Tag Archives: books

#ReadYourWorld Making Friends With Billy Wong

blogger-buttonI’m so happy to be participating in Multicultural Children’s Book Day this year! What a fantastic way to learn about diverse texts for young people.

I’m reminded, too, that when writing about diverse experiences, I think it’s critical that those books are written by #ownvoices, cultural insiders who share the background(s) of the people they’re writing about. I need to foreground that before I review the book I was mailed for MCBD: Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood.

In this middle grade historical fiction novel, Azalea is a young white girl about to start the sixth grade after enjoying a summer with her beloved parents in Texas. Imagine her surprise, then, when those same parents (mom, actually), drive her to Arkansas to help her ailing grandmother. Suddenly, her summer plans aren’t looking too great at all.

Until…she meets the mysterious Billy Wong, a Chinese American boy whose aunt and uncle happen to own…wait for it…the only grocery store in their small town.

And it’s 1952.

And Billy Wong isnew2bbilly2bwong2bhires2bcvr called all kinds of racist names by a particularly mean white boy, Willis, who is upset about his own poverty and that Billy Wong might take his place on the middle school track team.

But Billy doesn’t get angry. Nope. Instead, Billy, who dreams of being a reporter, responds in a journal. The novel alternates between Azalea’s narration and Billy’s journalistic entries.

This novel is great for teaching about why we need cultural insiders to write their own stories. In the Author’s Note, Scattergood describes becoming interested in Chinese American settlement in the South, leading her to do some research and talk to a Chinese American friend. As far as I can tell, Scattergood is not Chinese American. She has a Chinese American friend.

My largest issue with this novel is that Billy is a flat character and a foil for Azalea. Essentially, he and his family are the model minorities (see: Model Minority Myth). Billy lives with his aunt and uncle and helps them run the store because he wants to attend the school in their town. His old school, where his parents live, was an African American school that had no resources.

I know that this history is important for young people to learn. Many adults are unfamiliar with the long history of Asian American settlement in the South. While it’s great that Scattergood felt interested in this topic, I know that there are #ownvoices writers who are telling that story through well-developed, nuanced characters who live their own lives and who don’t exist to placate or develop white characters. (See: Erin Entrada Kelly, and I know she’s not Chinese American, but it’s important to know that ethnicity matters, too!). In my opinion, you should actively seek out those writers if you really want the perspective of this time period. It would be a great activity to introduce students to critical literacy by doing actual research using primary sources and comparing them to the depiction of Chinese Americans in the text. If you want to push it further, you might even do some work with the White Savior Industrial Complex by Teju Cole and how it works in this book.

Thus, on this Multicultural Children’s Book Day, it’s my hope that you read some really great books, that you learn more about who should be telling particular stories, and why those own voices matter now, more than ever. 

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.

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Filed under #ReadYourWorld, Book Love

Reading Junot Diaz (with Marvin in the Margins)

Drown always comes up as a book people often use in their classrooms. Kids love it, they say. That refrain, of kids loving it, is usually enough to garner at least one copy of said title in my classroom free reading collection, but I let Drown allude me. Two years ago, while combing through my department head’s binder, I found some stories from Drown with her meticulous notes and queries to push kids into and through the text, and thought that I’d use those stories in my Modern American Short Story unit.

So late to the party, I was.

The kids loved Junot. Rather, they loved the humor, the honesty, the heartbreak of the characters. When we read the New Yorker short story “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” we had an intense discussion about Oscar: fool or hero? Wasn’t dying for love admirable? (Many thought not. Oscar, they reasoned, was just a pitiful loser).

When I knew Diaz was releasing a new collection of short stories, I was more receptive (finally). I often half-listen to adults, but when young people talk, they generally have my full attention.

After being completely floored that my young Dominican students (particularly the boys) had NO IDEA who Junot Diaz was, and after I made several grandish claims (see earlier blog posts), I photocopied his short story “Ms. Lora” from another New Yorker where it ran that summer.

I was so anxious to finally read This is How You Lose Her that I ordered it on Amazon, was promptly struck with book buyer’s amnesia (it’s happened before), and purchased another copy in a local bookstore. (And maybe I was attempting to correct my book buying karma by keeping it local–sort of).

Then, I intentionally took the subway from one end to another, purposely scheduled a meeting and arrived an hour early so I could read and not be interrupted, so I could have the experience that kids have been having all along.

This experience of reading TIHYLH has been infuriating, comforting, endearing…makes me want to reread every page real slow because I don’t have something to read next that’s going to be as good.

I vacillate between wanting to punch Yunior in the face for being so callous with women to hoping to offer him a soft place to land for losing his brother to cancer. I want to shake the women who bide their time with men who see them when their “main women” are otherwise occupied. I want to take others by the hand and tell them to just hold on. It gets better.

I read so many pieces of text in my life that I think I lose my edge of actually feeling…thus, when I read something and it sucker punches me, I’m disoriented, gotta tell everyone about it, intentionally schedule reading time into classes so kids can read (but really so I can read, too).

What am I going to do with that extra copy? Well, I emailed that student who I had in class this summer and told him I’ve ended up with an extra copy of the book. Does he want it? Wait. First, I emailed him to ask if he knew the book was out and he said “Ha, way ahead of you Kim. This Is How You Lose Her, planning on getting it this week. Also, the short story Ms. Lora, was phenomenal. The Dominican culture in it is very similar to my own. I never knew I would ever find such things as the plastic covers on sofas being written about in a book! Hope all is well.”

I’ll make sure that extra copy gets delivered this weekend and follow up in a few weeks. I will listen more than I speak, simply content that a book and an author can create a text that we care about and will talk about for months to come.

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This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz

Then, he’ll return the favor. “I’ll have a book for you by the summer comes,” he writes.

And he will.

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Filed under Student Interactions, Teaching Writing in the Summer