Friday, August 3, 2012

I AM DIFFERENT! CAN YOU FIND ME? by Manjula Padmanabhan

Padmanabhan, Manjula. I Am Different! Can You Find Me? Watertown: Charlesbridge, 2011. ISBN: 9781570916403. $7.95

I Am Different! Can You Find Me? is a collaboration with numerous native speakers and language experts covering a breadth of languages from Arabic to Sign Language. Not only is "Can you find me?" written in each language, it is accompanied by a phonetic spelling of the phrase, short facts about the language, and an illustration that has one thing different from everything else. Manjula Padmanabhan has written a book that delights in differences and celebrates the sounds and flavors of different languages and voices.

There were several happy discoveries as I made my way through this book. For example, I was surprised to find out that the Hawaiian language has only twelve letters; at the same time, "'Hiki iā 'oe ke 'ike ia 'u?" was one of the more difficult translations. The musicality of Nhuatl's "Hueli tinechahci?" (Weh-lee tee-netch-ah-see) lingers in my mind. I'll be honest that it was a relief to come across Spanish's "¿Me puedes encontrar?" I'm also glad that there are "cheat sheets" at the end of the book identifying the item that's different in each picture. Overall I did pretty well, but I struggled with the Gullah illustration.

Take your own adventure through I Am Different! Can You Find Me? and find out what language "cheetah," "pajamas," and "shampoo" come from. And I think you'll be surprised to find out where "boondocks," "cooties," and "yo-yo" come from. Finally, give American Sign Language a go and see if you can find more words of your own to sign and say.

Stephanie Ashley

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY by Cynthia Kadohata

Kadohata, Cynthia. A Million Shades of Gray. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4424-2919-2. $6.99 US, $7.99 CAN.

To Y'Tin, elephant handling is more important than school. But his parents believe that he must attend, even though “as an elephant handler, he'd always have work.” His father always likes to consider what's “on the other hand.” At the beginning of the book, this is Y'Tin's most distressing problem; if only things had remained so!

Y'Tin's father runs jungle tracking missions for the American Special Forces stationed in Vietnam. To the Vietnamese in his village, the Americans were helpful, always keeping the North Vietnamese far enough away from the village for them to continue life with some semblance of normalcy. The author paints the Americans in a very positive light: they are polite about their cigarette butts, they treat the Dega people as equals, and they promise to come back if necessary. After a skirmish, an American soldier carries a dead villager on his own back all the way home through the jungle. But what unfolds after the Americans pull out is a different story. Y'Tin thinks to himself at one point, “Life had seemed safer when the Americans had been there.”

The story follows Y'Tin through the changes that occur in the village in the aftermath of what American history calls the Vietnam War (since in truth, the war began before we arrived and continued after we left). The readers get a glimpse into the changes in Vietnamese life, particularly for the Dega mountain people. Some changes are minor (like how the advent of a thermometer changes the villagers’ attitude towards weather), but other changes are tragic (such as the destruction and mass burial of nearly the entire village).

The book deals with mass death, guilt, friendship (and the effect of survival on friendship), and decision-making. None of the prose is graphic, and I doubt that the book would negatively scar anyone, but particularly sensitive 10-11 year old children might not be ready to understand these difficult issues. That being said, it's definitely well-positioned for school use. The end matter includes historical and cultural background information about the Dega people during and after the Vietnam War, a reading group guide, and discussion questions. The story is relevant in today's social studies classrooms, particularly if tied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a teacher, I'm picturing interesting research projects regarding the question of what happens when an American military presence pulls out of a war-torn region. It would be too “easy” a read for my high schoolers, but I think they'd enjoy it, and with the right set up, I think it could make a great project or discussion starter even at the high school level, and most certainly at the middle school level.

Reviewed by Marisa Behan

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SOPHIE'S LOVELY LOCKS by Erica Pelton Villnare

Villnare, Erica Pelton. Sophie’s Lovely Locks. New York: Marshall Cavendish. ISBN # 0761458204. Ages 5 -8.

Sophie is a very pretty little girl with long, flowing blonde hair, the kind of hair that other little girls might envy. (Full disclosure: as a redhead with frizzy-crazy curls, I desperately wanted long, sleek blonde hair as a kid, so I might be projecting a little on what other kids want.) Sophie prances around in sweet illustrations with her hair in different styles, telling us how much she loves her long hair. But pretty soon, Sophie’s hair is causing her trouble – it’s getting snarled and caught in her brush, and she struggles to keep it out of her face. Soon enough, she realizes the best option is to cut her hair.

At first I thought this was going to be a standard book with a simple lesson about not being vain, but it takes a more meaningful turn. After Sophie gets her hair cut, she decides to donate her hair to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for young cancer patients. Sophie muses that “two girls with short hair are better than one with none.” The last page of the book is a listing of resources for hair donations and an explanation of what the organizations do. What started as a book about a girl with pretty hair turned into a guide for giving to others.

I love that this book makes apparent that there is a wonderful thing girls (and women and men) can do with their hair when it’s cut. I didn’t know what Locks of Love was when I was child, and I’m glad a book like this exists to show kids that this option is available. It’s certainly not a deep look into the lives of children afflicted by cancer, but it’s a nice introduction for kids to see that the simple decisions they make – such as cutting their hair – can help others.

Jill Coste