By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Written by Ann Malaspina, Illustrated by Doug Chayka
Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2010
Most children take their education for granted and would rather be anywhere but at school.
For a young Bangladeshi girl named Yasmin, however, going to school is all she wants to do. Unfortunately, getting an education is not an option for her.
Although her father drives customers in his rented rickshaw around Dhaka and her mother cleans wealthy people’s homes, Yasmin’s family needs her and her sister, Mita, to help support the family.
The two girls work in a brickyard chipping bricks that will be mixed with cement. This forms concrete to construct buildings and pave roads throughout Bangladesh. While chipping away with her hammer, Yasmin daydreams about going to school, learning to read, and getting all the opportunities that would come her way if she were educated.
Yasmin’s life hadn’t always been this way. The family lived in a small village in the country where life was much simpler. But when a cyclone hit and destroyed their home and way of living, they were forced to move to the capital city.
What I love about “Hammer” is the emphasis on education and reading. In a world filled with television and video games, books and reading often fall by the wayside.
But Yasmin longs to understand the words spoken in the city because she knows that if she can read and is educated, she will never again swing another hammer or break another brick. This correlation between education and success is true in any society. It is an important lesson for children to learn early in life.
I also love Yasmin’s ingenuity for earning extra money and the fact that she uses the money to buy a book.
Although her wants and desires may seem simple compared to those of an average American child, they are no less important and are equally respected in this book.
“The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan”
Written and Illustrated By Christy Hale
Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2009
Growing up, Isamu Noguchi did not have it easy.
With a Japanese father and a Scotch-Irish American mother, he never quite fits in with his peers. Born in America in 1904, Isamu and his mother Leonie moved to Tokyo to be with his father Yone. Although this may have seemed to be a promising new beginning for their family, things did not improve for them.
Eventually, Isamu and his mother move out of Yone’s house. They are unwelcome and shunned for being gaijin – foreigners – but Isamu and his mother stay in Japan.
Teased and left out at school for being different, Isamu uses his solitude to find happiness elsewhere. He discovers sculpting and art, which helps him to forget his loneliness.
Isamu’s newfound hobby really comes into play when his mother buys land on which to build a house. He designs a small house that mixes the styles of the East and West, like his heritage.
Based on the life of Isamu, “House” is a great, real-life example to use when teaching children to make the best use of bad circumstances. I was very surprised at the book’s honesty about the situation of Isamu’s family — his parents aren’t married, and he and his mother discover that his father has another family.
This is actually one of my favorite things about the book. The story doesn’t go into specifics (there is a more detailed account of Isamu’s life at the end of the book), but neither does it omit these facts.
I think it is very important for children to understand that families come in all forms. A child’s family may not be “traditional” with a mother and father who are married and living together. Seeing that Isamu’s family turned out okay can lead that child to believe that his or her family is okay as well.
“Good Luck, Ivy”
Written by Lisa Yee, Illustrated by Robert Hunt
American Girl Publishing, Inc., 2007
Ivy Ling is a 10-year-old Chinese American girl living in San Francisco in 1976.
Despite her age, Ivy, the middle child of three, has a lot on her plate and feels unlucky. Her best friend has moved away, she has a big project to do for Chinese school, and she has just learned that the Ling’s family reunion is on the same day as an important gymnastics competition that she plans to participate in.
The book, a companion to the “American Girl” ‘Julie’ series that features Ivy’s best friend, follows Ivy as she tries to study hard, be a good daughter, and not let her teammates down.
“Ivy” delighted me for two reasons.
First, Ivy is an Asian American “American Girl.” Popular book series don’t usually feature Asian or Asian American protagonists. One of the reasons the “American Girl” series never caught my interest was because I didn’t look like any of the girls. Since the days when I read “Meet Samantha” in the 1990s (as she and I share a name), the “American Girl” series has expanded to include young girls with diverse backgrounds and whose collective lives span the country’s infancy to the 1970s.
I think that because of this expansion, more girls who wouldn’t have given “American Girl” a second glance may now pick up the books to see what they’re about — teaching young girls to be strong and all that they can be.
Second, I really enjoyed “Ivy” because she is a gymnast. Having been a gymnast myself from age 7 to 14, reading books about gymnastics always thrilled me. It still does because gymnastics does not receive a lot of attention.
Ivy’s struggles are relatable, and I especially liked Yee’s depiction of the mental block that Ivy has after a scary fall off the balance beam. The way Ivy works through her fears, the way she manages all the things that are thrown at her, and the way she makes them positive and make her own luck only causes you to love her more. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.