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Tofu Quilt, by Ching Yeung Russell

  • December 19, 2009 3:56 pm
tofu quilt

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I’ve never seen a book quite like Tofu Quilt. It is a collection of 38 free-verse poems about the author’s childhood in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 1960s, and her desire to become a writer, despite the fact that she is a girl and is not expected to have a career.

At the age of five, Yeung is rewarded with a special dessert called “dan lai” for being able to recite Chinese poetry from memory. The reward awakens in her a desire to become educated and have enough money to buy more dan lai.

Her mother sends her to a private school, despite the fact that the family is poor. At the age of eight, Yeung writes letters for her illiterate grandmother, and at the age of 10, she does piecework for factories in order to earn money to buy books. At 12, she sells a story to a local newspaper, and this is the beginning of her writing career.

The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt. Some are humorous. Here is a poem about Yeung’s favorite teacher.

Secret Wish

I remember Mr. Hon

once said that

a person should see more things

and open his eyes

if he wants to write a good story.

Ma cannot afford to send me off

to see things.

So I decide that

when I grow up,

I will not marry a doctor,

or a lawyer,

or a teacher,

or a businessman.

I will marry a bus driver,

who can drive me everywhere

to see the world

and it will be


And he must look like

Mr. Hon.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

Rose O’Neill: The Girl Who Loved to Draw

  • November 21, 2009 6:40 am
Rose O'Neill

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I had never heard of Rose O’Neill before picking up this book, although I was familiar with “kewpies,” her most famous creation.

Rose O’Neill was a commercial illustrator and comic artist in the early 1900s, at a time when most commercial illustrators were men.

This children’s biography of Rose O’Neill concentrates on her childhood. Her father was a bookseller who had difficulty supporting his growing family, so Rose and her siblings moved often and lived in small, cramped homes in Nebraska and Missouri. However, the family was happy together. Rose never had formal art lessons: she taught herself to draw by copying illustrations from the stacks of books always around the house. 

When she was 13, one of her drawings won a prize from an Omaha newspaper. At the age of 19, she went to New York City to begin her career as a freelance illustrator for magazines and books. In 1909, when she was 35, she created the first kewpie character for Ladies Home Journal. This character proved so popular that Rose wrote and illustrated weekly kewpie stories and cartoons, and oversaw the manufacture of a kewpie doll.

Rose’s wealth allowed her to support her parents and siblings. Rose worked for the right of women to vote, and she mentored young artists.

This 68-page biography is in an oversized 10″ x 12″ format. It is lavishly illustrated with over 100 drawings and photographs. The author, Linda Brewster, skillfully pairs Rose’s adult drawings with the childhood events that may have inspired them. The book is based on Rose’s unpublished memoirs, so the writing comes alive with dialogue and Rose’s memories.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

The Goat Lady, by Jane Bregoli

  • October 31, 2009 12:45 pm
The Goat Lady

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The cover of The Goat Lady captured my attention right away: a full-length, detailed portrait of a strong, cheerful elderly woman in baggy clothes, with a goat by her side. How often does one see a carefully-done portrait featuring an older woman who is clearly not wealthy?

The book tells the true story of Noelie Houle, a French Canadian who found work in a Massachusetts factory as a young woman. When she developed arthritis, a doctor suggested she try drinking goat’s milk. She bought a goat, found the cure worked, and added to her flock, giving away extra goats to Heifer International, a nonprofit organization which donates farm animals to the poor. 

Yet her neighbors did not see Noelie’s determination and selflessness. They only saw her run-down house and her unruly animals.

One day, two children befriend Noelie and visit her often to help with the chores. The children tell their mother, an artist, about Noelie, and the mother decides to paint a series of portraits of the over 90-year-old woman. Once the paintings are shown in the town hall, the neighbors come to see Noelie’s strength and character, and to appreciate her way of life.

To me, this book is really about two strong, determined, forward-looking woman: Noelie Houle, and the author, Jane Bregoli, who took the time to see beyond the conventional stereotype of a poor old woman, and to showcase what was beautiful and special about her.

The story is told through the eyes of one of the author’s children, and is illustrated with several portraits of Noelie, as well as other pictures showing scenes of her home, animals, and her interactions with the author’s children.

This is a very special book, and I highly recommend it. You can purchase it from my girls list.

Clever Rachel, by Debby Waldman and Cindy Revell

  • October 24, 2009 9:05 am
Clever Rachel

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What crosses the river but cannot move? What has an eye but never sees? In this retelling of a Jewish folk-tale, Clever Rachel is a girl who loves riddles. A smart boy, Jacob, hears about her and decides to challenge her.  He is astonished when she answers his best riddles in no time flat. 

But when a desperate woman visits Rachel needing answers to some riddles, Rachel and Jacob realize they must work together to help solve the riddles, which will allow the woman to marry the man she loves.

My seven-year-old son really enjoyed guessing the answers to the riddles woven into this story. Seven more riddles are printed on the last page. This would be a great book to read aloud to a class.

You can buy this book from my girls list.

That’s Not Fair! by Tafolla and Teneyuca

  • October 3, 2009 8:36 am
that's not fair

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This picture book tells the true story of Emma Tenayuca, who at the age of 21 led thousands of Mexican-American pecan shellers in a successful strike.

The authors, Carmen Tafolla and Sharyll Teneyuca, focus on Emma’s childhood and her awakening empathy with Mexican-American laborers. Emma was not born poor: she attended school in San Antonio, Texas, and had enough clothes and food. Yet she encountered children who could not learn to read because they were working  as farm laborers. She saw kids who didn’t have enough to eat, and not enough clothes to keep them warm.

Even as a schoolgirl, Emma taught a friend to read, and gave food and clothing to children in need. As a teenager, she began to give speeches about the injustices suffered by Mexican-American laborers. In 1938, she led 12,000 pecan shellers in a two-month strike that resulted in higher wages.

Because it focuses mostly on Emma’s childhood, his book will appeal to kids in the lower elementary grades. Kids may not understand the concept of labor unions, but they do understand fairness, and that’s what this book emphasizes. The pictures by Terry Ybanez are colorful, simple, and appealing. The text is printed in both English and Spanish.

You can buy this book from my Girls list.