Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Coming to the US

#WeNeedDiverseBooks, but there have been a few published for middle grade all along. They can just be somewhat hard to find, and have to be re-evaluated to make sure they hold up well.

Lowji Discovers America Fleming, Candace. Lowji Discovers America
March 1st 2005 by Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books

Lowji’s mother has gotten a computer job in Hamlet, Illinois, so the family move into the third floor apartment of a house there from Bombay. (Which he does not call Mumbai. No idea why.) He is excited to move because he hopes to have a pet of his own, but sad to leave his friend Jamshed. It is summer, so it is a bit lonely at home, even though Lowji’s father stays at home with him. The landlady, Ms. Crisp, is very busy, but Lowji suggests that many of her problems (mice, home burglaries nearby, cutting the grass) could be solved by having animals. He also has adventures and meets people in the community, like “Ironman” at the All Mart when Ironman’s pet pig faints outside. Things are different in Hamlet, but eventually, Lowji settles in and even finds a new friend, Tamika.
Strengths: This reminded me very strongly of the Carolyn Heywood Eddie books, but with details of Indian culture thrown in. What a great choice for elementary school students to introduce them to people who might not have exactly the same background they do, even though they might live in a similar place. I especially liked Lowji’s conversation with Landlady Crisp about his religion—the family is Parsi, and he explains this to Landlady Crisp and shows her the sacred objects he wears. In reply, she shows him her cross, which leads Lowji to the conclusion that the two have something in common; they both wear sacred objects.
Weaknesses: Too young for middle school.

The Gold-Threaded DressMarsden, Carolyn. The Gold-Threaded Dress
14 February 2006, Candlewick Press

Oy (whose teacher calls her Olivia) has come to the US at the age of five, when her father gets a job as a cook in a Thai restaurant. Even though her classroom has a wide range of ethnicities in it, Frankie gives her a hard time about being “Chinese”, and when the popular girls in the class see a picture of Oy dressed in her pink silk dress meant for special occasions, they persuade her to bring it to school even though she knows it is wrong. The girls try the dress on, rip it, and also get Oy in trouble for bringing it to school. Oy’s parents are understanding, and Oy finds a new appreciation for how hard it is for her parents to be in the US as well.
Strengths: This has a cover that any third grader would love to pick up, and Marsden wrote this after her daughters, who are part Thai, were teased at school, so it shows a lot of understanding. Oy’s longing to fit in is something that any student can relate to, even if that student has trouble fitting in for reasons that are not because of ethnicity. There is at least one other book in this series (The Quail Club) and Marsden’s slim books on a variety of cultures are a must have for the 2-5 grade crowd.
Weaknesses: Too young for middle school, and it does seem to be a stretch that Oy’s class is SO ethnically diverse!

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