Emma’s Story written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Song Nan Zhang Picture book about families and international adoption published by Tundra Books
Emma and her brother are baking cookies at Grandma’s house. They use cookie cutters to make a sweet cookie family and then decorate the tasty treats with candies and dried fruit. When Grandma lifts the cookie tray out of the oven, she admires the cookie family but Emma is surprised to see the cookie that Sam has decorated.
Sam had used raisins and strings of licorice to decorate the Emma cookie. Big tears rolled down Emma’s cheeks. “I want to look like everyone else,” she said.
Emma’s sadness prompts Grandma to cuddle with her in a comfortable chair. She opens a photo album and tells her granddaughter’s story.
This is a story that Emma has heard before. In fact, she helps Grandma to tell the story properly. It seems that Mommy, Daddy, Sam and their dog Marley were very happy but they longed for a baby girl. They waited and waited for a little girl to arrive. Finally, they heard about a baby girl in China who needed a family.
Emma’s Story tells of the family’s excited preparations folowed by Mommy and Daddy’s long trip to meet Emma. We witness the new family’s first night and day together and their trip home to Canada. A large crowd meets the threesome at the airport and joyfully celebrate’s Emma’s arrival.
Emma has heard her story “a million times” and she is reassured by Grandma’s words,
It’s not how we look that makes us a family, Emma. It’s how we love each other,” said Grandma.
“And we love each other a lot!” said Emma.
While perhaps not meant for every bookshelf, Emma’s Story offers a very reassuring message and one that bears repeating. Just as Emma likes to hear her story and be comforted by it, children who share the international adoption experience will be similarly reassured by this book.
Detailed illustrations enhance Emma’s Story, especially when showing facial expressions.
My Princess Boy is a non fiction picture book about acceptance, written by Dyson Kildavis’ mom, Cheryl. Dyson is a young boy who likes to wear pink, sparkly clothing including dresses. He also likes to dance like a ballerina. Dyson’s mom worried that her four year old son would be teased and bullied by classmates and that he would encounter intolerant people who would not respect his preferences, so she wrote this book in an effort to encourage acceptance and compassion.
After introducing us to “My Princess Boy” and his preference for pretty pink clothing, we meet his brother and his father. Both are very accepting of Princess Boy. We also learn that Princess Boy has playdates with both boys and girls. We discover that he especially enjoys playing dress up and he wears a tiera when he climbs a tree.
Not everything is rosy for Princess Boy, however. When he shops with his mom, if he buys something that would typically be worn by a girl, people around them notice and laugh. When Princess Boy dresses up for Halloween, a lady reacts badly to the princess dress he is wearing.
My Princess Boy shares a message of acceptance and encourages tolerance. The reader is reassured that if Princess Boy wears a dress to school, his classmates won’t laugh. Friends will play with him even when he wears “girl clothes.”
The book then encourages readers to consider their own behaviour -
If you see a Princess Boy…
Will you laugh at him?
Will you call him a name?
Will you play with him?
Will you like him for who he is?
Our Princess Boy is happy because we love him for who he is.
I must admit to having somewhat mixed emotions about My Princess Boy. At one time, my nephew wanted to dress up at preschool. He preferred the “feminine” costumes. He wanted to wear high heels. My sister was quite disappointed that the preschool teachers did not want him to put on the “feminine” clothes. They wanted him to choose “male” costumes – fire fighter jackets and police officer helmets. My nephew is now eighteen and, as far as I know, has outgrown his desire to wear “feminine” clothes. I don’t think it was just societal pressure that did this, my sense is that some things that are very appealing at age four, lose their luster as a child grows older. I can’t help but wonder, what might have happened if my sister had written a book about my nephew’s fondness for “feminine” clothing. How would he feel about it ten or fifteen years later? Might it seem to be an invasion of privacy? I support Cheryl Kilodavis’ unconditional love for her son but I wonder how he will feel about being a poster child for gender identity (possibly for the rest of his life) based on his preferences at age four.
As a picture book about acceptance, My Princess Boy “works” to some extent. It most certainly will encourage discussion about individuality and respecting differences. Having said that, when Princess Boy is laughed at, there is no attempt to problem solve or deal with the issue head on. Princess Boy is not provided any means of coping when people laugh at him other than asking, “Why did she laugh at me?” My Princess Boy will only work as an antibullying resource if readers are encouraged to problem solve ways he might cope with the bullying that he is sure to encounter.
Finally, as evidenced by both the cover art and the spread from My Princess Boy, the illustrations for this book are somewhat unusual in that they are devoid of facial features. There are no eyes, noses, mouths or ears on any of the faces in the book. Some readers find this problematic, even creepy. It seems to me that seeing Princess Boy’s happiness ought to be a goal of the illustrator. Body language is one thing but, My Princess Boy is a book about emotions (happiness, contentedness, disappointment, hurt, joy and love), one would think that showing us those emotions would serve to enhance the message conveyed by the text.
Sharon Draper’s Out of my Mind is one of the best young adult fiction books I have read. For weeks, I have been reading blogs, websites, and articles about young adult fiction. The key words that keep popping up are ‘high stakes.’ In today’s fast-paced, socia media driven society, it is hard to capture attention. Your book has to be different; it has to stand out, or reach out and grab you. I thought I understood what was meant by the term ‘high stakes’ because I’ve read many YA novels and countless adult novels. It means you care about what happens next and you are connected to the characters.
When I got to the third to last chapter of this novel, that my class and I were already hooked on, I truly understood what high stakes means. It meant that, even though the bell had rang, even though they wanted lunch and so did I, even though everyone looks forward to the break in the school day, not one of us wanted to stop. We were frozen by the words on the page; we were so actively involved that no one wanted to move. But we had to. Kids had committments to help in classes, I had a meeting, and other kids were helping in the library. High stakes means that I was late for my meeting, because even though I couldn’t keep reading to them, neither could I walk away. I had to finish it. So I did.
This book already had the readers’ attention at page one. A young girl, Melody, talks about how she’s got all these words floating in her head and they’re this beautiful, abstract thing, that anchor her. She describes them as snowflakes, each one different and delicate. What a beautiful description. But the kicker, is when she says that, at 11 years old, she’s never said even one of those words. Melody has cerebral palsy. She cannot talk, walk, feed herself, or take herself to the bathroom. Sharon truly gets inside, not only the mind of this extremely, physically challenged girl, but the average grade five mind as well. Melody has all of the same challenges that regular grade fives have; what to wear, do I have friends? did I get the answer right? why don’t my parents understand? my little sister bugs me. What we see, in Out of my Mind, is how she connects with that world with extreme limitations. Her ability to do this connects us to her, it invests us in the story, and it makes us part of Melody’s world.
We spend a lot of time discussing bullying and how to treat others in elementary school. More and more, it has become a focus. We try to teach kids the different types of bullying, how to stop it, and how to recognize it. We try to make them empathetic by imagining how the victim feels, how the bystander feels, and even what the bully feels. This book gives us such a unique view of bullying. What if you could never respond to the bully? Never stand up for yourself? Never defend your friends? What if you were bullied and people didn’t even realize that you fully understood their cruelty? It’s one thing for a child to ‘not be seen’ but Melody’s circumstances take this to an entirely different level. It made my students more aware of the fact that how a person looks does not define who they are inside. The book stopped being about a girl in the same grade as they are with physical challenges; it became about Melody, this kid like them who was fighting not to get left out and fighting to be heard. She just had to fight harder than any of them have ever had to.
For me, it showed me what high stakes really mean. It means when you’re so invested in the character that you forget they’re not real. You see those characters in the people around you and the lessons you learn from them make you better. My students loved this book. I loved this book. What amazed me most was how, I started reading it to them, thinking it would never be okay for Melody because she was so physically and verbally limited. But in the end, that was not what mattered at all. I stopped seeing her limitations and was amazed by the strenth and courage and sense of character that she possessed. Sharon Draper was able to do all the things an author should do: she drew me in, she made me feel both Melody’s triumphs and heartaches. She made me part of Melody’s world and in turn, that beautiful strength of character, will hopefully, be part of my world and my students the next time any of us begin to judge a book by its cover.
When Vinson’s grandfather leaves China and arrives in America for a visit, Vinson is excited. But, from the moment his grandfather arrives, Vinson is surprised and confused. His grandfather persists in calling him “Ming Da” and he dances in the garden slowly and quietly. Vinson is familiar with kung fu and, curious about the new moves, he asks his grandfather to teach him tai chi.
Vinson and his grandfather meet in the yard after school and Grandpa teaches Vinson. The young boy is impatient, he prefers kung fu’s kicks and punches. Tai chi leaves his knees tired and his arms heavy. Vinson wonders why his grandfather insists on speaking Chinese with him despite the fact that he knows how to speak English well.
When Vinson’s mom says that Grandpa is going to accompany Vinson to school, he is embarrassed. He chooses to read while on the bus. He and his grandfather sit together, each stealing glances at the other. Similarly, Vinson chooses to wear his headphones rather than talk with his grandpa. It is only when Grandpa’s surprising and athletic intervention prevents a serious accident that Vinson pauses to reevaluate his perceptions.
As time passes, Vinson becomes more adept at tai chi and soon Grandpa adds a new twist to their work. Vinson carries a long bamboo pole and learns the cat walk.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, Vinson’s hair is cut, the family cleans the house and enjoys a traditional meal. When Grandpa gives Vinson an embroidered red silk jacket, he asks him to wear it for the upcoming parade. Vinson is embarrassed. He worries that his friends will see him and he feels self conscious about the new jacket.
As Vinson and his grandfather approach the parade route, Vinson gains appreciation for how his grandfather is regarded in the community and the tremendous pride he has for his grandson. When the two of them arrive at the start of the parade, Vinson discovers that he will be responsible for carrying a long bamboo pole, teasing the parade lions by waving a dangling cabbage.
An Author’s Note at the conclusion of Crouching Tiger includes notes about tai chi and Chinese New Year as well as a small glossary.
Beautifully illustrated with pen and ink as well as watercolors, readers will notice small details such as Vinson’s untied shoelace and his body language when his father cuts his hair.
Crouching Tiger invites discussion about family relationships and respect for one’s heritage. In a classroom, it could be used as a Chinese New Year resource and will be particularly interesting to children who are learning about martial arts. On each two page spread there is a small illustration of a tai chi stance.
Maoman’s papa is a housebuilder. He works far from home and only returns to his family once each year. On the day he arrives home, Maoman is hesitant at first. He looks different to her. Once Papa gets his hair cut, the family makes sticky rice balls and it is time for Maoman to snuggle into bed with her parents.
As firecrackers explode nearby, Maoman drifts off to sleep, The following day, the family enjoys eating their rice balls together. They leave their home and go to visit friends. Maoman discovers that her friends are also outside and visiting.
As Chinese New Year unfolds, Maoman sees a dragon dance and she plays outside in the snow with her friends. When she discovers her fortune coin is missing, she is devastated. Fortunately, the coin is not lost in the snow. Maoman finds it in her jacket and uses it to establish a lovely, heartwarming family tradition.
Beautiful illustrations lovingly depict Maoman’s family, her home and community. References to sticky rice balls, hair cuts, new clothes, firecrackers, a fortune coin, house repairs, a red envelope and a dragon dance provide all sorts of information about traditions associated with Chinese New Year.
Written from the perspective of an older sibling, My Brother is Autistic looks at the realities and challenges of being the brother or sister of a child with autism. Usually Billy and his brother get along reasonably well but, when a classmate frustrates Billy and makes him angry, his older brother is embarrassed by Billy’s reaction. He runs away from the scene in the school cafeteria. Help is not far away as he encounters his teacher in a hallway. She listens to him explain what happened and she has empathy for the frustration he feels.
I told my teacher that I wished more kids understood autism, because if they did, then maybe they’d give kids like Billy a chance!
With a consderable amount of text, this picture book is best suited to children kindergarten age and up. A Note to Parents provides general information about autism, characteristics typical of people who are autistic and suggestions for helping siblings of children with autism.
When a new boy arrives at school, he is partnered with a girl who notices that he is not like the other children in the class. He often just sits and stares at the wall. If I ask him what he’s looking at, he says, “Looking at,” and keeps on looking.
Louis tries using his new friend’s crayons but she can’t decide what he is drawing and he can’t say. When they go outside for recess, Louis runs around with outstretched arms. He runs through the boys’ soccer game and annoys the players. When invited to join the children who are climbing on a tire, Louis does not move. He just stands and watches.
In the classroom, Louis sometimes echoes his Miss Owlie’s instructions. His classmates laugh when he sounds like her. His partner notes that he is granted more leeway to speak out than others would be given.
When one of the children arrives at school with a new soccer ball, Louis shows interest. His classmates join in the game and, each time Louis touches the ball, he is encouraged. Later in the day, Louis and the boy with the soccer ball are allowed to escape the classroom and enjoy an impromptu game.
When Louis’ partner talks with Miss Owlie about Louis, she asserts,
“I think we’re allowed to break rules for special people.”
Miss Owlie put her finger to her lips and nodded a tiny little nod that nobody saw but me.
We peeped through the classroom window at Sam and Louis’s Great Game… and I felt special, too.
An afterword, written by Kori Levos Skidmore, Ph.D. provides information about the advantages of inclusion for all children.
Readers will be interested to consider Inclusion vs Seclusion: A Review of Looking After Louis published in Disability Studies Quarterly. While Ms. Hirad’s comments are interesting, I am not sure that I agree with them. When Louis repeats his teacher’s instructions to, “Sit up straight, everybody.” The children laugh because he sounded just like Miss Owlie. The text does not imply that the children are laughing at Louis, they are laughing because he sounded like his teacher. In a happy, relaxed and tolerant classroom, this would seem to be a natural reaction. When Louis runs through the boys’ soccer game, one of the boys yells at him. Again, while not an ideal reaction, this is likely a typical response to the interruption of a recess soccer game. Finally, Ms. Hirad seems concerned that the classroom teacher has not labelled Louis as autistic. Surely, we do not require labels or even explanations in order to show understanding and tolerance.
Looking After Louis is written from the perspective of a classmate.
Author-illustrator Lynda Farrington Wilson is a mother of a funny, brilliant, and talented sensory seeker who has autism. In A-U-T-I-S-T-I-C? How Silly Is That!I Don’t Need Any Labels at All she challenges readers to examine the labels we often attach to people on the autism spectrum.
Asking, I have brown hair, I wonder if that makes me… brown-hair-tistic? she asserts that there are many ways we might choose to label individuals but, in fact, labels are unnecessary. A child with autism is not unlike everyone else, he simply has a different approach to the world.
A-U-T-I-S-T-I-C? How Silly Is That! I Don’t Need Any Labels at All includes seventeen pages of exhuberantly illustrated text. It also includes an author’s note which explains that Ms. Farrington Wilson’s goal of encouraging the world to see past the labels and understand the importance of “people-first” language.