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.
This illuminated novel in verse tells a story of internal displacement for middle grade readers.
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
Middle grade novel in verse, 331 pages including extras but not excerpts.
Lexile: HL620L (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 3.0 points) .
Amira is a young village girl who dreams of going to school and learning to read the Koran. But her mother desires a more traditional life for her. Then the Janjaweed attack, and it seems like all dreams, and words, are gone forever. Can a gift restore hope?
This one was a bit of a gamble. I have yet to dislike a book by any of the Pinkneys – individually and collectively they are so talented that the name alone can sell me on a book. Plus I have loved Shane Evans’ work, and the kids find his illustrations appealing too.
But. This is a novel in verse. I wasn’t actually aware that it was illuminated until after purchasing, and Shane Evans’s illustrations did take the edge off. But as I’ve said before, novels in verse rarely work for me. I love poetry and novels, but feel that the combination usually loses something. For this reason, I don’t often seek those books out unless they come highly recommended or with an author/illustrator team I can’t ignore.
“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.
“I stare at the paper. ‘Other people with synesthesia?’ Jerry nods. ‘All kinds of people with all different types of synesthesia.’ ” p. 107
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2003.
MG realistic fiction, 271 pages + extras.
Lexile: 770L .
AR Level: 4.7 (worth 9.0 points) .
Eighth grader Mia reads, and hears, with specific colors and shapes in her mind. It makes otherwise boring moments interesting, gives her headaches when her father is hammering away on their house, causes her to hear her cat as the color mango, and makes learning math a lot more complicated. But back in third grade, she learned that not everyone experiences the world this way. With middle-school algebra on the horizon, is it finally time to talk about her experiences?
This book isn’t ethnically diverse, but the primary topic is synesthesia. At the time it was first published, it helped raise awareness about a little-known condition.
“But my friends didn’t call me Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. They called me Grace, my American name.” p. 19
The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Co, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2006 (my edition 2007).
Realistic fiction, 140 pages + excerpts.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 3.0 points) .
In the Year of the Dog, Pacy is supposed to find her best friend and figure out her talent. But what could it be?
This is one of those books that I’ve had for a while but didn’t pick up. I may have been saving it or planning to wait until we got another in the series, I’m just not sure. Anyway, this story tells about one year in Pacy’s life, starting with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Dog and ending with the Lunar New Year for the Year of the Pig.
An aspect of this I didn’t expect was how there were stories embedded into the larger narrative, just like Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. These stories were realistic fiction instead of fantasy, but they worked the same way and I greatly enjoyed them. The stories allowed Pacy to be connected even if many of her relatives live far away.
“When Asians immigrated to countries like the United States and Canada, they brought these traditions with them.” page 7
Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto and Haiwang Yuan.
National Geographic Kids, Washington, D.C., 2009, my edition 2015 reprint.
Picture book informative nonfiction, 32 pages.
Lexile: 740L .
AR Level: 3.6 (worth 0.5) .
How Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world, especially in China.
This is a very comprehensive book. You could easily do a short unit study using just this text. The format works for a variety of ages or abilities. The book is divided into two parts – first the picture book, then the last six pages are mostly text with “More About the Chinese New Year”, a variety of supplemental activities and further information for parents, teachers, or older children.
“The rice was harvested, and the poor were allowed to glean the fields for fallen grain-heads. It was an arduous, backbreaking task: hours of work to gather mere handfuls of rice.” p. 53
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park.
Dell Yearling, Random House Books, New York, 2001.
MG historical fiction, 152 pages plus extra back matter.
2002 Newbery Award Winner.
Lexile: 920L .
AR Level: 6.6 (worth 6.0 points) .
This novel follows a 12th century Korean orphan who is happy at first just to scrounge enough food to survive, but gradually becomes immersed in the world of the master potters of Ch’ulp’o, known for their breathtaking celadon ceramics.
I was first given this book back when it was released and a friend told me I had to read it. For whatever reason I resisted. Perhaps because I didn’t care much for historical fiction at the time. Another reason could have been the nearly all-male cast. Tree-ear’s world is full of men and boys, with only one female character of any notice. While it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, the characters do come from a wide economic spectrum.