Jean Little

Jean Little – Part III of the series on Third Culture Kids authors

After reading about Jean Little’s childhood and early adulthood, in her autobiography, Little by Little, as well as reading a selection of her children’s books, I have become very fond of Jean. If you asked me today, what author I would love to sit down with over a cup of tea or coffee, I would say, enthusiastically, “Jean Little!”

Why? You might ask. Well, I see someone who has had to deal with more than her fair share of struggles as a child and yet, has used her gifts and abilities to impact children as a teacher, a speaker and a writer. Jean, at the age of seven, had to deal not only with moving back to Canada from Taiwan and all the adjustments that come with that, but overcoming physical disabilities, loneliness and bullying in school.

After graduating from high school, and although she was legally blind, she went on to attend the University of Toronto. During this time, her father – who believed in her, encouraged her and constantly urged her to pursue her dream of becoming a writer – passed away. She somehow, managed to pull herself out of her deep state of shock and grief, and finish on time, to earn her BA in English language and literature.
In her early twenties, as she was teaching in a school for physically disabled children, she realized that there were virtually no books about children with disabilities. In most of her favorite childhood books that she would read to her class, any child with a disability was somehow “cured” and went on to live a normal life, such as Colin in the Secret Garden or Clara in Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Most of the children that Jean worked with would never experience a miracle cure and would struggle the rest of their lives. Jean decided to write such a book – her first book was titled “Mine For Keeps” about a child with cerebral palsy. Her first book, published in 1962, won the Canadian Children’s Book Award. Since then, Jean has published over 50 books. She has written novels, picture books, poetry, short stories, and two autobiographical books. Her book “His Banner Over Me” tells the story of her mother, Flora Little, who was herself a TCK from Taiwan – another incredible story of hardship, loss, and courage.

Jean’s life story inspires me. I don’t know about you, but I need these “guiding lights” to whisper in my ear and urge me on, as I face struggles or difficulties: “Come on, Gail, look at Jean. If someone with all the struggles she went through, and all the losses and hurts can rise above and make an impact, so can you!” I want to say:

Thank you, Jean, for sharing your story and giving all us third culture kids, the courage to overcome and impact the lives of those around us.”
Books by Jean Little



Novels

  • Birdie for Now- 2002
  • Dancing Through the Snow- 2007
  • Different Dragons- 1986
  • Forward, Shakespeare- 2005
  • From Anna- 1972
  • His Banner Over me- 1995
  • Home From Far- 1965
  • Kate- 1971
  • Listen for the Singing- 1977
  • Look Through my Window- 1970
  • Lost and Found- 1985
  • Mama’s Going to Buy you a Mockingbird- 1984
  • Mine for Keeps- 1962
  • One to Grow On- 1969
  • Rescue Pup- 2004
  • Somebody Else’s Summer- 2005
  • Spring Begins in March- 1966
  • Stand in the Wind- 1975
  • Take Wing- 1968
  • The Belonging Place- 1997
  • The Birthday Girl- 2004
  •  The Jean Little Collection- 2001
  • Willow and Twig- 2000 (young adult book)

Poetry

  •  Hey World, Here I am- 1986
  • I Gave Mom a Castle- 2003
  • When the Pie was Opened- 1968

Picture books

  • Bats About Baseball- 1995
  •  Gruntle Piggle Takes Off- 1996
  • I Know an Old Laddie- 2003
  • Jenny and the Hanukkah Queen- 1995
  • Jess was the Brave One- 1991
  • Listen, Said the Donkey- 2006
  • Once Upon a Golden Apple- 1991
  • Pippin the Christmas Pig- 2003
  • Revenge of the Small Small- 1992
  • The Sweetest One of All- 2008

Autobiographies and biography

  • Little By Little- 1987
  • Stars Come Out Within- 1990
  • His Banner Over Me – 1995 – fascinating story of her mother’s life, also a TCK.

 

Although I have not read all of her books, I have read many and I would like to highlight a few here:
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From Anna by Jean Little (1972)

This is the story of Anna Solden, a visually impaired girl who moves from Germany to Canada with her family, as Hitler rises to power in the 1930s in Germany. From Anna is one of Jean Little’s most popular works and has many similarities with her own life story. I absolutely loved it! I think it ranks up there with my top 10 favorite chapter books. This is another great TCK story, as Anna and her family adjust to another language and culture, after living all their lives in Germany. I also liked that she tackled the issue of both cultural adjustments and living with disabilities not just in the school context but in family life. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)

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The Belonging Place by Jean Little (1997)

This historical fiction novel is set in the mid-nineteenth century. A young Scottish girl, Elspet, is adopted an aunt and uncle after her mother’s death. The family, including Elspet eventually immigrate to Canada. The theme of the search to belong is prominent throughout the book, as Elspet struggles with belonging in her adopted family and the family adjusts to their new home in Canada. If your kids like the Little House on the Prairie books, this is a must read. (for ages 8-12)
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Dancing Through the Snow by Jean Little

After being abandoned at the age of 4, Min has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Now a week before Christmas, she finds herself at the Children’s Aid office. Her foster mother no longer wants to care for her. She has no family, no birthday, no idea of where she came from. Jess Hart, a former Children’s Aid doctor, can’t take it anymore. She storms in and announced to the social worker that she is taking Min home with her for the holidays. Min, both grateful and fearful, slowly begins to allow Jess into her heart and life. A moving story perfect for Christmas, both for an older child to read on their own or as a family read-aloud. (for ages 9 and up)
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Lost and Found by Jean Little

The short novel with a big punch, this is one that after reading it, I thought, wow, that one I should add to my list of books on moving. This is the story of a young girl who is not excited about moving to her new home, and having to make new friends. An lost dog and his needs brings her out of her shell. I love the ending. (For age 6-9)

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Little by Little by Jean Little

In this first of her two autobiographies, which starts off with her life in Taiwan, Jean shares of her joys and struggles as she deals with change and her visual disabilities. I won’t summarize her life, there are way too many amazing stories but I will say: read this book! I will also include a short excerpt to wet your appetite – this is my favorite part of the book:
Jean describes, in this chapter, how she had to ride the streetcar home from school one day on her own. Since she didn’t recognize her street corner and couldn’t hear the driver clearly announcing her stop, she missed her stop and rode all the way to the end of the line, before the bus driver noticed her. He did take her back to her stop, she got off and ran home, into her mother’s arms, sobbing. Her mother held her, then told her to go get ready for bed. She brought her dinner up to her on a tray. Jean asked her mother to read to her. She adds: “I needed a story to come between me and the difficult things that had happened“. (I love that!). Her mom summoned her siblings then opened a book and began to read:
When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable looking child ever seen. It was true too.”

Jean, in Little by Little, goes on to explain:


“I laid down my spoon. From the first sentence, The Secret Garden seemed especially mine. I did not wonder what Mary Lennox looked like. I knew. She looked exactly like me…. I had make two journeys that day, one to the end of the streetcar line and one to Misselthwaite Manor. I never cared to ride to the end of the line again, but over and over I would return to that vast and mysterious house. And always, when I got to the long walk, Mary herself would be waiting to take me through the door to the secret garden.”  

Jean Little
Little by Little is for ages 9 and up – a great book for adults too

Her autobiography continues in The Stars Come Out Within – also a great read.

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His Banner Over Me by Jean Little

This book tells the story of Jean’s mother, Flora Millicent “Gorrie” Gauld. She was also born in Taiwan to missionary parents, but spent much of her life with relatives in Canada, separated from her parents. She became one of the nation’s first women doctors and a missionary herself. The books is a powerful reminder of the great sacrifices early missionaries made, including many years of separation from their children. A must read! (For ages 9 and up)

Facts about Jean Little

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  • Jean Little was born in 1932, in Formosa, now called Taiwan.
  • Shortly after her birth, doctors discovered that she had scars over both her corneas that caused severely impaired vision and crossed eyes.

  • Jean’s parents were Canadian doctors serving as medical missionaries under the United Church of Canada in Taiwan. Jean has two older brothers, Jamie and Hugh and a younger sister, Pat.

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  • The Little family returned from Taiwan to live in Canada in 1939 when Jean was 7. In Toronto, she was placed in a classroom for visually impaired children, a classroom where she flourished and felt accepted. They moved to Guelph in 1940, where she entered a mainstream classroom and although she did well academically, she struggled to make friends and was often teased or ridiculed by her classmates. Reading became her passion and her escape from loneliness and hurt.
  • She is one of Canada’s most successful children’s authors and the first to deal extensively with issues of disabilities.
  • Her own struggles as a partially sighted individual are reflected through her characters, who often deal with physical disabilities, or confront psychological difficulties involving fear or grief.
  • Jean writes her books using a talking computer that reads back the writing letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence or the entire file.

  • She has a retired seeing-eye dog named Ritz and a new one named Pippa, with whom she travels. Her and her sister also have other pets, including a talking great parrot named Henry Huggins.
  • Jean has written 50 books and has recieved numerous awards, including the Canada Council Children’s Literature Award and the Matt Cohen Award in celebration of her writing life.
  • When not writing, Little keeps abreast of her audience by working with young people in the church, schools, and community.

  • Favorite children’s books include The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

 

 

 

 

  • She now lives in Guelph, Ontario with her sister Pat.

Quotes by Jean Little

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Homesick, My Own Story

Jean Fritz –  part 1 in a series on TCK children’s authors
I am excited to begin a series here on this blog about children’s authors who are third culture kids. I have yet to find a list out there (anyone know of one?) but I am starting my own list. Here is what I have so far (a work in progress – please let me know if you know of any others I need to add to this list below):
Pearl Buck – TCK from China

Jean Fritz – TCK from China

Meindert DeJong – TCK from Netherlands

Rumer Godden – TCK from China

Rudyard Kipling – TCK from India

Jean Little – TCK from Taiwan

Anne Sibley O’Brien – TCK from Korea

Katherine Patterson – TCK from China

Mitali Perkins – TCK who spent much of her childhood overseas in Bangladesh, India, England, Thailand, Mexico, Cameroon, and Ghana.   (I did write a blog post about Mitali Perkins “Tiger Boy” – check it out – she’s an amazing writer)

Missing anyone? Let me know…
In this first post in my series of TCK children’s authors, I would like to highlight Jean Fritz.

She is an American children’s writer best known for American biography and history as I mentioned above. She won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her career contribution to American children’s literature in 1986. She turned 100 in November 2015.
If you homeschool or love history, you will definitely be familiar with Jean Fritz’s history books for children. Who has not heard of these famous books?

  •  And Then What Happened, Paul Revere?
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock?
  • Bully for You, Teddy Roosevelt
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George?
  •  George Washington’s Breakfast
  •  Just a Few Words, Mr. Lincoln
  •  Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution
  • What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin?
  • Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus?
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May?
  •  Who’s That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?
  • Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams?
  • Why Not Lafayette?
  • You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?

In addition to these shorter works for younger children, she has also written chapter books about famous Americans in history including:

  •  The Double Life of Pocahontas
  • Around the world in a hundred years (a book about early explorers)
  • The Great Little Madison
  • Stonewall

Jean Guttery Fritz was born November 16, 1915 in China where she lived until 1927.  When she was 12, she returned to the US and settled in Virginia.


Her book Homesick, My Own Story is the focus of this post. It was published in 1982 . It is a Newbery Honor book, winner of the American Book Award and winner of the Christopher Award. This chapter book with illustrations and drawings by Margot Tomes, is geared from 8 to 12 year olds, although I have loved it as an adult, and I think teens would enjoy it as well, especially TCKs. There is a section at the back of the book with photographs of herself and her family, many of them in China, which brings her story to life.

Although she tells the story of her childhood in China and her subsequent years as she settles in the US and adjusts to life there, she admits in the preface that her memories of her childhood come out in lumps, often not sequential, so she weaves the story together with fictional bits. She says that she would have to consider this a work of fiction, but that “it does not feel like fiction to me. It is my story, told as truly as I can tell it.”.   



I have read this several times and each time I read it, I glean new insights about being a TCK and the joys and struggles that come with it: the loneliness, struggles at school, that sense of living between two worlds and longing to belong, that sense of loss at leaving one country to go to another.
My favorite section of this biography of her life, is when she is on the boat leaving China at the age of 12 – although she is excited about seeing the US and her grandparents and extended family for the first time, she feels as if she was in an in-between state – not in China, not in America – she describes it like this in Homesick My Own Story:

 

“It seemed to me that once we were completely out of sight of land, I would really feel homeward bound. But as I looked at the Shanghai skyline and at the busy waterfront, I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t moving away at all. Instead the land was slowly moving away and leaving me. Not just Shanghai but China itself…. I could even smell China, and it was the smell of food cooking, of steam rising from many rice bowls it hung in a mist over the land. But it was slipping away. No matter how hard I squinted, it was fading from sight.”


That “in-between” state that we all can relate to as TCKs – it seeps into you and never leaves you: never fully belonging, always longing for a place that feels 100% like home, knowing it will never come to be on this side of eternity.

Jean is not shy about giving you the whole picture of her childhood, the good along with the bad, the happy times as well as the sad times. Life was not easy for Jean. She was ostracized by the Chinese who call her a “foreign devil”. She didn’t fit in in the British school she attended. Her family faced war and violence, separation and anxiety, grief and loss, depression and loneliness. It’s all there, but the overall tone of the book is not negative. As a girl, faced with these difficulties, she learned to cope, she found those places inside herself to escape to, she had supportive parents and a Chinese nanny who herself struggled from being ostracized by her family. Jean is an example of one who takes what life offers, drank the bitter cups and decided to focus on the beautiful and the good she saw around her, like the wild flowers and the mountains, books, her cat, her relationships with family both far and near. Jean also learned to except herself, her weaknesses and hone in on her strength.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially to TCKs. I would love (and often do) throw it in to the boxes I mail out to family overseas. 

Fun Facts about Jean Fritz’s life :

  • She was born in Wuhan, China and lived there until she was 13. She still misses China. She has visited China three times as an adult. She can speak Mandarin, but did not learn to write the traditional Chinese characters.
  • She is an only child. When she was 11, her mother gave birth to a little girl, they called her Miriam but she was born premature and only lived a few weeks. She was often lonely. She loved to write and writing became her way of processing all her experiences and emotions.
  • Her interest in American history started as a child, when her father shared stories and tales of American heroes from the past. She says traces her love of history to her need for roots. As a child, she often felt disconnected. US history gave her a sense belonging.
  • She said she did not enjoy history as a child, but as an adult, she was fascinated by the different people who lived throughout history. She says:  “Sometimes it seems as if a person from long ago steps out from a page and speaks to me. Then I know I have to write another book.” 


  • She announced that she was going to be a writer when she grew up when she was 5 years old.
  • As a child, she read Peter Pan by Baum, The Secret Garden by Burnett and  Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Just so Stories was her favorite. One of her current favorite books is The Lemming Condition by Alan Arkin
  • Out of all her books (and she has written well over 50 books) she is most proud of Homesick, My Own Story because it is the story of her own childhood. Homesick, My Own Story is also her best seller. The title Homesick has a double meaning: yes, she was homesick for America when she was in China, but after returning to the US, she realized she was then homesick for China.
  • When asked if any of her great-great grand-children were to write a book about her, what would they title the book, she replied: “I think my children and I feel I’ve never quite grown up, so maybe something like She Never Grew Up.”
  • In China, she attended a British school. There she had to sing “God Save the King!” every morning. She did not want to do it. Even though she had never been to America, she felt that singing that song would be traitorous.  Fortunately, her wise father pointed out that the American song, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” had the same tune, so she quietly sang that instead.
  • One of the things she hated the most when she first attended public school in Virginia was having to learn cursive writing.
  • She loves rivers and oceans. When she was in China, she loved the Yangtse River and now she lives in New York beside the Hudson River. She also loves the ocean and vacationed for many years in Virgin Cordo, an island in the Carribean Sea. When she was younger, she loved to swim and snorkel. She still loves to go to the beach and just enjoy the beauty, sounds and smells of the sea. (A woman after my own heart! “A kindred spirit” as Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables would say)
  • Of course, she also loves reading. She reads all sorts of books, not just history.
  • In 1983, she went back to her hometown in China and found her house, where she and her parents lived. She visited a school and showed the children a photograph album the children of Dobbs Ferry, NY made to show what their life is like.
  • Her favorite character from history?  She is crazy about LaFayette. She wrote a book about him called “Why Not LaFayette?“. She loves the fact that he was devoted to democracy. He was a very principled man. She is saddened by the fact that he is not studied in school that much any more.
  • She attended Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois.
  • She married Michael Fritz in 1941. She has two children, David and Andrea.
  •      Her birthday is November 16th 1915. She turns 101 in a few months.

Quotes from Jean Fritz:

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.” ― Jean Fritz

Only when a book is written out of passion is there much hope of its being read with passion.” ― Jean Fritz

Mikis and the Donkey


Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman – a book review

I sat down and read this book in one sitting. It’s hard to put down – not because it’s an edge-of-your-seat adventure or a nail-biting suspense but because of the simplicity of the story. In this short novel, the reader is transported to small village in Greece. The reader feels the excitement of Miki, a village boy whose life changes drastically one day when his grandfather surprises him with a donkey. Miki and his donkey are inseparable from day one and the two become best friends. Throughout the year, Mikis learns about caring for his donkey, controlling him (well, sort of). He discovers just how stubborn a a donkey can be. He also come to know him as a constant and faithful companion. The novel is not just about the boy’s relationship with his donkey, it’s also about Mikis and his grandfather, as well as Mikis and his classmates and teacher. It’s a light-hearted story with plenty of humor and amusing twists. Perfect for animal lovers. (for children ages 8-12, but could also be read to younger children as a read-aloud)

This book won the Batchelor Award in 2015, which is given to the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States. Mikis and the Donkey was originally published in the Netherlands in 2011 under the title, Mikis de ezeljongen. It was translated into English by Laura Watkinson.

What I love about this book is that it’s an animal story that doesn’t have a heart-wrenching or tragic ending – nobody dies and there is even a pleasant surprise at the end! I also enjoyed the multicultural aspect of the story – a glimpse of life on a small island in Greece. Finally, I enjoyed the fact that it’s an animal story that is not about a dog, a cat or a horse. The pencil drawings by Philip Hopman throughout the book bring this story to life and help children visualize life in Greece.
The Dutch creators of Soldier Bear bring a lovely simplicity to this affecting picture of a close-knit Greek community. . . . The generous number of loosely drawn illustrations capture windswept landscapes, village life, and human character and diversity with equal aplomb. Visually inviting and easily read, this would also make a fine read-aloud for younger children.”  Horn Book


Excerpt:
Miki had to give donkey lessons to his grandpa.

 “Pappou, those baskets make her sore and the strap is far too tight.”

 “So what should I do, my boy?”

 “You need to put a blanket under them. And you shouldn’t load the baskets so full. Tsaki’s not a truck.”

 “Who said she was?”

 “You did. And you said Tsaki’s a tractor on legs. But that’s not true. Oh, and she’s not allowed to work all this week.”

 “Where did you get that idea?”

 “Doctor’s orders”

 “Well I’ll be…” said Grandpa. “Did the doctor really say that?”

 Mikis nodded.

 “Ha, that’s easy for him to say. He drives around in a nice Ford.”


Also by Bibi Dumon Tak: Soldier Bear – another Batchelder Award winner in 2012.

This is an animal story as well and is based on a true story. It tells the story of a young bear who is adopted by Polish soldiers in Iran. Voytek, the bear, then accompanies a Polish battalion onto the battle fields of Italy during World War II. Voytek’s mischief and antics often get him into trouble, but his presence is a lifeline for everyone whose life he touches as the bear and the soldiers journey through war torn Italy. I would recommend Soldier Bear to a slightly older audience (ages 10 and up) because it does depict some of the horrors of war. A moving story that would make an insightful supplemental reading to any study of World War II.
The deep bond between humans and animals is a popular theme in children’s literature. Here are a few other animal stories, some multicultural, some about unusual pets, that I highly recommend:

Shadrach by Meindert DeJong, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1956) – This story, set in the Netherlands, is about a boy and his pet Rabbit. If you haven’t read DeJong, you are missing out. In Shadrach, Davie is enthralled with his new pet Rabbit which he names Shadrach. A beautiful story of that portrays the depth of a young child’s emotions and attachment to his pet. Meindert Dejong is an award-winning author of Newbery Medalist The Wheel on the School and The House of Sixty Fathers. Born in the Netherlands, Meindert’s family immigrated to the United States when he was 8 (Ages 9 to 12)



The White Elephant by Sid Fleischman (2006). Ever wondered where the term “white elephant” comes from? Inspired by a true story from Thailand, this is a fun and easy read about a young elephant boy named Run-Run and his white elephant, who outwit a prince. Written by the Newbery Award winning author of The Whipping Boy, this novel will take you on a ride, an elephant ride you will never forget.



Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight, illustrated by Marguerite Kirmse. (1940). Who hasn’t heard of Lassie – probably you have seen the movie. Yes, I will say it – the book is even better. Set in a small Yorkshire village in England during the Great Depression, Lassie is the story of a collie, a faithful companion to Joe. When Joe’s father looses his job, Lassie must be sold. After escaping his new owners multiple times to return home, Lassie is taken North to Scotland, a place so far and so remote that no dog would ever attempt an escape.


Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat (1961). The hilarious story of Wol and Weeps, two mischievous pet owls who terrorize the whole town of Saskatchewan, Canada with their crazy antics. Farley Mowat is a famous Canadian author who has written over 45 books.


Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era by Sterling North (1963) This is the classic tale of a boy and his pet raccoon, set in the woods of Wisconsin. It’s a moving tale that chronicles the first year of the raccoon’s life, but also a tale of a young boy’s journey through loss and grief. Rascal does have an emotional intensity to it, but there is plenty of adventure and humor throughout to make this an all-around amazing story.


The Yearling by Margery Kinnan Rawlings (1938) This classic tale, set in the late 1880s in Florida, is the winner of the Pulitzer prize. I had put off reading this book, until recently, partly because I dismissed it as one of those “sad animal stories.” So when I listened to this book on audio, I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the language, the poetic descriptions of plants, trees, birds and beasts, the depiction of the family’s struggle for survival, the raw emotions of young Jody. A must-read! Don’t dismiss this one – the story will linger on long after the last words are read and the book is put aside. (for ages 10+)
He lay down beside the fawn. He put one arm across its neck. It did not seem to him that he could ever be lonely again.” 

                                       ― Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling


The Year of the Panda by Miriam Schlein (1990) – Focusing on the environment and endangered animals, this multicultural story, set in China, is about a young boy who finds an abandoned baby panda in the woods near his family’s farm. So begins Lu Yi’s adventures as he nurses the young cub back to life and tries to solve the mystery of the young cub’s mother’s disappearance.

 

Rickshaw Girl and Tiger Boy


Mitali Perkins

A friend of mine in Romania recently mentioned these books by Mitali Perkins to me – I had previously read Bamboo People by her and loved it, so I checked these two books: Rickshaw Girl (2008) and Tiger Boy (2015) from the library. I devoured Rickshaw Girl in one sitting, and read Tiger Boy several days later. I can’t recommend these two books (for ages 8 to 12) more. Both these novels are set in other countries – Rickshaw Girl is set in Bangladesh and Tiger Boy is set in India.

I get so excited when I discover a new author whose writing I love (new to me, I mean) and I find out she is a TCK. Mitali’s father was an engineer and his job took their family from port to port in different countries. By the time Mitali was 11, she had lived in India, England, Ghana, Cameroon, Mexico, and then The United States. Settling in the United States as a Middle school student was very difficult for her (I know the feeling – although I didn’t stay, our family returned to the United States when I was in eighth grade). Mitali struggled as a child to find her place in these different cultures, and books became her refuge.

“Books were my rock, my stability, my safe place as I navigated the border between California suburbia and the Bengali culture of my traditional home.”

She was brought up as a Hindu but became an agnostic in her teens. During her junior year of college, while studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, she came repeatedly face to face with images and stories of Christ. As she read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, as well as the New Testament, Mitali was confronted with the person of Christ. Mitali explains her reaction upon delving into the New Testament this way:

“I was encountering a Jew with olive-colored skin, black hair, and dark eyes. This Middle Eastern man healed foreign women; he knew what it was to feel lonely and rejected.”

Through her reading, Mitali came to understand how Christ’s death on the cross conquered evil and reconciled man to God.  She came to Faith and upon her return to the US, she was baptized.

She later realized that the many stories and novels she had read as a child were deeply steeped in the Christian Faith. In an article she wrote for Christianity Today, she reflects on books from her childhood:

“Louisa May Alcott wove John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into Little Women. Johanna Spyri’s Heidi described God’s forgiveness through the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett perhaps subconsciously provided a metaphorical glimpse of the Trinity—Father (Susan Sowerby), Son (Dickon), and Holy Spirit (the robin). And of course, C. S. Lewis’s Aslan leapt into my mind and heart. For years, these spiritual mothers and fathers had been teaching me about the Bible. I just didn’t realize it.”.    Christianity Today – Testimony: When God Writes Your Life Story by Mitali Perkins/ DECEMBER 31, 2015

 

Mitali has written nine books, including Rickshaw Girl, Bamboo People, an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults and her most recent novel, Tiger Boy. She and her husband currently live in the San Francisco area, where she continues to write, lectures at St Mary’s College and visits schools and libraries throughout the country.

Rickshaw Girl 

Naima is a young girl growing up in a small village in Bangladesh. She loves art and is the best artist in her village, famous for her alpana patterns, a traditional art work. But Naima wants nothing more than to help her family make ends meet. Her father is a rickshaw driver and their family is barely scraping by. They can’t afford to send both Naima and her sister to school at the same time. When Naima accidentally damages her father’s rickshaw and the family is unable to pay for the repair, Naima must find a way to make things right.

Rickshaw Girl was chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years.
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What I loved about Rickshaw Girl:

  1.  An easy-to-read moving story for ages 8-12
  2. Culturally rich, and beautiful charcoal-on-canvas illustrations by Jamie Hogan
  3.  Well developed characters and relationships including Naima’s close friendship with her neighbor Saleem and Naima’s loving family relationships
  4.  Steeped in Bengali cultural details, with a glossary of Bangla words at the back of the book
  5.  Strong, courageous and loving female heroine

 

Tiger Boy


When a young tiger cub escapes from the nature preserve and is at risk of being attacked by the island poachers, Neel and his sister set out to find and rescue the cub. Neel is a bright student and the headmaster of his school has selected him to take an exam to win a scholarship to a prestigious school. But Neel has mixed feelings – he doesn’t want to leave his home, his family or his island. It isn’t until the hunt and the rescue of the tiger cub that Neel comes to understand how his academic abilities can help him to someday return and do his part to help preserve the natural beauty of the island, the lives of tigers, and help improve the lives of his family and friends.

  • Tiger Boy is Junior Library Guild selection.
  • NCTE 2016 Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book
  • Junior Library Guild Premier Selection 2015
  • CCBC Book of the Week
  • Selected as a Waterbridge Outreach Book

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What I loved about Tiger Boy

  1.  Easy-to-read, yet gripping tale – perfect for ages 8-12
  2.  Amazing charcoal-on-canvas illustrations
  3.  The natural beauty of the Island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal painted so well in the book, from the cool freshwater ponds to the mangrove forest to the long stretches of beaches
  4.  The fragile connection between nature and humans, beautifully portrayed by Mitali
  5.  The fact that Mitali does not down play the poverty and hardships of life on these island (for example, the mother’s illness, and the father’s difficulty finding work)
  6.  Neel’s love and bond with his older sister, Rupa, and his deep respect for his baba (his father)
  7.  Neel, the main character, portrayed as smart and a book lover, but also someone who is passionate about nature and animals, and the great outdoors
  8.  The plight and magnificence of the wild Bengal Tiger, presented in a way that children can understand – Great book for animal lovers – your child will want to learn more about tigers.

Can you tell I love these books?

It’s only once a while that you get a book that manages to create a lump in your throat and at the same time makes you read as fast as you can because you want to know what happens next.” – Indian Moms Connect


Books by Mitali Perkins

For ages 8-12

  • Rickshaw Girl (2008)
  • Tiger Boy (2015)

For Young Adult (*books I’ve read and recommend – I definitely want to read Open Mic!)

  • *The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen (Originally published as: The Sunita Experiment). (2005)
  • *Monsoon Summer (2007)
  • First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover (2007)
  • First Daughter: White House Rules (2008)
  • Secret Keeper (2010)
  • *Bamboo People (2012)
  • Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices (2013)

Wonder 


Even though I read this book recently and it left a deep impression on me, I was reluctant to do a review of it here. I mean, there are currently 7,994 reviews of it on Amazon. Wow! that’s a lot of reviews… Do I really need to add my review?

I decided that if my review causes you to read this book than YES, it’s worth another review. Besides, I think this book is amazing and I just have to share it! By the way, even though this is a children’s book, it is more widely read and adults and children alike are reading it. The author notes with humor that it is more often the adults that cry, even weep, over the book.

I also feel like Wonder is tailor made for third culture kids. It addresses issues that are part of the fabric of our lives: being an outsider, showing kindness to other outsiders, and finding humor in difficult circumstances.
In this review, I have added excerpts from an interview the author had with Michelle Pauli on The Guardian Children’s Books podcast (which I’ve included below)

Being an outsider

No, most TCKs do not face the kind of ostracizing that a child with a severe cranial/facial difference faces, but we have all experienced some forms of rejection for being different and can empathize with Augie on some deep emotional level. This is what Patricia Pollacio says in the interview:

“Everyone can identify with that kid because we all know what it’s like to be the new kid, we all know what it’s like, or remember what it’s like, to be the outsider at some point in our lives and I think, for parents, watching our kids grow up is a way of reliving all of those heartbreaking moments in our own lives and trying to protect our children from having the same heartbreaks which, of course, is impossible.”. R.J. Palacio

As I read Wonder, I could identify with him on his first day at school, watching everyone around him chatting with friends and Augie, feeling so alone and isolated.

Showing Kindness

The second thing I wanted to mention about Wonder is the theme of compassion and kindness that flows throughout the novel. Yes, children can be cruel and unkind, but some kids have the courage and compassion to reach out to others, like Summer, who goes to sit with August and gets to know him. I know many TCKs are often like Summer because they can put themselves in the shoes of those who have been an outsider. There is that connection, there’s that “I know what that feels like” thread of empathy that draws us towards them.

“In some ways, yes, it’s a book about a kid with a cranial/facial difference, but for me, this was ultimately a meditation on kindness, the impact of kindness and the power of kindness to save our lives, to save the world. It is something that needs to be prioritized more in the way we approach raising our children.”. R.J. Palacio

I feel, as a TCK, deep empathy for the underdog and that person sitting alone in a crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always act on it – I am by nature shy, but when I do act out of kindness, it makes my heart glad I did.



Humor

Wonder is not just about heartbreaks, or showing kindness, but also the power of humor in difficult times.
I remember when I was in college, saying goodbye to my parents and sister at the airport as they returned to France, my brothers and I all heading off to our respective campuses. We were all huddled together, and someone or something – I can’t remember what it was – made us all laugh. We were laughing so hard, people were beginning to stare. But it was cathartic, the pain of saying goodbye dissipated in that humorous moment.

 

Saying good-bye and having a good laugh at O’Hare airport 1982

The author said in the interview:

“I met once with a family who had a child with a cranial/facial difference and what they liked the most about the book was the humor throughout… the father said to me: “In a way we have to find the humor in all of this” and they started telling me some really funny stories about the way people reacted to their child. They were making the best of it and finding humor whenever they could.”. RJ Palacio

Humor is a soothing ointment for difficult or painful experiences.

I urge you to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s a powerful and moving story.

I think this novel would work well as a read-aloud and can lead to some great discussion, but just as a precaution, keep a box of tissues on hand.

Note: This is NOT a sad story. It is ultimately about kindness, about friendship, about love, hope, humor and families being there for you in the midst of it all.

Check out this cool episode: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/childrens-books-podcast/id423549679?mt=2&i=358906814

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

  On April 12, Beverly Cleary, famous children’s author, turns 100!

Three of her most popular works are Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.  There are also more than 40 Cleary titles in print. 

  Her most serious book Dear Mr. Henshaw won the Newbery Award in 1984. It tells the story of Leigh, who begins the novel as a school assignment, writing letters to a favorite author. He shares with him about his parent’s divorce, his relationship with his father and being the new kid in school.  

About Beverly Cleary

  

Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. She lived on a farm in Yamhill, a small town with no library. Her mother went the extra mile to ensure her children had books to read. She requests books from the state library and became the town librarian, setting up the books in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. Thus started a love affair with books for the young Beverly. When their family moved to Portland, and she attended school, to her dismay, Beverly was put in the lower reading group in her class, an experience she will never forget. She continues to be an advocate for struggling readers. Before long though, she was a fluent reader and was reading her way through all the books in the library. It was her school librarian who took note of Beverly’s voracious appetite for reading and suggested to her that she should write books herself someday!  

  

 These eight highly amusing and easy-to-read novels for ages 8-12 center on Ramona, a fiesty little girl, her older sister Beezus and her best friend, Henry. The first book Beezus and Ramona is the only book written from the perspective of Beezus, the older sister. Two books in the series were named Newbery Honor books, Ramona and Her Father and Ramona Quimby, Age 8; Ramona and Her Mother received the National Book Award. 

  •  Beezus and Ramona (1955)
  •  Ramona the Pest (1968)
  •  Ramona the Brave (1975)
  •  Ramona and her Father. (1977)
  •  Ramona and her Mother (1979)
  •  Ramona Quimby, age 8 (1981)
  •  Ramona Forever (1984)
  •  Ramona’s World (1999)

  

Also, be sure to read the exploits of Henry and his dog, Ribsy. Henry is Ramona’s best friend and neighbor. This series, which include Ramona and her family, is great for boys, although my kids (1 boy and 2 girls) enjoyed both series equally.

  •  Henry Huggins (1950)
  •  Henry and Beezus (1952)
  • Henry and Ribsy (1954)
  • Henry and the Paper Route (1957)
  • Henry and the Clubhouse (1962)
  • Ribsy (1964)

  

Of course, no celebration of Beverly Cleary’s life and works would be complete without The Mouse and the Motorcycle!

On April 12th, to celebrate Beverley Cleary’s, children everywhere are asked to participate in D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) to commemorate Cleary’s contribution to children’s literature. If you are not familiar with The Read-Aloud Revival (http://amongstlovelythings.com), I would encourage you to check it out. Sarah MacKenzie is a homeschooling mom of 6 who is passionate about reading. There is a blog, reading lists (hot off the press), podcasts and more. She is offering a FREE downloadable D.E.A.R. Whole Family Book Club Kit, offers suggestions for activities and a Beverly Cleary walking tour.  

  Note: I have multiple copies of all of the above books for families living overseas.

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

  
I just read this amazing 2016 Newbery Honor book and I highly recommend it. It was a book that kept me reading late into the night. If you are reading it to a child, it will be one of those “one more chapter, pleeeassse” kind of book.
 

My grandmother Ada, with Wendy, my mom, Noreen and Brian during World War II

 

There’s a soft spot in me for courageous World War II stories which take place in Britain. As many of you know my mother is British. My mom, Noreen was three years old when the war broke out. Her father and mother and older siblings Wendy and Brian lived in Harrow, near London, so she was in the thick of things. 

 She remembers the black out restrictions, the air raids, the damp and cold bomb shelters, the sound of enemy planes overhead and the few seconds between the dropping of the bomb and the explosion that ensued.

 She remembers the long lines to buy a piece of meat, or a bag of tea. 

She remembers her father’s absence at the dinner table, not knowing when or if he would return. 

She remembers Winston Churchhill’s booming voice on the radio. 

 She remembers being evacuated from the London area several times, spending weeks at her grandparents house and on another occasion, in a small coastal village. 

 She remembers how strong her mother was, managing the home with three children and working to make ends meet, while her husband was away.  

I have enjoyed hearing my mom share about her life during the war and the challenges their family faced. It has made her who she is, resilient, adaptable, better able to cope with all the changes she has faced throughout her life, as our family moved from place to place, (she has lived in 16 different places throughout her life) living in the England, US, France, Australia and now back in the US. Her experiences during the war have made her treasure family, relationships and hard work, not things or recognition. Her faith in God and her deep love and commitment to Him and His kingdom has also sustained her and continues to sustain her as she faces health issues and her dispersed family. She still misses England – the sights, the sounds … it will also be home for her…. I know she will enjoy this book.  

In this novel, The War that saved my Life, Ada (that was also my grandmother’s name!) is a 10 year old girl, born with a club foot. She cannot walk and her mother, abusive and ashamed of her daughter’s deformity, does not allow her to leave her small flat in London. The story is set in Britain as the beginning of World War II. When her younger brother Jamie tells her they are evacuating children to the countryside, Ada jumps at the opportunity to leave her “prison” and escapes to the countryside along with her brother. Susan, a town recluse, is forced to take them in. Thus begins the story of Ada, Jamie and Susan as they each come to terms with who they are and discover the power and healing that love and acceptance brings. A deeply moving story. It’s amazing to see how the author manages to transform Ada from a fearful, dejected child into a blossoming young girl full of courage and hope in just 316 pages. As we witness her transformation, the reader is reminded of one’s own ability to be resilient in the face of life’s challenges and the difference we can make to those around us who need our love and affirmation. The book is also filled with historical facts related to World War II and is a great launching pad for a World War II study.

  • A Newbery Honor Book
  • Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle School)
  • Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2015
  • New York Public Library’s 100 Books for Reading and Sharing
  • Chicago Public Library’s Best of the Best Books 2015
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2015
  • Kirkus Best Books of 2015
  • Horn Book Fanfare Book 2015 

An astounding novel. Will you cry and rejoice and hold your breath? Absolutely. Will you find the book as exciting, wise, and profound as I did? Yes. This book is remarkable.”. – Karen Cushman, author of Newbery Medal winner The Midwife’s Apprentice.

If you are looking for other World War II books in addition to the Dairy of Anne Frank, I would also recommend the following:
  

Good Night, Mr. Tom
by Michelle Magorian (1986)

This is very similar to The War That Changed My Life. It is one of my favorite British books. Michelle Magorian was born in Portsmouth, England. This novel won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, an International Reading Association Award and was also made into a film. Also, set in Britain during World War II, a young boy named Willie Beech is evacuated to the country side and is taken in by an older man, Mr. Tom, who seems gruff and distant. Raised by an abusive mother, Willie is thin, malnourished, and afraid of everything, especially adults. As the story unfolds, a beautiful relationship develops between the young evacuee and the elderly man, both blossoming in their own ways. When a telegram comes requesting Willie’s return to London, Willie must comply. After Willie leaves, Mr. Tom decides to go search for Willie, whom he has come to love and wants desperately to save and protect. A powerful story. Read this together with The War That Changed My Life, and compare the two stories. (**note: there is a very sad, and disturbing element at the end of this story that may be intense for certain sensitive children). (for ages 10 and up)

For Younger Children:

Picture books

  


The Butterfly
by Patricia Pollaco

Wow, Pollaco has done it again – packing in some real punch into a picture book. This story takes place in France during WWII. In a small village, a french family hides a jewish family in a cellar. When the little girl sneaks out at night to play with the little French girl, they become close friends. When a neighbor sees her through the window, the family fears imminent arrest and the Jewish family is quickly hustled out to a safer location.  

  Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. (1993)

This picture books captures well the struggles and heartaches of a young Japanese boy who is sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. There, fighting the heat and dust, as well as loss of respect and dignity, Shorty and his father decide to build a baseball diamond and form a baseball league in the camps. (for ages 6-11)

Easy chapter books

 

 Ten and Twenty by Claire Hutchet Bishop

This book tells the story of how twenty school children hid ten Jewish children in occupied France during World War II. This book is suspenseful, but it does not go into the details of atrocities, so it is suitable for younger children. (ages 8 +)

   Snow Treasure by Mary McSwigan (1942)

In this classic tale of courage and adventure, McSwigan tells the story of a group of children in a small Norwegian village who hid millions of dollars in gold on their sleds and slip right past the Nazi guards to save their country’s treasure from the invading Germans. . This classic has been in print since 1942 (in 1958, the publisher added black and white illustrations by Andre LaBlanc). A must read. (for ages 8-12)

 

 Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr (1977)

Based on a true story, this novel tells the tale of Sadako, a Japanese girl who is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb. After her diagnosis, she begins to fold paper cranes. She is inspired by the Japanese legend that those who fold one thousand paper cranes, are granted a wish. (for ages 8-12)

An extraordinary book, one no reader will fail to find compelling and unforgettable.”. Booklist


Chapter books

  

Lily’s Crossing
by Patricia Reilly Giff (1997)

A Newbery Honor book, we get a glimpse of World War II through the eyes of a young girl growing up in New York. It’s 1944. Lily heads off to Rockaway Beach with her grandmother for the summer. There, Lily befriends a young Hungarian refugee. This story is about friendship between two children, forged by loss, grief and loneliness. Again there are no atrocities mentioned – the emphasis is on the bond of family and friends in the midst of difficult times. I highly recommend this book. (for ages 8-12)

  

When Hitler stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr (1971)

Based on the real-life story of the author, this moving, suspenseful novel has been a favorite children’s World War II book for many years. This story chronicles the war time years of a young Jewish girl and her family who escape Berlin, for Switzerland, and spend several years in exile, going from country to country, coping with learning new languages and culture, being poor, and searching for a place to call home. (ages 8-12)

  

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988)

Winner of the National Jewish book award, The Devil’s Arithmetic is about Hannah Stern, a Jewish girl who lives in New York. During Passover Sader, Hannah is weary of listening to old family stories from the past. However, this year everything changes for her when she is transported back in time to 1942 Poland, during World War II and learns first hand the horrors that her family endured. (ages 10 and up)

 “A triumphantly moving book.” -Kirkus Reviews.

  

Number The Stars by Lois Lowry (1989)

Winner of Newbery Award, this is also a classic World War II tale, based on real events. In 1943, when the German invaders begin arresting the Jews in Copenhagen, Denmark, AnnaMarie’s family make the decision to take in her best friend Ellen and pretend she is part of their family. (for ages 9-12)

  

When My Name was Keako by Linda Sue Park (2002)

This award-winning novel takes place in Japanese-occupied Korea, from 1940-1945. The new government forbids the Korean language from being spoken and requires all citizens to change their names. The story of life during Japanese-occupied Korea is told through the eyes of Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul, sister and brother. With lots of cultural and historical details, this novel introduces children to the struggles faced by families in Asia during World War II. (for ages 9 and up)

 

 The Year of the Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi

This novel also explores the world of Japanese-occupied North Korea, however the tension mounts for Sookan and her family at the end of the war as they make plans for a dangerous escape to South Korea, their only hope for freedom, as the Russian Communist troops take control of their country. (for ages 9 and up)

For older children and young adults
  

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (1968)

This is a memoir of a young Polish girl and her family who were arrested by the Russians and exiled for five years in Siberia. There they were forced to work weeding potato fields and working in the mines, struggling to survive. It’s about courage, about strong family bonds, about grief, and above all, about hope that sustains us in the darkest of times. (ages 10+)

  

I am David by Anne Holmes (1968)

Anne Holmes (1922-1998) was born in Denmark. She started her career as a journalist. Her novel, originally published in Denmark, became a million-copy bestseller and received numerous awards. David does not remember life before the prison camp, but when the guard gives him a chance to escape, he flees with only a compass and instructions to head North towards Denmark. The beauty of this novel is watching a child experience the world outside a prison camp for the first time. (ages 10+)

 

 Escape from Warsaw (original title: The Silver Sword) by Ian Serraillier (1956)

In this gripping story, based on actual accounts, The Balicki children fight for survival after their mother is arrested in Warsaw, Poland in 1942. Edek and Ruth get word that their father is now in Switzerland and set out on a dangerous and uncertain journey to find him. A gripping and moving story that is hard to put down. (for ages 12 and up)

A Bear Called Paddington

This is another guest post from my brother, Rob Vajko – Thanks, Rob!  

Amongst those who love to read children’s books there are only two classes of readers, those who love Paddington Bear and those who haven’t yet read Paddington Bear.

  
Back in 2014, many Americans discovered Paddington Bear for the first time on the big screen with the lavish CG movie. For those of us who’ve been reading Paddington Bear for as far back as we can remember, it was an “about time” moment.

There are 14 volumes, not counting all the single story books, the Paddington Bear color, shapes, counting books, baby board books and numerous other Paddington Bear spin off books.

 These 14 volumes each contain 7 chapters (each chapter is a different adventures). Do the math. If you read one story to your kids each night before bed, you’ve got yourself 96 nights of reading. I can’t, however, guarantee that your kids won’t sneak off and read the stories on their own. I can, however, guarantee that once you’ve finished reading all 96 adventures your kids are going to want you to start back at the beginning again.

What makes Paddington books so endearing is the fact that Paddington, while always working with the best of intentions, somehow always ends end making a gigantic mess of everything but a mess that ultimately turns out for the best in the end.

For those of you who don’t know Paddington, he’s a bear from deepest, darkest Peru, whose aunt smuggles him to England on an ocean liner (with a jar of marmalade which is, as everyone knows a bear’s favorite food). Paddington finds himself alone at Paddington Station (this is where he gets his name) where the Browns find him, name him and take him in. Mrs Byrd, the housekeeper will constantly complain about the Bear unless someone else complains about him in which case she will defend him in no uncertain terms.
I grew up on Paddington Bear. My mum, who is British would read his adventures to me as a child. When I got older I went back and reread all the books and, in 2008, was pleasantly surprised to find that Michael Bond, the author, had just released a new book (Paddington Here and Now) with 7 new adventures.  

  

A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
 

A Paddington Bear display at a bookshop in Oxford

 

  • More About Paddington (1959)
  • Paddington Helps Out (1960)
  • Paddington Abroad (1961)
  • Paddington At Large (1962)
  • Paddington Marches On (1964)
  • Paddington at Work (1966)
  • Paddington Goes to Town (1968)
  • Paddington Takes the Air (1970)
  • Paddington Takes to TV (1972)
  • Paddington on Top (1974)
  • Paddington Takes the Test (1979)
  • Paddington on Screen (1980)
  • Paddington Here and Now (2008)

If you decide to dig into the wonderful world of Paddinton Bear, you should begin with the first book as it situates Paddington, lets you know how he got to be a member of the Byrd family, how he got his name as well as serving as a basic introduction to the numerous characters you’ll be finding in the rest of the volumes. After that they can be read in any order. Oh, and once you’ve read and reread them to your children, make sure you keep them to read to the grandchildren later!

Paddington Bear books have been translated into 30 languages across 70 titles and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.  

 Fun fact: There is a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station in London by sculptor Marcus Cornish erected in 1958.  

Quote: “Things are always happening to me. I’m that sort of bear.”   Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington

What is the Newbery Award?

The 2016 Newbery Medal book was just recently announced….And the winner is:
  
Last Stop On Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. 

Well known for his realistic YA novels that explore class and racial identity, de la Peña became the first Hispanic author to receive the John Newbery Medal. Though it’s not unheard of for the Newbery to go to a picture book, this is only the second time it has happened (A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won the 1982 Newbery Medal). Last Stop on Market Street follows CJ, an African American boy and his grandmother, as they take a city bus through their neighborhood after church. It is a tender story, with a focus on relationships, gratefulness, contentment, being kind and giving to others. I love the series of questions raised by the child and the Nana’s responses – her gentle way of steering the child to see the world through the eyes of others and seeing the good around you instead of the negative.
  
In one of the book clubs I’m in, we just read the 2012 Newbery Medal book Deadend in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, which we all enjoyed and highly recommend. The story chronicles the summer of 1962 in the life of an eleven year old boy growing up in a small town in Norvelt, Pennsylvania. Jackie is grounded the entire summer for cutting down his mom’s corn. His only reprieve is the trips he makes to his elderly neighbor’s house, where he helps her with chores and writing obituaries for the local paper. It’s a humorous story, part memoir, part tall tales, interspersed with local and national history. A fun read!

My friend, Martha, and fellow book lover asked me to recommend my favorite Newbery Award winners. So, this blog is for you, Martha!

(Martha just recently made a trip to Malaysia and hand delivered a bag of children’s books for me to a family there. Thank you, Martha!)

What is the Newbery Medal?
  
The John Newbery Medal is a literary award given by the American Library Association (ALA). The award is given to the author of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Named for John Newbery, an 18th-century English publisher of juvenile books, this award became the first children’s book award in the world. Every book considered must be written by a US citizen or resident, and must be published in the US. For the complete list of Newbery Medal and honors, go to ala.org.

  
In 1937, the American Library Association added the Caldecott Medal, an award for the artist with the most distinguished American picture book for children published in the United States.
There are 95 Newbery Medal books. I have read 90 of them (still working on it!)

I have many of them on my list for Kids Books Without Borders available to you if you and your family are living overseas. I just wanted to highlight 12 of my favorites, both older and newer – it was very difficult to narrow it down to 12!
  

The Wheels on the School
by Meindert DeJong – 1955 Medal winnerI can’t recommend this book enough. The setting is a small village in Holland. A group of elementary school children are puzzled as to why the storks do not nest in their village. Their teacher encourages them to investigate and they set out on a project to find a solution to this problem. Meindert De Jong was a Dutch-born American writer of children’s books. In addition to winning the Newbery Medal, he also won the international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1962. A beautifully written book, with great character development, a suspenseful plot and a climatic ending. A book that will linger with you and your child for a long time. I recommend it as a read-aloud. (For ages 8-10)

  

The Bronze Bow
by Elizabeth George Speare – 1962 medal winner

Set in the time of Christ, this riveting novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin. Filled with hatred, Daniel is intent on one purpose and one purpose alone – to avenge the death of his father at the hands of the Romans, joining with the rebels to fight the Romans. Then, he encounter’s Jesus who gently and lovingly shows him another way. Jesus says to him: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful story, still relevant today. (Ages 10 and up)

  

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nim
by Robert C. O’Brien – 1972 Medal Winner

If you love animal fantasies (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Redwall series by Brian Jacques etc.), this book will have you hooked from the first page on. A young mouse is desperate. Her house is about to be plowed and her youngest of 4 is too sick to escape. She recruits the help of a colony of mysterious, but highly intelligent mice who live under the rose bush. They come up with a great solution to her problem. So begins an wild adventure that will carry you along till the very last page. Don’t miss this one! (For ages 8-12 – another great read-aloud)
  
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley -1985 

If you are looking for a fantasy and adventure with a strong female character, look no further. This is a great book to introduce your child to the world of high fantasy. Aerin, the daughter of Damar’s King, has never been accepted as the true heir. She sets out to find out the truth about her mother. With the help of Wizard Luthe and the power of the Blue Sword, she not only unravels a mystery and becomes a Damarian hero.  

Splendid high fantasy… Filled with tender moments, good characters, satisfying action and sparkling dialogue.” School Library Journal

If you love this book, be sure to read the prequel  The Blue Sword, a Newbery Honor book. (For ages 10 and up)

  

Whipping Boy
by Sid Fleishman – 1987 Medal Winner

This is a short and easy read, with black and while illustrations by award winning illustrator, Peter Sis. This is an action-packed, humorous, suspenseful story, filled with lively characters. When a prince and his whipping boy trade places, they are caught up in a world of high adventure and mistaken identities. (Perfect for boys ages 8-12)
  
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor – 1997 Medal Winner

In this historical fiction novel, set in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression, Mildred Taylor chronicles the struggles of the Logan family, an African-American family of land owners. In the midst of a climate steeped in racism, intolerance, and social injustice, this close-knit and loving family must fight to maintain their values and their independence. This rich and moving story is a must read. The Logan family saga continues in the two award winning sequels Let the circle be unbroken and The Road to Memphis. (For ages 9 and up)

  
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman – 1996 Medal Winner

Set in Medieval England, this is a beautifully woven story of an orphan girl, who has no family, no home. She apprentices herself to a midwife. As she learns midwifery, she not only gains self-confidence, she finds a world where she belongs and is needed. A poignant story of self-discovery and courage. (For ages 10-12)
    
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse – 1998 Medal Winner

Written in free verse, this is a quick read, but also a gripping story of hardship and loss during the Great Depression. As the words flow from the pages, you will feel yourself drawn into the life and heart of Billie Jo and rooting for her as she struggles for survival, love and hope. (For ages 11-13)

  

 Holes by Louis Sachar – 1999 Medal winner

This quirky novel, written for older children, will have you laughing one minute and in tears the next. Stanley Yelnats is a 14 year boy whose family is cursed by the actions of Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” Stanley is wrongly accused of theft and sentenced to a juvenile detention facility known as Camp Green Lake. There, in the middle of the desert (no lake, no water even and definitely not a camp), Stanley and the other “campers” spend their days digging holes in the hot sun to “build their character.” Holes is an action-packed story, with colorful characters and strong voices and a complex plot that with keep you and your child reading way past bedtime. This book is a masterpiece and a wonderful book to read aloud. (For ages 10 and up)

  

 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park – 2002 Medal winner

If I could only pick one Newbery winner, this would probably be the one I would choose. This story takes place in 12th century Korea. It is a deeply moving tale of perseverance, courage and devotion. A young orphaned boy, Tree Ear, sets out on a long journey to deliver his master’s pottery to the royal court. Disaster strikes and robbers shatter the pottery. Tree-Ear, although devastated, decides to present his master art, even if it is only a single shard. (For ages 10 and up)

  

Crispin – The Cross of Leads by Avi – 2003 Award Winner

This is a suspenseful historical narrative that follows a 13-year-old peasant boy in 14th century England as he flees for his life after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. It’s a page-turner, and it’s hard to put down, with lots of twists and turns in the plot. It’s also a moving tale about an orphan and his relationship with Bear, a traveling juggler, who offers him shelter, companionship and help along the way as he faces this treacherous journey (For ages 10 and  
   Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata – 2005 Medal Winner

Written for older children (grade 6 and up), I’ll admit, this is a real tear-jerker. Sad and tragic, yes, but there is hope and redemption in the midst of the tragedy, so don’t pass this one over. It is the story of a Japanese family who move to a small town in rural Georgia, where they face prejudice and poverty. The parents must work long days at a chicken-processing plant to make ends meet. Katie is left with the care of her younger siblings. When her sister becomes ill, Katie finds a way to lovingly care for her and keep the family together, against all odds. A deeply moving story that will carve it’s way into your heart. (For ages 10 and up)

Many of the Newbery Award winners are geared to older children and teens – a topic of discussion and criticism of the Newbery Awards. Here is a list of Newbery Awards for younger children that I highly recommend:

Easy chapter

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleishman (1987)

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (1942)

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (1950)

Other books for younger children – many of these are great for reading aloud:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2013) – reviewed on a previous blog post 

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (2004)

*The Wheel on the School by Elizabeth George Speare (1959)

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (1948)

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952)

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (1945) 

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (1946)

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (1939)

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937)

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1936)

The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting (1923)

List of multicultural Newbery Award winners that I recommend:

*Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (2005) – Japanese immigrants

*A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002) – Korea

Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000) – African Americans, Michigan

*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (1977) – African Americans, Mississippi

The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1974) Africa, African Americans

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (1973) – Native Americans, Alaska

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1973) – Denmark during WWII 

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (1966) – 17th century Spain

The Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (1965) – Spain

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (1961) Native Americans, Pacific island

And now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (1954) Hispanic-Americans, New Mexico

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (1953) – Peru

*The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (1952) – The Netherlands

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (1951) – African Americans, Africa, Massachussetts

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (1943) – Medieval England

Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry (1941) – Polynesian Islands

The White Stag by Kate Seredy (1938) – Hungary

Dobry by Monica Shannon (1935) – Bulgaria

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze By Elizabeth Lewis (1933) – China

The Cat Who Went To Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (1931) -Japan

The Trumpeter of Kraków by Eric P. Kelly (1929) – Poland

Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (1925) – 19 ancient folktales from Central and South America 

*summarized and reviewed above

List of fantasy Newbery Award winners that I recommend:

  
The Grey King by Susan Cooper (1976) – I highly recommend the entire Dark is Rising series, which includes Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; Silver on the Tree. (For ages 9 and older) This series is one of the most celebrated fantasy sequences of all time. The Dark Is Rising, based on Celtic and Welsh legends, has won numerous awards.(For ages 9 and up)

  

  

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963) This is also a part of a series – if you are thirsty for more, when you finish A Winkle in Time, look for the other books in The Wrinkle in Time Quintet: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time. (For ages 10 and up)

  
The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1969). Ok, so again this is also part of a series called The Prydian Chronicles, which is one of the most widely read series in the history of fantasy. Based on Welsh mythology and brimming with suspense, humor and adventure, The Prydian Chronicles includes  The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron (winner of the Newbery Honor), The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. (For ages 8 and up)

We’re off to “read” the Wizard!

For this post, I am excited to introduced to you another bookworm and lover of children’s literature, my brother Rob. He lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife Jody and four, now grown, children. They are also very proud grandparents to Blake, Arabella and Eve. He is a third culture kid through and through, a blend of French, British and a fan of the Seattle SeaHawks (we all have to have our faults). I remember when he was in college, and returned home to France over the summer. On a trip into Paris, stuck in traffic at a busy intersection, he leaped out of the car, arms extended, exclaiming loudly for all to hear: “Paris, je t’aime”.   

  
Thanks, Rob, for sharing your adventures in the the land of Oz with us!
__________________

  

Have you read the other 13 volumes of the Wizard of Oz?   (guest post by Rob Vajko)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a staple in most households. You’ve probably watched the musical with Judy Garland a dozen times and you might even be tuning in to the new musical “The Wiz” coming up in December (www.nbc.com/the-wiz-live). You have also, hopefully, read the book. It’s a favorite of most children and remains to this day one of the most widely read books.

What most people do not to realize, however, is that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is only 1 of 14 books that L. Frank Baum wrote featuring our favorite characters. 
L. Frank Baum wrote  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz  along with W. W. Denslow as the illustrator in 1900. It was an instant success. It was so popular that children everywhere started writing to Mr. Baum asking him to write more adventures featuring these beloved characters: the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Ozma, The Cowardly Lion and, of course, Dorothy and Toto.  

Each of the sequels opens with a prelude where L. Frank Baum addresses the many children who have written to him, thanking them for their letters and talking about how grateful he is to be able to offer them yet another adventure. After a fall out with W. W. Denslow over royalties for the musical, L. Frank Baum collaborated with the illustrator John L. Neill, who illustrated the other 13 Oz books.  
  They are all equally enthralling and captivating and if you loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, if your child liked it, then you are about to embark on a whole new set of adventures!

 Each of the stories can be read separately. However, I would recommend that you read them in order as certain characters return and it’s more or less assumed that you’ll know who they are. Keep in mind that L. Frank Baum wrote them because his fans kept asking for more so he’s writing them for kids who have been reading them as he writes them and already know all the characters involved.
Here’s the list of all the Oz books:
1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz   (1900)

The original one, I don’t need to tell you the story… 


2. The Marvelous Land of Oz   (1904)

  Mombi is a wicked witch and she keeps a little boy Tip as her slave to do all the work around the place. Tip escapes and, with the help of some of Mombi’s magic dust, brings a wooden jack-o-lantern with a pumpkin head to life. He soon does the same with a wooden saw horse and Jack Pumpkinhead, along with the saw horse escape. They soon run into Scarecrow and Tin Man and set off together on adventure.

3. Ozma of Oz    (1907)

  This time it isn’t a tornado that sweeps Dorothy to the land of Oz, it’s a storm at sea, along with a chicken named Bellina. They don’t, however, end up in Oz: but in Ev, a country that’s across the desert from Oz. With the help of a mechanical friend named Tik-Tok (who will appear in a later book), they confront the gnome king (who will also appear in later adventures) and ultimately end up back in Oz.

4. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz    (1908)

  First it was a tornado, then a storm at sea, now it’s an earthquake. Last time it was with a chicken named Bellina, this time it’s with a horse named Jim and a cat named Eureka. They stumble upon the Wizard of Oz and together make their way back to Oz encountering many adventures along the way. 

5. The Road to Oz   (1909)
  In this adventure, we are introduced to Shaggy Man, a hobo dressed in rags, a magical fairy creature named Polychrome (daughter of the rainbow king) and Button-Bright. Button-Bright’s parents decided to name him that thinking he was as bright as a button even though he mostly answers every question with “don’t know”. Dorothy and these four colorful characters embark on another magical adventure in the land of Oz.

6. The Emerald City of Oz   (1910)

  Dorothy brings her aunt Em and uncle Henry to live in Oz permanently (where no one ages, by the way). Meanwhile the evil gnome king we encountered in book three has decided to conquer Oz and is tunneling to get there with his army. 
7. The Patchwork Girl of Oz   (1913)

  A little boy name Ojo has an uncle who is practicing magic (which is not allowed without express permission from Ozma). He accidentally turns himself into a statue. Ojo, along with his patchwork doll named Scraps, sets out to find a cure.
8. Tik-Tok of Oz (1914)

  Shaggy man (remember him?) meets up with a girl named Betsy and her mule Hank when they are shipwrecked in Oz after a storm. Shaggy man is on a quest to save his brother from the gnome king (no, he still hasn’t learned his lesson). Betsy and Hank come along to help. 
9. The Scarecrow of Oz   (1915)

  Cap’n Bill Weedles, an ex-sailor with a wooden leg and a young girl named Trot, go out on a boat ride and end up in Oz. They have a number of adventures (much like Alice in Wonderland they eat certain berries to shrink and grow back to original size) and finally meet up with Button-Bright (who has learned a lot more since his “don’t know” days) and Scarecrow to defeat an evil ruler named King Krewl.
10. Rinkitink of Oz (1916)

  When invaders from Regos and Coregos (neighboring islands) land on Pingaree and take King Kitticut and queen Garee captive, it’s up to their son Inga to save them. He will be aided, although not all that willingly, by King Rinkitink who has run away from his kingdom to go on holiday and landed in Pingaree, along with Bilbil, a man turned into a goat. Fortunately Inga has some magic pearls! Dorothy also shows up with some eggs… but they aren’t for making an omelet.
11. The Lost Princess of Oz (1917)

 When Ozma goes missing, along with most of the magic tools of Oz, Glinda, Dorothy, the Wizard, Button-Bright, Trot and Betsy Bobbin go looking for her (and the missing magic). They will meet a curious collection of creatures along the way… not all of them nice.
12. The Tin Woodman of Oz (1918)

 When the Tin Man suddenly remembers that he had a love, back when he was a real flesh and blood man, he realizes that, although he cannot feel love, she might still be pinning for him. He sets out to find her and marry her. Along the way he will meet another Tin man made by the same craftsman who made him. He also meets an altogether different creature made up of the limbs that he replaced when he became the Tin man.
13. The Magic of Oz (1919)

  You would think, with all the terrible things that have befallen him as an evil gnome king, that Ruggedo would have learned his lesson. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead he’s back trying to conquer Oz again. This time he’s enlisting the animals of Oz to take the throne as Ozma is set to celebrate her birthday.
14. Glinda of Oz (1920)

  War seems to be inevitable between the Skeezers and the Flatheads in the country of Gillikin. Dorothy and Ozma try to stop the war. However, they end up prisoners in the submerged city of the Skeegers. Glinda must find a way to release them and liberate the trapped inhabitants.

**Note: All the Oz books are now available in the public domain and can be downloaded in ebook format to your laptop or kindle  (gutenberg.org). Kids Books Without Borders also has many of these available in paperbacks to add to your home library. Collect them all!  All these books are great for reading aloud.