The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Global Literature’ Category

Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert.  Illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Scholastic.  Ages 3-10.  Picture book.

This is a beautifully crafted, elegant retelling of the Aesop fable about the powerful lion who is saved by the lowly mouse.  The setting is Africa in an area bordering Botswana and Namibia.   The detailed illustrations feature the African grass mouse and a splendid lion.  Most scenes show close-ups of the animals, some from the mouse’s perspective – a huge paw holding the mouse’s tail or the lion’s gigantic mouth wide opened, displaying his fearsome teeth.  The illustrator shows every hair and whisker on each animal.  One two page spread shows the baobab tree resplendent in front of a setting sun.  Light infuses the pages as the illustrator uses the white background effectively.   The choice of paper, design of the book, and gorgeous illustrations combine with the well paced, character enhancing text.  Team this with Jerry Pinkney’s wordless version, Lion and the Mouse to discuss how illustrators and authors make choices about the stories they produce.


Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan.  Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.  (2011).  Unpaged.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 1-6.

In Swahili the words, Lala salama, means sleep peacefully.  Reading this lyrical, sweet book will ensure sweet dreams for any child.  An African mother works through the day keeping her baby close on her back, her lap or in her arms.  As the day unfolds the mother croons to her child with words that describes the day i.e.  “LONG AGO, this morning,/ the sun rose/ above the hill/above our house,/ spilling light over the hills of the Congo/and the lake with the beautiful name,/ Tanganyika,/ like a song. Lala salama, little one.”  The day comes full cycle with the mother singing the baby to sleep, “Close your eyes,/my/dear/child.  Lala salama.”  The luscious oil paintings in rich and soothing colors show all the day’s activities in detail with  the landscape in beautiful vistas.

Read aloud these two books about Chinese New Year to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.  This year’s celebration will be on January 23, 2012.

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong.  Illus. by Zhu Cheng-Liang.  (2011).  ).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

For young Maomao Chinese New Year is particularly special because it means her Papa will be home.  He builds houses “in faraway places,” and only come home once a year.  Together the family celebrates with new clothes for little Maomao and Mama, a haircut for Papa, making and eating sticky rice balls, finding a good luck coin in the sticky rice balls, visiting friends, making repairs on the house, listening to fire crackers, and watching the dragon dance.  The colorful, detailed illustrations expand the story.  The backgrounds show contemporary streets in China and the festive decorations for the New Year’s celebrations.  The use of red and patterns in the character’s clothing sparks the illustrations.  Some illustrations are splashed across two pages with no text to show larger scenes like the dragon dancers animating the vivid dragon.  The illustrator has a special talent for showing the characters’ emotions.  This book was first published in China and received an award for the best Chinese Children’s Picture book.  The illustrations were also recognized by the New York Times as one of the Best Illustrated Books of 2011.

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine.  Illus. by Yan Nascimbene.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

When his Grandpa visits from China, Vinson is fascinated as he watches him practice tai chi.  Grandpa knows English but he wants to speak in Chinese to his grandson and uses his grandson’s Chinese name, Ming Da.  The boy learns tai chi from Grandpa but is disappointed because he is just learning poses and not the kung fu moves he hoped for.  A small drawing under the text illustrates and names each pose.  The story ends with the Chinese New Year parade when Ming Da gets to participate in leading the lion dancers.  Grandpa compliments his grandson and tells him that he has potential to learn the martial arts beginning with tai chi if he is willing to make a serious commitment and work hard for many years.  An Author’s Note at the end explains more about the two major schools of martial arts and the Chinese New Year holiday.  Large size illustrations using ink and watercolors are opposite each page of text.  This book would be excellent for reading aloud in the classroom because the children can easily see the pictures.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  262 pages.  Harper.  Ages 9-14.  Historical Fiction.

In the 1980’s I taught an exceptional class of sixth graders who were mostly immigrants from Viet Nam.  They had lived through difficult and challenging experiences escaping from Viet Nam and then living in refugee camps.  During our year together the children wrote about their experiences in coming to America.  I gave those stories to Eve Bunting who was inspired by reading them to write How Many Days to America?  So it was a special joy to read Inside Out & Back Again because it tells a similar story.  Ten-year-old, Há, begins the story when her family celebrates Tet, the first day of the lunar calendar, in Saigon.  The ensuing year unfolds great changes for Há and her family when they leave their war torn homeland, escape on a crowded ship, spend time in a refugee camp on Guam and finally travel to Alabama where they are sponsored by a mentor.  The story comes full circle ending on Tet in 1975.  The novel is told in evocative, lyrical verse that shows the emotional cost of the family experiences.  For example, Há writes the following account of being on the ship as water is rationed and food is scarce.

“Once Knew

Water, water, water/ everywhere/making me think/land is just something/I once knew/like/napping on a hammock/bathing without salt/watching Mother write/laughing for no reason/kicking up powdery dirt/and wearing clean nightclothes/smelling of the sun.”

When Há goes to school, the fourth grade, for the first time, she encounters bullying, has troubles with the new language and feels dumb all the time.  There is a positive portrayal of a teacher who provides support and understanding of Há ‘s situation.  Lai writes from her heart and captures the emotional upheavals of that year.  In her Author’s Note she explains that most of the details in the story are inspired by her own memories.  Reading this novel will help children build empathy for their immigrant friends and  classmates.

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation by Jan Reynolds.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Lee & Low Books.  Grades  1-6.  Nonfiction.

This book is another in a series that author-photographer, Jan Reynolds, creates with stunning photographs and informative text about different cultures.   In this book the reader learns about the Maasai, their traditional life style and how it is threatened by changes in their environment.  Reynolds includes Maasai Proverbs throughout the text.  The proverbs, “Daylight follows a dark night,”  “The children are the bright moon,” demonstrate the Maasai’s wisdom and sense of humor.  Reynold’s rich, powerful photographs show the daily life of the people.  The book appears to be authentic because Reynolds and her son lived with one of the Maasai tribes who allowed her to ask questions and take pictures.   Added features like, a map of Africa, an Author’s Note, a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide as well as Source Notes and Acknowledgments enrich the text and the reader’s understanding.

Around the World: Three Remarkable Journeys by Matt Phelan.  (2011).  235 pages.   Candlewick Press.   Grades 4-8.  Graphic Novel.


Phelan’s graphic novel fictionalizes the around the world journeys of three real people: Thomas Stevens, Joshua Slocum and Nellie Bly.  At the end of the nineteenth century people were inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days.  The three adventurers in this book decided to circumvent the globe based on the public interest in the feat.  The world travels of Stevens, Slocum and Bly were very different.  Stevens, a miner, made the journey in 1884, on bicycle with a 50-inch wheel.  Bly, a reporter for the newspaper, The World, raced a rival reporter around the world in 1889 on ocean liners and trains.  Bly won!  “Her journey lasted seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds.”  In 1895, Slocum decided to sail around the world on a thirty-six-foot sloop.  He became the first person to sail around the world alone.  Phelan emphasizes why Stevens, Slocum and Bly undertook their journeys.  He writes in his Author’s Note, “The public journeys (a straightforward presentation of events) began to shift to the private journeys (my interpretation of these events).  My journey for Around the World started down one path but reached a different and surprising destination. …  Isn’t that how all good journeys should end?”   Phelan’s varies the colors and frames of the story as it unfolds in the pictures.  The pace of the illustrations and the narrative keeps the reader engaged in the adventures.  A list of books that Phelan found “inspiring, invaluable and engrossing” will allow children to discover more about the adventurers.


Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman.  (2011).  228 pages.  Putnam.  Grades 6-9.  Realistic Fiction, Novel.

This book is an example of how reading a book about a place that is new to us takes us on a learning journey.  The author’s trip to the Andaman Islands of India provided her with background about the indigenous people who live there.  Venkatraman’s expertise is in oceanography and her research trip to the Andaman Islands also gave her an opportunity to learn about the people whose history goes back seventy thousand years.  As the plot of the novel makes clear the challenge for these people is to find a way to keep their culture alive and prevent the destruction of their islands while at the same time building bridges with modern societies.  In the story the young teenager who has become the spiritual leader of the tribe, leads her people to safety before a tsunami strikes the island.  That incident is based on an actual event when the tsunami of December, 2004 wreaked destruction across the planet.  The author relates in her note at the end of the book how “several “primitive” groups living on the Andaman Islands escaped to safety.”    Their “ancient knowledge of the movement of wind and oceans and a sensitivity to the behavior of sea birds and island creatures may have warned these native people to flee inland in the nick of time.”   As this novel so strongly shows, modern people need to take a journey of discovery to learn about the ancient knowledge of these people.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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