Here I Am story by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez

Here I Am coverMoving to a new place is never easy, and when the language and customs don’t make any sense, feeling at home there seems almost impossible.

Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez’s wordless picture book brings a little boy and his family to the United States. While the rest of his family is a little more open to making a go of this new life, the boy is frustrated and intimidated by the strangeness of everything. He retreats into himself, watching the world from behind (safe) apartment windows and longing for home.

This desire for “home” is at first centred in a red seed that the boy has brought with him. Gradually, though, the meaning of the seed changes, from a reminder of another place to simply the possibility of growth. When the boy loses his seed, he sets off after it, and quickly discovers, as he wanders his new neighbourhood, that this place is full of interesting things and friendly people. While he does eventually find the seed, the boy has by that time grown confident enough to be friendly himself. He and the little girl who found the seed plant it, and as it grows, so does their friendship, including first his sister, then her brother, and eventually both children’s parents as well.

Here I Am is a lovely, contemplative story. The images do a wonderful job of helping the reader to feel the strangeness of a new place for themselves, in particular through the spoken and written language that surrounds the boy, depicted in “bla-bla-blas” and mingled letters and symbols from a variety of alphabets. The book is as valuable for young readers welcoming new immigrants into their classroom or community as for new immigrants themselves, with its focus on understanding, courage, and finding universal means of communication.

Read more reviews from Book Egg and A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall.

Ever wonder how an author composes a wordless book when she/he is not the illustrator? Check out this interview on Capstone Connect to find out how Patti Kim did it!

Watch the official trailer:

Releases September 2, 2013. Thanks to Capstone Kids and NetGalley for the review copy!

The Unforgotten Coat written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and illustrated by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney

The Unforgotten Coat coverJulie’s new classmates, Chingis and Nergui, have a lot of stories to tell. Some are interesting, like the ones about their home in Mongolia — complete with Polaroid pictures! Some are strange, like the reason Nergui needs to keep his hat on in class. And some are downright scary. Is Nergui really being chased by a demon? Julie, the boys’ guide to life in Bootle, spends the most time with Chingis and Nergui, but even she can’t quite sort out the line between truth and fiction in their stories. Following the boys home one night reveals some of the answers, but new questions arise when their whole family disappears the same night. A final twist, courtesy of the now-adult Julie, provides the explanation for the book’s title.

The Unforgotten Coat offers a portrait of immigration — specifically illegal immigration — through the eyes of children. Julie’s host-child voice, pleased to welcome but openly curious, creates a familiar frame for the more complex perspectives of the two boys, struggling to comprehend the relationship between the old home and the new, and the threats associated with each, even as they interpret that relationship for their classmates. The surprising source of their photographs of home adds an intriguing layer to the story’s mystery, and might well inspire a bit of experimenting on the part of readers. I’ll let you discover that secret for yourself!

Read reviews from Publishers Weekly or Auld School Librarian.

Find out about The Reader Organisation, which The Unforgotten Coat was originally written to support, and a bit about the background of the story.

Also, check out this article on Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Perfect Weekend, just because it’s so lovely.

Tea with Milk by Allen Say

Tea with Milk, by Allen Say, is a touching story of independence and transformation. A little girl is born and raised just outside of San Francisco, at the turn of the 20th century, by Japanese parents. Growing up in the United States, she balances two identities: Masako to her parents, and May to everyone else. Through breakfasts at the homes of friends, she acquire a taste for “tea with milk and sugar,” in contrast with the “plain green tea” available to her at home. From her window, May looks to San Francisco has a place of dreams, and awaits the day when her father will take her there as promised.

Tea with Milk

But following May’s graduation from high school, her parents decide to return to Japan, and May is thrown into a vastly different world. Masako—as she is now known by everyone—struggles to make sense of these changes, particularly the strong social expectations for her to adopt a traditional female persona. Unwilling to accept this as her fate, however, May walks away from her parents and their expectations. She heads to the cosmopolitan city of Osaka, and begins a life that sees her transform into a poised, fulfilled woman.

While the text in this story is geared towards older children (perhaps 6 years+), my toddler adores the book nonetheless. To date, my husband and I compensate by telling her the story according to the illustrations, which take May from childhood to marriage. The gorgeous illustrations also lend themselves well to chats about multiculturalism as well as the past, which are concepts of increasing interest to my daughter. Altogether, the real-world anchoring of this story (which is actually the story of Say’s mother!) proves a nice contrast to the animal adventures regularly occurring in our family reading.

Read a Kirkus Review, as well as information about the author and an interview with him.

Descent into Paradise by Vincent Karle

Descent into Paradise coverZaher is Afghani, but everyone knows he hates the Taliban. Fellow student Martin reports Zaher’s rough start in Paradise and his gradual acceptance by his new classmates. A drug bust at school throws the students’ flexibility into contrast with the prejudice of several members of the local police force. Zaher is falsely charged with drug dealing and his family is deported to the country from which they have sought asylum. Martin, whose marijuana is used to frame Zaher, describes an investigation marked by mistreatment and blackmail. When he is released, too late to help Zaher, Martin returns to school convinced that he is responsible and determined to find some way of fighting injustice as a means of making up for what he has done.

Descent into Paradise focuses on a teen distrustful of authority figures and casual about breaking rules that he believes are unnecessary. His experiences demonstrate that his actions have consequences, though readers will likely find the events described too extreme to be really believable. However, the story also suggests that there are valid places for Martin to direct his rebellious attitude, and that it is possible to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy authority figures. The novella is one half of one of Annick Press’s Single Voice books. Each book contains two brief stories which address complex, timely issues in simple language and large type. Clearly intended for reluctant readers, the Single Voice publications offer considerable substance for thought and even discussion while keeping the presentation easily manageable.

Annick recruited bloggers to review the Single Voice novellas. Descent into Paradise was reviewed by theGreen Bean Teen Queen.

You can watch a promotional video for the Single Voice project here

Ten: Living in Wartime

Whether one is living under the threat of invasion, or waiting at home to hear what happened in last night’s battle, living in a country at war places new stresses on anyone old enough to understand. Supplies are more expensive, or simply not available. Friends and family members risk their lives, and perhaps you are called upon to do the same. People are more suspicious, the truth–both about what’s happening and why it’s happening–can be elusive, and even the end of the war rarely promises a return to the way things were. This week’s Ten looks at war from the perspective of the home front, of refugees, of combatants, of rebels, and of civilians caught in the middle of a war they didn’t choose.

My Bonny Light Horseman by L.A. Meyer
The sixth of the Jacky Faber books, this story finds Jacky under cover in France. Though initially posted in a brothel (where a bit of creativity gets her out of actually serving any customers), Jacky soon gets herself off the sidelines and into the thick of things on Napoleon’s battlefield. Though Jacky thrills to adventure, an unexpected encounter with an old acquaintance allows her to voice her ambivalence toward war and violence. Continue reading

Ten: Guess What I Can Do!

Kids’ and teens’ books are full of characters with talents and abilities that don’t quite fit in. The difficulty of accepting these differences adds weight to the burden of growing up, but it also offers a point of familiarity for readers who feel out of place in life. This week’s Ten looks at the experience of otherness from various angles, with particular interest in the common secondary theme of recognising the power bestowed by that otherness and the importance of learning to use said power responsibly.

Dreamcatcher by Monica Hughes
In the midst of a community of gifted people, Ruth’s gifts mostly just cause trouble. When she starts receiving messages from outside of the city’s dome, however, Ruth and her gifts are proven valuable not only to her own community, but also to another community in need of help that Ruth is particularly suited to offer. Be sure to read Devil on my Back, first. Continue reading

Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story. Continue reading