Polar Vortex – Warm up with This Literacy Idea

polar vortex activityAccording to the weather map, many of us here in the States are feeling the effects of the Polar Vortex. Aside from the usual President’s Day shutdowns, things here in Mr. Jefferson’s city are at a standstill due to (yet another) winter storm.

We have just the thing to help you to push away that nasty polar vortex chill: a cocoa picnic. Back in the day, it was a favorite past-time in our house with a certain toddler / preschooler / Kindergartner / First Grader.

A Polar Vortex Cocoa Picnic

Truth be told, the weather was often just an *excuse* for a cocoa picnic. Sometimes we shared a cocoa picnic because we needed a quiet afternoon activity, maybe someone was feeling under the weather …. whatever the reason, its magic is in the spontaneity of enjoying time together reading.

What You’ll Need

  • Material that can be read aloud
  • Warm cocoa, or seasonal beverage of choice
  • Light, healthy snack (optional)
  • Blanket (optional)
  • Variety of pillows (optional but recommended)

Picnic Set-Up

Step 1. Find a great spot on the floor that isn’t your usual reading place. Maybe its the little-used living room, under the dining room table, or even the kitchen floor.

Step 2. Gather your books and set them in the center of your picnic area. Put snack in place, if desired.

Step 3. Invite your readers to join you at your picnic site. Once they’re situated, bring cocoa and share with each person.

Step 4. Start reading.

Recipe Variations

The key to a great cocoa picnic is that it fits your reading patterns, style, and goals. For example, when I wanted quiet reading time, I selected “quieter” books.

  • You can select all books or alternate picks with your fellow picnickers.
  • Include a toddler’s favorite book and ask them to *read* it to you.
  • Get elementary-aged students involved in setting up the picnic by letting them select books, pick the spot, etc.
  • Start or continue reading a chapter book.

Although our Polar Vortex cocoa picnic highlights books, don’t discount other literacy materials. Share and explore youth-oriented magazines (e.g., Highlights, Sports Illustrated for Kids, et al); play word games or work on puzzles together; incorporate crayons, coloring books, and/or drawing materials.

Got another idea on how to make the most of a stuck-inside kind of day? We’d love to hear about it!

The Cambodian Dancer, a #ReadYourWorld Review

#ReadYourWorldIt’s worth repeating: #ReadYourWorld is more than just a catchy hashtag. As readers, we inherently understand understand mirrors, windows, and doors. We travel through time and space; meet amazing and interesting people; and explore unreal places. It’s what we do. It’s what we love about books. Sharing what we read goes hand in hand with our love for enjoying a great book.

I am very excited to be part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016 and #ReadYourWorld. Not just as a reviewer, but as a reader who loves the exploring, adventure, and learning found in the stories I read.

When you visit the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website and those of its 12 co-hosts (see links below) you’ll discover children’s literature that celebrates cultures, traditions, and personal stories from around the world. Please visit them and help celebrate this wonderful event not just this week, but every day.

Last week, Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories, retold by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. Today I’m reviewing The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter. Both books are published by Tuttle Publishing, and the publisher provided review copies.

The Cambodian Dancer: Sophany’s Gift of Hope

Cambodian Dancer Sophany written by Daryn Reicherter; illustrated by Christy Hale
Tuttle Publishing, 2015

When she was a girl Sophany learned the ancient ways of Cambodian dance.  She was an exceptional dancer who performed before royalty and taught dance to the next generation.  Dancing filled her heart.

When the Khmer Rouge outlawed dance and destroyed the ancient temple art, Sophany’s world crumbled. Her world – and her heart – were full of shadows. She made her way first to Thailand and then to the United States. Yet she never forgot her homeland or the dance. Slowly, in bringing her culture to young Cambodian American girls, her heart was full again.

The Cambodian Dancer is poetic and lyrical. Together, word and illustration create an elegant biography. When you read the Author’s Note in the back you are wowed again by the beauty and power of Sophany’s story. As soon as I read that, I immediately read the book again.

In describing how Sophany learned, then taught, Khmer dance, Daryn Reicherter chose to use nearly identical text. That gives the story a poetic feel, and  also makes it a nice choice for developing readers. The illustrations create the passage of time perfectly, allowing the narrative to remain fresh, despite being repeated.

The imagery really excels in capturing emotions and conveying them to readers. In expressing the dark period perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, Reicherter chose the term “shadow.” Hale’s use of intricate shadow puppets not only captures the emotion, but does it in a culturally aware / relevant way. Exquisite.

My one quibble with The Cambodian Dancer is that it left me with no place to go next. This is Sophany’s story, but it is also a story of Cambodian culture and history. What other books would the author recommend?

#READMYWORLD

Before The Cambodian Dancer, I knew nothing about Cambodia or Cambodian culture. This is my introduction, and now I want to learn more. I am sure I’m not alone, so I did a little research to find children’s and young adult books to add to my list.

Children of the River by Linda Crew

Sundara fled Cambodia with her aunt’s family to escape the Khmer Rouge army when she was thirteen, leaving behind her parents, her brother and sister, and the boy she had loved since she was a child. Now, four years later, she struggles to fit in at her Oregon high school and to be “a good Cambodian girl” at home. 

A good Cambodian girl never dates; she waits for her family to arrange her marriage to a Cambodian boy. Yet Sundara and Jonathan, an extraordinary American boy, are powerfully drawn to each other. Haunted by grief for her lost family and for the life left behind, Sundara longs to be with him. At the same time she wonders, Are her hopes for happiness and new life in America disloyal to her past and her people?

 A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Dara loves the stories her grandmother, Lok Yeay, tells of the Cambodian countryside where she grew up – stories of family, food and the stars above, glowing in the warm, sweet air. There are darker stories too – stories of war and loss that Lok Yeay cannot put into words. Lok Yeay yearns to return to Cambodia to be with her brother. But when that dream becomes impossible, it’s up to Dara to bring Lok Yeay back to a place of happiness.

As part of a personal commitment to reading my world, I created a special shelf on GoodReads. I have already added these two books, and I expect to add many more as I visit the Multicultural Children’s Book Day co-host blogs and discover other books readers are Tweeting about. I’ll be looking for #ReadYourWorld for additional recommendations.

[Summaries are from Goodreads. Covers link to Amazon.com.]

About #ReadYourWorld and Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie Budayr (Jump Into a Book and Audrey Press) are the co-creators of this event. This year, 12 co-hosts “will also house the wildly-popular book review/blog post link-up the week of the event.”

Multicultural Children’s Book Day / #ReadYourWorld 2016 is made possible with the help of the following sponsors.

Medallion Level Sponsors!

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books * Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk * Candlewick Press * Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books * Chronicle Books * Capstone Young Readers * Tuttle Publishing * NY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books * Author Jacqueline Woodson * Papa Lemon Books * Goosebottom Books * Author Gleeson Rebello * ShoutMouse Press * Author Mahvash Shahegh * China Institute.org * Live Oak Media

 

Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories #ReadYourWorld

folktales Vietnamese childrenI am very excited to be part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016 and #ReadYourWorld. Not just as a reviewer, but as a reader who loves the exploring, adventure, and learning found in children’s books. This year I am exploring Cambodia and Vietnamese children’s literature.

#ReadYourWorld is more than just a catchy hashtag. As readers, we inherently understand mirrors, windows, and doors. In books we travel through time and space; meet amazing and interesting people; and explore unreal places. It’s what we do. It’s what we love about books and sharing our favorites.

On the websites of the events 12 co-hosts (see links below) there are lots of ideas. Visit them to discover children’s literature that celebrates cultures, traditions, and personal stories from around the world.

I’m reviewing two books for #ReadYourWorld: The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter; and Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories, retold by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. Tuttle Publishing provided review copies. [We received Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories last fall.]

Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories

Vietnemase Children favorite storiesretold by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc; illustrated by Nguyen Thi Hop and Nguyen Dong
Tuttle Publishing, 2015

Explore Vietnam with these 15 folktales that celebrate its history, cultural traditions, and spiritualism.

Familiar fairy tales (like Cinderella) and folktales (like the story of the Man in the Moon) join lesser known tales that are unique to the traditions, history, and geography of Vietnam. 

Beautiful, brightly colored illustrations add to the reader’s experience by offering them images to complement each story. 

The book’s cover is just a glimpse into the beautiful imagery that awaits readers in this collection of folktales. The colors are beautiful and for readers like me who have never seen a banyan tree or a mai flower, the illustrations were an important part of the story.

To be honest, I was expecting to read stories that were rang familiar. These Vietnamese children’s stories carried the arc you would expect of a folktale or fairy tale, but that’s where the familiarity ends. Even those that answered an age old question (why is the sea salty,) were told in a way that I’d never heard before.

Cinderella fairy taleIn “The Story of Tam and Cam,” readers instantly draw on the fairy tale “Cinderella.” The stepmother and stepsister are jealous of Tam’s happiness, so they catch and eat the little yellow fish that a fairy had given Tam. Tam was heartbroken, and carefully buried the fish’s bones. The next day, Tam found a pair of embroidered red velvet shoes in the place she had buried her fish.

One day, a raven came and took the shoe … which somehow made it to the king’s palace. You know about the happy ending, though I will tell you the journey has a different twist. Similar, but unique to the culture.

My personal favorite from the collection is “The Jade Rabbit.” It is part fable (think Aesop’s fables), part folktale (the story of the moon signs), and also has a Biblical feel to it. Many of the stories in this collection spoke to sacrifice, but “The Jade Rabbit” was the most moving for me.

asian folktales moon signsFirst, the author explains how the moon is an iconic symbol in Vietnamese culture. She then tells the story of four best friends living in an enchanted forest: the monkey, elephant, squirrel, and rabbit. One day the rabbit suggested to his friends that they help the poor and hungry who come to the forest. Soon, their commitment was put to the test when an old man called out for help. The elephant brought water, the rabbit made a fire, but the old man needed food. Just as the rabbit was about to sacrifice himself, the old man revealed himself as a genie.

If you enjoy folktales and fables, then Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories is worthy of being in your personal library. The stories are short and the beautiful illustrations will have young readers asking you to “read this one.” The stories are soothing enough for bedtime. My one caution would be that you read just a few stories at a time. Like most anthologies, it isn’t a book you read all in one sitting.

My one disappointment in the book is that it didn’t offer a pronunciation guide. I would feel more confident reading the stories with that guide or after listening to the stories an audiobook (MP3 or CD).

#ReadMyWorld

As part of a personal commitment to reading my world, I created a special shelf on GoodReads. The books I’ve read for Multicultural Book Day have piqued my interest in more stories celebrating Asia. I’ve already added a few books and expect to add many more over the coming weeks. If you have ideas, PLEASE leave them in the comments. Here are the books that Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories have inspired me to add.

Children of the Dragon; Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland

 Vietnamese folk tales retold for a modern audience. In poetry and literature the Vietnamese call themselves the “children of the dragon.” Their oral tradition is a strong one and this volume includes three of the familiar teaching tales told by the elders. Readers will learn how the tiger got his stripes, why there are monsoons, and the story of the Moon Festival.

Inside Out and back Again by Thanhha Lai

 For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

[Summaries are from Goodreads. Covers link to Amazon.com.]

About #ReadYourWorld and Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie Budayr (Jump Into a Book and Audrey Press) are the co-creators of this event. This year, 12 co-hosts “will also house the wildly-popular book review/blog post link-up the week of the event.”

Multicultural Children’s Book Day / #ReadYourWorld 2016 is made possible with the help of the following sponsors.

Medallion Level Sponsors!

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books * Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk * Candlewick Press * Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books * Chronicle Books * Capstone Young Readers * Tuttle Publishing * NY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books * Author Jacqueline Woodson * Papa Lemon Books * Goosebottom Books * Author Gleeson Rebello * ShoutMouse Press * Author Mahvash Shahegh * China Institute.org * Live Oak Media