I am very excited to be part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016 and #ReadYourWorld. Not just as a reviewer, but as a reader who loves the exploring, adventure, and learning found in children’s books. This year I am exploring Cambodia and Vietnamese children’s literature.
#ReadYourWorld is more than just a catchy hashtag. As readers, we inherently understand mirrors, windows, and doors. In books we travel through time and space; meet amazing and interesting people; and explore unreal places. It’s what we do. It’s what we love about books and sharing our favorites.
On the websites of the events 12 co-hosts (see links below) there are lots of ideas. Visit them to discover children’s literature that celebrates cultures, traditions, and personal stories from around the world.
I’m reviewing two books for #ReadYourWorld: The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter; and Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories, retold by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. Tuttle Publishing provided review copies. [We received Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories last fall.]
Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories
Explore Vietnam with these 15 folktales that celebrate its history, cultural traditions, and spiritualism.
Familiar fairy tales (like Cinderella) and folktales (like the story of the Man in the Moon) join lesser known tales that are unique to the traditions, history, and geography of Vietnam.
Beautiful, brightly colored illustrations add to the reader’s experience by offering them images to complement each story.
The book’s cover is just a glimpse into the beautiful imagery that awaits readers in this collection of folktales. The colors are beautiful and for readers like me who have never seen a banyan tree or a mai flower, the illustrations were an important part of the story.
To be honest, I was expecting to read stories that were rang familiar. These Vietnamese children’s stories carried the arc you would expect of a folktale or fairy tale, but that’s where the familiarity ends. Even those that answered an age old question (why is the sea salty,) were told in a way that I’d never heard before.
In “The Story of Tam and Cam,” readers instantly draw on the fairy tale “Cinderella.” The stepmother and stepsister are jealous of Tam’s happiness, so they catch and eat the little yellow fish that a fairy had given Tam. Tam was heartbroken, and carefully buried the fish’s bones. The next day, Tam found a pair of embroidered red velvet shoes in the place she had buried her fish.
One day, a raven came and took the shoe … which somehow made it to the king’s palace. You know about the happy ending, though I will tell you the journey has a different twist. Similar, but unique to the culture.
My personal favorite from the collection is “The Jade Rabbit.” It is part fable (think Aesop’s fables), part folktale (the story of the moon signs), and also has a Biblical feel to it. Many of the stories in this collection spoke to sacrifice, but “The Jade Rabbit” was the most moving for me.
First, the author explains how the moon is an iconic symbol in Vietnamese culture. She then tells the story of four best friends living in an enchanted forest: the monkey, elephant, squirrel, and rabbit. One day the rabbit suggested to his friends that they help the poor and hungry who come to the forest. Soon, their commitment was put to the test when an old man called out for help. The elephant brought water, the rabbit made a fire, but the old man needed food. Just as the rabbit was about to sacrifice himself, the old man revealed himself as a genie.
If you enjoy folktales and fables, then Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories is worthy of being in your personal library. The stories are short and the beautiful illustrations will have young readers asking you to “read this one.” The stories are soothing enough for bedtime. My one caution would be that you read just a few stories at a time. Like most anthologies, it isn’t a book you read all in one sitting.
My one disappointment in the book is that it didn’t offer a pronunciation guide. I would feel more confident reading the stories with that guide or after listening to the stories an audiobook (MP3 or CD).
As part of a personal commitment to reading my world, I created a special shelf on GoodReads. The books I’ve read for Multicultural Book Day have piqued my interest in more stories celebrating Asia. I’ve already added a few books and expect to add many more over the coming weeks. If you have ideas, PLEASE leave them in the comments. Here are the books that Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories have inspired me to add.
Children of the Dragon; Selected Tales from Vietnam by Sherry Garland
Vietnamese folk tales retold for a modern audience. In poetry and literature the Vietnamese call themselves the “children of the dragon.” Their oral tradition is a strong one and this volume includes three of the familiar teaching tales told by the elders. Readers will learn how the tiger got his stripes, why there are monsoons, and the story of the Moon Festival.
Inside Out and back Again by Thanhha Lai
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.
[Summaries are from Goodreads. Covers link to Amazon.com.]
About #ReadYourWorld and Multicultural Children’s Book Day
Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.
Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie Budayr (Jump Into a Book and Audrey Press) are the co-creators of this event. This year, 12 co-hosts “will also house the wildly-popular book review/blog post link-up the week of the event.”
Multicultural Children’s Book Day / #ReadYourWorld 2016 is made possible with the help of the following sponsors.
Medallion Level Sponsors!
Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk * Candlewick Press * Bharat Babies