Jul 31, 2010

Asian American Literature

Say, Allen. 1999. Tea with Milk. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 978-0395904954

After growing up in San Francisco, May, a Japanese American feels out of place when her family moves back to Japan.

Critical Analysis:
With this story, Allen Say brings us the beautiful tale of how his parents met and fell in love. Masako, whose American name is May, was born and raised in San Francisco, California. Her parents are both from Japan and after May graduates high school, her dreams of going to an American college are diminished. May’s parents are homesick and move the whole family to Japan. May immediately feels uncomfortable in Japan. Her kimono is too tight, everyone calls her by her Japanese name Masako, and she misses the taste of pancakes and spaghetti. Worst of all, May has to repeat high school because she does not know how to speak, write or read Japanese. May feels like a “Gaijin” (a foreigner) although she looks like everyone else -- black hair and dark eyes. Her parents relish in the culture and traditions of the village, but this only pushes May further away. She is unable to relate to her parents homeland. When May’s mother tells her she should be a “proper Japanese lady” with a husband from a good family, May puts on her bright red dress from California and rides a train to Osaka. Although people stare at her in her colorful dress, she feels better. There are large buildings, busy people, and noise! She loves it and immediately secures a job as an elevator girl in a big department store. One day, May overhears people speaking English and she introduces herself to them. May asks if she can be of any assistance to the family. The family is grateful that May can show them the items they came to buy. The department store manager is elated and May has found herself a new job. She messages home that she has found work and won not return to the small village. Soon after, May meets a young Japanese man named Joseph. Joseph went to an English school, and they quickly learn they have a lot in common. They speak in English, talk about visiting America, and both drink tea with milk and sugar. One evening, Joseph comes with bad news. Joseph is moving and wants May to go with him. Joseph tells May, “…home isn’t a place or a building that’s readymade and waiting for you, in America or anywhere else.” Joseph tells May they can make a life together, wherever they are.

Say’s illustrations convey May’s loneliness perfectly and also give evidence to several cultural markers. A painting of May in her kimono is especially touching, and I found myself staring at it for quite awhile. May’s posture is slouched and low, almost as much as her frown. May appears to fit in perfectly; she wears a kimono, drinks tea, and sits modestly on the floor, but May looks unhappy. On the next page we find May alone in the school yard. She stares at the ground with her book in her hand, but something keeps her from going inside. Page after page we find May donning the same frown. She is often seen staring right at the reader with blank, unfeeling eyes. Everything changes when May travels to the city and meets Joseph. Here, her eyes smile and her face lights up. Tea with Milk is a touching story of how two people feel like foreigners in a place that should feel like home. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Riverbank Review Book of Distinction, 2000
Bulletin Blue Ribbon, 1999
School Library Journal Best Book, 1999
ALA Notable Book, 2000

“Through choice words and scrupulously choreographed paintings, Say's story communicates both the heart's yearning for individuality and freedom and how love and friendship can bridge cultural chasms.” Publisher’s Weekly

“The pages are filled with detailed drawings featuring Japanese architecture and clothing, and because of the artist's mastery at drawing figures, the people come to life as authentic and sympathetic characters. This is a thoughtful and poignant book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, particularly our nation's many immigrants who grapple with some of the same challenges as May and Joseph, including feeling at home in a place that is not their own.” School Library Journal

Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather’s Journey. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 978-0547076805

Say, Allen. 2009. Erika-San. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 978-0618889334

Lin, Grace. 2006. Year of the Dog. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780316060004

Grace Lin, a Taiwan American, sets out to discover her true self with a little help from the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

Critical Analysis:
Grace Lin lives in a constant whirling of East and West. Her parents are Taiwanese, but often labeled Chinese by others in the community because they celebrate Chinese holidays. Grace’s parents only speak English in the home, but they speak Taiwanese with relatives. Grace isn’t even her real name; it’s her “American” name that her parents gave her. Her real name is Pacy. The story begins on Chinese New Year, and Grace and her family are preparing to welcome a new year. They set out special Chinese candy (and M&M’s) on a polished silver tray, and their mother makes food that will bring good luck and fortune. With all the festivities, Grace begins to think she is not lucky or fortunate. She worries that she does not have any talent and has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. Her mother says that it is the Year of the Dog and a good year to “find yourself” because dogs are faithful friends -- honest and sincere. Grace instantly knows that this is the year she will discover who she really is! Surely she is good at something, she just needs to find out what. Several days later there is a new girl at school, Melody. Melody is also a Chinese American. Grace has many friends in school, but until Melody arrived, no one looked like her. Soon, they become best friends. They like the same boys, like the same food (even though her mother makes noodles without oil), and they celebrate the same holidays and traditions. Grace does not feel like she sticks out like a sore thumb having Melody at school. Near the holidays, Grace’s teacher informs the class that they will all be writing their own books for a national writing contest. At first this excites Grace, but soon she realizes she has nothing unique to talk about. She worries aloud, “…finding a book idea was like finding myself. And I wasn’t having much luck with either.” Grace and Melody make a trip to the school library and asked for a “Chinese book” for inspiration. The only book that came remotely close was the Five Chinese Brothers picture book. Grace couldn’t identify with the characters. The brothers had ponytails and she didn’t know any Chinese boys who wore their hair that long. Grace exclaims, “I wanted a real Chinese person book. One with people like us - Chinese Americans.” This inspires Grace to write her own book about her experiences as an Asian American. Will her book win the grand prize, and bring her fame and fortune?

What makes Year of the Dog an especially good Asian American book for children, are the interwoven stories told by Grace’s mother. Although the imbedded stories seem a bit forced at times, they have value. These one-page stories usually have a value lesson attached, but also give the reader a glimpse into the life of a Taiwanese individual. For example, Grace stays up all night worrying about her special talent and is worried about falling asleep in school. Grace’s mother jumps in and tells a quick story of how she would have to stand outside in the hot sun during assemblies. Grace’s mother says, “I stood at the very back, lost in the ocean of black heads.” The assembly speeches were so long that Grace’s mother fell asleep - standing up! The teacher’s were angry and she received bad marks for the day. Grace’s mother ends her story saying, “I could fall asleep anywhere….I was very talented.” Although this is not exactly the talent that Grace had in mind, the story was something with which she could identify. Flashbacks from Grace’s mother are usually paired with a small pencil drawing in the margin. These crude black and white illustrations add to the comical relief, but do not win any style points.

In her author’s note at the end, Grace Lin explains her problems identifying with her predominately Caucasian community. She explains that it was not “gloomy and miserable,” but different. She stood out, and she wished she had a book with which she could identify. These are the reasons why she wrote Year of the Dog and its sequel, Year of the Rat. Recommended for ages 8 and up.

Fall Publisher's Pick, 2006
Starred Booklist Review
ALA Children's Notable, 2006
National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) GOLD Winner, 2006
Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist, 2007-2008
Nene Awards Recommended List, 2007
Cochecho Readers' Award List, 2007
NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, 2006
Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books 2006
2006 Booklist Editors' Choice for Middle Readers, 2006
Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice, 2007
Boston Authors Club Recommended Book
Great Lakes Great Books Award nominee, 2007-2008
North Carolina Children's Book Award nominee, 2007-2008
West Virginia Children's Book Award nominee, 2007-2008
Beverly Cleary Children's Choice Award (OR) nominee, 2009
Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award (WA, OR, ID)nominee, 2009

“Lin, best known for her picture books, here offers up a charming first novel, an autobiographical tale of an Asian-American girl's sweet and funny insights on family, identity and friendship.” Publisher’s Weekly

“Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today's young readers.” Booklist

Lin, Grace. 2008. Year of the Rat. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 9780316033619
Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 978-0316114271

Heo, Yumi. 2009. Ten Days and Nine Nights: an Adoption Story. Schwartz & Wade. ISBN: 978-0375847189

A young girl counts down the days until her newly adopted baby sister arrives from Korea.

Critical Analysis:
Ten Days and Nine Nights is told from the first person perspective of a young girl anxiously anticipating the arrival of her newly adopted baby sister. Every day the young girl visits the calendar and marks off the day with a big red X. As the young girl counts down the days - and nights - her mother makes the long journey to Korea. Soon, there are no days and no nights left, and the big day is finally here! The young girl and her father go to the airport and pick up her new baby sister.

In my experience, children’s literature about the arrival of a new sibling deal with jealousy and feelings of abandonment. Heo gives us a simple story about a girl excited to meet her new sister. There are no undertones of resentment or worries of being pushed to the side and forgotten. The little girl only conveys pure joy for her new family member. Each day she counts down the days with excitement, “I have four days and three nights.” The countdown pages are followed with double-paged illustrations of the young girl’s mother traveling or filling out adoption papers. These illustrations provide no dialogue (add to the simplicity), but the airplane trips and adoption sign in a busy hallway provide all of the necessary clues.

Although we are not directly told that this family lives in America, there are yet again, clues. The young girls’ calendar is in English, the dinner table is set with forks and spoons instead of chopsticks and a multitude of small bowls that are typical of a traditional Korean meal. Also, the young girls’ best friend, Molly, is light haired and light skinned, as well as the doll that the young girl pretends to feed. One last clue, that may also be an unnecessary cultural stereotype, is the illustration of the young girls’ father closing his dry cleaning store called Kose Cleaning. Perhaps this is an autobiographical story and Heo has a family member who owns a dry cleaning store…perhaps not. The author’s note explains that Heo was born in Korea, and having “adopted the United States as my home,” resides in New York City. She also writes that she has several friends who adopted from her home country and in turn, led her to create a story especially for them and their new family. Recommended for ages 3 and up.

Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices Winner, 2010
Parents Choice Award - Picture Book, Silver Honor

“Most books about waiting for the arrival of an adoptive baby are aimed at older children and delve into negative feelings about a new sibling. This one is a worthwhile addition to most collections.” School Library Journal

“Heo’s stylized artwork fills the pages with family warmth in this welcome and endearing addition to adoption books. The calendar device is exactly childlike, as is the girl’s first-person voice.” Booklist

“Heo (The Green Frogs) writes as if the baby's arrival will be unambiguously joyous, and children who read this book will feel this way, too.” Publisher’s Weekly

Friedman, Darlene. 2009. Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles. Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0061141362

Parr, Todd. 2007. We Belong Together: A Book about Adoption and Families. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 978-0316016681