This series of K-12 book reviews from the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) concludes with this list of fabulous texts that follow the theme “Wheels of Change.”
Grades K-3 Colón, Edie. (2011). Good-bye, Havana!, Hola, New York! Illus. by Raul Colón. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Change comes to Cuba when Fidel Castro takes over leadership of the country. In this autobiographical picture book, six-year old Gabriella soon learns that this political change spells changes for her own family and the way they’ve been living. While her parents flee the country for a new life to the north, Gabriella lives with her grandparents and waits for her parents to find living accommodations in New York City. Once her parents return for her, and she begins a new life in New York, Gabriella struggles with many of the changes including a smaller dwelling place, the cold weather, and the language. Most of all, though, she misses her grandparents who are still living in Cuba. The story is actually based on the author’s own childhood experiences. Edie Colón is an ESL teacher and deftly interweaves Spanish words into the text, making this an excellent choice for multicultural collections containing books describing the immigrant experience of young children. The beautiful illustrations are filled with vibrant hues, and are rendered by the author’s husband.
- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant
Grades 4-7 Lin, Grace. (2012). Dumpling days. New York, NY: Little, Brown.
Although Pacy is excited to visit Taiwan for her grandmother’s sixtieth birthday for a month during summer vacation, she is also nervous because she will be in an unfamiliar place. After all, she doesn’t speak the language, and her parents have signed their three daughters up for cultural enrichment classes. Even in her art class, Pacy feels inadequate and is unable to understand her teacher. She forms an immediate dislike for another classmate, Audrey Chiang, because she is not very friendly, and the two girls are competing for a prize to be given during the final week of the class. As is the case for many of Pacy’s first impressions, it turns out that there are reasons for Audrey’s behavior. Over the course of her stay, Pacy’s eyes are opened to a world and culture that are new to her. While she relishes some experiences, there are others she won’t want to repeat. Even the public bathrooms and train travel are different than what she’s accustomed to. She even eats many different foods that she had never eaten in the U. S. such as frog eggs, stinky tofu, quail, and chicken feet. Although she struggles to survive in a different culture and language, the delicious dumplings she consumes as often as possible always comfort her stomach and ease her homesickness for her American friends. When Pacy and her family return home, she takes along a little bit of Taiwan in her lap and in her heart, and for the first time she understands her own parents’ experiences of feeling caught between two cultures. This book provides insight into others experiencing the same conflicting emotions and cultural dissonance but does so in a gentle way. This delightful continuation of the adventures of characters first introduced in The Year of the Dog
(2005) and The Year of the Rat
(2008) sparkles with humor, insight, and familial love. There are all sorts of treats hidden within the book’s pages, and the descriptions of Taiwanese cuisine will leave readers’ mouths watering. Fans of the author will surely hope that she draws on her own personal experiences for even more stories such as these.
- Tadayuki Suzuki, Western Kentucky University
Grades 8 to 12
Osborne, Linda Barrett. (2012). Miles to go for freedom: Segregation & civil rights in the Jim Crow years. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.
This companion book to the author's earlier Traveling the Freedom Road
(2009) relies on moving first-hand accounts and powerful photographs to provide perspective on the years preceding the modern civil rights era and the protests of the 1950s and 1960s. Examining events that occurred in the South and in the North, the author begins in 1890 when the state of Mississippi crafted an amendment to the state constitution requiring voters to pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test in order to vote. She concludes the book with a discussion of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling declaring unconstitutional racial segregation in public schools. In between, she covers Plessy v. Ferguson upon which the concept of "separate but equal" facilities would be based, segregated military units during WWI, the Great Migration to the North, race riots, protests, and acts of courage, both small and large. The text is appealing and inviting to readers, particularly since there are so many personal vignettes being shared. These are the stories of brave men and women looking for a way to change a system that had become entrenched in the nation's daily practices. A helpful timeline, notes, and a note on sources provide additional resources for interested readers. Two points are particularly worth considering: (1) Segregation was not solely a Southern practice. Osborne makes it clear that as African Americans moved to the North, there was strong resistance to their trying to buy houses in certain neighborhoods or perform certain jobs. (2) The Library of Congress possesses incredible resources for anyone wishing to study segregation and the civil rights movement. Relying on these voices from the past, the author draws readers into the book, relating the events with a sense of urgency. This title is essential reading for young students of American history. Interested readers can learn even more at the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/topics/americanhistory.php
or the National Visionary Leadership Project at http://www.visionaryproject.org
where they can find an oral history archive. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman Smith, Jennifer E. (2012). The statistical probability of love at first sight. New York: Poppy/Little, Brown and Company.
When seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan misses her flight to London by the narrowest of margins, she is stuck in the airport waiting for the next plane. But all is not lost since she passes the time chatting with a handsomely charming British college student. He helps her with her luggage, and they while away the hours getting to know each other. They sit together on the plane, and as sometimes occurs, against all odds, their attraction grows as they share their histories with one another while the plane flies across the Atlantic. Hadley had become estranged from her father after her parents’ marriage broke up. Now, she’s flying off to be an attendant in his wedding to his another woman. Oliver merely hints at his own reasons for flying home. The two kiss briefly, get separated in the crowded airport, leaving Hadley to find her way to the wedding. After the ceremony, she goes in search of Oliver with the only clues she has about his whereabouts. Hadley becomes open to the possibility of the love that may lie in her future even while she realizes that the love between her father and his bride will never supplant his love for his daughter. As Hadley and Oliver face beginnings and endings, their chance meeting just might be the change both of them need. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman
Farish, Terry. (2012). The good braider. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
Fifteen-year-old Viola, her brother Francis, and her mother flee their Juba, Sudan, home because the family can no longer live safely there. Not only are they expected to become Muslims as the result of a civil war, but Viola is repeatedly raped by a soldier. Because Viola has an uncle in the United States, the family is eventually able to arrange transportation to Cairo, Egypt, where they wait for two years before being allowed to travel to Portland, Maine. The journey to freedom is difficult and has high costs, but becoming accustomed to a new way of life with a new language and different cultural expectations is just as challenging in its own way. When Viola's mother burns her hand severely after she spends time with a boy, it is clear that the clash between traditional and modern ways has resulted in pain on both sides. Viola's voice is clear and determined, showing her increasing strength and independence sometimes at odds with the traditional values of her Sudanese culture. This novel in verse is filled with beautiful descriptions of the journey Viola's family takes and their determination to fashion a hopeful future by pulling together pieces of the past and the present. The author raises difficult questions about the meaning of home and belonging and makes palpable Viola's fears about revealing her past as well as her determination to master English and leave behind her ESL class. As was the case with Inside Out & Back Again
, this book shows just how present the past may be. - Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman