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Books Open the World

A Little About Myself

Asian Pacific American Lit



Yep, Laurence. Cockroach Cooties. 2000. New York:
     Hyperion Books for Children.
     ISBN: 0-7868-1338-5.
Plot Summary:
Ever been bullied?  Need a good strategy for getting a bully off your back?  Young Bobby and his older brother Teddy have just the trick --- COCKROACHES!!  When Arnie-zilla, school bully, encounters the boys' pet coackroach Hercules, his tough-guy image is threatened leaving him shaking in his shoes.  Arnie does befriend the boys, but not without his own "deal" with them.
Analysis & Literary Considerations:
San Franciscan, Newbery Honor Award-Winning author, Laurence Yep, uses his life experiences growing up near Chinatown to draw upon for this story.
Cockroach Cooties is packed full of evidential cultural markers of Asian Pacific American Literature.  The initial one being illustrator, Kam Mak's, depiction of the main characters and their "tool" to get back at the bully.  Mak's cover picture of Teddy and Bobby uniquely displays Teddy's fear and uncertainty as he clutches his brother Bobby's shoulder.  You can also see the bravery (and even the mischieveous look) of Bobby as he holds Hercules on his finger.
Additional markers include the incorporation of language structures tied to Asian Pacific American individuals.  Yep also includes in his book the mention of traditional foods and customs of families in this area of San Francisco.  An example is when Uncle Mat nonchalantly reaches across the table with his chopsticks and pries an eyeball out of the eye socket of a fish, plopping it into his mouth.
The author's description of the living arrangements lead the reader to infer that the family resides in a crowded apartment-like establishment --- and, one that is not too tidy -- as cockroaches (and other creepy crawlies) are the norm.
This book is one that is on my novel list for the upcoming school year as a "read" for small groups in my fourth grade class.  The story lends itself to great discussion not only about various cultures and relationships among siblings, but presents itself as a wonderful piece for use with conversation related to bullying.
The title itself -- Cockroach Cooties -- is enough to grab the attention of young readers.  As a teacher, I am greatly anticipating the questions this book's introduction will drum up.  Yep's book would be an excellent piece to couple or follow up with How To Eat Fried Worms just for fun.  That is if you weren't planning on the bully focus.


Say, Allen. Allison. 1997. New York: Houghton Mifflin
     Company. ISBN: 13:978-0-618-49537-5.
Plot Summary:
While trying on a new kimono sent to her by her grandmother, little Allison realizes she looks more like her doll, Mei Mei, than anyone else in her family.  In her struggle to understand, she compares herself to the other children at daycare asking if they look like their mommies.  Later she further reacts to her uncertainty by destroying her mother's childhood toys and her father's coveted autographed baseball and glove.  Allison does come to the realization of what "family" truly means through her act of kindness to a stray cat.
Analysis & Literary Consideration:
As in other remarkable works such as Grandfather's Journey and Tea With Milk, Say's undeniably exquisite illustrations do more than carry this piece.  The depiction of Allison and her parents are a true reflection of the depth of their strength and love through such a painful experience.
Say's use of a simple sentence structure in Allison and the placement of the words on the page make for an excellent "read" for an ESL student struggling with a new language.
While trying to avoid stereotyping, I cannot help but would point out the more obvious cultural markers that include such things as the main character's hairstyle (a traditional blunt, choppy hairdo), her receiving a kimono from her grandmother (presumably in her native country), and finally the name chosen for her doll --- Mei Mei.
With this story being one about a bi-racial adoption family with the parents being American, additional markers are not as evident as they would be if the parents were of Asian Pacific decent.
When asked, "What do you have to read this time?", I aid, "These" and handed my selections to the child.  She quickly chose Allison to read without my prompting whatsoever.  As I read other materials I paid close attention to the reader.  Every so often she would stop and look away from the book.  Once stating, "Aww... this is sad."  When she finished the book she told me, "It's a sad story, but she gets a cat and she's happy."  Probing, I asked why is was sad; and, my reader answered, "She didn't know who her mommy and daddy were."
The illustrations in Allison captured my heart more than the storyline itself.  Say's ability to depict the emotions of each character through the eyes and facial expressions are quite poignant.
Allison is a piece that could not only be used as a tool while delicately conversing with a youngster about adoption, but as an excellent book to demonstrate belongingness.  A classroom library "must-have".


Ho, Minfong. Hush! A Thai Lullaby. 1996. New York:
     Orchard Books. ISBN: 0-531-09500-2.
Plot Summary:
From a mosquito to a lizard to a water buffalo and an elephant, a mother goes to each animal trying to quiet the noises they make that might wake her sleeping child. When the mother is successful and the animals are silenced, she finally falls asleep as the baby lies awake in his bed with wide eyes and a big smile.
Analysis & Literary Considerations:
In collaboration with illustrator Holly Meade, Burmese author Minfong Ho writes a rhythmic text that was deservingly awarded the Caldecott Honor Book.  Hush!, with its repeating lines would make a wonderful choice for a read aloud.  An example includes: "Hush! Who's that leaping by the well? `OP-OP, OP-OP.' A bright green frog. Green frog, green frog, don't come leaping. Can't you see that Baby's sleeping?"
Mead's use of bold colored cut-paper collage with ink along with keeping close to the look of the surroundings for this sweet little lullaby originating from Thailand.  However, I would point out the the depiction of the characters with mere slits for eyes as well as their homes being of thatch-look nature was a bit too stereotypical for me.
With the exception of the depiction of Asian Pacific individuals' eyes, this story is quite charming.  I would have to consider whether or not students within my room would be offended by these pictures prior to introducing it into my classroom.

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