bilingual, children's, Fiction, middle grade fiction, poetry, Young Adult Fiction

Complex Family Separation Topics for Teens

It’s become a bit of a cliche for children’s or YA authors to kill off parents or have their characters search for unknown parents. It’s an easy trope to use to center a story’s actions on a child’s choices. But for those young people who are forced to be separated from their families, this voice may not resonate. And in our current times, frankly, won’t resonate with the world-aware teen. Two such books that discuss this topic for middle graders and teens are Scarlet Ibis, by Gill Lewis and Forest World, by Margarita Engle.

Scarlet Ibis

At 12 years old, Scarlet cares for her autistic brother and severely depressed mother. This tenuous situation leads to her and her brother to foster care, a situation that separates them all and initiates Scarlet’s attempt to reunite them. The writing is done from Scarlet’s perspective, guiding the reader through an empathetic journey that makes her actions and “acting out” understandable and logical. This unique and much needed perspective is refreshing and a true gift from the author for anyone, especially those with foster children in their lives.

Forest World

Free verse poetry is an intriguing and appropriate way to unfold this novel of a family separated and reunited across the Florida-Cuba divide. Told through alternating poems in the voices siblings, Luza and Edver, we see the same family’s story from two perspectives. In addition to the separated family we see them living their lives and experiencing all the teenage experiences in this context. It’s truly a unique and yet universal book.

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bilingual, children's

Rise of the Water Dragon

I love bilingual children’s books. There are different types of audiences for such books and the variety of bilingual books reflects the differing needs. For some languages where the pronunciation of both languages is relatively easy to identify in the same alphabet such as Spanish and English, families who are bilingual and families who aren’t can both be served by the same books. However, for languages such as Chinese, unless the reader is bilingual, pronunciation guides are necessary. In the case of “The Water Dragon,” by Li Jian the reader should be bilingual to read all of the book in both languages.

That said, even if you can’t read this book in both languages, it is still an enjoyable story in either one. The illustrations are done in the style of a scroll painting. The tale takes us to a struggling village where a boy, Ah Bao, sets out on a journey to bring much needed water. He meets a series of magical creatures along the way. The story covers honesty and self-sacrifice. It is an excellent one for ages 4-7.

This review has also been posted on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The book was placed in a little free library for others to enjoy.

bilingual, children's, Fiction

English-Chinese Children’s Book Done Right

I am a huge fan of bilingual children’s books. I love them for languages that I work with my child to learn or for other languages, just for exposure. A common pitfall for these books is that they fall into two unhelpful categories: flashcard style books that just show vocabulary with pictures or story books showing the story separately in both languages, with no way to intermingle them unless you repeat the story in the other language. If you’ve ever sought out bilingual English-Chinese children’s books, they usually have the added issue of only having either the characters or the pinyin (and sometimes worse: a third pronunciation form).

Brandon Makes Jiǎo Zi (餃子) is one of those rare exceptions that incorporates both pinyin, characters (traditional), and a delightful story. The best part is that the pinyin/character elements are woven into the story, so you aren’t just either reading in Chinese or English but all together, like you would if both languages are used in the house. This was such a pleasant surprise that I bought a second copy of the book, so I could keep the first to read with my daughter and still give away the second to a little free library.

The story itself covers familial relations with a loving grandmother and her grandson, the passing of culinary traditions, and also how to be resilient in the face of mistakes. The illustrations are simple, but compliment the story well. The publishing style leaves a lot of blank space on the page, but it’s not particularly distracting. Looking forward to more books like this from the author.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A paperback copy of the book was also placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.