he weaves other aspects of the culture into the story as well. The Navajo people are described having brown skin and long black hair. From the book, we learn that men don’t really grow much facial hair and that they have an Asian look about them so that Navajo soldiers were often taken for Japanese enemy soldiers. We also learn that the Navajo people value long hair and believed that cutting one’s hair would bring misfortune so that when Navajo children were sent to boarding school or joined the military, getting their hair cut short made them feel naked and ashamed.

The story also teaches us a few of their social customs. We learn that the Navajo people are quiet and show respect by looking down at their feet when another is talking. They also point with their chin or lips rather than their hands. Bruchac also tells us that to the Navajo, water means danger and therefore, one should even avoid eating things from the water. Also, that one should avoid corpses as the bad spirit that could be around the corpse could make one sick. Bruchac also includes a traditional story of the Sacred Twins and the Monster Slayer when he describes the battle fatigue of the soldiers and is able to incorporate the traditional Blessingway ceremony as well as other ceremonial dances into the story.

Ultimately, Bruchac’s research and knowledge of the historical time period and the people represented by the story makes it an accurate and authentic portrayal. This is a highly recommendable book for anyone interested in Navajo traditions and culture or World War Two or both.

Professional Reviews
From Carolyn Phelan (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2005 (Vol. 101, No. 12))
Six-year-old Ned Begay leaves his Navajo home for boarding school, where he learns the English language and American ways. At 16, he enlists in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is trained as a code talker, using his native language to radio battlefield information and commands in a code that was kept secret until 1969. Rooted in his Navajo consciousness and traditions even in dealing with fear, loneliness, and the horrors of the battlefield, Ned tells of his experiences in Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The book, addressed to Ned's grandchildren, ends with an author's note about the code talkers as well as lengthy acknowledgments and a bibliography. The narrative pulls no punches about war's brutality and never adopts an avuncular tone. Not every section of the book is riveting, but slowly the succession of scenes, impressions, and remarks build to create a solid, memorable portrayal of Ned Begay. Even when facing complex negative forces within his own country, he is able to reach into his traditional culture to find answers that work for him in a modern context. Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find. Category: Books for Older Readers--Fiction. 2005, Dial, $16.99. Gr. 6-9. Starred ReviewConnections

From Melissa Bergin (Library Media Connection, February 2006)
Six-year-old Navajo Ned Begay promises to learn the language of the white people as he leaves home for the mission school. His family realizes that to protect the Navajo, they will need to work within the legal system of the government including having leaders who can communicate in English. Ironically, while the mission school tries to extinguish everything Navajo about the children, it is their native language that becomes valuable. While still in high school, Ned enlists in the Marines during World War II and becomes a part of history that neither he nor the other involved Navajos could mention for many years-code talkers. Faster than Morse code and more secure than other code methods of the time, Ned tells of how he and almost 400 others were part of Marine units that relayed battle messages across the Pacific including the battle of Iwo Jima. Told from the perspective of a grandfather telling the history to his grandchildren, Bruchac's voice as a master storyteller weaves stories, characters, and research into a compelling story of war, sacrifice, and personal journey. Heavily researched, this is a novel of still little known part of history within a culture and the larger United States that will leave readers with a different perspective of World War II. Highly Recommended. 2005, Dial Press (Penguin Putnam), 240pp., $16.99 hc. Ages 11 to 15.

From Timnah Card (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2005 (Vol. 58, No. 6))
In a retrospective narrative addressed to his grandchildren, Ned Begay describes his degrading experiences with biligaana (white) schools as a youngster and his frightening yet liberating tour of duty as a Navajo code talker in the Pacific in World War II. Ned’s explanation of the challenges Indians faced in times of war and peace is moving but never mawkish; the delicate position of all indigenous peoples is made painfully obvious through carefully worded tribal declarations and individual avowals of loyalty to the government that has oppressed these people for generations. However, this is a book about victory, not victimization; the focus is firmly on the resiliency and grace of Native America in the most trying of times. Part of that grace is displayed as Ned depicts white soldiers, Japanese civilians, and Pacific Islanders with compassion (his view of the Japanese military is understandably less evenhanded). Though Ned’s own character is laid back and sympathetic to an almost eerie extent, he consistently attributes his own unshakable serenity to the support he receives from his family and community through their participation in the Navajo Way. Other famous code talkers are introduced throughout (along with a certain future president), several of whom respond less well to their ambiguous status after serving honorably in the military. That realistic perspective, combined with multiple heart-stopping battle scenes, makes this detailed novel a dramatic yet thoughtful complement to nonfiction offerings such as Aaseng’s Navajo Code Talkers (BCCB 12/92). An author’s note and selected bibliography expand the historical picture. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2005, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2005, Dial, 240p, $16.99. Grades 7-12.

This book could be used in connection with many things. Most obviously, it could be used in a study of World War Two, Code Talkers, or Navajo culture. It could also be used to expose readers to military jargon or to the native people of the Pacific islands involved in World War Two. There are many descriptive writing examples like the teachers “who watched us the way coyote watch a prairie dog hole.” There are also several statements or passages that would serve as excellent prompts for a reader’s response (“Strong words outlast the paper they are written upon.” pg 34, “You can tell a lot about a man by the way he speaks and the way he carries himself.” pg 43, or “A sense of humor can be just as important for a soldier’s survival as a gun or a foxhole.” pg 107