It’s Monday, and Here’s What I’m Reading: July 1st., 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America by Helen Foster James and Virginia Shin-Mui Loh is a wonderful picture book about a part of American history that was unfamiliar to me – the great wave of  immigration that took place between 1910 and 1920 on the West Coast.  The arrival and the treatment of these immigrants, from Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Asia, experienced was  quite different from that of their European counterparts who arrived  through Ellis Island and New York.  These West Coast immigrants, primarily those from Asia in general and China  in particular, were taken to Angel Island for “processing” – an experience that must have been terrifying for people who had left everything behind in order to start a better life on American shores.  This must have been even more the case for the children who traveled alone, many of them “paper sons” – children who claimed to be joining their fathers who had already established themselves in America.  
Paper Son tells the story of one such paper son, twelve year old Lee.  Following the death of both his mother and father, Lee lives with his beloved grandparents, who love him dearly, but know that the best hope for Lee’s future lies in America.  Lee’s parents had spent the last of their money to purchase a paper son slot for Lee, and on his twelfth birthday, his grandparents give him his “coaching book” – the story of his new identity, his ticket to a better life.  
Lee’s journey to Angel Island, and his experience there, is beautifully told.  His homesickness, his heartbreak at having to leave behind all he loved and knew, his fear that all his family’s sacrifices would be for naught –  all of these are written about with great sensitivity and an eye for evocative details.   I learned so much for this book, and I know my students will gain so much from reading Lee’s story.  Having read this book,they will want to investigate this time period and research other paper sons.  So, it will be a marvelous addition to our classroom library, a springboard for learning about our nations ‘s history.
Paper Son is part of the  Tales of Young Americans Series – books where  “Pivotal moments in our nation’s history are seen through the eyes of fictional young heroes whose courage and quick thinking will inspire all children.”  These are, I discovered, a wonderful series, with connections to many of the events in history which we study in our social studies curriculum. I do love books such as these which served multiple uses in my classroom!

To learn more about Angel Island, you can visit this site, to learn about poems written on the walls of the holding quarters by immigrants you can visit this site,  and to read first person accounts of life at Angel Island, you can visit here.

And, for an overview of Angel Island, you can view this:

I’ve been meaning to catch up on Cynthia Kadohata’s books this summer, since we LOVE both Kira Kira and Weedflower – which she wrote some time ago.

I wasn’t surprised to also fall in love with  A Million Shades of Gray.

Here’s the summary from the jacket copy:

Y-Tin is brave. No one in his village denies that. And while his mother may wish that he’d spend more time on schoolwork than on training his elephant, she knows that it takes a great deal of courage and calm to handle elephants the way that Y’Tin does.  He is the best handler in the village—and at thirteen years old, the youngest. Maybe he’ll even open up his own school someday to teach other Dega how to train wild elephants! That was the plan, anyway—back before the American troops pulled out of the Vietnam War, back before Y’Tin’s village was attacked by North Vietnamese forces, back before they had to start digging a massive, menacing pit, back before Y’Tin watched his life change in a million terrible ways.
Now, his bravery is truly put to the test: He can stay in his village, held captive by the North Vietnamese, or he can risk his life (and save his elephant’s) by fleeing into the jungle. A Million Shades of Gray brings us close to a world few people know about —but no one will ever forget. Heartbreaking yet full of hope, Y’Tin’s story is one of lasting friendships, desperate choices, and all that we lose when we are forced to change.

I don’t think I have read another book about this time period and from this perspective – that alone kept me glued to the book, which I read in one sitting, it was that good!  Kadohata brings the unfamiliar scenery alive through her lively narrative – Y-Tin is an unforgettable character, and the story is both heartbreaking as well as uplifting.  I just know that my students will be getting in line to request this book from our class library come Fall.

And then I read, The Thing About Luck, another winner!

Here’s the summary from the jacket copy:

Summer knows that kouun means “good luck” in Japanese, and this year her family has none of it. Just when she thinks nothing else can possibly go wrong, an emergency whisks her parents away to Japan—right before harvest season. Summer and her little brother, Jaz, are left in the care of their grandparents, who come out of retirement in order to harvest wheat and help pay the bills.
The thing about Obaachan and Jiichan is that they are old-fashioned and demanding, and between helping Obaachan cook for the workers, covering for her when her back pain worsens, and worrying about her lonely little brother, Summer just barely has time to notice the attentions of their boss’s cute son. But notice she does, and what begins as a welcome distraction from the hard work soon turns into a mess of its own.
Having thoroughly disappointed her grandmother, Summer figures the bad luck must be finished—but then it gets worse. And when that happens, Summer has to figure out how to change it herself, even if it means further displeasing Obaachan. Because it might be the only way to save her family.

Summer is a wonderful character – sensible yet quirky, independent yet needing her family’s love and approval, brave without knowing the extent of her courage. I loved her.  I also learned a lot about wheat farming practices in the mid-West, which turned out to be much more interesting that I’d ever imagined!  So, two more Kadohata books for our classroom library. and early – September book talks.
Here’s my stack of TBR’s for the week…notice, there is another Kadohata title here as well!


13 thoughts on “It’s Monday, and Here’s What I’m Reading: July 1st., 2013

  1. Good Morning Tara! I'm stopping over from Teach Mentor Text.Thanks for sharing the info about A Million Shades of Gray. I haven't seen many books written about this time period for young adult. The Vietnam War is a difficult social studies concept. What a great way to add a more personal connection to the read.Thanks for sharing!Enjoy your week.MicheleCoffee Cups and Lesson Plans

  2. Hi Tara, I read Same Sun Here last summer and loved it. I also read A Million Shades of Gray, but I forgot to book talk it last year. After hearing Penny Kittle speak at All Write, I know I need to book talk every day in my classroom. I think it's time to create a list of books for book talks. How do you keep track of the books you've read and how often do you do book talks in your classroom? The Thing About Luck is in my TBR pile, I may have to move it nearer the top so that I read it after Glory Be. I'm reviewing the books I read this summer on my Sweet Summer Reads blog that I'm sharing with my students.

  3. I'm a big Cynthia Kadohata fan but have fallen behind keeping up with all her books. Kira Kira is simply luminous, an all-time favorite. So good to hear more about The Thing About Luck and A Million Shades of Gray. I really enjoyed Cracker!; one of the few books I've read set in Vietnam. So moving, even if you're not a dog lover.Thanks, too, for featuring Paper Son. It looks like a good series. Would like to learn more about Angel Island.

  4. Hey Ramona,My book list strategy is very low key, low tech. I keep three notebooks: fiction, nonfiction and professional development. I just put a check next to the ones I did read – and a very brief note about it. I only book talk books I really love, and Monday's blog is my way to prepare for it (this meme, that is), and I book talk every Monday – no more than three books. Recent book talk nbokks go in a crate which is marked:"Gotta Read This!!" Very original, I know, but it works!

  5. Being an immigrant, I am a huge fab of immigrant stories. Paper Son looks very interesting, very similar to Escape to Gold Mountain which I read last year.I too am a huge Cynthia Kadohata fan, and I haven't picked up The Thing About Luck yet, thanks for reminding me.

  6. So glad to see about Paper Son, Tara. I'm not familiar with it. I've read A Million Shades of Gray and Between Shades of Gray, both terrific, and Same Sun Here is wonderful too. You have a lot of good book read and to read! I imagine I'll also love The Thing About Luck! Thanks!

  7. Very nice themed post! I have the Kadohata book on reserve and need to pick it up. Paper Son might be a good companion to a couple of books I've read. Thanks for posting!

  8. Paper Son has been on my reading list for some time. Cant wait to read it with DD when she is a little older. Thanks for sharing the review!

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