Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

ShiningStar

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

Whenever I see photograph of Anna May Wong…SLAY QUEEN, SLAY!   >_<

Anna May Wong grew up in LA washing clothes in her parents laundry and healing from the hateful slurs from her white peers at school. She started skipping school to watch actors on movie sets and was inspired to act. Though she was discouraged by her parents (good Chinese girls didn’t act), as a teenager she won a role as an extra in a film (her dad allowed it because they needed the money). She did extra roles for years until her first big role in Bits of Life in 1921. She played the wife of a Chinese man (White actor in yellowface) but they could’t kiss because it was against the law. She was disturbed by the yellowface but pressed on for the money and experience.

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Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Paula Yoo/Lin Wang

She’d continue to rise but her roles were very stereotypical and demeaning of Asian women. Anna May moved to Europe and achieved fame there but when she came back, hoping to score the lead role in The Good Earth, they gave it to…a white actress. She was fed up with discrimination and was caught between her desire to resist the racist roles AND follow her dream of acting in the US. During a trip China (she faced some criticism there for accepting stereotypical roles) to learn more about her heritage and to visit her retired parents, her spirt was renewed. Her father reminded her to always be proud of her race and fight to respectfully represent her people. She’d continue to act, but only in non-stereotypical Asian roles!

Lin Wang’s watercolor and acrylic illustrations are gorgeous. I just LOVE the way Yoo and Wang open the book; the illustration of the train rushing towards Anna May is extremely dramatic and dynamic! Wang really brings to life the glamour and grace of Anna May Wong.

What a good book! Anna May Wong isn’t as well known as she should be…The efforts she made towards improving the representation of Asian Americans in film isn’t as well known as it should be. With the current state of diversity in the film industry (not enough has changed), it’s especially important to go back and learn about those who’ve paved the way!

 

Recommended for: 2nd grade and up
Great for: Determination, Confidence, Girl Power, Role Model, Women’s History Month, Acting, Film Industry, Discrimination, Racism, Stereotypes, Ant-Miscegenation Laws, Diversity, Cultural Relativism, History, Film History, Asian American, Chinese American, Dreams, Family, Relationships, Discussion, Biography, Non-Fiction
Book Info: Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo/Illustrated by Lin Wang, 2009 Lee & Low Books, ISBN: 9781600602597

Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

BadNewsForOutlaws

Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

“Bass shook his head. He hated bloodshed, but Webb might need killing.” OH SNAP.

The story starts in medias res with an action-packed showdown shootout! Reeves has the tough job of being a lawman in Indian Territory. As Natives were forcibly moved to Indian Territory to live, Whites squatted on the land illegally. The Territory was ripe with outlaws, gamblers and dangerous people. Reeves was the right man to uphold the law; in addition to being clever, well respected and honest, he was a crack shot, tall, broad and strong. He grew up a slave in Texas but escaped after an altercation with his master to Indian Territory. There he lived with tribes and learned their ways and languages until the Civil War when he became free.

Reeves married, had kids and was hired on to be a Deputy Marshal for Indian Territory. Though he couldn’t read, he had an excellent memory and was known for his disguises and clever schemes to track down outlaws. Being a church-going man, he also tried to talk sense into the criminals. Though he was generally respected, he was still a black man with power and many whites weren’t keen on that. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves lost his job as Deputy Marshal but later became a part of the Muskogee police force. In his entire career, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty!!!

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

One issue I have with this book is the way in which the author addresses the murder of Reeves’ daughter in law. Reeves’ son Benjamin murdered his own wife because she was “untrue” and though he was sentenced to life, he only had to serve ten years because he was a “model prisoner.” Micheaux Nelson retells historical events (focuses on how tough this is for Reeves) but Reeves’ daughter in law has no agency in this story. She’s the victim of horrific violence yet we never learn her name, we don’t see her in the illustrations and there’s no mention of her in the material at the end of the book. This is unfortunate and I hope readers use this as an opportunity for discussion and to learn more about her. [After about 20 minutes of searching the internet, I found two sources that list her name, Cassie Reeves. Here and here on pg. 39.]

R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations bring Reeves and the unpredictability of the “Wild West” to life. Christie’s color palette is full of sandy browns, rich greens and dark colors. The first page with outlaw Jim Webb bursting through a window (shards of glass flying) to escape from Reeves on horseback is my favorite. By the way, Micheaux Nelson and Christie also collaborated on another excellent book, The Book Itch. Read that one too.

Be sure to check out Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. Bass Reeves isn’t as well known as he should be and this picture book is an excellent introduction to his remarkable life.

 

 

Recommended for: 3rd-4th grade and up
Great for: Western, Indian Territory, Native Americans, Oklahoma Tribes, Squatters, Fairness, Law Enforcement, Relationships, Family, Law, Discussion, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Outlaws, African-American, Slavery, Injustice, Respect, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2009 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780822567646

Too Many Mangos

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Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Hawaiian Author. Hawaiian Illustrator. Hawaiian Press. Woooo Boy! What a beautiful thing to see a completely Hawaiian product come to fruition and be shared with the world. This little book made it to my library system in Ohio and I’m glad. ❤

Too Many Mangos is gorgeous. Just look at the illustrations! Kama and his little sister Nani learn the power of kindness and sharing. Whenever they visit their grandpa’s house, they like to climb the big mango tree in the back. Grandpa tells them to pick the ripe ones and hand them down to him. There are just too many mangos for them to eat alone so he sends them to the neighbors to share. Kama and Nani head out with a wagon full of lovely mangoes and at every house, they’re given a gift in exchange for the mangos! Aunty Pua gives them fresh banana macadamia nut muffins, their friends Momi and Kawai give them golden papayas and on and on. When they finally get home, grandpa prepares a feast with all their “mahalo (thank you) gifts.” Sharing can be very sweet.

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Image Credit: Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), Tammy Paikai/Don Robinson

Robinson’s illustrations are GORGEOUS. Look at those soft pastel colors and how beautifully he blends them. His human figures are chubby and remind me of Peanuts characters. While reading this book, you’ll feel like you’re on the island in the warm sun. This is a feel good story in both content and the brightness of the illustrations. Hope you have a copy of Too Many Mangos near you so you can enjoy this delightful book! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Community, Sharing, Kindness, Relationships, Food Culture, Hawaiian Food, Hawaii, Cultural Diversity, Family, Friends, We Need Diverse Books, Ripe Mangos, Love, Grandfathers, Grandfathers-Grandchildren
Book Info: Too Many Mangos by Tammy Paikai/Illustrated by Don Robinson, 2009 Island Heritage Publishing (Madden Corporation), ISBN: 9781597007580

 

 

 

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet

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Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

 

Calvin is a “trouble magnet” because he can’t help but get in sticky situations. This book is very fast-paced and a little all over the place but that’s not a bad thing because the story is so honest, good and funny!

Calvin lives with his mom and little sister Darci in Kailua, Hawaii. Their “famous” dad left them years ago for Vegas but they’re doing just fine. One day, mom tells Calvin and Darci that they’ll soon have a guest from Texas; her name is Stella, she’s fifteen, and is the daughter of one of her friends. She’ll be just like a sister she says. Antics ensue as Calvin finds a pet centipede in the garage, starts his first day of fourth grade, makes a new friend, dodges a bully and barely manages to stay out of trouble.

Salisbury’s writing, characterization, attention to language and cultural details are excellent; he helps the reader feel right at home on the island. From having the kids talk about how much a haole (white person) with blue eyes and blond hair stands out in their community to explaining spam musubi, kimchi and shave ice, he shares his culture. The Calvin Coconut series celebrates how diverse Hawaii is and the honest portrayal of race, difference, and social issues is refreshing.

Jaqueline Roger’s spunky illustrations fit the mood of the story perfectly. Her loose watercolor-sketch style brings the characters to life and she draws expressions so well.

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Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

I’m SO ready to hop on a plane and head down to Hawaii!  I just hope I don’t run into someone as silly as Calvin. Be sure to check out this series if you’re looking for something a little different and fun for your kids.

 

Recommended for: 3rd/4th grade and up
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Food Culture, Hawaii, School Life, Single Mothers, Bullying, Family
Book Info: Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury/Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, 2009 Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385737012

The Circus Ship

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

 

The Circus Ship is inspired by the real shipwreck of the Royal Tar in 1836 off the coast of Maine (author’s note included in the back of the book). Van Dusen writes the story in rhyme which makes it excellent for reading aloud. There are also lots of great vocabulary words like thrashing, helm, daft, bothersomebedraggled, menagerie!

The story begins with a ship carrying fifteen circus animals bound for their next show in Boston. Despite the dangerous weather, the mean Circus Master pushes the captain on through the fog. The ship crashes and the animals are left to fend for themselves in the waves. Luckily they swim to shore but unluckily, the people of the small town they land in are annoyed by their presence! One night, a shed goes up in flames, one animal saves the day and in the process, changes the minds of the townspeople. There’s a page where all the animals hide from the Circus Master and you have to look carefully to find each animal in the illustrations; it’s so very clever and interactive!

Van Dusen is a masterful illustrator; I love his attention to detail and characterization. Pay attention to how sad the animals look while aboard the circus ship compared to how happy they are to be accepted as members of the community. The gouache paintings are lush; this is the “perfect” animal book and your child will enjoy pointing them out. I love the page where the Circus Master stomps into town, legs astride, fingers pressed into his chest, with a haughty expression on his face. The Circus Ship is an excellent story of community and friendship that is sure to please and become a favorite.

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Animals, Community, Vocabulary
Book Info: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, 2009 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763655921