“In the kitchen, the rice cookers set on timers were already steaming, filling the kitchen with the smell of rice. My mouth watered.” p. 53
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (Jasmine Toguchi #1) by Debbi Michiko Florence, illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic.
Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillian, New York, 2017.
Elementary fiction, 115 pages.
Lexile: 560L .
AR Level: 3.6 (worth 1.0 points) .
Jasmine and her Japanese-American family are getting ready for the New Year. That means lots of cousins, mochi-tsuki, Obaachan coming to visit, and two more years before Jasmine is old enough to make mochi with the women. Rather than wait two whole years, she has an idea…
In the last few years we’ve been seeing a big rise in the number of early elementary chapter book series featuring diverse characters, and I am over the moon about it. As you’ve heard me rant before, it’s crucial to have diverse books at every reading level, including the very earliest. Working a little understanding of different cultures, cuisines, and lifestyles into early fiction also helps students out when they later encounter the same topics in middle school or high school, and it sets a foundation for tolerance and acceptance.
Series like this one are particularly great because they can be read aloud to children over a range of ages, and information about Japanese-American culture is seamlessly woven into the storyline.
A deliciously creepy, magical MG tale set in South Korea.
Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly, illustrated by Molly Park.
Amulet Books, Abrams, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/horror graphic novel, 236 pages.
Lexile: GN270L ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 2.7 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Although this has a low reading level, it’s recommended for middle grades.
Twelve-year-old Suee is a new student at boring Outskirts Elementary, and she’s determined to get through her last bit of elementary school with no complications. That means no friends, no sharing information with the counselor, and no getting involved in anything weird. Too bad a voice is calling to her from the exhibit room and her shadow is alive.
This book caught my eye even though it wasn’t time for a new Target pick (well I was looking for Aru Shah and it was sold out, which is great news). Suee struck me as an unusual name, so I picked up the book and found out it’s by a South Korean author-illustrator team, and set there as well. I suspect this will do well with fans of The Jumblies, because it has the same creepy-magical vibe.
” ‘We have to go to work, go to school. We cannot pay so much attention to our little boy.’ Her voice cracks. ‘We have to do what is best for Di Di,’ she whispers, ‘not what is best for us.’ ” p. 8
Only One Year by Andrea Cheng, illustrations by Nicole Wong.
Lee & Low Books, New York, 2010.
Elementary realistic fiction, 97 pages.
Lexile: 620L .
AR Level: 3.3 (worth 1.0 points) .
Di Di is leaving to spend a year in China with his grandparents and extended family, but Sharon and middle sister Mary aren’t so sure about that. A year is a long time, and they miss him at first, but then get busy with their own lives. When Di Di returns, it is a difficult adjustment for everyone.
I actually was familiar with this idea through friends of mine, who lived in their family’s country of origin from the time they were weaned until preschool and then flew back each year to live there over the summer. However, for many readers it will be new. This topic is also briefly explored from a different perspective in American Panda. In that book, the father decided to send the children to his family in China against their mother’s wishes, and it was challenging for the family.
“The curious thing is that the word ‘colorism’ doesn’t even exist. Not officially. […] So how does one begin to unpack a societal ill that doesn’t have a name?” p. 8
Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps.
Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2016.
Nonfiction, 203 pages including sources and index.
This is the study of something few non-academics want to talk about – colorism. While everyone can get behind fighting racism, colorism is more insidous, deeply rooted in American racism and refreshed as immigrants arrive with their own cultural ideas of colorism. Tharps combines information from experts with deeply personal stories from families that are biologically related, but have different physical appearances.
A short introduction first tells how Tharps became interested in colorism – she’s African-American, her husband is from the south of Spain and identifies with dark-skinned people, but her three children each appear very different. Tharps then gives some background information on colorism and an overview of the book.
Four chapters focus specifically on different groups. Tharps explains that she chose to work only with biologically related families because she wanted this book to be focused on colorism specifically and adoption adds other dimensions. However she also states adoptive families will find much to relate to here – I agree.
“All his life in Vietnam my father had been a farmer. Here our apartment house had no yard. But in that vacant lot he would see me.” page 3
Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Judy Pedersen.
Scholastic, New York, 1999 (first published HarperCollins 1997).
Adult realistic fiction, 69 pages.
Lexile: 710L .
AR Level: 4.3 (worth 2.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, I would not recommend this to middle grade readers.
Seedfolks is a collection of 13 short stories by different first-person narrators, all revolving around the first year of a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.
Normally with short story collections, I comment on each story and then give thoughts on the whole. Because these stories are so short, I’m going to write two or three sentences about each one and then give my general thoughts at the end.
“There is a bit of Japanese folklore that made Chiune’s parents think that perhaps their son might be special.” page 1
A Special Fate: Chiune Sugihara: Hero of the Holocaust by Alison Leslie Gold.
Polaris, Scholastic, New York, 2000.
Nonfiction, 176 pages.
Lexile: 980L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one Japanese diplomat who followed his conscience to issue life-saving passports to Jews during World War II, against the orders of his superiors.
Sugihara was such an interesting figure. Many of his choices, starting with the one that caused him to eventually become a diplomat, were quite unusual for Japanese society. His early experiences defying his father look, in retrospect, like preparation for his major act of defiance in issuing the passports.