[Monday Reading] Art, Sunflowers and Butterflies in Times of War

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Check Off your Reading List Challenge 2014.

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Sign up here to join us! Here is the July-September linky. We are also very excited to share that Pansing Books will be giving away copies of Slated by Teri Terry to two lucky CORL participants from July-September.

9781408319468 Slated

So link up your posts now!

Carrie Gelson of There is a Book for That is also hosting #mustreadin2014

Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!

Super special thanks to Iphigene for creating this visually-arresting widget!

I shared these two picturebooks to my higher-degree class during the January 2014 semester as we discussed how to use multicultural children’s book titles to address issues of war, worldwide conflict, and resilience.

A Place IMG_5036Where Sunflowers Grow

Story By: Amy Lee-Tai Illustrations: Felicia Hoshino
Published byChildren’s Book Press: An Imprint of Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2006
Borrowed from the NIE Library. Book photos taken by me.

Mari is one of the many Japanese American children who lived with her family in a tarpaper barrack in Topaz, Utah – one of the internment camps during World War II, quite far from their home in California.

If there is one thing that Mari looks forward to while in the camp, it is walking all the way to Block 7 from their home in Block 29 to attend the Topaz Art School. Mari’s father taught the adult sketching class while Mari attends the children’s class being taught by Mrs. Hanamoto.

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I found this image to be quite striking. While it does look imposing with the soldier and his rifle and the rows of concentration camps and the seemingly-dry, dusty, and arid weather – there is light in the image with the bright yellows and the smattering of greens; not to mention the bright red kerchief in Mari’s little head. Mari has also been planting handfuls of sunflower seeds outside their one-room home – and she is anxious that the sunflowers would not grow in the unforgiving desert.

Life at the camp is also depicted in the narrative with a vivid portrait of the mess hall with all its noise and distinct smells; then there is the queue at the latrine where women and children are not even afforded privacy as “The toilet and the showers stalls had no doors.”

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At first, Mari found it difficult to draw anything during art class. Her laughter and sense of wonder have been snuffed out of her by the injustice of being taken against her will as “she hadn’t done anything wrong!” As she found within her a few things that made her happy, she also found the courage to ask her family the burning questions in her mind about why things are the way they are, as she tends patiently to her sunflowers and wills it to grow. Whether or not she sees her flowers blossom, I shall leave for you to discover.

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Amy Lee-Tan, in her Introduction, shared that this story is actually based on her mother’s experience while at an interment camp in the Utah desert for three and a half years. It was Amy’s grandfather who set up the Topaz Art School where he and Amy’s grandmother taught children and adults how to use art to find a way to fill their time and to help them find meaning in what was happening to them. As Amy noted:

Art brought my mother’s whole family a sense of purpose and peace during a very difficult time in their lives, and offered all the internees a chance to express themselves.

I have used my mother’s experience as a reference point for this story. However, the characters and most of the events are fictional. I hope you will learn something from this story and work toward a world that will never repeat – to any group of people – what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

This picturebook is the Winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the IRA Children’s Book Award Notable Book, and Society of Illustrators Original Art Exhibition among other accolades. This is a remarkable story of resilience and the capacity of the human spirit (and sunflowers) to thrive amidst darkness and barbed wires, even in “a place where nothing beautiful grows.”

A Child’s Garden: A Story of HopeIMG_5041

Story and Artwork by: Michael Foreman
Published byCandlewick Press, 2009
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

The boy saw it after a night of rain, a speck of green in the rubble, peeping up toward the sunlight. 

He moved some broken bricks so that nothing would fall and crush the tiny plant. He didn’t know what sort of plant it was, a flower or a weed; he just knew it would have to struggle to survive.

These are the first few lines from this picturebook that calls itself “a story of hope.” The setting could be anywhere in the world where wars take place and the city divided by arbitrary fences put up by angry men in uniform carrying guns and bad news.

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This young boy, however, watered this tiny shoot of green, providing it shade “with some old sacking and wire.” My heart is filled as I saw this tender fragile green grow into something beautiful

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… only to be torn down by soldiers on the other side after seeing how it had the audacity to grow past the wrong side of the wire fence. The young boy was heartbroken. Winter came and went. At spring time, the young boy saw something on the other side that made his heart skip a beat: a little girl sprinkling water on tiny green shoots by the ditch.

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How the story ends, I shall leave for you to discover. This is a picturebook that is quietly defiant in the face of multiple odds. There are mutinous bright colours in this book against the bleak grays and sordid monochromes that seemed to own the page. The storytelling is simple with just a few powerful words, and the images equally moving in all its vulnerable beauty that is all the more striking because one has to find it – buried against the ruins and the rubble. Yet the beauty remains. It grows and provides a haven to wandering butterflies.

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Currently Reading…

I am glad to share that it has been a productive past week. I have finished reading Ying Chang Compestine’s A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts which I enjoyed thoroughly, read a graphic novel Pride of Baghdadand relished Neil Gaiman’s novella illustrated by Eddie Campbell: The truth is a cave in the black mountains…

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… and am down to the last 70 pages of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

My daughter and I are halfway through Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo which we try to read every night, as much as we can.

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This week I hope to finish reading Morris Gleitzman’s ThenAnd hopefully begin reading Now as well.

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Reading Challenge Update: 140, 141 (25)

13 Comments on [Monday Reading] Art, Sunflowers and Butterflies in Times of War

  1. I had read an adult novel called The Stubborn Twig earlier this year and it was about how Japanese Americans were treated. I couldn’t believe all the horrible things about the internment camps.

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  2. I’ve never seen the Amy Tan book Myra. It looks beautiful. Somewhere in the past, I have read A Child’s Garden, but have forgotten it. You’ve made me want to see it again! I’d love to read the Gleitzman trilogy, just haven’t found time yet. Thanks for all you share!

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  3. All your books look very intriguing. Enjoy.

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  4. ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘The House Baba Built’ both look visually stunning! ‘A Child’s Garden’ looks heart-breaking, but I think it’s great your discussing those kinds of topics with your class! I’ve never heard of ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ but they sound really interesting! Great bunch of books 🙂 Thanks for sharing
    My Monday post
    Juli @ Universe in Words

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  5. There has been a lot of good and recent literature about internment camps lately!
    I love some of the lines in Flora & Ulysses!

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  6. The Place Where Sunflowers Grow and a child’s garden sound like fabulous books. I will definitely be looking for those books. Thanks for sharing! Have a good reading week.

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  7. I luv your blog. Can feel your enthusiasm for reading. Anyway, I’m really drawn to The Staircase Cat. The other one I like is One Day We Had To Run. It looks like Nonfiction. Wondering what country is being written about.

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  8. I’m still waiting for some of these books to arrive from my library. And there’s something about staircases I find so compelling. Well—other than having to climb them lol

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  9. Gidget's Bookshelf // July 14, 2014 at 10:22 pm // Reply

    a childs garden is such a beautiful book, Love it!

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  10. Thanks for sharing these! Especially interested in how the sunflowers book fits with our study of WW2 and whether A Child’s Garden could also have an impact. Will be checking those out for sure, thanks!

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  11. Hi Myra, both picture books look intriguing and definitely helpful in teaching about war, conflict, and culture. I’m interested in what you thought of The Goldfinch (if you’ve finished)? I just finished it as well. Thanks for all of the book ideas! Happy reading!

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  12. Both those picture books are new to me, Myra , and books I would dearly love to read with my students. Thanks, as usual, for bringing important new books to our attention!

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  13. As always, you’ve shared picture books that are new to me and that I definitely need to share with my students.

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