“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.
” ‘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.
“Coretta’s mother, Bernice, believed that education was the key to a better life. She encouraged her children to work hard in school.” page 11
History Maker Bios: Coretta Scott King by Laura Hamilton Waxman, illustrations by Tad Butler.
Originally published by Lerner Publishing Group, Minneapolis, Minnesota, my edition Barnes & Noble, New York, 2008.
Biography, 48 pages including extras and index.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 1.0 points) .
A biography of Coretta Scott King, best known as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although she was a civil rights activist herself as well.
Not long ago, I came across a Barnes and Noble that had all these little History Maker Bios and quite a lot of Sterling Biographies on clearance for a dollar each! I spent a happy hour picking out all the African American ones.
“If she was laughing at me, I was going to go home and forget about her. But she looked at me very seriously and said ‘It takes practice,” and then I liked her.” p. 62
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell.
Random House, New York, my edition 2006 (originally published 1981).
Realistic fiction, 71 pages.
Lexile: 520L .
AR Level: 3.4 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Julian series.
Six first-person short stories revolving around Julian Bates.
I’ve already reviewed two later books in this series, Gloria Rising and Gloria’s Way. Series order isn’t strictly necessary, although a few things change as the series progresses (new characters are introduced, the boys get a dog). At this point, the main characters are just Julian, younger brother Huey, and their parents. Gloria is introduced in the final story of this book.
First, I’d like to give some credit to Ann Cameron. It was unusual in 1980 for a white woman to chose to write a book about middle class black children. (Keep in mind this was less than 20 years since The Snowy Day.) And generally speaking, her books still hold relevance today and I haven’t spotted any major issues in the ones I’ve read.
“My dad was supposed to take care of me, but I didn’t know if he could.” page 83
Gloria’s Way by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Lis Toft.
Puffin, Penguin Putnam books for Young Readers, New York, 2001.
Realistic fiction short stories, 96 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 3.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: Technically part of the Julian/Huey/Gloria series, but could stand alone.
Six short stories about Gloria, best friends with Julian Bates and his little brother Huey.
Some of the stories in this collection include Julian, Huey, their dog Spunky, or new friend Latisha while others focus on Gloria. As I usually do with short stories, I’ll briefly discuss each individual story.
Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2010. (First published in London in 2007.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile: 670L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.
Anna Hibiscus lives in amazing Africa with her mother and father and baby brothers Double and Trouble.
I’d heard about this author for a while but could not get any of her books. Once I found them on Amazon, it took some time to determine the order. This is the first chapter book in the Anna Hibiscus series (Atinuke also has other books).
“Alfie told me once that Suzette at daycare keeps wanting to touch her braids. But that’s a secret, we decided, because we don’t want our dad to freak.” page 78.
EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken! (EllRay Jakes #1) by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper.
Puffin Books, The Penguin Group, New York, 2011.
Realistic Fiction, 2011.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 4.8 (worth 2.0 points) .
EllRay Jakes, the smallest kid in Ms. Sanchez’s third-grade class, is dealing with some serious bullying, trying to earn a trip to Disneyland, and navigate the rest of school while meeting his father’s high expectations.
This was another Target pick, although it took me a while to review. It wasn’t until after purchasing that I realized I’ve read a book by this author already. In fact, this entire series is a spin-off on her Emma series, which has been popular in one or two schools I’ve been at. A third-grader was lobbying hard for the first Emma book to be the next read-aloud, so I read it, but chose another book. If I’d realized this was from the same author, I would have gotten it from the library as well instead of purchasing it.
The cover of this book was great, I just wish the rest of the book had lived up to my expectations.