June 2009 Archives

brendanbuckley.jpgI approached Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It by Sundee T. Frazier with some trepidation, as I'm not a big fan of books where the main character's race is the central issue. Normally, I would rather see a more nuanced approach to the subject of race, where a character's appearance or cultural difference affects multiple facets of the story without being the story itself (like in real life). However, I was pleasantly surprised at Sundee Frazier's refreshing ability to approach Brendan Buckley's biracial background directly, while still weaving a fun story with great characters that charmed and touched me emotionally.

Brendan Buckley is your average ten-year-old kid who fancies himself a scientist, and looks forward to a summer full of bicycle riding, Tae Kwan Do, and figuring out the answers to his Big Questions. He is also half black and half white, and while he has always been close with his black grandparents, he has never even met his white grandparents. Until one day, when he discovers that his Grandpa Ed lives nearby and begins to visit him secretly.

It is around the same time that Brendan also encounters some bullies who seem to find his dark skin reason enough to pick on him. Which leads him to some of his biggest questions ever. My favorite scenes in the book are those in which Brendan and his parents work through these questions, and how each of Brendan's parents interpret racism in a way that is both truthful yet gentle. Their love for each other and for Brendan is clear, and each tries to explain hatred in others without resorting to hatred of their own.

As it turns out, Grandpa Ed has his own issues with race. But Frazier works with Ed's prejudices beautifully, without making him out to be a bad guy or a good guy, but genuinely conflicted over his own beliefs and the consequences of them. And there is something so refreshing about Brendan's straightforward, scientific nature that allows him to, after gathering up his courage, ask his grandfather right out, "You mean you didn't want my mom to marry my dad because he's black." Ed doesn't have a pat answer, and it's clear he doesn't understand it himself, nor are there any easy answers when it comes to prejudice.

Frazier has wonderfully woven a summer full of fun, adventure, learning, and triumphs with a refreshing and sensitive look at racism and multiracial families. I would highly recommend Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It for all readers for a nuanced and deeper understanding of these issues.

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It by Sundee T. Frazier

On a Completely Unrelated Note...

So yesterday was my birthday, and I simply must share the best birthday present I have ever received. The best! It's a YouTube video put together by my singing buddies in the California Bay Area. I haven't seen some of them since I moved to LA nine months ago, and I had no idea that they were planning this. No. Idea. It made me cry. Did I mention that I have the best friends ever?

ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Gold Medal

foreword.jpgAt a ceremony held last week in New York City, ForeWord Magazine announced the winners of its annual Book of the Year Award. Grandfather's Story Cloth, written by Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford and illustrated by Stuart Loughridge, took top honors in the Children's Picture Book category! I am so proud of this little book that could! Its message of love and understanding has been so well-received that I can hardly believe it.

This Gold Medal award is shared with A Visitor for Bear, by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton, published by Candlewick Books. To be recognized in the company of such a wonderful book is truly an honor indeed.

ForeWord Magazine is a bimonthly journal reporting on the independent publishing market and reviewing books published by independent presses. Its Book of the Year Award honors "only those books coming from independent community, giving them the value they deserve." Award winners are selected by a panel of librarians and booksellers.

Papertigers Features Malathi Michelle Iyengar

This month's online issue of Papertigers.org spotlights book awards, and naturally, those Asian-Pacific books that have won them. To that end, they have posted a nice review of Romina's Rangoli, written by Malathi Michelle Iyengar.

"Celebrating the richness of growing up biracial, the story does a good job of pointing out the similarities shared between Romina's two cultures. "Chutney is a lot like salsa," she concludes after watching her dad select and mix all the ingredients for his chutney recipe - an observation that goes well beyond cuisine."
Even better is a personal essay written by Malathi herself discussing her biracial heritage and how it has affected her outlook on the world around her, and on her writing. She says:

"When writing Romina's Rangoli, I struggled with wanting to make the story simple enough to engage and entertain very small children, while at the same time trying NOT to promote the kind of simplistic thinking that reduces "culture" to food and holidays - i.e., Romina is Indian and Mexican, so that means she makes rangoli designs and papel picado!  I have often wondered whether Romina's craft project isn't too pat, too simple of an ending.  But in a society that still tells us, most of the time, to "Check only one box," the very fact that we multi-ethnic folks actually exist is news to many children.  Hopefully, as children get older, they will begin to explore with intellectual rigor the subtle complexities of what "culture" means in people's lives, and how various cultural influences converge in family life."
If you're in the Fresno area, come meet Dorina Lazo Gilmore at Petunia's Place, an independent children's bookstore, on June 27th at 11:00am. She'll be reading and signing her book, Cora Cooks Pancit, about a Filipino girl who makes her favorite noodle dish with her mother.

Dorina is a local author in Fresno, and Central California plays a role in this charming children's story, since Cora's grandfather Lolo was a cook for the Filipino farmworkers who picked strawberries and grapes in the fields.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore Book Signing
Saturday, June 27, 2009 11:00 am
Petunia's Place
2017 W Bullard Ave. Fresno, CA 93711

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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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