Library Websites Worth Looking At

If you haven’t ever read/seen Aaron Schmidt’s work, he’s got that snarky sense of humor that I very much appreciate. For example, his take on QR Codes in Libraries.

Anyway, he and his organization posted some evals of quality library websites. Worth a look, especially if you’re ever looking for libraries/features to model a library website after in the near future!

What I like about WPBeginner

I started with a blog in fall 2012 (well, actually my instructor hosted blogs for those of us in his course that summer, but I had to transfer the content after the course ended). I played with for a year before I decided that it was time to take back control and have access to the HMTL code again (not that I was using it more than pasting in Goodreads widgets, but still.)

For me the transfer process and install of a self-hosted site was daunting. It still is. There is something about domain hosting that trips up my little brain. However, I do follow detailed, step-by-step instructions well, and lucky for me, they are out there.

WP Beginner was exactly what I was looking for, more than once:

For example, here were the instructions I needed to transfer to I think as we start the actual coding for our upcoming redesign projects, this article about creating child themes is really going to come in handy because it explains how to modify some of the stuff the WordPress takes care of for you by providing themes. When we sketched out our ideas and chose color schemes in the early planning stages, we based them on our creative imaginations, not existing WP themes, so we’ll have to compromise those idea or pitch them unless we do some modifying. So in this case, I’m pretty jazzed about having some instructions.

Another thing this site does really well is answering the question, “How can I do X with WordPress?” and enlightening you to some of the possibilities that you might tap into within the realm of this CMS. I had no idea that you could password-protect a single post, for example, but here’s how. Let’s say you want to mess with the line spacing in the CSS, which we learned how to do from our course readings, but since we didn’t handcode the content, it might not be obvious what the classes or IDs were tagged with–maybe not the hardest thing to examine and figure out on your own, but I think I would appreciate someone just telling me what to look for specifically in WP. I still need help with Google Analytics, and I am encouraged by the help WP Beginner has to offer for that too.

So, if this is your first experience with WordPress, this is where I would start: In fact, the guides pretty much go in order of the things you would want to do:

  1. How to Pick the Right Domain Name
  2. How to Choose the Best WordPress Hosting
  3. How to Install WordPress on Your Site
  4. How to Select a Perfect WordPress Theme
  5. Recommended Plugins for WordPress
  6. How to Install and Setup Google Analytics in WordPress
  7. Setup a Professional Email Address for Your WordPress Blog

Eddie Bauer’s Survey-Game Marketing

I got the following email from the other day, because I had been “selected to help them choose new styles for the upcoming season…”

Eddie Bauer survey email

I followed the survey link because it sounded appealing to participate in. This is what I got:

survey landing page

survey instructions page

Basically, they had gamified the survey process by trying to make it feel like The Price is Right as if you were guessing the prices of the items instead of offering feedback. Clever, because it kept me engaged in the process, even if it was apparent early on that the things I shop for at Eddie Bauer (trousers and long-sleeve shirts) were not the items being survey (mostly cargo pants and running pants). I’m afraid because the survey was set and not adaptive to focus in on the few things I did respond to positively, they missed the “target” by targeting me!

I was a little disappointed at the end of the survey when there was no fanfare or results on if I had “done well” with the What Would They Pay? survey-game. Missed opportunity, Eddie Bauer! (It would have been neat to see the average results of what people stated would be appropriate pricing–though I’m sure this would mess with their marketing if they decide to price higher than the average when potential items launch.)

A look at the genealogy form

This February, I was out in Salt Lake City for a snowboard trip, and while there, I spent an evening après-ski at the LDS Family History Museum. (I’m not LDS, but their genealogy library is a-maz-ing, and when in Rome…) Anyway, long story short, part of the experience was a “guided introduction” to the genealogy tool with my own personal church elder.

The thing about the way FamilySearch works, compared to for example, is once you’ve entered enough of your family tree that it overlaps with the content of another user’s research, your content merges and you’ve basically crowd-sourced your research (for the good and the bad–errors and all). It’s nearly as powerful as, but free.

The initial form that FamilySearch uses takes you through entering information about your father, your mother, your father’s father, your father’s mother, your mother’s father, your mother’s mother, etc. to build your tree. It allows you to skip family members or details that you don’t have information on (recommended so that you don’t taint others’ trees). Once you register, the form is available here:

It’s a pretty nice way to enter genealogy information because it is linear and guided. The caveat is that once you leave the series of forms, by clicking out to another part of the website, you can’t go back. When you try to return to your tree, you get the bare structure of the tree, not the form. This is what happened to me in SLC when I was working with Elder Summers (and he didn’t know how to get back to it).

The other day, I was doing a “family tree research” workshop with high school students during an enrichment period and it happened to a student. I did manage to peek at the URL of another student’s browser, and try the “first-run” path and it worked for her, since she wasn’t very far. However, I am beyond that point in my use of the site that the handy-dandy guided form is not available.

So, final analysis: nice form if you can get it!

librarian things I must share!

Here are two resources that I am absolutely raving about:

  1. Bound By Law, a graphic novel all about copyright and fair use… Awesome! Thanks, Duke Law! Read it at (And their main page, if you don’t like the PDF and want to get a paper copy or support them otherwise Fair use and copyright aren’t easy, but this helps.

  2. O’Reilly’s Head First tech guide series. They are using brain-based research to teach so that you remember. It’s like having a talented, real-live teacher built into your book. I am using Head First HTML and CSS as an optional textbook in my Information Architecture course this semester, and I feel like HTML might actually stick this time! Every time I try to learn it, it’s gone two weeks later. If you are looking to tackle a new tech skill, programming language, whatever–this is the way to go.

The Cay: A Critical Analysis

The CayWritten in 1969 by Theodore Taylor, The Cay is the story of a white boy, Phillip, who gets stranded on a cay with an elderly, black West Indian stranger named Timothy after German submarines in the Caribbean torpedo their ship. Phillip is initially weary of Timothy due to prejudice instilled in him by his mother, but has to depend on Timothy and his survival experience, especially since Phillip has no vision due to a nasty head injury sustained during the shipwreck. As Timothy provides for them and teaches Phillip independence and survival skills, Phillip has a change of heart and grows to care for Timothy, despite their racial differences. When a hurricane ravishes the island, Timothy physically shields Phillip from the wrath of the storm. Timothy is severely weakened by the injuries and unable to recover. It is then up to Phillip, alone and still sightless, to orchestrate his own rescue. The book is a simple coming-of-age story, exploring prejudice and acceptance. In the fight for survival against the elements, the friendship between the characters grows and we see a transformation in Phillip as he realizes the sacrifice and selflessness that Timothy has offered.

Controversy and Racism in the Book

When Theodore Taylor wrote this novel, it was well-intentioned and initially well-received. The following year, it received the 1970 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, which is awarded annually to “children’s books published the preceding year that effectively promote the cause of peace, social justice, world community, and the equality of the sexes and all races as well as meeting conventional standards for excellence” (Jane Addams Peace Association). In the years that followed, however, it drew criticism for being a racist novel, especially from the Council on Interracial Books for Children (also known as the CIBC), leading to Taylor’s decision in 1975 to return the prize.

Jane Addams book awardTaylor wrote the book from the perspective of a “racially programmed” 11 year-old white boy. He states that he very intentionally wrote Phillip’s racist descriptions and reactions to Timothy in order to drive the theme of change (Taylor, “In the Mailbag” 286). Even Timothy’s use of the expression, “young bahss” for the first 40 pages of their relationship (Taylor, The Cay 30-72) is a deliberate use of dialect to show the social relationships between white and black people during this time period. The CIBC claims that Timothy’s characterization is harmful to children and “conforms to the traditional stereotype of the faithful slave or retainer who is happy to serve and even sacrifice his life for his ‘young bahss’” (CIBC 283). However, to be considered historically and regionally accurate, from Timothy’s Calypso dialect, taken from Taylor’s first-hand experiences in the Caribbean to the initial relationship between Phillip and Timothy, The Cay needed to unfold as written. Taylor felt that Timothy was compassionate and could patiently “cope with the mindless mouthings of a child” (Taylor, “In the Mailbag, 287). Marianne (57) cites the explanation in Pearson Education’s “Teacher Notes” on the book,

It is important in the novel that Timothy is black, and Phillip white… Like black people in many parts of the world at that time, [Timothy] would still have felt any white person to be his social superior… This is why he calls Phillip ‘young boss’ [sic]. Yet despite this, the friendship that grows between Timothy and Phillip is simply that between an old man and a young boy, not between ‘master’ and ‘servant’ or even black and white.

It would not have been realistic for Timothy to speak or act differently, even if critics think that his character is negatively stereotyped.

Instead, there are several places in the novel that we see evidence of Phillip’s growing acceptance, one being on page 72 when he asks Timothy to shed the title of “young bahss”. Taylor wanted Phillip to reach the point of symbolic color-blindness, in addition to his literal blindness (Taylor, “In the Mailbag” 287). At first we hear it in Phillip’s thoughts (76): “I moved close to Timothy’s big body before I went to sleep. I remember smiling in the darkness. He felt neither white nor black” and then in his words (100): “Timothy, are you still black?” Though perhaps a perspective of a white person wishing whiteness on a person of color, the receding of Phillip’s prejudice is still a dramatic change.

Place in School Libraries and Curriculum

From an intellectual freedom standpoint, I believe that it is important to provide access to titles that might be considered to be controversial so that readers can compare and critically review them if they wish. Knowing that there has been some controversy surrounding The Cay and that readers continue to seem interested in the book (according to my “nonscientific” analysis of demand at my high school library), I would consider purchasing it for a school library. That said, I would be cautious in my recommendation for elementary school libraries because I believe the book is meant for a middle level audience.

The protagonist may only be a couple years older than some elementary students and the reading level may also be a fit—elements that can indicate age-appropriateness. Many librarians and teachers are comfortable with encouraging readers to shoot high and read books meant for older readers as a way to increase reading skill. However, when a book is challenged and criticized for racial stereotyping, for example, as in the case of The Cay, it is important to consider the critical thinking abilities of the readers. Without guidance, younger children may not identify content as problematic and it would be a disservice to include such titles as multicultural literature for recreational reading. This is not to say that elementary readers couldn’t handle this text in language arts or social studies curriculum under the tutelage of an experience teacher. Placement in middle school and high school libraries makes more sense to me. These readers are more likely to be able to identify critical material outside of classroom instruction. Though high school students will be slightly older than the main character, the plot is still engaging.

In the case of curriculum, elementary teachers might find ways to pair this book with another book, perhaps something more contemporary, written about similar themes such as cross-cultural acceptance or personal transformation. In this way, teachers can provide students with another reference point and discourage the acceptance of a text at face value without using a critical lens to examine its weaknesses. Ideally, however, this book fits better in the curriculum of older students. High schoolers may find The Cay to be a quality specimen of multicultural work that came out of the 1960s and interesting in the context of that social climate. For example, Taylor’s book dedication to Dr. Martin Luther King is an example of evidence that students might consider in their analysis. A unit associated with a 10th grade U.S. History course (perhaps collaboratively with a 10th grade English Language Arts course) would work really well with The Cay, given the abilities and course content involved. I could see middle school language arts and social studies curriculum approaching this book with either (or both) of my elementary and high school suggestions. Similar to several of the Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (60), the primary goals of including The Cay in curriculum would be to use the text in a critical way that asks students to analyze how themes develop and assess how the author’s background shapes the content.

Informing My Recommendations

In my analysis, I looked for critical reviews of The Cay from the period when it was published, as well as more contemporary reviews. I found primary sources written by Theodore Taylor and a main detractor, the CIBC, in the “In the Mailbag” column of the American Library Association’s Top of the News publication. It was important to me to hear the author explain his rationale and defend his work in his own words. I also needed to find alternative views that conflicted with my own so that I was confident in my rationale.

I tried to only consult sources by those considered to be authorities in the field of multicultural and children’s literature. For example, Horn Book and its writers have a well-respected reputation among librarians. A blog article I found was also written by a former contributor to Horn Book and in the comments section of the post, I noticed that Kathleen T. Horning, director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (and someone whom I respect very much), had participated in the discussion.

It was useful to examine the historical context of the book and our country at the time it was published (and criticized). By referencing the Common Core State Standards, the criteria for the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the Materials Selection Policy of the school district where I work, I was able to consider core values common to teachers and librarians choosing books and driving curriculum.

Place in Multicultural Literature

Multicultural literature includes books that serve as windows into and mirrors of parallel cultures. The reading experience should provide enlightenment for cultural outsiders but not reinforce stereotypes; this is a “window.” Cultural insiders should be able to see themselves, as if in a mirror, in characters experiencing real life adventures, triumphs, and failures. We need multicultural literature because all children in a democratic society deserve representation in the social and academic culture of that society. If we expect to grow as a society, we need to hear everyone’s voice. It is difficult to hear those who cannot be heard on a larger scale and are absent from our media. Multicultural books can be that equalizer though.

It is perhaps not as simple as Taylor suggests—that the example of Phillip’s change of heart might inspire a white audience to be more accepting of racial differences. However, the CIBC’s attempts to keep this book out of recommended lists, schools, and libraries could actually be considered censorship (Bader 663). Instead, as Susan Griffith suggests in her article, ““So the Very Young Understand”: Reframing Discussion of The Cay” (31) that these criticisms brought up in the 1970s can push readers to evaluate what we can learn from the racism in the book. Even Beryle Banfield, former President of the CIBC, suggests that controversial portrayals of African Americans in literature is likely a long-term dilemma that is best handled by creating an education that develops understandings between people and cultures (22).

By teaching students how to read critically and consistently providing multicultural texts written by cultural insiders and outsiders, we as educators and librarians can promote positive change in the identity formation and understanding of our youth. Books such as The Cay were formative in helping the dominant culture see multiple perspectives. The discussion and controversy around books like this can also have the positive effect of challenging the status quo and encouraging analytical thinking.



Bader, Barbara. “How the Little House Gave Ground: The Beginnings of Multiculturalism in a New, Black Children’s Literature.” The Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 6 (November 2002): 657-673.

Banfield, Beryle. “Commitment to Change: The Council on Interracial Books for Children and the World of Children’s Books.” African American Review 32, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 17-22.

Council on Interracial Books for Children. “In the Mailbag.” Top of the News 31, no. 3 (April 1975): 282-284.

Griffith, Susan C. ““So the Very Young Know and Understand”: Reframing Discussion of the Cay.” The Horn Book Magazine 88, no. 5 (September 2012): 27-31.

Jane Addams Peace Association. “What are the Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards?” Jane Addams Peace Association. Accessed May 11, 2014.

Marianne. “A Comparative Analysis of Racism in the Original and Modified Texts of The Cay.” Reading in a Foreign Language 19, no. 1 (April 2007): 56-68.

Sieruta, Peter D. “Collecting Children’s Books: This One Really Did Happen.” Collecting Children’s Books (blog), April 7, 2009,

Taylor, Theodore. “In the Mailbag.” Top of the News 31, no. 3(April 1975): 284-288.

Taylor, Theodore. The Cay. 1969. Reprint. New York: Random House, 2002.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading.” Common Core State Standards for Literacy in All Subjects. Last modified September 2011.

Yaqui Delgado Kicks Ass

A Book Talk: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans

Here is a screencast of my presentation of my annotated bibliography and a featured book: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina. (I used Screencast-o-Matic, because it’s an alternative to Jing I’ve been meaning to try. Decent results! It doesn’t have the 5-minute time limit–which I didn’t need to worry about this time. Generally it doesn’t have to be installed either because it’s web-based, though its Java doesn’t cooperate with Chrome on a Mac.)

P.S. Sorry about my yet-again congested voice. (I was on something like round 8-gazillion of 2013-2014 illnesses when this was recorded!)

This “book-talk” is a highlighted in my annotated bibliography entitled, “Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans.” (Also, see my Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here.) I was looking for YA books whose primary theme was the teen experience (like “life drama”), inside of focusing only on the Latino experience. I also wanted a relatively equal representation of the Latino groups in the U.S.

Latino and More: Realistic Contemporary Adolescent Literature for Hispanic Americans–Part Two

An Annotated Bibliography

See the Bibliographic Essay and Rationale here. Or, see my video presentation here.

Cofer, Judith Ortiz. Call Me María. 2004. Reprint, New York: Scholastic, 2006.

Worried about her father’s depressive state, María decides to move with him to a barrio in New York to look after him and seek an education, leaving her mother behind in Puerto Rico. María tries to fit in, get used to English (and Spanish) and stay neutral as she witnesses her parents’ marriage deteriorating. Perceptive and introspective María expresses herself in a mix of poems, prose, and letters home to her mother. More than just an immigration story, Call Me María is a collage of emotions and strength that reads easily. Ages 12 and up.

If I Could FlyCofer, Judith Ortiz. If I Could Fly. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

When Doris’ mother abruptly leaves for Puerto Rico after a health scare, Doris anxiously hopes she will return. Two months later, her mother confirms that she will not be coming back to New Jersey and her life with Doris’ father as a salsero singer. Doris feels alienated by her father’s move to get a new girlfriend and tries to fend for herself. She turns to her friends, Arturo, Yolanda, her elderly neighbor Doña Iris, and the homing pigeons on the roof. Misfortune strikes them too and Doris wishes she could just escape. After a visit to her mother in Puerto Rico, though, she realizes it’s better to confront your problems than to run from them. Full of life-drama, this book will appeal to adolescents dealing with the grief of divorce and tragedy. Ages 13 and up.

Dole, Mayra Lazara. Down to the Bone. New York: HarperTeen, 2008.

Laura gets expelled from Catholic school and, subsequently, her house when the nuns and her Cuban mother discover that she is a lesbian, also known as a “tortillera” in the Miami Latino community. Her girlfriend, Marlena’s family reacts by sending her back to Puerto Rico to marry a man. Thankfully, Laura is not completely alone and is taken in by her best friend Soli and her mother Vivi. Laura attempts to find herself through several experiments with relationships, all the while maintaining her optimism. Teens will relish the dichotomy of the humor and pain in Laura’s story. Ages 14 and up.

Color of My WordsJoseph, Lynn. The Color of My Words. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2000.

Ana Rosa is a dreamer who longs to become a writer, always stealing away scraps of paper to write her poems and stories on. Her impoverished life in the Dominican Republic leaves little hope, especially after she witnesses her brother’s death trying to protect her the day of her thirteenth birthday. She temporarily gives up writing until she realizes the healing power of telling her brother’s story—and her own—with words. Full of beautiful, descriptive language, this story lends itself well to read-alouds and celebrates the triumph of human resilience. Ages 10 and up.

López, Lorraine. Call Me Henri. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2006.

In a rough urban landscape of gangs, beatings, death and abuse, Enrique juggles a complicated existence between a middle school trying to assimilate him with ESL classes and the care of triplet baby brothers that he has assumed responsibility for at home. Privately, he wishes he could just learn French, a language much closer to his native Spanish. After witnessing a drive-by shooting and his own safety now threatened, supportive and sympathetic teachers intervene and arrange for an escape that is a fulfillment of Enrique’s dream. Tension and action pair with hope in this realistic account of a Mexican-American teen’s life in the barrio. Ages 12 and up.

HeatLupica, Mike. Heat. New York: Philomel Books, 2006.

Michael Arroyo is a talented baseball player with a problem. Ironically, it is the same talent that is threatening his future. Rival coaches don’t believe that he could be so good at twelve, but Miguel has no way to prove his age since his birth certificate is back in Cuba! What’s more, Michael has no parents left and if social services finds out that his dad passed away, they will put him and his older brother Carlos in foster care. Their hope is to hide the truth for a few more months until Carlos turns eighteen. There is a fairytale ending in store, but readers will appreciate the snappy dialogue and the passion Michael has for his sport. Ages 11 and up.

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. Under the Mesquite. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2011.

Lupita’s mother is dying of cancer and their close knit-family feels like it’s unraveling as the disease takes her away. Papi takes care of her mom while Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. After her mother’s death, Lupita struggles with grief and sustaining the will to move forward with what she and her mother saw as goals for herself. She visits and seeks support from family in both Mexico and Texas and eventually comes to peace and finds herself ready to face her future. Beautifully written and entirely in verse, Under the Mesquite offers an honest look at loss, family and love. Ages 12 and up.

Yaqui DelgadoMedina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2013.

When Piddy Sanchez is told that a stranger at her new school named Yaqui Delgado wants to kick her ass, she is utterly confused. Though Piddy is half-Dominican and half-Cuban, she is scorned by a rough group of Latino girls for being too white and too smart. At first, she tries to ignore the threats, but the bullying escalates from verbal abuse to physical confrontations. Piddy’s once-strong grades fall and she begins skipping school due to her constant fear of being attacked. There is no simple solution to the problem, but first Piddy has to at least break the silence. Meg Medina skillfully explores the complexity and difficulty of bullying situations, while accurately portraying the terror and conflicting emotions of a victim. This is a valuable, yet realistic book for teens and the adults in their lives. Ages 12 and up.

Miller-Lachmann, Lyn. Gringolandia. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press, 2009.

Daniel Aquilar’s family fled to Madison, Wisconsin, after his father Marcelo was arrested, held and tortured as a military prisoner in Chile. After six years, his father is released and rejoins the family in 1986, but is thoroughly jostled by the adjustment to a new place—“Gringolandia,” he calls it. Daniel and his “gringa” girlfriend Courtney witness the damage that the trauma has caused with mixed emotions. Though in wretched shape, Marcelo is still an activist yearning to continue the fight in Chile and Daniel is led to reconcile his conflicted attitude toward his former country and roots. This novel provides a hard-hitting look at the effects of oppression, post-traumatic stress and healing. Ages 15 and up.

Enrique's JourneyNazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013.

Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, left her children behind in Honduras when Enrique was only five in order to seek relief from poverty and go find work in the United States. Like many children in this situation, Enrique is utterly lost and confused by the absence of his mother, so he sets off eleven years later, determined to find her again, on a treacherous journey across Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico—mostly on the tops of freight trains. Their reunion is not without its ups and downs either as they try to heal the pain and resentment of the separation. Sonia Nazario conducted her research first-hand and traced the journey of this real migrant boy. This book is a young adult adaptation of her 2007 book for adults updated with current immigration statistics, but it does not gloss over the true perils (such as maiming, rape, beatings and death) these migrants face. It is an eye-opening, humanizing look at immigration, sure to trigger discussion. Ages 14 and up.

Osa, Nancy. Cuba 15. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.

Violet Paz lives in Chicago and doesn’t know much about her half-Cuban roots, nor does she really speak Spanish. She definitely is not interested in having a quinceañera, the traditional Latina coming-of-age party complete with tiaras and frilly pink dresses. But when her abuelita from Miami comes to visit and begins making plans for a “quince,” she eventually accepts. During the preparations, Violet learns a lot about what it means to be Cuban and manages to find a way to make the party her own. Sassy, fun and rich in culture, the reader will have a ball on this romp through a Latino tradition. Ages 12 and up.

We Were HerePeña, Matt de la. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Miguel Castañeda is sentenced to a year of juvie in a California group home. He and two friends he makes there, Mong and Rondell, hatch a plan to bust out and escape to Mexico. They make their way down the coast with a wad of stolen money and hopes of starting over. Miguel keeps a journal of their adventure as he tries to come to terms with his crime and cultural identity, revealing a side most would not see from appearances. The journey comes full circle as two of the boys end up heading back to where they started. This is an intense, gripping story about troubled teens that even reluctant readers will enjoy. Ages 15 and up.

Reader’s Response Journal: Seedfolks


Fleischman, Paul. Seedfolks. New York: Joanna Cotler Books-HarperCollins, 1997. Print.


Thirteen unrelated voices come together one at a time narrating the evolution of an inner-city community garden from a garbage-ridden empty lot. When a young Vietnamese girl plants some lima beans as an offering to the father she never knew, she unknowingly begins a movement and inspires her community to join her in changing the empty space. Friendships grow along with the plants as characters such as a British nurse and her stroke-affected elderly patient, a pregnant teenager, a son of a Haitian taxi-driver, a lovesick former bodybuilder, and a feisty community advocate describe their experiences with the project. Each shares their hopes and worries, solve problems, and begin to care for each other and their neighborhood. The harvest celebration at the end of the summer is evidence of how far they’ve come.


A vacant lot (and the neighborhood surrounding it) in contemporary Cleveland, Ohio.

Point of View:

13 different 1st person voices


Community pride, responsibility, self-sustenance, bridging differences, immigrants, gardening.

Literary Quality:

Each character’s story is developed in a single vignette marked by their first name and an illustration of their face at the beginning of the chapter. Their viewpoints eventually overlap with experiences of other people in the community. There is not a conflict to hold the story together or create a plot around and the characters receive one opportunity to speak their minds. It is up to the reader to piece together the story and see the interconnectivity. The text is succinctly written and layered with humor, prejudice, strength, and growing understanding.

Cultural Authenticity:

Though Paul Fleischman had never lived in the Cleveland neighborhood he described, he had other life experience with multiethnic cities.  His characters are diverse and life-like, each having depth and their own histories. He did research and talked to people about community gardens and the city of Cleveland. The inclusion of multiple cultures and immigrant groups is a celebration of the diversity that composes many urban communities.


This book would be appropriate for middle school readers. The brevity of the text lends itself well to read-alouds and may also appeal to reluctant older readers. Upper elementary readers could probably handle the book, though some of the characters’ issues may be of less interest (such as teen-pregnancy or wooing an ex-girlfriend).

Personal Reaction:

Reading this book was a delightful experience for me. There is a small community garden not far from where I live that I often run by. I have never stopped to talk to any of the gardeners, but I am curious to know how they have procured their own space in it. I am a notorious plant-killer and have had very little luck with my own houseplants, but now I am kind of inspired to try again. Perhaps with the help of the natural elements and a small space (like a pot on my deck) I might be successful growing my own herbs or something. I really appreciated Fleischman’s inclusion of all kinds of community members that might come together and grow through such an experience. I especially liked Leona, who figured it “wasn’t a job for no wheelbarrow. This was a job for the telephone” and then she went to task calling the city to get the garbage cleaned up. (Given my history with plants, I would probably have been more useful on the phone like that too…) Each person had something to offer!

Reader’s Response Journal: Take Me Out to the Yakyu

Take Me Out to the YakyuCitation:

Meshon, Aaron. Take Me Out to the Yakyu. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers-Simon & Schuster, 2013. Print.


A biracial boy compares the game of baseball with his grandfathers in America and Japan. In each country the transportation, souvenirs, snacks and even fan behavior surrounding baseball culture are different. However, for baseball fans like the boy and his grandfathers, the excitement and enjoyment are the same, no matter the country. The grandson’s love for the game and his two identities is clear as he describes his day out to the ballgame.


A baseball outing in contemporary United States and Japan

Point of View:

1st person (grandson)


Baseball, fan behavior, biculturalism, grandparent-grandchild relationships

Literary Quality:

The book compares single elements of a baseball outing with the American experience mostly on the left pages and the Japanese counterpart on the right. Japanese words are placed in similar positions in the sentences so that readers can deduce the concepts from context. When there are universal elements, the text is shared between both pages.

Quality of Illustrations:

The illustrations are two-dimensional, done in bright paint colors and chunky bold lettering. The color themes in the illustrations are coded in shades of blue for America and red for Japan. The detail between scenes includes rich cultural nuances for readers to compare.

Cultural Authenticity:

Through the use of side-by-side comparison with analogous illustrations, Meshon shares aspects of Japanese life and baseball culture with the reader. An American, Meshon’s insights into Japan come from his Japanese wife, with whom he shares a passion for baseball and has attended ballgames in the United States and Japan. At the end of the book, there is a bilingual glossary of baseball terms and other fun words, including the Japanese symbol for each. There is also an author’s note giving longer explanations of the history of baseball, game length, baseball fields and mascots in both countries.


With its short texts and bold, simple illustrations, this book would be appropriate for preschool- through early elementary-aged children. It will also be appealing to young sports enthusiasts.

Personal Reaction:

Based on the abstract I saw before reading this book, I expected a tale focusing on a bicultural boy’s relationship with his two grandfathers. Instead the book primarily turned out to be a comparison of baseball between two countries and the grandson was actually a vehicle for showing the similarities and differences. It was delightful to learn about cultural differences in this way, even if I am not a big baseball fan myself. I loved the small details like the paper and electronic tickets, how the smiley faces on characters differed or the fanny-packs versus small satchels. This was a sweet book and a great introduction to cultural differences, through a pastime enjoyed by many.

Reader’s Response Journal: Shabanu


Staples, Suzanne Fisher. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. 1989. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf-Random House, 2003. Print.


Shabanu, a Pakistani girl on the cusp of womanhood, and her family are preparing for her older sister Phulan’s upcoming marriage. Shabanu struggles with the kind of obedience and womanly work that will be expected of her once she too is married. The wrath of an embarrassed landowner tragically alters the plans for Phulan’s future. In order to calm the turmoil, Shabanu is pledged in marriage to the landowner’s powerful, much older brother. Shabanu is faced with the choice between the wellbeing of her family and her own happiness.


The Cholistan desert of modern-day Pakistan

Point of View:

1st person (Shabanu)


Gender roles, duty to family, coming of age, obedience, inner strength

Literary Quality:

The novel is rich with description, painting a lively picture of desert life. There is a glossary of Pakistani terms included, as well as a helpful map of the area and a pronunciation guide of the names of characters and their relationships to each other. The book won the 1990 Newbery Honor Medal and several other honors. It is a well-written book with a gradual plot that explodes into a difficult conflict for a main character that the reader has grown to know.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author is a journalist who spent time living and researching among the camel-herding people of the Cholistan desert. The main character, Shabanu, is actually based on a girl that Staples met there. Pakistani vocabulary is integrated into the text. Descriptions of culture and religion give the reader an insider’s view of life in this part of the world. Arranged marriage is handled sensitively and neutrally, though it is likely foreign and confusing for much of the book’s readership.


This book is appropriate for middle school readers, though older readers may also find value in it as a look into another culture. Because the novel focuses on the life of a young woman, boys may be less interested, but the book does not seem alienating toward males. There is a lot of setting and character development at the beginning of the book, which may frustrate readers used to action-filled plots.

Personal Reaction:

I was happy that this book began with a pronunciation guide for names and a map of the area so that I could visualize and correctly say the character names in my head. I did not realize that there was a glossary of terms though until I had finished the book because it was at the end. As a reader then, I had to accept a level of ambiguity for words that I could not decipher much more than their category from the context. For example, I figured that chapati was some kind of food and the chadr was a Muslim veil, but I couldn’t guess what the food was or picture how much the veil covered. I spent much of the book waiting for some kind of horror of arranged marriage to be exposed and for the sisters to be more negative about it. When Shabanu’s bad luck is revealed, it is presented as a solution, although her family is very aware that it probably isn’t ideal but they aren’t sure what else to do.  Though I expected such a conflict, I was surprised at the neutrality and humanity with which it was handled. I left the book feeling curious about what would happen next to Shabanu.

Reader’s Response Journal: American Born Chinese

American Born ChineseCitation:

Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.


The Monkey King longs to be a powerful god but ends up trapped under a mountain until he learns humility by accepting his true nature as a monkey. Danny is horrified by the visit of his nuisance, stereotypical Chinese cousin Chin-Kee who seems set on embarrassing him. Jin Wang is a Chinese American boy who hates being one of the few Asians at his school and longs to fit in with an American girlfriend. Eventually, through a conflict between Jin Wang and his immigrant friend Wei-Chen, we learn that the seemingly unrelated storylines of the Monkey King, Chin-Kee, Danny, Jin Wang and Wei-Chen are actually just different manifestations of the same lesson. Jin Wang and the others learn that a Chinese American identity is complicated, yet significant, and there is still a lot discover.


Heaven, probably “long ago” in China. Chinatown and Oakland, California (or possibly some other ethnically white-dominant American town), during a contemporary time period.

Point of View:

3rd person


Identity, biculturalism, relationships, escapism, stereotyping, racism, shame, conformity, coming-of-age

Literary Quality:

Yang skillfully weaves a complex and rich storyline together in a seemingly simple graphic novel form. The illustrations do not lessen the powerful message and themes of the book. The use of humor and hyperbole make for a story that is engaging to youth, while exploring serious topics. This book can also serve as a strong example of the potential of graphic novels as quality literature. Among others, it received a Printz Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Quality of Illustrations:

The illustrations of characters and their surroundings are memorable and interesting. They also create an obvious satire that helps support the identity conflict of the main characters. The colors are vivid yet muted, with bright tones for action and more subdued hues for serious moments. Important ideas and words are represented with bolded text.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author, like his protagonist Jin Wang, is the son of Chinese immigrants and grew up in California. By making it very obvious that Chin-Kee is a stereotyped character and confronting issues common to many Asian-American youth, Yang successfully portrays bicultural identity formation. Yang also creatively included traditional elements from Chinese culture through the fable of the Monkey King as well as American pop culture like Transformers and Ricky Martin music. There are even Chinese characters included around page borders and in the illustrations (though no real explanation of their meanings).


This book seems to be aimed at a middle school and high school audience. There is some juvenile humor (the monkey urinating on the god-figure’s hand or Chin-Kee peeing in a boy’s Coke) and some sexual references (“you can pet my lizard” and “bear Chin-Kee’s children”). Since the book does combine several story strands together, it might be difficult for concrete-thinkers to fully comprehend the final message without several re-reads.

Personal Reaction:

This book was my first serious experience with a graphic novel that could be considered literature. I have probably only read one other, and it was a random, uninformed book selection that did not leave me wanting for more. Initially with American Born Chinese, I struggled to see how the stories were interrelated, even as I finished the book. It took more several more looks to see the layers and the complexity of the satire in Chin-Kee’s depiction. It even took me a bit to recognize the symbolism in the Monkey King’s evolution as a character. However, when I finally understood the parallels between Danny and Jin Wang and then Chin-Kee and Wei-Chen (as well as the ties between Jin Wang, Wei-Chen and the Monkey King), I realized the brilliance of Yang’s text. In creating such an intricate story, he also defined the complex nature of what it means to be Asian-American.