Sunday, January 15, 2017

I want to find the perfect books to inspire my students to respect and value diversity.  I also want to offer them books that they can identify with and in which they see their own values and cultures reflected.  It's a tall order sometimes to find these books, because mainstream publishers have not found these types of books and printed and promoted them enough.  Not to worry!  Now we have Multicultural Children's Book Day, and many small presses with eyes toward diversity.  One of these publishers, East West Discovery Press has a number of outstanding and award winning books to add to my library.  I bet you will find some you want to share!

I'm always looking for books on the water cycle, since my third graders study it as part of their curriculum.  I recently read It Starts With a Raindrop/Comienza con una Gota de Lluvia  by Michael Smith.

Short, rhyming text flows on each page in a lazy “S” curve describing the water cycle.  Readers are transported through the art and text to a forest, a house, creek, stream, river, and on to the sea.  Muted colors keep the focus on the natural world as two children go about their day playing in a lake, splashing in puddles, and using some test tubes and flasks for some science observations at home.  The book has two illustrators, Angela Alvarenga and Jonathan E. Goley (deceased before the book was published according to the short bio).  There might be an interesting back story about the art collaboration.  The pages of the book are a heavy gauge paper giving some heft and durability that typical picture books don’t have.  The book ends with a double page spread depicting arrows and labels within a landscape showing points for the processes of the water cycle -- evaporation, condensation, precipitation, transpiration, evaporation and infiltration.  A glossary on that same page clarifies all terms.  A final spread gives a short narrative recap of the water cycle and the facing page repeats the contributors’ biographies from the dust jacket.  

I can't wait to share this book with my students!  Though I don't speak Spanish, I plan to have one of my Spanish speaking students read with me.  It will be so much fun to hear their language and try to learn some of the phrases from the book in Spanish.  


I'm marking my calendar for October 4, 2017.  It's the Moon Festival, one of the biggest celebrations in China.  China and Taiwan take the day as a public holiday in celebration of moon gazing, harvest and the full moon.  I think this could launch a great unit of study on astronomy!  

A great book to read any day of the year, but especially around the Moon Festival, is Mei Ling in China City by Icy Smith. Illustrations by Gayle Garner Roski.

This bilingual book’s subtitle: “Divided by war, united by friendship...a lifeline of letters from China City to Manzanar” captures the essence of this picture book about a day in the life of a Chinese-American girl growing up in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Mei Ling’s family owns a restaurant, and she is preparing for activities in their celebration of the Moon Festival.  She tries on her special red silk dress, visits a friend who is selling fortune-telling sticks and incense outside a Buddhist temple, buys paper lanterns to decorate the restaurant with, and helps her friends sell flags and Chinese Opera tickets to benefit Chinese refugees.  Mei Ling also receives a letter from her Japanese friend Yayeko who has been interned in the Manzanar relocation camp in California.  Vibrant illustrations throughout depict scenes from the story showing details like the barbed wire fence around the relocation camp, the dragon costume for the lion dance parade, and a well-known Chinese actress Anna May Wong who visits the restaurant and donates a large sum of money to refugee relief campaign.  Readers learn that China City is a neighborhood in Los Angeles known for many of its Chinese actors and actresses that are hired for Hollywood movies.  

The story ends with a second letter.  This letter from Mei Ling to her friend Yayeko telling her some good news, and an actual photograph of the real 12 year-old Mei Leng from the University of Southern California archives.  An extensive Author’s Note at the end of the book tells of how Chinatown was destroyed in 1933, and China City and a new Chinatown were built.  The area was a popular place until a fire in 1949 destroyed it.  Archival photographs on these pages also show China City as well as the Manzanar Relocation Center and text describes more of the details about what lead to the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans.  The final page of the 2010 edition and second printing of the book has a photo of Mei Ling and Yayeko reunited after 66 years as a result of the book.  The real life friends and characters of the book are photographed smiling with the author, Icy Smith, and the illustrator Gayle Garner Roski. Such a happy ending to this story-within-the-story will thrill readers as they consider the power of books, letters and reading.  This multicultural book has won numerous awards, and this second edition is well worth adding to any children’s library collection.


I worked with a librarian who visited Thailand, and one of the highlights of her trip was getting to swim with elephants. Have you heard about the story of the man that rescued a baby elephant, and now the elephant remembers him and tries to save him when he's swimming? Here's a link: I will share this video with students before reading Mystery of the Giant Masks of Sanxingdui by Icy Smith. Illustrated by Gayle Garner Roski.

Do you and your students enjoy the mysterious unexplained?  Have you noticed that kids love to hear and read about Sasquatch, the Bermuda Triangle, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not?  This book will have students thinking about why hundreds of bronze, gold, and jade artifacts were found amongst elephant tusks and other relics recently at a site north of Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province of China.  The author proposes a story that might explain why these broken and burned relics were buried.  

The story invites readers into the world of a young girl, Min, and her brother Wei who is old enough to be recognized at the Warriors Festival as a new warrior.  Their father, Ping, is the chief of his people, and he meets with some traveling traders and gets a young elephant, Little Yong, that he gives to his son to care for and train.  Vibrant art throughout the book shows the village life, bronze statues and giant masks that are integral to understanding the history of the artifacts in the story.  A thunderstorm strikes on the first night of the little elephant’s stay with his new family, and Wei and Min awake to a tragic flood that is destroying much of the people’s belongings.  Min slips and falls in the fast running river, and it is Little Yong that hears her cries and swims out to help her.  Meanwhile, invaders have descended upon the vulnerable people, and Chief Ping must decide how to help his people avoid more tragedy.  Ping consults with the village shaman who uses the bronze masks to communicate with the spirit world.  

Min’s experience in the rushing river has a profound effect on her and her father, though.  The chief hears from the ancestors through the shaman, and tells the village that it is Min and the river who have the answer for how to face the invaders.  Min shares her newfound life wisdom with the tribe and her new warrior brother supports her, and a peaceful strategy is enacted.  The last page of the story offers a reason for why the people burned and buried their treasures, and readers will have a possible explanation for what some call the “ninth wonder of the world.”  

The book ends with an Author’s Note, but readers may want to start their reading with this background if this is their first introduction to the mystery of Sanxingdui and the archeological finds beginning in 1986.  A thumbnail map and museum photos of some of the relics are presented on the double page spread along with brief historical notes about when and where the artifacts were found.  The book has been recognized by the Children’s Book Council as a Notable Social Studies Award winner.  Little is written about these artifacts, and this children’s book is a superior addition to any library.  

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