Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Eastern Asia’ Category

From the ravaged tiny Polynesian island of Vaitea arises a hero and heroine for our times. Based on his ten years of Easter Island research, Edward Stanton has written an inspiring adventure about a brother and sister, their island, and how they saved it. In Wide as the Wind, Miru and Renga face tough choices and much hardship when they set sail to a distant island to find the seeds and shoots of trees that could reforest their homeland. Their return to Vaitea reaps romance and additional challenges in this teen historical novel.

Adventure is at the forefront of this tightly-written novel. Prior to embarking on their journey, Miru and Renga learn the sailor’s craft. Their grandfather teaches them to weave sails of pounded bark, cut full-sized paddles, make nets of mulberry cloth, and fashion birdbone hooks. He also teaches them to coast the island in a longboat, navigate by the sun, moon, and stars, recognize winds, currents, and constellations, and to fish. After recruiting a third crewman, the brother and sister duo set sail. On their journey, they brave the elements. The wind gusts. The sea roars. Supplies are washed overboard. The sun burns, parching their throats. They encounter sharks and their third crewman is attacked. Miru, Renga, and their third crewsman sail fifty-two days before finding land, and this is just the beginning of their adventure.

At the heart of Wide as the Wind also lies a theme. Years of tribal wars have devastated Vaitea. Tribes people who survived are now facing starvation. To save them, Miru must personally sacrifice romantic love, suffer injury and loss, and even risk his life. Even when they return from their journey to a distant island with the seeds and shoots of trees necessary to reforest their homeland, the tribal wars threaten to continue. Although some historical accounts suggest that extinction of natural resources of the real-life Easter Island inhabitants started long before internal conflicts, the latter certainly didn’t help. In basing his story on a real place, Stanton has crafted a parable that shows how mankind’s violence can lead to environmental destruction and even the end of a world.

Wide as the Wind has many other positives. The characters are realistic. Miru and Renga are likeable teens to which every reader can relate. Miru disagrees with his father’s choices, enjoys swimming with dolphins, and sneaks away to spend time with his girlfriend. The descriptions are vivid; the diction is strong. Here’s just one phrase for example: “He sat down with them on paving stones that glittered with brine and fish scales….” There are even moments of humor. One of the funniest is when birds poop on Miru’s head, just after he’s received the call to save his people. My one complaint is that I felt at times the action moved too fast and kept me at an emotional distance from the characters.

Author Edward Stanton has written eleven books. His fiction, poems, and essays have appeared in publications across the world. He is a professor of literature, and has won grants for his travel, research, and writing. Wide as the Wind is a worthy addition to his literary accomplishments. It has won the 2017 silver Moonbeam Award for Young Adult Fiction and the 2018 silver Feathered Quill Award for Teen Fiction.

It was in Bangladesh that Muhammad Yunus met a young craftswoman who needed just twenty-two cents to buy materials and feed her family. Ignored by local banks and in debt to moneylenders, she existed in a cycle of poverty. With a dream of world in which no one goes hungry, Yunus launched Grameen Bank in 1977.

The above description comes from the inside flap of Twenty-two Cents, a picture book from author Paula Yoo. In 2009, Yoo had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus. The latter, along with his organization, won the Nobel Peace Prize for using the concept of “micro credit” to help eradicate poverty in Bangladesh.


YooYunusPaula Yoo is the author of two other award-winning picture books from Lee & Low. According to Cynthia Leitich Smith, Yoo’s initial inspiration for Twenty-Two Cents came from a discussion with editor Jason Lee. He had just read Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty and thought Professor Yunus would be a great biographical subject for Lee & Low Books. Yoo read and loved the book. Like Lee, she was inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ work.

According to Mitali Perkins, Yoo next read several other books along with newspaper/magazine articles about Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank as part of her research for Twenty-Two Cents. She also interviewed historians and professors who teach college courses about the history and culture of Bangladesh. Most importantly, of course, Yoo had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles.


When Mitali Perkins asked Yoo about the dream response by a reader, Yoo indicated it would be their admiration and respect for a country that has never given up, even in the face of war, famine and natural disaster. “I would hope readers would be inspired to read more about Bangladesh and its beautiful and complex cultural history as well. And of course, to visit a restaurant and eat the awesome food, especially the many different kinds of pithas that Muhammad loved to eat as a child! :)”

The text indicates that Yunus was born in 1940 in a port city in India. For the family and sometimes even the neighbors, his mother fried pithas, a sweet pastry made from rice flour, sugar, and coconut. Other foods common to Yunus were tea and chanachur, a snack made of fried lentils and chickpeas. For fun, Yunas and his friends fly kites made from bamboo and paper, pretend to be soldiers, attend Boy Scouts, and sometimes see a movie. Around Yunus, delivery trucks would rumble past passengers riding in colorful rickshaws.


While growing up, Yunus noticed the poverty around him. Families crammed together in tiny shanties built of bamboo, cardboard, and rusted tin. Beggars wandered side-by-side with businessmen. Homeless mothers huddled with their children in alleyways overflowing with sewage. It was almost impossible for poor families to find enough clean water and food. Yunas noticed how just a few coins would buy enough rice to feed a family for a week.


To learn more about Bangladesh, check out Virtual Bangladesh. Started in 1994, the site covers the history and geography, the culture, the language and literature, and even little known facts. For example, below is a video about the liberation war.

While Virtual Bangladesh does include recipes, you might enjoy browsing Bangladeshi Food Kitchen. It contains recipes, information on cooking styles, and a glossary. The two chefs who host the site both grew up in Bangladesh.

Of course, one can’t read Twenty-Two Cents without becoming aware of village banks and their importance. Lee and Yoo discuss village banks in Banking Smarter and Managing Finances. This guest post contains information on loans, loan sharks, micro-credit, and Yunus’ innovative banking methods. Yoo’s book combined with this article would make a great resource for educators in teaching students about economics.

Monkey King is another one of those books which I read with two aims in mind. I’m always eager to find engaging stories, and as an adventure in the vein of prankster and super hero stories I enjoyed Monkey King with its continual twists and its bold artwork. However, because this graphic novel by Wei Dong Chen hails from China, I also evaluated Stone Monkey on its multicultural merit.

The front pages of Monkey King introduce the main characters while the back pages provide a plot synopsis for those who are unfamiliar with the centuries-old Chinese tale. These two aids, along with the occasional exposition strips in the story itself, provide the background needed to understand this comic about a monkey born from a mountain  top. Other monkeys also live on Spring Mountain and they soon accept this new arrival as their leader. Everyone is lives together happily until the mention of treasure. I didn’t find the discovery of furniture and cooking utensils made of stone particularly exciting, but then again I’m not a monkey. With this treasure, the monkeys are all living happily again, until…. And so the story goes. Each time, the world is at peace until an interruption sets the Stone Monkey on a new quest. One such quest even leads him to seek eternal life from Buddha and to battle against the gods of hell and heaven. I read Monkey King in one day, enjoying the irreverent humor and the dynamic texture of the comic artwork.


Regards the book’s multicultural merits, I was somewhat befuddled. This led to a long chat between my husband and I during one of our evening walks. The story hails from a different culture, but does it actually teach me anything about China? To answer that question my husband and I considered: How much do one learn about older German culture from reading stories such as Hansel and Gretel, The Elves and the Shoemaker, or Cinderella? Honestly, probably not much. Fairy tales can certainly represent their culture of origin, as my students and I found out one year when we read various culture’s versions of Cinderella. One of their favorites, The Rough-Faced Girl, could not have happened anywhere but in an Algonquin village by the shores of Lake Ontario. However, I don’t know that I can say that Monkey King had to happen in China. My husband and I also wondered: Do we want our super heroes such as Batman and Spiderman to represent American culture? The stereotype of martial arts already exists about China. Monkey King might very well reinforce it. Of course, these are ethnocentric questions, arising from how I as an American feel about Monkey King, but this is the only perspective I’m qualified to address. One of the inspirations behind my interest in multicultural books is to find ones to introduce to students, while the other is for myself to broaden my awareness of the world. Monkey King did teach me somewhat about aspects of Chinese religion and literature, but mostly it read as a fun fantastical adventure.

Where does that leave me as a reviewer? I wouldn’t put Monkey King on the top of my recommended multicultural books. However, if you like superhero stories and are open to one about a wise-cracking monkey, this is a smash-bang comic with nineteen more volumes to keep you plenty entertained.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Follow the adventures of Sun Wu Kong, born from a stone on Spring Mountain and given the title of the Handsome Monkey king, who seeks to learn the secret of eternal life.

The above description comes from the back cover of Monkey King, a graphic novel published by JR Comics, authorized by Tianjin Shenjie Comics in China, and translation supported by the Confucius Institute. The story of Monkey King, Journey to the West, is cited as one of the greatest Chinese novels.

The only biographical information I could find about Wei Dong Chen comes from inside the first pages of Monkey King. Chen is an artist, leader in “The New Chinese Cartoon” trend, and founder of the largest comics studio in China: Creator World. Besides publishing more than three hundred cartoons, he also serves in the role of general manager of the Beijing Book Fair.

Chao Peng is a student of Wei Dong Chen and a highly regarded cartoonist in China. He is also the director of cartoon at Creator World.

Statuette of Monkey King Sun Wukong from Beiji...

Statuette of Monkey King Sun Wukong from Beijing. Deutsch: Das Figürchen des Affenkönigs Sun Wukong aus Peking. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


According to Comic Vine, the traditional origin of Monkey King is from a mythical stone egg on Flower Fruit Mountain. After demonstrations of bravery and discovery, he was granted the role of Monkey King. In his efforts to discover the secret of immortality he had at one point, he became a student of the immortal Bodhi, who granted his name of Sun Wukong. With further travels, Sun Wukong was able to take human mannerisms and traits. Sun Wukong experienced many adventures, including a famous tale about a bet against Buddha, before eventually finding himself in various cities associated with Heaven and Hell. In the back pages of the book, there is also a synopsis provided. It includes among other things the Chinese history of how the world began, the origins of Stone Monkey, his fight with the King of Hell, and his spiritual journey to find the Buddhist scripture.

What a sweet story! Through her picture book Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure, Naomi Rose spins a tale of love between Tashi and her grandfather. Rose’s jewel-toned acrylic paintings also wonderfully capture the growing sense of community. Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure should appeal to young readers, whatever their culture.

Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure introduces readers to the world of Tibetan Americans. Tashi’s family sings Tibetan chants, click prayer beads, and burn candles. They hang painted scrolls on their walls. And the older generation miss their Tibetan homeland. For those who might wish to know more about Tibetan culture, there is also an information page near the back which briefly describes Tibet, its spiritual practices, and some of its words. One paragraph also talks about what life is like for those Tibetans who immigrated to the United States after they left their homeland in search of religious and cultural freedoms.

Beyond this, the picture book’s message is a universal one of compassion. Tashi’s grandfather is sick. He’s been “making scratchy noises with each breath”. Despite doctor visits, he coughs and sleeps a lot. Recalling a story her grandfather told her about villagers in Tibet using flowers to cure themselves, Tashi decides to bring spring daisies to her grandfather. The flowers don’t work, because she needs more of them and “the magic of our land and people”. Tashi is determined to not give up—and in the end her compassion stirs the hearts of others, resulting in a new feeling of community for their family.

Something else which stood out to me while reading Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure is the lavish language. When reading books for younger readers, I’m often tempted to excuse a simplistic style as being appropriate to the age of its audience. Then I read stories like Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure, which mind you is a picture book and intended for the youngest readers, and I’m blown away by the beauty of its diction. Consider phases like these: “deep voice flows up and down” and “spitting puffs of steam” and “face melts into a lonely gaze”.

In an interview with Lee and Low, Rose indicated a desire to write tales that benefit children. Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure will serve well to educate readers about the Tibetan way of life, as well as to inspire them to build a community of compassion. Yet Naomi Rose didn’t stop there. She also weaved a tale of lyrical quality. For all these reasons, I recommend Tashi and the Tibetan Flower Cure.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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