Tag Archives: Holidays

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer

King for a DayWith the arrival of the spring festival in Lahore, Pakistan, no one is more excited than Malik who is ready for the upcoming kite-flying battles armed with Falcon. “‘How can you be king of Basant with only one kite?'” his sister teases. “‘Insha Allah, it will be fast enough,'” he happily insists.

Directing from his wheelchair on the family’s rooftop, Malik sends his brother “downwind so he can catch the kites I will set free.” His sister remains nearby, carefully following his instructions. Together, the children take on the bully next door, whose hurtful words and powerful kites are no match for Falcon. Once he’s defeated the enemy, Falcon continues to pluck kite after kite from the sky: “When they land, they’ll belong to whoever finds them. But at least they will have tasted freedom.”

Malik is not only king of Basant for his aerial prowess, but even more so for his earthbound kindness as he manages – anonymously! – to stop the tears of a little girl who becomes the bully’s next victim. Joyfully, he’s already planning for next year: “And tomorrow I will start designing a new kite … for next Basant when, Insha Allah, I will be king again.” By highlighting Malik’s many other strengths and talents, author Rukhsana Khan seamlessly presents a hero who is much more than his physical challenges: His patience and skill prove stronger than any bully’s cruelty and greed.

Christiane Krömer, who “specializes in illustrating stories that feature cultures from around the world,” uses multi-layered, mixed-media collages to enhance Khan’s caring story: unexpected combinations of delicate embroidery and rougher textures add depth, carefully placed architectural specifics ground the narrative, while the depiction of a teeny-tiny black cat who is the sole witness to Malik’s secret thoughtfulness turns out to be the perfect ‘show-don’t-tell’ detail.

In the endnote “About Basant,” Canada-based Khan gives a cultural and historical overview of Basant in her birthcountry of Pakistan. She explains in the final paragraph how “kite flying and the celebration of Basant in Lahore were banned for safety reasons and for security concerns due to orthodox religious opposition.” According to a recent Pakistani media article, “Hundreds have died in Basant related accidents in the past decade”! Khan mentions that 2013 was supposed to bring a return of Basant to Lahore, but activities remained cancelled until this year. At least in Lahore, Basant officially returns February 21 until March 5, 2014. Here’s to the promise to lofty adventures ahead!

Click here to see Khan’s other titles on BookDragon.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Pakistani, Pakistani American, South Asian American

Upside Down: A Vampire Tale by Jess Smart Smiley

Upside DownSince I temporarily seem to find myself in Utah – although I admit it’s not quite as frightening here as I thought it might be, ahem! – I figured this spookfest would not be complete without a Utahn Halloween manga, right? Jess Smart Smiley, who “lives in the bewitching mountains of Utah,” according to his back flap author bio, “ma[de] rad pictures with his bare hands” to create this 2012 graphic novel debut (a case of ‘better late than never’).

Meet vampire Harold: his darling – I mean, scary! – mug haunts the novel’s cover. He’s got quite the candy addiction that causes him to lose his cavity-riddled fangs on the dentist’s tray. Without his sparkling bite, he’s too ashamed to go home to his parents, who happen to live in Professor Adams’ piano, so he decides he might as well hang (upside down) with the neighborhood bats.

Meanwhile, mean-witch Vermillion mistakenly dissolves the rest of her kind, but figures she can live forever if she can just get to Professor Adams’ latest elixir. But thanks to Harold, his batty buddies, flying toads, and wads of used gum, the world is made safe once more … and dear Professor Adams even finds his spellbound soulmate.

For younger readers (and parents) in search of some non-cavity-inducing fun, Upside Down is a sweet, goofy treat to share, in between a limited few lollipops and chocolates. Dr. Eaves, of course, will be waiting with pliers for those who overindulge!

Smiley’s (gotta grin at that fitting name!) charming graphics are made whimsically more “rad,” presented  in “black, white and Halloween green.” That’s right – not a smidge of pumpkin orange in sight (except for a tiny bit of t-shirt on an adorable monster who shares Smiley’s author photo)! Oh, these Utahns are just so renegade!

Readers: Children

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, Nonethnic-specific

What a Party! by Ana Maria Machado, illustrated by Hélène Moreau, translated by Elisa Amado

What a Party!In the same delightful, sequential fun of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – if you do x, then y happens – Brazilian überauthor of more than a hundred books, Ana Maria Machado, puts on a party of epic proportions.

“If a few days before your birthday your mother should say, ‘I think I’m going to bake a cake and buy some juice. Why don’t you ask one of your friends to come over to play?'” You welcome your Mother’s suggestion, but ask for a little more: “‘Well, could Jack bring someone and maybe some food too?” When your distracted mother answers, “‘Of course. Invite anyone you’d like,'” well, then … there’s all the permission you ever needed! And you write the invitation just so: “Come to my party. It’s my BIRTHDAY. Bring along whoever you want and whatever you like to eat.”

Jack and his brother Larry bring cookies. Jack tells Beto and Antonieta who can’t bear to leave their parrot home, and arrives with pineapple, mangos, and passion fruit. Of course, Antonieta had to tell her best friend Fatima, who tells her brother Djamel, so their mother sends tajine with olives and pickled lemons. Tony will want to bring cousin Carlo, with pizzas and gelato to share. Which means Hannah and her little brother will come with their canary to meet Antonieta’s parrot, along with a Black Forest cake and springerle, too. Maria is their neighbor, so she shows up with her macaw, as well as flan and cod cakes. Carmen brings paella, and Tamio brings sushi. Along with so many friends and such festive eats, the backyard fills with salsa dancers and a reggae band … and suddenly, “your birthday party could turn out to be the craziest, wildest, funnest party ever!”

Author Machado, who won the 2000 Hans Christian Andersen Award – the world’s highest international recognition for kiddie book writers and illustrators – knows how to party, bringing together all the different friends, families, cuisines from around the world into one multi-culti celebration. Machado’s artistic comrade-in-colors, Hélène Moreau, gives delicious vibrance to every part of the party preparations, gathering friends, foods, animals, and eventually even the parents who just can’t stay away. Machado shows us just how easy every day could be party day … no excuses necessary to gather, laugh, and dance …!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (Canada, United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, South American

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez

Little White Duck is a visual feast that showcases the childhood memories of author Na Liu, and vibrantly enhanced by her artist husband Andrés Vera Martínez. Liu introduces herself with an adorably grinning “Ni Hao!,” explaining that she was born in Zhifang, a suburb of Wuhan, China in 1973. Her family name is Liu, her given name Na, but as Chinese children are usually called by nicknames (so that “bad luck and spirits couldn’t find you if your true name was never spoken out loud”), she is called Qin, which means ‘piano.’ When her little sister comes along a year later, she becomes Da Qin (Big Piano), and her little sister Xiao Qin (Little Piano).

Eight short segments detail Da Qin’s youthful experiences, from her role as big sister to accompanying her mother to school, to joining her mother in tears over the death of ‘Grandpa’ Mao, to learning to never waste food, to performing good deeds, to celebrating the holidays with extended family, to visiting estranged relatives whose lives are drastically different from her own.

At first reading, especially for younger readers, Da Qin’s childhood about growing up in a faraway place decades ago is not unlike a vaguely familiar fable. Older audiences, however, will recognize the story as an important, even unsettling historical record of a pivotal time. Liu briefly mentions the one-child policy as “a new law” which her parents were able to avoid because her “little sister was already on the way.” When only one child is officially allowed to enroll in school, Liu’s sister becomes the sole student while Liu was lucky enough “to get a good start on my education” by joining her mother’s classroom in the elementary school in which her mother teaches. Liu’s mother explains how Mao’s policies allowed her the surgeries she needed to walk again after being paralyzed by polio, but also recalls how the Great Famine destroyed so many lives.  The inequities Liu experiences in her father’s remote village – her “flat-out mean” grandmother, her dirt-stained aggressive cousins who know nothing of books – brings new insight to a world beyond the comfortable life she shares with her immediate family.

Liu and her sister represent China’s “transitional generation – a generation caught in between one way of life and another, between the old and the new.” As children, they bear witness to the emergence of a new China on the international stage, from the deprivations of the Cultural Revolution toward gradual economic and technological modernization.

“I read in the writing of Confucius that there are three ways to learn,” Liu concludes. “First: by studying history, which is the best. Second: By imitating someone or something which is easiest. And third: Through your own experience, which can be heartbreaking.” Liu’s childhood in China “was a special time,” which she wisely chooses (after “some convincing” from hubby Martínez) to “preserve … through pictures and stories.” Their joint production is spectacular.

TidbitDuck is one of the most complete books ever. The already memorable story is significantly strengthened with back-of-the-book supplementary materials which includes a “Glossary of Mandarin Chinese Words and Other Words and Names,” a timeline from 551 BCE to Mao’s death in 1976, a more detailed biography of Liu, country and province maps, and – most impressive of all, something I can’t remember seeing in any other book, regardless of target audience! – a page of “Translations of Chinese Characters” of the signs, posters, plaques, and other calligraphy throughout the book. WOW! Talk about feeling utterly grateful to be able to enjoy every detail!

Readers: Children, Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Chinese, Chinese American, Latino/a

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene

Celebrate the lunar Year of the Water Dragon with Ying Chang Compestine‘s latest picture book which reminds us all again (gently and poignantly) about the value of patience and perseverance (especially relevant in this Dragon year!), the wisdom of elders, and the importance of cultural connections.

Ming Da greets his grandfather upon his arrival from China with a bow, just “as Mom had told me to.” When he sees his grandfather practicing tai chi the next morning, he immediately wants to join in, but not before he shows off his own version of kung fu “kicks and punches.” Tai chi is slow, and makes Ming Da’s legs and arms heavy and wobbly. “As the weeks passed, I felt cheated,” Ming Da complains. “Maybe Grandpa didn’t know real kung fu.”

Ming Da’s disappointment leads him to avoid Grandpa: he reads on the bus on the way to school, hides in his room, even resorting to headphones to shut out his grandfather. But one morning, Ming Da watches Grandpa avert a serious accident, saving two people on the street: “In a smooth motion, Grandpa crouched like a tiger, swept up a leg and kicked the board, breaking it neatly in half.” Ming Da’s shocked reaction – “‘Wow, Grandpa, how did you do that?'” – is met with the expected answer: “‘Lots of practice,'” followed by “‘I started at your age.'” Finally Ming Da is ready to train.

When New Year arrives, Grandpa gives Ming Da “a red silk jacket embroidered with dragons.” [That mythical beast had to pop up somewhere!] Ming Da’s embarrassment over “this silly jacket” eventually becomes beaming pride as he experiences quite a memorable night, filled with tasty treats, hóng bāo (red envelopes with lucky money), and an unexpected, unforgettable starring role in Chinatown’s traditional lion’s dance.

Ming Da’s journey toward recognition of his grandfather’s accomplishments which leads him to honor his own dual heritage is gloriously captured in the soft watercolors of veteran illustrator Yan Nascimbene‘s full-page panels: Grandpa in his traditional suit with Ming Da side-by-side in his jeans and perpetually untied high-top sneakers; dozing, shoe-less Mom reading her Chinese magazine while wild-haired, booted Dad delves into a thick English book, a Picasso-esque Cubist canvas hung next to a floral brush painting on the back wall; the diverse, overflowing (literally onto the facing page) crowds of New Year celebrants scattered like confetti throughout Chinatown. From the mini-Ming Das demonstrating tai chi poses on every left page, to the aquarium rug, to the bus ads, to the pigtailed neighbor and her dog peeking over the fence, Nascimbene makes sure that Compestine’s story of youthful self-discovery is wonderfully enhanced by his many delightful, surprising details.

To check out more of Ying Chang Compestine’s titles on BookDragon, click here.

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Chinese American

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong, illustrated by Zhu Chen-Liang

The simple things in life always deserve our greatest gratitude: Today, this day of turkeys and thanks, those of us with our families close by are quite possibly the luckiest people on earth.

Take the small family of three in this gorgeous yet bittersweet story … mother and tiny child rejoice because “Papa is coming home”: “Papa builds big houses in faraway places, / He comes home only once each year, / during Chinese New Year.” He arrives with open arms that sweep up his young daughter, even as she protests about his prickly new beard. After sharing his gifts, he goes to the barber shop to get his hair and beard cleaned up – so that “everything will go smoothly in the new year.” The little girl peeks up: “The Papa in the mirror is getting more like / Papa the way he used to be.”

Papa’s short reunion is filled with precious family time: making sticky rice balls, one of which hides a special “fortune coin” that will bring good luck to the person who finds it; working on small house repairs; enjoying the dragon dance on Main Street; playing in the newly fallen snow.

But Papa’s three short days are over far too quickly … and as he prepares to leave once again, the little girl places the lucky fortune coin, “all warm from being held / in my hand for so long,” into her father’s open palm – sharing her good fortune for the upcoming year she will not be able to see him.

Zhu Cheng-liang’s remarkable illustrations are saturated not only with brilliant color, but with unmistakably deep emotional bonds. The father’s gentleness with his tiny daughter is something to behold – father and daughter’s hands next to one another, her cautious climb up to the roof into her father’s waiting embrace, her lofty view from his shoulders, her tears as he comforts her, and the final picture of father/daughter goodbye … Zhu makes palpable the most profound joy to the deepest sorrow.

“The family in this book is a fictional one,” the book’s final page explains, “but there are in reality over 100 million migrant workers in China, many of whom work hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles away from home, returning only once each year, for just a few days, at New Year’s.” That sort of endured separation seems almost impossible to fathom – let this serve as a gentle reminder for those of us who are blessed with togetherness to never take that basic happiness for granted.

Readers: Children

Published: 2011


Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, Chinese

Hampire! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Howard Fine

Ever feel like a total beast when you’re soooo hungry? Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen surely understands midnight hunger: “the HAMPIRE left his pen / In quite an awful mood. / His belly growled. / ‘I need,’ he howled, / ‘To sink my fangs in food!'”

In spite of the danger of meeting up with the voracious HAMPIRE, Duck’s sheep-counting won’t take him to slumberland. Instead, Duck is willing to risk all to sneak into the farmer’s fridge to help himself to a huge plate, piled high with “Some jelly rolls, / And ice-cream bowls / With chocolate syrup dribbling.”

But Duck didn’t plan on being someone else’s midnight snack, and he runs for his life, alerting Red Chicken and Pony along his path of hopeful escape. When the threesome end up cowering in an abandoned shed, the door is no match for HAMPIRE: “All at once, the door was gone. / It fell down with a bang. / The HAMPIRE frowned / And looked around, / Then charged the fearful gang!”

Oh, no! What’s going to happen now …??!!

With Bardham-Quallen’s incredibly snappy, clever verse (who can rhyme barbarian with vegetarian to such delightful effect?) brought to the page with such larger-than-life sweeping energy by Howard Fine, this is one holiday title you’ll want to keep close year-round. Just check out Duck’s keen observation of the “Red droplets left behind,” the contented delirium of the open-mouthed old farmer who’s fallen asleep (again) in front of the still-glowing TV, and the freakishly frightened Pony with buck teeth exposed in mid-screech as he sits slumped on his back haunches surrounded by his smaller friends as HAMPIRE looms!

The partnership of writer and illustrator couldn’t have been better paired. Undoubtedly, you and your brave young ones will surely be snorting through this toothsome midnight feast!

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, South Asian American

Little Goblins Ten by Pamela Jane, illustrated by Jane Manning

For parents of a certain generation, Raffi was like the Pied Piper: he sang, kids listened, they often fell asleep. Back then, that was the mark of a miraculous, massively talented performer. In our house, Thing 1 had a serious preference for “Baby Beluga” at bedtime, although it took until track 8 of that favorite Raffi CD, “Over in the Meadow,” to even hope she might actually fall asleep. [I can’t find Raffi’s version online, but here’s a really silly Wiggles interpretation.]

As Halloween looms, favorite songs seem to be getting spooky makeovers (see The 13 Nights of Halloween for additional tuneful fun). In this adorable, not-at-all-scary-rendition, the meadow morphs into “Over in the forest / Where the trees hide the sun / Lived a big mommy monster / And her little monster one.” Awwwww … that rhythm, that rhyme … talk about snuggly memories!

Mommy Monster and her little one run through their forest home sharing giddy fun while their friends and neighbors also enjoy happy family time all around. “Pale daddy ghost” haunts with “his little ghosties two,” while “an old mother zombie,” stares with “her little zombies three.” Wolves howl, mummies moan, skeletons rattle, bats swoop, goblins leap … until Monster Mommy calls her one over – and the rest of the forest gathers around: “‘Trick or treat?’ asked the mommy; / ‘Treat!’ cried the one. / So they skipped off together / For some Halloween fun!”

While Pamela Jane provides the enchanting lyrics, Jane Manning (don’t you love the symmetry of the creators’ last name/first name as if they were meant to be?) fills the pages with lovable characters. Her tiny details make every page an invitation to notice something unique – ghosts with buttoned shirts, zombies that carefully hang up their colorful laundry, witches that clearly read, goblins that enjoy sniffing pretty flowers.

So before you send your little monsters out next holiday night, be sure to hold them tight this week (every week!), cuddle up, and sing them to sleep … before you know it, you’ll be experiencing a different sort of scary story when you wake up Rip Van Winkle-style, only to realize that those little monsters grew up way too fast … fair warning to be sure to grab those hugs and kisses while you can!

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

The 13 Nights of Halloween by Guy Vasilovich

I think someone clearly pushed the ‘fast-forward’ button and jammed it … because holy moly, it’s almost Halloween! And, because I’m not good with numbers, I’m posting this nine days before the spookfest when I should clearly have done so last Monday, oh well … but good things come to those who wait, even when such things are slightly slimy and scary.

TV and comic veteran Guy Vasilovich makes his kiddie book debut with this colorful celebration of all things … well, sorta mostly dead. But don’t despair, because the whole book is meant for lively singing to the tune of perennial holiday favorite, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with an extra verse, of course. Forget that been-there, done-that ‘partridge in a pear tree’ … get used to “a bright, shiny, Skeleton Key.”

Who needs 2 turtle doves, 3 French hens, and 4 calling birds (Wikipedia actually says “colly birds” – huh?), when you’ve got “a 2-headed Snake,” “3 Baseball Bats” (of the flying variety), and “4 Icky Eyeballs”? Of course, things only get more playfully gruesome from there with “Marching Mutants,” “Demons Dancing,” and “Corpses Caroling …”

With a tiny little witch-girl as guide – she who sports anime-like giant eyeballs filled with wonder and two pigtails that stand up perfectly curly-Qed and tied up just-so with crisp bat-ribbons – innocent young readers will have a delightful romp through all things Halloween. Here’s to ghoulish giggles for the young ‘uns, and little risk of get-up-again-in-the-middle-of-the-night-lasting trauma for us oldsters. Whew!

Readers: Children

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin

What a festive day this is in most Asian and the Asian American communities throughout the world … while the western Gregorian calendars tells us today is September 22, 2010, today is also the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. Which means it’s the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, Tsukimi Matsuri in Japan, Chuseok in Korea, and Tết Trung Thu in Vietnam … and all of the above throughout Asian Pacific America.

In Grace Lin‘s latest title for kiddies, a Chinese American family unpacks a toothsome nighttime picnic as the moon reaches its full glow in the grand sky. The three daughters help arrange “the moon-honoring table,” with delicious treats, surrounded by the glow of paper lanterns decorated with rabbits (because “a white rabbit is said to live on the moon”). Basking in the soft moonlight, the family “thank[s] the moon for bringing us together and send[s] it our secret wishes.”

In our too-busy schedules of everyday hustle, bustle, to, and fro, Lin’s latest is a lovely, gentle reminder to take a moment or two (and more!) to share our gratitude with the most important people in our lives. What began as a harvest festival hundreds, even thousands of years ago throughout Asia, has today become the perfect reason to gather our family and friends: “The roundness of the moon symbolizes harmony, and its fullness symbolizes wholeness, so families come together to celebrate those virtues,” Lin explains in an endnote. “Just as the moon always returns to its fullness, the festival continues to reunite families and inspire peace and gratitude.”

So tonight, grab those kids, give thanks to the ever-reliable moon … and cuddle up together with this adorable book. Make sure to pull it out often, too … it’s not just the kids who need those repeated reminders!

To check out my recent interview with Grace Lin for Bookslut.com, click here.

Readers: Children

Published: 2010

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Chinese American