#SurvivalStories2021 Books Early Readers Features Genre It's Monday What Are You Reading Lifespan of a Reader Picture Books Reading Themes Stories Of The Dispossessed

[Monday Reading] Navigating The Spaces Between Cultures in Diverse Picturebooks

Meet Danbi and Shanti.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

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 (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). 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. 

A week ago, we launched our reading theme for April – June 2021. We are on the look-out for books with the following themes:

  1. Stories of exile and movement from one place to another – either by choice or by circumstance

  2. Narratives on im/migrants, belonging and exclusion

  3. Tales of people who are in transition and displaced from their homes

  4. Stories of seeking refuge and sanctuary and finding forever homes

  5. Narratives of loss and dispossession

Danbi Leads The School Parade [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Anna Kim
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers (2020)
ISBN: 0451478894 (ISBN13: 9780451478894) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Danbi is the new girl in school. While the text narrative begins with her boom boom heartbeat upon entering “the big red door” of her classroom, the endpapers and title page already effectively framed the story as one of immigration, leaving home and family and friends behind, and courageously stepping into what is beyond “the big red door.”

I love how the images captured the sense of awkwardness, the earnestness in reaching out to make friends (and failing at that), and the general feeling of alienation. There is dynamism in the art that is also imbued with emotions, quite reminiscent really of Jillian Tamaki’s art somewhat – while remaining very distinct, too.

I also appreciated the bilingual reference of Danbi being able to write her name only in Korean, but not in English. While Danbi clearly struggled, especially in the beginning, there was a groundedness, humor, and joy to her that one can easily connect with.

There is also coherence to the narrative, beginning with the boom boom of Danbi’s heart, leading up to her being the “leader of the band” towards the end, in a manner of speaking. While I know this can be easily paired with so many picturebooks on new students in the classroom (like Anne Sibley’s I’m New Here), I would pair this one with another picturebook altogether:

Pokko And The Drum (Amazon | Book Depository) by Matthew Forsythe.

In the Author’s Note, Anna Kim shared how this was inspired by her very first day of school in the US as an immigrant child:

I will never forget my first day of school in America. I remember standing in front of the whole class, everyone staring at me, not understanding a word from the teacher. I eventually learned English and grew up to embrace my bicultural identity, but the shock of that first day and the feeling of being an outsider stayed with me. 

It is stories like this that would provide clear models to young children on being kind, and how to empathize with another person who may be feeling alone or uncertain. I am glad that there are books like this now.

Home Is In Between [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Mitali Perkins Illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2021)
ISBN: 0374303673 (ISBN13: 9780374303679) Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Similar to Danbi’s story, Shanti’s narrative begins with leaving family and “warm monsoon rains” and “green palm trees” behind. I appreciated how both narratives surface the feelings of loss and being uprooted from everything that is familiar and comforting.

Rather than portray just one singular episode in one’s school life (like in Danbi’s story), Shanti takes us through her new community, and how she navigated her way between cultural traditions on a daily basis.

While there are many narratives that speak about being new or ‘foreign’ in an environment different from the place one grew up in, this was first story that amplified how one navigates being in the ‘in between.’ Shanti’s family established this firm sense of identity with family members telling stories in Bangla, her mother teaching Shanti how to dance Kathak, and her father painstakingly teaching Shanti Bangla letters – while she was learning the English language, ballet and the alphabet at the same time.

No wonder she felt exhausted. I also loved reading the Author’s Note at the end, as Mitali shared how this story was inspired by her own childhood as she moved from the village of Bengal to the United States when she was seven years old:

… once I grew up, I realized that switching between two codes as a child had been a gift. It’s like learning a new language – kids are faster and better at it than grown-ups. And if we work at it as kids, we keep some ability to crack cultural codes for the rest of our lives. ‘It’s like a superpower,’ I tell young immigrants.

Reading is another superpower that young children can develop – especially reading stories like Danbi’s and Shanti’s. I hope more young people get their hands on these two lovely picturebooks.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 35/36 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Monday Reading] Navigating The Spaces Between Cultures in Diverse Picturebooks

  1. Completely Full Bookshelf

    Both of these books look wonderful! I’ve seen some praise for Danbi Leads the School Parade, but I had no idea the illustrations were so beautiful—that last one in particular looks right out of a Pixar movie! Home Is In Between looks wonderful as well, and I love the author’s point about how navigating different cultures can be a superpower. Thanks so much for the wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

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