Tag Archives: grades 1-3

[R] Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look

20 Apr

I think this is the second book in the series, but my library didn’t have the first book, so I read this one instead, just to get a feel for it. I don’t read many early chapter books, but I had read Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, also by Lenore Look, and I wanted to read the girl version.

I love these books because they have Chinese main characters, with pictures, so it’s even more apparent. I’m Taiwanese, but as books go, this is close enough. This book is great because it has Ruby with a cousin from China who doesn’t really speak English.

I was just talking to my cousin about a similar incident the other day. She was telling me about her experience at school when she first moved to America from Taiwan and how the teachers at her junior high (she was in 7th grade) had a Japanese girl “translate” for her (this was about 30 years ago, when there was less sensitivity to these issues…).

Her brother was at the same elementary school as one of our other cousins who was a couple years younger, and all the teachers got the American-born cousin to translate for the one that just moved from Taiwan. The only problem was that the American-born one couldn’t speak Mandarin, and his Taiwanese was limited to the phrase “chicken poop.”* So his “translating” consisted of repeating everything the teacher said in English slower and more loudly.

My cousin and I were almost literally ROTL while talking about this, but that was the reality at the time, even in such a diverse place as Los Angeles. It was slightly better while I was growing up, but not so much better that I don’t jump at the chance to read these new books with Asian main characters that have popped up in the last ten years or so whenever I see them.

In the book, Ruby’s cousin is deaf, which adds another dimension to the communication mishaps that can occur. The book is funny and genuine, with adorable illustrations that will draw even the most reluctant readers in. Best for early elementary (Ruby is in second grade in the first book), girls will the Ruby Lu series, and there is an Alvin Ho series for boys that is equally funny and engaging. Of course, eager readers may devour both series, but it looks like there will be plenty of new titles to come.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R. 

*This is probably not entirely true, but there is an often-told story in our family of how he went to Taiwan and all he could say was “chicken poop.” He will never live it down, no matter how many iPhone apps he designs at Apple.

[REVIEW] Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

26 Jan

I remember buying all of the books in the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar (including Sideways Arithmetic) from my Scholastic book order at school. I loved how they made me laugh when I read them because they were so silly.

I wanted to do Sideways Stories from Wayside School with my third grade book club class last year, but I couldn’t find it at home, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy. The next week, half of my class received the book as a Christmas present from their teacher at school (they all had the same teacher). I guess she thought they would enjoy it, too. And we were both right. Most of the kids, even those that did not normally enjoy reading (i.e., the boys), had started reading the book during snack time. They were laughing so hard that they had to show their friends what they were reading. I had never seen most of them so excited about a book before.

Just what was in this book that made the kids laugh so hard? They were probably laughing at the kid with the raincoats, but I liked the nonsense of school life that this books brings to light. Like the story of the three Erics, where one Eric was called “Fat” because the other two actually were fat, even though “Fat Eric” was actually skinny.

All the short vignettes that make up this book have something to say about life and human nature. My favorites are the one about the boy who couldn’t help but pull the two beautiful long pigtails in front of him (always made me want to pull pigtails ever since I read this as an elementary schooler) and the boy who smiled and smiled all day. Everyone wanted to know why, but he wouldn’t tell them. Finally, he said, “You need a reason to be sad. You don’t need a reason to be happy.”

I was surprised to find such profound insight in a book for kids, especially one that was just supposed to be funny. I doubt most kids would understand some of them until they are older, but there are some playground truths that kids understand already, which may be part of why they find the book funny.

Can be read with interest by at least second to fifth grade, although once middle school hits, the kids might feign disinterest just for the heck of it. That’s okay, because Sachar writes great books for middle schoolers and high schoolers, too. Contains: Gross things, scary teachers, nonsensical school. 

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