“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile: 530L .
AR Level: 3.8 (worth 2.0 points) .
Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s). They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.
For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part. The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters. The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books. Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.
“But the aunties’ heads must be so hard by now, Anna thought. After centuries of pulling and tugging and yanking, their heads must be as hard as concrete.” page 39
Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 2010. (First published in London, 2008.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.
The continued adventures of Anna Hibiscus and her family in amazing Africa.
I wrote a few years ago about the first book in this series, simply titled Anna Hibiscus. While I loved the story and one of my older children read it independently, at the time of that review, they hadn’t enjoyed it as a read-aloud. Well, it was indeed just a moody day, because we have since been loving this series as a whole-family read aloud choice.
Much like the first, this book is actually four interconnected short stories which could be read individually.
“Everett had been wandering around for almost an hour. His body ached from the cold, and he had no idea where to go.” page 19
Away West (Scraps of Time 1879) by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Gordon James.
Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2006.
Elementary historical fiction, 121 pages.
Lexile: 510L .
AR Level: 3.4 (worth 1.0) .
The Scraps of Time series is built around the idea of a grandmother and three grandchildren building a scrapbook about their family from items kept in their grandmother’s attic. One of the children finds something and asks Gee about it, and then the story proper begins as she tells them the story behind that item.
In this case the item is a Civil War army medal, although the story does not deal directly with the Civil War. Instead, Gee tells them about her grandfather, Everett Turner. The youngest of three brothers, he was determined to find his place in the West.
“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.