Archive | April, 2013

[Z] Zazoo by Richard Mosher

30 Apr

Zazoo is the name of a Vietnamese girl who was adopted by a French man who brings her back to France to be raised as his granddaughter. It is a poignant story of a girl who is trying to figure out how she belongs in a world where she feels completely French but looks different from everyone else. At the same time, she has to deal with the loneliness of the only family she has ever known struggling with dementia. In trying to learn about his past and hers, she meets a mysterious boy, uncovers horrible truths, and restores relationships torn apart by war.

I expected this book to be about belonging, but I didn’t expect it to be so sad. Dementia is such a devastating illness to those around the person afflicted, and when that person has also been through several wars in the thick of the fighting locally and abroad, it makes it even sadder still. And the fact the this 13-year-old girl is supposed to take care of him on her own seems like an impossible task.

I was really glad for the ending, when she finally gets some support in taking care of the old man she loves so much, and the love story within a love story was a nice way to weave together all the characters. I cried even more with this book than I did with Kira-Kira (this is what I get for choosing books based on the letter they begin with instead of the content), but there are themes of hope and reconciliation throughout the book.

It’s also a great diverse read that I haven’t really heard much about, maybe because it was published before I started following all the book blogs. I didn’t like the hardcover cover design very much, but the paperback cover is beautiful:

Zazoo by Richard Mosher

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

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[Y] The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin

29 Apr

The “Year of” books always seem to be Chinese-related, even though the same zodiac system is used throughout East Asia at least. I remember last year for A to Z, I wanted to do what I thought was “The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson” for “Y,” but then when I was looking it up, I realized that the title was actually In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. This year, I bought a bunch of books by Grace Lin, and luckily, two of them actually did start with “(The) Year of.”

The Year of the Dog is the book I wished I had when I was growing up. It is just an ordinary book about a Taiwanese American girl growing up in a community with very few Asians. While I grew up in a pretty diverse community, a lot of the things Pacy (Grace) experiences are close to my heart, especially her confusion about the difference between Taiwan and China. I remember not knowing the difference until 3rd grade, when I did a report on China because I thought we were Chinese.

“But I’m not really Chinese either. It’s kind of confusing. My parents came from Taiwan. Some people thought Taiwan was part of China. So then calling me Chinese was kind of correct. Other people thought Taiwan was a country all by itself, so then I should be called Taiwanese. It didn’t help that my parents spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese.” (p. 18 of the paperback version)

My parents are staunchly on the Taiwan as a country side, so they were upset when I identified as Chinese at school, but I thought Lin’s explanation of the dilemma is pretty straightforward and apolitical, like her mother’s answer to her question about what to say when people ask her what she is: “‘You tell them that you’re American,’ Mom told me firmly.” (p. 19)

I also related to her experiences around other Taiwanese American kids, because although I speak Taiwanese and Mandarin, I was a Twinkie wannabe because the other option would’ve been a FOB, and I was born in America so being a Twinkie seemed like the cooler thing to be.

There were also things that I learned about Taiwanese culture that I didn’t know because what gets passed down to the second generation is usually a little spotty, so everyone ends up learning different things. In light of my last A to Z post on xxxHolic, it was interesting how almost everything in this book was translated into an English equivalent because this book is completely geared toward the general American audience, while xxxHolic is obviously for people with some knowledge of Japanese culture (although it can be enjoyed by people who do not). Although, just like in my family, Lin uses a mixture of Chinese and Taiwanese at home, so she uses both for the few words she romanizes and defines in context. My favorite of her translations is “flaky dried pork” for “rousong” or “pork floss” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rousong), which is always something I have a hard time describing to people who have never had it (although we usually eat the fish version at home).

A must-read for all Taiwanese American kids, but it is also a great entryway into learning about Taiwanese culture for kids of other backgrounds. I haven’t read Lin’s other books yet, but they’re waiting for me on my shelf!

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

[3 words] wolf/angel/brush

28 Apr

I’m done scheduling all the Blogging from A to Z posts! Here’s some 3-word flash fiction to celebrate. 🙂

Originally written Monday, February 25, 2013

In the woods, the girl stretched in the moonlight, yawning. Her nose scrunched as she sneezed with a shake of her head. For an instant, small pointy ears popped out of her hair, but they disappeared with another shake of her head. She yawned again and curled up between the roots of a large tree and fell asleep.

A few hours later, her mother came looking for her, finally spotting the small gray wolf sleeping under the tree. She picked up her daughter gently and carried her back to the cabin.

When she felt her mother’s arms around her, she turned back into a little girl. “Mama, are you an angel?” she asked sleepily.

“Shush… Go back to sleep,” said her mother, brushing the dried leaves out of the girl’s hair.

(131 words)

[X] xxxHolic Vol. 1 by Clamp

27 Apr

In the first volume of xxxHolic, Kimihiro Watanuki, a high schooler with strong spiritual powers, walks into a strange shop that grants wishes. He ends up working for the owner of the shop, who goes by the name of Yuko, in order to have his wish to get rid of those powers granted. While he’s working at the shop, he meets a few of Yuko’s customers and watches as she grants their wishes. Some parts are creepy, and the customers are kind of “monster of the week”-type stories, but Yuko is sarcastic and cool enough and Watanuki plays the grumbling assistant well enough for the series to be entertaining. Clamp’s art is amazing, as usual, especially their designs of Yuko and her various outfits.

The manga was localized by Del Rey, and the translation generally stays true to the feel of the original Japanese (at least what I remember of it). There one or two places where the English didn’t quite flow right, and one place where the Japanese characters were left in unexplained (they were translated right after, but it wasn’t clear that the next line was the translation), but I am probably just being picky because I work in the industry (though on the anime side mostly, these days). There were also some uncommon Japanese words that were left in untranslated and romanized that seemed like they would have been confusing to non-Japanese speakers, but there were notes in the back explaining everything. I’m not used to reading manga in English and I wasn’t paying enough attention to the table of contents, so I didn’t see them until the very end, but it seems like something readers used to reading Del Rey manga would figure out sooner.

The first thing I saw when I opened up xxxHolic was that it crossed over with Tsubasa (another manga by Clamp) volume one. Even though I’d read xxxHolic volume one before in Japanese (and seen the anime, where I remember the crossover), I’d forgotten that the crossover happened in the first volume of both. I happen to own the first volume of Tsubasa (Reservoir Chronicle) in Chinese, and when I flipped through, I saw that I’d stopped reading right when the crossover with xxxHolic started. I’d bought the first two volumes in Chinese on a trip to Taiwan during college, when I was taking Chinese and wanted to practice reading, but I hadn’t even heard of xxxHolic then, so I think I had gotten too confused and stopped in the middle of the first volume. (I’d gotten them because it was the sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura, which I liked from watching “Cardcaptors” on TV. I owned a bunch of the DVDs so I could watch the Japanese versions, but Tsubasa was so different that I thought I’d gotten a Chinese rip-off at first…)

The crossover doesn’t happen until the end of volume one, so I picked up where I left off in Tsubasa after I finished reading xxxHolic. My Chinese is super rusty, but with my newfound kanji knowledge from learning Japanese (my Chinese had been better than my Japanese when I bought Tsubasa, but now my Japanese is way better) and more context from the xxxHolic anime and manga, I was able to get through the crossover scene in Tsubasa and understand more of what was going on than I did before. I still prefer the original Cardcaptor Sakura series to both xxxHolic and Tsubasa, but at least xxxHolic is funny. Even though Tsubasa is the direct sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura, it’s really serious, so I’ve never liked it as much as the other two.

Anyway, all this to say that while the story of the manga wasn’t new to me, it was my first time reading it in English. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I don’t read a lot of manga in general, and even less in English, but since I’d been requesting so many books for my youth literature class anyway, I thought I’d add the English version to the queue and give a proper review.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter X. (It took me so long to get through the Chinese that this post is pretty much written in real-time, i.e., not scheduled in advance, but posted at exactly 27 minutes after midnight because it’s Day 27 of the challenge.)

[W] Wonder by R. J. Palacio

26 Apr

(#65 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012. Part of this was originally written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

“The universe takes care of all its birds.”

Wonder by R. J. Palacio is about Auggie, a boy with a facial deformity who is about to start going to school with other kids. The book follows him and his friends, family, and classmates as they struggle with how to incorporate him into their lives. Palacio tells the stories in parts, shifting the point of view from one character to another so that we can see how each character reacts to Auggie. For the most part, it’s pretty effective (although I had a little trouble when one of the teens decides to write with bad grammar after the younger characters are portrayed so eloquently. It seemed like Palacio was taking kind of the easy way out with that character’s voice).

It is an inspiring story about overcoming differences and being kind to each other. I don’t know anyone who read this book who didn’t love it.* It was one of those books that I had checked out because it was on the Top 100 and I hadn’t read it before, but I had actually planned to do Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin for my “W” book instead. (I had to keep myself from reading it so I could do “W” on this book because I have different book by Grace Lin coming up!)

I loved this book so much that I’m reading it in my 6th grade book club class now. This is probably the first book I’ve chosen that I didn’t choose just because it was a good story at a good reading level. It’s both of those things, but I also chose it because I think there are a lot of themes about bullying and friendship and just being kind in this book that are important for middle schoolers to learn.

*Apparently a lot of other people in L.A. want to read this book, too, because it was the only book of the six Top 100 I’d checked out that couldn’t be renewed, which was why I was “forced” to read it before the others… Our library system needs to get more copies of this book!

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

[V] The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket

25 Apr

I’ve read a few books in The Series of Unfortunate Events, and while I don’t dislike them, I’m not a huge fan of them. This particular book I actually checked out once to read for last year’s challenge, but I ended up using The View from Saturday instead (RIP E.L. Konigsburg :(). I ended up with the ebook this year in a bundle of three Unfortunate Events books because that was the only thing immediately available from the library.

The Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and follows the three Baudelaire orphans to a village full of crows in an attempt to find a place for them to live. The evil Count Olaf is still after them, and they need to save their friends, the two surviving Quagmire triplets.

All of the kids I know who have read this series really enjoy it, and if I had first read these books as a child, I think I would have liked them a lot more. Daniel Handler (the man behind Lemony Snicket) does a good job of introducing hard words and writing about what they mean, teaching vocabulary in context while being entertaining at the same time.

However, for an adult who already knows what the words mean, all the explanations make you feel like you’re reading twice as many words for the same amount of content, and it slows down the pacing of the story. Also, I’ve only read a few of the books, but they all seem to be pretty similar, and because they are “unfortunate events,” they pretty much all have bad endings, which doesn’t make it a very satisfying read (and according to a student who has read all the books, the series itself also has a bad ending).

It’s all right if you like that kind of thing, but I got kind of tired of the “author” telling me to stay as far away from the book as possible every time I picked up one of the books in the series. I can ignore it if the book captivates my attention enough, but in this case, I think I might just listen to him.

Great for kids who like to learn big words, but maybe not for cynical adults like me. 😉

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

[U] Umbrella by Taro Yashima

24 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

In Umbrella by Taro Yashima (1958), a little girl, Momo, who is impatient to use her new umbrella and rain boots finally gets to use them on a rainy day, and through this experience, she becomes a little more independent. These parents of the 50s are supportive of the main character, parenting in a gentle but firm way. The mother seems to be the main caregiver and the father looks like he works outside the home in the illustrations, although it is not mentioned explicitly in the text. It is very much a “normal” small nuclear family, but it also happens to feature a Japanese American family before race became much of an issue in children’s books.

I loved the brush paintings in this book and the mini Japanese lessons that are given on each page (like how the kanji for Momo 桃 means “peach” in Japanese). It’s a deceptively simple, sweet story that was a Caldecott Honor Book.

The book was written for the author’s daughter, actress Momo Yashima Brannen of Star Trek fame, and her brother was Mako Iwamatsu, whom I probably knew best as Aku from Samurai Jack. Taro Yashima also wrote and illustrated the book Crow Boy (1955), another Caldecott Honor Book, which I remember reading as a child. Roger Pulvers writes about the family in this piece: Two Generations of Japanese and Japanese American Artists: Activism, Racism and the American Experience.

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

[T] The Three Bears by Paul Galdone

23 Apr

It was a nice coincidence that this book happens to come right after Stone Soup. In my head, they are in the same category–they are both books that I read as a child that I rediscovered this semester while collecting books for class. Also, both were stories that I was familiar with in other contexts, but I’m pretty sure the copies I found were the same editions that I read as a child.

The Three Bears by Paul Galdone

I took a quick picture before returning it to the library.

I never really liked the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears because it didn’t really make sense. How could porridge from the same pot be too hot, too cold, and just right if the “just right” bowl was the smallest one? Shouldn’t it be the coldest? Unless “too cold” was in a plate, which I’ve never seen. How does a little girl break a bear’s chair just by sitting on it? I didn’t mind the fact that bears had chairs, but wouldn’t even the smallest one be heavier than a little girl? And then why doesn’t the little girl get punished for breaking all the bears’ stuff?

I think I was a little happier when I found out that the oldest versions of the stories had an old woman instead of a little girl, but this is probably why I tend to prefer retellings of fairy tales instead of the fairy tales themselves…

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

[S] Stone Soup by Marilyn Sapienza

22 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

As I was thinking about what to choose for this assignment, I thought of books that I still remembered from my childhood. One that I still remember pretty vividly is Stone Soup (1984). The version I remember from kindergarten is the one with pigs as the main characters retold by Marilyn Sapienza and illustrated by Hans Wilhelm. It looks like it’s out of print now, but I remember distinctly that they scrubbed the stones a lot so they were clean. This was very important to me as a 5-year-old.

As an adult, I can see why parents would tell this story to their kids to teach them about sharing, and I think many versions of this story emphasize how important it is to share, especially with those in need. While that is definitely a theme in the version I read, I think I related more to the main characters and how they were proactive in making the best of what they had. I think that kind of positive thinking can be instrumental in helping children overcome hardships, and that’s the message that I would like to pass on. (I haven’t read the other versions, but from the covers, this pig version looks like a more lighthearted take on the folktale).

This book also had the added bonus of getting me interested in cooking, and I think about it all the time when I cook, especially when I make soup.

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

[A to Z] Update Post

21 Apr

First of all, a huge thank you to all the new followers and commenters that have found me through the A to Z Challenge or by other means.

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t had much time to comment back or visit very many other blogs this year, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve just been too busy this month with work and school and work… I knew I’d be busy, and I almost let it stop me from doing the challenge this year, but I’m glad the challenge is getting me to read and write about more books (especially books that I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise ^^;).

Since I’m struggling to stay on track (I only have two scheduled posts for the rest of the challenge, so I still have six posts left to write and three books left to read), I decided that I would take the month of May to do the visiting and replying to comments and things. If I see that you’re a WordPress user, I’ll probably just comment in my original post, since WordPress tells you when another WP user replies to your comments. If you use Blogger or another platform, I’ll try to leave you a note on your blog.

Good luck with the rest of the challenge! (And maybe some of you will join me on the May challenge extension?)

P.S. – I’m scheduling this for a Sunday, which means I’ll have written this a few days before you see it, but I don’t think my status will change much between now and then, although I’ll hopefully have a few more posts scheduled by then.