By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story”
Written by Paula Woo, illustrated by Lin Wang
Lee & Low Books, June 2009
Being Asian American in the early days of show business was not easy.
Roles were limited and small, and more often than not, Asians and Asian Americans were portrayed in a negative light. At times, these small roles were given to white actors or actresses.
But this didn’t stop Anna May Wong, whose love for television and film started at a very young age.
“Shining Star” tells the story of how Wong went from a 9-year-old girl daydreaming about being the damsel in distress in an exciting movie to one of the most well-known Asian American actresses in history.
Before reading this book, I already knew a bit about what show business was like in the 1920s and 1930s — when Wong began her career.
“Shining Star” may be a children’s book, but it doesn’t hide the truth about the times. This is one of my favorite things about it. The author trusts that her young readers will be able to handle and understand these complex issues.
The book may not be very in-depth about yellow-face actors or the rules against interracial kissing, but it doesn’t sugarcoat things either, which often happens in children’s books. Also, if the book was more in-depth on these issues, it could be confusing for elementary school-aged children, whom the book is geared toward.
Readers learn about Wong’s struggles between her love for acting and her pride in her heritage, and how she finds a way to work without having to compromise on either aspects.
“Shining Star” is the story of perseverance, integrity, and following one’s dreams despite the obstacles one might face. Wong is a strong Asian American character that children, young and old, male and female, can look up to. This type of character, like finding Asian roles in Wong’s time, isn’t always easy to find.
“When the Moon Forgot”
Written and illustrated by Jimmy Liao
Little, Brown and Company, 2009
What would happen to the world if the moon fell out of the sky?
In Jimmy Liao’s “When the Moon Forgot,” we find out.
Tides stop, the weather becomes strange, and rockets on their way to the moon get lost in space. While the world questions whether the moon will ever return, factories produce truckloads of other moons so everyone could have his or her own personal moon.
One boy finds a moon in the middle of a field and takes it home. He doesn’t realize that this is the real moon. He takes care of the moon and plays with it. Eventually, he asks the moon whether or not it is the one that had fallen out of the sky. The moon doesn’t remember.
“When the Moon Forgot” is a sweet story about friendship. It follows the boy and the moon on their adventures as he helps the moon remember where it came from.
Translated from Chinese, the story is simple, making it ideal for early readers.
The illustrations, also by Liao, are fun, colorful, and so detailed that you will usually find something new every time you look at the pages. They remind me of Quentin Blake’s work, which is often found in Roald Dahl’s books—one of my favorite authors of all time.
The book’s subject—the moon falling out of the sky—requires readers to use their imagination. It is not a subject I have ever encountered before, but I enjoyed it.
“When the Moon Forgot” really made me wonder what it would be like if the moon really fell from the sky. How would people react? What would change and what would stay the same? How would I personally be affected by a moonless sky?
This book encourages readers to consider the impossible and to think outside the box, which is something that we could all use from time to time.
“Harmony: A Treasury of Chinese Wisdom for Children and Parents”
Written by Sarah Conover and Chen Hui, illustrated by Ji Ruoxiao
Eastern Washington University Press, 2008
Every culture has its own tales and folklore.
These tales are often told to children in order to teach them different morals and values.
It is no different in China, and “Harmony” brings together 24 of these traditional stories. Each story begins with an English translation of a Chinese saying. The stories that follow illustrate the meanings.
These sayings and stories offer practical wisdom and ethical principles that can be put to use in daily life.
The stories include one of a farmer who stops working in his fields in hopes of catching a hare for his family’s dinner, emphasizing the importance of hard work.
Another tells a story of a general who tells his thirsty troops about a forest of plums lying ahead in their journey. This story teaches them about perseverance.
My favorite thing about “Harmony” is that the stories are very different from one another. At the same time, the morals and values conveyed are all equally important. The tales are simple, funny, and entertaining as they unravel important lessons the readers can take away from.
Readers can also learn about China, its culture, and its history because the book includes a brief overview on Chinese traditions and background information on each story. I have read and heard many traditional stories from many countries, but I rarely get to learn how those stories came about.
By including the cultural information, the authors are providing context for the stories, which helps readers understand the tales better. Let’s face it, sometimes, it is easy to lose track of the point of a story. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.