Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cockroach Cooties - Asian/Pacific American Literature

Bibliography
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.

Connections
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

Bibliography
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.

Connections
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

Bibliography
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.

Connections
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

Bibliography
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.

Connections
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

Jingle Dancer - Native American Literature

Bibliography
Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2000. Jingle Dancer. Illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu. New York, NY: Morrow Junior books. ISBN 0-688-16241-X

Plot Summary
This is the story of Jenna and her quest to perform the jingle dance at the powwow. She learns the steps and movements of the dance from her Grandma Wolfe. Then she goes to various other family members and friends to obtain jingles that will give her dress a voice. The story ends with Jenna dancing at the powwow. The author also includes background information on the Native American tribes represented in the story as well as some history of the jingle dance, dress, and tradition. A glossary of terms is also included.

Critical Analysis
Though the story seems to lack a natural flow, it contains some nice imagery. The author’s personification of Sun and Moon help to mark the time and jingles that sing “tink, tink, tink, tink” give a “voice” to the traditional jingle dress.

While these personifications allude to a Native American influence, it is really the central theme of the jingle dance that gives insight into the Native American culture. The description of the dress and the dance movements tell the reader a little about a Native American tradition. The reader learns that tin is rolled by hand and then sewn on the fabric in rows to create the jingle dress. Each character the main character Jenna meets with also provides insight into the culture. We learn from Jenna’s grandmother, aunt, and cousin that dancing the jingle dance in the powwow is a tradition among the women of the family. We learn from Jenna’s great aunt that the family must be from the Muscogee Creek people since she tells Jenna a story from that tradition. We learn from family friend, Mrs. Scott, that some traditional foods are fry bread and Indian tacos.

Some of the information given through the story can seem a little trivial at first but the background information given after the story is quite insightful. It provides more in depth information on the actual Native American groups represented in the story and the history behind those groups and their traditions mentioned in the story. This extended information helps to round out Jenna’s story.

Professional Reviews
From Connie Fletcher (Booklist, May 15, 2000 (Vol. 96, No. 18))
This contemporary Native American tale highlights the importance of family and community through a young girl's dream of joining the dancers at the next powwow. Jenna is a girl of Muscogee (Creek) and Ojibway (Chippewa/Anishinabe) descent. She has practiced the steps for the jingle dance by following her grandmother's moves on a video. Now she must get enough jingles (traditionally made of tin, aluminum, or gold canning lids rolled into cones) to sew on her dress to make a satisfying "tink, tink" as she dances. The way Jenna gathers her jingles (borrowing enough to make a row, but not so many that the lender's dress will "lose its voice"), and her promise to dance for the women who cannot dance for themselves illustrate the importance of family and community ties. The colorful, well-executed watercolor illustrations lend warmth to the story. A note explaining Jenna's heritage and a brief glossary are appended. Category: For the Young. 2000, Morrow, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages 4-7.

From Jan Lieberman (Children's Literature)
Brum! Brum! Brum! Hear the sound of the powwow drum as the women dance with tin jingles on their dresses making a rhythmic tinkling sound. Jenna dreams of dancing at the powwow but with no jingles to sew on her costume, there would be no sound. With bouncy enthusiasm, she convinces relatives to loan her theirs from their now silent dresses to sew on her costume. Jingle Dancer describes this dance of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation that is still performed today. 2000, Morrow, $15.95. Ages 4 to 8.

From Janice M. Del Negro (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July/August 2000 (Vol. 53, No. 11))
Jenna dreams about jingle dancing at the upcoming pow-wow, but she doesn’t have enough jingles (tin cones that ‘sing’ with each bounce-step) for her dress. Visits to her female friends and relations solve her problem, as the women lend Jenna the necessary jingles from their own regalia. Unable to dance at the pow-wow, each woman requests that Jenna dance for her, and Jenna does: “for Great-aunt Sis, whose legs ached, . . . for Mrs. Scott, who sold fry bread, . . . for Elizabeth, who worked on her big case, . . . and for Grandma Wolfe, who warmed like Sun.” This gently messagey family story is structured along the lines of a traditional tale, with Jenna as hero traveling to the four directions to gain her prize. The language, however, is stilted and somewhat formal, slowing the already deliberate pace. Watercolor illustrations show a modern Jenna and her loving circle of women in typical middle-class American housing, occasionally accented with a variety of American Indian art, such as baskets, moccasins, and the dance regalia itself. The human figures are disproportional (which is especially disappointing in the concluding images of Jenna dancing) and the compositions are somewhat static; still, the faces of the characters are often expressive and Jenna herself is a winning personality. Smith explains the importance of traditional dance regalia in an extensive author’s note. A short glossary is included.

Connections
This book would be helpful in teaching social customs, family relationships, and even occupations. It would also be useful in a lesson on personification as the book uses the sun and moon to help mark the sequence of the story.

How Turtle's Back was Cracked - Native American Literature

Bibliography
Ross, Gayle. 1995. How turtle’s back was cracked: a traditional Cherokee tale. Paintings by Murv Jacob. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0-8037-1728-8

Plot Summary
This is a traditional Cherokee tale of how Turtle’s back came to look cracked. In the time when animals still spoke the same language, Turtle took credit for killing a wolf. Considering himself a mighty hunter, he took a tribute from the wolf and flaunted his victory around town. The other wolves didn’t take kindly to Turtle’s arrogance and plotted to kill him. As in many traditional tales, the “lesser” animal, Turtle, was able to out-smart his adversaries but unfortunately at some expense to himself. Though Turtle was able to doctor himself, his back was forever cracked. At the end of the story, the author also includes some history about the Cherokee nation.

Critical Analysis
This is a well-written, fun book that not only tells a traditional Cherokee tale but also gives a little insight into the culture of the Cherokee people. The author tells the reader that she has taken a few liberties with the story but not enough to actually harm the authenticity of the story. She backs up her authenticity and respect for the story with a brief history of the Cherokee people at the end of the book. What is wonderful though is how much the reader can learn about the Cherokee from the story alone.

Similar to African tales and other traditional animal stories, we learn that this story takes place “in the time when animals spoke the same language” thus letting the reader know that it happened a long time ago. It also takes a similar theme of showing readers (or listeners as the stories were originally told orally) that brains can usually out maneuver brawn since Possum beats the first wolf at his own game and later Turtle must out-smart the wolves to save his life. Beyond these cultural traits though, the story tells us a few more customs. First, we learn that these people probably ate persimmons or at least lived in a land where persimmons grew. More insightfully though, the book teaches us that it is customary for a hunter to take a tribute from his prey. This tribute captures the spirit of the prey and transfers it to the hunter. We also learn that it is a custom of the people to keep a corn soup cooking or warming all day so that if a visitor should come, there will be food to offer him upon his arrival. In the end, we also learn that the Cherokee had secrets for using plants as healing agents and the author even threw in a Cherokee word to learn.

After the story, the author provides a brief history of the Cherokee nation which, if you read the information about the author on the book jacket, was told to her by family members as stories of their life, not as facts to be cited. That must be why the story itself taught me so much about the Cherokee people before reading the history the author provided at the end.

Professional Reviews
From Carolyn Phelan (Booklist, January 15, 1995 (Vol. 91, No. 10))
Gathering persimmons together, friends Possum and Turtle are joined by a thieving wolf who chokes to death on their fruit. Turtle, foolishly believing that he has killed the wolf, shows off the deed by making wolf-ear spoons and eating with them publicly. When the other wolves catch Turtle, they vow to kill him by roasting, boiling, or drowning him. He responds with, "Oh, no, not the river! Anything but the river." When they throw him in, he lands upside down on a rock, cracking his shell. He survives, but that's why the Turtle has cracks on his back today. Despite its echoes of the more familiar Brer Rabbit story ("born and bred in the briar patch"), this Cherokee pourquoi tale has a flavor all its own. Ross notes that she remembers the tale from her childhood, found a written source, and developed it through storytelling to its present form. Jacob's distinctive acrylic paintings illustrate the story's dramatic moments in scenes rich in colors and patterns. An entertaining picture book to read aloud. Category: For the Young. 1995, Dial, $14.99 and $14.89. Ages 5-8.

From Gisela Jernigan, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
Turtle and possum are best friends because they are both slow and both love persimmons. When wolf tries to steal persimmons from turtle, that's when trouble starts. Turtle eventually manages to escape from the wolves using a trick similar to the one employed by Brer Rabbit, but in the process his smooth shell becomes cracked. Sprightly dialogue and touches of humor make the story fun to read aloud, while colorful watercolors and geometric borders add to the visual appeal of this pourquoi tale. Includes an author's note. 1995, Dial, $14.99, $14.89. Ages 3 to 9.

From CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1995)
A Cherokee legend from "the days when the people and the animals still spoke the same language" begins when Possum and Turtle search for persimmons. When a wolf spoils their feast, Possum retaliates, but it's vain Turtle who claims the credit. Turtle not only makes a pair of wolf-ear spoons, but then he shows off this "tribute," prevailing upon friends and even on strangers to respond with hospitality. After Turtle gorges himself on corn soup, the insulted wolves serve him a come-uppance for such bad behavior. This porquois tale is beautifully illustrated with Jacobs' detailed, intricately patterned artwork done in acrylics that suggest a dark forest full of an active community of talking creatures. Ross is an accomplished storyteller and a descendent of the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation during the time of the Trail of Tears. Her endnotes briefly summarize the history of that Indian Removal (1838-39) and also point out accomplishments of the Cherokee Nation. CCBC categories: FOLKLORE, MYTHOLOGY AND TRADITIONAL LITERATURE; PICTURE BOOKS; HISTORICAL PEOPLE, PLACES AND EVENTS. 1995, Dial, 32 pages, $14.89. Ages 6-9.

Connections
This book can be used in a unit on Porquois stories. It could also be used in a study of Native American history or specifically the Trail of Tears from the background information provided after the story. It could also be used in a study of animal adaptations.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Esperanza Rising – Hispanic/Latino Literature

Bibliography
Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2000. Esperanza Rising. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0-439-12041-1

Plot Summary
This fictional story is based on the story of the author’s grandmother who lived a life of comfort and leisure in Mexico but was moved into a life of hard work and hardship in the United States. The main character, Esperanza, loses her father and the life of priviledge he created for his family in Mexico. Through the help of faithful servants and friends, Esperanza and her mother move to a company farm in California where they must now live like the servants they once employed. For the thirteen year old, the transition is difficult but Esperanza rises to the occasion, “like the phoenix…rising again, with a new life ahead.”

Critical Analysis
This beautiful tale of hope for a better life gives a lot of insight into the Mexican American culture, especially the aspect of the culture rooted in the field work of the 1920 and 1930s. Each chapter title is given in Spanish with an English translation listed below. Also, much of the dialog is given in Spanish but translated in the next words or sentence. In fact, the book often reads like translated English which gives it a more authentic feel. The people are described as vaqueros and campesinos and even a Zapotec Indian woman from Oaxaca. The book describes men who wear straw hats and bandanas to protect them from the sun, dust, and spiders. Women braid their long black hair and have dark lashes and fair, creamy skin – when it isn’t covered in dust and sweat and tears. These men and women enjoy the treat of papayas and flan de almendras but typically have to settle for what they harvest and beans and rice and tortillas though they can drive quite a distance away to a store that stocks masa, chilies, and chorizo that can be bought without looks of disdain or prejudice.

In addition to describing the language, people and food of the culture, this story also gives the culture’s background. It begins with the separation of classes in Mexico that lead to the Mexican Revolution which drove many Mexicans to the United States in search of a life as something more than a servant. This story tells us about the hardships these Mexicans dealt with once they were in the United States; how despite their background in Mexico, many Americans saw Mexican Americans as “one big brown group who are good for only manual labor.” It describes the anger that grows within good and hard-working people when they are daily faced with injustice and malice. It also shows how loyalty to your work, to your family, and to the hope of something better can overcome the anger. Ultimately, this is a touching story of triumph that is set within the Mexican American culture but is relatable to any culture.

Professional Reviews
From Deborah Kaplan (KLIATT Review, November 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 6))
The day before her 13th birthday, Esperanza's life shatters. Her father dies, and Esperanza and her mother must leave their easy life on the lovely family ranch in Mexico. With the aid of former servants, they immigrate to Depression-era California to become farm laborers. For Esperanza, who has always had servants, dolls, and lovely clothes, the dirt, illness, and labor are unbearable. She wants to fit in, but the other women and children in the camp know that she doesn't know how to wash clothes, sweep a floor, or even bathe herself. When illness strikes, Esperanza must fight despair to become her family's provider. The underlying political situation in the camp is dangerous. The poverty of the Depression and the influx of refugees from the Dust Bowl lend themselves to terrible living conditions in the company farm camp, and troublemakers are always in danger from the government. Strikers agitate for better conditions, but for Esperanza and her friends, to strike is to lose the pittance they need to survive. Both the strikers and those who refuse to strike are shown making necessary and difficult choices in Esperanza's story. Despite the hardship of the farm work, Esperanza finds peace in the cycle of harvest and the heartbeat of the earth. In the midst of hunger, struggle, and terrifying collusion between the landowners and the government, Esperanza and her friends are still tied to the rhythms of the earth, and Esperanza--Spanish for "hope"--is rising. The rich metaphors and complex political issues in Esperanza's story never undercut the pleasure of this coming-of-age tale. Esperanza's first year in California makes for a delightful read; the added layers are a bonus. An ALA Best Book for YAs. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students.

From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9-Ryan uses the experiences of her own Mexican grandmother as the basis for this compelling story of immigration and assimilation, not only to a new country but also into a different social class. Esperanza's expectation that her 13th birthday will be celebrated with all the material pleasures and folk elements of her previous years is shattered when her father is murdered by bandits. His powerful stepbrothers then hold her mother as a social and economic hostage, wanting to force her remarriage to one of them, and go so far as to burn down the family home. Esperanza's mother then decides to join the cook and gardener and their son as they move to the United States and work in California's agricultural industry. They embark on a new way of life, away from the uncles, and Esperanza unwillingly enters a world where she is no longer a princess but a worker. Set against the multiethnic, labor-organizing era of the Depression, the story of Esperanza remaking herself is satisfyingly complete, including dire illness and a difficult romance. Except for the evil uncles, all of the characters are rounded, their motives genuine, with class issues honestly portrayed. Easy to booktalk, useful in classroom discussions, and accessible as pleasure reading, this well-written novel belongs in all collections.  Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA

Connections
This story lends itself to teaching Mexican and Mexican American history. It could also be used to describe the pattern of crops and agriculture. The book is a strong example of character development and foreshadowing as well.

Neighborhood Odes – Hispanic/Latino Literature

Bibliography
Soto, Gary. 1992. Neighborhood Odes. Illustrated by David Diaz. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc. ISBN 0-15-256879-4

Plot Summary
This book is a collection of poems written by Gary Soto. The poems are about events or items commonly found in his neighborhood as he grew up. The poems cover subjects like 4th of July fireworks and the family dog. They describe the love of chicharrones and playing in the sprinkler. There are several illustrations provided throughout and at the end, there is a small list of Spanish words and phrases that were used in the poems and their English translations.

Critical Analysis
Gary Soto has lived up to his reputation of creative, descriptive writing in this wonderful collection of poems about summertime in his childhood neighborhood. While the themes of the poems are somewhat universal (eating favorite foods, playing with siblings and friends, etc.), the imagery created by his words make the poems specific to the Hispanic culture and therefore give insight into growing up among the Latino culture. Most poems incorporate Spanish words like ‘chicharrónes’ or ‘gato’ or are about characters with Hispanic names like ‘Señor Martinez’ or Lourdes.’ Soto describes characters with brown skin who listen and dance to mariachi music or hit a piñata at a birthday party. He tells of a Chihuahua whose bark is worse than his bite and a boy who likes to pretend he knows how to play the guitarrón. Ultimately, each poem though written from a Latino perspective, causes the reader to think back fondly of his or her own childhood experiences, not matter the cultural perspective.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
The Hispanic neighborhood in Soto's 21 poems is brought sharply into focus by the care with which he records images of everyday life: the music of an ice cream vendor's truck, the top of a refrigerator where old bread lies in plastic, dust released into the air when a boy strums a guitar. The diverse voices include that of a 12-year-old girl "with hair that sings / like jump ropes" and a fourth-grade boy whose new teeth create the "racket / Of chicharron / Being devoured . . . ." The vocabulary sprinkled with Spanish (there is a glossary at the back of the book) remains consistent, as does the form of the poems, which fall in long vertical columns with short lines. The tight clumps of language reproduce the quality of rapid and playful conversation. Affectionate without being overly sentimental, the collection provides a good introduction to contemporary poetry as well as a fine homage to a Chicano community. Diaz's woodcuts complement the poems perfectly: the silhouettes are fanciful and dynamic but do not draw attention from the words on the page. Ages 8-12.

From School Library Journal
Grade 4 Up-- The rewards of well-chosen words that create vivid, sensitive images await readers of this collection of poems. Through Soto's keen eyes, they see, and will be convinced, that there is poetry in everything. The odes celebrate weddings, the anticipation of fireworks, pets, grandparents, tortillas, and the library. Although Soto is dealing with a Chicano neighborhood, the poetry has a universal appeal. A minor drawback is that the Spanish words are not translated on the page, but in a glossary; to consult it interrupts the reading. Still, children will surely recognize the joy, love, fear, excitement, and adventure Soto brings to life. It is the same sensitivity and clarity found in Baseball in April (HBJ, 1990), his collection of short stories. Black-and-white illustrations blend well with the astute verbal imagery. Each selection is an expression of joy and wonder at life's daily pleasures and mysteries. --Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Connections
This collection of poems would be good inspiration for students to write their own poetry. The poems also contain many examples of similes, metaphors and just general descriptive writing and imagery that could be used in lessons that teach such concepts.

Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico! Americas’ Sproutings – Hispanic/Latino Literature

Bibliography
Mora, Pat. 2007. Yum! ¡mmmm! ¡qué rico!: Americas’ sproutings. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books, Inc. ISBN 978-58430-271-1

Plot Summary
This book is a collection of Haiku poems written by Pat Mora. Each poem is about some food indigenous to the Americas, mostly Latin America and originally enjoyed by the native people of the land. Accompanying each poem are interesting facts provided by scholars and experts in the fields of botany, anthropology, and the origins of food about the subject of the poem as well as colorful illustrations.

Critical Analysis
This delightful book not only teaches readers about haiku poetry but also about foods native to the Americas. The poems incorporate a couple of Spanish words and one mentions tortillas which are generally thought to be from a Latin American culture, but mostly the poetry identifies with no particular culture. It is through the illustrations and accompanying facts about the poem’s subject matter that the Latin American culture comes through.

First, the illustrations depict characters who look and dress in the Latin American style – darker skin, dark hair, scarves, skirts, and wide brimmed hats. The colors used in the illustrations are bright and vibrant blues, yellows, oranges, and reds – a reflection of a pallet often representing the Latin American culture. The animals and plants drawn also reflect those of the culture.

Also, the accompanying facts tell about foods native to Latin America and the native people who first enjoyed the foods. These paragraphs give the origins of the words used to describe the foods as well as how the foods were originally used. Generally, this is a wonderful book full of color and cultural information.

Professional Reviews
From Julie Cummins (Booklist, Dec. 1, 2007 (Vol. 104, No. 7))
Starred Review* This inventive stew of food haiku celebrates the indigenous foods of the Americas. Each of the 13 poems appears on a gloriously colorful double-page spread, accompanied by a sidebar that presents information about the origin of the food. From blueberries to prickly pears to corn, the acrylic-on-wood-panel illustrations burst with vivid colors and stylized Mexican flair. The poems capture the flavor of the item in a way children can easily understand Chocolate: Fudge, cake, pie, cookies. / Brown magic melts on your tongue. / Happy, your eyes dance; Pineapple: A stiff, spiky hat / on thick prickly skin, inside / hide syrupy rings. The print of the text in the sidebars is too small, but otherwise this will provide lots and lots of lip-smacking fun that teachers can use to supplement social studies and language arts units; they can also share one poem at a time, between other subjects. An author’s note, which addresses lingering scientific debate about the geographical origins of some of the featured foods, also includes a warm celebration of diversity: We do know that all these plants were grown and enjoyed . . . long before Christopher Columbus or any other Europeans had ever tasted such wonderful foods. The world’s variety is amazing and delicious. Grades 1-4

From Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, December 2007 (Vol. 61, No. 4).)
Veteran poet Mora celebrates fourteen foods, alphabetically progressing from blueberries to vanilla, native to this hemisphere. Each foodstuff receives a haiku of tribute counterpointed by a sidebar of informative text; aside from prickly pear, they’re all likely to be at least conceptually familiar noshes to most kids, but their histories and industrial uses may hold a few surprises. Haiku seems a strange form for an American-centered collection, but Mora works the vivid imagery in lyrics that are pretty lip-smacking in their own sonorous right (the tomato squirts seedy, juicy splatter), making them tasty candidates for reading aloud. The intensity of Lopez’s acrylic illustrations is so unvaried as to make compositions unfocused, but the tactile element of the wood surface of the art and the crisp edges of the illustrative elements help balance the boldness of the hues and result in a pleasing culinary vision. While curricular connections are plentiful, some kids will just enjoy nibbling their way through the collection, snack in hand to quell the inevitable pangs of appetite Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2007, Lee & Low, 32p., $16.95. Grades 3-5.

Connections
This book could be used in a lesson about haiku poetry. It could also be used to discuss the origins and uses of foods (other than for eating). An art class could also use this book to teach the use of color in illustrations.