Not everyone wants to stand out, especially if your family moves to a new country and you suddenly feel different from everyone else. Hee Jun is a self proclaimed “ordinary” Korean boy and his grandmother is a highly respected teacher in Korea…until Hee Jun’s father gets a job in West Virginia and everything changes. Hee Jun’s family goes through a roller coaster of emotions until they find comfort and familiarity in their new lives.
Jeri Watts does a great job of depicting Korean culture and children’s emotions during times of change. This story was inspired by a Korean student who desperately wanted her to understand him and felt out of place in his new home of Virginia. As great as her storytelling is, the book wouldn’t be what it is without Hyewon Yum’s authentic voice coming through in the art. From the first page, I felt like I was back on the side streets surrounding my 초등학교 (elementary school). My school had a 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake) shop across the street just like the high school Hee Jun’s grandmother teaches at. I love how Yum incorporates Korean words and sentences into the illustrations. Her art is evocative and she’s great at characterization and creating story.
I really connected to this book because (as you can probably guess) I used to live in Korea. I graduated from college and almost immediately flew over to start a new life as an English teacher. Similar to Hee Jun, I felt out of control and confused at times. He also reminds me of my students, especially the ones who wanted to get to know me but didn’t have confidence in their ability to communicate with me. I made them feel uncomfortable in their own space, which must’ve been nerve-wracking! The world caters to native English speakers but Native English speaking countries rarely cater to non-native English speakers! >_< Like Hee Jun’s grandmother, immigrants bring richness into the United States that shouldn’t be ignored just because they struggle with English.
The other day I snapped this photo of 무궁화 (Mugungwha/Rose of Sharon) growing near my house. It made me think of my city of 대구 and my friends and students there.
I hope you enjoy A Piece of Home as much as I did. I think a lot of children will be able to relate to it!
Recommended for: All Ages Great for: Family, Community, Immigration, Friendship, Korea, Korean Culture, Inner Strength, Difference, School Life, Diversity, Discussion, Language, Confidence Book Info: A Piece of Homeby Jeri Watts/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, 2016 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763669713
Duncan Tonatiuh’s work is some of the most important work in children’s literature right now. His books speak truth, teach our realities and his art isn’t too bad. 😉 He creates picture books that cover topics like immigration, city vs. rural life, friendship, art history, discrimination, prejudice, determination and history. You can read my reviews for Funny Bones and Salsahere.
Funny Bones was the very first book I reviewed for my blog, so it holds an important place in my blogging life. Through reading and experiencing his books, I became more interested in learning about him. He’s a very cool person! Let’s get on to the interview…
Alia: Q1. What are three words to describe yourself?
Duncan: Thats a tough one. One would be responsible or dependable.
Alia: Yeah I know! I like to ask people this though…
Duncan: Creative maybe? Smart sounds conceited but something to do with being a thinker. Thoughtful? That is what I can think of for now.
Alia: That’s great. Thank you.
Duncan: Calm maybe?
Duncan: No problem.
Alia: Q2. Congratulations on your baby daughter! Has having a child influenced how you see yourself as a storyteller?
Duncan: I’m sure it has. But I’m not quite sure how yet. It’s definitely had a huge impact in my life. My world does not revolve around me anymore by any means. And I feel an enormous and unconditional love for my daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Alia: Q3. The first time I saw your books, your art made me cheer. It’s such a beautiful display of indigeneity. The Mixtec codex influence. Do you mind discussing your style and how it developed?
Duncan: I went to design school in New York City. There is a large Mixtec community there. I became friends with a Mixtec guy named Sergio. For my senior thesis I decided to make a small comic book about his journey from his small village in the south of Mexico to working as a busboy in a restaurant in New York.
One of the first things I did when I began that project was go to the library to look up Mixtec artwork. I found images of Mixtec codex from the 15th century. I was blown away by them. I grew up in Mexico, so I was familiar with Pre-Columbian art but never paid much attention to it. When I saw images of the codex at the library I decided I would make a modern day codex of Sergio’s story.
I began emulating the drawings from the codex. I drew every one in profile. I stylized their ears to look like a number 3. I drew the character’s entire bodies, etc. I collaged my drawings digitally though to make them feel more modern.
Alia: That’s awesome! You kind of touch on that modern day application of art in your book about Diego Rivera. How he’d view the world now and create it in his style. I love how you take ancient art from your culture and make it modern for today’s children. I really really like how you use digital collage too! It makes the images pop.
Alia: No problem!
Image Credit: Dear Primo, Abrams Books for Young Readers, Duncan Tonatiuh
Q4. What was your favorite food growing up?
Duncan: Hmmm. Maybe enchiladas or pozole. When I was a kid I asked my mom why my Dad always got to pick what we were having for lunch. She said it was because he gave her the money to buy the food. At some point I got a job after school helping out a jewellery maker. When I got paid I gave the money to my mom and asked her to make enchiladas.
Alia: Hahaha. That sounds like something my mom would say. 🙂
Alia: Q5. Your books are very powerful and full of history and perspective. They also have the ability to reach any child in the world. What do you hope children take away from your books?
Duncan: Thanks! Well, first and foremost I hope they find my books entertaining and interesting to look at. I make books about things that interest me. Hopefully young readers will find those things interesting and important too. I try to have a message in my books but I hope they don’t feel preachy or didactic.
When it comes to Latino children I hope they see themselves, their family and their community in the books. Hopefully they feel pride and realize that their voices and stories are important. For non-Latino children, I hope they learn about a different culture. With books like Pancho Rabbit or Separate Is Never Equal, I hope that they feel empathy and understanding of the struggles Latino children and people have to face sometimes.
One of the most rewarding moments I’ve had as an author is when a group of 4th graders from an Elementary in Texas wrote a multi-voice poem about their border crossing experiences after they read Pancho Rabbit. I feel my book encouraged them to speak and realize that their voices and stories are important. Let me find the link:
Alia: Thank you for sharing and that is amazing. I’m glad for your books because it is so important to not only share stories, but to create stories that children can relate to. Children of color sometimes need that boost, that representation. That’s why diverse books are so important. For teaching and learning, and inspiring as in the case of those 4th graders! 🙂
Alia: Q6. Congratulations on all the recent honors (Sibert Award/Pura Belpré Honor/NCTE Honor) for Funny Bones! Have you received any feedback from kids on that book?
Duncan: Thank you! I’ve received a few calavera drawings from students. And I’ve seen projects that they’ve created at school for the Day of the Dead. I look forward to receiving more feedback from kids and seeing how they respond to the book and what resonates with them.
Alia: How cool! When I was a teacher in Korea, I learned about Day of the Dead to share with my students. In Korea, they have a holiday called Chuseok where they also honor ancestors, make an altar of food, and clean graves. They seemed to connect with it, especially since they saw some cultural similarities. They were a little surprised about the calaveras though. But when I showed them the sugar skulls, they wanted to taste them. lol!
Q7. For the book Salsa, you illustrated words that weren’t your own. What was it like working with Jorge Argueta?
Duncan: The majority of picture books are written by one person and illustrated by another one. The publishing company pairs the two together. I did not meet Jorge until after I had illustrated the book. That is often the case with picture book authors and illustrators. I enjoyed illustrating Jorge’s book and we have become friends, but we didn’t work on that book together; at least not at the same time.
I finished illustrating a book recently for another author, a woman named Susan Wood. We’ve only met once very briefly. I enjoy illustrating other people’s stories but I like writing and illustrating my own books the best because I have a little more control. I can change the text or the illustrations as I need and hopefully that makes the book flow more smoothly.
Alia: That’s really interesting. I’ve also noticed that for some smaller publishers, the author can have some say in who they’d like to work with and there’s more dialogue during the creative process. I think the book came out really nicely.
Maybe also, like any piece of art, a book that is written and illustrated by you is your complete piece and like you said, you can tweak and bend the product to be exactly what you like and want to say.
Duncan: Definitely. And I’m not sure but I think the publisher asked Jorge if he thought I would be a good fit for the manuscript he wrote. He didn’t give me comments on my illustrations and sketches but he had the opportunity to look at some of my work first I believe.
Alia: Thanks for the insight!
Q8. You touched on it a bit above but are there any upcoming projects you can share with the public yet?
Duncan: I have two picture books coming out this fall. One will be called The Princess and the Warrior; A Tale of Two Volcanoes. I wrote and illustrated it. It’ll be published by Abrams. The book is my own version of the origin legend of two volcanoes that are outside of Mexico City: Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The story is set in Pre-Columbian times and it has some similarities to Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet.
The second book is called Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist. It’s written by Susan Wood and illustrated by yours truly. It’ll be published by Charlesbridge. The book is about a Mexican composer who is considered the creator of lounge music. It was fun to illustrate. It’s a groovy and swanky book with a lot of hand-drawn text in it.
Alia: Oh man, I’m looking forward to both!!
Duncan: Thanks! Me too!
Alia: Side note: While studying your books for this interview, it was fun to see how your art style has evolved over time. In Dear Primo compared to Funny Bones, your lines now are a little cleaner, the hands of the people are smaller and they have necks! So interesting to see.
Duncan: Yeah. That is true. Sometimes I miss some of the rawness of Dear Primo. I am hoping to experiment a little more with upcoming projects. I want them to still be in my style but I also want them to evolve or change a little depending on the project.
Alia: Looking forward to how your style grows.
Q9. Any place or food you really recommend during a visit to your hometown of San Miguel de Allende?
Duncan: San Miguel is a great place to visit. A few years ago it was voted “Best City in the World” by Traveler’s Magazine. I think one of the things that visitors like about it is that there is nice combination of high-end and cheap options. There are some really good fancy restaurants but also great cheap street tacos.
My favorite place in town is probably the library. It has a wonderful courtyard. I love going there to write, draw and read. Some good places for visitors are the crafts market, the botanical garden, the Fábrica la Aurora -an old factory that was converted into art galleries- and the hot springs.
Alia: Fábrica la Aurora sounds sweet! A great space for creativity. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Duncan for taking time to talk with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and I’m excited for all the books coming from you (this year and years to come!). Yay!
Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Irena Kobald/Freya Blackwood
Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th) is a beautiful effort to share the love of multicultural books! I have the pleasure of participating this year. Thank you to MCCBD and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with a copy of the book My Two Blankets!
My Two Blankets discusses the struggles that immigrant children may face when leaving their home and making a new one. In recent years, there have been more and more picture books that discuss this topic and it’s encouraging to see. It’s important to think about the experiences of others and picture books have the power of bringing a whole new world of understanding to children! It’s also important for these children to know that their stories matter.
The story opens with Cartwheel playing happily in her village in Sudan, but soon war comes and she moves to another country (possibly Australia) with her Auntie. Everything is strange and jarring for her; the people, the food, and especially the language! She’s frustrated by her confusion and she feels like she’s losing her identity. At home, she’s able to soothe herself under a “blanket” of familiar words and sounds. One day, she meets a girl in a park who talks strangely, like everyone else, but her kindness draws her in. The girl teaches Cartwheel her language, a little at a time, and their friendship blossoms. She begins to feel more confident, a new blanket growing alongside her old one.
Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Irena Kobald/Freya Blackwood
I enjoyed this book very much, but I do have one very important suggestion for how the story can be improved. Cultural exchange is crucial for creating a better, multicultural world. Readers don’t get to see Cartwheel share her original blanket (her culture, stories and WORDS) with her friend. We only see the friend teach Cartwheel her language and not the other way around. The additional imagery of a blended blanket, red and blue, with her friend having a similar blanket, would’ve been powerful. Cartwheel teaches her friend how to do cartwheels, but I hoped to see much more! I encourage families and teachers to think about this while reading the book and maybe it will spark healthy discussion!
The illustrations in My Two Blankets are beautiful. I enjoy Blackwood’s style; the wiggly, sketchy lines around the oil and watercolor paints create a feeling of movement and energy. The contrasting reds and blues make the images stand out and she is excellent at depicting soft expressions. I love how she uses symbols to represent words that float in the air, are held by the girls and absorbed by Cartwheel.
Please take time to read this book, discuss the story, and enjoy the illustrations. Touching back on the importance of cultural exchange, below is a video recipe for Sudanese Blended Okra Meat Stew or Bahmia Mafrook! Maybe this is something Cartwheel ate in Sudan and continued to make with Auntie in her new home. It’s also a dish she could’ve shared with her new friend. I hope your family will try it and enjoy! 🙂
Ah, it looks so tasty!
Recommended for: All Ages Great for: Friendship, Immigration, Diversity, Relationships, Frustration, Struggles, Struggle With Identity, Inner-Strength, Support, We Need Diverse Books, Family, Discussion, Sudan, Australia Book Info: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald/Illustrated by Freya Blackwood, 2014 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544432284
Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD)
Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.
OurMission: The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.
Founders: The co-creators of this unique event are Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press. You can find a bio for Mia and Valarie here.
Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors!
Attention Teachers! Check out this awesome opportunity to earn a FREE hardcover multicultural children’s book for your classroom. Follow this link to the MCCBD website for more information. Also, click here for a free MCCBD poster for your classroom!
Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Ginnie Lo/Beth Lo
There’s nothing like finding a little bit of home in a new place.
Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic tells a story that may be familiar to many immigrant families in the US; a story about finding comfort with like minded people and forming community in a new country. Jinyi lives a little far away from her Auntie Yang but her family makes sure to visit often and stay close. She grows up with Chinese lessons, art lessons, cooking Chinese food and lots of playtime with her cousins.
One day on a lazy Sunday drive, Auntie Yang spots soybeans growing in a field! At this time, soybeans aren’t commonly eaten in the US. The farmer thinks the Chinese family wants the beans to feed their pig, but no, they will boil them to eat! And so begins the yearly tradition of The Great Soybean Picnic. Each year it gets bigger and bigger and more Chinese families in the Chicago area join in with lots of delicious Chinese dishes. Auntie Yang and her sister become less homesick because the happy discovery of soybeans brings them a new large and loving Chinese community in the US.
This is a sweet story of family, food and finding place…in a new place. It’s inspired by real events and in the back of the book, Ginnie and Beth Lo share family photos, more information about the Soybean Picnic, information about soybeans and a glossary of the Chinese words used in the book. We even get to see photos of the dynamic Auntie Yang!
Beth Lo’s paintings have a vintage mid-century Chinese art vibe to them that I like. I didn’t realize that the illustrations are actually painted on porcelain plates until I read the back of the book. I’ll repeat that, each “illustration” is a plate! How cool is that?? Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic is a great story to share with your family. I’m off to get some edamame! 😉
Recommended for: All ages Great for: Chinese American Culture, Chinese Food, Friendship, Family, Food Culture, Community, Immigration, Soybeans, Cousins, Siblings, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Home Sickness, Discussion, New Traditions in a New Place, Chinese Language, Cultural Relativism Book Info: Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo/Illustrated by Beth Lo, 2012 Lee & Low Books Inc., ISBN: 9781600604423
Whether escaping war, oppression, famine or discrimination, the United States has long been a place for new beginnings for people all over the world. Safe in our homes, it can be hard to put ourselves in the shoes of others, in the shoes of people who are fleeing their old life to make something better. Can you imagine being plucked from your home and while trying to hold on to what you know and understand, being placed in an entirely new (and sometimes scary) environment?
Reading Here I Am reminded me of the struggles of Syrian refugees trying to make new homes in various countries around the world. In this book, a young boy and his family leave Korea to make a new home in the US. This wordless picture book is inspired by the author Patti Kim’s experience leaving Korea at four years old to travel to the US. Her story, combined with Sonia Sánchez’s expressive and energetic art, is a moving tale of immigration.
In Here I Am, a child steps off a plane with his red seed from home tucked safely inside his pocket. It’s easy to see his confusion and reluctance to adjust to his new life. The words on sign posts and restaurants are a jumbled mess and all he hears from his teacher is “Blah Blah Blah” but…his red seed is comfort. He holes away in his family’s apartment, not ready to explore UNTIL…he drops his precious seed out the window and a girl picks it up and goes off with it! As he rushes down the stairs and begins to explore his city, he realizes how fascinating his new home is. Like his seed, he blooms and grows with his new friend, the new connection he makes in his new home.
This book is excellent for discussing difference, feelings and change and I hope you will keep this story with you!
Recommended for: Kindergarten and up Great for: Diversity, Wordless, Moving, Immigration, Family, Friendship, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Discussion, Storyboarding Book Info: Here I Am by Patti Kim/Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez, 2014 Picture Window Books (Capstone Young Readers), ISBN: 9781623700362