Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brainstorm 101: Celebrating YMA 2017 Winners

This week was a big one in the children’s book world. The American Library Association announced the 2017 Youth Media Awards this past Monday. Ok, some of you think you have never heard of the ALA or the Youth Media Awards, but I bet you have. Heard of a Newbery award or a Caldecott? Yeah. These are those awards. Here’s the full list of the 2017 YMA winners. Like many libraries, we are eagerly trying to get our hands on some of these books we haven’t already purchased. Some we do already have and I’ve read, so this post will focus on the winners I’ve already read. If you aren’t sure what an award is given out for, click on the name and you will be taken to a description of it.

John Newbery Medal

Newbery Winner: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
A story about a town trapped in a dark tradition, a yearly sacrifice of the newest born babe, a boy named Antain who cannot abide with these traditions, a mother whose sanity flies away, a witch, a tiny dragon, a monster, and Luna, the sacrificial baby girl who gets accidentally filled with magic. We watch as Luna grows up, and her adopted family has to figure out how to handle her magic. We watch as Antain grows into a man troubled by his town's traditions until the day it is his own child about to be sacrificed, and something must be done. Most of all, it is a story warning of the dangers of bitterness and trumpeting the power of hope and love.

This was totally my top choice for the Newbery medal, so I was quite happy to see it get that award. Barnhill's writing in this is a teensy bit like Dickens in that she introduces a bunch of different characters and you follow them around for a while getting to know each of them without seeing how they are connected. And then in the last quarter of the book it all comes together and you start going, Ohhhh! To be fair, Barnhill gives more clues than Dickens and doesn't keep you in the dark for nearly as many pages, but it still ends up feeling like the beginning of the book is a little slow. Sure, Barnhill's writing is often very lyrical and her world building is fascinating. Luna's adopted family are loads of fun to read about. Especially Fyrian the tiny dragon who thinks he's enormous. I want my own Fyrian! He's my second favorite character after Ethyne, Antain's wife, who is a rock star. It does take patience and perseverance to get to the point where you'll start to get answers and be able to see how the different parts being introduced fit together. The wait is worth it, though. The ending is powerful. The way Barnhill sets things up to fit together perfectly is masterful, and the message about the dangers of harboring bitterness and the power of hope is done so very well (and is so very important). A beautiful story.

Target Readers:
Read this one for powerful message that hope and love will conquer a world of bitterness and hate, the fantasy world, and the intricate plot weaving.

Newbery Honor books: Shockingly, despite the tons of middle grade fiction I read, I haven’t read any of the honor books yet so I can’t speak on any of them yet. Go back to that link above of all the YMA winners if you want their titles.

The Caldecott Medal

Winner: We already had Radiant Child on order before the awards were announced, but it hasn’t come yet. I don’t have an opinion on this picture book biography about an artist yet.

Caldecott Honor: Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol
A grandmother wants some space so she can get a very important task accomplished, however, her grandkids are many and active. They are not making it easy to knit. She packs up and heads to the forest, only to find that bears are just as troublesome as grandchildren. It turns out, you have to go to some pretty extreme lengths to find a place to knit undisturbed.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out this won a Caldecott honor. It was one of my favorite picture books of 2016, but humorous picture books don’t tend to win as often as sappy ones do. It’s extremely imaginative and quite funny, I loved it (especially the goats and the wormhole). And even though the title (and recurring phrase) may come off a little harsh at first, the grandmother has a very good and kind-hearted reason. It's hard to make secret gifts when you can't be very secretive. This provides the perfect opportunity to talk about finding quiet space and respecting others who might need some. The illustration style fit the mood of the book perfectly. Overall, a very fun tall tale with some unexpected twists and turns.

Target Readers:
Humor fans, science fiction fans, those who like books with a surprising twist, and of course, introverts.

Caldecott Honor: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
A cat walks by various different creatures and each one sees it differently.

The text in this is very simple, the point is made in each illustration. Each animal sees the cat slightly differently. A good book to lead into a talk about perspective and worldview. And of course, for little ones it is just a fun cat book with repetitive text beginning readers can easily memorize and "read" along with an older reader.

Target Readers:
Cat lovers, beginning readers, and those talking about perspective/worldview

More Caldecott Honor Books: I haven’t read the other two Caldecott honor books yet.

Printz Award

Printz Winner: March: Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
John Lewis finishes his graphic novel autobiography trilogy of the civil rights movement years. This one covers 1963-1965: the bombing of Birmingham Sunday, the crucial laws passed during these years and the big push by Lewis and others to make sure those laws were passed so that everyone could vote without any hindrances.

I think they’ve been waiting for the final book in this series to hand it some awards, because none of the others in this series have gotten much award notice, but this final book in the series cleaned up. It won the Printz (never been done by a nonfiction title before), it won the Sibert, it won the Coretta Scott King Author award, it won the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, and prior to that, a National Book Award. All are well-deserved. This book and the two other books in the series (which really all need to be read together) are a hard but very important read about the nonviolent student movements that fought for civil rights with words and peaceful action. It's probably a good thing they chose to keep this in black and white because there's so much bloodshed that happened, especially in this volume of the series. It's truly horrific the things people went through both while suffering injustice and nonviolently protesting that injustice. This book is not a calming read, it will make you uncomfortable and upset, but it should. Injustice is not something you should be able to read about and be unaffected.

Target Readers:
Definitely recommended for teens and adult interested in history, the civil rights movement, and social justice. High school history teachers, you should really look into adding this series into your curriculum if you cover American history or human rights.

Printz Honors: I am currently reading 3 out of the 4 Printz honors right now: Scythe by Neal Shusterman, The Sun Is also a Star by Nicole Yoon, and The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry because I happened to have all three sitting in the mountain that is my TBR pile and quickly jumped them into the currently reading pile. Click on the titles to see if I have a review up by the time you read this post, so far the jury is still out by I’m liking Scythe best…though I’ve loved every other Julie Berry book I’ve read and I know her brilliance is usually only fully appreciated once you get towards the end of her books.

Robert F. Sibert Medal

Sibert Winner: March: Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
(see above under Printz Award)

Sibert Honor: We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman

The story of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends who formed the White Rose Student Resistance Movement in Germany during WWII. The White Rose group published pamphlets encouraging the German people to resist the evils of the Nazi regime and exposed the truths of some of those horrors. The main members were college students at Munich University, though the group eventually grew to include numerous people from all walks of life who could not be silent about the evils around them any longer, even though they knew to do so could result in imprisonment or death.

This was one of the books I suspected would get a Sibert, especially since Russell Freedman is so good at writing engaging nonfiction for middle grade and teens. It is a moving story about the bravery of a group of college students who decided to fight evil with words, and some of whom paid for those words with their lives. I liked the photographs and primary resources scattered throughout the book. I also liked that in the last chapter Freedman told how people tried to make sure the White Rose Movement and the bravery of those who paid with their lives has been memorialized with street names, a museum and many books and movies. A lot of WWII nonfiction for this target age group is several hundred pages long, so it is nice to have a very readable biography that is almost exactly 100 pages long. Skinnier books with lots of pictures are less intimidating, though the content loses nothing in power in the brevity.

Target Readers:
Those interested in history, especially WWII. Reluctant nonfiction readers, and those interested in nonviolent protestors of history.

Other Sibert Honors: We don’t have any of the others yet, so I can’t comment on them now.

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

YALSA Winner: March: Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
(see above under Printz Award)

YALSA Nonfiction Finalist: Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner, ill. by Gareth Hinds
A biography of 12th century samurai, Minamoto Yoshitsune, who rose from the ashes of his father's failed rebellion to become one of the most accomplished samurai of his time.

I figured this would get either a Sibert or a YALSA award because of the caliber of research and writing. It is super hard to write a biography of someone who lived over 800 years ago. But Turner does an amazing job with the historic documents available without stooping to make stuff up to fill in the gaps. She includes a lot of "Yoshitsune probably did..." or "most samurai at the time would have proceeded in this way..." giving historic reliability and fleshing out the tale so it is highly readable, while also not stepping over the bounds from biography to fiction. It's a fantastic piece of challenging historic writing. Turner provides extensive notes in the back of the book. This is a fantastic resource to use when showing students how to write about ancient history. That said, this biography is not for everyone. Feudal Japan was most definitely not the land of Hello Kitty and cherry blossoms. While reading this I had the sudden revelation that 12th century Japan's turmoil can best be compared to a bunch of gang wars. Pretty much one guy rises up, decides he wants more power. He kidnaps the retired emperor (as is standard procedure), and starts wiping out his enemies (beheading is the preferred method so you can hang the head up as a trophy/warning). Then he is top dog till the next guy decides he wants to be in charge, and that next guy may be one of the opposition members that survived or one of his own men who decides he could do a better job. And there's rampant mistrust and jealousy whenever anybody does too well in battle and starts getting stories told about him. It really highlights how futile and wasteful greed can make men, and it isn't just money and objects they are squandering, it is human lives. Hopefully, readers can learn from the errors of the past. Much of Yoshitsune's fame came from surviving some militaristically brilliant but insane and risky battle moves to win the day (like riding down impossible cliffs the enemy didn't guard because they thought they were impenetrable). That means that a lot of his biography revolves around war and death. The body count is high, and Turner doesn't shy from sharing the brutality of samurai habits of that time period from the way they ransacked villages to suicidal habits. This is a helpful balance for those who picture the age of samurai being like an episode of Samurai Jack and an interesting look into a time period frequently gilded in fiction and infrequently covered well historically. Oh, and I loved that Gareth Hinds did the illustrations. (I was SO disappointed at first when I found out this wasn't a graphic novel, because when I just heard whispers about the book I heard his name and assumed it was a biography in graphic novel form. It isn't, but his illustrations here and there are still fantastic additions to help set the mood.)

Target Readers:
Those interested in feudal Japan, samurais, and who enjoy excellent biographical writing.

Other YALSA Nonfiction Finalists: I haven’t read any of the other finalists in this category yet.

Coretta Scott King Book Awards

Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner: March: Book Three by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell
(see above under Printz Award)

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award: As mentioned in the Caldecott section, Radiant Child is on order so I haven’t been able to read it yet.

Coretta Scott King Author & Illustrator Honors: I also haven’t read any of the honor books yet.

Pura Belpré Awards

Belpré Author Winner: Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina
Juana is a lower grade student in elementary school in Bogota, Colombia. Her best friend is her dog, Lucas. She tries to do her best at school, but when the teacher announces they'll be learning English Juana is convinced it is just too hard to learn. She asks her mom why she needs to learn English, and her mom encourages her to continue to ask that question to a variety of people. Juana is not super convinced until her grandfather gives her a very motivating reason.

This was one of my favorite lower grade books of 2016, so I’m happy to see it get a shiny sticker for its cover. Juana is a very believable character, and I know several students at our international school identify with her struggles with English. This is the perfect ESL read. I like the multicultural setting, and the way Medina teaches fluent English speakers some Spanish along the way. This is a little tougher reading-wise than the average book aimed at the lower grade reader. Oh, and I really liked the glossy pages and full color pictures. It's a very attractive book in presentation on top of being a good realistic story.

Target Readers:
Hand this one to kids who like contemporary stories, kids who can identify with Juana's struggles, and those who are a little more advanced readers in 1st or 2nd grades (possibly even 3rd grade).

Belpré Author Honor: I haven’t read this honor book.

Belpré Illustrator Winner: I haven’t read this second book in the Lowriders graphic novel series yet, but I appreciate that Raul the Third uses red, blue and black ink pens to create his art, purposefully choosing materials available to just about anyone.

Belpré Illustrator Honor: Esquivel!: Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. by Duncan Tonatiuh
A picture book biography of the unconventional musician and composer, Juan Garcia Esquivel who taught himself music in Mexico and eventually made his way to the United States. He pioneered in using stereo sound to create special effects in his music, and also was not afraid to do things differently, whether incorporating unusual instruments or playing familiar songs in new ways.

If you want to make a safe bet on the YMA Book Awards, bet that Tonatiuh will win a Belpré. (Just go research and see how many he’s won in recent years...and this year he gets two!) I'd never heard of Esquivel before but it sounds like he was one of the first remix artists. I really like that this picture book introduces a host of unusual instruments along with a somewhat unconventional musician. Wood employed a lot of great onomatopoeia to help create just the right mood for this story in the text too. And though Tonatiuh's artwork usually just strikes me as weird, his ancient Mexican art-inspired people plus the tone of the book work together well in this book to help convey Esquivel's unusual music.

Target Readers:
Music lovers, curious kids, and reluctant nonfiction readers.

Belpré Illustrator Honor: The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh
The legend of a princess, a warrior, and how the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl came to be.

Tonatiuh's art style fits this ancient tale quite well. He even says that some of the scenes pay tribute to ancient art pieces. This is a teensy bit like Romeo and Juliet, but instead of both dying they turn into volcanoes. See Tonatiuh's note in the back about the origin of the story and different forms it takes. I like that Popoca loves Princess Izta for who she really is, and not just her face or title. I also appreciate that Tonatiuh managed to portray battle scenes without any blood or gore so this is safe for any age.

Target Readers:
Folklore fans, those looking for multicultural reads, those who like tragic love stories, and those who like legends that explain natural phenomenon.

Theodore Seuss Geisel Award

Geisel Winner: We Are Growing by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems
Gerald & Piggie are reading a book about several blades of grass. Each blade is growing, but each one grows differently. One is the tallest, one is the crunchiest, and one is the silliest...but something is coming that will put them all back on the same level.

Hooray! I loved this book, and I’m happy it won the Geisel. Keller did a great job at keeping this at beginning reader level. Words are short and repeated to help little readers catch on. There's a pattern to the story, and who knew blades of grass could be so entertaining?! Of course, my favorite parts were still Gerald & Piggie's comments.

Target Readers:
Humor fans, language arts classes covering comparison words and any lower elementary classes talking about how we all have unique gifts and talents. And of course, it's just a fun read for anyone...even adults.

Geisel Honor Books: Sadly, I haven’t gotten to read any of these yet. I hope to soon, they all look good.

My Should've Won Awards
And to wrap up…two books I was hoping would win an award but didn’t. I think they deserve some recognition though, so I'm gonna give them a highlight here.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
Melissa Sweet introduces readers to the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web through her own text and illustrations describing his life from childhood through college at Cornell on to his rambling years, work at The New Yorker and eventually his retreat to Maine and a quieter writing life until his death. Included are numerous photographs of White and his family, primary sources (such as manuscripts and childhood notes) and quotes from both White and other famous writers who knew him.

So here’s what I think happened (purely speculation and imagination). I think the Newbery committee didn’t give it an award because they had too many others and they thought the Caldecott committee would, and the Caldecott committee was torn and thought they could give an award to someone else because surely the Sibert committee would give this book an award, and the Sibert committee thought definitely the Newbery or Caldecott committees also had this on the list, so they cut it in favor of something else...and because they all thought the other group would give it an award, it sadly ended up with none. 😞
I did not realize it when I first saw info about this book, but it isn't a picture book biography (i.e. ~32-40 pages long). Oh no, it is a full length, many chapters, 160 pages long biography...and Melissa Sweet illustrated the entire thing on top of writing it. And she did an exceptional job with both the text and the pictures. The writing flows so well. It is highly readable, aimed at the middle grade crowd but could be read aloud to kids younger or enjoyed by those older too because of the engrossing content. Sweet balances both information about the man's life and the background on his work. There's lots of tantalizing details about the inspiration, setting, and process of writing all of his children's classics. I thought I would spread this out over two days or so, but I got sucked in and read it in one sitting. The design definitely helps with that. I couldn't wait to see what the next page would hold in the illustration/text boxes just as much as I was eager to get on with the story of White's life. Along the way readers not only get to learn about a cherished author, but may pick up some valuable writing advice too. Sweet found some exceptional quotes about writing that came straight from E.B. White's pen. Overall, it's an exceptional piece. Melissa Sweet should be proud of what she's accomplished here, and it was great to read E.B. White's granddaughter telling her so in the afterword.

Target Readers:
Hand this one to kids who think biographies - or nonfiction books in general - are boring. Hand this one to would-be writers, and of course, hand this to those who adore E.B. White's books.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
It's early 1945 in East Prussia. The Nazis occupy most of the land, but they are slowly crumbling and the Russians are pushing in from the East. And there's a host of people who have been displaced from their homes by the war moving towards the shore of the Baltic Sea in hopes they can escape before the Russians arrive. One of the biggest ships waiting at Gotenhafen for refugees and evacuating German forces is the former cruise ship, Wilhelm Gustloff. Readers experience this harrowing time through the voices of four young adults: Florian, the German, who may or may not be on a special mission from one of Hitler's top men. Joanna, a Lithuanian nurse who seeks to help those around her and assuage the guilt of something she did in her efforts to survive. Emilia, a Polish teenager who has lost everything to the war. And Alfred, a German soldier assigned to prepare the Wilhelm Gustloff for it's rescue journey. Florian, Emilia, Joanna, a giant woman named Eva, a blind young woman named Ingrid, an old cobbler the group calls the Shoe Poet, and a young boy who wandered out of the woods form a rag-tag group as chance encounters bring them together on the road to Gotenhafen. Through them, readers experience all the joys and horrors of the life of refugees trying to make it to safety. Meanwhile, Alfred is using his amazing brain to figure out ways to evade work and write imaginary letters to his sweetheart. All of them meet at Gotenhafen, where most of them board the Wilhelm Gustloff and watch their salvation turn into what seems to be doom.

This was my pick for a Printz award, and I’m surprised it didn’t get at least an honor. The writing was amazing and the overall message of the book was important. At times it was also a very hard read, but obviously that didn’t stopped the Printz committee. Either way, this has been a favorite of teen readers I know. No one has handed it back and said it was just meh. No, they come back ranting and raving about it. Along with much of the world, I had never heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy before Sepetys released information about this book. I'm glad she is giving these unsung victims a voice and a memory. At the same time, I almost wish going into the book I had not watched Sepetys' videos on the historical background of the book, because as I grew more and more attached to the characters I grew increasingly worried that they were all doomed. The writing in this is powerful and so well done. It is really hard to switch voices so frequently and create a fluid story, but Sepetys does manage to pull it off. And she manages to give each one a unique voice too. True to shell-shocked and damaged people, most of the characters hold secrets and hidden hurts that only come out as they learn that it is worth the potential pain to trust and care for one another, or they break. There's an elaborate layering that propels the reading despite knowing they're all headed for a literal shipwreck. I grew attached to many of the characters, but I especially loved the Shoe Poet. He's a philosophical and wise man, who shares his wisdom through his knowledge of shoes and feet. He's quirky, but he frequently reminds the group about the little joys in life and how to love. He's the grandpa many of them need at that moment. So yes, in many ways this book is a hard read, but it also had moments of tenderness and heart. And I think it incorporates so many important lessons and helps modern readers realize the trials refugees and war torn peoples suffer. Hopefully, readers will come away with a great appreciation for all the many blessings they have, and a greater heart for those in the world suffering from displacement and war.

Target Readers:
Historical fiction fans, tragedy fans, those interested in WWII, those who want to build their empathy, and those just looking for a good YA read that will stick with you for a while.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brainstorm 100: Dimsum books & other treats for Chinese New Year

I work at an international school in Asia, so there’s a holiday coming up in about a week that’s important to many of the families of our students (and the surrounding community). Some call it Chinese New Year, some call it Lunar New Year, but whatever you call it certain staple traditions are sure to be found. And one of those traditional Chinese New Year staples is food. So in honor of Chinese New Year, some books that celebrate favorite Asian foods…plus one about an Asian American who knew the importance of preparing good food.

As a bonus, I’m including two of my favorite picture books that introduce readers to the basics of typical Chinese New Year celebrations.

Picture Book Fiction Resources

The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi, ill. by Shahar Kober
The ugly dumpling tries his best to be like the other dumplings, but he just can't be like them and is never chosen. Then a cockroach pulls him out of despair, shows him the wider world and helps him figure out what he really is.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Compare/Contrast: This is a little bit of an Ugly Duckling retelling, so pair it up with a more traditional telling for a compare/contrast activity.
  • Outcasts & Friendship: More than being a retelling of the Ugly Duckling, this is a story about not being afraid to be friends with someone everyone else rejects. It's sweet and humorous (though definitely not one to share with the health inspector). 
  • Foodies: There seems to be a growing trend in picture books to feature food as characters. For the little foodies out there, this is a nice Asian flavor to the reading pile. (Although it is slightly disturbing to have cravings to eat your favorite characters...hmmm. Of course, Dumpling's been hanging out with a cockroach, so he's not as tantalizing.)
  • Illustration View Point: I really liked the illustrations, especially the depictions of the wider world of the kitchen through the eyes of the cockroach and dumpling.

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin
A little girl and her family go to have dim sum at a restaurant, introducing readers to some of the common dishes and unique traits of a dim sum restaurant.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Multicultural Read/Cultural Restaurant Experiences: Short, sweet, and culturally spot on. This is a great multicultural picture book that introduces a yummy restaurant experience (which can potentially be overwhelming for first timers...this would be good to read before going for dim sum the first time). 
  • Food History/Culture: The back of the book includes an informative note on the history and development of dim sum restaurants, and common practices you should use when visiting such a restaurant. 
  • Three Cheers for Grace Lin: If you haven’t read Grace Lin yet, you really need to. She’s a fantastic children’s author and illustrator. She produces books with heart, fun, and that encourage living as a good friend, family member, and citizen. She writes/illustrates picture books, an early reader series, and amazing chapter books for middle graders. And she pretty much produces half of the Asian American lit for kids single-handedly. (Ok, maybe not quite, but it almost feels that way.) Look for more books by Grace Lin on today’s page, go look for her online, and definitely go read some of her books. My favorite of hers is Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, ill. by Ho Baek Lee
A little girl helps her mom make Bee-bim Bop and cheers the process along because she is hungry.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Korean Food: Mmm, this book makes me hungry. I love this Korean dish, and the book is the perfect celebration of it. 
  • Happy Kitchen Helpers/Little Foodies: The book would be more annoying if the girl wasn't helping her mother, but she is doing all she can to help. Gotta love cheerful kitchen helpers, and this girl is a fantastic example. A great book to talk about why we enjoy cheerful helping vs nagging. For those who want to try this yummy dish and their cheerful kitchen helper skills, there's detailed instructions for how to make bibimbop in the back of the book that separates the steps into things a child can do and what adults should do. 
  • Books with Beat: The rhythm and rhyme of this are such that you could clap or stomp along with the book. It helps emphasize just how hungry the little girl is for bibimbop (that's another way to transliterate the dish, and the one I'm more used to).
  • Repetition for Pre-Readers: There's a phrase repeated that little ones can catch on to and then start "reading" along at those points. 
  • Food History/Korean Culture: The author's note in the back explains the dish and the meaning of the two words in Korean. A fun Korean food book for kids.
  • Three Cheers for Linda Sue Park Too: If Grace Lin writes half of the Asian American lit, then Linda Sue Park pretty much writes the other half. She also has a bunch of picture books and chapter books that introduce kids to Asian culture. Her chapter books tend to look at historical Korea and contemporary Korean Americans, though her most recent series is a fantasy/dystopia setting. Definitely go find some of her books to read too! My favorites are Yaks Yak and A Single Shard.

Picture Book Biography

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans and Helped Cook up the National Park Service by Annette Bay Pimentel, ill. by Rich Lo
Tie Sing was a Chinese American who worked as a chef for campers in the California mountains. He is all but forgotten by history, but played an important part in convincing key Americans to form the National Park Service. When Stephen Mather put together a camping trip of these key Americans to show them the land that needed to be preserved, he picked Tie Sing to make sure their tummies were happy so that the trip would more likely be a success. Feeding men well on the trails in the mountains is a challenge, but Tie Sing impressed the men with his cooking and helped make the whole experience a pleasant one. Those men soon went back to Washington D.C. and convinced the nation to form the National Park Service.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Impact of “Ordinary” People: I like this book for a number of reasons, but probably most of all because it highlights the impact even "ordinary" people can have on the future. No job is unimportant. No job is too small to have an impact, and Tie Sing exemplifies that.
  • Chinese American Bio: It's also nice to have a picture book biography of a Chinese American from the early 1900s. Those are few and far between (if any others exist...I can't think of any off of the top of my head). The author also includes short bios of the other men who were on the camping trip.
  • National Parks History: As mentioned in the title, if not for this trip, the US may not have had a national parks system. It’s an interesting tidbit of park history.
  • Research Process: The author provides some very interesting notes on the challenges she faced doing research for this book.

Graphic Novel Resource

Cook Korean!: a Comic Book with Recipes by Robin Ha
I’ve featured this one a few times recently so I won’t say much more about this, except that Ha does include several traditional Lunar New Year dishes in this book and her recipes are easy to follow (and include adaptation ideas if you have trouble finding certain ingredients).

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.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Third Culture Kids & Fourth Culture Kids: There's a unique group of kids in this world who live in one culture, have parents from another culture, and thus they create their own special third culture that is a mix of both but not quite exactly like either one. We call these kids third culture kids. They're children of expats who work overseas or the children of immigrants. And 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. Thanks Grace Lin for sharing! I know that the 100s of international students at my school often feel just like Pacy, and it's great to have a book heroine for them to identify with. 
  • Foodies: A word of warning: This book 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. Cultural food is a big part of this book, and great introduction to some new foods for kids from other places.
  • Taiwan Culture: Get a little intro to Taiwan by travelling there with Pacy.
  • Contemporary Fiction Fans: There’s a huge group of students at our school who adore contemporary fiction and pretty much subsist on a steady diet. The entire Pacy series is a great recommendation for those readers.
  • Travel Story Fans: For readers who like to go to new places in their reading, check out Taiwan through Pacy's eyes.

Picture Books about Chinese New Year

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
Short, simple and clear introduction to the traditions of Chinese New Year celebrations.

This is my favorite Lunar New Year book I've read. It is simple but gets across all the important traditions of the holiday. Grace Lin's illustrations fit so perfectly with their bright colors. There's a note in the back with further information. If you only have time for one Chinese New Year read, I'd pick this one.

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, ill. by Grace Zong
A retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Instead of Goldilocks, meet Goldy Luck, who doesn't feel very lucky. Nothing she does seems to turn out right, even taking turnip cakes to her neighbors the Chans for Chinese New Year is almost a fiasco.

The story of Goldilocks adapts quite well to be a Chinese New Year tale. And the author/illustrator team came up with some great reasons why Goldy Luck would reject certain chairs or beds (my favorites were the massage chair and mechanical bed that freak out Goldy by starting to move on her, and if you've ever felt a traditional Asian bed, you know it works perfectly for the father's bed in this tale). Yim explains some of the traditions of Chinese New Year and the significance of special foods and decorations in the back. It's a succinct explanation but covers all the basics quite well. Pull this one out for Chinese New Year, or for a compare/contrast with other Goldilocks adaptations.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Brainstorm 99: An Aggregation of Animal Groups & a Chicken Little Duo

Welcome back from the holiday break to the opening Brainstorm of 2017. To kick off 2017 here’s five books. There’s a trio of animal group name books that would work well together, and then a Chicken Little pair that can be used together. Happy reading in 2017!

An Aggregation of Animal Group Books
These three books that would make a fantastic trio of fiction/nonfiction when learning about animal group names.

Animal Groups by Jill Esbaum, photos by Frans Lanting
Find out the group names of 10 exotic animals, and a few more too. Facts about the animals highlighted are also included.

Activity Tie-Ins/Target Readers:

  • Animal Groups/Vocabulary: I learned several things from this book, even though I taught Biology at one time and this book is aimed at little kids. (So consider that an invitation to use this at any level.) I'd never heard some of these group names, like a celebration of polar bears. Also, I never knew there aren't official scientific names for the groups of various animals. It seems like there's always a group somewhere trying to establish what's official. But not in this case. It's all up to what someone feels like calling them and if that name catches on. There's a great list of a broad range of creatures after the first 10 are featured, showing the various names by which a group of that animals can be called. For example, the book highlights zebras as one of the main 10, calling the group a zeal but shares later that groups of zebras can also be called a dazzle, herd or harem.
  • Word Choice: Since you can choose which group name to use when referring to many animals, it's a good opportunity to talk about word choice. Why might you choose zeal of zebras one time, or dazzle of zebras at another time?
  • Animal Lovers/Curious Readers: A fascinating book for animal lovers, or anyone really, with great pictures. 
  • Fast or Slow Read: The book could be read as fast or slow as you want. You can just read the main group names for a quick read, or also include the further info on each animal and the text boxes to extend the reading time. There's also a few activity ideas in the back.

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith
A boy tries to find his spot in all sorts of groups, from goats to jellyfish to rocks, before he finds one where he belongs.

Activity Tie-Ins/Target Readers:

  • Belonging/Welcoming/Picking Friends: Everyone at sometime or other will face trying to figure out where they fit in. It’s a great chance to talk about how to choose good friends and how to be a group that is welcoming to others.
  • Animal Groups: Pair this with either or both of the other two books in this trio when studying animal names for a good fiction/nonfiction look at the topic.
  • Language Arts: A useful example text when talking about plural nouns and adjectives, as well as when to use are or is.
  • Art: I loved the illustrations in this. They are so fantastic and fun. Picking this one up just to look at the illustrations is totally fine.
  • Animal Lovers: A sure win for any animal lover. 

A Pandemonium of Parrots by Kate Baker, ill. by Hui Skipp
Introduces young readers to some group names to various creatures and provides prompts to find certain illustrations on each spread. Further information on each type of animal can be found in the back of the book.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Animal Groups/Animal Lovers: This is a playful introduction to animal groups. The sciency info is good for little readers. Combine this with the other reads to provide broader information, or build on the animal group name interest with a fictional read.
  • Hide & Seek/Critical Thinking for Littles: The prompts to find certain critters, like "Find who is sleepy" vary in how challenging they are, but most little ones should be able to find them within 5 minutes and can practice recognizing emotional and social clues too.

The Sky Is Falling Duo
Two books in which doom is certain. Or is it?

Chicken Little by Laura Rader
The classic tale of a little chicken who gets plonked on the head and proceeds to warn everyone that the sky is falling. But there’s a very logical reason for what happened. (There are many versions of this story. Laura Rader’s is just one we have at our school.)

Actitivity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Danger of Rumors/Discerning Tech Users: Chicken Little provides a cautionary tale about spreading rumors without gathering all the facts. There’s good lessons in here for everyone, especially in an age when rumors are rampant and can be spread via technology with a simple click.
  • Domestic Animal Fans: Some kids just love their chickens, pigs and cows and the Chicken Little tale is one way they can spend time with their favorite critters.
  • Folktale/Fable Units: Since there is a moral to this story, one could argue for it being a fable and include it in fable units as well as folktale units.
  • Compare/Contrast: Find multiple versions of this tale and compare/contrast them. 

Earthquack! by Margie Palatini, ill. by Barry Moser
Chucky Ducky feels the ground rumble and quake, and runs to warn the other barnyard animals. Meanwhile, a wily weasel plots ways to fill his tummy using the commotion. And eventually, the truth about the quakes and the weasely plots are uncovered.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Compare/Contrast with Traditional Chicken Little: Instead of the sky falling, this spin on the Chicken Little tale has a duck getting all riled up about the earth crumbling to bits in a quake. His fear spreads as the other animals also feel the quaking. The plot of the weasel is conniving but doesn't get far, and the real explanation for the quaking is a bit humorous. 
  • Art: The illustrations in this are actually quite stunning watercolors that also manage to be humorous. 
  • Pre-Readers: There's lots of repeated phrases making this a good pick for little ones just starting to catch on to this reading thing. They should be able to catch on to the pattern and "read" along with an older reader. 
  • Language Arts: Language arts teachers covering assonance, consonance or puns will find plenty of examples in this book.