Archive for Culture

The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki

Written and Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray

Publishers are starting to reveal fall titles, and fall is looking good!

Scientists agree that the people of the world began in one region and slowly scattered across the globe. But there is very little agreement how the scattering occurred. Just a lot of theories and speculation. After spending a year living among the Polynesians on Fatu Hiva, Thor Heyerdahl speculated that Polynesians crossed the vast Pacific on rafts from Peru. The folk stories and similar names were enough to make him wonder. Of course, few people believed such a journey was even possible. Heyerdahl and his crew proved it was possible. They lashed together balsa wood with hemp rope and fashioned a single mast and a bamboo cabin. Navigation was by sextant, and much of their food was from the sea. Rogue waves and a storm were nearly enough to cause them to issue a distress call from their radio, but they stuck with it and reached Polynesia. No one will ever know for sure that ancient people made this voyage, but Heyerdahl proved it could have happened.

The story so fascinates readers that Heyerdahl’s original account of the voyage was translated into seventy languages and is still in print sixty years later. Ray’s beautiful illustrations give the reader the feeling of being there for the voyage and encourage the desire to travel to the places mentioned.

Second graders will learn about anthropology, Polynesia, and rugged travel. They will also get a chance to hone literacy skills and learn that the seemingly impossible may not be.

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  • Kon-TikiTitle: The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki
  • Author/Illustrator: Deborah Kogan Ray
  • Published: Charlesbridge, October 13, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, anthropology
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-620-7


Sona and the Wedding Game

Written by Kashmira Sheth
Illustrated Yoshiki Jaeggi

Weddings are events surrounded by mystery for young children. We look forward to the excitement and fun, but sometimes feel a little left out. In this story, we learn how one tradition within the Eastern Indian community deals with that feeling. This is, after all, the first wedding Sona has ever attended.

The young sister of the bride is given the task of stealing the groom’s shoes during the ceremony. This seems like an odd task until you realize he will take his shoes off for the ceremony. If she is able to steal his shoes then he must bargain with her to get them back. This seems like a lovely tradition intended to help bring the siblings of the new family together.

Sona is nervous, of course. She can’t think of any way to steal his shoes during the ceremony for a long time. But, in the end, she is successful. Readers will wonder what she will want to bargain with the groom for to get his shoes back, some will already know what she wants.

Included in this story of tradition, is the painting of hands and the application of kumkum on the forehead of the groom for good luck. Parts of the wedding ceremony itself are included such as praying to Lord Ganesh and having the priest tie together the sashes of the bride and groom.

The illustrations of traditional clothing, garlands and surroundings are stunning. The watercolors are bright and authentic.  It is a truly beautiful book.

Teachers, librarians and parents of elementary children will enjoy this look into the wedding traditions of East Indian Americans. Second grade and third grade classrooms can fulfill the core curriculum standards for literacy, art, culture, history, and traditions by using this beautiful book. There are also several vocabulary words introduced in the text that would be familiar to some children of East Indian descent, although the author’s note is quick to say that India is a large country and not all the traditions are kept the same in every region.

Still, this is a beautiful look into a world we may not all have visited yet.

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  • SonaTitle: Sona and the Wedding Game
  • Author: Kashmira Sheth
  • Illustrator: Yoshiki Jaeggi
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 973-1-56145-735-9
  • Genre: Fiction – East Indian Customs, Weddings, East Indian Americans
  • Grade level: PreK to 4
  • Extras: Author’s Note further describes the wedding traditions and tells a little bit about how they are changing over time.

The Favorite Daughter

Written and Illustrated by Allen Say

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Yuriko is a Japanese name that causes embarrassment to a little girl at school when her new teacher pronounces it incorrectly. She wishes she has a plain regular name and decides to change her name for a day or two. During the story, though, she finds out why her name is part of who she really is. This is a wonderful story for all children to find out more about names.

The children tease and bully her about her name and the fact that Japanese dolls all have black hair, while the hair on her doll and on her head is blonde. It is a wonderful multi-cultural story about how we can all fit in while still being different.

As a read aloud, it will strength understanding of how some families have different backgrounds from our own. It will give an opening for parents, teachers and librarians to discuss how we treat those who might have a different name or different kind of family than our own.

Second grade and third grade readers will be able to read this story independently while younger ones will need to have it read aloud. It has beautiful illustrations and an interesting parallel story line about an art project that the author uses to strengthen the idea of individualism.

The core curriculum requirements for many areas can be met using this book. It compares Japanese bridges with the Golden Gate in illustrations, the use of chopsticks, eating sushi and differences between languages with the illustration of Japanese ink painting.

Extras: This book could be used in a geography or culture class when students are studying Japan and Japanese customs. The art project about the golden gate bridge can be changed to include any important structure in any community. The illustration of the Japanese ink painting can be used to spark projects of research or painting. There are also a couple of expressions in the Japanese language to intrigue students for future exploration.

  • Favorite DaughterTitle: The Favorite Daughter
  • Author/Illustrator: Allen Say
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-17662-0
  • Genre: Fiction, social studies, culture

Dodsworth in Tokyo

Written by Tim Egan

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Dodsworth in Tokyo is the newest installment in Tim Egan’s series about two characters, Dodsworth and a duck, traveling around the globe. Egan introduced readers to Dodsworth in The Pink Refrigerator, and though many fans consider the character of Dodsworth to be a mouse, the author himself is unsure. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly that can be found online, Tim Egan said, “I think he’s a mouse. I’ll never declare it.”

Whatever animal Dodsworth happens to be, he’s a delight in each of his books as he travels with his companion, a misbehaving duck. Prior to traveling to Tokyo, Dodsworth and the duck visited New York, Paris, London, and Rome in other books of similar names.

In the adventure in Tokyo, late first grade or second grade readers will delight and giggle as the duck bumps into a rickshaw while busily looking at the signs along the crowded street, and falls into a koi pond. The duck has to be rescued by Dodsworth. Who knew a duck couldn’t swim? This in turn, causes a lady to send a tray of wagashi (Japanese desserts) flying through the air. But the duck redeems himself by returning a little girl’s favorite toy, a kendama.

Author Tim Egan succeeds effortlessly in teaching readers about Japanese culture and introducing Japanese words, like, arigato, rickshaw, bonsai trees, karate, kendama, wagashi, sumi-e paintings, Zen temple, Taiko drummers, and sushi.

Because some of the words do not follow phonetic rules, this book would be best for skilled first or second grade readers if the children are reading the book alone. Even skilled readers may need pronunciation help with many of the words. However, this book would make an excellent addition to a geography lesson about Japan, as a read aloud by the teacher. A class might enjoy reading the Dodsworth books in order of completion, with a world map displayed on a board. Place flags on the map of the various places Dodsworth visits and encourage the kids to learn to recognize the cities and countries Dodsworth and his misbehaving duck visit.

  • Dodsworth in TokyoTITLE: Dodsworth in Tokyo
  • AUTHOR: Tim Egan
  • PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • REVIEWER: Julie Lavender
  • FORMAT: Hard Cover, 48 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-87745-7
  • GENRE: Humor
  • LEXILE: 400