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From North to South by Rene Colato Lainez

  • August 21, 2010 7:37 pm
From North to South

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This picture book was written by an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles who learned that the parents of some of his students had been deported. This painful situation led to the creation of the character of Jose, whose mother has been deported.

Although the situation is sad, the book still manages to strike a positive note. The story opens with Jose excited about driving with his father from San Diego to visit his mother in Tijuana, where she is staying at El Centro Madre Assunta, a shelter for recently deported women. Jose and his father bring clothes, photographs, and drawings for his mother. Jose helps his mother in the garden, and promises to take care of the garden at home until she is able to return.

In addition to teaching kids about immigration issues, this gentle story depicts the love of a son and mother under trying circumstances. The text is in English and Spanish. I have included this book on my boys’ list.

Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint, by Handy and Carpenter

  • June 13, 2010 5:59 am

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On a trip to the beach, Sandy is horrified at a pile of trash she encouters. She begins cleaning up the  mess, separating trash from recyclables. As she works, she notices someone coming towards her–the “crazy old woman” Sandy has heard about, who roams the beach picking up trash.

At first Sandy is afraid. However, the Garbage Lady is friendly, and helps Sandy with her work.  The Garbage Lady teaches Sandy about her environmental “footprint” and how to reduce it.

My eight-year-old son hadn’t heard of the term “environmental footprint,” so we had fun talking about what that meant, and what we as a family do to reduce our footprint.

The illustrations by Adrianna Steele-Card were created using recycled and natural material. On the last page is a list with 12 suggestions for reducing our footprints.

I have included this book on my girls list.

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Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Books

  • May 1, 2010 7:54 am

anna may wongIn honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), here is a collection of books from my lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story, by Paula Yoo and Lin Wang

Anna May Wong was one of the earliest Chinese-American movie stars. She was born in Los Angeles in 1905, and started working as an actress in the 1920s, during a time when movies portrayed Chinese people in a demeaning way. Because her family was poor and relied on her earnings, she played these kinds of parts for many years and became a successful actress. In 1936, Anna May visited China and learned as much about the culture as she could. While there, she vowed never again to act in a movie that portrayed the Chinese in a negative light. Starting in 1937, Anna May Wong accepted only roles that showed her character in a positive light. These movies include Daughter of  Shanghai (1937), The Lady from Chungking (1942), and Bombs Over Burma (1943). This picture book relates Anna’s ambitions and struggles using text and pictures appropriate for children six years and older.

Mighty Mountain and the Three Strong Women, by Irene Hedlund

Folktale, ages 5 and up. A Japanese tale about a wrestler who, on his way to the capital to compete in the Emperor’s wrestling match, encounters three women stronger than he! They help him train for the competition, he wins, and then he returns to marry one of the women.  A funny story with beautiful color illustrations.

Shower of Gold: Girls and Women in the Stories of India,  by Uma Krishnaswami

Folktales, ages 5 and up. Eighteen folk tales from India, including the story of Chitrangada, who chooses to rule her kingdom rather than remain the wife of a handsome prince; and Supriya, who teaches adults about compassion. Told in a simple, engaging style.

Tofu Quilt,  by Ching Yeung Russell

Poetry, ages 8 and up. 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. The poems are simple, story-like, and heartfelt.

Aruna’s Journeys, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Fiction, ages 8-12. Aruna was born in the U.S. and her parents are from India. Aruna hates looking “different.” Just when she finally finds a best friend at her new school, her parents take her to India for the whole summer. There she meets her feminist aunt Vandana who is on a hunger strike to avoid an arranged marriage. Vandana’s example and words encourage Aruna to hold on to her dreams and enjoy being different. Filled with details of urban life in India, and one of only a very few available novels about Indian-Americans. Winner of the 1998 Skipping Stones Magazine Award for multicultural books.

Ela Bhatt: Uniting Women in India, by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

Biography, ages 10-14. Ela Bhatt overcame her shyness and her stuttering to start a union for the poorest women in India. By really listening to the women and helping them implement their own ideas, Ela helped the women start a bank, worker cooperatives, and child care cooperatives. This inspiring book is part of the Women Changing the World series published by the Feminist Press, which also includes Aung San Suu Kyi: Standing Up for Democracy in Burma, by Bettina Ling.

Earth Day Books

  • April 17, 2010 5:28 am

Christopher's Harvest TimeIn honor of Earth Day (April 22), here is a collection of books with environmental themes from my Girls and Boys lists. Click on the titles below to buy these books.

Christopher’s Harvest Time, by Elsa Beskow
Fiction, ages 4 and up. A charming book about a boy who sees the flowers and plants come alive in his garden. We’ve had this book on our shelf for years, and my boys really enjoyed it when they were younger. A few days ago the younger boy (almost 8 years old) asked me to read it to him again, and imagine my surprise when the older one (12 years old) perched on the arm of the chair and eagerly looked at all the pictures! This book is truly special. It depicts boys who are gentle and in tune with nature, and the pictures are beautiful.

Riparia’s River,
by Michael Caduto
Fiction, ages 5-9. Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. A mysterious woman who calls herself “Riparia” shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides and fertilizers from a nearby farm. With Riparia’s guidance, the children work with the farmer to solve the problem. This book combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. Highly recommended!

Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint, by Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter
Fiction, ages 5-8.  On a trip to the beach, Sandy is horrified at a pile of trash she encouters. As she cleans up the mess, she meets the “Garbage Lady,” an eccentric woman who cleans up the beach. The Garbage Lady teaches Sandy about her environmental “footprint” and how to reduce it. The illustrations were created using recycled and natural material.

The Princess Who Danced with Cranes,
by Annette LeBox
Picture book, ages 4-7. Princess Vivian loves to play in the marsh near her castle, and especially to see the cranes. But when everyone in the kingdom goes bonkers over a new game called Gullywhupper, they fill in the marsh for more lawn to play on. Eventually, Vivian remembers the marsh and the cranes, and convinces her father and others to restore the marsh. Lovely illustrations.

Noah’s Wife: The Story of Naamah,
by Sandy Sasso
Fiction, ages 4 to 8. Noah saved all the animals on earth from destruction by the flood. But what about the plants? In this book we find out that Noah’s wife, Naamah, gathers seeds to save all the plants on earth. Beautiful color illustrations.

The Story of the Root Children, by Sibylle von Olfers
Fiction, ages 4 and up. The root children are boys and girls who bring
the seasons. Beautiful illustrations.

Our Earth: How Kids are Saving the Planet, by Janet Wilson features full-color, two-page spreads about 10 young people from around the world, as well as shorter profiles of 20 more. At the back of the book are suggestions for how readers can get involved and make a difference. My son and I enjoyed reading about William Kamkwamba of Malawi, who put together windmills using salvaged parts; Kruti Parekh of India, who incorporates environmental messages in her magic shows; Fang Minghe of China, who takes photos of illegal wildlife being sold in order to help the police catch these criminals; and all the other young people in this book.

Save My Rainforest, by Monica Zak
Nonfiction, ages 5 and up. The true story of Omar Castillo, who at the age of 8 walked 870 miles with his father in an attempt to save the Lacandon Rainforest in Mexico. An inspiring story!

The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, by Zubizaretta, Rohmer, and Schecter
Folktale, ages 5 and up. Lucia Zenteno arrives in a village and the animals and plants immediately love her. But the people are suspicious and drive her away. When she leaves, the village’s river goes with her. Humbled, the people ask her forgiveness. She returns the river and reminds the villagers to treat even strangers with kindness. This story is part of the oral tradition of the Zapotec Indians of Mexico. Color pictures, English and Spanish text.

Lucky Beans, by Becky Birtha

  • April 3, 2010 7:42 am
lucky beans

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Marshall is sick of the beans his African-American family often eats during the Great Depression. His father is out of work, and relatives are staying at their house. One day Marshall sees a huge jar of beans in the window of the furniture store. The person who guesses the number of beans in the jar will win a sewing machine! Marshall knows his mother could use the machine to earn money for the family.

First, Marshall must counter racism: a white girl tells him that only whites are eligible to win. Instead of believing her, Marshall asks the storekeeper, who tells Marshall that anyone can win.

Marshall’s mother shows him  how to figure out the number of pints in a quart. Marshall remembers what his teacher taught about estimation. With these tips, Marshall and his family come up with an estimate of the number of beans in the jar, and the family ends up winning the sewing machine. There is only one problem: they win the jar of beans too!

This book depicts a boy who learns from the women in his life. The story is based on truth: the author’s grandmother really did win a sewing machine by guessing the number of beans in a jar. Kids will enjoy learning about history and math from this gentle, funny book.

I have included this book on my boys list.