July 2007 Archives

The Contemporary Immigrant

|
There are so many picture books depicting contemporary children as immigrants! I think Emily hit the nail on the head when she wrote, "Perhaps because these immigration/assimilation stories force us, specifically the American readers, to re-examine our own culture through the eyes of an immigrant who has never seen that which we consider normal?"

Add to this the simple fact that more and more multicultural books are being written, and you get a wealth of stories about the various aspects of moving to a new country--from arrival, to becoming legal (or not), to learning a new culture. And while most immigrant stories follow this similar pattern, each ethnic group tends to emphasize a slightly different aspect of the shared experience.

Naturally, books about Latino immigrants speak toward crossing the U.S./Mexico border, often with family member missing. However, rather than emphasizing culture shock in the new country, most stories focus on assimilation issues. My Diary from Here to There by Amada Irma Perez and illustrated by Maya Gonzalez describes a family's move from Mexico to Los Angeles. The sequel, My Very Own Room, then goes on to describe how the now Mexican-American girl finds a place of her own in this new life.

There are fewer books about contemporary Chinese immigrants, but a recent publication stands out to me: Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang. This is an unusual book for two reasons: one is that the family immigrating is from Taiwan, not China. This is a more recent trend of Chinese immigrants, during a time of very little freedom of movement for mainland Chinese. The second is that the story focuses on the family's wait for a green card. This issue is hardly ever mentioned in books for this age group. I'm not sure if we need a whole library of books about immigrants on the path to citizenship, but have at least something is a nice representation of the journey.

The most famous of the contemporary immigrant stories of late, at least around here, has been Yangsook Choi's The Name Jar. The Name Jar has won a whole slew of awards, and rightly so. It depicts a little girl's embarrassment over her Korean name, and how the kids in her class have trouble pronouncing it. She decides to choose a new name from a jar of names, but when it comes time to actually choose... you can guess what happens.

Finally, I wanted to mention a book that is unusual because of its lack of focus. A Place to Grow by Soyung Pak and illustrated by Marcelino Truong is more of a poetic tribute to immigrant families and their courage. It does not specify a particular ethnic group or specific story, but in it, a father explains to his daughter that a family is like a seed. And seeds will grow and flourish if planted in the right place.

I feel terrible that I cannot mention every single great immigrant story, and there are so many more. I suppose I could simply direct you to the link at the top called "Shop Online," where you can browse our listings. But even there, we haven't covered them all! What are some of your favorites and why?

A Few More Strangers in Strange Lands

|
I want to just mention a few more picture books that feature American kids traveling to other cultures. Two of them are similar, where the child travels with a parent to visit extended family. There, they discover the culture of their heritage and learn more about the country's history and why people might have wanted to leave for America.

Going Home, Coming Home by Truong Tran and illustrated by Ann Phong, is about a girl who visits Vietnam for the first time with her parents. This book is a bilingual edition with both English and Vietnamese. The Trip Back Home by Janet S. Wong and illustrated by Bo Jia, tells of a girl who returns to Korea with her mother.

Something a little different and more directly educational about a foreign culture is The Way We Do It In Japan by Geneva Cobb Iijima and illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye. In this book, a Caucasian boy's family must move from the US to Japan because of the father's job. Encountering a completely foreign culture for the first time, the boy learns some of the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese culture, including discovering strange foods, driving on the left side of the road, taking your shoes off inside the house, and cleaning their own classroom. As far as true foreignness goes, this is the only book I can think of. However, with its cartoonish illustrations and straightforward descriptions of the Japanese culture, it doesn't seem to have the same depth that the other books do.

In the picture book world, is being a complete foreigner in a new country less interesting than being an "other" in America discovering one's heritage? Can you think of any other picture books that fall in either category? What are your thoughts?

Shanghai Messenger by Andrea Cheng, Illustrated by Ed Young

|
I guess I'm the picture book gal of our duo. I was thinking about picture books in which American kids travel to a foreign country, and my favorite one immediately came to mind: Shanghai Messenger by Andrea Cheng, Illustrated by Ed Young.

Shanghai Messenger isn't exactly a picture book. Its audience is closer to middle grades because the story is told in poems, and it captures so beautifully all the different emotions that an eleven-year-old would encounter when visiting a foreign country by herself for the first time.

There are so many themes going on simultaneously: Xiao Mei is half Chinese and half Caucasian, and her grandmother's family in Shanghai invites her for a visit. Xiao Mei must first decide if she wants to accept the invitation.

In China
will people stare
at my eyes
with green flecks
like Dad's?
Will they ask
why didn't Grandmother
teach me Chinese?

What I love about Cheng's poems is how amazingly true, and how strong of an emotional impact her few words create. I can feel Xiao Mei's apprehension as she leaves the US, and when she first arrives in China. Then, each of her family members she meets in Shanghai has a character that is typically Chinese while uniquely their own. And though I am not of mixed heritage, I could also relate to how Xiao Mei feels like an "other" in China. Being American is enough.

In America
everyone thinks I'm Chinese
even though my dad's not,
and here too
people stare at me
in the street.
I guess Max and I
are half and half
everywhere
in the world.

Xiao Mei's relatives take her sightseeing, shopping for a computer, to the market to buy vegetables and a live duck for dinner. She meets ladies practicing Tai Chi in a park. She befriends a little boy and visits the school where her great Uncle taught. She and her relatives sing songs from The Lion King in English and Chinese all at once. Every experience is exquisitely detailed in spare language, but I can feel exactly what Xiao Mei feels.

By the end of the week, Xiao Mei now has to say good-bye to this big new family she has met.

I wish they could come with me.
We could fill a whole row
or two
on the plane
and share spicy peas
and watch the movie
and sleep.
The flight attendant
leads me down the ramp.
I turn
and uncles and aunties and cousins
wave
and disappear
in a crowd
of black hair.

Harcourt Fall-Winter 2007 List

|
I noticed that most of Harcourt's multicultural titles this season are reissued editions of older titles. Not that that's a bad thing. Just an observation.

Multicultural
Whoever You Are (new in boardbook) by Mem Fox, illustrated by Leslie Staub
Rio Grande Stories (new paperback editon) by Carolyn Meyer
Voyage
(new paperback edition) by Adele Geras

Chinese American
April and the Dragon Lady (new paperback edition) by Lensey Namioka

Latin American
Accidental Love (new in paperback) by Gary Soto

Native American
Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving (new in paperback) by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Greg Shed

African American
The Ever-After Bird
by Ann Rinaldi

Introducing Emily: Our New Blog Contributor

|
I'm very excited to announce the arrival of a new contributor to Shen's Blog, my good friend and industry colleague, Emily Jiang. Emily will drop by from time to time with multicultural thoughts, book reviews, and random musings. It will be great fun to hear from someone else every once in a while (as opposed to me all the time), and what I'm looking forward to the most is hearing her thoughts about multicultural literature from a writer's point of view.

More about Emily:
An avid reader and writer of YA and children's fiction, Emily Jiang received a B.A. in English from Rice University, where she studied creative writing, multicultural literature and Victorian literature. Currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Emily is the recipient of a fiction teaching fellowship and the Agnes Butler Scholarship in the M.F.A. program in creative writing at St. Mary's College of California. Her multicultural fiction has received various honors, including the Kimberly Colen Memorial Grant, Grand Prize at the Olympiad of the Arts Festival, and the Sue Alexander Award for Most Promising New Manuscript.

Welcome, Emily!
Another theme popular in children's picture books are immigration stories based on the real life experiences of a family member.

Grandfather's Journey written and illustrated by Allen Say follows Grandfather's multiple journeys: his first trip from Japan to America, his exploration of America, his return to Japan to find a wife, his return with his wife to California where his daughter was born, his family's return to Japan where his daughter married and later raised Allen. Grandfather always longed to visit America one last time, but he never makes that trip because of World War II. At the very ending of the book, Allen himself immigrates from Japan to America as a young man and has returned to Japan several times since: "The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other."

Journey to Ellis Island: How My Father Came to America by Carol Bierman and illustrated by Laurie McGraw is about a Russian-Jewish family's immigration experience through Ellis Island. Eleven year-old Yehuda had lost his father and sister in Russia while the Germans were attacking, and Yehuda himself was wounded and lost his finger before arriving at Ellis Island. The inspectors at Ellis Island won't allow sick people into America, and it seems that Yehuda and his family would be sent back to Russia. To prove his health, Yehuda runs twice around Ellis Island, and the family is allowed into America, where they are reunited with Yehuda's older brother.

Landed by Milly Lee and illustrated by Yangsook Choi is based on the childhood immigration of the author's father-in-law. This book is focused on the unpleasant Angel Island Immigration Station experience, where many Chinese immigrants were detained for over 4 weeks. Because this was his first journey to America, twelve year-old Sun must memorize facts about his house, his family tree, and other personal details. Sun's father helps and accompanies Sun across the ocean, but Sun is left at Angel Island, where he is rigorously interviewed and tested about his personal life. He wonders if he can pass, especially because he is not great with directional questions. After 4 weeks, he passes multiple interrogations and mets his father and brothers in San Francisco.

Though set in the early 1900s, these books were published after 1990. One theme common among real life immigrants is that at least one especially adventurous person (usually the oldest brother or the father) ventures to America first. Then the rest of the family follows. Another common immigrant theme is that they come to America not just for the opportunities but to escape one war, famine, oppression, poverty.

I'm curious to learn more about historical immigration picture books published before 1990. Any recommendations?
The immigration story into America is so wide and unique. Too many stories to count. Today Renee and I will be delving into the picture books portraying the child immigration experience. I have chosen historical, and she will cover contemporary stories.

The lyrical When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and illustrated by P.J. Lunch features the journey of 13 year-old orphaned Jessie, who is chosen by her village rabbi to go to America. After passing through Ellis Island, Jessie works for a seamstress in New York City. For years Jessie learned English and sewed for "Cousin Kay" while writing letters to her Grandmother and reuniting with a special friend met on the ship. Jessie works and works and saves and saves until she has enough money to bring her Grandmother over to America for Jessie's wedding. A big chunk of this book centers around Jessie's actual trip overseas, and the clash of the cultures when she arrives in America is minimized. But it is a lovely, lyrical picture book with a wonderful heart-warming ending.

Jessie's first letter to her Grandmother: "I wish you could see the pushcarts and shops and the trolleys speeding by. But there are too many people in America, and the streets are not gold."

Set in 1865, Coolies written by Yin and beautifully illustrated by her husband Chris Soentpiet follows brothers Shek and Little Wong from Canton province of China to San Francisco to the Sierra mountains where the boys labored among many other Chinese labeled as "Coolies" and Irish immigrants to build the Transcontinental Railroad. They worked through the most dangerous conditions, extreme heat and bitter snow for four years.

Since the setting is before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, this tale focuses less on the actual immigration journey and more on the hard, perilous work and strong brotherly bond between the boys. Also, the story begins and ends with a contemporary Chinese-American grandmother telling her grandson about their ancestors, which personally as a reader I could have done without, but I understand the importance.

The sequel to Coolies, Brothers by Yin and illustrated by Chris Soentpiet features Ming, the younger, more carefree brother of Shek and Little Wong. In contrast to the hard work of his much older brothers, Ming stays with Shek, who owns a general store in San Francisco, and ventures outside the Chinatown borders to befriend an Irish boy named Patrick, who teaches Ming how to read and write English. While Shek himself expresses that the Chinese should stick together, he allows the friendship after the two boys help save the store. Historically, the Irish hated the Chinese during this era because they competed for jobs building the railroad. However, this is a nice fictional story about how a feeling of brotherhood transcends bloodlines and race.

Maggie's Amerikay by Barbara Timblerlake Russell, illustrated by Jim Burke, centers around twelve year old Irish Maggie adjusting to the culture in New Orleans. The inner conflict in this story arises from Maggie's father's insistence that she go to school, yet most children are working in the cigar factories. When Maggie's mother falls ill with yellow fever, Maggie worries about the lack of income and earns money rolling cigars and writing down the stories of Daddy Clements, who was forced to journey from Africa to America and fought in the American Civil War. As Maggie learns about another immigrant's culture, she shares her own Irish stories and listens to the beginnings of jazz music.

All published since 1997, these historical stories all take place in American before 1900. These children come to America not to play but to work, whether it be the back-breaking manual labor of building the railroad or running a general store or rolling cigars or sewing lace. In the latter two books, the theme of friendship transcending race and culture is incredibly strong and promotes an ideal of a truly harmonious multicultural America.
During our third week of Crossing Cultural Borders, we will explore various stories where the child/teen protagonist immigrates into America.

Why is immigration (entering America) so much more compelling a topic as compared to emmigration (leaving America) or even traveling abroad? What about immigration stories makes it so popular?

Perhaps because these immigration/assimilation stories force us, specifically the American readers, to re-examine our own culture through the eyes of an immigrant who has never seen that which we consider normal? Perhaps we are seeking a new perspective on something that we usually take for granted. Also, unlike other countries, every American has immigration stories somewhere in the family history, and reliving an immigration story can help one discover a sense of self.

America has made a name for itself as the land of immigrants, the land of freedom and equality for all, though as history progresses that definition has shifted. From the beginning, America certainly wasn't a free country for African slaves and their descendants. Nor was America exactly fair giving Native American Indians the most undesirable desert lands for their reservations. Nor was America free to its some of its citizens during World War II, when thousands of Japanese-Americans were forced to relocate (and thus lose all their property and possessions) and live in camps in the middle of the desert. Nor was America exactly welcoming of all peoples in laws like the Chinese Exclusion act in effect from 1882 to 1945. Et cetera.

Yet for all its faults, America is still seen as the land of opportunity, attracting immigrants from all over the world since its inception and even today. America has often been called the melting pot of the world, and the struggle to assimilate has always been a huge conflict for immigrants, no matter where they settle or what time period they arrive. Learning American English, learning American customs, adapting to the strange American foods, these struggles, juxtaposed to the challenge of retaining cultural and personal identity within America, are often found in many immigrant stories.

So this week we will look at historical and contemporary immigration stories. As always, please feel free to comment sharing your recommendations and ideas!

I'm curious to know if you are a fan of multicultural literature but not fantasy and/or vice versa, why do you like reading one but not the other? Because I really believe there are so many similarities!

Time as Another Cultural Border

|
For my final post for Re-landscaping the Hero's Journey, I want to explore one more type of fantasy stories that cross cultural borders, which is time travel.

If a child travels far back in time, such a journey forces the child to confront a different culture, which is very similar to the Stranger in a Strange Land concept. Even better, the following books feature child protagonists who belong to an American cultural minority.

The Devil's Arthimetic by Jane Yolen is about a 12 year old girl Hannah who travels from 1988 back to 1942 in Poland, where she is trapped in the body of another Jewish girl Chaya, who is taken to the concentration camp, where she sacrifices her own life for a friend. The novel ends with Hannah returning to her own time and remembering Chaya's experiences.

The Legend of Zoey by Candie Moonshower is told from the diaries of two girls: modern 13 year old Zoey, a girl struggling with her Native American heritage, and 13 year old Prudence, whose family is settling in the Missouri territory during the early 1800s. When Zoey is transported back to Prudence's time, Zoey experiences a clash of cultures in their clothes and ignorance of modern day medicine. While saving Prudence's family before the big earthquake, Zoey also learns more about the Native American Indians and resolves her issues with her heritage before she returns to modern times.

In Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park, the time traveler is not the child protagonist but a historical figure, Chu-mong, legendary ruler of ancient Korea over 2000 years ago. In 1999, Korean-American sixth-grader Kevin is working on his boring history homework when Chu-mong appears in his bedroom. By the end of the day, Kevin must figure out how to return Chu-mong back to his time period or history and the present would be forever changed. As he teaches Chu-mong about everyday modern inventions like the computer, electric lights, telephones and cars, Kevin himself is learning more about Korean culture and history.

In all three novels above and completely following the traditional hero's journey and Stranger in a Strange Land plot line, at the end, the multicultural contemporary child protagonist returns to her/his own time period enlightened with amazing historical knowledge and memories that should never be forgotten.
While portal fantasies are usually about children crossing a portal into a fantastic magical realm, other more contemporary fantasies blur the lines between our normal everday world and the magical subculture that co-exists along with our world. In addition, the contemporary child protagonist often discovers that he is special, raised in the normal world yet born of the magical subculture, and destined to be a hero that will save both world from the greatest evil.

What is so special about Harry Potter? For the first 10 years of his life, he believes he is an ordinary boy. Then on his eleventh birthday, he finds out there an entire magical subculture and that he is a wizard born with special powers, but not just any wizard. Harry is special even among the wizards because he was the only known person to survive an attack from the evil Voldemort.

Along the same lines, Rick Riordan's popular series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. In the first book, The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson, a twelve year old troublemaker who has been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADD, discovers that his weaknesses were actually signs that he is a demi-god, half-god. Because his father is one of the most powerful Olympian gods, Percy himself has more power and the greatest destiny to save his friends, his family, and both the magical and real world.

Holly Black's dark fantasy Tithe stars a teenage girl who thinks she is half white and half Japanese, but in reality she discovers she is a changeling, a minor faery, which is even more "other." Yet her mind is very much a mind of this word, and her tolerance for iron is higher than most faeries, which helps her overcome her enemies.

Another fun consequence to having the fantasy culture co-exist with the ordinary world is seeing the hidden magical side of our world reframed in magical terms. Whether the Hogwarts Express is hiding at Platform 9 and 3/4 or the Mount Olympus is perched secretly at the top of the Empire State Building or the secret side of the hill is where the Dark Unseely Court congregate, our familiar, ordinary world has an additional fresh fantastic facet. Usually, the normal humans are in complete ignorance of the existence of magic, so the children usually are further stressed to cover up their magic for fear of being found.

Why are fantastic stories about magical multicultural children so popular nowadays? Perhaps a sign of the times? Before the 1970s, there few magical stories of a child raised with humble beginnings and then realizing they were really special, and not all of them were American. The King Arthur story is perhaps one of the most famous.

For Americans, there could be so many reasons. Perhaps because we were heavily influenced by the Star Wars original movies released almost 30 years ago. Perhaps also because the children born since the 1970s have grown up after the Civil Rights Movement. Also in 1970s, there was a national interest towards finding one's cultural roots. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston had mentioned in her talk, America has evolved from assimilation and elimination of one's family culture of the melting pot to a mosaic model, which allows celebration of different languages, foods, customs.

The powerful link between one's blood and cultural heritage is compelling even if it is magical, since one's sense of self can be linked to knowing one's genetic heritage.

Any thoughts or suggestions for other titles?
One thing about fantasy novels, authors tend to write series rather than stand alone novels, perhaps because the worlds are so painstakingly crafted that it seems a shame to spend all this time on just one story. But what about picture books?

As a child reader I was extremely literal, preferring realistic fiction. So when I was the target age for picture books, I really didn't understand the appeal of Maurice Sendack's Where the Wild Things Are. Now as an adult, I have a real appreciation for the fun romping text and the whimsical-scary details of every monster. At the center of all the chaos is the boy protagonist Max, of the real human world.

Since picture books are traditionally popular in illustrating the single fairy tale, Max's journey is unique as it is an original fantasy featuring Stranger in the Strangest Land. After misbehaving in his wolf suit, Max is sent to bed without supper. His home is clearly based in the real world, but as his imagination grows, he literally crosses the border of a vast ocean into the jungle where The Wild Things reside.

What is striking is the symmetry of the overall layout design that so closely mirrors the emotional and physical journey of wild Max. The pictures grow as his imagination and wildness grows into the 6 page rumpus spread consisting of all pictures and no words. When Max says "No" and decides not to remain in the jungle, the pictures shrink as he sails back home and finds supper that was "still warm."

Can you recommend any other Stranger in the Strangest Land fantasy travels illustrated in picture book format?
Unlike Harry Potter, who I believe intrinsically is a multicultural character, many of the protagonists of classic children's fantasy are children completely of our normal world. Perhaps they have a great destiny, but unlike Harry, who has a special scar and magical wizard powers, these children's skills, knowledge, education level are just average. Rather, they are ordinary characters forced into extraordinary circumstances.

So there is a context of a deeper connection between fantasy (specifically those classic children's fantasy following the hero's journey) and multicultural stories (specifically those stories that fall into the Stranger in the Strange Land story line).

These average, normal children physically cross over into a strange, wondrously magical world, where they explore the strange new world, collect magical items and defeat the magical world's greatest evil, often with the most unexpected, simplest solutions.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum, Dorothy is transported by a tornado from Kansas to the land of Oz, where her house kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Taking the witch's silver shoes (I'm following the book), Dorothy, with her faithful dog Toto, collects unlikely companions, follows the yellow brick road to the meet the Wizard, who sends them kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Dorothy melts the witch with a bucket of water, and when she and her companions return, the wizard is a fraud. After searching for a way out of Oz, Dorothy learns her silver shoes are the key.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis are destined to be the Kings and Queens of Narnia, but only after they first help Aslan save Narnia from the neverending winter of the evil White Witch. Peter battles with his magical sword and shield, Susan with her magical bow and arrows and horn, and Lucy heals with her magical potion. Edmund never received his gifts because he was with the witch. In later books, Polly and Eustace cross over, too. Personally I wish that they would keep the original order of this series.

Though A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle is technically science fiction, there are so many aspects that fit with fantasy, as Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace, with assistance from their supernatural friends, "wrinkle" their way through space in search of Meg and Charles Wallace's scientist father and must confront the monstrous IT. Though Charles Wallace is a genius, it is Meg who defeats IT through the power of love.

Published around ten years ago, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is already considered a classic. Though the first book is pure fantasy set in a magical world similar to ours about the adventures of a girl named Lyra, the second book is a portal fantasy. Will Parry of The Subtle Knife is a normal kid who crosses over into Lyra's world and other worlds by discovering a window that was cut with the magical knife. During his adventures, Will learns more about the history of his own father, and Will and Lyra don't confront The Authority until the third and final book.

These heroic, exploring children are never completely alone. They travel in groups without normal adults because if adults were around, the children would have no freedom to make choices (and mistakes) and shape their own destinies.

After saving the strange world, the children always complete the hero's journey and return to the world they originate because as Dorothy says, "there's no place like home."

What do you think? Do you recommend any other portal fantasies?
First off, there are no major plot spoilers for those who have not finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For those who have, I've written a series of haiku highlights dedicated completely to the book on my personal blog.

I've already covered how the hero's journey applies to both fantasy and multicultural plot lines. But primarily I wanted to express how I believe Harry Potter is at heart a multicultural character. Like many multicultural characters, Harry is torn between two worlds. Specifically, Harry's worlds are the normal British world, in which he was raised, and the wizard world, where his heritage and destiny lies, that starts with the magical boarding school of Hogwarts and expands with every book. So in fitting with our categories, with a pure blood father and Muggle mother, half-blood Harry is just like any of the biracial protagonists listed at Americans Discovering Cultural Roots.

How is the Harry Potter wizard world another culture? Let us count some of the ways:

1) Food - In the wizard culture, most of the food corresponds to normal Muggle food, yet kids also love to eat chocolate frogs that actually leap from their packages, Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, the latter of which have actually invaded the real world.

2) Language - Often terms exist in one language that cannot be translated to another. In the normal world, words for specific kinds of food or different types of snow don't exist in English. For wizard speak, there are terms like Muggle and the curses like Accio, whose proper pronounciation has been much recently debated.

3) Customs - While in some parts of the world, we might be trying to get rid of moles or wombats, the Weasleys are always de-gnoming the garden.

4) Fables and fairy tales - Ron explains to Muggle-raised Harry and Hermoine all sorts of fairy tales that wizards grow up reading, stories that have similar structure but are completely different to Muggle-world fairy tales. Even with my English speaking friends who were raised abroad, the children's books outside America are different. I didn't learn about the amazing British children's author Enid Blyton until I was almost out of high school.

5) Sports - Britain has cricket, America has American football (football in every other country is soccer), and Harry's wizard world has Quidditch.

6) Transportation - In China, it's bicycles. In India, many autorickshaws abound. In most parts of America, we mostly drive cars. Many Europeans and New Yorkers don't even own cars because they rely on public transportation. Of course Harry and his wizard friends ride broomsticks and teleport via key ports. And they get their mail delivered by owls.

7) There are hierarchies and prejudices among the subcultures within Harry Potter wizard world. We already know about house elves and how wizards usually treat them as non-people. We learn a bit more about other creatures' philosophies and how vastly they differ from human philosophies.

8) How to read books - In many Asian countries, one reads first down the column, right to left. In Hewbrew, one reads right to left. In Harry wizard's world, the books read just like English, but their pictures wave back at you.

In many fantasies, the protagonist has grown up in his own strange world, yet Harry was raised in the Muggle world so much like the real British culture, but really his heritage is magic and making a splash in the wizard world. So what is wonderful about the books is that as Harry discovers more and more about the wizard world, we the reader are right with him.

The Hero's Journey

|
During all of week 2 of Crossing Cultural Borders, we are exploring the link between fantasy and multicultural literature. Since this week is called "Re-landscaping the Hero's Journey," I would like to briefly cover the hero's journey, which can be applied towards the plot structure of many fantasy stories.

In his myth analyzing book, Hero of a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell defines the hero in the following:

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Campbell details many, many steps of the Hero's Journey, but here are the big ones:

1) A call to adventure (which the hero may reject but ultimately cannot deny and includes "crossing the first threshold," or the border between the old, familiar, ordinary world and the new world to be explore)
2) A road of trials (in the new world, where the hero is tested)
3) Achieving the goal (like in the climax of a story, an external victory over the biggest test, and this success usually coincides with an ephiphany of self-knowledge, after which the hero is changed forever)
4) A return to the ordinary world (where the hero must apply what he has learned and thereby demonstrate his growth)

The story arc of many adventure and fantasy stories follow this archtypal path. In addition, I believe that the hero's journey is the backbone of many Stranger in a Strange Land multicultural stories. For example, the foreign country visited can be compared to "a region of supernatural wonder." The call to adventure is usually prompted by family or boarding school, and after the country border is crossed, the road of trials is reflected by the American's struggle to adjust and accommodate to the foreign culture, which then the protagonist achieves a certain self-realization. Also, in Stranger in a Strange Land stories, the transformed American always returns back to America, "the ordinary world."

When I was researching Stranger in a Strange Land multicultural books for children and teens for week 1, I found very few titles that fit my criteria of a fictional story about an American child or teen leaving the country and exploring other cultures. Why are there so few of these books in children's literature? True most of the authors have lived in both countries featured in their novels, and people overall (especially in America) often have not traveled outside their own country. But my belief is that the fantasy genre replaces the Stranger in a Strange Land story for children. Indeed, what could land in real life could be stranger than a fantasy world?

Next topic: Harry Potter as a multicultural character (without Book 7 plot spoilers).
What does fantasy have in common with multicultural children's literature? During Week 2 of our Crossing Cultural Borders series, we'll explore the connections.

Topics we will cover include:

1) The Hero's Journey
2) How Harry Potter Is a Multicultural Character
3) How Contemporary & Classic Fantasy Kid's Lit Have Evolved Towards being Multicultural
4) How the Different Sub-Genres of Fantasy Deal with Multicultural Issues
5) Fantasies featuring ethnic/multicultural characters.

I'm curious to know if you are a fan of multicultural literature but not fantasy and/or vice versa, why do you like reading one but not the other? Because I really believe there are so many similarities!

American Boys Abroad

|
It's the end of Week 1 of Crossing Cultural Borders, but we are still continuing the discussion in the comments, and love to see your recommendations, ideas, questions concerning Stranger in a Strange Land.

Most of the books we have read and featured have been about the journeys of American girls. While I have not had the chance to read the following books, here are some novels featuring American boys traveling abroad:

Danger Zone by David Klass
When he joins a predominantly black "Teen Dream Team" that will be representing the United States in an international basketball tournament in Rome, Jimmy Doyle makes some unexpected discoveries about prejudice, racism, and politics.

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
Seventeen-year-old Richie Perry, just out of his Harlem high school, enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam.

The Flame Tree by Richard Lewis
American missionary boy Issac lives in Indonesia when the attacks on September 11, 2001 occur, and he gets kidnapped by Muslims, who try to indoctrinate him. I've never read this, but the reviews warn about some graphic actions/descriptions.

Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A "classic" and the only book on this list that I have actually read, though it was so long ago I have forgotten much of the story. Half-American, half-British Cedric must travel to Britain, where he learns how to be a lord from his paternal grandfather.

Special thanks to Claudia for helping with the list!

Next topic: Fantasy and multiculturalism! Or How Harry Potter is really a multicultural character!!
The summer when I was fifteen, my family took six-week trip visiting extended family in China and Taiwan, and my parents' friends in Japan. It was the first time I had ever left America, and I am scowling in almost every single photo taken during that trip. I was not used to the dust, the dirt, or the stares, especially in more rural parts of China. Though my family is 100% Asian, we looked completely different from the Chinese in China. We were American in our clothes, our smells, our hairstyles, our shoes, our bags, the way we talked, and even the way we walked. We ate Asian food non-stop, and by the end of the trip, I was longing for a bite of a real American burger.

I remember wanting desperately to go home to America many, many times, when touring the royal palaces of Kyoto, or traveling down the muddy Yangtze River, or climbing the precarious, worn-down steps of the Great Wall. Yet looking back, I realize now how that experience has forced me to grow emotionally and mentally, and I am forever thankful to my parents for giving me while I was a teenager an eye-opening view of another part of the world.

While researching Stranger in a Strange Land multicultural children's novels, I was especially interested in stories with this same feeling I had at age fifteen. But again they are few and far between.

In Habibi, a novel about Liyana, a biracial American girl, moving from St. Louis, Missouri, to Jerusalem, the land where her father was born, author and poet Naomi Shihab Nye captures this feeling:

"Maybe the hardest thing about moving overseas was being in a place where no one but your own family had any memory of you. It was like putting yourself back together with little pieces."

Finding Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan is about a half Mexican, half white fifth grader living with her disabled brother Owen, and her Grams. When Naomi's irresponsible mother Skyla arrives to reunite with her children, Grams takes Naomi and Owen from California to Oaxaca, Mexico, to find their father. Note the crossing of the border occurs late this storyline. But when they cross, there are fun moments like Naomi's list of "Regular and Everyday Worries about Mexico."

Why does the Coqui Sing? by Barbara Garland Polikoff features another biracial protagonist, half Italian, half Puerto Rican. When thirteen year old Luz moves from Chicago, Illinois, to Puerto Rico, she wonders, "How can home be a place I've never been?"

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins is about a half white, half Indian, all-American teen Jasmine (Jazz for short) reluctantly traveling with her family to Pune, India, with her mother for the monsoon season.

Unlike the American Girl Educated Abroad, these girls travel with their families, which provide the social structure and protection similar to that given by boarding schools. But I think the journey for self discovery is more personal because of the link between the foreign land and family origins.

Also, why are all these protagonists biracial? There are tons of ethnic Americans who have never traveled to the country of their parents or ancestors. I'm searching for their first time abroad stories, too. And boy stories!
One aspect of Stranger in a Strange Land that has not been mentioned is the American child whose family resides in homes in both America and the country where the parents live. I am reminded of my cousins who lived in America during the school year to attend American schools and then spent their summers in Taiwan, where they were born. These dual childhood experiences are most frequently found in immigrant families.

In Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami, Maya does not want to leave New Jersey to spend the summer in her parents' birthplace, Chennai, India, as she has every summer. But this summer is different. This summer her Dad will not be there. Maya's parents are separating, and she and her mother return to India to sell a family house in Chennai while reacquainting themselves with their extended family and dealing with their family's elderly long-time cook Mami's erratic behavior. The rich cultural details of everyday Chennai summer life support rather than clash with the voice of the very modern American Maya.

I've visited Chennai twice, once when it was Madras and again last year after it became Chennai, and reading this book made me feel like I was back in India with the wonderful descriptions of food and clothes and customs. What interests me most is how Maya's trip affects the conflict of the novel. While country borders are being crossed, the central issue for such a story is not the child protagonist's conflict with "the otherness" of the non-American country because the child has already absorbed the other culture during previous visits. With Naming Maya, the core issue is coming to terms with the loss of her dad.

I'm curious about other novels and even picture books depicting two homes in two countries. Any other suggestions?

American Girls Educated Abroad

|
So my original interest for Stranger in a Strange Land was to find the kid lit equivalent of the American Lawrence of Arabia story, which, because of the breadth of experience, lends itself better to the novel format than the picture book format. I was looking for the arc where the mainstream American travels abroad and must confront their own American identity while immersed in a foreign culture.

Blow out the Moon by Libby Koponen showed up during my research, too, and not just because Libby is a Blue Rose Girl. Based on the author's own experiences in a London Boarding school, this book stars a spunky American girl who initially struggles with the English culture but eventually adapts and learns proper English etiquette and how to ride a horse. Great photos of actual letters, book illustrations, and objects of the author's childhood related to the trip add another layer of depth to the story. My personal favorite aspect of the novel is how the girl Libby is steeped in children's literary references. For example, when she first learns how to ride a horse, she keeps bringing up Black Beauty. She falls in love with the archness of Pride and Prejudice, and she has a discussion with her British friend about which character she would be in Little Women.

The other example I want to highlight is Bloomability by Sharon Creech. After her sixteen year old sister became pregnant and her older brother was jailed, Domenica aka "Dinnie" is "kidnapped" with her mother's encouragement to go the Switzerland boarding school run by her uncle and aunt. Though her family tells her it's a wonderful opportunity, a homesick Dinnie's struggles to learn how to speak Italian with a smattering of Japanese and how to ski. After growing through her lessons and friendships with students from Spain, Japan and America, Dinnie leaves Switzerland with a strong sense of hope and seeing bloomabilities wherever she goes. Also, because Dinnie discovers her grandmother came from Italy while learning Italian at boarding school, this story also has an element of finding one's cultural heritage, which aids in her discovery of self.

Thanks to Charlotte and Alvina for their comments. I'm in the middle of reading (in the name of research, of course) all your wonderful suggestions. Interesting how the protagonists are sent to boarding school against their will. Why are they all going to boarding school? One answer would be that the authors themselves have experienced attending boarding schools and are simply writing what they know. Addressing it on a story level, I think for the child protagonist to really come into her own and truly face the otherness of a foreign culture and herself, she must experience the country without the safety buffer of her parents. A boarding school is a great setting that gives the child a daily structure, an social structure and protection without parents. Charlotte of Charlotte's Library wrote a great post about American girls at English boarding schools.

Most of these stories have girl protagonists. I wonder if there are any Stranger in a Strange Land stories starring boys? Are boys not sent to boarding schools abroad? Do boys not travel to other countries in a realistic setting? There must be something out there.

My next post: novels about ethnic American children (again all girls!) traveling and finding their cultural roots. I'm seriously looking for an American boy journeying for cultural heritage.
Since it's summer and the perfect time to travel, we're kicking off our Crossing Cultural Borders series with stories about American children and teens physically crossing the borders into other countries and experiencing other cultures.

Exploring another country is so exciting yet, at the same time, being constantly immersed in a completely foreign environment often forces one to question what they know as familiar, including one's sense of self. Such a journey lends itself easily to the typical teen coming-of-age story. Yet exploring different cultures is also exciting for younger kids who love adventure.

For this first topic, Renee and I discussed examples of books where the American protagonist journeyed outside of America. Everything she came up with was about a multicultural American child traveling in search of their cultural roots. But I was looking for stories of a white mainstream American child confronting a completely foreign culture, a child's version of the Lawrence of Arabia story.

So combining our interests, here are some subtopics for this week:

1) Ethnic-American child traveling to the country of parents' or ancestors' origin
2) Mainstream white American child visiting a foreign country

Of all the six main categories on the list, I had personally had the most difficulty coming up with examples of fictional books depicting stranger in a strange land. I actually had to do research to find examples, and I don't know if that's enough.

So we're asking for your suggestions for children's and YA books. Thank you in advance for your comments!
Every weekday (and the occasional weekend day) thru the end of August, we will be exploring these topics at Shen's Blog:

Week 1 (starting 7/16) - Stranger in a Strange Land: Americans Traveling to Other Cultures
Week 2 (starting 7/23) - Re-landscaping the Hero's Journey: The Connection Between Fantasy Stories and Multicultural Literature
Week 3 (starting 7/30) - Becoming American: Immigration Stories
(8/6 thru 8/12 is a hiatus)
Week 4 (starting 8/13) - The Hyphenated American Experience: Voices of Americans Who Look Like "The Other"
Week 5 (starting 8/20) - Writing What You Don't Know: Creating Characters and Stories Outside of One's Ethnicity and Culture
Week 6 (starting 8/27) - The Future

This list is based on an inspiring "Writing Crossing Cultural Boundaries" session given by Jeanne Wakatsuki and James Houston. I've revised and expanded their original list to accommodate multicultural children's literature.

The scope of multicultural literature for children is so broad that I had to really narrow down the topics. While comments about all types of multicultural literature are welcome, the focus for the next six weeks will be mostly American-centric fictional stories, which is already a huge list.

Many of these books I will blog about I've read myself, but some of them I found in a library database (Novelist K-8) or listed in this recently published book: Crossing Boundaries with Children's Books edited by Doris Gebel. I would love to hear about other resources for multicultural children's lit.

So every Monday for the next six weeks, a topic overview will be provided and during the remaining weekdays, we will delve into examples from children's literature.

We want to know what multicultural books you have read, your multicultural experiences and what you are thinking, so please feel free to comment!
When I was in the 6th grade, I read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston. This slim book is a memoir of Jeanne's experiences while her family resided in the Manzanar internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II. Farewell to Manzanar was a huge influence during my childhood because it was my first and only school-required book written by an Asian-American about a uniquely Asian-American experience. Though Jeanne is a second/third generation Japanese-American and I am a first-generation born Chinese-American, I delighted in reading a story about an American girl that looked like me.

When I had the opportunity to actually meet Jeanne Wakatuski Houston and James Houston in person, I jumped at the chance. While fighting extreme jet lag from my Florida trip, I made my way to the Foothill Writers' Conference and attended the Houston's session entitled "Writing Crossing Cultural Borders."

The first speaker to arrive in the room, James Houston is a tall, lanky White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) gentleman who was born and raised in California but has roots in the Bible belt of America. When he found out I grew up in Dallas, Texas, he joked that we could be related. Speaking extemporaneously in a laid back manner, James was an interesting contrast to his wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, a petite Japanese-American woman with long, wavy black hair and a big, wide smile. Jeanne spoke softly, but with fire.

James Houston kicked off the session by listing four kinds of stories that cross cultural borders:

1. Stories of immigration
2. Stories of Americans traveling to another culture, where their sense of selves are tested
3. Stories featuring ethnic minority Americans within America
4. Stories about a specific ethnicity/culture written by authors who are not originally of that ethnicity/culture

I was intrigued by the categories. My two main WIPs are both multicultural novels, but the first is about immigration while the second is strictly about an American Born Chinese teen. I've also experienced the last topic as a writer, since one of my short stories (for adults) is told from the point of view from a 65 year old chain-smoking WASP Texan grandmother. While I've attempted to write about my travels to other cultures, I have yet to successfully polish something. Perhaps I need to travel more.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston opened discussion by reading her personal essay discussing multicultural America through her experiences. My personal interest was that she described America as moving from the traditional melting pot model, where immigrants shed their other culture to assimilate into America, to the more contemporary mosaic model, where immigrants and their children retain and celebrate their cultural heritage, especially in food and language. Because there were writers from Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark at the session, Jeanne also pointed out the fact that typically we think of multicultural Americans as people of color, but European who immigrate into America are also torn between two cultures.

I left their session extremely inspired, and I wanted to apply their categories to children's literature, as all the examples James Houston listed were from adult literature. In doing so, I've actually added two more categories that are particularly relevant to children's literature today. Every weekday for the next six weeks, we will be exploring and providing examples for these categories at Shen's Blog.

Go to the revised, expanded list!

I'll be posting quite a bit at Shen's Blog next week because I recently met for the first time 2 authors whose work is one of the quintessential multicultural books of my childhood. Not only are they great writers, they are amazing people in person and very inspiring. I will be posting every day next week!





Shen's Blog Request a Catalog Events

Blog Contributors

Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day.

Emily Jiang is a writer of children's and YA literature. She also blogs at TLeaf Readings.

Shen’s Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia.

Through books, we can share a world a stories, building greater understanding and tolerance within our increasingly diverse communities as well as throughout our continuously shrinking globe.

Feed

Enter your address to receive blog updates via email:
  • feed me


  • Multicultural Resources for Children

  • Facts About Japan
  • Here and There Japan
  • Kahani
  • Kids Web Japan