Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction

Orca re-releases Chinese New Year in time for the Year of the Ox

Chinese New Year: A Celebration for Everyone, by Jen Sookfong Lee, (Jan. 2021, Orca Book Publishers), $12.95, ISBN: 9781459826434

Ages 9-12

Originally published in hardcover in 2017, Orca’s nonfiction Orca Origins series releases the paperback version of Chinese New Year: A Celebration for Everyone this month, just in time for the Year of the Ox celebrations beginning February 12th. Filled with fast facts, color photos, and quotes from prominent members of the Chinese community, author Jen Sookfong Lee details the history of Chinese New Year from its mythic origins to current-day celebrations, with memories of her own childhood and the childhoods of others adding a personal touch. The emphasis on family, how the holiday evolved from earlier days through upheavals in Chinese history, and how the holiday spread throughout the world give readers an idea of how Chinese New Year achieved such a global scope. Recipes throughout encourage readers – with adult supervision – to try out some New Year treats, and stories about the globalization of the holiday provide an welcome, inclusive invitation for all to enjoy. A glossary and index add to the back matter. A nice addition to holiday collections.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Fall means back-to-school, and new BOOKS.

Here in NY, most of the kids start school tomorrow, but the bigger news is that there are amazing books lined up for Fall!

Magnificent Birds, by Narisa Togo, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $20, ISBN: 9781536201697

Ages 7-12

Linocut artist Narisa Togo presents readers with a gorgeous book on birds from all over the world. Fourteen beautifully colored spreads feature the familiar, including the bald eagle, flamingos, penguins, and pelicans and the exotic, such as the greater bird of paradise and the kakapo. Each spread includes the genus and species, range and habitat, and two brief, informative paragraphs about each species. The linocuts are striking, with muted colors that allow the texture of the cuts to speak. A wonderful gift for bird lovers, and a nice add to nonfiction collections. Create a beautiful display with Britta Teckentrup’s Birds and Their Feathers, Drawn from Nature, and Magnificent Creatures.

A Dog Named Haku: A Holiday Story from Nepal, by Margarita Engel, Amish Karanjit, & Nicole Karanjit/Illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran, (Sept. 2018, Lerner Publishing Group), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-5124-3205-3

Ages 4-8

Two brothers search the streets of Nepal for a stray dog to feed during the festival of Kukur Tihar, a special day honoring dogs. The festival is also a remembrance of the search and rescue dogs that saved lives after the devastating 2015 earthquake. Award-winning author Margarita Engle, her daughter, Nicole Karanjit and son-in-law Amish Karanjit, come together with illustrator Ruth Jeyaveeran to create a touching story of empathy, memory, and celebration. It’s a glimpse into Nepali culture, enhanced by a glossary, further reading, and activities, and a story that emphasizes empathy and love for all creatures, great and small. Ruth Jeyaveeran’s illustrations further this study in culture, with brown-skinned people wearing Nepali clothing and animals wearing vermilion paste, a sign of holiness and blessing, on their foreheads during the celebrations.

Get this one in your libraries and classrooms, and read it for Diwali – while you hit Pinterest for some Diwali crafts. I love this accordion fold paper diya craft.

My Beijing: Stories of Everyday Wonder, by Nie Jun, (Sept. 2018, Lerner Publishing Group), $30.65, ISBN: 9781512445909

Ages 8-12

This graphic novel contains four stories of Yu’er, a young girl who lives with an unnamed disability, and her grandfather, in a small Beijing neighborhood. Yu’er want to swim in the Special Olympics, but she and grandpa need to find a pool for her practice. Another story takes Yu’er and a friend to a place filled with musical insects; in one story, Yu’er learns a story about her grandparents; finally, Yu’er and her grandfather teach a painter a lesson about enjoying life. The watercolor artwork is quiet and soothing, with a storytelling style manga fans will recognize and enjoy. It’s a positive look at the relationship between grandchild and grandparent, and the colorful characters in their neighborhood illustrate the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. Display and booktalk with Atinuke’s Anna Hisbiscus books, Saadia Faruqi’s Meet Yasmin!, and Debbie Michiko Florence’s Jasmine Toguchi books for illustrated chapter books that introduce readers to world cultures.

Kitten Construction Company: Meet the House Kittens!, by John Patrick Green, (Sept. 2014, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 978162672830

Ages 7-10

Marmalade is the best architect you’d ever want to meet – but she’s also an adorable kitten, too! How can she get anyone to take her seriously? By teaming up with an adorable group of similarly skilled kittens to form the Kitten Construction Company, of course! Sampson, an electrical engineer, Bubbles, a skilled (and easily distracted) plumber, and Professor von Wigglebottom, a carpenter with a lot of contacts, decide to build their own mansion for Mewtown’s mayor. This graphic novel is the first in a new series and it’s too much fun for younger readers. There are great sight jokes, crisp, kid-friendly cartooning, and a smart story about being taken seriously, no matter how cute you are. I can’t wait to see more of this series!

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Just Like Me examines adoption’s internal narrative

just like meJust Like Me, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492604273

Recommended for ages 9-14

Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.

Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.

Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their differences.

It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”

Wow. Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.

“Did my birth mom love me?”

It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.

What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.

Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? A Brief History of Chinese Emperors

Mr_-Emperor-Front-300x300What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City, by Chiu Kwong-chiu and Eileen Ng (translated by Ben Wang)/Illustrated by Design & Cultural Studies Workshop, (Oct. 2015, China Institute in America), $12.95, ISBN 978-0-9893776-6-9

Recommended for ages 8-13

Kids learn about the U.S. Presidents, some European royalty (usually Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and King George III in England), and current heads of state, but Chinese emperors and ruling dynasties isn’t something that’s normally found on the curriculum. The China Institute in America is taking this dilemma on with the book, What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City. One of four We All Live in the Forbidden City books, Mr. Emperor introduces kids to China’s emperors, with brief biographies and answers to questions like, “How was the emperor chosen? What was school like? Who were his friends?” We learn a little bit about each emperor – princes who fought off rebel invasions, princes who didn’t do a whole lot during their reign, one emperor who ruled twice, and the roles of other members of court life, including the palace maids, the dowager empresses, and the many advisors to the rulers.

There’s a lot of information packed into these beautifully illustrated pages, and it’s a great companion for an elementary unit on China. It brings the history to kids with questions that they’ll be interested in, and easily digestible facts illustrated by artist Chiu Kwong-chiu.  The We All Live in the Forbidden City website is loaded with activities and resources to expand the discussion.

The original book and content have been developed in Hong Kong in consultation with the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum in Beijing, ensuring authentic content and resources.

Posted in Early Reader, Preschool Reads

Bowls of Happiness is a lovely introduction to Chinese culture!

bowls-of-happiness-9780989377645_lgBowls of Happiness, by Brian Tse/Illustrated by Alice Mak (translated by Ben Wang), (Nov. 2015, Simon & Schuster), $12.95, ISBN: 9780989377645

Recommended for ages 3-8

Part short story, part discussion of Chinese art and culture, Bowls of Happiness tells us a short story about Piggy, a little girl whose mother loves her so much that she makes a special porcelain bowl just for her. As her mother creates the bowl, Piggy finds herself in the world being painted on the bowl’s exterior, learning about the animals and artwork that adorn the bowl and many other bowls in Chinese culture. Accompanied by photographs of porcelain artwork found in the Palace Museum’s collection, Bowls of Happiness is a beautiful introduction for young readers to Chinese culture. Brian Tse and Alice Mak, two well-known children’s book artists, create a story with artwork reminiscent of beautiful watercolor paintings, with a sweet story about maternal love that adults and kids alike will enjoy. A concluding poem about two palms coming together to form a bowl is a perfect way to end a storytime, and a sweet way to say goodnight at the end of the day (my 3 year-old loves it).

Have your little readers draw bowls of their own as a fun add-on to extend the story. Give them a cheat sheet on symbolism in Chinese art so they can apply the story to their art!