“The ‘ohana felt a deep loyalty to their ahupua’a. It was their ‘aina, their homeland. ‘Ai means ‘to eat.’ ‘Aina, the word for homeland or birthplace, means ‘that which feeds.’ It was the ‘aina that nourished, or fed, the ‘ohana. This made it the responsibility of the ‘ohana to take care of their ‘aina.” page 87
From the Mountains to the Sea: Early Hawaiian Life by Julie Stewart Williams, illustrated by Robin Yoko Racoma. Kamehameha Schools Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1997. Middle grade non-fiction, 178 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: I read a physical copy of this book, and this review is based on the print book. However, it is also available as a free ebook, currently at this link: https://ulukau.org/ulukau-books/?a=d&d=EBOOK-ENGLISH.2.1.1&e=——-haw-20–1–txt-txPT———– .
A classic school text on early Hawaii.
I came across this text some time ago through the acquaintance of a friend who was offloading some books before moving back to the islands. My friend generously passed many books that her family had read or weren’t interested in to us. I’m always interested in titles from small presses or exploring cultures I don’t know too much about, so this was fascinating to me even though it was dry at points.
This particular book was also especially interesting because I’ve always heard that there aren’t accessible texts for young readers about indigenous life pre-European contact. This is an area I’ve been actively seeking out books on, so it was rather shocking to find one that was not only published in the 1990s, but is part of a series. Indeed, after exploring the ulukau.org link above, I’ve discovered that several books from Kamehameha Schools Press are available there, and hope to review some others which would be cost-prohibitive to have sent to the Midwest.
“I can still be sorry that you had to experience that. No child or woman should ever be treated like you, Suzie, and your mom were. It helps me understand a little bit why you think you wouldn’t be any good at fancy dancing.” page 9
Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Heartdrum, HarperCollins, New York, 2021, my edition 2022. MG short story anthology, 312 pages including back matter. Lexile: not yet leveled AR Level: 5.0 (worth 9.0 points) . NOTE: This review is longer than usual since I discuss each piece and the book as a whole. Also see note on accent marks.
An anthology of pieces centered around one powwow in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Despite having left school library life some time ago, I still get excited to see new collections and anthologies like this one published, because they are such important additions to the classroom. Ancestor Approved manages to take this to the next level by having the stories and poems all connected, despite most being by different authors. If it’s difficult as a reader to wrap your head around the many linkages and connections, just imagine the work Cynthia Leitich Smith did to bring this book together!
There are 18 different pieces by 16 different authors (and Nicole Neidhardt who contributed the excellent cover illustration is also rightfully acknowledged). Most are short stories although the book closes and opens with poems. There’s also considerable supportive matter, including a foreword, glossary broken down by story, notes, acknowledgements, and brief biographies of all contributors. As is my custom for anthologies and collections, I’ll discuss each of the individual pieces briefly before returning to the discussion of the work as a whole.
“It was like every single fear I’d ever had had gotten tangled into one huge knot. I wanted to hide under my bed and explode at the same time.” page 21
Xander and the Dream Thief (Momotaro #2) by Margaret Dilloway, illustrated by Choong Yoon. Disney Hyperion, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 330 pages. Lexile: not leveled AR Level: 4.1 (worth 10.0 points) . NOTE: This review will contain spoilers for the previous book in the series.
After his surprising victory, Xander is now fully the Momotaro. Having magic powers is great and all, but also means oni attack constantly, his mother had to stay away from him, he’s got a new foster sibling, and has so many nightmares he can’t sleep. So Obachan gives him a baku charm, warning to only use it on the worst nightmares lest the creature take all his dreams.
I enjoy stories of antiheroes or deeply flawed heroes or heroes who don’t want the power. Xander is definitely that in this book, but it’s entirely reasonable that a 12 year old who just inherited unlimited magical power (and is much better at using it than his father) might have that go to his head. Of course, oni are constantly testing him and watching for these kinds of slip-ups.
Luckily, the reckless energy and exuberant imagination that got him into this might also help him get out – with assistance from friends old and new, and if he can manage to get his dreams back. I’m not sure the target audience will be as interested in reading about a not-so-heroic kid as I am, but it’s refreshing when the legendary chosen one is all too human (and a person of color besides).
Dilloway’s second novel again follows a Riordan-ish plot, but full of references to Japanese mythology and culture. Kintaro, Fudo-Myoo, Daruma, and Kaguya-hime are among the featured characters. He also learns/remembers a tiny but crucial bit about his Irish heritage.
“Samuel tried to remember what his father had told him about Indians. The Light of God was in them too. He struggled to keep that in his mind, but it did not ease his fear.” page 66
The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by James Watling. Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 1998. Historical fiction, 104 pages (including excerpts). Lexile: 810L . AR Level: 5.2 (worth 2.0 points) .
Set in 1777 and told in alternating views from the perspectives of Quaker boy Samuel Russell and Abenaki teen Stands Straight, this novel is based on real events during the American Revolution.
Joseph Bruchac, although not without error, is one of the handful of Native authors consistently writing historical fiction for children. (Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series is another notable example; Eric Gansworth and Tim Tingle have also written more than one book each. At the time of this writing, any others I know of only have one.) Also, I have so far been able to find only one work of children’s historical fiction by another Native author set before 1800. I hope others exist and are published set in all time frames, especially given the promising new Heartdrum imprint.
A plethora of problematic details ultimately ruin this widely hyped pro-dyslexic novel. See review for quotations.
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
Puffin, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015.
MG realistic fiction, 276 pages + sketchbook of impossible things and excerpt.
Lexile: 550L .
AR Level: 3.7 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: This review is a lot longer than my usual. If you’d just like a general opinion, scroll down to the final paragraphs.
Ally’s been to half a dozen different schools. With a military dad and working mom, it’s easy to hide things from teachers, like not being able to read. If trouble arises, she just goes with the laughs and builds on her trouble-making reputation. But the new teacher is bringing light to her gifts and might illuminate her struggles also, if she lets him.
I wanted to love this book. It’s been on my wishlist for ages and I hoped this would be a good book to share with the kids. Instead, I feel ambivalent. None of the individual issues alone were major enough to ruin it; some parts I liked, but many aspects were problematic.
“Good morning salmon swimming up the stream.” page 7
Good Morning World by Paul Windsor.
My edition Native Northwest, Vancouver, Canada, 2018. (Originally published in 2011.)
Board book, 24 pages.
Good morning greetings to various parts of the Pacific Northwest world, with local indigenous artwork.
This was, as near as I can recall, one of the earliest board books ever printed by Native Northwest. Some of the early versions appeared to have trouble with the printing, but by now that’s all sorted and my copy is full of vibrant color.
“In that neighborhood, some of the houses had been knocked down to construct modern buildings, others were about to fall apart all by themselves, and some had their balconies strapped firmly to their walls lest they drop off and split open the heads of passerby on the street.” page 22
The Wild Book by Juan Villoro, illustrated by Eko, translated by Lawrence Schimel. Yonder, Restless Books, New York, 2017. MG fantasy, 234 pages. Lexile: 750L . AR Level: not leveled *The Spanish-language version has an AR of 4.8, worth 7.0 points. NOTE: This Mexican novel was first published in 2008, my review is of the 2017 translation.
Juan’s father is building a Parisian bridge, and his distraught mother is finding a new home. While his sister gets to spend the summer with her best friend, Juan’s shipped off to his strange uncle who lives within a labyrinth of books. There he learns that he’s got an unusual power to make books magically respond to him.
I’ve been searching and searching for MG fantasy novels set outside the US or in translation. Several are available from Asia, few from Africa, and I’ve found some great works by American authors of Latinx heritage, but mostly still set in the US. After finally finding this book and waiting some time for the mail, I immediately started reading. Unfortunately I didn’t end with the same enthusiasm.
“There must be a logical explanation for all of this. I just don’t know what it is yet.” page 57
Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Momotaro #1) by Margaret Dilloway, illustrated by Choong Yoon. Disney Hyperion, New York, 2016. MG fantasy, 310 pages. Lexile: not leveled. AR Level: 3.9 (worth 10.0 points) .
Xander Musashi Miyamoto is your average 6th grader – obsessed with video games, could care less about his homework project on climate change. Also latest in a long line of Momotaros – with a life-or-death quest. As the smallest boy in his class, it’s a good thing his best friend was around when the magic hit – Xander will need all the help he can get.
Xander is biracial white/Asian, and Dilloway specifies both. I was intrigued to see how his Ainu heritage would play out. Indigenous people of Japan, Ainu are even today subject to racism, cultural appropriation, and suppression. His father’s Ainu/Japanese family could be mixed, but if they teach him he’s part Ainu, presumably they’d retain other cultural markers too. Although today considered white, Irish Americans like his mother were once a hated minority.
People remark on Xander’s ethnicity, from a mean classmate to overheard remarks from his best friend’s father and even his own grandmother’s suggestion that his powers will be completely different because he’s biracial. Xander also remarks specifically on the lack of a local Asian community. I wondered why his father chose to stay in the San Diego suburbs and how the local university supported an Asian mythology professor if his family are the only Asians there, but was mostly willing to accept the hand-wavy magic of it.
“Suddenly he heard a sound like pebbles being shaken in a hollow gourd. His heart leaped into his throat as he threw himself to one side to keep from stepping on the huge rattlesnake that was coiled in the middle of the trail.” page 78
Children of the Longhouse by Joseph Bruchac.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1996.
MG historical fiction, 154 pages.
Lexile: 950L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 5.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
Follow twins Ohkwa’ri and his sister Otsi:stia as they navigate peers who are trying to break the peace treaty, coming of age, and a sacred game of lacrosse.
It’s worth noting that this is NOT an #ownvoices book. Bruchac is Abenaki, a neighboring group to the twins – but the main characters are all Mohawk, members of the Iroquois League of Peace. This book was originally included in a 2006 recommendation list on AICL, but I noticed that as of this writing, Bruchac was conspicuously absent from the August 2020 list of historical fiction recommendations on AICL. This makes sense given that AICL has recently had several neutral or negative reviews of his work, especially when working outside of his own nation. However, given the glowing reviews some of his books have previously gotten, it’s hard to know if he’s still a generally suggested author or not. Continue reading “Review: Children of the Longhouse”