Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Brainstorm 60: 8 Books for Seuss's Birthday for K-12

It’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday next week on March 2. Here’s one Suess book and an assortment of more recent books that remind me of the imagination and creativity of Theodore Seuss Geisel. And if you want Seuss Day activity ideas, printouts, etc. there’s loads of them on the web. The official Seuss website is Seussville.

Picture Book Resources

Dr. Seuss’ ABC by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss goes from A to Z introducing the most unusual creatures imagined for each letter in memorable rhyming text.

I picked this book to highlight as it is one of my favorite Seuss books, but many of the activities below could be applied to just about any Seuss book.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Creative Writing: Use this book as a model for creative writing assignments in English (or adapt it to French, Spanish, Thai or any other alphabet) to help students create their own alphabet book or poem using real or imaginary things. 
  • Classification: I’ve used Seuss’ crazy characters in science to introduce classification systems. I had the students put them into groups and explain the grouping logic. It’s a great segue into introducing how scientists have organized creatures into groups based on various attributes.
  • Art: Have students create their own art a la Seuss’ style. OR have students research what else Theodore Geisel used his art skills for (there are several biographies out there at all reading levels). 
  • Music: Since Seuss’ writing is rhymed and basically poetry, music classes could try to turn this book or one of his others books it into a song. (There’s also a Seuss song book out there in the book world if you’d like to swap someone else’s creativity and just sing.)
  • Reading to the Very Young: This book was one of my very favorites as a young child. When I read it, I still hear the inflections and voices my parents used when reading it to me. I’m sure I’m not alone among those a Seuss book has stuck with over the years. It’s a good reminder to never underestimate the importance or longevity of the impact of reading to little ones. 
  • Living Languages: Dr. Seuss helped demonstrate the wonder of a living language by constantly introducing new words into the English vocabulary. He provides a good opportunity to discuss how living languages can change and grow.
  • Alliteration: Dr. Seuss was a master of using alliteration. If you're covering this in language arts, this book has examples for just about every letter of the alphabet.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee
Two children meet at a crowded pool and have a fantastic time in the world they imagine under the water.

This wordless picture book will enthrall readers who love to imagine as they play. The imaginary world reminded me a great deal of Dr. Seuss’ imaginary worlds.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Creative Writing (any language): Since this book is wordless, it creates a great writing prompt for students in any language class. Have them write words to accompany the story. You can have them work on different voices, different narrator types, word choice, and a host of other possible emphases within this writing assignment.
  • Compare/Contrast Art: Lee’s creatures remind me of the kinds of things that Dr. Seuss came up with. Have students compare/contrast the two illustrators. There’s a nice interview with JiHyeon Lee about her creation of this book and how these fantastical creatures came about up on the Picturebook Makers blog
  • Imagination vs Reality: If you’re discussing the difference between imagination and reality, this book demonstrates that difference with colors. The normal world is black and white, and the imaginary world is in color. 
  • Art Analysis: Have art classes discuss why Lee chose to make the real world in black and white and the imaginary world in color.
  • Korea: JiHyeon Lee is a Korean artist, so if you’re studying Korea, here’s a modern artist to highlight.

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
It is sometimes hard to get adults to say silly things, but this book's entire job is to get them to do just that. Because, once you start reading, you have to read what is written, and if what is written is silly...well, then you're guaranteed to say some silly things.

Kids are sure to love listening to the conflicted narrator of this book. He has to keep reading all the silly things but has little asides protesting reading further. As the title says, there are no pictures, but the words are given some graphic design perks and occasionally some color so it isn't entirely black and white plain text. It’s a fun read aloud. I’m bringing this book out for this blog post because Novak’s text is somewhat Seuss-ish in it’s zaniness.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Speech: If you’re practice voice inflection or enunciation in speech class, this is a fantastic read aloud to help out with those. Also, it would just be fun to hear how different people read the same ridiculous text.
  • Compare/Contrast Tongue Twisters: Dr. Seuss has readers say some pretty crazy things sometimes. Another one of my favorite Seuss books, O Say Can You Say, is filled with crazy things to read aloud. As it says in the book, “Oh my brothers! Oh my sisters! These are terrible tongue twisters!” Have students compare the crazy text of Novak’s book with O Say Can You Say and decide which they would rather read and why.
  • Graphic Design: Classes looking at graphic design should take a look at Novak’s book to see how a book with no pictures used creative graphic design to make the pages a little more interesting.

Wherever You Go by Pat Zietlow Miller, ill. by Eliza Wheeler
A celebration of all the forms roads can take and the places that they go.

This book is in this blog post for how much it’s tone reminded me of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and the whimsical illustrations.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Compare/Contrast: Read this and Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! for a great compare/contrast activity. The topics are similar, both are in rhyme, and both have creative illustrations, but they are also different in many ways too.
  • Graduation: This seems like the kind of story that graduation speakers like to read or people like to give to graduates as it celebrates places travelled and the unknown road ahead.
  • Moving: This could be a good book to read to kids who are about to move or who have moved recently. It warmly remembers what has been left behind while looking ahead with anticipation. It isn’t overtly about moving, so it could be a light segue into talking about feelings about an upcoming or past move.
  • Road Trip Read: This would make a fantastic read before or during a road trip with kids to get them excited about all the things they might see.

ish (Creatrilogy) by Peter H. Reynolds
Ramon is always drawing, until his brother laughs at one of his drawings. He is ready to give it up all together because he just can't make things look quite right. But his sister encourages him saying she loves how all his drawings are -ish, not quite lifelike but with his own unique flourish to them. This sets Ramon free in his creativity, free to draw everything -ish and not worry about being exact.

A fantastic book for aspiring artists to encourage them to be free to have their own unique flare. I think Dr. Seuss would heartily approve of Ramon’s illustration style. Seuss also had an –ish flare.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Dr. Seuss & ish: After reading a few Dr. Seuss books, read this with students and then have them debate whether or not Dr. Seuss would agree with Ramon’s sister or his brother and why.
  • Thinking Outside the Box: Thinking outside the box for assignments can be hard for many students. If you want them to be more creative in their next assignments, possibly read this to them, discuss what it means to think outside the box, maybe discuss why this concept is scary to some of them, or even discuss when thinking outside the box is appropriate or when it isn’t appropriate. You can follow up discussions with a simple project in which they have to demonstrate thinking outside the box (maybe something as simple as decorating a coloring page). (Reynolds' book Going Places is also an excellent book to talk about thinking outside the box as the characters literally design something other than a box for their soap box derby.)
  • Celebrating Creativity: Peter H. Reynolds has a whole series of books he’s created to celebrate creativity. This is one of those books. The Dot and Sky Color and Going Places also celebrate creative thinking. There’s a yearly celebration of creativity called International Dot Day inspired by his book The Dot on September 15. You could totally borrow some Dot Day activities and celebrate creativity for Dr. Seuss’ birthday too.

Art & Max by David Wiesner
Arthur is an accomplished artist. He is getting ready to paint. Max insists he can paint too. And he does, only all over Art! Things just get crazier from there. Max accidentally washes out Art, then takes away his outline, and he has to get him all back together again. Eventually, all is well and Art has learned to appreciate Max's unconventional artistic talents.

Wiesner has fun playing with art principles in odd ways in this book. Art & Max's relationship gets off to a very rocky start, and kids are sure to love all the things Max accidentally does to Art. I think Dr. Seuss would approve of the celebration of art and the silliness involved.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Art Styles: Those who teach art could use this to talk about various styles of art. Pointilism, modern art, and realism are all displayed.
  • Unconventional Creativity Debate: Have students find unconventional buildings, pieces of artwork or other artistic expressions they like, and then share with the class. See who agrees and who disagrees and why. (Make sure to set boundaries to keep things civil.) Then discuss why it may be good people have different tastes in artistic expressions. What would it be like if everyone had the same exact tastes? You can tie this in with Dr. Seuss by having them research various responses Seuss got to his artwork.
  • Accidents, Friendship & Resolving Conflicts: Max and Art really get off to a rough start. Something that is probably identifiable to just about every person. We all have those times when we accidentally run into someone or worse. It’s a good opportunity to discuss how to respond when someone accidentally hurts you, and how to resolve differences in healthy ways.

I Will Take a Nap (Elephant & Piggie, #23) by Mo Willems
Gerald is tired and cranky. He knows that a nap is what he needs so he decides to take one. But Piggy keeps interrupting his nap, and Gerald just gets crankier and crankier. Or is he?

Kids are sure to love the facial expressions and the ending of this book. Adults will be oh-so-sympathetic to Gerald's plight during Piggy's epic snoring session. And parents are sure to love the way Gerald helps kids be more self-aware of when they need that oh so wonderful nap time.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Self Care: It’s sometimes hard for kids to realize what their bodies need. This book provides a good opportunity to talk about recognizing symptoms of what you need and then acting on that knowledge to help keep yourself healthy physically and emotionally. That may be a bit much for a toddler to grasp, but who knows? Parents and teachers can certainly hope they can follow the example of Gerald.
  • Bookish History: Once upon a time someone bet a certain author that he could not create a children’s book with only 50 words. That person lost the bet when Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham. This was the birth of a new genre of children’s literature, the early reader. The Elephant & Piggie series embodies many of the attributes Dr. Seuss first infused into this genre: The text is primarily simple, single-syllable words. The number of different words that appear are low, but the entertainment value is high. Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday by reading Green Eggs and Ham, an Elephant & Piggie book, and other early reader books that exist now because of Dr. Seuss’ ingenuity.
  • Humorous Read: Elephant & Piggie books are always good for a laugh (and Willems is sure to include something to make the adult readers chuckle too).

Middle Grade Fiction Resource

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston
Morty, a reporter zorgle who ends up chosen to go on a quest to find the missing zorgles of Zorgamazoo. Sounds great, right? But Morty feels a bit in over his head. That adventuring stuff is something his Dad did, it’s not really his thing. Katrina Katrell is all for adventure, which is a good thing because she is forced into running away from her guardian when Mrs. Krabone decides Katrina’s imaginative brain must be stopped with some good ol’ brain surgery by the lobotomy doc. Katrina gets away from Mrs. Krabone only to fall into the clutches of an unfriendly street gang. It’s looking quite bad for her until Morty stumbles in and saves the day. It’s only right that Katrina should then help Morty on his quest. So the two of them set off for Zorgamazoo and find plenty of adventures awaiting them.

It isn’t often that I find the comparisons on the front of a book spot on, but this one’s blurb comparing it to a mix of Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey and Lemony Snicket is perfect. The entire thing is written in rhyme, and the rhyme and meter along with the made up critters and places definitely feel like something straight out of the brain of Dr. Seuss. Katrina’s back story feels like it was something cooked up by Snicket and Gorey, and the entire adventure feels a bit Dahl-ish. But lets give respect where respect is due, Mr. Weston has done an incredible thing! I mean, I can’t even begin to imagine how long it took him to get 281 pages of rhyming, metered text that flows! That right there deserves all the stickers that can be stuck on the front of the book. And he creates an imaginative adventure story kids would enjoy regardless of whether it rhymed or not too. It’s really a very impressive piece of literature. An impressive piece of literature that kids should enjoy. And that’s the biggest win.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Compare/Contrast: Have students compare and contrast a snippet of Weston’s writing with Dr. Seuss. 
  • Read Aloud: If you’re looking for a read aloud for upper elementary or middle school, this is a good one.
  • Poetry: If you’re doing a poetry unit, this is a truly impressive poetic work to pull out as an example. After trying to write just a few lines in rhyme, students should really appreciate how incredible it is that Weston wrote a full-length novel in rhyme.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Brainstorm 59: 4 Fun Reads for K-12

I'm posting this a bit earlier than normal since I'll be on a school trip this week. Here's four recent additions to our libraries that are good, fun reads. (And if you don't watch out, you may learn something too.)

Picture Book Resources

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Matt Davies
Nerdy Birdy can't seem to fit in with the cool birds no matter how hard he tries. But then he is found by a group he can relate to, other nerdy birdies! They have similar interests and hobbies. Nerdy Birdie loves no longer being alone, so when another lonely bird shows up, he befriends her, even though she doesn't share all of his interests or nerdiness.

I loved how this book teaches some important aspects of friendship development, even with those who don't have all the same interests. And it made me laugh out loud, always a good thing. An all-around winner for message and entertainment factors.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Humorous Read: This book has a great message, but it is wrapped in quite the entertaining package. If you’re looking for a read that will make both adults and little ones laugh, this is a good one. (The nerdy birdies’ t-shirts are definitely there for the adults to laugh at, and the kids should think Eagle’s hunting escapades are hilarious.)
  • Cliques: This is a great read if you have students having issues with cliques. It doesn’t matter the age, they should get the message in a good way from this book.
  • Golden Rule: After Nerdy Birdie finds acceptance, he takes what he’s learned and in turn applies it to a new situation. He doesn’t shun the new bird who is so different, he finds ways to befriend her. A great example of friendship crossing boundaries, and also of doing unto others as you want done unto you.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
Bruce just wants a nice omelet, but when his stove malfunctions, he finds himself instead with four little goslings who think he's their mother. Bruce is not the mothering type, but all plans to unload the little geese fail miserably. And even the most hardened bear isn't immune to cute feathery faces.

Imagine that food critic on TV who loves to tear people apart suddenly saddled with four little ones who think he's the bestest person ever. That's pretty much this story. Bruce is a grumpy bear who likes fine food, and then he gets saddled with caring for four goslings. And don't tell Bruce, but the results are adorable. A cute story, and I loved the illustration style.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Imprinting: The four goslings demonstrate a real aspect of many animals’ development, that of imprinting on those they first see as their “mama.” If you’re studying animal development or types of learning, this is a humorous example.
  • Reverse Ugly Duckling: This book is somewhat a reverse ugly duckling story. The geese get the wrong mother. You could compare/contrast this with more traditional ugly duckling stories.
  • Prediction: This story does not always go according to Bruce’s plans. But savvy readers may be able to predict how things will go.
  • Fun Read: This is another good pick if you’re just looking for a fun read. Bruce’s expressions and the goslings’ adoration of him are so well done. I really enjoyed reading this.
  • Unconditional Love: If you’re looking for an example of unconditional love, these little goslings sure demonstrate it. Bruce does not come across as a very lovable type and really does little to earn their affection, but they absolutely adore him and refuse to leave his side.

Middle Grade Fiction Resource

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #2) by Chris Grabenstein
The children all around the country are upset they too did not get a chance to win Mr Lemoncello's contest in Alexandria, OH. They think they would have beaten Kyle and his team given the opportunity. Certain people are also upset with Mr Lemoncello's library (especially Mrs Chiltington). They think a library shouldn't be so fun, nor should it be run by someone like Mr Lemoncello. Mr Lemoncello decides to tackle both groups at once by announcing a Library Olympics. Librarians across the US help run preliminary rounds selecting four children from each region based on their library skills. The 7 other regions will compete with Kyle and his friends for 20 medals in Mr Lemoncello's Library Olympics. Who will win the day? Can Kyle and his friends stay on top in the face of tough competition? Will the person sabotaging the library ruin everything? Will Mrs Chiltington get her way and run Mr Lemoncello out of town?

Grabenstein has done it again. Mr Lemoncello's Library Olympics are something else, with crazy competitions, clever library knowledge, loads of book name dropping, puzzles for readers to match wits with the characters, and a surprise twist at the end. It's another fun adventure with shades of Willy Wonka and a message about the importance of books. It wasn't quite as good as the first one, but still very close. Banned books are highlighted in this one, which goes along with part of the plot. I appreciate that Grabenstein focused on some of the most ridiculous book bannings and not ones because of mature content or other harsher issues so as to keep it light for kids. I love the twist Mr Lemoncello puts in to teach the kids an important lesson. And of course, as someone from Ohio, I especially appreciated all the little Ohio touches. (Oh, and Nerdy Book Club followers will love that Colby Sharp is a guest character in this book.)

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Puzzle Solving: Readers can match wits with the competitors in the Library Olympics and try to solve the various clues as the characters do.
  • Book Recommendations: I’ve actually had a few kids read this and then come asking for some of the books mentioned in the tale. If you want to subtly get kids hooked on other books, there’s nothing better than a recommendation from Mr. Lemoncello himself.
  • Ohio: If you're looking to learn more about Ohio, or for a book set there, this is a good one.
  • Censorship: In a rather ridiculous way, this book highlights book censorship. Have students debate if or when censorship is ever appropriate, and why it might also be dangerous. You can easily incorporate US Constitutional rights in this.
  • Reluctant Readers/Fun Read: If you’re looking for a fun middle grade novel for a reluctant reader (or a not-so-reluctant reader), this series provides lots of action and fun. Everyone who has picked it up so far has loved it.

Young Adult Fiction Resource

Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
Agnes Wilkins is entering her debutant season, and it turns out to be filled with more excitement than she ever expected. At her first party not only does the supremely desirable Lord Showalter single her out, but she finds a unique item during a mummy unwrapping. Anges doesn't think much about the item at first, but when those at the party are victims of a series of crimes, Agnes starts to realize that someone is looking for the little dog's head statue she found. She goes hunting for answers at the London Museum, and with the help of a young man who works there name Caedmon, she discovers that this is more than a case of some overzealous collector of antiquities. The dog's head contains a secret message, obviously intended for a French spy working for Napoleon. Agnes and Caedmon must work to unravel the secrets of the message, foil the French plot, and save England.

This was quite the fun read, and I'm happy to see that there are plans in the works for another adventure with Agnes and Caedmon. It was just the right combination of Regency England (complete with constant quotes from Agnes' favorite author, A Lady (aka Austen at the time)), spy-ish adventure, early Egyptology (don't worry, Agnes isn't a fan of the removal of antiquities from Egypt), and light romance. I devoured this in pretty much one sitting. Nothing extremely deep, just a fun, light Regency adventure. Those who like historical spy stories, Egyptian artifacts involved in stories, or the Regency time period should enjoy this.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Regency Adventure: Most Regency period books are heavier on the romance portion, but this one focuses on a secret message hidden in a mummy obviously bound for a spy for Napoleon. It is anything but dull. Yes, there’s a light romance involved, but the action and excitement take center stage.
  • Original Austen Fandom: The main character in this loves books by A Lady (the pseudonym under which Jane Austen was originally published), and the book includes numerous quotes from her books (translated into several languages too). It is interesting to see a reaction to Austen’s books during that time period.
  • Egyptology: The book is set before the Rosetta stone is translated, so Egyptian hieroglyphics are still a mystery. It’s also a time period during which Britain is shipping massive amounts of antiquities to the British museum from digs. It’s an interesting look at the curiosity about and process of understanding an ancient era. Also, Agnes, while fascinated with the antiquities, is quite upset that the British are removing them from their homeland and disturbed by the practice of unwrapping mummies. Which brings up a possible debate: Were the British right to remove the antiquities or not? What if you take into account the battles of following world wars fought in Egypt around areas where these antiquities would have been? Were mummy unwrappings ok or not? (See the author's note about the historicity of these actions.)
  • Current Events: Related to the Egyptology,  many of these ancient antiquities are being repatriated to Egypt from the various museums in other parts of Europe and the Americas of late. Students could look into which artifacts and where they are being moved from/to.
  • Napoleonic Wars: At the center of this book is the threat of Napoleon returning to power. If you’re studying the Napoleonic Wars, it’s an interesting look at things from the British perspective.
  • Fun Read: This was a quick, fun, light read with very few content issues.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Brainstorm 58: 3 Asian reads for K-12 for Chinese New Year

Since Chinese New Year was celebrated this week, here are three books by authors of Asian descent featuring Asian characters.

Picture Book Resource

Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi
Kikko is off to take pie to her Grandmother, but the man she was following turns out to not be her father at all. Kikko finds herself at a strange tea party deep in the woods where she finds unexpected friendship and kindness.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Compare/Contrast 1: The beginning of this, with a little girl setting off through the woods to deliver goodies to Grandma reminds me quite a bit of a Red Riding Hood. However, this story turns out very differently. There’s plenty of similarities and differences for readers to pick out.
  • Compare/Contrast 2: The tea party in the woods reminded me a bit of Narnia, especially Lucy’s first time in. Perhaps it is the winter setting and talking animals? I think most readers familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia could also pick out similarities and differences.
  • Grace/Kindness: The animals at the tea party show Kikko totally unexpected kindness by helping her with a small problem. Kikko does nothing to earn the kindness, so it provides a good example of grace. Ask students to think of ways they could do something small but significant for someone else.
  • Art: The book is illustrated primarily in charcoals with just tiny splashes of color. Art students could examine how this choice in color affects the tale and why the author might have chosen to illustrate the book in this way.
  • Japanese Literature: This book was originally published in Japanese. The author/illustrator herself is Japanese. So if you’re doing a unit on Japan or looking for an Asian author/illustrator to highlight, this is an option.

Middle Grade Fiction Resource

Dumpling Days (Pacy #3) by Grace Lin
Pacy and her family are off to Taiwan for a whole month to visit family. Pacy isn't too sure about this. Her parents think it's important for her to understand her roots, but she'd rather just stay in the comfort of New Hartford, CT. At first, Taiwan is just as confusing and strange as she'd thought it would be. She can't understand any of the Taiwanese or Chinese people when they speak. She can't read any of the signs. And she's worried that everyone can tell just by looking at her that she's a twinkie (Asian on the outside, white on the inside) and is judging her. Her mom has enrolled Pacy and her two sisters in Taiwanese cultural art classes while they're there. Pacy thought her class would be a breeze since she knows she has artistic talent, but it seems to take her forever to just get painting bamboo right. She's afraid that maybe even her talent has abandoned her here in this strange land. The two bright spots in Taiwan are the family members they get to see and all the incredible dumplings, Pacy's favorite food. Pacy and her sisters are afraid it's going to be a horribly long and torturous month in Taiwan, but the time flies quickly and without realizing it they learn a few things about Taiwan, their family, and themselves along the way.

Grace Lin has definitively nailed what it is to be a third culture kid in this book (well, she does have firsthand experience). The ups and downs of Pacy and her sisters are common ones for any expat kids returning "home" or children of immigrants visiting their parents' home. They may look like they should fit in, but they feel so very out of place and often struggle to figure out who they are. (Ok, so this doesn't just apply to kids. We adults who live overseas most of the time can feel the same way when returning to our passport countries.) There are so very few books out there that understand third culture kids, so I'm super excited that Grace Lin wrote this book. It's important for children like Pacy to figure out how to maneuver between cultures and come to peace with their unique blended cultural identity, and I think reading that other kids have similar experiences will help them. Oh, but a word of warning. You really need to have some dumplings on hand while reading this book. It made me hungry! Thankfully, wax apples (called rose apples here in Thailand) and dumplings and noodle soup are available just around the corner for me. A final note, this is book three in the Pacy series (Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat are the first two books), but you don’t have to read the two previous books to appreciate this one. I do encourage you to read them, though, they are both great as well.

Activity Tie-ins:

  • Third culture kids: As mentioned above, this is a great read for third culture kids, as Pacy wrestles with her identity and can hopefully help readers with similar struggles.
  • Asian food: I feel like this book is half a celebration of great Asian food. Have students identify foods that have been adopted by numerous Asian cultures but may have different names (like dumplings or wax apples) and see if they can figure out where the food originated. How did it end up in so many different places? And of course, you must have a party to eat such food.
  • Art: Pacy spends a lot of time describing traditional art that she and her sisters are participating in. Have students look up examples to better picture what Pacy is talking about, and maybe even try out the art styles themselves.
  • Taiwan: If you’re studying Taiwan, there aren’t too many English books out there set in Taiwan, but this is one. And since Pacy is looking at Taiwanese culture with outsider eyes, you get a lot of typical Taiwanese customs and culture described and explained.

Young Adult Fiction Resource

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Sammy and her father are the only people of Chinese descent in their town of St Joe, Missouri. Most people respect them because her father is well-respected, but Sammy still knows what it is to get those looks from people. It also doesn't help that she wants to be a professional musician at a time when the job is only considered respectable for men. Sammy's father has started talking about going to California, but before he can tell Sammy his full plans disaster strikes. Soon Sammy finds herself on the run from the law with a runaway slave girl, Annamae. Sammy decides to head out West in search of her father's friend Mr Trask who was headed to California to set up something for them. Annamae is on the hunt for her older brother who told her to meet him at a waterfall which may or may not exist. The two girls decide to masquerade themselves as boys in search of gold in California as they follow the wagon trains west. A group of ranch hands stumbles across them one night, and the girls work out a deal to travel with them in exchange for pulling their share of the chores. West, Cay, and Peety take pity on the two boys and share their horses and knowledge of the trail with them. Which is a good thing, because there are many dangers ahead both expected and unforeseen. But probably the biggest challenge will be for Sammy and Annamae to figure out how to keep the bond of sisterhood they've formed strong while both pursuing their goals at the end of the trail.

Like many tales of those headed out West in the mid 1800s, the story is both one of adventure and the excitement of life on the trail and also symbolic of the journey and progress being made in the lives of those on the path. At the beginning of the book I was a little scared Lee was going to be one of those authors who has everything that can possibly go wrong go wrong for our heroines, but thankfully, that didn't turn out to be the case. There's a good mixture of both good and bad, which plays into Sammy's inner turmoil well. Sammy's upbringing is a curious mixture of Chinese traditions and French Catholicism. (Her father was adopted by a French missionary, and she was born in the US.) She is worried that she is one of those rare people born in the Year of the Snake who are unlucky since her mother died in childbirth. She continually looks to things that happen to figure out if this is true or not. Annamae on the other hand is staunchly Christian and doesn't buy into Sammy's talk of luck and fate. She believes in her own two hands and God's will. The girls are quite different in temperament and upbringing, but oh so good for each other in many ways. They both bear some heavy burdens of the past that they help each other work through as the trail goes on. They also turn out to help the cowboys work through some of their past too. In return, the cowboys teach them how to be ranch hands, which provides some comic relief to the book. Lee works in a little love interest between the girls and the cowboys they're traveling with which gets a little Twelfth Night-ish thanks to the masquerade as boys. In all, a riveting historical fiction that provides both entertainment and things to think about.
Due to some content, only recommended for teens and older (click on title to see full review with content notes for more information).

Activity Tie-ins:
Race in 1800s America: Both Sammy and Annamae have to deal with racism, but some people treat the girls differently because of their different races. It’s an eye-opening look at how Asian-Americans and African Americans were viewed by average Americans in the 1800s. An extension activity would ask readers to compare how race relations for each have evolved over time in America (and other places).
Multicultural Lit: This book is written by an Asian American about an Asian American girl and an African American girl. A great pick if you’re looking for multicultural reads.
Third & Fourth Culture Kids: I’m always on the lookout for characters our third  and fourth culture students can relate to. Even though Sammy comes from a far removed time period, I think there are many aspects of her mixed culture that third and fourth culture kids can relate to.
Physical Journey & Emotional Journey: Have students map the physical journey and/or the emotional process Sammy and Annamae are going through. How does the landscape correspond to their hearts? This is a common literary method employed. Can readers think of other books that have journeys both physical and representative of something intangible?