counting down…

Am 2 books away from completing my course reading project. Along the way, I have discovered a few things about myself:

  1. Like a good wine, some books improve with time… sort of. I just finished Tanith Lee’s The Black Unicorn, about 10 years after I unsuccessfully tried to read it in high school. I found it wonderfully enchanting; just the right kind of strong girl fantasy for me.
  2. Some YA books just do not appeal to me anymore. I fell in love with some of the works (The Truth About Forever, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, Ironman), but others just did not capture my interest. I think I just lost something along the way.
  3. Going outside of my comfort zone (genre-wise) is a good thing (re: Ironman).
  4. I need to read more smart, quirky bios and other non-fiction books.
  5. I still hate reading goals. I like to read at my pace and will be happy to resume it.

Multicultural Materials for Children and YA book project

Now that the Summer semester is well and truly over, I can post the book evaluations that I wrote for the Multicultural Materials class without fear of self-plagiarism issues. What I am going to do is post each evaluation as an entry and link to them all here for easy access.

Part of the assignment required that I consider ways to incorporate the books in a library or media center collection, and design activities using the texts.

These are the books that I selected for the written part of the assignment. Though I read many great selections, these were the ones that I most enjoyed.

  1. The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
  2. An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World’s Largest Amish Community by Charles E. Hurst, David L. McConnell
  3. The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  5. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa
  6. Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr
  7. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
  8. Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
  9. Wild Orchid by Beverley Brenna
  10. April and the Dragon Lady by Lensey Namioka

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Annie on my Mind are two of the best YAs I’ve read in a while 🙂

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 10

Book 10
Culture: Asian-American
Title: April and the Dragon Lady
Author: Lensey Namioka
Publisher: Browndeer Press
Published: 1994
Genre: YA fiction, realistic fiction, Chinese-American families
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Summary: April has always been a dutiful granddaughter, though she knows that she comes last in her traditional Chinese-American family. It’s April’s brother Harry who is the apple of their grandmother’s eye, the honored grandson who will carry on the family name and honor his Chinese ancestors. When April starts to date Steve, an all-American classmate who shares her love of geology and is brave enough to try even the most exotic traditional Chinese food, she begins to realize how difficult it is to be stay true to her family’s traditional views while trying to become independent. While April has always considered herself an American, she finds herself having trouble reconciling her American ideals with her grandmother’s Chinese views. She wants to be the best granddaughter she can be but she also wants more than the strict roles laid out for Chinese girls.

Evaluation: This novel is an authentic representation of the tensions experienced by teens navigating the border between two cultures. In addition, the novel provides an excellent portrayal of the gendered roles associated with boys and girls in Chinese culture, as well as the ideals of filial piety and reverence of age. Grandmother Chen represents a powerful force in the family; her position in the family highlights the bonds between the generations in Chinese families and the emphasis on honoring one’s elders and caring for them in their old age. The novel’s depiction of family, traditional values and gender illustrates the challenges faced by Chinese-American girls who want to stay true to their culture while striving for the American ideal of independence.

Personal Response: I felt that the novel accurately portrays the experience of being a bicultural teen who wants to stay true to the family’s culture while also identifying with the dominant culture. April’s difficulties with her grandmother resonated with my own experience as a granddaughter. Hispanic families often look after their elders and live in multi-generational homes, so the Chen’s experience of living with a somewhat difficult elder reminded me of my relationship with my grandmother. I think this is a book that will appeal to many teens who find themselves in similar situations.

Suggested Extension Activities: One of the main themes in April and the Dragon Lady is balancing bi-cultural identity, making it a great selection for a program on multiculturalism and “hyphenated” Americans. The book can be part of a reading list featuring a selection of YA works that raise awareness of hyphenated, bi-cultural lives in the United States (Asian-American, Hispanic-American, etc.).
To encourage awareness of bicultural identity, the library can also select a month to celebrate biculturalism and feature programs, such as movie viewings and book clubs, to support understanding of the experience of being part of more than one culture.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 9

Book 9
Disabilities -Asperger’s
Title: Wild Orchid
Author: Beverley Brenna
Publisher: Red Deer Press
Published: 2005
Genre: YA fiction, realistic fiction, disabilities, fiction about Asperger’s Syndrome
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Summary: Taylor just graduated from high school and feels the threat of The Future looming before her, and it certainly doesn’t help that her mom is forcing her to go on a visit to Waskesiu for the summer. Taylor is worried that things will be too unfamiliar if she leaves her home; how will she know what to expect? For Taylor, uncertainty is a real threat; she has a form of Autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome and has difficulty dealing with change and social situations that would seem inconsequential to others. However, Taylor manages to surprise herself when she finds herself enjoying the predictable pattern that she manages to establish in Waskesiu. She walks the beach seven times in the morning, goes to the nature center, looks for plants, talks to Paul and the others who work at the center, and returns home for pancakes, fries, or pizza before going to bed with her wind-up clock set. Soon enough, things start to change for Taylor, but she finds that she is stronger than she imagined when she takes on a job at the nature center and makes three friends in the process.

Evaluation: Brenna takes the reader into the mind of a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, allowing the reader to imagine the anxiety, worry, and confusion that Taylor experiences when she encounters unknown situations and finds herself in social situations that she does not know how to navigate. Taylor’s coping mechanisms are portrayed in detail as she tries to reassure herself by counting to the number seven, sharing information about gerbils, and looking for wild orchids on Waskesiu’s nature trail. Brenna provides an excellent depiction of the repetitive tasks that individuals with Autism often demonstrate, while the diary format of the novel provides a first-hand account of Taylor’s experience rather than rely on an omniscient narrator. This is a hard to find book (it is a Canadian publication), but its honest portrayal of Autism makes it a worthy addition to a YA library collection.

Personal Response: At times, this is a difficult book to read. Taylor’s condition makes her dwell on small things, like the number of words that a person uses to construct a sentence, her nervous tics and worries are numerous often making it a challenge for the reader to understand her actions. I felt as if I was experiencing the events from Taylor’s perspective, but found myself feeling sympathetic towards her mother. Taylor’s mother often appears selfish to Taylor, who cannot understand why her mother would want to change any aspect of their lives. The reader is able to understand the challenges faced by a parent who wants the best for their autistic child but also wants their child to understand that sometimes change is inevitable. I felt frustrated by Taylor, but I also felt frustrated for her; I imagine this is what her mother must feel.

Suggested Extension Activities: This novel can be used as part of a special school media program to promote awareness of emotional and psychological disabilities among teens. The program can present information on disabilities such as Asperger’s, autism, depression, eating disorders, etc. to encourage understanding and awareness of the effect of these “silent” disabilities on teens. Students who have experience with these disabilities (whether first-hand, or through a friend or relative) can be encouraged to share their thoughts in writing. Poems, essays, and short stories on living with disabilities can be printed in the school newspaper or on a library blog. Students can choose to remain anonymous.
Posters and bulletins can be created and posted around the media center and around school common areas to help students learn more about these conditions.
A display of relevant materials can be set up in the library in a prominent area and teachers can be encouraged to incorporate information about disabilities into the class curriculum.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 8

Book 8

Annie on My Mind
Author: Nancy Garden
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Published: 1982
Genre: YA fiction, realistic fiction
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Liza dreams of getting into MIT and becoming an architect. She does not have many friends at school, the elite Foster Academy, but she has a wonderful mentor, her English teacher, Ms. Stevenson, and a loving family that supports her. When Liza goes to the Met to work on a design project, she never expected to find Annie. Annie is unlike anyone she has ever met before–imaginative, silly, and full of heart. The two soon become inseparable. When their friendship starts to turn into something more, Liza must come to terms with her feelings and her sexuality. As Liza and Annie grow closer, they learn to handle the emotions and attraction they feel towards one another, but there are those who refuse to recognize the love that defines their relationship and will do what they can to make them feel tainted. Can Liza overcome the prejudices of others and find happiness with Annie?

The novel provides a realistic portrayal of young love and the difficulties and prejudices often experienced by gay teens. Liza’s experiences at school serve to highlight the sort of mindset that many gay teens encounter when they come out in such a public manner. While most teens do not face expulsion when their orientation becomes known, Liza’s suspension and near-expulsion is comparable to the suspensions faced by many gay teens when they try to attend school functions, such as proms, dressed in a manner that does not reflect the traditional gendered norm or when they are accompanied by their partner.

Personal Response:
Though this is an older book, I found that the issues regarding gay rights remain highly relevant in today’s society. When Annie and Liza’s relationship becomes the object of public scrutiny, prejudices are revealed and their love for each other is ignored. The “immorality” of their relationship becomes the hot topic at Foster and Liza’s feelings for Annie are made out to be the product of lust. The Christian attitudes displayed by many of the members of the Foster community reflect many of the negative attitudes experienced by the gay community today, so I find it to be a timely and insightful read for readers who are unfamiliar with the prejudices experienced by members of the gay community, especially gay teens who already find themselves experiencing the challenges of young adulthood.

Suggested Extension Activities:
This novel can be used as part of a reading group on gay rights in America and the history of GLBTQ issues in literature. Public librarians, however, will need to be advised to take measures to ensure library support in case of challenges.

Special readings and events can be planned to celebrate Gay Pride Month (June). One day will be chosen for as an open mic night; teen patrons will be invited to read selections from GLBTQ books, poems, or essays, or to present an original piece. Reading groups will be planned throughout the month, and will include selections such as Annie on my Mind, Boy Meets Boy, Empress of the World, and other works.

An art project can also be incorporated into the celebration to encourage teens to create images of support, pride, and acceptance to be displayed in the library.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 7

Book 7
Title: Does My Head Look Big in This?
Author: Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Orchard Books
Published: 2005
Genre: YA fiction, high school experience, Muslim-Australian teen experience, realistic fiction
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Summary: Amal is used to being different. Part of the growing community of Australian Muslims, Amal is secure in her faith and culture, but knows that Australian society views her as an “other”. Determined to stand proud in the face of prejudice, Amal chooses to go “full time”–to wear the hajib everyday. Though Amal tries to convince herself that the veil is just a piece of cloth, it becomes much more than that as this piece of cloth comes to represent her identity as a Muslim woman. Amal faces the usual high school drama that comes with friends, boys, and tests, while also facing negative stereotypes and racial prejudice.

Evaluation: Though the novel is set in Australia, Amal’s experience will resonate with American-Muslims who have had to contend with negative portrayals of Islam and Muslim culture perpetuated by the media. Amal is a sympathetic and humorous narrator that teens will be able to relate to regardless of their personal faith or beliefs. The novel provides an accurate portrayal of Muslim culture and beliefs, such as the practices surrounding prayer and Ramadan, and the obligation to become an educated individual. Distinctions are also made between culture and faith, as well as how the country of origin and family culture can affect the experience of Islam as practiced by different groups. The novel can introduce students learning about different faiths and cultures to the Muslim immigrant experience.

Personal Response: At its core, this is a novel about one girl’s struggle to establish her identity as a Muslim in a society that is prejudiced against those who are different. However, this is also a novel about being a teen, dealing with self-image and self-esteem issues, first love, school, and learning to follow your own path. It is informational while being enjoyable. The beliefs and traditions of Islam are introduced in a manner that allows the reader to learn about Muslim culture while remaining an integral part of the plot. This interesting and engaging read allowed me to learn more about the practices that my Muslim friends observe.

Suggested Extension Activities: This book can be used in conjunction with Goy Crazy and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian to introduce high school students or young adults to the experience of being different during the high school years and having to contend with the pressures and prejudices that can arise when one chooses to be open about one’s faith and/or culture within the dominant culture. These books share a high school setting that will be relevant to teens going through similar experiences. The books can serve as part of a series of book club discussions or as part of a special class project on high school culture and being different. The aim of the project will be to increase awareness of hostility and bullying in schools when students target those who are different.

The book can also be part of a display on Ramadan. Students or young library patrons can create a series of posters and signs raising awareness of the beliefs and practices of Islam to encourage acceptance and diversity within the community. The book can serve as part of a display of materials that depict Muslim culture and can also serve as a source of information for the creation of the posters to be displayed in the library or media center.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 6

Book 6
Title: Goy Crazy
Author: Melissa Schorr
Publisher: Hyperion
Published: 2006
Genre: YA fiction, high school experience, Jewish-American teen experience
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Summary: When Rachel Lowenstein runs into Luke Christiansen when he is bussing tables at her brother’s bar mitzvah, she’s struck dumb. He would never go with a girl like her, would he? But when she runs into him a second time, Rachel decides to give it a shot and finds herself going “goy crazy”. What would her parents say if they knew she was going out with a boy from a Catholic high school? Better for them not to know, Rachel decides. Rachel experiences the highs and lows of high school drama and romance, coming to terms with her views on faith, love, and being Jewish.

Evaluation: Goy Crazy is a contemporary YA novel about interfaith relationships and Jewish culture. When Rachel Lowenstein meets Luke Christiansen, she finds herself in a confusing position: should she break the “Teen Commandments” and go against grandmother’s wish that she not go with the goyim? Or should she follow her own path and ignore her family’s strict rules? The novel realistically portrays the experience of first love while exploring the doubts that can arise when one questions whether faith should play a role in one’s choice of partner. The novel also provides a look at modern Jewish culture, traditions and beliefs, the observance of the High Holy Days, and life cycle events, as well as how Jewish teens view their faith and culture in modern American society. This is an excellent book to use when introducing young adults to modern Jewish culture; teens will be able to relate to Rachel’s experience of school and family life, while learning about Jewish faith and culture.

Personal Response: Most of the books that I have read on Jewish culture are concerned with the history of the Jewish experience, but few have dealt with the modern experience of Jewishness. I was interested in reading about the experience of today’s Jewish teens, and how they view their identity within American society. Rachel is like any other American teen, but she also recognizes the unique experience of being Jewish and how this affects the decisions that she makes, such as whether she should date a gentile, or get a tattoo. This enjoyable read manages to explore issues of faith and Jewish tradition in an easy, fun manner.

Suggested Extension Activities: I would use this book as part of a YA program on teens and peer pressure. Rachel and her friends are just starting to get involved in relationships and find themselves in tricky situations because they want to fit in, it is a good example for teens who are unsure whether to go with the crowd in order to fit in, or stay true to their personal values and beliefs even if these aren’t popular. The book can be used in conjunction with other selections and movies on teen life and peer pressure in order to get teens to discuss their own experiences in a social forum.

I would also use the book to discuss issues of inter-faith, inter-cultural, and inter-racial relationships, particularly how these are viewed by teens and their families. Rachel is afraid to share her feelings for Luke with her family because she thinks that they will disapprove; a book group event can allow students to discuss these issues with other teens in order to gain insight into what their peers think about the subject and how they can handle the matter.

The book can also serve as a good example of modern Jewish culture for a library or school media display on growing up in different cultures.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 5

Book 5
Culture: Cuban-American, Hispanic
Title: Cuba 15
Author: Nancy Osa
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Published: 2003
Genre: YA fiction, coming-of-age, Hispanic traditions, Cuban culture
Recommended Age: Young Adult

Summary: Violet Paz is a normal high school student growing up in Chicago until her normal American life is rocked by her Cuban grandmother’s wish to throw her a Cuban-style Quince party with all the trimmings. Little does Violet expect that this party idea will bring her closer to her family and help her learn more about her Cuban roots. With the help of her friends, Leda and Janell, Violet prepares for an over-the-top “Loco Family” celebration. Violet just has one stipulation as she embarks on her journey from girl to woman–no puffy pink dresses.

Evaluation: This is a quirky coming-of-age story that does a good job of demonstrating the experience of first-generation children of Cuban immigrants in the United States. However, several elements are very specific to the experience of growing up Cuban in a place other than Miami. Violet lives in an area of Chicago where there are few Cuban-Americans, she does not speak much Spanish, and only sees her Spanish-speaking relatives during occasional visits; her experience will differ from that of Cuban-American teens in areas featuring heavy concentrations of Cuban-Americans, such as Miami. Therefore, the portrayal of family, tradition, and child rearing may not reflect that experienced by teens growing up near Spanish-speaking relatives and communities. Violet’s story reflects the experience of more acculturated first-generation Cuban-Americans who have had little experience of their ethnic culture. Her desire to learn more about Cuba and Cuban culture may serve to inspire other teens to learn more about their own cultural background.

Personal Response: This book appealed to me because I rejected the idea of having a Cuban-style Quince when I turned 15, so Violet’s mixed feelings about the party resonated with my own. I found it curious that some of the culturally specific terminology used in the book was inaccurate, so I did some research to find out more about Nancy Osa. I learned that, like her character, Osa grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a Cuban father and a Polish mother. I suppose that, like Violet, Osa did not grow up within Cuban culture and learned to appreciate it later in life; this would explain why some of the terminology seemed wrong to me given my own background within the Cuban community in Miami. I enjoyed the book and it made me gain a new appreciation for my family’s openness when discussing Cuba and Cuban traditions.

Suggested Extension Activities: I would use this book as part of a library program on coming of age traditions for young adults in a public library setting. The book can be part of an on-going series of book club style read-alongs and activities. Teens participating in the program can share their experiences and discuss how special birthdays are celebrated in their families and within their cultures. The series can be accompanied by a special Flickr, Facebook, or MySpace page where teens can share images of their coming of age celebrations or birthdays (Quinces, Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, Sweet Sixteens, etc.). The library can also host a party to celebrate young adults and their part in the community to conclude the series.

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 4

Book 4
Culture: Native American
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
YA fiction, Native American, Confessional
Recommended Age:
Young Adult

Summary: Arnold “Junior” Spirit was born with water on the brain. He has been different from the day he was born and everyone on the reservation knows it. At fourteen, he knows that the only way to make something of himself is to get the kind of education offered at all-American, white as Wonder Bread Reardan High School. Junior must learn to balance his cultural identity as a Native American while finding his place in white Reardan, and meeting the challenge faced by fourteen-year-old boys everywhere: girls.

This is an excellent coming-of-age story that stays true to the experience of youth. Difficult subjects are introduced but these are carefully balanced by Junior’s humorous observations and illustrations. The novel is a semi-autobiographical account of Alexie’s own experience as a Native American growing up on a reservation, and so serves as an authentic and sympathetic account of Native American culture and experience. Alexie reveals the positive aspects of Native American culture but does not shy away from revealing the negative factors that affect the community, such as racism, alcoholism, poverty, and depression.

Personal Response:
This book made me laugh like no other! Alexie handles difficult subjects–depression, death, alcoholism, hopelessness–but adds a unique sense of humor that makes Junior’s voice come to life. Junior’s cartoons add an extra touch to the story, making it seem like a real fourteen-year-old’s diary. I learned a lot about the experience of Native Americans on the reservation, and was struck by the injustices and hopelessness experienced by the Wellpinit community. It is a little racy, but I think it works for teens and makes Junior a sympathetic, relatable character.

Suggested Extension Activities:
Throughout the text, Junior notes images and stereotypes that society associates with Native Americans–from images of redskins as team mascots to inaccurate ideas about Native American beliefs and traditions. I would use this aspect of the novel as part of a visual analysis of inaccurate and negative representations of ethnic cultures in the media (signs, logos, movies, art, etc.). I think this would work best as a collaborative project between a middle or high school media specialist and a history or English teacher. Students will then be asked to create accurate visual depictions of ethnic cultures to display in the school media center as part of an art project to raise awareness of cultural diversity. The book can also be used as part of a series on the current state of Native American Indians as a way of encouraging students to understand that there is more to this culture than Casinos and powwows; the series can include different books, movies, and a visit to a local reservation or state park (if available).

Multicultural Books for Children and YA: Book 3

Book 3

Native American
Title: The Rough-Face Girl
Rafe Martin, David Shannon
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Published: 1998
Genre: Folktale, Children’s book, Native American
Recommended Age:

Summary: A Native American story in the tradition of Cinderella. Abused by her beautiful and haughty older sister, the Rough-Face Girl is forced to tend the family’s fire every day, burning her hair and skin until she is scarred by the flames. When her sisters decide to try to win the love of the Invisible Being that lives in the area, Rough-Face Girl asks her father to allow her to present herself before the Invisible Being. Though her father cannot offer much, Rough-Face Girl makes due with the little that she has and goes to seek the Invisible Being. Despite her appearance, her beauty and kindness shine through and she is rewarded with happiness and love.

Some of the illustrations in this book may prove a bit frightening to younger children. The plot follows the typical narrative for a Cinderella story, but adapts it to Native American culture. The values of honesty, kindness, and hard work are rewarded, while greed and malice are punished. Overall, the narrative is easy to follow and children will be able to understand its message of inner beauty. However, I would be wary to present this as a true Native American folktale and would rather present it as a fairy tale retelling. I do not think this tale truly represents Native American culture, though it can be used to introduce children to vocabulary terms and concepts associated with Native American culture.

Personal Response:
This is an interesting retelling of the Cinderella story but the narrative made me question the authenticity of the source material. I tried to find background information on the tale, but was unable to find any references to an Algonquin Cinderella, though I did find references to a Mi’kmaq Cinderella story (which is attributed to a 19th century adaptation of Perrault’s Cinderella). I would be reluctant to present this as Native American folklore at the risk of promoting “fakelore,” but I do think it can be used to teach children about the universal appeal of fairy tales and their ability to transcend culture.

Suggested Extension Activities:
I would use this story as part of a unit on multicultural retellings of the Cinderella story. Several versions of the story would be selected and assigned to individual students or groups, depending on the size and needs of the class. Students would be asked to write a short essay about the moral of the story they selected, and what it says about beauty, as well as what/who is considered beautiful in the tale. Students will also be asked to make a chart listing those traits that are considered “good” and those that are associated with being “bad” in each tale. These traits can be compiled as a class. I think that this assignment would work best with a third grade class, as it will require critical thinking and writing skills. An art project illustrating the good/bad traits can also accompany the assignment.

Lists of Cinderella stories: – Cinderella tales