Many of us fell in love with Joanna Ho’s exquisite writing with Eyes That Kiss in the Cornersand Eyes That Speak to the Stars. Now it becomes apparent that her talent is not confined to lyrical picture books. This, her first YA novel, is searingly beautiful, poignant and powerful. Exploring themes of mental health, racism and class distinctions. Maybelline Chen is an American Chinese Taiwanese girl who goes against the norm for her background. Her dress, appearance and interests completely confound her traditional mother who seems to find no pride or joy in her only daughter. May’s older brother, Danny, however can do no wrong it appears. Until, that is, Danny freshly accepted to Princeton, stands in the path of an oncoming train, unable to withstand his depression any longer.
In the shockwaves that follow, which engulf the entire community, May and her parents struggle to regain any kind of equilibrium, and those of us who have experienced this deep and unexpected grief will relate to their brokenness. More than that, there are voices raised against May’s parents specifically, but all Asian families in general about the perceived academic pressure put upon their offspring. Those who can see the truth know it is not just Asian parents in this community heaping the expectations on the heads of their young people, and along with this racist attitude, is the realisation that students of colour are facing discrimination of a different kind.
Ignoring her parents’ advice to ‘keep her head down’ May fights back to take charge of her own ‘narrative’ through her writing and galvanises other students into action at the same time.This is a story of courage and perseverance, and the often difficult path to truth telling in the face of sometimes real intimidation. I found it utterly captivating and powerful, and read it with real urgency to know the outcome. Ho’s writing is just sensational. She captures the voice of her various characters beautifully and explores these difficult issues with subtlety and sensitivity.
I highly recommend it to you for your mature readers. While lower secondary kiddos could manage it, I think it better suited to your mid-to-upper readers as it can be quite confronting at times. I feel it will rouse their righteous indignation and would give rise to some deep discussions around the themes.
*This is my ‘give away’ title for February so if you would like to win it, comment on the post and your name will be in the lucky draw at the end of the month* (Australian readers only, sorry)
Last year, in my old library, we fell in love with Eyes That Kiss in the Corners and so did our kiddos, many of whom could make connections with the cultural heritage of the characters. This beautiful companion book will be equally well-received I believe.
When a young boy is made to notice his eyes as being different in shape to those of his friends, he feels sad and an outsider. The love and wisdom of his father and grandfather, and the recognition that his eyes are like theirs, as are his little brother’s, lift his spirits to the skies – just as his eyes tilt to the skies. The endless possibilities of light and destiny revealed by the night skies with their constellations and comets are all his, as his eyes speak to the stars.
Once again it is not just the lyrical text with its resonant message of inclusivity and the beauty of cultural heritage, but the superb illustrations that make this such a stunner of a book. The iconic visual references to the family’s heritage: dragons, pagodas, rice paddies, night markets, lanterns and more are a virtual feast for the eyes.
With Harmony Day just around the corner, this will make a fabulous focus for your celebrations in the library or classroom, particularly when paired with its companion. And so much rich discussion and activities, particularly art, could ensue!!
This stunningly beautiful and lyrical book has been one of the most talked about on children’s book lists around the world for the past few weeks, and once you see it and read it, you will quickly realise why it is so. I, for one, cannot wait for this to be shared with our junior students, so many of whom are Asian, and whom, I am sure, will love to see themselves and their culture/s reflected in such a splendid fashion.
This young Asian girl recognises that her eyes look different to so many of her classmates and friends but it is the realisation that they are the same beautiful eyes are her mother’s, her grandmother’s and her little sister’s that makes her heart sing. The strength, resilience, joy and hope she draws from the females in her family resonate deeply with her and empower her as she embraces her own diversity and special features.
Joanna Ho is American-born of Taiwanese/Chinese parents and this combination in itself, will have authentic connections for so many of our young students who are mainly drawn from Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean families (but we do have numerous other nationalities among our student populations – truly a diverse school!). I actually believe that it a book that would be well-received as a read-aloud and springboard for discussion amongst older students as well and intend to share it with my Year 7s as start their literature-based unit after the holidays.
...eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea, crinkle into crescent moons…
Highly recommended for your readers, no matter their cultural origins, from Prep upwards.
Rebecca Lim has created a powerful and highly engaging #OwnVoices novel that captures the circumstances for some children, growing up Asian in Australia.
Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants who came to Australia for a better life, only to find it not so. Her father has failed three times to secure a surgeon’s post in this country and refuses to take on anything lower, though he is a highly competent doctor who would easily find a place elsewhere in the health system. Wen and her mother live in a perpetual state of anxiety and almost fear with her father’s rigid rules and anger issues. Wen despairs of ever getting out of the rut in which she finds herself and her friend Henry is also in the same situation, though because of different circumstances. With the support of their teacher both children are preparing themselves for a scholarship exam that could help them move forward to a brighter future.
When tragedy strikes Henry’s family, Wen persuades her mother to help her support her friend and they begin a cautious campaign to do so, while hiding all evidence of their help from Wen’s father. Little by little both mother and daughter begin to find their own voices again and when Mr Zhou loses his job, they are able to manage an even greater shift in the domestic power.
The resilience and compassion demonstrated by Wen makes for marvellous reading and few readers would remain unimpressed. This is not just a novel for your Asian students (although we certainly have those in a majority at my own school) but one that will promote understanding of different cultural and family perspectives.
It was a compelling read – I binge read it in one afternoon – and I highly recommend for your readers from Upper Primary
‘Late one night, Felix heard a thousand giants march across the sky and the round, silver moon went into hiding.’
Many children are fearful of storms – especially when they are ferocious. The Kid was one of these and would quite literally turn white and visibly tremble. It took a couple of years to build her up to a point where now she almost enjoys a storm – except for when they are really wild and then she will always sit quite close!
When Felix can’t cope with the tremendous crashing and the horrid dark he decides to put his torch to good use and create a ‘light’ friend. What follows is a cavalcade of strong and brave shadow creatures and all are impatient to play. A little uncertain at first, Felix is soon frolicking with them all, confronting his fears of the night and becoming empowered in his own resilience.
Readers will be truly enthralled with the wonderful traditional shadow shapes and will be uber-excited when they reach the end of the book to find some fabulous information on shadow puppets in general and their cultural importance in Asia. To top that off they will able to create their own shadow puppets with the templates and instructions which conclude the book. Puppetry is a dramatic art which never fails to engage children of all ages (our own Year 9 students have been creating puppet play scripts and using some fabulous ‘muppets’ to perform them). Shadow puppets are possibly one of the simplest to achieve with ready-to-hand materials at home which is a big plus and very handy in these times!
Perhaps readers could create their own scripts which echo the bravery and imagination in Felix’ story and then perform them for family. Alternatively, they might like to recreate favourite stories using shadow puppets. This would certainly be a very rich learning experience all round.
I would highly recommend this for children from around 6 years upwards and the follow-up for families who are looking for a different activity to reduce a little screen time.
You could even make a theatre for your puppet play…