Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Module 6: Moses Goes to a Concert

Millman, Isaac. 1998. Moses Goes to a Concert. Illustrated by Isaac Millman. New York, NY: Frances Foster Books. ISBN 0374350671.

Plot Summary
Moses and his classmates go on a field trip to a concert. Moses and all of the students in his class are deaf. The percussionist who is playing in the concert is also deaf. The students are able to feel the vibrations of the music by holding balloons. After the concert Moses and his classmates talk to the percussionist and are able to play her instruments. In the evening when Moses is home he tells his parents that he wants to be a percussionist.

Critical Analysis
Moses Goes to a Concert is a unique book since it incorporates sign language. The author's note provides information about American Sign Language, and there is an explanation for the arrows and symbols used in the diagrams. The book uses pictures and text in the same manner as other picture books, but it also includes a short phrase that is said by Moses along with pictures of him signing the phrase. A few of the pages only show a character signing the text. On these pages the words being signed are printed right below the picture. For example, at one point Moses says, "When you set your mind to it, you can become anything you want when you grow up..." The two page spread has 12 separate pictures of Moses signing the words to that sentence. The last page in the book shows the hand alphabet.

According to the author's note Millman worked with two deaf teachers in order to make sure the sign language in his illustrations was correct. Millman made sure his diagrams were accurate and presented them in a manner that allows the reader to practice and learn words and phrases in sign language. The regular illustrations and the text are also accurate. When the children are shown talking to each other they are shown using sign language. Readers can learn about some aspects of Moses' life as a deaf child. He goes to school with other deaf children and they all speak with sign language. Moses cannot hear, but he can feel the vibrations that sound makes.

The largest message in the book is that Moses, and other individuals who are deaf, can accomplish anything when they grow up. The book mentions that they will have to work hard to achieve their goals, but does not specifically mention difficulties that exist for individuals who are deaf. The message is important and relevant, but is mentioned more than once and seems a bit overdone in the end. Aside from this aspect Millman provides and engaging story. Moses' excitement for the concert draws the reader into the story. The illustrations show a lively performance by the percussionist and cause the reader to wonder what it would be like to be sitting with the class, feeling the vibrations through a balloon.

The book does not include stereotypes, does not overemphasize the disability, and does not "use" the characters. Moses is portrayed as a happy, normal boy who is deaf. All of the characters are also deaf and the reader is allowed to see the world from their perspective. A big focus of the book is to introduce American Sign Language. There is a phrase in American Sign Language on almost every page. The diagrams make it possible for the readers to practice signing the phrase. This provides and interactive feature that actually makes the book even more engaging.

Review Excerpts
"Cheerful watercolor illustrations show the multiethnic children enjoying themselves at the concert, while smaller cartoon strips feature Moses's additional comments in sign language. A page displaying the manual alphabet and a conversation in sign language in which Moses tells his parents about his day enhance the upbeat story." -School Library Journal

"Deaf children will welcome this joyful story that talks, without condescension, about the fun they have. Hearing kids, too, will want to learn some of the sign language, and with the help of an adult, they can practice the hand alphabet shown at the back of the book." -Booklist

Use Moses Goes to a Concert for story time with a concert or music theme. After, or while, reading the book allow the children to practice some of the sign language Moses does in the diagrams. Pass around drums to each child and let them take off their shoes so that they can feel the vibrations while the drums are being played. Other books that can be used with it are 5 Nice Mice by Kate Westerlund, Punk Farm by Jarrett Krosoczka, and The Philharmonic gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Module 6: Geography Club

Hartinger, Brent. 2003. Geography Club. New York, NY: HarperTempest. ISBN 0060012218.

Plot Summary
Russel is a sophomore in high school who feels like he is the only gay guy in town. No one knows he is gay and the only place he can be himself is in gay chat rooms, until he meets someone from his school who is also gay. When they meet Russel is surprised that the person is Kevin, a popular baseball player. Russel shares everything with his friend, Min, and learns that she is bisexual. The three get together with two other gay students and decide to form a club so that they can get together to talk. They call it Geography Club with the hope that no one else will be interested in joining. Russel and Kevin begin a secret relationship, but Russel faces many situations that force him to be true to himself and separate from Kevin and popularity. Russel instead becomes friends with the school loser, who protects Russel's identity, and they form a real gay-straight-bisexual alliance.

Critical Analysis
Although a large portion of the book deals with Russel being gay, the theme that stands out is teens trying to fit in and be accepted by peers. This is a topic all teens can relate to, and Hartinger truly presents it well in his realistic portrayal of high school life. Hatinger's writing style makes it feel like Russel is real and is talking to the reader in person. At times Russel even teases the reader. After kissing Kevin he says, "As for what happened that night with Kevin at the stinky picnic gazebo, that's none of your damn business. But I suppose I should tell you anyway. If I was reading this and I didn't tell me what happened, I'd be pissed."

Themes appear in the book that can be considered to be cultural markers. One is the need for gay students to hide their identity and pretend they are straight. Another is the need to always lie in order to protect themselves. The feeling of being alone and isolated is another theme. Feeling uncomfortable around others is also a theme. The use of words that are derogatory towards gays is presented as well. After the characters get to know Belinda, a straight student who wants to join the Geography Club, they discover that these themes are common to others who are keeping secrets and trying to fit in.

Russel tries to act like a normal, straight guy and is always aware of what he says and does. After getting to know everyone in the Geography Club he finds that this is true for everyone in the group. They have never told their family or closest friends about their sexuality, and are afraid they will not be accepted if they do open up. Anything that is done that would ruin the secret must be done in private. Min and her girlfriend rarely talk to each other at school and meet in an old warehouse in order to spend time with each other. Min lies about where she is and tells her parents she is a volunteer at the YMCA.

In order to keep his being gay a secret Russel does things he does not want to do. When his friend Gunnar sets him up on a date he agrees to go along with it. He puts up with the girl on the double dates, even allowing her to kiss him. When she accuses him of being gay since he will not have sex with her, Russel tells her he is a virgin and wants the first time to be special. Russel is extremely uncomfortable in these situations and dislikes the kissing, but puts up with it for the sake of his friend.

Since Russel must hide who he really is he feels alone and isolated. The only time he can be honest about himself is when he is online with people he does not really know. When he meets with the Geography Club he discovers that everyone feels the same way. Ike admits that he even tried to kill himself once. The club finds that they can open up to each other in ways they never have been able to before. After talking about the suicide Ike says, "I never told anyone that before. I never even told my therapist."

Some situations can be really uncomfortable for Russel. When the book begins he is in the boy's locker room after gym class. Russel says, "For the time being, my disguise was holding, but still I felt exposed, naked, as if my secret was obvious to anyone who took the time to look. I knew that any wrong action, however slight, could expose my deception and reveal my true identity. The thought made my skin prickle." Kevin also fills uncomfortable in similar situations, but acts like a jerk towards others to get the attention away from himself and not let anyone question his status as a popular jock.

The appropriate and inappropriate phrases to use for gay individuals are incorporated into the story. When Russel tells Kevin about Min and her girlfriend, Terese, Kevin calls Min a lesbo and Terese a dyke, even though Russel tells him that Min likes to be called bisexual. Russel says to himself, "I never knew what to say when someone said stuff like this. It was one thing to think it. It was another thing to say it out loud." Later on, when he goes on a double date to a movie one of the girls says the movie was gay. Russel says to himself, "She meant it sucked, and I hope it goes without saying that I was totally offended by this."

A positive aspect of the book is that readers realize that anyone can be gay. Russel and Min are smart, while Terese and Kevin are athletes and Ike is a lefty activist. It seems like the only reason everyone does not realize there are gay individuals in every clique is that the gay students have learned to fit in. Brian, the school loser that everyone assumes is gay, is really straight, but he is used to being picked on and is not afraid to pretend to be gay to protect Russel's identity.

Review Excerpts
"While the plot is sometimes bundled together rather than carefully woven, this is a lively and compelling story. There's heart-palpitating romance in Russel's reciprocated attraction to Kevin and their budding relationship, and there's plenty of humor in the witty writing and unexpected events." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"What gives it distinction is Russel's pointed narration, pitch-perfect as the slightly superior, world-weary, and ironic gay boy who you know will make a grand success of himself once he manages to get past adolescence....Yet his agonies of ostracism (and first love) are truly conveyed--in all, this is the most artful and authentic depiction of a gay teen since M. E. Kerr's groundbreaking Charlie Gilhooly in I'll Love You When You're More Like Me. -Horn Book

Introduce the sequels to Geography Club, The Order of the Poison Oak and Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies.

Use the discussion questions and suggested class projects for Geography Club that are listed on Hartinger's web site at

Module 6: Habibi

Nye, Naomi Shihab. 1997. Habibi. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689801491.

Plot Summary
Liyana is an Arab American who will soon be entering the 9th grade. Her dad decides to take the family to live in Jerusalem, where he was born and grew up. Liyana has never been to Jerusalem and is unfamiliar with her Arab family and their language and customs. She slowly learns to adapt to a new way of life, but is troubled by the Arab-Jewish confilcts. Liyana becomes friends with Omer, a Jewish boy, and pushes herself and her family to be more accepting of others, even though peace between Arab and Jewish people sometimes seems a long way off.

Critical Analysis
Naomi Shihab Nye has done a wonderful job is bringing the character of Liyana to life. It is easy to connect to Liyana and understand her thoughts and feelings. Liyana's thoughts are intriguing and often showcase Nye's gift with poetry. The sentences provided at the beginning of every chapter are amusing and add to the theme of the the chapter. Seeing everything from Liyana's eyes is beneficial to readers who are unfamiliar with Jerusalem since they are introduced to new things along with her. Since Liyana is learning how to live in a new country a lot of cultural markers are present.

In Jerusalem a lot of emphasis is place on race. The Arabs live together and stay to themselves, and the same is true for the Jewish. One day when Liyana is talking to a shop owner a Jewish man enters the shop and tells her to reconsider where she shops. The conflicts that exist between the two cultures keep everyone weary of each other and creates a circle of violence. When Liyana first discovers that Omer is Jewish she is suddenly unsure of their relationship. She knows her dad is uncomfortable with the situation, and it takes awhile for him to accept Omer.

The Arabs in Jerusalem speak Arabic, while the Jewish people speak Hebrew. A few of the people know English and Liyana is able to talk to them. Liyana goes to an Armenian school where the students speak Arabic, Armenian, and English. She learns Arabic with the kindergarten students since she does not know the language. Sitti, Liyana's grandmother, only speaks in Arabic so Liyana does not want to be alone with her. When she finally gains the courage to spend the weekend with Sitti she discovers that it is possible to communicate without words. Nye incorporates Arabic words into the text. When she does, she only uses a short word or phrase and usually provides a translation.

The book discusses two names in detail, Habibi and Omer. Habibi, and the feminine form Habibti, mean darling and are used as affectionate names. Liyana and her brother grew up hearing their father call them this and find that it is often used by their family in Jerusalem. The book says, "They had "Habibi, be careful, Habibti, I love you," trailing them like a long silken scarf. Liyana knew it didn't happen for everybody."

When Liyana first meets Omer she thinks he is Arab and that his name is Omar. She later asks her dad about the name and he says it is a common name. When she discovers that Omer is Jewish she asks about the name and learns that the Jewish version is spelled with an e, not an a.

Liyana seems to adapt easily to the foods served in Jerusalem. Their first meal with the family contains "hunks of baked lamb surrounded by rice and pine nuts." Liyana eats the rice, onions, and pine nuts, but avoids the lamb. The meal is served on a large tray and everyone eats from the tray, but Liyana's dad asks for plates since they are not used to eating communally. After Liyana visits the butcher shop with her mother she decides to become a vegetarian. At the butcher shop the chickens are still alive, so the butcher takes the one to be bought, chops off its head, and plunges it into a steaming pot and takes off the feathers. Later when her dad asks why she is not eating the chicken she says, "It's dead...And it didn't want to die."

Liyana's family in Jerusalem is Muslim, but she is unfamiliar with the religion since she did not grow up with it. The one time an aspect of the religion is shown is on Liyana's first night in the country. The book says, "A muezzin gave the last call to prayer of the day over a loudspeaker from the nearby mosque and all the relatives rose up in unison and turned their backs on Liyana's family. they unrolled small blue prayer rugs from a shelf, then knelt, stood, and knelt again, touching foreheads to the ground, saying their prayers in low voices."

Liyana and her family did not belong to a church. "Liyana's mother said they were a spiritual family, they just weren't a traditionally religious one." When she tells Omer this, he says he feels the same way. He is Jewish, but he and his family do not follow the Jewish religious practices. Liyana's mom is interested in the religious history of Jerusalem so the family visits the places where events in Jesus' life occured. They even join the Christmas celebration at the site where people believe Jesus was born.

Clothing is another cultural aspect that Liyana has to learn to live with. When she is packing before they move her fathers says she cannot take shorts with her. The women in Liyana's family in Jerusalem wear long dresses, scarves, and gold earrings. Liyana continues to wear shirts and jean pants with patches, even after she has been in the country awhile. Her aunts talk about the way she dresses and her dad does not like the jeans either, but Liyana does not care. At school she wears a uniform, but cannot wear jewelry since it would be too distracting.

Review Excerpts
"Nye introduces readers to unforgettable characters. The setting is both sensory and tangible: from the grandmother's village to a Bedouin camp. Above all, there is Jerusalem itself, where ancient tensions seep out of cracks and Liyana explores the streets practicing her Arabic vocabulary." -School Library Journal

"Habibi, or darling, is what Liyana's father calls her and her younger brother; it is a soothing, loving word, and Liyana gradually finds herself comfortable "living in the land of Habibi," where she is showered with love by her huge extended family. The leisurely progression of the narrative matches the slow and stately pace of daily life in this ancient land, and the text's poetic turns of phrase accurately reflect Liyana's passion for words and language." -The Horn Book

Share the picture book Sitti's Secrets, which is also by Nye. Encourage teens to share and write stories about their own grandmothers.

Share poems from Nye's poetry books. Two that focus on the Middle East are 19 Varieties of Gazelle and The Space Between our Footsteps.

My friend's parents moved to the Israel again a few years ago. My friend recently spent a lot of time visiting them. I think it would be interesting to have teens make a list of questions to ask my friend or her parents after they read Habibi. We could gather in a computer lab and compose an e-mail together. It would allow the teens to explore more aspects of the area. My friend and her family are Jewish so it may also provide a different view from the one presented in Habibi. I did this before during a unit on South America. The class composed an e-mail for my friend who lives in Brazil. The students really enjoyed this activity and learned things that interested them but were not found in the informational books they were using for their reports.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Module 5: Grandfather's Journey

Say, Allen. 1993. Grandfather's Journey. Illustrated by Allen Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0395570352.

Plot Summary
Grandfather left Japan for North America by crossing the Pacific Ocean on a steamship. He journeyed throughout the United States and fell in love with California. He returned to Japan to marry, but brought his wife to California, where they lived and raised a daughter. Grandfather missed Japan and took his family to live there. His daughter married and had a son, the narrator, who loved visiting Grandfather and hearing about California. Grandfather missed California, but was never able to return. Once the narrator was older he went to California. He remained there and began a family of his own, but continues to visit Japan.

Critical Analysis
Grandfather's Journey is a beautiful story that is filled with heart warming sentiments. The reader is able to understand how much the characters loved both California and Japan. It is also possible to understand how much the narrator cared for his grandfather. This is a story that can be enjoyed by both younger and older children. The text itself does not include cultural markers, but a lot of detail is provided in the illustrations. The characters and scenery are all presented in a very realistic manner. Each illustration is a wonderful work of art that adds depth to the story. This book received the Caldecott Medal in 1994.

All of the characters are presented with a neutral skin tone and dark brown hair. As Grandfather ages his hair thins and turns gray and is eventually completely white. All the characters have Japanese features, but they are subtle and natural. The clothing worn depends on which country and which time period the story is taking place in. This first picture shows Grandfather in Japanese clothing, but he switches to a suit and jacket when he journeys to America. The first time Grandfather's wife is shown she is riding in a boat, carrying a white umbrella, and wearing a white dress with a high collar, long sleeves, and a pink flowered belt. The grandparents clothing seems to stay the same, but in one picture grandfather is shown with a red sweater.

When the grandparents return to Japan they begin wearing kimonos again. Although the daughter continues to wear her dresses from America, she wears a kimono on her wedding day while her husband wears a suit. The grandson wears American styled clothes in all of his pictures. When he journeys to America he wears a suit just as his grandfather did, but it is in the style of a more modern time period.

A part of Grandfather's American home is only shown once. He is standing in a room that is filled with many bird cages. The text says that they contain songbirds that remind Grandfather of Japan. There is a clock with roman numerals on the wall and Grandfather is staring out the window. The house in Japan is shown twice. In the first picture Grandmother is wearing a kimono and sitting on a mat on the floor and is facing the open doorway. Outside of the room is a wooden walkway. In front of that is a pair of shoes that are on a large, flat rock. Grandfather is inside of his house the next time it is shown. He is sitting cross-legged on a mat on the wooden floor. He is staring at a small birdcage that holds two birds that remind Grandfather of California. A small teapot is on the floor next to him. Wooden shades are hanging down behind Grandfather, but there are open spaces that show the grass and stepping stones that are outside.

Some items are included in the illustrations in order to represent the places visited or the time period. In one picture Grandfather is on the deck of a ship. In another he is standing in front of a train. On the page which reads, "The endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he had crossed," Grandfather is shown in the middle of an endless field with the grains coming up to his waist. The page with factories shows many buildings with tall smoke stacks and a gray sky filled with smoke. On one page he is standing with others in front of a barber shop. There are people of other ethnicities present and Grandfather is shown as the shortest person. The next picture shows a river boat. All of these illustrations help set the story in America's industrial era.

When the war is discussed, the two pictures of Japan appear dark and gloomy. The first shows a boy standing on a sidewalk dressed in a soldiers uniform and holding a rifle. The next picture shows a group of children standing on a large pile of rubble where their homes once stood. Most of the children wear shirts with pants or shorts that look dirty and worn out.

Review Excerpts
"As in the best children's books, the plain, understated words have the intensity of poetry. The watercolor paintings frame so much story and emotion that they break your heart. -Booklist

"As in Tree of Cranes, which is about the narrator's California-born mother, the paintings are precise, cool portraits and views that fix recollections into images, and the book as a whole is an album where both a picture of a family standing amidst war's devastation and a romantic pastorale of courting lovers find their place in memory." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Share Tea with Milk by Allen Say which is a continuation of Grandfather's Journey and presents the detailed story of the daughter's life in Japan.

Have children share stories about their own family or about places they have traveled to.

Module 5: Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family

Namioka, Lensey. 1995. Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family. Illustrated by Kees de Kiefte. New York, NY: Yearling. ISBN 0440412315.

Plot Summary
Mary is the third child in a Chinese family that has lived in the United States for only a year. She is trying to be as American as possible, and wants to become friends with Holly, the popular girl at school. Mary secretly keeps a kitten given to her by Holly. The story is filled with moments of Mary trying to keep the kitten hidden and trying not to be embarrassed by her family. In the end Mary learns to appreciate her family and those that know how to really be a friend.

Critical Analysis
The reader is thrown into the story of Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family on the very first page and the humorous events keep the pages turning until the very end. This book is the second in a series about the Yang children, but it is not necessary to read them in order. Throughout the books comparisons between American and Chinese cultures are made. They help to show how difficult it can be for newcomers to transition into a different way of life. The strength of the story is the humor that is used to illustrate the differences. Namioka creates funny situations, but highlights the need for everyone to be accepting and patient.

Although the book is a juvenile chapter book, some illustrations are included. They help the reader to visualize the main character and others, whose features are really never discussed. They also help to clarify descriptions of the sister and her Chinese clothes.

The cultural markers that are emphasized the most in the story are names, foods, and language. Mary and her siblings go by several names in the story. Mary is the name she uses at school since she thinks that her Chinese name, Yingmei, is too difficult for everyone to remember. Mary's younger brother, Yingtao, was given the nickname Sprout at school since he likes eating bean sprout sandwiches at lunch instead of the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that everyone else eats. The older brother and sister use their Chinese names at school, but in the story Yingmei and her sibling's Chinese names are really only mentioned when their parents are talking to them. Mary is called Third Sister by her brothers and sisters while Sprout is called Fourth Brother. Mary's older siblings are called Second Sister and Eldest Brother. Since Mary is the narrator of the story the names Eldest Brother, Second Sister, and Fourth Brother are used the most.

A lot of information about foods and customs is presented in the first chapter since the Yang family is invited to spend Thanksgiving with their friends, the Conners. This is the first time that the Yangs celebrate Thanksgiving. Although the Yangs have learned about American culture by reading etiquette books, they discover that they still have a lot to learn. When the Yangs are introduced to another guest, Mrs. Hanson, they all stick out there hands at once to shake hands, causing an awkward moment. A large turkey is present for the meal and this is a new food for the Yangs. They never baked in China and only ever ate smaller birds that were cooked and cut up in the stores. When Mr. Conner slices the turkey Mary wonders why he does not complain about having to do this task. She and her family are even more confused when he starts scooping the stuffing out of the turkey, since they think he is taking out the guts.

The first misunderstanding occurs when the plates are served. The first plate is given to Mary's mother, but she tries to give it to Mrs. Hanson since she looks older and it is a Chinese custom to serve the oldest first. This situation is made worse when Mother asks Mrs. Hanson' age and tries to compliment her by saying she looks old. Mother does not understand that this is an insult in America. She makes the situation worse when she later presents another misunderstood compliment and tells Mrs. Hanson that she looks fat. Situations like this continue throughout the book. Mary is embarrassed by her family and wishes that they were more American, but in the end she learns to appreciate her family and finds that Americans should try to be more understanding and patient with them as they try to adapt.

The Yangs know English, but continue to speak Chinese with each other. There are still a lot of English words, phrases, and expressions that they do not understand and this creates interesting experiences for Mary. Mary keeps a journal in which she writes down new words that she hears, but even she winds up making some mistakes. Her father has a difficult time with English since he has trouble pronouncing some sounds. Mary is embarrassed at a school function when her father says, "the lice glows near the liver," instead of the rice grows near the river. She later understands that he must also feel bad when she hears him practicing the line over and over again. Plenty of other examples of the Yangs misunderstanding English are present in the story.

Throughout the story Mary is trying to impress a girl at school, Holly, so that they can become good friends. The more she gets to know Holly the more she realizes that Holly does not really care about others and expects everyone to follow her lead. Another girl, Kim, seems to be mean to Mary at first, but she slowly becomes the caring friend that Mary can relate to. This portrayal of friendship is realistic and brings an aspect to the story that all kids can understand.

Review Excerpts
"Yingmei learns her lesson (including the fact that Holly isn't worth it), makes a good friend elsewhere, and finds a home for the kitten, all of which is predictable but satisfying, and her bouncy narration is a refreshing contrast to the more sober 'multicultural' fare we've been seeing. Occasional line drawings are witty and graceful." -Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Share the other books about the Yang family, Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear and Yang the Second and Her Secret Admirers.

Mary must learn how to take care of her cat, Rita, in the story. Extend this aspect of the story by discussing cat care. Share information from the following juvenile nonfiction books:
  • All About Cats and Kittens by Emily Neye
  • A Cat for You: Caring for Your Cat by Susan Blackaby
  • Cats: How to Choose and Care for a Cat by Laura Jeffrey

Monday, July 23, 2007

Module 5: The Star Fisher

Yep, Laurence. 1991. The Star Fisher. New York, NY: Morrow Junior Books. ISBN 0688093655.

Plot Summary
Joan is a sixteen year old Chinese American girl who is moving with her family from Ohio to West Virginia. Her parents open up a laundry, but have no customers and little money. The only one who is determined to help the family is the landlady, Miss Lucy, but Joan's parents are reluctant to receive any type of support. Joan is also having a difficult time adjusting and fitting in at school and wishes her parents would act more American. After Joan and her mother work out their differences and accept help from Miss Lucy they both find it easier to become accepted by some in the town.

Critical Analysis
The Star Fisher is an insightful look into what life would have been like for a Chinese American family in 1927. The author, Laurence Yep, says in his author's note that many of the experiences in the story came from his own family's past when they lived in West Virginia and owned a laundry. He even visited the town and did research on the people his family had known in the area. Although the story does seem very realistic and true to the time period the story's resolution is not completely believable. It seems unlikely that many of the people in the town would begin to accept the family after trying the mother's pie at a church fundraiser. After this happens the laundry receives a lot of business and Joan gains new friends at school. Not everyone changes their mind about Joan's family, but those that do come around rather quickly.

The cultural markers that are present help to make the story realistic. One of the most important cultural markers is language. Yep writes so that the reader knows that the characters are speaking in Chinese, except for when the words are italicized. In the very beginning of the book Joan's parents tell her and her brother, Bobby, and her sister, Emily, to not speak in English with each other. When Joan speaks for Bobby her parents insist that he speak for himself. Joan's parents know very little English, and Joan does not like this since she is always having to translate for them when they are speaking to someone who only knows English. When Joan becomes annoyed with her mother for always making her be the translator, her mother begins to learn English from Miss Lucy.

Chinese is also written in Joan's family. Her father writes in Chinese on the tickets in the laundry and enjoys writing poems. Since Joan's mother cannot write she has her own notation system that she has made up and that only she can read. Joan's parents are not able to read in English and the nasty messages left on their fence must be translated. Joan and her siblings discover that they can write better than the men leaving the graffiti on the fence since the words are always misspelled. When Emily points this out and tells the men they are ignorant it only upsets them more.

Some of the people in town are rude and call Joan and her family names. When Joan is in school some of the students criticize her skin color by saying, "You're a little dark, aren't you?" She responds, "You're a little pale, aren't you?" Joan actually tries to fit in and look like her classmates. On her first day she notices that the girls wear pins so she thinks about making one for herself. When she talks about the way her family dresses she says, "Though both Mama and Papa wore American clothes, that was about the only thing American about them." Joan also says that they "all wore big, ugly shoes that were as heavy as rocks--the kind that mothers called sensible." When Joan and Emily are getting ready for school Emily's hair gets braided, but Joan puts her own hair into pigtails.

Food is an interesting aspect of the book since Joan's family has little money when they first arrive in West Virginia, since they are unfamiliar with American customs, and since her mother cannot cook. On their first day in West Virginia Miss Lucy invites Joan and Emily over for tea. The sisters are curious since they have never had tea with an American before. The girls help get things ready for tea even though they do not know what they are doing. They do not know how to set the table and are surprised that they are able to use nice china. When they are getting their tea poured they are unsure about how much sugar and milk to add since they usually drink tea plain. The ask for 6 spoons of sugar and have the cups filled to the rim with milk. Joan discovers that the tea is too sweet and is unable to drink it.

Joan is sent to the store before her first day of school to buy food for lunch. She only has a few pennies to spend and is only able to afford a loaf of bread and a head of lettuce. She is embarrassed by the lettuce sandwiches she and her siblings will have to eat for lunch, so they eat by themselves. Once they begin making money they are happy since they will be able to by bologna for the sandwiches.

The meals that Joan's family have at home are also interesting since they usually consist of burned rice. Joan's mother was the youngest in her family and never learned to cook, so she always winds up burning everything. When she finally agrees to let Miss Lucy teach her to cook she learns how to make apple pie. It takes much practice to make a good pie, though, so the family grows tired of eating the bad pies that they cannot let go to waste.

Review Excerpts
"Joan's story will appeal to any reader who has ever felt excluded, but she and her family seem to hold many more stories begging to be shared. Based on tales Yep gleaned from his mother and her family, whose resilience and humor shine through, The Star Fisher offers tantalizing glimpses of interesting characters, but abruptly shifts focus from a family story with the younger sister as a strong character to a relationship between mother and daughter." -School Library Journal

"Based on experiences from Laurence Yep's own family history, the story offers unique insight into the plight of ethnic minorities. It is disturbing but never depressing, poignant but not melancholy, for the principal characters - particularly Mama, who almost steals the show - are individuals with a strong sense of their own worth, facing difficulties with humor, determination, and pride." -Horn Book

Share other young adult books by Laurence Yep that explore the experiences of Chinese American teens. Some titles to share include:
  • Child of the Owl
  • Sea Glass
  • Thief of hearts
  • The traitor: Golden Mountain Chronicles, 1885

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Module 4: How Turtle's Back was Cracked

Retold by Ross, Gayle. 1995. How Turtle's Back was Cracked: A Traditional Cherokee Tale. Illustrated by Murv Jacob. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0803717288.

Plot Summary
Turtle and Possum were best friends. Possum would climb a persimmon tree and pick persimmons. He would alternate between eating one himself and throwing one down for turtle to eat. Wolf sneaks behind turtle and started catching the persimmons, but turtle had his eyes closed and did not realize what was happening. Possum noticed the wolf and threw down a large persimmon, which got stuck in the wolf's throat and killed him. Turtle took credit for the wolf's death, and this angered the other wolves. They caught turtle and wanted to kill him, but were tricked into throwing him in the river. Turtle's back hit a rock in the river and his shell cracked.

Critical Analysis
How Turtle's Back was Cracked is a traditional Cherokee tale and explains why it looks like turtle shells are cracked. It also teaches lessons about how to behave. If turtle had never taken credit for killing wolf and had not gone around showing off his wolf-ear spoons, he would never have gotten into trouble with the wolves and his shell would not have cracked. Turtle was able to do something wise when he tricked the wolves, though. His shell was cracked, but he did not die.

The story is identified as a Cherokee tale. The author, Ross, says she heard the tale growing up as a Cherokee, but she also did research on it. She found a simple form of the story in James Mooney's Myths of the Cherokee which was published in 1900 by the Bureau of American Ethnology. Ross practiced telling the story for years before she wrote the book.

The only time Cherokee words are used within the story is when turtle sings while healing himself. He sings, "Gu'daye'wu, Gu'daye'wu," which means, "I have sewn myself together. I have sewn myself together."

Two foods are mentioned within the story. At the start of the story, turtle and possum share persimmons from the persimmon tree. Once turtle has the wolf-ear spoons he goes from person to person eating the corn soup that they offer him. It was a custom to offer visitors this special corn soup, but turtle takes advantage of people's hospitality so he can show off the wolf-ear spoons. He created the spoons after taking the wolf's ears as a tribute from the dead wolf. It was a custom for a hunter to take a tribute from an animal in order to capture a piece of the animal's spirit.

The illustrations in the book are colorful and contain a lot of detail. The sky stands out since it is painted with bright, swirled colors. The sun is always pictured with a face. There is a lot of trees and wild life presented and the colors used for them make it seem like the story is taking place in autumn.

The turtle, possum, and wolf are pictured wearing some clothes. Possum and wolf wear an item around their waist that looks like an apron. Turtle wears a belt around his waist. The animals and people wear beads around their wrists and ankles. Possum, the wolf, and some of the people also wear necklaces. The people wear leather clothes and moccasins. The women wear dresses and have long hair, while the men wear pants and no shirts with their hair cut short into Mohawks.

The aspect of each picture that stands out the most is the eyes of the animals. The wolves all have shining yellow eyes. The turtle has a large red eye with a black star shape in the center. The turtle's head is always shown from a side view so that only one eye is seen. This eye stands out on every page and helps draw the reader's attention to the turtle.

Review Excerpts
"Despite its echoes of the more familiar Brer Rabbit story ('born and bred in the briar patch'), this Cherokee pourquoi tale has a flavor all its own. Ross notes that she remembers the tale from her childhood, found a written source, and developed it through storytelling to its present form. Jacob's distinctive acrylic paintings illustrate the story's dramatic moments in scenes rich in colors and patterns. An entertaining picture book to read aloud." -Booklist

Read How Turtle's Back was Cracked with other turtle stories during story time. Other books that can be read are Anansi goes fishing by Eric Kimmel, Turtle Splash! by Cathryn Falwell, and Turtle's Race with Beaver: A Traditional Seneca Story by Joseph Bruchac. For the craft children can color a picture of a turtle and draw in the cracks on his shell.