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.

Plot:

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.

Setting:

A baseball outing in contemporary United States and Japan

Point of View:

1st person (grandson)

Theme:

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.

Audience:

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

ShabanuCitation:

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

Plot:

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.

Setting:

The Cholistan desert of modern-day Pakistan

Point of View:

1st person (Shabanu)

Theme:

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.

Audience:

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.

Plot:

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.

Setting:

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

Theme:

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).

Audience:

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.

Reader’s Response Journal: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the MoonCitation:

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009. Print.

Plot:

After witnessing the sacrifices of her parents and continually hearing the despair of her mother over their poverty, young Minli decides to leave on a journey to consult with the Old Man of the Moon on how to change her family’s fortune. During her journey she befriends a lonely, flightless dragon, an orphan boy who tends to a water buffalo, a king masquerading as a beggar, and a set of twins who defeat a dangerous tiger. Each of them helps her get closer to her destination while teaching her the value and meaning of life. When she finally meets the Old Man of the Moon, she is given the opportunity to ask only one question of him and is faced with a choice that ultimately changes the life of her family and entire village.

Setting:

Traditional Historic China, near the Jade River and the mountains.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Coming-of-age, gratitude, greed and discontent, importance of family and friends

Literary Quality:

The book is a blend of fantasy and Chinese folk literature that explores universal themes surrounding contentment. The language is reminiscent of traditional folktales from other cultures, while adding charm and authenticity to the story. When a side-story or legend is recounted, it is offset by a different font and title decoration. The book was well-received when it was published, winning the Newbery Honor Medal and multiple other awards and best-book honors.

Cultural Authenticity:

Lin was motivated to write this book after a thorough exploration of several Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books introduced to her as a pre-teen and then continuing with travels to South Asia as an adult. She found ways to integrate her Asian-American sensibilities of a spirited heroine while honoring the traditional folk literature of her Chinese heritage. Lin includes a bibliography of some of the Chinese folktales from which she drew her inspiration. The simple illustrations throughout the book appear to be in the style of traditional Chinese art and basic Chinese symbols, meant to complement elements of the plot.

Audience:

Though the precise age of the protagonist is unclear, this book is geared toward an upper elementary-aged audience. The tale is sweet and uncomplicated by edgy, adult topics. The language is descriptive but not bogged down by complex constructions or difficult vocabulary, making it accessible to younger readers.

Personal Reaction:

I found the Lin’s book to be compelling and delightful. I enjoyed each episode as Minli progressed in her quest and was very interested in what would happen next. It was nice not to be sure of how the book would end, while at the same time, I was fairly optimistic that it would work out in Minli’s favor somehow. I was a little skeptical that the book could have universal appeal, given its traditional title and cover art. To me, this might limit the audience who would consider reading it, but I cannot think of a better alternative. Instead, it seems that its reputation and positive reviews should hold it in an esteemed place as part of quality children’s literature.

Reader’s Response Journal: A Step from Heaven

A Step from HeavenCitation:

Na, An. A Step from Heaven. 2001. New York: Speak-Penguin Putnam, 2002. Print.

Plot:

As a four year-old, Young Ju’s experience of immigrating with her parents is confusing, especially since they have left her grandmother behind in Korea. When her brother Joon Ho is born shortly after their arrival, Young Ju is disrupted again, as a son is more important to her father than a daughter. As she grows up and learns English in the United States, she experiences the strain between cultures and the relationship between her parents disintegrates. Young Ju and Joon both lie to their parents in order to spend time with their American friends. One day, her father catches her in a lie about her friend Amanda, and he delivers a beating to Young Ju and then her mother that ultimately changes all of their lives.

Setting:

Korea and Southern California, contemporary time period.

Point of View:

1st person (Young Ju)

Theme:

Immigration, culture shock, domestic abuse, gender roles, coming of age, identity.

Literary Quality:

An Na convincingly portrays the simple voice of a young child, showing the passage of time through her development of language. As Young Ju ages, we see the growing complexity of her family’s dynamics in her narration. Her emotions are vividly described and we as readers share in her joy and pain. An Na was honored with the Printz Award, the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, National Book Award Finalist and multiple others for this, her first novel.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author, like her characters, was also an immigrant to the United States from Korea. She contrasts Korean and American culture through the family’s experiences with adapting to the change, especially in regards to gender roles and respect of elders. The inclusion of Korean words and sounds at the beginning of the book are a beautiful reflection of how language sounds to a young English Language Learner. She also uses the Korean terms for the adult family members throughout the entire book.

Audience:

This book would most appeal to a young adult audience.  Middle schoolers might also be interested, though the abstract use of language to portray a four year-old Korean child at the beginning might be a bit overwhelming for some. Readers with some prior knowledge of the Korean immigrant experience and/or Korean culture will also identify with this book.

Personal Reaction:

I was awestruck by the genius use of language to portray aging, language development and acculturation in the main character. It was so impressive to me to be able to infer Young Ju’s age through her words without needing a lot of other contextual markers (like grades in school). I also smiled ruefully at the introduction of her little brother as the new “prince” in her family, as some of my Korean immigrant friends have told me similar stories of their brothers when they were growing up. This was short, but powerful, book that dealt with some tough issues in a strong and empowering way. It was frustrating at times to see Young Ju and her mother feel caught, but the resolution was satisfying. I was glad to feel as though it would work out for them and that they finally had their feet at the end.