It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.
I learned about Yumi Heo in my conversation with Leonard Marcus – one of the chapters in my co-edited book, the inaugural AFCC publication “Beyond Folktales, Legends and Myths: A Rediscovery of Children’s Literature in Asia.”
When I asked Leonard about some of the Asian authors and illustrators that he could recommend, he immediately mentioned Korean-American Yumi Heo who is quite well-respected in the US. I am glad that I was able to find her books in our library.
The Rabbit’s Judgment
Story by: Suzanne Crowder Han
Illustrated by: Yumi Heo Published by: Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1994
Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
The story is a Korean folktale that has been taken from the author’s Korean Folk and Fairy Tales, a collection of sixty-four Korean Tales. In the Author’s Note found at the beginning of the book, Suzanne Han noted that there are many variations of this particular tale, but it always contains fairly similar elements and characters:
Like its once mountainous landscape, Korea’s folktales are populated with a wide array of animals and insects, and the most prevalent are the rabbit and the tiger. The rabbit is always portrayed as clever and witty, but the tiger is characterized in different ways. In some stories, he is weak, stupid, conniving, and ungrateful; in others, he is noble, magnanimous, powerful, and godlike.
This story explores the variegated layers of morality and how it is perceived from different vantage points. A tiger falls in a well. Unable to climb out, he cries for help. A man walking by hears his piteous mewlings and hesitates to help him for fear that the tiger will eat him up once he is saved. The tiger swears that he would be eternally grateful for the man’s kindness and that he will not even think about hurting the man. After much deliberation, the man decided to help the tiger. Once saved, the tiger forgets about his sworn and ingratiating oaths, because he is hungry after being trapped for a long time in the well and he decides to eat the man up.
The man begs the tiger to consult the other forest creatures to see whether what the tiger is doing is right. And so they ask the pine tree, the ox, and finally the rabbit whether they believe what the tiger is doing is just. I enjoyed how the story explores the subtle nuances of gratitude, the justifications people (and other creatures) convince themselves to rationalize their behaviours, and that at the end of the day, when everything else is white noise, there is that simple commonsensical clarity that tells you exactly what right is from wrong.
Achingly simple yet true. This could engender a lot of discussion in the classroom. Perfect as well for philosophical discourses.
Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding
Story By: Lenore Look
Illustrations by: Yumi Heo
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006 Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
How could I have not known about the collaboration between Lenore Look and Yumi Heo? This is a book that has brought unbidden tears to my eyes – one that I practically shoved to my butterfly daughter’s summer-glazed face to ‘read, baby girl! read!’
Uncle Peter is getting married – a huge Chinese wedding with all the dragons and birdseed, red fabric and hungbao, family speeches and fertility soups.
Instead of feeling excited and joyful, the little girl who tells the story, Uncle Peter’s Special Girl, feels oh-so-sad:
Everyone is happy happy. Everyone but me. I love weddings, but not this one. Uncle Peter is upstairs taking his wedding bath so he’ll be clean as Monday morning. Except this is Saturday, and he should be with me, getting dirty at the playground. After a hot-dog lunch, we should be heading to the movies. “Jumbo popcorn, please,” he’d say. “With extra butter for my special girl.”
I’m his special girl. Just me. I am the jelly on his toast, and the leaves in his tea. Now, I am an umbrella turned inside out. I squeeze back my tears.
The narrative is exquisitely lyrical – neither maudlin nor simpering, it describes a little girl’s emotions with such raw clarity that one can not help but love this tea-stealing young girl who feels cast away, who grabs Uncle Peter’s other hand as he reaches out for his bride, the little girl who feels like cosmic dust to Stella’s glorious sun.
The playful illustrations, the delicious phrases, the box of thousand butterflies, the glorious food, LoBaak (great grandmother) doing some mean dance moves at 103, tired and cranky Baby Henry – all the varied elements of food, rituals, customs, traditions come together so beautifully and so naturally – never contrived nor with a stealthy desire to educate.
This book will not fail to move any heart who knows what it is like to have an Uncle, a Kuya, an older cousin, a brother who dotes on them. I have older cousins who made me feel like I am a galaxy of brilliant stars all shimmering and splendid. This book is a gift. It shall speak to you regardless of who you are. Find it.
Polka Dot Penguin Pottery
Story By: Lenore Look
Illustrations by: Yumi Heo
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2011. Borrowed from the library. Book photos taken by me.
Another gorgeous collaboration between Lenore Look and Yumi Heo, this picture book celebrates how it is like to get out of a creative funk (when the colors do not seem to come out from tubes of paints), how to snap out of a writer’s horrid block (when characters take an unexpected vacation), and how to make a masterpiece from a mess (simply because that is how it should be).
Aspen Colorado Kim Chee Lee (yes, that is her nom de plume) is a writer. She has a tree house that clearly says “Writer at work, do not disturb” and when flipped over it says “Writer at Play, come up and stay.”
As you can see in the photo above, our little writer knows exactly what it takes to line up words together, the best ones on display just like pomegranates and bananas in the market – and once neatly arranged (dotted i’s, lined t’s, periods neatly in their place), voila! A Story!
Lately, however, her pages are all blank – the words do not seem to come even when beckoned and cajoled from hiding. And so Aspen’s GungGung and PohPoh suggested that they hang out for a bit and take a break. They brought her to Polka Dot Penguin Pottery where it is eternally summer and a neat little apron can make a young child feel like a real artist.
How Aspen was able to create periwinkle suns, green skies, and purple leaves – and yes, the words escaping happily from behind the cobwebs and the dusty corridors in her mind’s eye, I shall leave for you to discover.
The unique way in which this book opens (vertically rather than the usual-horizontal manner) is filled with the spirit of ingenuity and the sheer joy of being different and breaking boundaries. This book reminded me that my poetry and slivers of colours can come from the most unusual places. I just have to stop fidgeting and listen.
FINALLY! I am done with The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books! I can not believe that I finished reading this extremely thick book, but yes, I did it! I have to warn you that this is not as riveting as the other Walter Moers’ novels that I have read. I was a tad disappointed since I could tell that everything seems to be a prelude to another book, and I was not mistaken. While I usually enjoy the way in which Moers can be delightfully long-winded, he tested my patience this time around. Regardless, I am looking forward to reading the third Zamonian novel written by Optimus Yarnspinner.
Yes, I am back to reading George RR Martin’s A Storm of Swords. Admittedly, this is brought about by my being totally absorbed in the Third Season of the HBO TV Series, Game of Thrones. I know that the season ender episode will be in a few hours. I can’t wait!
How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?
Polka Dot Penguin Pottery NOMINEE – Bank Street Child Study Children’s Book Award
Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding: Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 2007
AWB Reading Challenge: 37, 38 (35)
113, 114, 115 of 150