Category Archives: Book Notes

Sunday Select, August 23, 2015

FCLSSQuote of the Week

Learning the alphabet gave you night terrors, and even now you have a deep seated fear of being mauled by a bear.

— by Bridey Heing,

from “How to Tell If You’re in and Edward Gorey Book”  (referring to The Gashlycrumb Tinies)

Children’s Literature Happenings & Book Lists

How To Tell If You’re In an Edward Gorey Book by Bridey Heing — from The Toast

Kwame Alexander BeatBoxing The Crossover at Singapore American School

ABC Books Beyond Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Karina Glaser — from Book Riot

Getting Graphic by Julie Danielson — from Kirkus

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #445: Featuring Matt Phelan by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Good Questions and Great Answers

Where Are All The People of Color in Sci-Fi/Fantasy? by Anthony Vicino — from SF Signal

Bedtime Stories for Young Brains by Perri Klass, MD. — from The New York Times

10 REASONS TO READ DIVERSELY — from Lee & Low Books

I’m Latino. I’m Hispanic. And They Are Different, so I drew a comic to explain. by Terry Blas — from Vox

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The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman

absolutesandman1Artwork by Dave McKean, Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, and more.

I decided to use a large cover image here because this hardcover, full-color, glossy heavy pages tome absolutely deserves this “in your face” treatment.

I read the first twenty installments (24 pages each) of Gaiman’s game changing graphic novel series (from 1989 to 1991) in sequence and absolutely loved every page and moment of it! Dark, haunting, gruesome, poetic, enigmatic and yet lucid all at the same time, wrapped in such a handsome package.

Even if so much within is extremely disturbing, Gaiman’s stories and the art and layout design make reading this volume a blissful experience.

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跑啊跑的程千里 (Run Run Cheng Qianli) by 冯与蓝 (Feng Yulan)

跑啊跑的程千里The story about a chubby 5th grade boy who is grappling with being the unathletic one in the class is told with a very light and gentle touch: he’s never so troubled by it to be sad, his best friends (who are all fast runners) are all supportive, his teachers do not put him down, even when they try to help him build up his stamina. And his relationship with his parents is loving, albeit full of little conflicts due to his very active mind that is constantly wondering about the world around him and coming up with out-of-the-box ideas.

This is the first of the Rainbow Crow set of high quality contemporary children’s books from China (by the 21st Century publishing company) that I have read and I am definitely impressed: by the author’s understanding of young people’s mindset, by the excellence of the production/design value, and by the publisher’s insistence of offering current stories by Chinese authors to young readers.

Colorful Ravens* “Original Stories in Chinese”* series of 20 titles  were published in 2012.  I obtained four copies and will report on all of them as soon as I finish each.  To read the bilingual plot summary that I made for this book please head over to the Goodreads page.

Rainbow Crow titles*My translations for the series names were different from the publisher’s.  Corrected on 8/18/2015.

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Sunday Select, August 16, 2015

FCLSSQuotes of the Week

What few people understand and some people don’t want to understand is that the chattel slavery inflicted on blacks in America was distinctly different from slavery in Africa, Russia, Ireland, Rome, Greece, or Egypt. The notion that a person and their descendants would be held in generational perpetuity without any hope of liberation was only featured in America… for hundreds of years, affecting millions of people. Slavery is America’s original sin. Many of our fellow citizens continue to suffer horrific injustice and inequality because we haven’t learned our history and we lack the moral courage to deal with what happened then and what is happening now.

— Laurie Halse Anderson (public facebook comment)

Authors must be allowed to focus on the topics and ideas that contain personal meanings, that they feel passionate about examining in their work, and that they can feel proud of creating.  Solely focusing on what an author hasn’t given readers can mean we risk missing an awful lot of what they have.

— Shelly McNerney
from In which I think about gender of authors and characters…

Authors and Reading Lists

andrewsmithweird
A sampling of YA author Andrew Smith’s Facebook Profile Photos: with two new books out in 2015 (Alex Crow and Stand Off) Smith is not only hard at work keeping his YA novels weird (and they ARE weird, in the best way) but also making sure that Facebook remains equally weird.

How Brian Selznick Created a Delightful Book Trailer for ‘The Marvels’ by Jennifer Maloney — from Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal

How to (Re)Tell a Story in Pictures by Gareth Hinds — from TeachingBooks.net

M.T. Anderson: ‘Seeking Out the Truth’ for Teens — from Shelf Awareness

Italy: Diary of a Wimpy Kid translated into Latin — from BBC News from Elsewhere

Meet Marvel’s newest female superhero in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Andrea Towers — from Entertainment Weekly

SUMMER READING compiled by Crystal — from Rich In Color

The Best Feminist Books For Younger Readers by Brandi Bailey — From Book Riot

Looking for a Back-to-School Chapter Book Read Aloud? Don’t Miss These! by Daryl Grabarek — from School Library Journal

Important Perspectives

In which I think about gender of authors and characters… by Shelly McNerney — from macstackbooks.com

Kids’ Thoughts on Censorship (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 1) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Rewriting History: American Indians, Europeans, and an Oak Tree (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 3) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Allie’s Reflections (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 4) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Representations (and the Lack Thereof) of Race and Hair (Loudness in the Library Year Three, Part 2) by Allie Jane Bruce — from Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Monticello’s whitewashed version of history by Desiree H. Melton — from The Washington Post

Follow-up discussion on author Laurie Halse Anderson’s public facebook post regarding the above article.

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Magyk by Angie Sage

magykMagyk by Angie Sage

A gentle story of magic and friendship, full of entertaining tidbits for imaginative young readers. Glad that I finally got to read it since the series has been a favorite of many of my students for a while.

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Teaching The Graveyard Book in China

graveyardbookFour young readers from Shanghai (ages 13-15) and I spent two weeks together enjoying and analyzing Neil Gaiman’s Newbery winning title The Graveyard Book. The lessons were all conducted in English. We had a lot of fun and here are some of the observations that we made about the book:

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 9.18.08 AM

(silly names we gave ourselves/each other)Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 7.53.47 AM

  • The author makes it so that the supposedly bad people (the graveyard dead, a witch, a vampire, and a werewolf) turned out to be super nice and caring.  It made us reconsider our assumptions to the people around us.
  • The author effectively uses verbs and action phrases for inanimate objects to create vivid and poetic imageries: tendrils of fog could insinuate themselves into the hall, the graveyard could keep secrets, and the burnt sun could gaze into the world below.
  • We had lots of fun figuring out what Gaiman implies in his text.  Silas’ true being is, of course, the most fun to guess: so many clues about what he is without the word* EVER being present in the book. But there are many other things that the readers need to figure out: the characters’ moods, interior thoughts and motivations, etc.  In other words, this is a great book for inferences. 
  • Paradox is another literary device used often by the author.  We bookended the course with this paradoxical phrase: “Glorious Tragedy” that Gaiman used to describe what it’s like to be a parent and how The Graveyard Book can be read as a book about the bittersweetness of successful parenting.  This phrase could be used especially to frame much of the last part of the book when Nobody Owens grows too old to be contained within the safety of the Graveyard.   Isn’t “growing up” also a kind of glorious tragedy? I asked the four young readers to contemplate in what ways that “growing up” is a glorious tragedy.
  • Each student wrote me a quick feedback on their individual experience with the book.  All were positive and had strong emotional reaction to the events and characters in the book.
    • One wrote how they appreciated the many new vocabulary words (Gaiman definitely did NOT shy away from using precise, perfect, but not easy words.)
    • They all enjoyed the “guess” work whenever I asked them to infer a particular subtly presented idea.
    • One student who never read a single English language book before this class vowed to continue reading books in English!

I had a blast!  The students were diligent and after the first couple of days, were lively and contributed a lot.  It’s especially rewarding to closely re-read The Graveyard Book and confirm how finely crafted this book truly is, in every aspect!

* SPOILER ALERT — Silas’ identity is revealed after the cover image (for those who have yet to read the book.)

graveyardbook

Silas is a vampire.

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The Truth Commision by Susan Juby

truthcommissionThe Truth Commission

by Susan Juby

Reminiscent of but less cynical than The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy,) The Truth Commission explores the meaning of “truth” and the effects of truth-telling vs lying with a plot that started off deceptively breezy and quirky but progressively gaining weight as the readers realize that the tale is a lot more than presenting some artsy high schoolers’ (and the author’s) mercurial whims.  I definitely got hooked about half way through the story once the successful older sister’s dark secrets start spilling out, and totally appreciated the twists and the examination of unreliable narrative devices.  A memorable read.

Cultural Querries:

  1. I don’t understand why the school’s mission in multiple languages would be printed in both Mandarin and Cantonese, since for the most part Mandarin and Cantonese are the same in written form, unless one (like some publications in Hong Kong) tries to mimic the colloquial usages (like in online discourses and tabloids). Its usage has been limited mostly to Hong Kong and even though has gained some popularity, is still definitely not the practice in official documents. Since one of the main characters is half Korean, it is evident that the author is aware of the existence of other Asian cultures.  So, why not Japanese, Korean, or Hindi? Is this a deliberate choice by the author to show the supreme quirkiness of the school or is it really the practice of that specific Canadian region?  (Is it set in British Columbia?)
  2. I also wonder about the portrayal of Dusk’s half Korean and half Jewish family background.  She is described as rebelling against a family of doctors and her “tiger” parents’ expectations. It did make me cringe a little, even if I am quite aware of how this is the reality of many young people.

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Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang

avatarsearch1avatarsearch2Avatar, The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang (Vols 1-3)
Artwork by Gurihiru
Lettering by Michael Heisler

avatarsearch3My gosh, Gene Yang really is a super fan of the show and the Avatar universe because he totally understands what the fans want. He gives us a satisfying storyline, complete with a cohesive theme of sibling and parent-child relationships, to a long unsolved mystery from the 2005-2008 TV show of one of the beloved characters.  (What am I saying, ALL the main characters are beloved!  The show was that amazing.)  And he gives us new magical beings and great world elements: the Mother of Faces is such a cool creation. Her backstory, tied with Zuko’s mom’s personal history, fits into the Avatar universe seamlessly!

Mother of Faces

Whenever I watch the show, I am always impressed by how well the show creators did their homework.  Every time Chinese writing appears on screen, it is accurate, legible, and usually in perfect and artistic calligraphic form. Dark Horse (the publisher for the GN extensions) did the same: the letter that Zuko’s mom wrote and that we get to read on the background art is in the formal, literary style befitting the imagined time period (China/Asia a few hundred years ago?)  And now I am reading the third extended story: Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Rift.  It’s all about Toph Beifong (my personal favorite character in the show…) and will apparently bridge her story from the 2005 show to the recent Legend of Korra.  Two more volumes to go and another post to follow.

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The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

magicianslandThe Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The third, the final, and my favorite installment of the Magician’s trilogy.  A total love song to traditional children’s fantasy stories for grown-ups who have still yet to grow out of being enchanted completely by those tales (me). Thankfully, Quentin finally stopped being the annoying whinny young man that he was in the first two volumes, so my irknedness level was way down, making the reading experience a complete delight from beginning to end.  Lots of quotable little observations about fantasy story-making and world-building and about being a creative and self-reflective and forgiving (to self and others) human being.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

lemoncelloEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

I can easily understand why my 4th grade students have raved about this one: there’s the thrill of watching a complex puzzle being solved, the excitement of exploring new friendship, the coziness of strengthening old friendship, and the novelty of discovering inventions of a high-tech, but still story-filled, library.  Plus a little bit of safe scare: facing down and defeating villains that really aren’t that threatening from beginning to end. This is old school children’s mystery fun.

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

shadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The young urban teen characters in this novel feel and sound authentic — they are the artsy crowd and use their talents to navigate their lives.  Mural art is highlighted and so is spoken word poetry.  The blend of the real world with the spiritual/ghosty world also feel convincing with much respect paid to the cultural traditions and family ties with some vividly creepy scenes.  This is not a epic fantasy but a story of urban magic, much like a fairy tale where chance meetings and helpful beings are common devices to advance the plot and solve the protagonist’s problems.  And thank goodness we have a wonderful strong young woman, who is not white, whose full face is shown to the readers on the beautifully designed cover!

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Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

fortunatemilkFortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman,
illustrated by Scottie Young

A fun and funny romp into the land of wild imagination with a warm, Where the Wild Things Are ending.  The father-children relationship is full of heart, too.  I can see it being read aloud in many classrooms as a way to insert entertaining moments during a stressful day.

 

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Marvels by Brian Selznick

marvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick

In this third installment of a loosely connected (by form, by theme, and by narrative progression) literary trilogy, following the previous two marvelous titles: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick once again pours his artist’s soul and a writer’s heart into the tome and brings readers a moving tale. Much like the other two picture-novels, The Marvels features instant and fast friendship among two young characters, a cross-generational relationship that grows from suspicion and uneasiness to faithful loyalty, and the deep and palpable connection a person can have with history.

I had a grand time looking through the pictures and reading the story and was unbelievably moved (to a whole lot of tears) as the truth of the story of the Marvels family was revealed. And also by the fact that Brian’s portrayal of the gay characters is without additional fanfare: subtle and yet you can’t misinterpret.

I imagine the book an instant hit with all my students when it’s published on September 15! Can’t wait to hear their reactions!

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Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

floraulyssesOne of the most delightful books I’ve encountered!

So much of it is sparkling, like gems — the humor, the humanity, the friendship, and even the heartaches.  And there’s a special twinkle of absurdity: the squirrel poet, the hysterical blindness, the kind but weird neighbor with the “living” painting, etc.

Read this two years ago but never got to put the book note up and so much of the book is still vivid in my mind.  Indeed a great Newbery choice!

 

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Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

winnerscrimeWinner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

I enjoyed the first installment quite a lot but this second volume left me frustrated and annoyed every few chapters. Even when I genuinely want to see what happens next and how Kestrel and Arin’s torturous love affair pans out, I am fatigued by these two high position political figures acting so impulsively on their “love” for each other and by their constant misunderstanding of each other. They put themselves and everyone around them at huge risks: which is convenient for plot-advancement but inconsistent to the characters’ traits and talents at being sophisticated gamers (as laid out in the first book.) I also simply could not buy all their sneaking about, being so readily aided by the servants when neither Kestrel nor Arin are being portrayed as having gained any loyal followers by their talents in winning trust or sympathy.

The “games” element that were the breath of fresh air and made the tale stand out in the first volume (Winner’s Curse) were also woefully lacking in this one.

The ending, though, was a well-placed fruit, just out of reach, and enticing enough for me to read the final book when it comes out next year.

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Chew (Series) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Taster's Choice (Chew, Vol. 1)

Chew by John Layman, artwork by Rob Guillory

Not for the faint of heart or queasy of tummy. There are laugh-out-loud scenes and almost-puke-my-guts-out scenes. Definitely cannot read this and have a meal at the same time.

Since 2009, the series creative duo, Layman & Guillory, have brought us 50 installments and 10 collective volumes (August 2015) of this bizarre tale of a Chinese American FDA detective Tony Chu with a superhuman ability: Tony can bite into any once living organism and have vivid “recollection” of the scenes in that living organism’s life, including the circumstances surrounding its death.  So, when he arrived on a murder scene, he is required to take a bite out of the corpse…   But, wait, others also have strange abilities like, a food critic able to write reviews that make the readers actually “taste” the meal (including the terrible ones), a chocolate sculptor who can recreate any landmark in 100% accurate details, etc.

And then you have the U.S. Government’s top secret weapon, Poyo, a rooster with nuclear weapon power, other political conspiracies involving NASA and the aliens they deal with, and enough family and love drama to satisfy any soap opera aficionado. Yup.  A crazy smorgasbord of gross but hilarious scenarios.  I absolutely adore this series and can’t wait to read the rest of the collected volumes (planned 12, by mid-2016.)

One of the main reasons that I love Chew is my fondness of Guillory’s artistic style.  And now I think of it, the series definitely fits #weneeddiversebooks movement very well — for older teens.

Meet the artist, Rob Guillory:

robguilloryphoto

And Meet Tony Chu:

meettonyAnd see some of the unusual scenes for yourself:

chewspecial chewcovers chewweirdwedding

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Not Just a Book, The New Jim Crow is a Call for Real Action and a Movement

newjimcrowThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander

audiobook read by Karen Chilton

It took me a long while to finish listening to this.  My heart would shrink a little when the thought surfaced that it’s time to listen to the next chapter or section.  Why would I want to torture myself knowing more aspects of how UNJUST the United States Criminal Justice System has been to our black fellow citizens — especially black men, especially black young men?  Why would I want to hear more stories that confirm how color-blindness, racial indifference, and lack of information of myself and millions of kind-hearted Americans contributed more to the creation of a lower racial “caste” in our society (convicted felons for minor or nonviolent drug offenses) than overt racists.  Why would I want to feel powerless when informed of the institutionalized sanction so our law enforcers may commit atrocious acts (seizing and keeping of properties of those who might or might not have committed a crime, for example and the incentives to use military grade weapons and tactics against unarmed individuals.)

But I kept at it.  And kept learning.  And kept finding more supporting evidences from the chatters and opinions in social media and other information sources.  And kept talking to whomever would listen.  Until the book was done.

And I promptly bought the paperback copy of the book so I can refer back to it whenever I need.

The book was published in 2010.  And in 2015, we read about president Obama’s bipartisan-sanctioned plans for Justice Reform and listen to reasons behind his granting clemency to unjustly sentenced minor drug offenders.  It will be great to see new policies that address the long-time injustice in the Criminal Justice system.

Watch Obama’s speech at the 2015 NAACP Annual Convention.

A collection of videos about this topic can be found on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/14/politics/obama-naacp-speech-philadelphia-justice-reform/

 

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Investigating Yeh-Shen and the Chinese Cinderella Myth

yehshenYeh-Shen

Retold by Ai-Ling Louie
Illustrated by Ed Young

Original Pub. Date: 1982
Publisher: Putnam (HC); Puffin (PB)

Country of Origin: China

This title appears to be a fairly straightforward translation/retelling of the original text found in an old Chinese book. In the foreword, Louie states that the story can be traced back to 850 A.D., in the Tang Dynasty. This is widely regarded by the western and Chinese folklorists as accurate.

Although the actual 9th century text seems to be forever lost and the current tale was copied and compiled much later, in the 17th century. The story of Yeh-Shen is in volume one of the Appended text. The original text’s standard English title is You Yang Za Zu — Columbia University’s East Asian library rare book collection owns two editions of the 19th century reprints.

Even if this tale was originally recorded in the 9th century, whether it is the “original Cinderella story of the world” is still up for much debate in the academic world. I found a source that collects many different theories (unfortunately, all in Chinese) and one of the revelation is that Yeh-shen is a highly unusual name for a Chinese girl and it shares similar sound to the word “Aschen” which means ash, and Aschenputtel is the original Grimms fairy tale title for the better known Cinderella. This seems to indicate to some scholars that Yeh-shen was a retelling of a Western story, brought over to south west China by Arabic traders or via current day Vietnam.

Although Louie’s translation is fairly faithful, she chose to leave out the last part of the original story. Here’s the last part of the translation done by Arthur Waley, a famous East Asian scholar, although he never set foot in any Asian country in his lifetime. It’s published in Folk-lore, vol. 58 (London: The Folklore Society, 1947.):

The step-mother and step-sister were shortly afterwards struck by flying stones, and died. The cave people were sorry for them and buried them in a stone-pit, which was called the Tomb of the Distressed Women. The men of the cave made mating-offerings there; any girl they prayed for there, they got. The king if T’o-han, when he got back to his kingdom made Yeh-hsien his chief wife. The first year the king was very greedy and by his prayers to the fish-bones got treasures and jade without limit. Next year, there was no response, so the king buried the fish-bones on the sea-shore. He covered them with a hundred bushels of pearls and bordered them with gold. Later there was a mutiny of some soldiers who had been conscripted and their general opened (the hiding-place) in order to make better provision for his army. One night they (the bones) were washed away by the tide.

Cultural Analysis:

Cave: The Chinese word for Cave, DONG, could have meant also a small village. It seems that the Cave People might have been Villagers. Evidence of such terminology is prevalent in Korea today.

Worshiping the two dead women: It is not uncommon for many spirits of the deceased to be deified (taken as an object of worship/made a god/dess of.) It is unclear, though, from the original Chinese text whether the people were praying for girl friends, as Waley’s text states, or praying for birthing of baby-girls. The text only used one work — NU, female — (However, given the importance of boys over girls in most Chinese cultures, it might not be praying for baby-girls.)

Costume/Illustration:

Supposedly, the southern tribe in where Yeh-Shen came from was probably Zhuang Zu (壮族) — from the modern Guang Xi province. This image from a Chinese stamp shows the traditional outfits which echo Ed Young’s illustration.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a minority group and the traditional costume is not the same as the majority, Han, group.

zhuangzu

Costume of the minority group (design found on a Chinese stamp)

(This was posted, by me, on another blog a few years back.  Reposted.)

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle ( (ねじまき鳥クロニクル) by Haruki Murakami
translated by Jay Rubin
read by Rupert Degas

I felt so lost when the recording of this book ended. A small part is due to the sense of irritation by the vague and unresolved ending. But that was easy to get over with: as a reader, I never need tidy endings. Indeed, if all the loose threads and baffling aspects all get tied up and connected neatly, I would probably have been quite disappointed.

The real reason of the sense of loss is that now I no longer “live” in that hyperrealistic, half-true and half-dreaming world Murakami created for his readers.  Starting with a very small story of an insignificant person, the narrative slowly opens up and expands to encompass both History (especially the Sino-Japanese War) and the unexplainable force of the entire Universe.

My admiration of Murakami’s philosophical exploration of what it means to be alive and to be connected to the rest of the humanity did not sway me from questioning one assertion of his ideology: That BOTH the Chinese and the Japanese were engaged in fighting a Senseless War. In theory, I believe that War is evil and senseless.  But, growing up Chinese (and with my mother’s entire family in Fake Manchu murdered by the Japanese) made me also realize that China’s RESISTANCE against Japan’s INVASION into our country might not be so senseless after all. On a scale of Japan on one side and China on the other, the weight of who’s responsible of all the senseless killings and deaths should definitely tilt heavily on the Japan side.

I finished the book back in April.  Three months later, I can still hear and feel some of the scenes and dialogs in my mind.  However, I will not recommend to listen to this particular audio recording: I found Degas’ voice acting as the young girl, May, more distracting than enhancing and I wish that he could have pronounced the Japanese names with more accurate intonations.  One day, I will go back and read the book itself and who knows, I might be able to teach myself enough Japanese to read in its original form!

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George by Alex Gino

georgecover George, by Alex Gino

Alex Gino achieved something extraordinary in giving the world GEORGE: they (Gino’s choice of pronoun) created an authentic main character struggling with gender identity (she, George) and a credible scenario with an appealing plotline that speaks directly and honestly to young readers in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade. No extra unnecessary drama, just realistic reactions from those around George/Melissa. Very pleased to have read this short middle grade fiction.

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