October 2008 Archives

Book Review: Outside Beauty by Cynthia Kadohata

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outsidebeauty.jpgIn Cynthia Kadohata's newest book, Outside Beauty, 13-year-old Shelby and her three sisters struggle with some pretty big concepts of family, beauty, and strength of character. The four sisters each have a different father, but are kept together as a loving family by their strong-willed mother Helen, whose philosophy in life is to use her beauty to gain any advantage possible. The girls quickly learn to deal with their mother's many suitors, constant moving to avoid one or another of them, and their estranged relationships with their own fathers. What makes the book particularly intriguing to me is that Helen is Japanese-American, while each of the girls' fathers is of a different race.

The fathers in Outside Beauty are Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Anglo-Saxon. And while the narrator Shelby makes it a point to introduce her sisters along with their racial backgrounds, these differences are completely ignored by the girls themselves. This is, in the end, not a book about a dysfunctional multiracial family--it is a book about a dysfunctional family, period.

The genius of Kadohata's subtle treatment of race is reflected in the main theme of what physical features and "outside beauty" mean to different people and how it defines us. Though Helen has taught the girls to prize their physical attributes above all else, Shelby realizes that she wants other things to be important too. She discovers that she lives in a "parallel universe" from her mother's, one where beauty doesn't matter. What is lovely about Kadohata's parallel universes is that while it is a revelation for the girls to find one where beauty doesn't matter, they already unknowingly reside in one where race doesn't matter. Their race isn't absent, it just doesn't matter.

There are few moments where race is even mentioned. During one tense moment when the four girls check into a motel late at night, unchaperoned, the manager says, "We don't get many young ladies here. Not many Orientals either." Another is when the well-meaning but somewhat tactless Italian father says to Shelby's Japanese father at one point, apropos of nothing, "I admire the Japanese." These moments come and go so quickly that they make us aware that others are aware of race, but in this universe, it matters even less than beauty does.

Outside Beauty
by Cynthia Kadohata
Middle Grade Fiction

Moonbeam Awards Silver Medal


The 2008 Moonbeam Awards were just announced, and Grandfather's Story Cloth has won a silver medal in the Health category!

About the Moonbeam Award:
The Moonbeam Children's Book Awards are designed to honor the best children's books, authors and illustrators, and to support childhood literacy and life-long reading. Many of these books are by little-known authors, illustrators and publishers from around the world, and we're proud to bring them to the attention of the children's book audience. Creating books that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream is an extremely important task, and these awards were conceived to reward those efforts.

Multicultural Review

The Fall 2008 issue of Multicultural Review includes a really nice review of The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson and illustrated by Kazumi Wilds:

"Nanami is an extraordinary girl in the eyes of both her grandmothers. One (Gram) is from Maine and the other from a sea village in Japan. Nanami lives in Japan with her parents, so Gram has to travel far for her unforgettable visit.

"As Namami translates for her grandmothers, she learns of the war between their countries and about the peace today that allows them to be friends. Each grandmother learns to appreciate the other. They both also learn about seaweed.

"During Gram's visit, Obaasan takes her and Nanami to gather seaweed to eat, narrating through the gathering and preparation processes. Obaasan is shocked that in Maine, where the conditions are perfect for growing seaweed, no one eats it. So, upon her return home, Gram tries her hand at seaweed gathering along with the routine setting of her lobster traps.

"This is a heartwarming example of how being from different cultures, countries, and races and speaking another language are not really barriers to appreciation and acceptance unless we allow them to be. There are many biracial, binational, and bilingual families today that prove this is true. I have been asked many times if my own family's differences cause problems. The answer is that as long as there is respect, there is no problem, just as is the case in this charming picture book."

Melting Pot Moms Features Shen's Books


Melting Pot Moms is a national organization bringing together families of different ethnicities and cultures, in an effort to create a diverse and nurturing environment for our children, while promoting multiculturalism in our communities. Isn't that a perfect complement to what we do here at Shen's Books? I'm so glad they found us!

They have a blog that has just featured Shen's Books with a giveaway drawing for its members and an interview with me, talking about Shen's mission and some of our books. I feel like a rock star!

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.


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