November 2008 Archives

Book Review: Come and Play: Children of Our World Having Fun

comeandplay.jpgCome and Play is a compilation of photographs of children at play from around the world. Each photograph is accompanied by a poem collaboratively written by children in editor Ayana Lowe's cultural art classes in New York City. The photographs are taken from the archives of Magnum Photos, a photo collective of great renown. On a first read, I thought the book charming and fun, but flipping through the large pages, I find myself appreciating each spread anew as I encounter it again. The more I look, the more fascinated I am at how the book conveys its message on so many levels.

One of the first things I noticed about the photographs in this book was that they span a great many years. Some photographs were taken fifty years ago, while some were taken in the past few years. They also span a variety of types of play, from the most familiar (kids dangling from a fence or at the beach), to familiar activities in unfamiliar settings, to portrayals of cultures very different from ours.

Photo compilations like this always have the same fundamental message of unity--that no matter where children live, they laugh and play just like you. Come and Play stands out because it portrays children in wide-ranging types of play, points in time, as well as places around the world. Consciously or not, readers are identifying with these pictures on many levels.

The accompanying poems also work on more than one level. Though they are written by children they still capture so well the spirit of each image. (My favorite is a picture of two boys in Thailand sitting in a boat. One of the boys is reaching to grab the other's straw hat. The accompanying poem reads, "My hat!/No! It's my hat./No! My hat./Don't take my hat./No! No! No!") In some cases, they draw the reader's attention to certain parts of the photograph, or certain emotions, that surprising and unique. That the poems were written by children makes them both more endearing to adult readers and inspiring to young readers.

Come and Play is definitely a good addition to this genre of photo-compilations. There is a lot for both adults and children to appreciate, and it would even benefit from a shared reading, since adults can explain a picture's background information. For example, one beautiful photograph portrays Pablo Picasso with his son. In another, a group of Chinese children are gathered around a makeshift ping pong table in Shanghai in 1980, before the economic boom. I doubt you would find a scene like this in Shanghai now. These pictures are certainly interesting on their own, but with more background information, they become a fascinating starting point for discussion.

Come and Play: Children of Our World Having Fun with poems by children, edited by Ayana Lowe

Hmong Times features Grandfather's Story Cloth

This just in!

The Hmong Times published an article about Grandfather's Story Cloth back in August, and somehow we missed it until now. It's a nice, simple overview of the book, but it's great to know that it's getting some press in the Hmong community.

Book Review: Trouble by Gary Schmidt

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trouble.jpgEvery once in while, I find myself reading a book completely cold--going only on the basis of a recommendation, having not read any reviews or even the jacket flap of the book. So I was deep into Trouble by Gary Schmidt before I realized, holy cow! This is a multicultural book! How did I not know that before? This discovery only added to my enjoyment of the book and, if I may say so myself, Schmidt brilliantly addresses a breadth of issues related to immigration and American values.

Trouble is about fourteen-year old Henry Smith, whose family has been a pillar of their small New England town for generations. But even the venerable Smiths, who have built their solid home as far away from trouble as possible, are vulnerable to tragedy. When Henry's older brother gets hit by a Cambodian immigrant's car, the racially homogenous town reacts violently to both Chay, the teen in the car, and the entire neighboring community of immigrants.

Schmidt masterfully builds the reader's awareness of the tensions between the staid New England community and its neighboring town of immigrants. This gradual understanding was particularly compelling for me, having no prior knowledge of the premise. Equally compelling are the snippets, basically, of poetic text from Chay's point of view that reveal so much about Chay: his story, his dreams, and his character. Set amidst a first-person narrative from Henry's point of view, we can feel the heart wrenching grief of Henry's family tragedy, but at the same time begin to understand that others may be experiencing their own type of grief simultaneously.

Trouble is a worthy read because it treats the issue of immigration and racism as a complex one. Neither group is portrayed as the Good Guys or the Bad Guys. Each has its own set of prejudices, and each has its own history and culture to draw upon and defend. Yet, even as we readers try to come to decisions of our own, we are constantly being provided with new information that changes our beliefs subtly with each new twist. We desperately want Henry (and Chay as well) to be a good person and do the right thing, but even we are not sure what that means in the end. What does it mean to be American? What are "American Values" and are they different from other cultures' values? Should immigrants be assimilated into existing societies, or should they stay separate? Does being a native of a land come with a set of different rights? Schmidt does a wonderful job of letting us think things over on our own without ever telling us what to think.

Trouble by Gary Schmidt

A Very Sneak Peak at Spring 2009

What are we working on now? I am, of course, very excited to leak the news that our next book will be about Filipino food-- and seriously, what better topic for a book could there possibly be?

It's called Cora Cooks Pancit and is, of course, about a little girl named Cora who gets to help her Mama cook the traditional Filipino noodle dish pancit for the first time. The story is written by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, and artist Kristi Valiant is, as we speak, working on sketches.

Last week, Kristi posted a sneak peak at two sketches of Cora that you absolutely must see-- this is the most adorable little protagonist since Eloise. Oh, I can't get over how cute she is. Click over to Kristi's blog to see her-- right now. Go!

Nov 20-22: Shen's at 2008 CSLA Conference

csla.gifCalifornia School Librarians, rejoice! OK, maybe we'll be more reasonable and just be enthused... for Shen's Books will once again be at the CSLA conference this year from November 20th through the 22nd. Like last year, we will be bringing all our books for sale. It will be a great opportunity to page through the real things, if you haven't already bought them all!

See you there!

CSLA Conference
November 20-22, 2008
Sacramento Convention Center
Sacramento, CA

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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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