book review: Seeing Emily

title: Seeing Emily

author: Joyce Lee Wong

date: Amulet Books, 2005

main character: Emily Wu

Sixteen year old Emily is trying to make her place in the world, but first she has to figure out who she is as a person. She has wonderful skills as an artist, which have been nurtured by her mother who is also an artist. On weekends, she works in her family’s Chinese restaurant and at school she seems quite respected by her teachers and she has two close friends. Emily is the only Chinese student in her school until Alex Huang appears and they’re assigned to work on a school mural together because they are both so talented. After having been the only Chinese student in her school, Emily is unsure how to accept Alex into her world. Besides that, there’s Nick, a hot White guy that she’s attracted to and who happens to like her as well. Emily doesn’t realize his attraction is based solely upon his quest for the exotic until she has a very awkward dinner with his parents. Wong provides realistic insights into Emily’s life as an ABC (American Born Chinese) who doesn’t feel that she fits in in the US or in Taiwan. Emily pushes limits to question and shape her identity and when her parents sense her flailing, they send her to Taiwan under the guise of learning Chinese.

Seeing Emily is told in free verse. I typically have issues with this format, however in this scene in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, you can actually feel Emily shrinking as she becomes aware of the errors of her ways.

Hearing the sincerity in his voice,

I thought of the resentment,

even anger I’d been feeling

toward my parents

before I left for Taipei

and I felt a twinge

of regret, perhaps

or even guilt.

Through Emily and Alex, Wong relates the heavy expectations placed on immigrant children, not only for cultural reasons but to fulfill the dreams of parents who left their homeland so that their children could have a better life. Emily grew up speaking Chinese in her home and she learned English herself when she began school. I had never really considered the skills it would take for a child to be able to make the connections to be able to maneuver between two different languages. Wong didn’t point this out, it was just an ‘aha moment’.

Impulsively, I say, “Tell me in Chinese.”

Alex looked surprised.

“I didn’t know you knew Chinese.”

“I don’t know it very well,” I said.

“But I’m trying to improve.”

“Mei ban fa. Wang ze cheng long.” he said.

“Did you understand that?”

 

“Your mother said, ‘There’s no help for it.’

But what does ‘wang zi cheng long’ mean?”

 

“That’s the part I was trying to translate.

It’s a saying that expresses the hope

of Chinese parents

that their sons will one day

become dragons,

and that their daughters will become

phoenixes. This means

they want their children to grow up

to achieve their fullest potential.”

 

As I considered this,

I understood Alex’s mother was saying

that she accepted the inevitable yet wished for the best,

every imaginable blessing

for her son.

To Alex, I said, smiling

“Your mother hopes

you’ll become a dragon.”


In Seeing Emily, we find a talented author who takes us inside Taiwanese culture, who paints events with vivid accuracy and creates a character for whom we can’t help but like. Seeing Emily was an International Reading Association Notable Book and was widely reviewed. At this time, it is Wong’s only book.

African American Read in Today!

Good morning!

The African American Read In is today! Ari has questions up and will be posting more later today. There will also be a discussion on Twitter. I’ll come back and post the # we’ll be using so that posts will be easy to follow throughout the day.  I’m liking #bleedingreadin .  I think Ari will post more questions as the day moves on.

On Twitter:  #bleedingviolet

I finished my first reading of the book last night. I really think it ought to have been an adult book. To me, Hanna didn’t feel like a teen. While the bizarre-ness of the book was entertaining, I don’t think  casual sex is a good message in YA and I’d even say at times life itself was a bit too casual. No doubt, Reeves is a talented writer!!  Not just any writer could maintain such cohesion in a book with invisible doors, protective swans, glyphs, earphones, Finnish and Ragsie. Now, let me think: Hanna or Wyatt’s mom? I’m off to the discussion!

SundayMorningReads

February. Way back when I began teaching, I hearted February as it gave me the opportunity to do veer from the tried and true and do some really creative things with my students. Because the student population at the Catholic school where I taught was 100% African American, we would celebrate Valentines Day as “I Love My Black Me Day”.  My 7th and 8th graders wouldn’t have to wear uniforms and we’d have guest speakers on topics such as relationships, health, children in the civil rights movement, and sharing our talents.  Throughout the school, the month would be filled with biographies, viewings of “Roots” and kente print. That was 15 years ago and thngs really haven’t changed.

Here on the blogosphere, I see White bloggers and journalists feel that it’s now safe to talk the lack of presence of Blacks (and other minorities) in YA literature. To be clear, there are Whites who keep this topic at the forefront, but not enough, not nearly enough. I’ve notice on the YALSA listserv, there has been a surge of people asking for books with Black characters. It often starts as the request for “urban books”, that nebulous term for “African American books”.  The conversation becomes muddled and one or two will respond with straight up urban fiction, some will throw in Stephanie Perry Moore and Paul Volponi and sometimes there’s even 8th Grade Superzero and some Sarah Dessen. I often wonder why librarians can’t effectively describe exactly what they’re looking for on these listservs in terms of genre, setting, ethnicity, reader age…?

In responding to a recent request on a listserv, I created such a major faux pas!! Someone was looking for sources for African American YA books and well, of course I listed my own. I then mentioned Reading in Color and The HappyNappyBookseller and that was it. AHH!!!! Can you believe I forgot the BrownBookShelf and Miss Domino?? Then there’s Multiculturalism Rocks that promotes books of color, as well as Diversity in YA, PaperTigers. Fledgling and??? Who else am I forgetting that promotes books for teens and children of color? Since I dwell in the world of YA I know I’m missing children’s books blogs.

I’d be remiss in my duties of a promoter if I didn’t mention the thorough list Zetta Elliot compiled a while ago of African American YA speculative fiction books. I admit, this isn’t particularly my favorite genre, but when it comes to building imaginations and getting readers to wonder about possibilities, this is it. So, why aren’t there more books here?

I admit, I am doing special reading for February. I’m reading Bleeding Violets for our online discussion and I’m reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for a discussion with my teachers. Are you reading anything special for Black History month?

Male Monday: Processing Books

Part of my job includes processing books, and that is what I was doing today. Putting labels and security tags on books is pretty easy but it takes a bit longer than it should and you can’t rush it so that you don’t make a mess. I often drool (figuratively) over books I’d like to read while I’m doing this, but rarely do I open a book to read it. I made the mistake of doing that today and had a very hard time putting the book down.

This is the book that grabbed me: There’s No Traffic in the Extra Mile by Rickey Minor. I’m not an American Idol fan, never have been, but I found myself reading this book by the show’s music director. It started with  the lessons he learned in math class, then I flipped to a short reading on his beginnings in Louisiana, the ways he learned to invest in his first bands and I was really enjoying how he related straight forward advice from his life. Then, I began thinking about the ‘how to be a man’ books that are filling shelves by Black male authors. I don’t know if other ethnicities are producing these books that probably began with Hill Harpers Letters to a Black boy and include other books by Kirk Franklin, Antoine Fisher, Kevin Powell and on and on.

One of my student helpers came into the media center shortly after I set the book aside, and I mentioned There’s no traffic to him, thinking he might be interested. He had been a fan of “American Idol’ but was not familiar with Minor. In fact, my student stated that he would rather read a motivational book by someone like Donald Trump who has been a success. DUDE!! Do you not see the car on the cover?? Do you think just anyone gets to be the music producer on American Idol??

Which takes me to the point I’m trying to get to: can reading a book guide a young boy to manhood?

What book has deeply touched, inspired or changed you?

book review: God Loves Hair

title: God Loves Hair

author: Vivek Shraya

Artist: Juliana Neufeld

date: Vivek Shraya, 2010

God Loves Hair is a collection of short stories that relates the coming of age of a gay, Indian boy. If his name was given in the story, I completely missed it. Oh, he was called names, ugly names that told him others knew he was different before he himself did. This is not a coming out story, rather it is a story of the internal growing awareness of being gay. The stories read bittersweet. I think when we’re grown and look back our teen years, we realize we made it through a little worn but strong and we can shine hopeful insights into the re-telling. I think gay teens will identify with the dilemmas the young teen faces and find satisfaction with the ending. And non-gay readers? They could catch a glimpse of what good writing looks like. You don’t need to be gay or Indian to get the wry, humor or say “oh, yeah…” as you come to understand situations. Some of the stories were a bit challenging to me at first because I didn’t know the gods who were being described, but Shraya does an excellent job of developing who the god is and why s/he is essential without detracting from the story.

Each story begins with original artwork that I’d like to tear out of the book and frame on my wall, but that would destroy my chance to read the book again!

copy purchased for review.

SundayMorningReads

Twitter is winning the poll! Have you voted yet?

I’m feeling quite ambivalent today and that’s not good when this is the one day of the week I guarantee a post! I’ve had a 4 day Ice Vacation and school tomorrow doesn’t seem quite promised. If we don’t go to school tomorrow, we will go later at the end of the year so we can afford the luxury of being safe. The situation in Egypt should be giving me cause to be vocal. If I were to speak out, I’d want the US to keep out of it because when we do act, it’s only in our own interest. Democracy is a slippery thing. If I did speak out, I’d speak of my disappointment that students here in the US in too many school systems are unable to follow this major global event on Twitter.

Pew Trust has been doing studies on the use of technology with teens and they come up with interesting trends among teens of color, not by income level but by color. They’ve found that teens of color dominate Twitter with the vast majority of tweets to be social in nature.  A small part of me wishes I had the confidence to share my personal life and thoughts on the Internet but most of me wants to maintain the delusion that privacy still exists.  So, I don’t have a problem with young people chatting away on Twitter, my problem is with schools that choose to filter it (and Youtube and FB and MySpace) rather than teaching students how to use them effectively!

Did you see them Tweeting during surgery on Grey’s Anatomy last week?

Why not teach students how to find/follow trends? Discern fakers? Be 140 character-concise? How to build lists and maintain professional relationships on Twitter and FB? That, my friend is 21st century literacy! I know, we have to filter to get the federal dollars and to keep students safe but, how safe are they in a democracy if they don’t know how to access and acquire valid information with modern technology? The Egyptians have learned how to do it!

I guess education and technology and literacy makes me a little less ambivalent.

We got four more inches of snow last night. I love snow! I love to look at it and play in it! This past week I longed for my ice skates that I lost several moves ago.  Now, it’s snowing. Still and again.

I’ve really been enjoying 28 Days Later this year. Reading it feels like meeting with an old friend. Are you reading anything special for Black History month? I’m reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for a book group at work. What an incredible story. When I finish that, I’ll go back to “The Other Wes Moore”. I think both of these adult non-fiction books belong in a school library as they both, in different ways, relate the power of individual African Americans in society.

If you’re still reading, I have a little bonus for you! Here’s an Interactive Black History Calendar I spent too many days making last week.

Crossing Borders

Crossing Borders is a series I sometimes do on Thursdays.

Day three of the Ice Vacation. I took the trash can to the curb and really thought I could walk around the block to get my mail. Stepping down from the rounded curb looked tricky as it was solid ice so I considered walking on the grass where I could get good traction  but the ice was too thick for my feet to break through. No, I didn’t get my mail. It’ll be there whenever I get there with all my bones intact.

Available to be read online

I’ve been looking at friends pics of New Years Feasts on FB. I don’t think I’m missing a lot of Taiwanese food. Some yes, some not so much! I do know that I still haven’t posted my core list of African American YA books. It will be coming up in February which is appropriate, but not planned. SLJ has a very nice article, Places in the Heart, where they’ve asked a wide variety of people to mention the first African American books that affected them. I like that this shows how we can all find meaning in each others’ stories.  This could be fun to do in a school library: ask teachers to name the African American books that affected them as a child and build a display around it.

I was looking for books for another project and was reminded of a book I listed in my 2007 book list, but
kinda forgot about. Are any of you familiar with Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer? His most popular series, the Buru Quartet [link to PBS] is about a young man who comes of age as the Dutch are losing control of their Indonesian colony. This definitely sounds as though it need to be on my core list. Hopefully, my public library will have the series, otherwise I’ll have to order my own copy. The Girl From the Coast is not part of this series but is available in GoogleBooks.  Hav any of you read any of these books? Although Pramoedya passed away in 2006 these books live on to give evidence to his activism on behalf of the people of his country. He was imprisoned while most of his works were written.  As I’m reading his biography, I see his birthday is 6 February. I probably should save this post until then, but I’m excited about these books! This is why I believe there should be a core list of POC books because just like with the books by African Americans, books by Latinos, Native, Arab and Asian Americans can also find places in our hearts.