Archive | February, 2012

Review: Sora and the Cloud

29 Feb

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely someone who revels in buying crisp stationery and penning a pretty letter to a family member, or a thank you note to a friend. For me, the texture of the paper, the way the ink flows, the grip of the pen in my hand–I take all of this into consideration when selecting the proper writing tools.

Pencil box, pretty stationery, Miffy pen ~ I’m all set!

So, naturally,  I was drawn to the beautiful images and text in Felicia Hoshino’s gorgeous watercolor and mixed media bilingual English/Japanese picture book, Sora and the Cloud, published in January by Immedium.

Sora and the Cloud by Felicia Hoshino. Japanese trans. by Akiko Hisa

Released: January 2012

Publisher: Immedium

Level: PreK-2

Using a light, soothing color palette filled with sea green, cream, and peach, Hoshino takes readers on a whimsical journey through the streets (and skies) of San Francisco. Sora is an adventurous little Japanese-American boy who loves climbing all over everything (even his parents!). One day he discovers a tree and keeps climbing higher and higher until he encounters a napping cloud resting in the leaves. Cloud is delicately illustrated as a simple puff with expressive eyes, a gentle smile, and two blushes (!) of color infusing its cheeks. Of course, Sora mistakes Cloud for a piece of cotton candy and is about to take a bite, when off they float, drifting over such familiar landmarks as Chinatown and the Golden Gate Bridge. Soaring above the city, Sora and his new friend encounter a wide array of fantastic sights, including a bustling amusement park and a traditional Japanese festival of kites.

In her author’s note, Hoshino explained that she wanted to write a book she could enjoy with her children in English (her native language) and Japanese (her husband’s native language). A helpful glossary defines the Japanese expressive dialogue sprinkled throughout the book (separate from the Japanese translations appearing below the English text), as well as the cultural inspirations behind Sora’s adventures. Other charming details include the depiction of Sora’s grandparents in the beginning of the book (a nod to the reverence of older generations, common in East/South Asian cultures) and mei tai babywearing (I especially picked up on this because I used to wear my kids in slings when they were teeny!) Sora and the Cloud is a lovely celebration of Japanese-American culture, and reminds us that keeping traditions alive is an important part of who we are.

Because I know you’ll love this book as much as I did (yes, you will!), I wanted to give you some information my good friend, Allison, from Reading Everywhere shared with me the other day: Felicia Hoshino specializes in watercolor portraits of children. Visit her lovely website here:http://www.felishino.com, so you can own a piece of personalized artwork. 😉

Copy checked out from my library.

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South Asian American youth literature and the bi-cultural experience

26 Feb

As a youth services librarian, and the mother of two children of bi-racial/bi-cultural heritage, I’m strongly committed to highlighting books mirroring a broad spectrum of cultural differences. I also find myself experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as I see a plethora of recently published multicultural children’s and young adult books. For example, during my childhood, I NEVER read a single book with an Indian-AMERICAN female main character~believe me, if I had, it would’ve changed my life! Now, I put “AMERICAN” in all caps, because reading a book about Indians is so not the same as reading a book about Indian-Americans. Seriously, after several arguments and debates with my own parents (both born in India) about the differences between the “way people do things in India” versus “the way people do things in America,” I’ve realized there is a BIG difference between the two.

My sons, both 3.5 and 1.5 years old, are the product of a bi-racial marriage- I’m Indian-American and my husband, Bryan, is Caucasian-American. It’s been a mission of mine, since before the boys were born, to find books accurately reflecting a bi-cultural sensibility. So you can imagine how pleased I was to recently discover children’s and young adult books with South Asian characters balancing dual heritages and cultural experiences.  With that said, I’m beginning my inaugural blog post (sorry, the introduction doesn’t really count as the “first” entry) discussing two books featuring bi-racial characters with South Asian heritage.

The Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani

Released: January 2012

Publisher: Random House

Level: Middle-Grade/ages 9-12

The summer before sixth grade, Sonia Nadhamuni’s life is thrown into upheaval when her father loses his job and becomes depressed. Sonia and her sister, Natasha, can no longer afford to attend their progressive, but incredibly expensive private school, and their mother is forced to take extra hours at work. Sonia enrolls in a large, public middle school where her classmates don’t quite know what to make of her mixed Jewish American and East Indian heritage. Sonia also can’t decide whether to befriend popular cheerleader, Kate, or hang out with the very awesome and smart, Alisha, who’s not exactly at the top of the social totem pole. When Mr. Nadhamuni disappears, Sonia takes stock of her situation, re-evaluating her friendships and ultimately decides that her dual heritage makes her a “whole” rather than “half” a girl.

Hiranandani’s debut novel is heartfelt, discussing cultural identity, family dynamics, mental health, and the timely issue of economic hardship in such a way that’s not too heavy for a middle-grade reader. There isn’t a “happy” ending in this book–Sonia still has a lot of stuff to work out with her family, as well as with herself–but I felt that it ended on a moderately high note. Perhaps the most important take-away from the novel is seeing a truly realistic depiction of cultural differences. In that respect, Hiranandani nailed it.

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Released: January 2011

Publisher: Flux

Level: Teen/ages 14 and up

After a classmates calls her a “towelhead,” Asha Jamison who is half Indian, a quarter Mexican, and a quarter Irish is inspired by the negative experience. She and her best friend, Carey, who is half Chinese and half Caucasian, decide to start up a club, “The Latte Rebellion,” promoting awareness about students of mixed heritage. Oh, and they try to make bit of money on the side for a graduation trip by marketing t-shirts with the logo of their new project. Before they know it, the club gains traction, attracting a variety of socially conscious people. Soon, Asha and her friends are caught in the middle of a brewing political movement. Stevenson deftly handles complex issues related to race and identity, but also realistically depicts typical adolescent drama, including the heart-breaking end  of a lifelong friendship.

Gosh, how much do I adore this book?! Well, first of all, I loved that it was set in Northern California, in a location that was totally recognizable and identifiable to me. Not a big issue for most readers, but for this one, it was a personal issue. In fact, Sarah and I have our alma mater in common – we’re both UC Berkeley grads (Go Bears!), and it’s kind of nice to see that this book gives mad props to Cal. More importantly, The Latte Rebellion made cultural and racial identity issues its central theme – for some, this might feel heavy for a young adult book, but for those teens interested in political movements and cultural studies – this book speaks honestly, and directly to them.

ARCs provided by School Library Journal for professional review. The Latte Rebellion was reviewed for SLJ in February 2011. The Whole Story of Half A Girl was reviewed for SLJ in February 2012.

Introduction

23 Feb

After much wavering, I’ve decided to start up a blog about children’s and young adult literature. As a youth services librarian, I often find myself relying upon friends’ and colleagues’ blogs as valuable collection development and reader’s advisory tools…as well as for some fun stuff to read on my own time. Lately, I’ve been feeling the need to track the books I’m reading. And I’m not just talking about perfunctory little blurbs on Goodreads, but rather, writing honestly about the books I read and often recommend. I’ve decided to call this blog Masala Reader because I hope that the vast majority of what I write here will emphasize diversity in children’s and young adult literature.

Masala is a Hindi word used to describe a mixing of spices, but in the context of this blog, I find it to be an apt metaphor for describing emerging literary trends reflecting myriad diversities. And, of course, there’s the personal connection–I’m Indian-American, a product of blended cultures. As an adult, I’m beginning to see the books I longed to read as a child being published and marketed to the mainstream. I truly believe it’s important for everyone, regardless of age, to be able to relate culturally (and I’m using this word in the broadest sense) to the media they consume. It might seem trivial to some, but when I read a description of a traditional South Indian dinner being eaten by an Indian-American family in Sheela Chari’s Vanished, I teared up. Sharing (as well as viewing) such intimate details about culture and ethnicity can be personally meaningful to authors and readers.

I’m looking forward to blogging and, hopefully, hearing what some of you have to say.