Saturday, September 26, 2009

format for vardell posts

Bibliographic Data
Last, first. title City: Publisher, date. ISBN.

Plot Summary

Critical Analysis

Awards and Honors
Honor and year; Type of honor and awarded by.
Honor and year; Type of honor and awarded by.
Honor and year; Type of honor and awarded by.

Review Excerpts
name and title of journal review published uin along with review date

name and title of journal review published uin along with review date

name and title of journal review published uin along with review date

Book Hook or discussion questions
Pair this book with ?.

Online Connections
any websites to link to

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Poetry, Drama, Film, and Response: American Born Chinese

Bibliographic Data
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. ISBN 9781596431522.

Plot Summary
Yang takes three very different storylines and weaves them together seamlessly in this graphic novel. In the first storyline, the Monkey King, rejected by the other gods as 'just a monkey, wants to be recognized as "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven." In the second storyline, Jin Wang is uncomfortable beinig one of the 3 Asian students in his middle school. In the third storyline, Chin-Kee, a horribly overstereotyped Chinese caricature complete with laugh track, comes to visit his cousin Danny at his "Amellican" high school and proceeds to make Danny's life miserable.

Critical Analysis
In Gene Luen Yang's book, three Chinese characters display three very different aspects of being Chinese. In the first story about the Monkey King of Chinese legend, the Monkey King finds his own style of coping mechanisms when he's rejected by all the other deities, both major and minor. In the second story, Jin has to learn to cope with being Chinese in a large urban school where not even the teachers can say his name right. And in the third story Yang creates a character, Chin-Kee, who combines all the negative Chinese stereotypes known to man, into one single obnoxious charfacter.

Yang's illustrations for this story show a world filled with action, color, and movement. Even in a panel showing nothing but the monkey king sitting in the dark on his rock throne with a caption saying, "He stayed awake for the rest of the night thinking ways to get rid of it." we sense the monkey king's tension and anger in the very stillness he's shown in (20).

In the storyline featuring middle schooler Jin Wang, there's an ongoing joke about how none of the teachers can pronounce Chinese names. On Jin's first day of school, the teacher and Jin have this dialogue:
     T: (to class) Class, I'd like us all to give a warm Mayflower Elemtnary welcome to           your new friend and classmate Jing Jang!
     J: Jin Wang.
     T: Jin Wang!
               (next panel)
     T: He and his family recently moved to our neighborhood all the way from China!
     J: San Francisco.
     T: San Francisco! (30)

Two years later, another student arrives from China. Different grade, different classroom, different teacher, but the following scene once more takes place:
     T: (to class) Class, I'd like us all to give a big Mayflower welcome to your new
          friend and classmate Chei-Chen Chun!
     W: Wei-Chen Sun.
     T: Wei-Chei Sun!
               (next panel)
     T: He and his family recently moved to our neighborhood all the way from China!
     W: Taiwan.:
     T: Taiwan! (38)

Yang is showing us that prejudice, even it's casual and unintentional, never changes. Later, there's a scene where Jin has been observed out on a date with a Caucasian girl by a Caucasian boy. Interestingly, this same Caucasian boy was the one who defended Jin from some bullies on his first day in American school. But now, this boy turns out be prejudiced also. He approaches Jin at school the day after the date, and has the following conversation with Jin:
     Boy: Can I ask you a favor?
                    (next panel)
     Boy: Can you not ask Amelia out again?
     Jin: You - You like her?
                    (next panel)
     Boy: What?! No, No! She's like a sister. to me! We've known each other since,
             like preschool or something. No!
                    (next panel)
     Boy: It's just that she's a good friend and I want to make sure she makes
             good choices, you know? We're almost in high school. She has to start
             paying attention to who she hangs out with (179).

Is Yang telling us here that everybody is prejudiced to some degree, even if you are a nice person? It seems like it. But there are many kinds of prejudice. Closely related is being ashamed of who are, and this is the path that Yang pursues in diverging his three story lines into one. The monkey king learns to accept that he is a monkey. In turn, he comes to Earth in the shape of Chin-Kee to show Danny, who turns out to be Jin in high school, that there's nothing wrong with accepting who you are. In fact, by accepting who he is, Jin helps his friend, Wei-Chen Sun, accept who he is too. Wei-Chen Sun turns out to be the pivotal point of the three story lines, since he is, in reality, the monkey king's oldest son, sent to earth to serve humans, specifically Jin. Chin-Kee's yearly visits to his cousin Danny's house were actually the monkey king's annual checking in on his son. Danny reverts back to Jin, and Wei-Chen Sun learns to accept his role in life also.

Yang has written an amusing book on the surface, but when you dig down deep, the reader starts to find facets and depths to this book. Are we all truly prejudiced? Is prejudice somehting we can turn on and off, or is it something we need to learn to cope with the hard way, like Jin? And finally, prejudice can assume disguises, such as the boy in Jin's middle school, 'trying to help Amelia make the best choice for herself.' If something like this were ever said to me, how would I respond? Yang shows Jin's response to be total speechlessness.

The conversation continues after Jin is struck speechless.
     Boy: Aw, geez. Look, Jin. I'm sorry. That sounded way harsher than I meant it.
             to. I just don't know if you're right for her, okay? That's all.
               (next panel)
     Boy: No hard feelings?
     Jin: ...
     Jin: Yeah.
               (next panel)
     Boy: And you can do me the favor?
               (next panel)
     Jin: ...
     Jin: I guess.
               (next panel)
     Boy: Thanks, Man! I appreciate it!

And the boy strolls off, once more leaving Jin speechless. As Jin sees Amelia down the street, he walks past her without even looking at her (180-181).

Prejudice is a harsh weapon, and Yang shows us, through his words and illustrations, that even when the user doesn't intend to hurt, it still does -- sometimes even more than when somebody DOES intend their prejudice to hurt.

As a side note, my 18 year old son read this book, and he caught something I was unaware of. In the endspiece, Yang has placed a picture of Jin and Weng wearing basketbal shirts. My son informed me that this is an "in" joke among his age group, because there's a YouTube video showing two Asian boys wearing these exact same red shirts, singing a Backstreet Boys song. Even the background is the same as in the video!

Awards and Honors
Cybils , 2006; Winner Graphic Novels Ages 13 and Up United States.
James Cook Book Award, 2007; Honorable Book United States.
Michael L. Printz Award, 2007; Winner United States.
National Book Awards, 2006; Finalist Young People's Literature United States.
Northern California Book Award, 2007; Finalist Children's Literature United States.
Quill Awards, 2007; Nominee Young Adult/Teen United States.
Best Books for Young Adults, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Best Books of the Year, 2006; School Library Journal; United States.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2007; Bank Street College of Education; Outstanding Merit; United States.
Books for Youth, 2006; Booklist Editor's Choice; United States.
Capitol Choices, 2007; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States.
Choices, 2007; Cooperative Children’s Book Center; United States.
Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth, 2007; Booklist; United States.
Top 10 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults, 2007; YALSA; United States.
Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2007; YALSA; United States.
White Ravens Award, 2007; International Youth Library; United States.

Review Excerpts
Jesse Karp (Booklist, Sep. 1, 2006 (Vol. 103, No. 1))
Each of the characters is flawed but familiar, and, in a clever postmodern twist, all share a deep, unforeseen connection. Yang helps the humor shine by using his art to exaggerate or contradict the words, creating a synthesis that marks an accomplished graphic storyteller. The stories have a simple, engaging sweep to them, but their weighty subjects--shame, racism, and friendship--receive thoughtful, powerful examination.

CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, 2007)
The Monkey King is tired of his second-class status. Adored by his own subjects, he is snubbed by human deities until he perfects his powers and literally beats those who would mock him into submission. Jin Wang is the only Chinese American student at his school. When Wei-Chen Sun arrives from Taiwan, Jin Wang thinks, “Something made me want to beat him up.” Blond-haired Danny’s life would be perfect were it not for his cousin, Chin-Kee, who embodies every offensive stereotype of the Chinese, from buck teeth and braided ponytail to mispronunciations (“Harro Amellica!”). Gene Luen Yang’s brilliant graphic novel moves back and forth between these three separate narrative strands, each one exploring issues of identity, belonging, humility, and friendship as the storylines develop. Yang’s narrative builds to an unforgettable and dazzling series of revelations as the three storylines surprisingly converge in a book that is eye-opening and provocative, pushing the boundaries of comfort for readers as it exposes racism from its most subtle to most overt.

Rosemary Knapp (Library Media Connection, January 2007)
In this graphic novel, three humorous and seemingly unrelated stories keep the reader's attention until they come together at the end. The first story concerns a Chinese-American boy trying to fit in. The second is a retelling of the Chinese fable of the monkey king… The third story involves a Chinese cousin who visits an American boy each year. The depiction of the cousin is so painfully stereotypical that you feel guilty laughing. In each story, the central character is unsatisfied with who he is and goes to great lengths to be someone else-with humorous results. The reader might be puzzled as to how the three stories are connected until the conclusion. It's a nice combination of a fable and contemporary stories to convey the wonderful lesson of accepting one's culture and identity with pride. A quick read, this title has engaging art, and at times, funny dialogue.

Book Hook
If you enjoyed this graphic novel, try some of Gene Luen Yang’s other graphic novels, like Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order (SLG Publishing, 2004) or The Eternal Smile: Three Stories (First Second, 2009), which he co-wrote with Derek Kirk Kim.

Online Connections
For more information on the Monkey King in Chinese mythology, click here.
To see the YouTube video referenced in this book, click here.

Poetry: Things I Have to Tell You

Bibliographic Data
Franco, Betsy, ed. Things I Have to Tell You. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2001. ISBN 0763609056.

Plot Summary
Betsy Franco has amassed a collection of heartfelt free-verse poems and essays, all written by teenage girls.

Critical Analysis
These poems incorporate a wide range of emotions - first love, what it means to grow up female, sexual abuse, self-respect, independence, and family. Some of the poems talk about their loss of virginity. Some poems mention exploring their sexuality. One of my favorite poems is Apricot Bath:

          Apricot Bath
          by Lindsay Henry, age 17

          I don't want to be sexy right now
          I don't feel like arranging myself
          in positions that will delight your eyes
          Arranging myself so that my stomach doesn't show
          so that you can't see my feet
          I don't feel like making the effort
          I want to sit next to you
          in an apricot bubble bath
          and talk about why your politics conflict with mine
          without your staring at my breasts
          I want to sit cross-legged
          lean forward with my elbows on my knees
          and listen to your reasoning
          without your peering down between my thighs
          I want us to be two sexless beings
          Watching the steam curl off the water

          But if you must love me
          Love the little smooth scar on my knee
          not my eyes
          Love my round belly
          not my legs
          Love the two freckles on my neck
          that look like a vampire's kiss
          not my lips
          Love my square pudgy toes
          not my smile
          I want to inhale the apricot fumes
          brush the bubbles from your shoulder
          and argue with you over our beliefs
          I don't want anything to be sexual
          even though we're both naked and
          our feet are kissing under the tepid water
          I want us to stay in the bath
          until we don't know
          where water ends and skin begins
          Until I know
          Why you are who you are
          Until you love me
          for my flaws and what I believe in (30-31)

I don't remember being that intelligent at 17, to understand so deeply the difference between love and sexuality.

These young women also think about their future vs. their present:

   To Live
   by Miriam Stone, age 16

                                          reacting with phosphorus      learning without
                                          I don't react                          knowing
   I sit in my                         I see through the paper          without room
   crunched-in                      and my pen writes                  to learn how
   restraining                        poetic equations                    to know myself
   desk, they call it,              my mind plus my life              to be myself
   with my paper                   equals                                  trial and error
   and my pen                      something beyond this           minus lab write-up
   and I am                           doodles litter my                   feeling without
   supposed to see               notebook like snowflakes        a thesis
   the blackboard                  dancing through the trees       learning youth
   around the tall boy            beyond the window                 mi futuro
   en frente de mi                 the lined paper                       learning how to live
   and my mind on my          lines with soul                       without a textbook
   text and my pen on           forgetting cosines                   without a teacher to
   the page I am                   life without phosphorus           correct grammar
   supposed to                     and my life                             to live to learn myself
   for me                              mi futuro                                to live to know myself
   para mifuturo.                   beyond desk-chairs                 to live to be somebody
   but my head                     And dull muraled halls             who's learned how
   won't translate                   j.v.varsity and                         to live (58)
   this language                    setting the curve          
   log base b of a squared;     school play and G.P.A.
   carbon monoxide               textbooks

These young poets show surprising depth through their writings. They have so much to say, but being teenage girls, it's hard for them to get somebody to listen sometimes: "Look out--I opened my mouth/and out came ideas/you don't think are pretty" (13). Some are exploring their feminie wiles, as in the selection below - make sure you read this passage out loud to get a sense of the strong rhyme and rhythm:

          This conquette can get
          Any man she's set
          Eyes upon--
          A female Don Juan.
          The best, I confess,
          Cannot help but obsess
          Over me,
          Devil walking,
          In one hell of a dress. (23)

The poetic imagery is also very strong in this collection, such as in "I am stuck inside this cocoon" (29), and "I look for my shield/and find my mask under the bed/I slip it on; it's warm and secure/but still a little uncomfortable" (32), and "my friend and i/got caught in a storm/with tears for rain,/and shouts for thunder, lightning fists/lashing out" (41).

These young women have a lot to say, and Betsy Franco has created an outlet for their deepest thoughts. There are poems in here about drug abuse, thoughts of suicide, and "A Man's Strength, But a Woman's Mind" ( 24-25). Maybe these thoughts, written out as they are to share with the world, may help another young woman when she needs support through a crucial time.

Awards and Honors
Amelia Bloomer Project, 2002; American Library Association-SRRT; United States.
Best Books for Young Adults, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002; Bank Street College of Education; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Eighth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2002; American Library Association-YALSA; United States.
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007; The H. W. Wilson Co.; United States.
Senior High School Library Catalog, Sixteenth Edition, 2002; H.W. Wilson; United States.
Young Adults' Choices, 2003; International Reading Association; United States.

Review Excerpts
Korbeck, Sharon.(School Library Journal; May 2001(Vol. 47 Issue 5))
"In allowing the words of teens from across the nation to shine through, without polishing or pushing, Franco has succeeded in compiling one of the brightest collections out there today. In a mixture of prose and poetry, the young women express their fears, dreams, relationships, and angst. There are some poetic turns of phrases here ("we put on our chatter/like red lipstick/with the same amount/of greasy enthusiasm") and some strong language. And while the poems are triumphant in their realism, the book is elevated by the inclusion of gritty, unposed black-and-white photographs. These pictures, not taken to illustrate the poems, do so in an exemplary fashion. Like snapshots from personal photo albums, the images of a multicultural array of "everygirls" are harmonious complements to this outstanding collection."

Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Fall 2001)
Several striking entries in this compilation of poems and prose lift it above the majority of such offerings; all of these writers take on issues of family, love, body image, drugs, and sexuality with clarity and insight. The black-and-white photographs are neither literal illustrations of the pieces nor portraits of the writers; they reflect the emotional currents of the writing and provide further expression of a diverse group of young women.

Book Hook
Pair this book with Betsy Franco's You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys (Candlewick, 2000).

Online Connections
Betsy Franco's website can be found here.

Poetry, Drama, Film, and Response: Zombie Haiku

Bibliographic Data
Mecum, Ryan. Zombie Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: How Books, F+W Media, Incorporated, 2008. ISBN 9781600610707.

Plot Summary
In a series of progressively mindless (in true zombie style) haiku, Mecum shows us that even zombies have a heart - even if it isn't beating anymore.

Critical Analysis
A haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry, containing three lines. The pattern for the poem consiste of 5 syllables/7 syllables/5 syllables. Haiku are usually about quiet, peaceful aspects of nature. So what can you say about haiku purportedly written by a dead, mindless, decaying zombie?

This is supposedly a poetry journal by an anonymous poet. Ryan Mecum starts his anonymous poet off with poems about normal poetry topics. The human who eventually becomes the zombie writes about love, flowers, and springtime. BUT. There are notes in another handwriting, scribbled on the front title page by a different individual named Chris Ryan. Chris tells us about the plague, and about how "somehow, people turn into these things when they die or if one bites them" (2). Ironically, the haiku just before Chris's scribbled note is:

                 My soul hovers up
          climbing from its stomach cave,
             to give my heart warmth. (2)

What foreshadowing! If this poor guy only knew what his stomach and heart will be subjected to over the next few hours. A few more haiku further on, our soon-to-be zombie poet writes:

               Fifty years from now,
          When I am slow, old and gray,
             will she be there, too? (3)

Missed again! He won't be gray in fifty years, he'll be gray by tomorrow evening. Slow, too.

Things progress from bad to worse. Our hero writes about being trapped high on a billboard sign with a horde of zombies waiting below for him:

                  for hours, I sit.
            Morning turns to afternoon,
            and they keep staring. (22)

Our plucky hero climbs into his car and waits to die after trying unsuccessfully to escape the zombies without being bitten. At this point, Mecum cleverly adds splashes of red to the pages, and the handwriting becomes erratic. Oh, no, what's happening?

           Something is not right.
          If my blood is in puddles
         Why do I feel strong? (29)

Now that our protagonist has (un)succesfully changed into a zombie, Mecum's poems get outrageously, disgustingly funny. Zombies are always hungry for fresh human meat, and this hunger is aptly demonstrated:

           You think I'd get full
          eating so many people,
          but really, I don't. (50)

Even Mecum's weakest haiku serves to highlight the zombie's singleminded hunger:

                    Brains, BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS.
          BRAINS, brains, Brains, BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS.
                 BRAINS, Brains, brains, BRAINS, brains. (32)

Mecum illustrates this book with photos taken by the zombie poet before and after his transformation into a zombie. Although the photos aren't very clear when taken by the zombie poet vs. the human poet, this is in keeping with the theme of the book, that this poetry journal was created by a zombie with nothing on his mind but the desire for human flesh. What we do make out fits in with the haiku surrounding each photo. For example, when the zombie enters a wheat field in search of humans hiding in the dark, the photograph shows two zombies staggering through a wheat field at night. When the zombie hordes travel down the highway, there is a photo of out-of-focus zombies staggering down a highway with arms askew and legs stiff.

Although my 14 year old daughter found this book totally repulsive, Zombie Haiku raised an interesting dilemna in my mind. If this zombie poet thinks only of eating human flesh, then how does he maintain enough sensibility to write perfect haiku? My rational side says it's not possible and I should just accept this book as fantasy, but my poetic side tells me that poetry is something that is internalized, not something that can be detached from your spirit. This book could raise all kinds of questions such as "Is the zombie's soul still alive?," "Is poetry an instinct or something we acquire?" and so on. Unfortunately, this kind of metaphysical discussion is beyond the scope of this blog, but it's still interesting to contemplate.

Admittedly, the gross subject matter might be a little much for the squeamish, but if you read beyond the rotting body parts, bloodsplatters, and maggots to the poetry within, this haiku collection is actually addressing the questions I raised in the previous paragraph. This man's/zombie's poetry cannot be contained within in him. No matter what happens to the poet's body, the poetry will come gushing out - just like the blood. guts, and assorted other body parts in these poems.

Awards and Honors
Baker & Taylor Paper Clips July 2008 (Formerly Hot Picks)

Review Excerpts
Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead and Marvel Zombies
"A thoroughly unique and entertaining experience. Ryan Mecum has quite possibly found the only corner of entertainment not yet infected by the zombie plague--haiku--and made me wonder why it took this long, as the two seem to go together like zombies and brains. I highly recommend it to fans of all things zombie." (

David Wellington, author of Monster Island
"The most inventive zombie book in years!" (

Book Hook
Pair this book with Ryan Mecum's brand new book, Vampire Haiku (How Books, 2009).

Online Connections
  • For "The King of Giggle Poetry," Bruce Lansky's views on writing Haiku, click here.
  • For another weird but hilarious look at zombies, check out "What to Do in a Zombie Attack", available here.
  • For more information on zombies, click here.
Sources Last accessed November 18, 2009 from

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