Sora and the Cloud is like the children’s book version of a Murakami novel—a surreal adventure that leaves readers unsure what to make of it when it ends. The illustrations are lovely watercolor and ink on rice paper, adding convincing realistic detail to an imaginative story; it’s also written in English and Japanese, so bilingual parents can read the same story to their child.
The book starts out realistically enough: in the opening pages, Sora is a crawling baby. He learns to climb, walk, and as he gets older he makes his way up a tree. At the top of the tree, he cannot resist climbing onto a cloud, which takes him on an adventure through the sky. Sora and the cloud see skyscrapers, an amusement park, a festival of kites, and an airplane before they fall asleep together. Ironically, after falling asleep on the cloud, Sora dreams of realistic things like splashing in a big puddle or digging in wet sand.
Compared to monsters and villains from a lot of fairytales and other children’s tales, this surreal and beautiful journey would make a lovely bedtime story for any child, helping them drift off to sleep dreaming of fluffy clouds and pastel colors while learning some English and Japanese.
Recommended: 3-8 years.
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Inspired by a 1996 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center named Unpacking on the Prairie: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest, comes a heartwarming picture book written by Linda Glaser and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Hannah’s Way tells the story of Hannah, a young school age girl who has moved with her family from Minneapolis to a new town in northern Minnesota. The reader is brought along with Hannah as she overcomes the anxieties of moving to a new school and trying to make new friends. The central conflict hinges on her class picnic falling on a Saturday, the day of rest for Orthodox Jews in which they cannot work or ride in cars. As the story unfolds Hannah tries desperately to appease her family and her religious beliefs, while also wanting to make new friends that will love and accept her.
Gustavson’s illustrations are detailed works of art with a feel of historical authenticity. The images are large in scope, depicting Hannah’s world with a narrative power as strong as the story.
Hannah’s Way is an uplifting story not only for those who have felt isolated due to religious differences, but for any school age child who has had to move from a previously familiar place to a new home. Although Hannah struggles to balance what it means to be true to her faith, while also wanting to fit in with her classmates, at the end of the book she learns an unexpected lesson about kindness that will move any reader.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended Ages 3+
Reviewer: Erin Koehler
The story begins with three old men knocking at the door to tell the young narrator’s family that they have seen ghosts in the neighboring field. This tale, as explained on the book jacket, is based on an experience of the author’s ancestor, and takes place in a Japanese American farming community in the 1920s. The body of the story provides no explanation of the time and place, and the vague setting might not grab or hold the attention of children who are looking for something more relatable. What may engage them is the comic flavor of the three old men, referred to as The Troublesome Triplets, and the scared feeling evoked by the ghosts they describe. The suspense builds as the narrator and his father go out to the neighbor’s field to investigate. (more…)
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door is part of a series of books by Hilary McKay that chronicle the adventures and misadventures of quirky, seven-year-old, brown-skinned Lulu and her equally eccentric and mischievous sidekick/cousin/best friend, Mellie. In this book, their adventure begins when Arthur moves in next door with his pet rabbit, George. Arthur begrudgingly accepted the rabbit as a gift from his grandpa and, to appease his mother and grandfather, he gives the rabbit minimal attention and care—often leaving him stuck in a cage for days with very little exercise. In lieu of “rabbit-napping”, Lulu and Mellie devise a playful scheme that eventually coaxes Arthur into spending more time caring for George. In the end, he also gains two new friends in Lulu and Mellie. (more…)
In Lulu and the Duck in the Park, Lulu and Mellie’s adventure begins when two dogs become unleashed at the park during their class trip. Admist the foray, ducks’ nests were disturbed and eggs were broken—except one egg in particular that Lulu whisks into her pocket to protect it. She carries the egg back to school with her and tries her best to keep it a secret—for a short while, even from her friend Mellie. Her secret becomes too difficult to withhold as the egg slowly begins to hatch under her sweater which sets off a series of peculiar and laughable antics from Lulu.
The main character, LuLu, has an audacious personality and knack for mischief that is reminiscent of protagonists like Amber Brown and Junie B. Jones; but, instead of having a penchant for bubblegum, she loves animals and, notably so, she is a little brown girl. Readers who were acquainted with Lulu in the Lulu board books will remember that Lulu’s parents are a white mom and brown-skinned father of African Descent. These books are a fun read, the plots are humorously suspenseful, and the narratives are written seamlessly in age-appropriate language that I think will captivate young readers’ attention. I would highly recommend both of these books for boys and girls who are being introduced to longer texts and building their endurance for following a more complex narrative; surely, they will not have a problem with “seeing” themselves in gutsy, little Lulu.
Reviewer: LaTonya R. Jackson
If your readers like the Magic Tree House series, they will probably be interested in Nina and the Traveling Spice Shed. Nina is a British Indian, who really would like nothing to do with India. At school, Nina’s class is doing projects on foreign countries and despite her parents’ strong suggestions she wants to report on any country BUT India. Yet, she arrives late to school and the only country left is India. Not able to face her parents and her disappointment after school, Nina visits her eccentric Aunt Nishi. Aunt Nishi sends her to the spice shed in her backyard and that is where Nina’s traveling adventures begin. Nina’s first stop—there are more books to come—is predictably India. She discovers India is more than “hot weather and poor people”. (more…)
In the United States, much is made of accepting minorities and “exotic” cultures, but The Way We Do It In Japan reverses this scenario by dropping a little American boy, Gregory, and his mixed family (Jane from Kansas and Hidiaki from Japan) in the middle of Tokyo.
Gregory learns to do things “the way we do it in Japan” when it comes to bathing, sleeping, and speaking Japanese. But at school he finds that his peanut butter sandwich is “the wrong kind of lunch” as everyone else has rice, fish and fermented soybeans. The next day, however, the cafeteria makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everybody to make him feel included. In real life, however, while this may very well happen in Japan, school cafeterias in the U.S. are unlikely to all of a sudden serve fish and fermented soybeans to show their acceptance of Japanese students. So is the message here that foreign countries will always whole-heartedly embrace Americans?
The illustrations that accompany this thought-provoking story are feature exaggerated facial features, and the father’s shifty-looking facial expressions can be particularly distracting. Despite that and the debatable lesson, this book still presents a positive model of cultural acceptance, and also teaches some Japanese terms, pronunciation, and culture.
Recommended: 4-9 years
Elan, Son of Two Peoples by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Mikela Prevost is an artistically captivating and rustic story about thirteen-year-old Elan’s journey to becoming a man across the cultures of Judaism and the Acoma Pueblo. Set in 1898, Elan and his parents travel from their home in San Francisco to Albuquerque, New Mexico where his mother’s family lives. Elan’s father is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, and his mother is the granddaughter of a Pueblo Indian chief. The story takes place just days after Elan’s thirteenth birthday, a very important coming-of-age marker in both cultures. The reader does get a glimpse of his Bat Mitzvah and his Jewish culture, but a majority of the story focuses on Elan’s trip to New Mexico and the ceremony that honors him as a Pueblo tribesman. (more…)
This book, written by husband and wife team Rick Noguchi & Deneen Jenks, is a real gem. It tells the story of a young Japanese American girl, Mariko, and her family as they return to California after being imprisoned in American concentration camps (also known as internment camps or relocation centers; simply referred to as ‘Camp’ by Japanese Americans of that time) during World War II. An authors’ note provides additional context at the end of the book.
I found this book to be excellent in several ways. To begin with, the artwork of Michelle Reiko Kumata is a revelation. It is apparent that the illustrations were based on actual black-and-white photos from the 1940s, but Kumata’s pictures bring the story to life in beautiful full color. Drawn with bold outlines, her pictures are full of patterns and textures from period fabrics, shadowing that adds depth to every scene, and subtle, authentic details such as the furoshiki-wrapped bundle that one woman carries on her way to Camp. Though the story’s subject matter is far from uplifting, it was still a joy to gaze at every page of this book. (more…)
Mariko Nagai’s Dust of Eden is a lovely, spare story told by a young Japanese American protagonist who goes by both her American name, Mina, as well as her Japanese name, Masako. This book is a series of images and scenes that tell how a young girl in the United States in the 1940s navigates being both Mina and Masako, both American and Japanese, both feeling at home and feeling alien.
The novel is a set of poems from Mina’s point of view interspersed with letters to and from her best friend in Seattle as well as short personal essays Mina writes for school. These lyric pieces are arranged chronologically and geographically, with the first poem of the book titled “Seattle, Washington October 1941,” and the last poem called “Epilogue December 1945.” In the span between, Mina details her life in Seattle right before Pearl Harbor (a life filled with her parents, grandfather, brother, best friend, and school), and she writes us through her father’s unjust imprisonment in Montana after Pearl Harbor and her family’s internment first in Washington and then in Idaho, ending with her brother volunteering to fight for the Allies and her family finally being allowed to return to their Seattle home after the war is over.