Friday, October 24, 2014

Angel Island; Gateway to Gold Mountain

by Russel Freedman. Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan. Clarion Books, 2014. (Library copy). This nonfiction text for young people covers the west coast immigration center Angel Island in San Fransisco Bay. Between 1910 and 1940 more than half a million people from 80 countries passed through this station. After being examined medically and interrogated, they often waited weeks or months in shoddy wooden dormitories behind barbed wire. If they could not prove they were US citizens or members of carefully regimented groups deemed worthy to enter, including diplomats, merchants, students and teachers, they were sent back to their home countries disappointed and disgraced.

When park ranger Alexander Weiss first visited Angel Island in 1970 he found a long abandoned dormitory about to be demolished. With his flashlight he noticed strange markings on the walls. As he looked closer he discovered he found Chinese calligraphy carved into the walls and covered by a layer of chipped paint.

I looked around and shined my flashlight up and I could see that the entire walls were covered with calligraphy, and that was what blew me away", he remembered. "People had carved the stuff on eery square inch of wall space, not just in this one room but all over."
 Weiss told authorities about the carvings but was brushed aside. He couldn't forget about it and brought friends and colleagues to see them. Gradually more and more people got interested. The Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State College became interested and got the Asian American community involved in activism to save the historic landmark. It is open for visitors now, so anyone can go see the poems carved into the walls.

The book goes into the history of Chinese immigration and the discrimination and oppression they endured. Scattered throughout the book are original photographs of the people and places described, with many individual family stories portrayed. It is touching and illuminating to see this poignant side of our American history.

Also included are many of the original poems that are carved into the walls at Angel Island facilities, translated into English. Here is my favorite one:

Four days before the Festival of Reunion, I embarked on the steamship for America.
Time was like an arrow shooting through a cool autumn.
Counting on my fingers, several months have passed, leaving me still at the beginning of the road.
I have yet to be interrogated.
My heart is anxious, and weary.

The text explains -

"Another Chinese immigrants,Tet Yee, who spent six months at Angel Island, copied down ninety-six poems. "The people who wrote the poems did not know what would become of them on Angel Island," Tet Yee explained, "or if they would ever get off the island and make it to San Francisco. The poems were their only means of expressing their inner feelings."

Most of the Chinese immigrants were young men in their teens and twenties. I can see this book being an important part of a class study of immigration and the history of the western development of America in grades 4 - 6 cross-curriculum for Language Arts and Social Studies. With so much in the news these days about unaccompanied minors coming into the States from Central America, this is very relevant for today's youth.


Kirkus Review

Publishers Weekly

 KidsReads Review

CommonsenseMedia Review

Russell Freedman biography at Scholastic Teachers

Today's Friday Poetry Round up is hosted by Cathy at Merely Day by Day.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three by Zetta Elliott

The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott. Illustrations by Paul Melecky. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. Kamara suffers from the mean words of a boy at school until her Gramma comforts her and shows her the ancient mirror kept in a back bedroom of her old house. Kamara willingly cleans Gramma's mirror and discovers a magical storytelling window into her own family history. Generations of brave, heroic women have found the courage and determination to survive and overcome kidnapping, slavery,  oppression, discrimination and segregation. They fight for freedom, create communities, promote a renaissance of art, music and literature, contribute to building the American economy, support the war effort, struggle for Civil Rights, pursue education, and insist on dignity and freedom. Kamara is amazed and invigorated in the discovery of her history and her inheritance. Through the passing on of her family's stories, saved and treasured in the magic mirror, Kamara finds a way to value her own beauty and inherent worth. This is a delightful story perfect for middle grade readers eager to learn about history, culture, and the social power of discovering one's own strength through the network of family.

The Boy in the Bubble by Zetta Elliot. Illustrated by Nguyen Le Vu. Rosetta Press, 21014. Review copy. A Once Upon a Time story of friendship, loneliness, bravery, kindness and beauty. An unusual girl lives under a rock and wakes each morning to go out and discover beauty. A mysterious boy in a large, glistening bubble floats down out of the sky and starts up a conversation. The two explore the valley together as the boy asks the girl to describe how things feel, how they taste, how they smell. Of course, inevitably they have an argument followed by a sulky, sad separation. Then the boy comes back and heals the break. He finally has the courage to ask her to help him pop out of his lonesome bubble so they can travel and make music together. A very sweet story for young lovers of fairy tales.

The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun by Zetta Elliott. Illustrated by Bek Millhouse. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. This one is a little more sad, and set in current history. Zoe and her daddy play a game each day, pretending that she swallowed the sun before he goes to work. He would tickle her until she laughed and let the sun back out to shine out from behind the clouds. "You're my sunshine and I love you," Daddy would always say." Then one day while daddy is at work in NYC the grownups at home start acting weird. Mama and Nana are listening to the news and the phone and crying SweetJesusSweetJesusSweetJesus. No one tells her what is wrong, they just tell her to go play. She thinks maybe she swallowed the sun for real. Her neighborhood is full of flags but no one is celebrating, and it is cloudy all the time. Daddy doesn't come home. At last her Mama pulls her into her lap and tells her the truth - about the terrible day thousands of people lost their lives, and Daddy was one of those people. They mourn together, and try to put the sun back in the sky. Mama says it is going to take a while, but everything will be alright. The story ends with comforting hugs between mother and child, and a hopeful note. A difficult subject but one that children need to bring us through and move us forward. Elliot shares on her blog her memories of hearing the news on 9/11, of the towers falling and the planes crashing. She stopped writing her dissertation and started reading stories for children. In the weeks that followed she wrote this story.

These three short early chapter books are perfect for primary and middle grade children, offering elements of fantasy and history with compelling characters and vivid descriptions of place and setting. Readers are quickly drawn into the story, the pacing is quick and the resolutions satisfying. Diverse characters are embraced in warm families as they work on building friendships and dealing with familiar challenges.

I nominated The Boy in the Bubble for a Cybils award in the Short Chapter Books category. The other two are still awaiting someone to nominate them!

Tomorrow, Oct. 15 2014 is the last day that Cybils nominations are open for the season. Have you checked to see if your favorites are on the lists? There are seven categories of the very best children's books published in the U.S. in 2014. This is your chance to make your nominations!! Round one judges (I am one!!) will select the top five to seven books in each category by Dec. 1, and then the Final judging selects just one winner in each, to be announced in February. Go check it out!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Josephine; The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

by Patricia Hruby Powell, pictures by Christian Robinson. Chronicle books, 2014. Review copy. This adorable 8" x 10" full color hardback book is a treasure trove of inspiration and information on the glorious life of Josephine Baker. Baker was born in a hard scrabble life in East St. Louis in 1906. Growing up with poverty, discrimination, race riots, and a family that loved ragtime music and dancing away your troubles, Josephine learned to triumph with pizzazz. Nothing kept her down and she never took No for an answer. She ended up owning the stage from New York to New Orleans to Paris, France. She won hearts with her wild style and flashing joy. She learned to fly and became a stunt pilot. During WWII she joined the Red Cross and worked as a spy for the resistance.  She was awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d/Honneur. After the war she remarried and adopted 12 children from different countries and races, bringing them up in their own religions. She called her family her "Rainbow Tribe". Due to her generosity and extravagance she ran out of money, in spite of continuing to travel and perform for adoring crowds. She was struggling financially at the end of her life, but still performing at Carnegie Hall right before she died.

Powell and Robinson have done extensive research to support telling and showing this amazing story of a heroic, trailblazing American wonder woman. Children and adults alike will delight in the free verse celebration of her speaking out for justice, her charm and her creative bursts of dance and comedy in the face of seething segregation. Powell and Robinson have selected particularly interesting and stimulating aspects of Josephine's life, such as her passion to dance and her delight in flamboyant costume. She had a pet leopard while living in Paris, for example, and took "Chiquita" for walks in a diamond collar. The illustrations are bold and dramatic, with simple figures expressing intense expressions of Josephine's joie de vive.

See a trailer for the book and read exerpts at the publisher Chronicle Book's page. Read an interview with author Patricia Hruby Powell at Michelle Markel's blog The Cat and the Fiddle. Powell blogs "What Would Josephine Do?" at the Nerdy Book Club blog. And check out Jule's post at Seven Impossible Things for more artwork from Robinson, including some exploritory cover designs.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Trisha at Miss Rumphius. Take a moment to enjoy some delights!


Don't forget to go over the the Cybils blog this week and nominate your favorite new children's books (books published between Oct. 16, 2013 through Oct. 15, 2014). Nominations are only open until Oct. 15!!! There are seven categories of books. I nominated Josephine for the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction category. There are still some excellent books that haven't been nominated yet!! Check out the lists here. Semifinalists will be announced in January, and the winner in each category is announced in February. Previous winners are listed at the Cybils blog.