Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore and Hilde Hodnefjeld (Annick Press 2015) is a difficult picture book for older children about an obscure deformed man in history, one that was famous in his own way but tragically alone. Continue Reading
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011 National Book Award for Young People and Newbery Honor Award) is a novel in poetry about a young girl’s relocation to American from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. It is about the challenge of starting over and the pain of discrimination in a strange new country and culture. It is a beautiful story for the curious child.
Many of the chapters could stand somewhat alone as they explore different aspects of the journey away from the familiar (in Kim Ha’s case, the busyness of the Saigon markets and their loving home) and into the foreign (a community in Alabama in post-Civil Rights era 1907s). Some of her challenges are specific to her situation as a refuge from Vietnam (such as the language barrier and obvious cultural differences), but others are the difficulties of growing up. I loved to see this unique perspective of the 1970s.
Ha’s story is painful for the aware reader. We know that America will not be as delightful as she dreams in the beginning, that her father will be hard to find, and that traditions are difficult to uphold so far from the familiar marketplace. As an adult, though, I found myself learning a lot about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I’ve always heard of the Vietnam war from the American soldiers’ side. I think it is important to also learn about from the perspective of the native Vietnamese, and this account from the perspective of a refuge was definitely a needed voice in the literature about the era.
I was grateful to discover, in the author’s note at the end, that many of the events are based on her own experience as a young refuge in a prejudiced America. I am not happy she had to suffer similar frustrations as the character in her novel, but I am grateful to know that the voice was a sincere and realistic one.
Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky by Sandra Dallas is an appropriate book for reading just before our country’s Independence Day. It focuses on a Japanese American family during the early part of World War II, when thousands of people of Japanese descent were relocated to special “camps”. It is about the discrimination against Japanese, but even more, the main character must come to terms with what it means to be American and if she is happy with her place and the opportunities before her.Continue Reading
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is a powerful story about a rich and spoiled Mexican girl whose sudden impoverishment in the 1930s takes her in to the migrant worker camps of California. It teaches much about the Great Depression as well as discrimination during that period. Continue Reading