Friday, December 31, 2010

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

As a child I was an insatiable reader. I started reading very early and I have read nonstop ever since. Reading was an education, a comfort and an escape. In fact I passionately devoured so many classics from the British Isles that when I finally landed in Wales at the age of 16 it felt more like a homecoming than an adventure abroad! However, in all the thousands of pages I consumed in my youth and the millions of virtual miles travelled, I never once encountered a child like myself – one who was Asian American or even one who was navigating her way carefully between multiple cultures. It is difficult to articulate the psychic toll this invisibility takes on a young person.

This memory of finding out through books about other people’s lives but never delving more deeply into my own through literature (at least, not until my university years), is the major reason why as an adult today I am drawn particularly to children’s books that reflect diverse backgrounds. These books open the eyes of children in the cultural majority, showing them new perspectives they might otherwise never encounter, and they are also incredibly precious to the children whose lives they mirror. We are fortunate today to see the emergence of an increasing number of marvellously talented Asian American writers for young people. I am excited that
Wendy Wan-Long Shang has added to their number!

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu is a story that is at once universal and particular, and it is one that will appeal to upper elementary and middle school boys and girls equally. Every sixth grader feels self-conscious about being different at times (whether those differences are obvious or mostly internal) and it is the job of young people of this age to begin exploring where their parents end and their own identity begins. Lucy Wu is no exception. She starts off the school year with high hopes as she contemplates finally having a bedroom to herself and enjoying a great year with her best friend on their basketball team. However, these dreams are quickly shattered when she learns of her parents’ plans to bring her long-lost great-aunt from China to share her room and for her to go to Chinese Saturday school instead of basketball practice!

How Lucy navigates her way through these challenges makes for an entertaining and educational read. The educational aspects are woven seamlessly into the story and presented in an entirely age-appropriate way: Chinese cultural information, background on the Cultural Revolution, the sad realities of racism and classism. The entertaining part is that the information always moves the story forward; it never feels like a digression or mini-lecture as is too often the case.

One of the challenges of writing multi-cultural books is that the author must include enough explanation to make the story and characters comprehensible to people outside the community, but not so much that it bogs down the plot or makes readers from the group that is portrayed feel as if they are being treated as an interesting curiosity. Shang walks this tightrope brilliantly. She also excels at creating well-rounded characters who are products of their cultures as well as distinct individuals.

When my daughter finished this book, the first thing she said was, “I hope she writes a sequel.” That was my feeling too: I started reading it and wanted to do nothing else, though I was also reluctant to finish and have the journey end. Lucy and her family stole my heart. They held up a mirror to my own childhood but also taught me a great deal. There’s not much more I can ask for from a book.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ask an adult for a book suggestion!

January's 5th grade book report will be a bit different from past months. This time you will ask an adult you know to suggest a book - but not just any old book! You need to come up with an intriguing question, one that will stimulate them to think and pique the curiosity of your classmates when you present your book to them.

Think carefully about your question, because it will become part of your presentation. Some examples of questions you could use are:

When you were about my age, what was a book you read that...

- made you cry?
- changed your mind about something important?
- taught you something completely new about the world?
- made you feel like the author really understood you?

You can use one of these questions or come up with your own!

Who can you ask? Your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, dentist, soccer coach, mail carrier, the checkout guy at the grocery store, the old lady who lives down the street... ask away and be prepared to hear some interesting answers!

And remember, once you have a book idea, be sure to run it past Ms. Russell for approval!

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2011 be filled with wonderful books!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder

I hope each and every one of you is equipped with a book - or preferably a stack of books! - to look forward to settling down with over winter break. I'm in the middle of Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder, a truly delightful tale about a little girl whose life turns upsidedown in an instant following a magic (or is it?) wish she makes...

If you liked Half Magic by Edward Eager or The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall or Savvy by Ingrid Law, this is your kind of book! Penelope Grey, later known as Penny, is an only child who has lived a life of great comfort and elegance, even if it's a rather lonely one. When her father walks out on his job out of the blue one day, this impulsive move has enormous consequences for the entire family. There is struggle and anxiety, yes, but also new possibilities and adventures never before dreamed of.

In between reading, I'm also looking forward to spending time in Washington, DC with my family, including my 5-month-old niece, and my best friend from high school. I wish you all a Happy New Year and look forward to seeing you in January!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Global Studies Book Clubs for Grades 2-3 and 4-5!

I am pleased to announce that starting in January there will be Global Studies Book Clubs for grades 2-3 and 4-5, meeting in the library during lunch recess! We will read a book together and meet several times to discuss it. There will also be an online discussion component using ThinkQuest, a secure site for educators.

The size will be limited to 8 students so that we can have meaningful discussions within the half hour time frame. If more than 8 students apply, I will choose names at random.

Students are responsible for obtaining their own copies of the book they are reading from the public library or a bookstore (both are available in paperback).

Second and third graders will be reading
How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay by Julia Alvarez, a chapter book about Miguel, a boy who is adjusting to moving from New York City to rural Vermont following his parents' divorce, and the arrival of his Spanish-speaking aunt who will be living with his family. The author was raised in the Dominican Republic and the US and has written many wonderful books about family, identity and belonging.

Fourth and fifth graders will read Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park, a chapter book about the intersection of two cultures by a Newbery Medal-winning Korean American author. Best friends Julia and Patrick need a project for the state fair and the one they pick - raising silkworms - is connected to Julia's Korean heritage. Patrick is a European American boy who loves Korean food and culture, but Julia feels ambivalent and wonders if their project is "American" enough. One of the most fun parts of this book are the sections between the chapters in which Julia argues with the author about the plot!

Note: Students should NOT begin reading until after our first meeting. It’s important that we progress through and experience the book together at a similar pace!

Interested? Check out my teacher website on the
Open Window School website (log in to the Current Families page and select Teacher Websites). Send me an email before January 4th and I will add your student's name to the list!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Break 2010 Reading Guide

Also view my profile on GoodReads and my SWIFT and Sharepoint pages for more book recommendations! On this blog, look at the “labels” menu on the lower left for categories such as “reading lists” and “awards.”

In honor of our upcoming Multicultural Event which focuses on Africa, several of the suggested titles below are about that richly diverse continent!

Happy holidays & happy reading!
Ms. Simeon

Picture books for all ages

Elizabeti's School by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (A sweet first day of school book by a former Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Tanzania. Look for the other Elizabeti books while you're at it!)

I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité (Based on the young author’s actual experiences as an 8 year old from Oregon who was visiting relatives in Mali. You know about the tooth fairy, but what happens if you lose a tooth in West Africa?)

The Nightingale by Jerry Pinkney (Legendary African American author and artist Pinkney takes Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale and moves it to Morocco adding lush illustrations and cultural details.)

Pretty Salma: A Little Red Riding Hood Story from Africa by Niki Daly (Daly, a South African writer, set this fractured fairy tale in the West African country of Ghana! A delightful variation on a beloved classic.)

The Silver Charm by Robert D. San Souci (A charmingly illustrated folktale about a little boy and an ogre from the Ainu ethnic minority of Japan.)

Chapter books - elementary

Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith (The first in a series about a Kenyan boy growing up on a wildlife reserve, written for young readers by a British author born in Zimbabwe.)

My Dad's a Birdman by David Almond (Both whimsical and emotionally compelling, this lovely book brings to mind Roald Dahl.)

No Flying in the House by Betty Brock (A sweet classic about Annabel Tippens, half fairy, and her little talking dog!)

Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee (Animal lovers will enjoy this touching story of a girl, her veterinarian Uncle Sanjay, and a host of furry critters set in the Pacific Northwest - a little taste of summer in the middle of our cold, wet winter.)

Chapter books - elementary/middle school

The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo (A heartwarming tale from the former British Children’s Laureate about a South African boy and the lion he loved.)

The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (A mysterious box containing an unknown treasure goes missing – and that results in the single most exciting summer vacation Zoomy has ever known.)

Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee (Dog fighting and the pit bull controversy are sensitively handled in this Canadian book about the tender bonds that can form between compassionate humans and the dogs in their lives.)

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (Taking its title from the Emily Dickinson poem which begins, “Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul,” this is a quiet and thoughtful story of figuring out family, friends and faith.)

A Friendship for Today by Patricia C. McKissack (What if your school were going to close and you and your friends would be scattered around, having to start all over? Throw in parents who are arguing and a serious disagreement with your best friend and you’ll have a lot to figure out in 6th grade! See how Rosemary triumphs over all these obstacles in this heartwarming book.)

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan (Set during the colonial days of what is now Kenya, this is the dramatic tale of an orphaned English girl caught in the midst of scheming and intrigue.)

Chapter books - middle/high school

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (An exciting science fiction detective story set in 22nd century Zimbabwe!)

The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman (Three boys in juvenile detention get one last chance at freedom in a halfway house… but can they be good students and stay out of trouble when they are left living along after their social worker ends up hospitalized with amnesia?)

Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci (A freshman at a performing arts high school, Rose wears all black, desperately wants to be cool, is trying to figure out her best friend’s betrayal and wonders about the mysterious Russian teenager living next door. Realistic fiction at its best!)

What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones (Ninth grade Sophie and her two best friends navigate the world of high school, from the masked mystery boy at the Halloween dance to the perils of cyber-romance.)


Do You Remember the Color Blue: The Questions Children Ask about Blindness by Sally Hobart Alexander (A woman who lost her sight as an adult answers questions young people commonly ask about living as a blind person.)

My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me by Maya Angelou (A colorful tour through an Ndebele village in South Africa as seen through the eyes of a little girl.)

Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet by Don Robb (Fascinating introduction to the origins of our alphabet.)

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola (Inspirational short biography of this remarkable Nobel Peace Prize winner!)

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip M. Hoose (A real-life environmental tragedy and mystery, this compelling book outlines the fate of the majestic ivory-billed woodpecker which fell victim to the march of American economic development.)

What Stinks? by Marilyn Singer (A funny and entertaining guide to your sense of smell!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

You Are What You Read

You Are What You Read (for adults) and The Stacks (the kids' version) are fun new sites from Scholastic where users can share the 5 books that have most influenced them, see what they have in common with other readers, and get new ideas for books to read.

Today I set up my profile in which I chose my "bookprints" - the books that had the greatest impact on my life. It was nearly impossible to limit the choices to just 5, but I had fun trying!

Why don't you create an account today? If you do, please write a comment and share your profile with me. I'd love to see your bookprints too!