Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018: Book Review of WILLIE: DOES IT MATTER?

I’m excited to be participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day for the second time, not only as an author sponsor but also as a book reviewer. This year, I received Willie: Does it matter? by Nonna Debora (AKA Debora Emmert) and published by Riverword Communications, Inc. for review. This book is part of the RhymeTime series by the publisher and is one of two Willie books in the series so far.

Willie is a red-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian boy who “wants to learn what makes people like each other.” The book is not a story in the traditional sense, with plot and character arcs, but instead consists of eleven rhyming stanzas. Each stanza shows Willie asking a different person whether one of his character traits matters to them. In the first half of the book, Willie learns that physical attributes like height, weight, or hair and eye color don’t affect how he is liked by these people. Later, he learns that traits such as honesty, loyalty, and kindness do matter.

Child readers will be able to relate to all of the character traits in the book, although I disagree with the one about being funny. Mrs. McBiggle tells Willie that it does matter that he is funny, because his jokes always make her giggle. Being able to make someone laugh is a wonderful skill, but should it be presented as a requirement for friendship? Not all of us are naturally funny. The rhymes are simple and the text is easy to read, with a few words such as “advised” or “intoned” that may need explanation. Maybe it’s due to the verse form (I am not a poet) but I found the punctuation in the book to be odd. The stanzas are set up as a question and a response. For example, here is one of the interior spreads:

Kids probably won’t notice it, but the lack of quotation marks to set off the dialogue felt problematic to me.

The watercolor illustrations by Bonnie J. Murray are colorful and vibrant. I did find myself wishing that more of the characters were children, especially in a book that seems best suited for younger elementary readers. Of the ten people Willie approaches, seven are adults and only three are kids. Three of the characters are people of color, although their ethnicities and cultures are neither specified nor discussed (which is fine, since the book isn’t about that). Judging by their appearances and names, I believe SharJean to be African-American, Bhagoo to be Asian Indian, and Hervé to be Mexican-American. Bhagoo is portrayed in a turban and tunic-style shirt with a scarf over his shoulder and Hervé is wearing a fringed poncho, while Willie and all the other characters are wearing typical American-style clothing. Putting Bhagoo and Hervé in traditional ethnic clothing, especially in a book set in the U.S., feels like it reinforces stereotypes about these cultures. And if Bhagoo is a Sikh, it would be helpful to have an author’s note that explains the turban.

The book ends with grocery store owner Marguerite telling Willie that “It matters what KIND of person you are, and how you treat others each day, not what you look like, or how much you have… It’s what you do and SAY.” While I wholeheartedly commend this sentiment, I find the treatment of the theme to be heavy-handed.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan BernardoAuthor Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne BroylesAuthor Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports QueenAuthor Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Book Review: MYSTERY OF THE MIN MIN LIGHTS

I’m thrilled to be not just an author sponsor but also a book reviewer for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017! Janelle Diller, co-founder of the Pack-n-Go Girls company, generously sent me one of their books, MYSTERY OF THE MIN MIN LIGHTS. Janelle is also the author of this book! This book is one of a series of Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure chapter books, aimed at 6- to 9-year-olds. The specialty of the Pack-n-Go Girls company, according to their website, is “creating innovative stories and toys for girls that deliver positive messages around independence, adventure, and global awareness.” And now, for my review:

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This fun and fast-paced adventure in the Outback stars Wendy Lee, a nine-year-old Chinese American girl who moves from San Francisco to Australia with her mother, who has a short-term work assignment there. Wendy meets her next-door neighbors, Chloe and Jack Taylor, and goes to their sheep station for a weekend visit. She discovers that Chloe and her younger brother believe that the Min Min lights, unidentified lights that “come out of nowhere at night,” are UFOs that abduct people and steal their family’s sheep. The stolen sheep and environmental factors such as a drought may force the Taylor family to give up the station. The three kids decide to sleep outside at night to figure out what is happening to the sheep, despite the threat of snakes, dingoes, and the Min Min lights.

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Crikey! A snake!

The story is not the type of mystery where the main character finds clues and solves puzzles. The reader is kept in suspense while the three kids keep watch over the sheep all night long. There is just enough danger to keep young readers riveted without being overly frightening. The story ends with a resolution that is satisfying without being trite.

I really enjoyed that Wendy is portrayed like any other American girl and that the story isn’t about her “Chinese-ness.” She does occasionally talk about her heritage but it isn’t the focus of the book. Instead, she marvels over what anyone else from foggy San Francisco might: the heat, the wild animals, the beauty and vastness of the landscape. Wonderful black and white illustrations by Adam Turner help convey the Australian setting.

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A treehouse overlooking the valley.

The text is full of interesting Australian slang like “full as a goog” or “she’s apples” that contrast with the American slang Wendy uses, sometimes to her new friends’ amusement. The back matter is extensive and includes a key to all the slang used in the book and their English counterparts, as well as journal pages where readers can plan out their trip to Australia, and facts about the country. There’s even a recipe for lamingtons, a chocolate and coconut-covered cake dessert which sounds delicious!

MYSTERY OF THE MIN MIN LIGHTS is a fantastic chapter book for kids who love to travel and/or read about other countries and cultures. It broadens horizons without being didactic and fosters compassion and understanding of others without being preachy — exactly the kind of book we need more of today.

ACTIVITY: Wendy sees and hears a number of Australian animals during her visit to the sheep station. You can download a coloring page featuring several of the animals she encountered here: http://masivy.com/single/1888019-australian-animals-coloring-pages.html

You can purchase MYSTERY OF THE MIN MIN LIGHTS on Amazon here and connect to the Pack-n-Go Girls on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.


A little more about Multicultural Children’s Book Day:

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson,  Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

MCBD Links to remember:

MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

Recipe: Coconut Sticky Rice Cake

I made this Coconut Sticky Rice Cake for my launch party last week and most of it was gone by the end, so I’m guessing people enjoyed it. 🙂 My mom and grandmother used to make a version that was first steamed, then sliced and fried until crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. This baked version is much simpler and less messy to eat.

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Coconut Sticky Rice Cake for Chinese New Year (or anytime of year)

Recipe and photo are by Jeanette Chen of Jeanette’s Healthy Living.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour or other brand of glutinous rice flour
  • 1½ cups coconut milk (or you can use one can of coconut milk 13.5 – 14.0 oz) and add enough milk to make a total of 3 cups of liquid)
  • 1½ cups low-fat milk
  • 1¼ cups organic sugar (if you want more coconut flavor, try using coconut sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup olive oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped or sliced nuts (almonds, walnuts) (optional)
  • untoasted black & white sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Place coconut milk, milk, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.
  3. Add rice flour while stirring. Mix well.
  4. Pour batter into a 13x9x2″ baking pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Sprinkle nuts or sesame seeds on top.
  6. Bake for 1 hour. The cake will be golden brown on top.
  7. Let cool. Cut into squares or diamond shapes.
  8. This cake is best served the next day. Keeps for several days at room temperature.

Go Behind the Scenes of The Nian Monster’s Illustrations

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find out that Alina Chau would be illustrating The Nian Monster. Her watercolor illustrations are gorgeous — detailed and whimsical, vibrant and humorous. She made Nian ferocious and toothy yet adorable and sympathetic at the same time. Xingling is brave and sassy and joyful. Alina’s own childhood in China and Hong Kong enriched the artwork with authenticity — although she’s never been to Shanghai, she conveyed the atmosphere of this bustling, ancient-yet-also-modern city perfectly.

Now you can get a peek behind the scenes of the artwork in The Nian Monster! Alina and Albert Whitman produced two wonderful videos about her process and inspiration. Check them out below!

Launch Week for The Nian Monster & a Giveaway!

All this week, the other debut authors of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency and I are celebrating the release of The Nian Monster on our group blog, EMUs Debuts. Check it out for fun posts about our favorite holiday celebration foods, our reactions if we ever ran into the Nian Monster, and what our favorite resourceful girl characters are. You’ll also find an interview with Alina Chau, the talented illustrator of The Nian Monster, and a list of additional education resources that have been created for the book.

Plus, I’m giving away a copy of The Nian Monster to one lucky winner! To enter, just head over to EMUs Debuts and leave a comment on any of the launch week posts. Giveaway ends on Monday, December 5, 2016.

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Teacher’s Guide for The Nian Monster

A teacher’s guide for The Nian Monster is now available, created by the wonderful Anna Chan Rekate. Anna has been a teacher for 20 years, working in schools in NYC, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. She has been to many of the places featured in The Nian Monster! Look inside for discussion questions,  cultural and geographical activities, a Q&A with me, and a special recipe!

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Starred Review for the Nian Monster!

Wow!!!  Publishers Weekly reviewed THE NIAN MONSTER and gave it a starred review! I can hardly believe it — it’s really a dream come true. Here’s my favorite quote from the review:

“Wang’s story thrills but doesn’t threaten: Chau’s wonderfully vivid watercolors give the monster doe eyes and a round body that make him seem like a cranky, overgrown teddy bear, and Wang shares cultural information about the Chinese New Year with the lightest of touches.”

Isn’t that wonderful? I feel like the reviewer totally understood my story and what I was trying to do. Here’s a link to the full review if you want to read it. And a sneak peek at one of the interior illustrations of the book, featuring Mr. Crankypants, the Nian Monster. He doesn’t look too grumpy here at all. 🙂

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The Nian Monster Cover Reveal!

Today, Pragmatic Mom hosted my cover reveal of THE NIAN MONSTER on her blog. Check it out here! And then check out all the great posts Pragmatic Mom has on her blog — lots of lists of wonderful diverse books that you can pull up the next time you’re at the library.

I’m super excited to share that the dust jacket of the hardbound version of THE NIAN MONSTER will have red foil accents. The title and the leaves on the tree above Xingling (the main character) are in shiny red foil. I love having that bit of sparkle on the cover.

MYTHICAL CREATURES

Happy Chinese New Year!! In honor of the new year, I give you….

NIAN

According to Chinese legend, Nian was a monster. Some say he came from the sea. Others say he came from the mountains. Most of the year, he slept. But on the eve of the lunar new year, Nian woke and terrorized the country, eating everything in sight. At last, a wise old beggar (who may have been a monk or a spirit in disguise) figured out how to frighten away Nian. He taught the villagers his methods and since then, Nian has not returned. Here are two videos showing different versions of the legend. The first one is the traditional legend. The second puts a new spin on it. Watch them and find out what scares Nian away!