In the Snow. Huy Voun Lee. Henry Holt and Company. 1995.
When is a trip to the library extraordinary? When you stumble across a gem like this book. “In the Snow” is part of a series by Huy Voun Lee that introduces Chinese characters to children. The Chinese lesson is framed by a story of a boy walking through the woods on a snowy day with his mother. Along the way she stops to teach him ten Chinese characters.
Wisely, the books is grounded in characters that look something like what they represent. The first character introduced is wood. From there several different words utilizing the same component are introduced. After the stable of wood-words is exhausted we get a bit of weather, the sun, and the moon.
The illustrations use a paper collage style that has just the right level of abstraction. Since it takes a bit of creative vision to really believe a character looks like what it represents, Lee has used her own creative vision to do just that. The pictures are colorful, and the layers used in the paper give a nice texture to the images.
Teaching kids to read 2,500 Chinese characters may be hard, but with this books teaching kids to be interested in 10 is easy.
The Tea Party in the Woods. Akiko Miyakoshi. Kids Can Press, 2015.
Mysterious and stately, this book is a subtle and creative fairy tale. The story starts off in a familiar way: a girl travels through the woods alone to go to her grandmother’s house. Its fairy tale predecessor taught kids about caution and safety. But “The Tea Party in the Woods,” however indirect, implies that we should not be afraid of those different from ourselves, that we’re never alone in the world, and that bravery is a virtue. While not exactly a twist on “Red Riding Hood,” older kids could have a great discussion comparing and conrasting the two.
Translated from Japanese, the language in the book is unobtrusive. There are no linguistic flourishes or play on words. Rather, the words communicate the story cleanly and simply. With about a paragraph per page, my children occasionally asked about some phrases newer to them like “lost sight of.”
The illustrations evoke whimsy, nostalgia, and mystery. Mostly done with charcoal on beautifully textured paper, the illustrations are black and white with splashes of color for emphasis. The cover provides a nice example of how much mileage Miyakoshi gets out of varying the shade of charcoal from jet black to wisps of grey. Put simply, the pictures are elegant.
Overall, this is a fairy tale for a more open and inviting world that is a welcome addition to any library.
The Mid Autumn Festival is a harvest moon festival. Its date is based on the Chinese calendar, falling on a full moon between mid-September and early October. It is celebrated mainly by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese. It is associated with a myth about the Goddess Chang E flying to the moon. Her husband, missing her, set out the foods she liked in the light of the moon. Now, people celebrate by re-uniting with their families, lighting lanterns, and eating mooncakes. Mooncakes are pastries traditionally made with lotus or red bean paste and salted duck egg yolk to represent the moon.
Dragons Love Tacos. Adam Rubin & Daniel Salmieri (illustrator.) Dial Books, 2012.
The question is not do you “like” tacos, but how hard are you prepared to taco? If you are a dragon at heart, then you have reached appropriate taco levels. Even kids who do not actually love tacos absolutely love this book. Loosely anchored to the everyday world by means of an everyday food, this tale dives head-first into Seuss-ian absurdity. It may be short on life lessons, unless you count a warning about reading the fine print, but this book aims primarily to delight, and delight it does.
The language in this book is fun, fun, fun. Many sentences are in a question and answer format that keeps kids engaged. The playful language uses many goofy, exaggerated descriptions. The best being the explanation of how many tacos are needed to host a taco party for dragons. After just one reading, every time my children see salsa, they ask if it is “spicy salsa” just like in the book.
Illustrator Daniel Salmieri brings his distinctive style, which is instantly recognizable for fans of “Meet the Dullards.” The illustrations are realistic with a quirk, as one might expect when we see a commonplace location like a living room filled with partying dragons. The unique character designs attract children’s attention without resorting to an overly bright color palette.
Overall, a goofy delight from start to finish.
Ninja! Arree Chung. 2014. Henry Holt & Co. E fiction.
Are you ready for this guy to tumble, sneak, and creep his way into your children’s hearts? Then by all means give “Ninja!” a try. Here, we have the adventure of a young boy using his imagination, common household objects, and family members to become a ninja. Along the way, he realizes the downside of being sneaky, that make believe fun can have real world consequences, and that is more fun to include loved ones in your games.
The language is simple, but clearly draws inspiration from martial arts movies of yore. No my kids haven’t yet started to call their favorite drinking device ‘the sacred cup,’ but in the context of the story, they fully understood that ‘sacred’ means something special. The words are so fun that this parent couldn’t help but read the book in the voice of a mystical martial arts sage.
The illustrations excellently capture the feel of the story. The words spring from our main character’s imagination, but the illustrations show him in a cute, but realistic world. The illustrations frequently use comic-book style framing, which is a fun complement to the realistic setting.
Overall, this is a good story, fun for the parents to read, and one that my kids ask for repeatedly.
Falling for Rapunzel. Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monks (illustrator) 2003. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. E fiction.
This book is a good twist on the old fairy-tale. Told in rhyme, Rapunzel can’t quite hear what prince charming is calling out to her, so instead of throwing down her hair, she throws down quite a bit else. Kids laugh and laugh at the unusual things Rapunzel thinks she hears, and unsurprisingly, laugh loudest when Rapunzel throws down underwear. Kids don’t necessarily need to be familiar with the original fairy-tale to find this story a blast.
With its strict rhyming pattern, the author comes up with lots of clever synonyms for hair. Most kids won’t be familiar with words like “tresses,” but it is a good opportunity to expand your child’s vocabulary and to teach about synonyms generally. The rhymes are smooth all around and easy for parents to read.
The illustrations are done with acrylic, colored pencil, and other mixed media. The style is cute and bright enough to hold a child’s interest. There are nice little touches like trees made out of photos of trees in the midst of a painted world. The illustrations clearly convey the content of the story giving a hand to kids with some of the more unfamiliar vocabulary.
Overall, a fun and funny retelling of a classic that parents will enjoy reading to their smiling children.