Monday, October 24, 2011

Teaching with Children's Books: Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos (also known as Day of the Dead) is coming up. This celebration of the dead, occurring on November 1 and November 2, embraces the idea that the living can still continue to care for those who have passed on.
There are many books on Dia de los Muertos out there. Here are a few books I like on this holiday:


CLATTER BASH!: A DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION by Richard Keep (Picture Book- Peachtree) Cheerful skeletons party through the holiday with lots of food, noise, and festivity.

THE DAY OF THE DEAD/EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Bob Barner (Picture Book- Holiday House) This rhyming picture book shares customs associated with the holiday and is dedicated to Jose Guadalupe Posada, an artist known for his skeleton-themed art.

UNCLE MONARCH AND THE DAY OF THE DEAD by Judy Goldman, Illust. by Rene King Moreno (Picture Book- Boyds Mills) "Never be afraid of the dead for those who loved us can never hurt us," an uncle teaches his niece before he passes away.The girl later believes her uncle has returned to her in the form of a monarch butterfly. 

EL DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Mary Dodson Wade (Picture Book- Scholastic Library Publishing) The color photos in this  book about Day of the Dead take a reader straight to the heart of the holiday and its customs. 

Feel free to recommend other books on Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead.

DAY OF THE DEAD: A MEXICAN-AMERICAN CELEBRATION by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith, Photog. by Lawrence Migdale (Middle Grade Picture Book- Holiday House) This book, with its colored photos, follows a family as they celebrate Day of Dead while explaining the history and the traditions behind this holiday.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Author Interview with Paul Yee

Reading Paul Yee’s book, THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, I immersed in a story crossing four genres- young adult, historical fiction, multicultural, and supernatural. In the story, a Chinese Canadian boy living during the early 1900s works in a haunted house owned by a white couple. Many of Paul’s books, such as THE BONE COLLECTOR'S SON (Marshall Cavendish), TALES FROM GOLD MOUNTAIN (Groundwood), and GHOST TRAIN (Groundwood), are rich with history of the Chinese experience in North America, and shed light on the racism and injustices the early Chinese immigrants endured.     

Paul, a third-generation Chinese Canadian, was born in the “prairies” in a small town called Spading, where his parents ran a cafĂ©. But he grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was raised by a Canadian-born aunt who insisted that he and his brother speak Cantonese at home and attend Chinese language classes every day after English school. He has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in history, both from the University of British Columbia.

How did you decide you wanted to write children’s books?                               
I never set out to write children’s books. My career as a writer is a fluke. One year, a publisher came to Chinatown looking for a writer. The firm was doing a series of children’s adventures set in real neighborhoods in real cities. In Vancouver, the publisher wanted to set the story in Chinatown, so they asked around for a local writer who knew the community. At that time, I was doing volunteer work in Chinatown, and I had published a short story in a journal, so they asked me if I wanted to try. I said, “Sure. Why not?”  

How did your interest in ghosts, particularly Chinese ghost stories, come about? 
As a child, I was easily scared. I grew up in Vancouver’s Chinatown, then a slummy neighborhood that was being abandoned. The old, falling-down houses made me think that people were running away from ghosts. My aunt believed in ghosts but didn’t fear them. She gave me warnings on how to avoid ghosts, but the advice only terrified me further. My aunt, in another attempt to drum the Cantonese language in me, took me to see black-and-white movies exported from Hong Kong during the 1960s. Some movies involved ghosts, and they were exceptionally scary because they combined visual and sound effects. But it was high drama.

Later, after I had written a few ghost stories, I recalled that the history of the Chinese in North America included many decades where immigrants didn’t see justice, despite their valid grievances. In such an unjust world, where Chinese immigrants were largely powerless, I suggest in my ghost stories that it is only with the interventions of supernatural beings that justice can be attained.

In THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, you introduce an interesting concept of helping to bring a ghost to a place of peace instead of fearing it. Where did this idea come from?
As I learned more about ghosts in China’s folk tradition, I discovered that ghosts usually had some “unfinished business” for which they had returned to the living world. As such, the ghosts need not be feared, not by innocent parties, at least. Instead, ghosts needed to be understood, especially if they were seeking justice. Ghosts, as extensions of human beings, seek peace too.

In THE BONE COLLECTOR’S SON, there's a hypercritical Chinese father who constantly berates his son. Where did you get the inspiration for this character?                                                          
In Chinatown, I met many Chinese fathers who barely spoke to their offspring, young and adult children alike. The fathers were too tired from work, or there had been periods of separation, caused by immigration laws, that had erected cultural and language barriers. I sensed frustration and impatience from such fathers, who had been cheated of their own dreams due to the immigrant nature of our community.

In your picture book GHOST TRAIN, you give a moving tribute to the Chinese laborers who contributed to the building of the North American railroads by showing the humanity of the men’s ghosts and those who had died while performing dangerous work. How do you think the present generation can recognize the efforts of the early Chinese laborers?                  
I think the present generation can best honor the workers by being vigilant, like the writer of this Washington Post article, of occasions when the stories of those early workers are ignored, or misrepresented in the mass media. The present generation should stand up to protest such blatant disrespect or distortions of history.     

In your picture book, ROSES SING ON NEW SNOW (Groundwood), a Chinese American girl who gets no credit for her cooking in her father’s restaurant prepares a dish that attracts the attention of a Chinese governor. Might you have the secret recipe for Roses Sing on New Snow, this fish dish?          
The title involved red and white so I use salmon and green onions to supply those colors. I poach salmon fillets, then top them with minced ginger and green onions that have been quickly stir-fried in hot oil. I add light soy sauce at the end. Voila!

How did you conduct your research on the Chinese experience in North America?   My volunteer work in Chinatown led me to Chinese-North American history. In the 1970s, most books on this topic came from California!  We needed Canadian materials, so I started looking at old newspapers on microfilm and in government records. In a history book that I wrote, I interviewed elders from the community. For my Master’s thesis, I used Chinese-language business documents.

What are components of a compelling multicultural story?                               
You need a compelling, sympathetic character to carry your story. You should take the reader into an authentic “multicultural” world. It doesn’t have to be all Chinatown or an entire community; it can just explore one aspect of Asian-derived culture that is suddenly important to the protagonist.

What is your favorite kidlit book?                                                                       
My all-time favorite kidlit book is A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. I remember our Grade 5 class read it, and everyone bounced off the walls for weeks afterwards because we had never encountered a book that began so strongly anchored in the real world, and then leapt into such magical realms.

Any upcoming book releases?    
I have two new books this fall. THE SECRET KEEPERS (Tradewind Books) is set in San Francisco, a year after the earthquake and fire. It’s a ghost story for ages 8 to 12. The other book is for teens. MONEY BOY (Groundwood Books) tells of a week in the life of a Chinese immigrant teen who gets thrown out of the house in current-day Toronto after his father finds out that he’s been surfing gay websites.

We do need to have more multicultural gay fiction in kidlit. Thanks for chatting with me, Paul.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Asian Ghost Stories and Other Spooky Asian Kidlit

When I was a little kid, I remember getting creeped out hearing the story about the guy who picks up a lady hitchhiker. The guy lets the hitchhiker wear his jacket. Then the hitchhiker disappears when the driver reaches  her house. Later he finds out she has been dead for X number of years, and when he visits her gravesite, he finds his jacket on her tombstone. You know, that one?

How 'bout feeling your heart ache over the '80s Hong Kong movie where this character played by the late Leslie Cheung falls in love with a ghost?  You know, that one? Mmm...hmm...

Ghost stories and spooky tales are pretty big in Asian cultures. With Halloween around the corner, I thought it would be fitting to share a few of the many kidlit books I've read that spotlight spook from an Asian or Asian American perspective:

A BANQUET FOR HUNGRY GHOSTS: A COLLECTION OF DELICIOUSLY FRIGHTENING TALES by Ying Chang Compestine (Young Adult- Henry Holt & Co) Each of the eight stories in this collection references a Chinese dish and the author's insight into ghosts, revenge, injustice, karma, and respect for the dead. Steamed dumplings and cannibalism.  Beef stew and illicit organ harvesting.  Egg stir-fried rice and being buried alive. 

BEHIND THE MASK by Yangsook Choi (Picture Book-Frances Foster)- A Korean American boy is haunted by his last memory of his senile grandfather, who was wearing a "scary" talchum mask worn in a traditional Korean folk dance...until the boy puts on the mask and his grandfather's old dance clothes, and  now has a Halloween costume. 


GHOST TRAIN by Paul Yee, Ilust. by Harvey Chan (Picture Book- Groundwood) Set in the 1800s, this story spotlights a Chinese girl who travels to North America to visit her father only to find out her father died in an accident while he was trying to build a railway. After boarding a ghost train to view the ghosts of the many men who sacrificed their lives to build the railway, the girl is tasked to bring the souls of the dead men back home. Check out my author interview.


THE BONE COLLECTOR'S SON by Paul Yee, (Young Adult-Marshall Cavendish) A Chinese boy living in Canada during 1907 reluctantly helps his father dig up bones of the buried Chinese so the bones could be sent back to China. When the boy and his father dig up a skeleton without a skull, bad luck strikes. The boy ends up working in a house that is haunted and confronts his fear of ghosts. The ghost stories embedded into the main story enhance the spook factor.  


BOY DUMPLINGS by Ying Chang Compestine, Illust. by James Yamasaki (Picture Book-Holiday House) A Chinese boy outsmarts a hungry Garbage-Eating Ghost who threatens to make dumplings out of him.



MORE BONES: SCARY STORIES FROM AROUND THE WORLD (Middle Grade- Viking Juvenile) This book features spooky tales from places like Spain, Scotland, Germany, and Asia. Stories include: The Severed Head (Persia) where a beheaded physician exacts revenge on the king who had wrongly condemned him, The Dangerous Dead (China), where four travelers stay at an inn and room with a homicidal corpse, The Gruesome Test (Japan) where a maiden challenges her suitor to snack on a corpse, and The Ghost of Rainbow Maiden (Hawaii) where a murdered rainbow maiden tries to find her body so she could live again. 

Feel free to add any additional books or stories to this list.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Giving Back: It Gets Better Project

Lately, I've been hearing a bit about bullying in the schools, particularly tragic stories of bullied gay youth who take their own lives. There's something called the It Gets Better Project- this project comprises of a bunch of inspiring videos to assure LGBT youth to hang in there because it gets better. Recently, a group of male librarians got together and modeled for a 2012 calendar called The Men of the Stacks. Proceeds from calendar sales will go to the It Gets Better Project. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Books I Read in September

I read THE HUNGER GAMES, the first book of Suzanne Collin's trilogy, before I even started this blog. When I finished the book, I knew I was going to devour the last two books....and I did just that in September.

WARNING: There are spoilers in the book summaries.

CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult-Scholastic)  While Katniss is regarded as a hero in her District 12 for winning the Hunger Games, the Capitol decides to punish her for her rebellion by putting her and Peeta in another fight-to-the-death contest in a Hunger Games all-stars competition.

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins (Young Adult-Scholastic) Katniss ends up in District 13 where she has to confront a "brainwashed" Peeta and her duty to take down the Capitol as the rebellion's Mockingjay. The conclusion to the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle also ends here.