January 2009 Archives

Yuyi Morales Continues the Conversation About Ethnic Awards

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Continuing a conversation that began a year ago about in the kidlit blog world about ethnic literary awards, Mitali Perkins and Esme Raji Codell commented on this year's ALA award winners, including the Coretta Scott King Award and the Pura Belpre Award.

Yuyi Morales, this year's winner of the Pura Belpre for her book, Just in Case, wrote an immensely moving response to the discussion, from her point of view as a author/illustrator of color, and winner.

Among her many thoughtful observations, Yuyi writes:

"I have expressed in the past that I see the Pura Belpre Award as a regalo, a gift that is given to someone when you least expected it. At first the regalo goes to a book creator; and artist or a writer, and we receive the gift joyfully and gratefully. But after that, the gift is given to everybody. Once the award brings out the voice that there is a book worth of looking at, it is the readers who receive the gift next. In a way, the decision of the Pura Belpre committee to give an award to a person (an "ethnic" person for that matter) and not exactly to his or her book, has interesting consequences."
Thank you, Yuyi, for your lovely and heartfelt comments!

Happy Lunar New Year!

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Book Signing at the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn, NY 2006

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Cora to Arrive in April

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Here's a sneak peak, if you can't wait for your catalog to arrive in the mail, of what's coming up this Spring: Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant. Oh, isn't she a cutie?!



Here's the blurb:

Cora loves being in the kitchen, but she always gets stuck doing the kid jobs like licking the spoon. One day, however, when her older sisters and brother head out, Cora finally gets the chance to be Mama's assistant chef. And of all the delicious Filipino dishes that dance through Cora's head, she and Mama decide to make pancit, her favorite noodle dish.

With Mama's help, Cora does the grown-up jobs like shredding the chicken and soaking the noodles (perhaps Mama won't notice if she takes a nibble of chicken or sloshes a little water on the floor). Cora even gets to stir the noodles in the pot--carefully-- while Mama supervises. When dinner is finally served, her siblings find out that Cora did all their grown-up tasks, and Cora waits anxiously to see what everyone thinks of her cooking.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore's text delightfully captures the warmth between mother and daughter as they share a piece of their Filipino heritage. With bright and charming illustrations by Kristi Valiant, Cora's family comes alive as Cora herself becomes the family's newest little chef.
Stay tuned for more information, and glimpses of the inside!
Another book I read just for the Mock Newbery in Oakland is Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.  While I had read some of Anderson's contemporary novels, I was extremely compelled by the historical premise of her newest book.  Unlike many stories set during the American Revolutionary War, Chains has an added complexity in its setting because it is also a slave narrative, told in the first person point of view, of a teenaged slave.

Although the Mock Newbery I attended did not select this novel for its list, Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for the most distinguished work of historical fiction for young people.

Chains is a work that is post-colonial, following the adventures of Isabel desperately trying to protect her sister and gaining their freedom by spying on her loyalist owners and passing on the information to the rebellion.  There were some scenes and descriptions that were definitely quite brutally vivid, yet the violence felt true to the story.  I also appreciated how the rebels and loyalists were not all portrayed as "good" and "evil," and the added layer of race and slavery issues made Isabel's situation difficult in negotiating and winning her way to freedom.  I did think the novel ended too quickly, but there is a sequel.

Because I had seen Laurie Halse Anderson speak, I knew that she is not a black woman.  I wonder how much this knowledge influenced some readers' enjoyment of Chains.  For me, it worked, and I cannot wait to read the next installment of Isabel's adventures.

The only reason why I read this book was because it was required for the Heavy Medal duo Nina and Sharon's Mock Newbery.  I admit I began this book with some trepidation because:

1)  as shown by the "scary sketches" drawn on the wasabi-green and denim blue cover, it's a boy book, usually not my thing  
2)  it was found in the Easy Reader section, again not my thing, as I prefer to read YA and older middle grade  
3)  it was a contemporary setting, so not my thing as I prefer science fiction/fantasy and historical fiction

The first page begins with a list of Alvin's fears ranging from elevators to substitute teachers to kimchi (a Korean dish even though Alvin is Chinese American) to wasabi (a Japanese seasoning even though Alvin is Chinese American) to school.  While reading the second page, I started laughing as Alvin goes on to describe what he loves:  explosions and super heroes (including the Green Lantern and Henry V).  By the end of the first chapter, I am hooked.  The voice of Alvin is so believably funny, and the diverse cast of characters, including his older brother Calvin (rhymes with Alvin) and pesky little singing sister and a classroom partner Flea (who wears an eye patch and limps like a pirate), bring a fresh quirkiness to the world of Alvin Ho.  In a way this book reminds me of Clementine by Sara Pennypacker but just a tad stranger. 
 
As a Chinese American reader, I appreciated how the core conflict of this story is not  relentlessly focused on an immigration story or some Asian American 101 child-of-immigrants identity-issue-driven story.  The core conflict transcends racial issues--Alvin Ho is "allergic" to school because he is scared of many, many things.  The illustrations by LeUyen Pham serve to remind the reader that while Alvin is obviously very American, he still looks like a Chinese American and different from his classmates.  In addition, the author Look scatters many cultural details (food is the big one) throughout the narrative to give the flavor of a Chinese American lifestyle.

Some of the very minor Chinese American cultural details did not ring true to my own experience.  The Chinese American boys I knew growing up pretended to be Superman or Batman vs. Firecracker Man, and I personally never had afternoon snack consisting of rice crackers with tea as a child because we ate sandwiches made with Kraft single cheese product slices and drank juice.  Then again, many details found in Amy Tan's fiction did not directly relate to my personal history, as the Chinese American experience is quite broad in range.  In the end I am willing to overlook these small details that distracted me from the story of Alvin Ho because of the overall strong and engagingly humorous voice.

Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things is a fabulously funny read that should appeal to a wide range of American kids regardless of their ethnic heritage.
If you're curious about Linda Gerdner's research behind Grandfather's Story Cloth, you can now read her article published in Volume 9 of the Hmong Studies Journal.

An internet-based journal, The Hmong Studies Journal is the only peer-reviewed academic publication devoted to the scholarly discussion of Hmong history, Hmong culture, Hmong people, and other facets of the Hmong experience in the U.S., Asia and around the world. The Hmong Studies Journal has now published 11 online issues in 9 volumes with a total of 72 scholarly
articles since 1996.

Click here
to download the pdf.
sccrclogo.jpgShen's Books will be at the 2009 Santa Clara County Reading Council's Asilomar Conference on Saturday, January 17th. This is a wonderful conference and retreat that teachers look forward to all year. Maybe it's the gorgeous Asilomar Conference Grounds by Monterey Bay, or maybe it's the stellar lineup of speakers and authors that fill the weekend. Whichever brings you there, be sure to stop by our table, say hello, and pick up a free Dragon Lover poster!

Santa Clara County Reading Council's Asilomar Conference
January 16-18, 2009
Asilomar Conference Grounds
Pacific Grove, 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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