“The Snow Day” by Komako Sakai. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009.
“The Snow Day” is a charming story of how a child and his mother deal with an unexpected winter storm. Children will relate to the wonder and excitement of playing in freshly fallen snow, and parents will smile with familiarity at the sense of dread and caution the day brings for the mother. Young readers will be captivated by the snowy scenes and filled with anticipation of the story’s progression no matter what the season.
Sakai’s use of winter grays and muted browns give the story a somber yet gentle feel. Illustrations showing the bunny’s anticipation while watching the snow from his apartment, and later building “snow dumplings”, will engage readers. The Snow Day, which was first published in Japan in 2005 as Yuki Ga Yandara, is a great read aloud for 2-8 year olds.
“The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan” by Christy Hale. Lee & Low Books, 2009.
Christy Hale’s “The East-West House: Noguchi’s childhood in Japan” is a picture book biography of artist Isamu Noguchi. In this fascinating story, readers learn about Noguchi’s struggle to find acceptance while growing up as gaijin (a foreigner) in Japan. The East-West House describes how Noguchi’s mother supported his endeavors. As an outcast, Noguchi found solace in nature which, along with his bicultural background, served as inspiration for his art.
Hale provides a summary of Noguchi’s life and work following the story that includes more details about his early interest in architecture and his path to becoming a well-respected artist. The book is an inspiring story—especially for young artists and for those longing for acceptance.
“Ready for Anything!” by Keiko Kasza. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s: Penguin Young Readers Group, 2009.
Ready for Anything! is a comical story about Duck’s efforts to convince his friend Raccoon to join him on a picnic. Anxiety-ridden Raccoon is so worried about the “what ifs” that he would rather hide under a blanket than venture outside for the day. The story emphasizes the silliness of worrying about the unknown. It encourages children to be optimistic rather than focusing on potential mishaps. This is a fun read-aloud for younger children—especially those who get anxious in new situations!
“Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown” by Malathi Michelle Iyengar. Illustrated by Jamel Akib. Children’s Book Press, 2009.
Author Malathi Michelle Iyengar says that she was inspired to write this book because she was teased as a child that her skin was brown—a “dirty, ugly color”. In “Tan to Tamarind”, Iyengar uses words throughout her poems like “splendid”, “cozy”, and “creamy” to describe the color brown. Each poem in the book focuses on a different shade of brown, from Sienna to Adobe, Nutmeg to Topaz, and its environmental, cultural, and often culinary connections. Jamel Akib’s illustrations compliment the theme of the book; each picture is done in hues of warm, earthy tones.
Although the book is suitable for ages 2-12, I recommend reading one or two poems to younger children rather than the entire book in one sitting. Older readers will recognize the similarities and connectivity between the poems when read altogether.
The collection can assist in developing a healthy self concept for many children of color who may rarely hear compliments for the beauty of their brown skin. It is common for teachers to utilize color as a topic when creating poetry, and this book models descriptive writing and the use of imagery. Children and young adults from many ethnic backgrounds will relate to the traditions, food, and experiences represented in Tan to Tamarind.
“Tofu Quilt” by Ching Yeung Russell. Lee & Low Books, 2009.
Tofu Quilt is a collection of poems by Ching Yeung Russell about the author’s childhood in China and Hong Kong in the 1960’s. Although each poem focuses on a different theme, the book flows like a cohesive stream of memories. The time and place may differ, but readers will relate to Yeung Russell’s stories about family and discovering your place in the world. Young girls will particularly enjoy the poems about the author’s desire to become a writer, and how her mother, teacher, and a favorite uncle encouraged her to pursue her dream.
Yeung Russell’s use of humor makes Tofu Quilt an entertaining read. She writes about how a delicious dessert provided motivation for becoming a writer, and how she dreamt of marrying a bus driver to drive her around to “see more things” so that she could gain inspiration for her writing! Tofu Quilt is an easy to read, enjoyable collection of poems. The publisher recommends this book for ages 8-12, but I think that middle school-aged children would enjoy this book as well.