Kevin & Robin Books

- Quality Reading for Children

 

Book Reviews

CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 8. . . .October 23, 2009

Froggy

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu.
Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
24 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-10-5 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-897458-07-5 (hc.).
 
 cover

Subject Headings:
Frogs-Jevenile fiction.
Magic-Jevenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 2-6.

Review by Chris Laurie.

***1/2 /4

excerpt:       

 

Evergreen Island is a peaceful kingdom where animals of all sizes and shapes live together happily. Young Froggy sits on a rock by the pond, observing and admiring each passing creature’s style.

Skunk is on the way back from her hairdresser.

“Hi, Froggy. What a nice day!”

“I guess so,” says Froggy absentmindedly, busy admiring how elegant Skunk looks. I like your new hairdo, Skunk. By the way, I heard that spicy new perfume you’ve been wearing lately is getting everyone’s attention.”

“Oh, really?” Skunk blinks happily and advances closer to give Froggy a full whiff of her scent.

Froggy wishes he could attract attention, just like Skunk. But maybe only creatures in striped black-and-white fur can do that.

“If only I had Skunk’s black-and-white fur coat!” thinks Froggy.

The world Wang has created in her picture book, Froggy, is sure to charm readers of all ages. Evergreen Island’s characters are without exception both colourful and interesting. Readers are introduced to Froggy as he is sitting on a rock by the pond “……observing and admiring each passing creature’s style.” Froggy is unsatisfied with himself and wishes “……to be a better creature in every way” and to be more like, for example, Lion, who has a loud, clear voice, or Ox, who possess great strength. Though Froggy’s mother reassures him that he is both kind and smart, Froggy replies that he isn’t as smart as Magician Lee.

internal art      When Froggy tells Magician Lee what he admires most about all of the other animals in Evergreen Island, the Magician, with a wink, promises to change him into exactly what he asks for. Readers will enjoy Froggy’s journey to finding happiness in his own skin.

     Wang has created an appealing world in Evergreen Island. Each of the many characters in this bright picture book is both appealing and interesting, and Froggy is an identifiable young hero with the innocence and longings that young readers will readily identify.

     Award-winning Yu’s delightful watercolour illustrations fill the single-page spreads. His delightful anthropomorphized characters are reminiscent of Michael Hague’s classic artwork in The Wind in the Willows, with further elements brought from Yu’s traditional Chinese artistry. Much white space and large, clear text make this an enjoyable, easy-to-read romp. And yet, despite the strength of Froggy’s illustrations, it is Wang’s quirky and intriguing characters that linger long after reading this book.

     Wang is the author of several self-published children’s books. A former teacher, her website states that her passion is to create children’s stories that contain social and cultural issues with humorous touches that make reading fun. This is accomplished when Froggy learns to embrace the qualities that make him special without the lesson being didactic.

    Let’s hope Evergreen Island’s other characters make appearances in future stories, I’m sure they have wonderful tales of their own to tell.

Highly Recommended.

Chris Laurie is a Youth Services Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.

CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 3. . . .September 18, 2009
 

Ajay

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu. Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.  cover

34 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.99 (pbk.), $21.98 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-13-6 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9738799-9-5 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Flea markets-Juvenile fictions.
Immigrants-books-Juvenile fictions.
East Indians-books-Juveniel fictions.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Claire Perrin.

*** /4

Not many picture books have truly sad endings, but after reading Ajay, one feels a surprising sadness. The story is told from the point of view of a boy who visits the flea market with his family. During these visits, he notices that some of the vendors have disappeared and new ones have taken their places. The narrator discovers that a young boy named Ajay and his father have taken over the booth where Stingy Suzy had been. The new family has just arrived from India and is trying to make ends meet by selling their wares at the flea market until Ajay’s dad can find a job. Although the narrator finds the Indian goods to be beautiful, he doesn’t have enough money to buy anything. Ajay looks at him with pleading eyes, and his new friend vows to return soon with some money. Upon his return, he is incredulous that Ajay’s booth is no longer there. A nearby vendor informs him that the Indian goods were not selling well enough and that the family had to abandon their small business.   

internal art      “We came from India ten months ago.” Pointing at the things they were selling, Ajay went on to explain: “Dad hasn’t found a job. He said we have to sell things here to earn money to support our family.”

“Do you have a big family?”

“No, not really. I have three younger sisters and a brother, and my mom…”

“But my family back home in India was bigger. We lived with my grandparents. I miss my home. And I miss my grandparents very much.” His face turned cloudy, and tears welled up in his eyes.

I felt bad and quickly changed the topic. “How do you like the school here?”

     Rather than providing us with a happy ending, Wang leaves the story open-ended. The reader cannot help but feel the incredible disappointment of the narrator who returns with good intentions only to find that it is too little too late. Instead of feeling frustrated by the lack of closure, the reader can’t help but imagine a variety of possible explanations and scenarios that may have played out for Ajay’s family. Part of the book’s appeal is that the loose ends are not neatly tied up by the author.

     There are many themes in the book that make for good discussion or reflection: immigration, poverty, family, multiculturalism and empathy. This book would be a good addition to libraries that serve a multicultural clientele because these issues are addressed in such a sensitive way.

Recommended.

Claire Perrin is a teacher-librarian with the Toronto District School Board in Toronto, ON.    

CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

My Stone Lion

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu. Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.


24 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-15-0 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-0-9738799-4-0 (hc.).

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Elaine Fuhr.

***½ /4  

excerpt:

When I was a little boy, I fell in love with all kind of lions. And I claimed this stone lion for my very own.

I used to spend a lot of time touching him, admiring him, and talking to him as if he were really alive.

My Stone Lion is a beautiful story of a young boy who is fascinated by every kind of lion, but he loves one in particular, the stone lion that protects a house just down the street from his home. His grandfather takes him to see the lion almost every day. As the boy grows up, he notices that the lion has more cracks each year, and he wonders why. The little boy and his family move away, and he no longer gets to visit his lion every day. Grandpa becomes ill and dies, leaving the boy missing his close friend and his stone lion. As the boy becomes a young man in high school, he longs to visit the lion again. Eager to do so, he doesn`t pay attention to his science lesson about acid rain. Instead, he daydreams about his visit and the many memories from his childhood. But his visit to his old friend, the stone lion, proves to be a science lesson in itself. 
                                                                                     This enchanting tale is written simply through the thoughts of a little boy who loves lions. The use of uncomplicated language makes this book appropriate for the young reader or the older child with reading challenges. The colourful, detailed illustrations by Hechen Yu add appeal and enhance the story.

Highly Recommended.

Elaine Fuhr, a retired teacher, lives in Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.


Grandpa Joe

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Hechen Yu. Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.


34 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.99 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-11-2 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9738799-6-4 (hc.).

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Todd Kyle.

excerpt:    

By age six, I had not spoken a word. The doctors could not find any problem. My grandfather said: “So what? My youngest son, your uncle, could not speak a word for years. One day, he fell out of a tree and bumped his head. All of a sudden, he spoke?and he hasn’t shut up since.”

With no other children to play with, I was lonely. I used to draw pictures to “talk” to Grandpa Joe. When I started school, I grew out of that kind of baby business and did not “talk” to him much anymore. But I was still his best listener.

A young Chinese-Canadian boy, unable to speak, recounts the story of his friendship with an Italian-born widower, Joe, who spends his days hanging out at the local mall and annoying people with his constant gossip. After he breaks his leg, Joe disappears, the neighbourhood starts to miss him, and the old man’s house is put up for sale. When Joe finally reappears, ranting about not wanting to sell his house, the boy’s speech suddenly appears from the shock.

Wang is a prolific and talented self-published picture book author who has a knack for original story ideas, often based on Chinese and other Canadian immigrant groups. A former ESL teacher, her command of the English language is remarkable as well. 
                                                                                                                     Grandpa Joe is a story that screams out to be heard. Children’s stories set in an Italian-Canadian milieu are rare, and the basis of this one – a lonely man who can’t stop telling the same tall tales – is very vivid to this reviewer: Joe could easily have been my late father-in-law, whose funeral was actually attended by “mall friends” none of the family knew.

The charcoal and watercolour illustrations, by fellow Chinese-Canadian Hechen Yu, are lively and expressive, and vividly portray all of the characters, right down to the recognizably Italian features on many faces, most notably Joe’s friend Old Angelo. They are undoubtedly a treat and would not be out of place in any publisher’s catalogue.

Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

 CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

To Share One Moon

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu & Xiaoyan Zheng.
Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $22.95.
ISBN 978-0-9738799-5-7.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Deanne Coombs.

*** /4  

excerpt:

Today is Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, or Moon Festival. Chinese Moon Festival is very much like Thanksgiving in North America. On this night, families get together to admire the bright, full moon while eating sweet moon cakes and enjoying a cup of tea. Under this full moon friendships are renewed, families are reunited, and long-lost loved ones find their way to each other. 
 

To Share One Moon is a poignant, realistic and complex story of similarities and contrasts between cultures and countries as well as between reality and legend. Nui Nui (Mandarin for little girl) narrates the difficulties endured by the family as they adapt to a new culture and lifestyle in Canada. It is also a story of family breakdown, separation and loss. The legend of the Moon Lady, Chang-Er, and also the thoughts of an ancient Chinese poet parallel the family's story.

internal art

      The book is beautifully illustrated by two different artists who continue the theme of contrast and similarity between reality and legend. Cool colours and clean lines depict the modern Chinese family in the reality of their lives while rich colours and fluid lines exquisitely portray the legend of the Moon Lady Chang-Er. The picture of Chang-Er dwelling alone on the moon, except for her white rabbit, conveys feelings of the desolation and loneliness running concurrently throughout this book.

      The child portrayed in this story appears to be about five years of age while the content and language used is sophisticated and more suited to older children. There are several topics of discussion in this story which could be utilized in an educational setting in various ways.

      The story begins with the family’s celebration of the Moon Festival in China with many friends and relatives before the family emigrates to Canada. The family has a comfortable life in China; Nui Nui's Papa is a doctor, and Mama holds a high ranking position in a bank. They, along with Nui Nui’s grandmother, come to Canada as Papa feels Nui Nui will receive a better education here. Nui Nui is sad to leave her old nanny in China. To comfort her, the nanny points to the full moon and tells her of an ancient poet who says we are all under the same moon even though we live thousands of miles apart. We can still think of each other with love and remember one another.

      At first, the family is optimistic upon arriving in Canada, but this feeling quickly changes. Mama and Papa cannot find positions in their chosen professions in Canada. Papa has to take a job making muffins, and Mama goes to school to improve her English skills. The first Moon Festival in Canada is not a happy one. There are no friends and family to celebrate with as everyone is too busy working and studying.

      Grandmother (Nai Nai) is also homesick and tells Nui Nui the story of the Moon Lady, Chang-Er, who swallows two pearls her husband has been given by the Queen Mother of the West. She is punished and sent to the cold moon where she lives alone except for a white rabbit for company. She longs to return to earth and her husband.

      After the second Moon Festival in Canada, Mama returns to China. Papa returns to night school to study to be a doctor again. Both Papa and Nui Nui miss Mama. Nui Nui looks at the full moon and wonders whether Mama will ever come back to them

At night, while Papa and Nai Nai are asleep, I sit by the window looking up at the bright, full moon. I am thinking of Mama and my nanny, and wondering if they are looking up now and sharing the same moon with me. The ancient poet and his words occur to me again, which also remind me of Nai Nai's story about the Moon Lady.

Recommended.

Deanne Coombs is a mother, grandmother and semi-retired teacher who lives in Winnipeg, MB, has read thousands of children's books to thousands of children and enjoyed every minute of it.


Children's Bookwatch: April 2008
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

The Picturebook Shelf
 
To Share One Moon
Ruowen Wang, author
Wei Xu & Xiaoyan Zheng, illustrators
Kevin & Robin Books Ltd.
64 Clancy Dr. Toronto, M2J 2V8, ON Canada
9780973879957, $22.95 www.kevinandrobinbooks.com
    

Seen through the eyes of a Chinese-Canadian young girl, To Share One Moon is a children's picturebook about the Chinese Moon Festival, a holiday similar to Thanksgiving in North America, when celebrating families get together to admire the full moon while eating sweet moon cakes and enjoying good tea. Under the full moon, friends keep in contact, families are reunited, and separated loved ones reconnect. and absent loved ones are fondly remembered. The joyful illustrations portray the happy moments of the holiday through a child's eyes, as well as her sadness over the legend behind the Chinese Moon Festival, in which the Moon Lady is tragically separated from her husband. "Under the bright Mid-Autumn moon, I make three wishes and believe they will be granted: I wish that this full moon has the magic power to hold families together. I wish that the Moon Lady will eventually return to her husband, who is still awaiting her on earth. And I wish that all loved ones, no matter where they are, will look up at this full moon tonight and think of each other with a tender heart."


James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Diane C. Donovan, Editor
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?

Ruowen Wang, author; Wei Xu, illustrator
Kevin & Robin Books
344 Jarvis Street, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4Y 2G6
0973879807
$19.95 Cdn
www.kevinandrobin.com

Canadian English as A Second Language teacher Ruowen Wang and award-winning Chinese artist Wei Xu present Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?, a picturebook that uses a repetitive sentence-structure motif to help young readers build their vocabulary and word skills. A young daughter and her loving mother play a simple game together: "'Are you thinking of having a pretty dress?' / 'No. Try again.' // 'Are you thinking of having some ice cream?' / 'No. Try again.' // 'Are you thinking of picking up some groceries for dinner?' / 'No. Try again." The final paragraph spoken by the mother is especially soulful: "'Well a little bird tells me that you are unique, just like your fingerprints, and you are mine. I love you very much. And I'm thinking of painting my rainbows of love into your dreams. Shhhhhh, keep it a secret. Nighty night." Warmly illustrated with expressive colors against minimal backgrounds, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking? is a wonderful read-aloud book for mothers and daughters everywhere.

                                         
– by The Midwest Book Review 
                                                               (February, 2007)

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
by Ruowen Wang ; illustrated by Wei Xu.
Toronto : Kevin & Robin Books, c2006.
32 p. : col. ill. ; 29 cm.

Annotations:

A bedtime story. Sweet conversations between a young daughter and her loving mother. Gradually increased vocabulary and repeated sentence structures. A perfect read-aloud story or a short drama. Beautiful illustrations highlight loving teme.

Reviews:

Linda Berezowski
(Resource Links, October 2007 (Vol. 13, No. 1))
The strength of Are You Thinking What I?m Thinking? by Ruowen Wang , lies in its gentle voice and interaction between mother and child. It is playful in nature centering on a game of mother and daughter asking each other what they are thinking as they go through their bedtime ritual. Through this conversation we are reminded that every person is unique and valuable. I found the dialogue between mother and child to be somewhat problematic. The repetitious questions and answers, although grammatically correct, detracted from the charm of the scene, however, considering the background of the author, a former teacher of English as a Second Language, this rigid format may have been deliberately targeting specific audience. In my opinion, this book would be a good choice for ESL library collections. The book?s language structure supports its use as a didactic tool since the book provides an example of English language conventions of questions and answers thus providing models for both adults and child readers. The entire text written as dialogue between mother and child makes it an appropriate selection for shared reading between adult and child. The illustrations are colorful and attractive supporting the storyline but not adding additional information or extending the story beyond what is given in the text. This attribute may facilitate those new to the language, but might not be as exciting for those who have more experience with the picture book format. Are You Thinking What I am Thinking? is published by Kevin and Robin Books, an independent publishing and book selling company in Canada. Their website http://www.kevinandrobinbooks.com/ explains that they promote ?gender equality and multiculturalism?. Their website lists other books in their catalogue. I would recommend this book as a purchase for ESL collections but as an additional purchase for general picture book collections. It would support curriculum topics in health and language arts. Category: Picture Books. Thematic Links: Family Life; All About Me; Parent/Child Relationships; Bedtime. Resource Links Rating: A (Average, all right, has its applications), Gr. Preschool - 1. 2007, Kevin and Robin Books, 32p. Illus., Hdbk. $19.95. Ages 2 to 7.

Subjects:

Mothers and daughters Juvenile fiction.
Imagination Juvenile fiction.
Bedtime Juvenile fiction.
Picture books for children.

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CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

Ennie Meenie Minie Moe.

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu.

Toronto, ON:
Kevin & Robin Books (www.kevinandrobinbooks.com), 2007.

32 pp., cloth, $23.95.
ISBN 978-0-9738798-4-1
Preschool-grade 5 / Ages 4-10.

Review by Laura Ludtke.

*** /4

<i>Eenie Meenie Minie Moe</i> is the brilliantly crafted story about an uncle telling his favourite niece a traditional Chinese story with a hidden lesson about her own life.

“ ‘Here we go!  Once upon a time … No, that sounds boring, doesn’t it? How would you like to listen to my improved English for a change?’ Uncle came from China. He tries to speak English, and often mixes it with Chinese.

With his Chinese-accented English, Uncle starts again. ‘Here is a better version, in English: Mini, mini, money-mole …’

He makes me laugh. ‘No, Uncle. It is not ‘Mini, mini, money-mole.’’

‘It is not ‘a little money-mole’? What is it then? That was what you taught me, wasn’t it?’

‘No. It should be ‘Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe.’ Now, listen carefully. Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe.  Catch a tiger by its toe. If it hollers, let it go. Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe! Got it? But I thought you were going to tell me a Chinese story.’

‘This story I’m going to tell you is [bold]very[end bold] Chinese. Just sit up there and listen.’”

So begins the story of ‘The Three Monks’, in which three normally solitary monks learn to live together and cooperate in a small temple on a far away mountain top. The Uncle’s story uses the technique of repetition to develop the monks’ lives. Each monk arrives thirsty and tired at the temple. The first monk finds the temple abandoned except for a small mouse (his only companion) and fetches water from the lake at the bottom of the mountain by himself to fill a big ceramic jar. When the second monk arrives, the first monk is so glad to have company that he shares water from the ceramic jar with his new companion. The second monk repays his kindness by fetching more water from the lake below. Eventually, the two monks work out an arrangement to fetch water together.

The third monk arrives and is thirsty and selfish. He drinks all of the other monks’ water from the ceramic without being offered it and then, without offering to get more water, falls asleep. After this, the monks no longer cooperate to get water, and the ceramic jar remains empty. Suddenly one night, the small mouse accidentally sets fire to the temple. The monks, realizing that the big ceramic jar is empty, work together to fetch water and put out the fire.

Finishing the story, the Uncle suggests that his favourite niece is in a similar situation.

“Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe. Catch Robin by her toe. If she screams, don’t let her go. Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe.”

I protest. “Hey, why me? What have I done?”

“Well, the problem is not what you have done, but you have [boldnot done[end bold].” My uncle lifts me off the tree. “Come on, young lady. Let me show you your bedroom, and then you tell me what the problem is.”

Robin shares her bedroom with her brother, and like the three monks living together, instead of cooperating, they each refuse to do more than the other, and so the room is total mess! With the help of their uncle and his stories, Robin and her brother are able to learn that duty (cleaning one’s room) and cooperation (cleaning the room together) can be fun and fulfilling.

The book is delightfully illustrated, switching from a modern style of depiction to a more traditionally Chinese style for Uncle’s story. The illustrations are very rich, containing enough detail to keep any reader entertained with more than just the story. As well, the illustrations (along with the story they accompany) offer young readers the opportunity to learn about Chinese culture.

“Here we go again,” says Uncle. “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe.  Catch a monk by his toe …”

“Wrong, wrong again. It should be ‘Catch a tiger by its toe.’”

“A tiger bites. It’s safer to catch a monk by his toe. Now, where are we?  Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe. Catch a monk by his toe. If he chants let him go …”

“No, no, no! You have got this part wrong too! It should be “If it hollers, let it go’.”

“Wait a minute. We are talking about a monk. Monks don’t holler. Well, maybe the little monk does if his house is on fire, but the big ones chant.”

I recommend <i>Eenie Meenie Minie Moe</i> to all readers who enjoy a well-crafted story that is about more than just story-telling!

Recommended.

Laura Ludtke is a candidate for a Masters of Classics at Queen’s University. She reads and review Children’s (and Young Adult) literature in her spare time; she is always a fan stories within stories!

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CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials 

Little Wen: “What is the Chinese Saying for This One?”

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu.

Toronto, ON:
Kevin & Robin Books (www.kevinandrobinbooks.com), 2007.

32 pp., cloth, $22.95.

ISBN 978-0-9738799-3-3.
Kindergarten-grade 5 / Ages 5-10.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.

*** /4

excerpt

Wen was anything but well-mannered and cultured.  She roamed the streets and climbed trees.  Once, Mama told her that only mischievous boys climbed like monkeys.  “Girls should not climb,” she said.

“Why not?”

People say if a girl climbs trees, her babies will be born with six toes.”

Wen liked that idea. “That’s good. My baby girls will climb faster.”

Based on the author’s own childhood experiences in China, this attractive picture book tells an entertaining tale about a young Chinese girl who is exuberant and curious about the world around her. Undeterred by adults’ disapproval about the way that she acts because it is not how girls should act, the protagonist Wen asks questions about why things are the way they are and does things like climbing trees. Even though her curiosity and attempts to help have unintended effects, she remains the same as ever.

The story itself is not structured around a well-defined plot but rather is an episodic narrative of incidents that aim to flesh out Wen’s character and the social environment in which she grows up.  Wen grows up among well-meaning adults who would want Wen to act like a “quiet, clean, and well-behaved” girl so that she will maintain her family’s good reputation and find a good husband when she grows up. However, Wen struggles against the adults’ rigid expectations, particularly as her naturally inquisitive behaviour goes against their views about how children should behave.

Although it is firmly rooted in Chinese culture, this story transcends cultural boundaries. It will serve well as a historical example that is accessible to young children who will identify with Wen and her desire to express her own identity. Readers will identify with Wen’s incessant questioning of the environment around her and sympathize with her when things go wrong. Although Wen’s mother does disapprove of Wen’s behaviour sometimes, she is also depicted by Wang as a sympathetic person who does recognize and accept Wen’s differences from other Chinese girls. 

Illustrated by Wei Xu, an award-winning artist, the book’s illustrations help to convey an appropriate tone for Wang’s story.  The simply drawn, coloured illustrations are not overly realistic and strive for a more animated, cartoon-like appearance instead, which is appropriate because of the book’s more lighthearted topic. They connote the protagonist Wen’s exuberance and emotions, particularly through their depiction of her facial expressions, body language, and pigtails in active and spontaneous poses. The close-ups of Wen’s face encourage reader identification with her when she is sad as well as when she is happy or excited.

The picture book’s language level makes it suitable for children ages 7 and up because it contains more difficult words such as “reputation,” courtyard,” and “embarrassment.”  Though these words do not appear too frequently, younger children can better appreciate the story if parents and teachers read it aloud to them since there is also a fair amount of text on each page. For older children, they can better appreciate the book if they have some knowledge about the significance of Chinese sayings, which have historically been used to instruct children about how to live and behave, as well as the story’s historical and cultural context.

As an instructional tool, this book will fit well into units about Chinese culture and children growing up in different cultures. Teachers could use the book to introduce students to Chinese proverbs and people’s perceptions of girls in traditional Chinese culture. It may be particularly interesting for students to examine the history behind the Chinese sayings and to compare them to English proverbs. This story’s humourous aspects will make the proverbs more accessible to children.

One cautionary note about this book is that readers should avoid construing Wen’s actions as a rejection of Chinese culture per se. There are several stories now in which female characters feel constrained by their traditional culture’s gender expectations and rebel against them in order to assert their individuality. Although it is for younger children, <i>Little Wen</i>’s narrative trajectory is similar, and some readers may come away from this book with a negative impression of Chinese culture because of its gender constraints. Therefore, a sensitized understanding of traditional Chinese culture and its gender expectations will be beneficial.

For more information about the author, readers can visit her website at http://www.ruowenwang.com/.

Recommended.

Huai-Yang Lim has recently completed a degree in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.


Little Wen: “What is the Chinese Saying for This One?”

Annotations:

For ages 3-8.

Reviews:

Tanya Boudreau
(Resource Links, October 2007 (Vol. 13, No. 1))
Girls should not climb; learn to hold your tongue; that is not a question a little girl should ask; behave yourself like other girls, and don't shame your family.

This is what Wen hears from the adults in her life. Chinese Canadian author Ruowen Wang brings her childhood memories to her book Little Wen. Wen's mom and the female adult's in her community believe Wen's questions, giggles, ideas, energy, and curiosity are unacceptable behaviours for a little girl to exhibit. Wen's name means well-mannered and cultured but her neighbours call her "a little mad girl". After Wen's peanut plant dies, she starts learning old Chinese sayings from her mom. One is about patience, and another about time and effort. There is no Chinese saying though for the embarrassment Wen causes her mom in the courtyard. It's Wen's questioning mind though that breaks the tension between mother and child.

This childhood story explores some of the traditional beliefs and values of the author's parent's generation. Clothing, parenting, and expectations are touched on in Wen's story. My favourite part of the book is the afterward about the peanut plant.

Ruowen Wang lives in Toronto. She is no stranger to reading and children's literature. She is a collector of books and writings. Her dream is to become a publisher so she can promote multicultural children's literature. Her other books include The Hidden Treasure, and Eenie Meenie Minie Moe. Wei Xu has illustrated several books for authors in China . He works in an advertising company as a chief designer. His home is in Toronto . We see the vibrant and authentic Wen in Wei Xu's illustrations. Wen's extremely long pigtails are seldom still - and this could be because she's always moving! She might be on a window ledge, or a shed roof, or half way up a tree. Her facial expressions are endless and understandable. I think the most telling picture is the one of Wen giving the peanut plant a hand in growing. I also liked page sixteen. I spent a lot of time looking at this picture of Wen and her mom. I would buy this book for my library.

Category: Picture Books. Thematic Links: Multicultural Children?s Books; Chinese Traditions and Beliefs; Mother-Daughter Relationships. Resource Links Rating: G (Good, great at times, generally useful!), Gr. 1-3. 2007, Kevin & Robin Books, 32p. Illus., Hdbk. $22.95. Ages 6 to 9.

 CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

Little Wen: "I Want to See About That."

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu.
Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.99 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-897458-12-9 (pbk.). ISBN 978-1-897458-09-9 (hc.).
 

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-6.

Review by Myra Junyk.

** /4

 

 

 excerpt:

Mama put on her stern face. "Mothers know everything. Trust me. Now, no more questions!"

"All right no more questions… But do mothers really know everything?" Oops, another question. Little Wen quickly covered her mouth and made a face.

"Just believe what I say, or your questioning will bring us bad luck. If not all my chicks turn out to be egg-laying hens, it could be our fault entirely."

"Oh, really?" Little Wen was fascinated. "I want to see about that."

Little Wen moves to the countryside as she is starting Grade One. Since country life is new to her, she eagerly explores her surroundings. Lots of things are different here! Houses are made of mud and straw. There are many animals - piglets, roosters and chicks. When her mother decides to raise her own chicks, Wen has lots of questions. Her new friend and neighbour, Mei, is also a mystery to Little Wen because Mei's mother has shaved Mei's head to make her hair grow in faster and healthier. After learning about Mei, Little Wen decides to experiment with her mother's new chicks to see if they, too, can have longer hair by her cutting all the down off their heads. Will Little Wen ever stop experimenting and asking, "I want to see about that?"

    

Little Wen is a very curious child who finds herself in a new environment which she wants to explore fully. As an only child, she is often left to her own devices. This allows her to try out her assumptions by doing things like cutting off all the down on the chick's heads. Her mother is shocked by her behaviour and manages to stop her before she cuts all of the hair off the tomcat's head! Little Wen's curiosity about everyday events will surely be familiar to young readers.

     Little Wen's impetuous actions lead to several improbable events in this picture book. Why is she left alone to experiment with the animals? Why does she seem to act in isolation? We see her with her mother on occasion – but never with her father. Her friend Mei appears briefly to set up the problem of the hair – but then disappears for most of the book – only to appear again with a full head of hair. The vocabulary of this picture book could also be a challenge for very young readers. Words such as "fertilizer" "courtyard" and "earthquake" could be problematic since the meanings of these words are not obvious through the context of the language or the illustrations.

     The watercolour illustrations provide useful information for readers. Most of the illustrations portray Little Wen with one or two other individuals. They help readers to understand her character. Her boredom is evident as she explores the puddles on the mud floor of their new home. Her excitement is evident when she meets her new friend Mei and discovers that she is now bald! But most of all, readers can see Little Wen's mischievous nature when she tells them, "I want to see about that." As she is cutting off the down from the heads of the chicks, her facial expressions reveal her intense concentration on her task.

     This interesting picture book explores the world of curiosity and imagination. Young children need to explore their worlds – in a safe way. They need to be able to say "I want to see about that" in order to understand their world.

Recommended.

Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.  

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Hidden treasures
written by Ruowen Wang ; illustrated by Wei Xu.
Cataloging in Publication
Toronto : Kevin & Robin Books, 2007.

Reviews:

Rachelle Gooden

(Resource Links, October 2007 (Vol. 13, No. 1))

The Hidden Treasure is a story within a story. When his grandchildren ask him to tell them a story, Grandpa takes a break from his gardening to tell them the tale of the Hidden Treasure. This Chinese tale is about a dying old man whose greedy children only take care of him because of a treasure they believe he has hidden away. Wang cleverly brings the reader back into the main frame of her book by having the grandfather ask his grandchildren to write their own versions to the end of the tale. Ultimately both stories work together to show that the real treasure in life is the love of family. While the old man in the inner story longed for it, the grandfather in the outer story treasured it. Over all this is an entertaining, enriching, well illustrated book that is sure to please its readers.

Category: Picture Books. Thematic Links: Family; Treasure; Chinese Stories. Resource Links Rating: G (Good, great at times, generally useful!),

Gr. 2-4. 2007,
Kevin & Robin Books,
40p. Illus., Hdbk. $22.95.
Ages 7 to 10.

Little Joy.

Ruowen Wang. Illustrated by Wei Xu.

Toronto, ON: Kevin & Robin Books, 2008.

24 pp., hardcover, $19.95.               

ISBN 978-0-9738799-7-1.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 2-6.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.

*** /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.

excerpt

Mommy tickles Little Joy on her ear. Little Joy smiles, but does not laugh. Mommy tickles Little Joy’s hair.Little Joy smiles, but does not laugh.

There is an expanding body of children’s picture books that deal with adoption, a topic which is particularly salient as more North American families today are adopting children from Asia. These books often address this topic from the perspective of the foster parent, sibling, or adoptee and explore the issues that surround the process of adoption or of growing up as an adopted child. For example, these include the family’s varied and fluctuating emotions that result from the adopted child’s arrival, the difficulties that arise from adopted children’s perceptions of their physical differences from other family members and people, as well as the struggles and rewarding efforts of adopted children to fit into their new family. Picture books that focus on adopted children from Asia include Deborah Hodge’s <i>Emma’s Story</i>, Eve Bunting’s <i>Jin Woo</i>, Jean Davies Okimoto’s <i>The White Swan Express</i>, Ed Young’s <i>My Mei Mei</i>, Patricia I. McMahon’s <i>Just Add One Chinese Sister</i>, and Stephan Molnar-Fenton’s <i>An Mei's Strange and Wondrous Journey</i>, and Jan Czech’s </i>An American Face</i>.

Ruowen Wang’s story <i>Little Joy</i> is ideal for members of a younger audience who are just beginning to develop their English comprehension skills. Structured as a simple story told in simple language, Ruowen Wang’s book depicts the developing bond between a white mother and her adopted Chinese girl, Little Joy. This is not to discount the difficulties that adoptees have when they grow up or the desires that they have to locate their birth parents, which books, such as Ting-xing Ye’s <i>Throwaway Daughter</i>, sensitively depict. Instead, Wang’s story depicts the relationship between a foster mother and her child in a way that young children can comprehend and that new parents of adopted children can also appreciate and enjoy.        

The story is charming in its evocation of a mother’s interaction with and love for her adopted baby. Emphasizing the reciprocity and universality of love, the book works well as an early reader or as a read-aloud for young children under the age of five due to its repetition of phrases and simple vocabulary. It is a straightforward narrative that is divided into two main parts: the first portion focuses on the unsuccessful attempts of Little Joy’s mother to make her laugh while the second part reverses the situation and shows Little Joy’s attempts to make her mother laugh.  Teachers can read the book aloud to develop children’s language acquisition skills while librarians could use it as a read-aloud in a public library’s programming for young children and could encourage children’s participation by asking them to finish the phrases.          

The picture book’s watercolour illustrations by Wei Xu complement the story effectively by conveying a suitably gentle and lyrical mood to accompany the text. Wei Xu creates a homely atmosphere with little details in the foreground and background such as house plants, toys, a portrait hanging on the wall, and Little Joy’s baby bottle. Wei Xu’s varied and plentiful usage of colour in the pictures will keep the attention of young readers, but the pictures are appropriately subdued with Xu’s avoidance of flashy colours and use of gentle black and coloured outlines. Close-up shots of Little Joy evoke her cuteness, and these complement the images in which her mother is hugging and playing with her. A particularly striking image is the one that shows Little Joy’s mother holding Joy’s hand while tickling her child with her other hand. There are also a couple of outside scenes on the beach and in the neighbourhood that round out the story’s atmosphere.

Mother-daughter relationships are prominent in Ruowen Wang’s other published work, including <i>Little Wen</i> and <i>Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?</i>, both of which Wei Xu also illustrated. Readers may recognize this story’s illustrative style and colouring from previous picture books that Xu illustrated, but she has suitably modified her style to suit this story’s realism. 

For more information about Ruowen Wang, readers can visit her official site (http://www.ruowenwang.com/) or the website of her publisher, Kevin & Robin Books (http://www.kevinandrobinbooks.com/).

Recommended.

Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a researcher. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.

Zigzoo : when a dragon catches a cold
written by Ruowen Wang ; illustrated by Wei Xu.
Cataloging in Publication
Toronto : Kevin & Robin Books, 2007.

Reviews:

Heather Empey
(Resource Links, October 2007 (Vol. 13, No. 1))

A charming story about a young dragon who catches a cold - his scales turn blue, his fire goes out and he loses his voice. He worries that he will never breathe fire again, but since a cold is a human illness, he must seek help from a human doctor. The doctor is afraid of the dragon and so sends him to a doctor of Chinese medicine. This doctor is also afraid and sends him to an acupuncturist, and so on and so on. Eventually, the dragon finds himself back at the first doctor?s house and through a surprising turn of events, they are able to help each other. This story in the tradition of a Chinese folktale should appeal to younger audiences. Category: Picture Books. Thematic Links: Dragons; Health Professionals; Colds. Resource Links Rating: G (Good, great at times, generally useful!), Gr. K-4. 2007, Kevin & Robin Books, 32p. Illus
., Hdbk. $22.95. Ages 5 to 10.

 by Becky - a children's librarian, US:

Little Joy
You have got me in tears over here - I just LOVED it!!!  I will post about it on my book blog FOR SURE!!  What a gem for adoptive families, especially! NOW - you have me even more excited to get them in my hands!!  Especially the moon title - I was hoping to use that for our Moon Festival later this month....but maybe next year!!

To Share One Moon
I just loved it – it would be PERFECT for our Moon Festival!!!  I just want her mom to come back to them!!!  Ok – that just shows how much I got wrapped up in the story!!!  I am going to post on my regular blog today about your wonderful books – I just love them!!

Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?
and the others:

"The stories are sweet and tender – I just LOVED them. PLEASE do let me know when you have new titles – I am hoping to purchase them for myself and also for our library – they are SO good!"


Becky has a book blog website: http://inthepages.blogspot.com 


 

Canadian Children's Book News, summer 2009 Vol.32 NO. 3 Published by The Canadian Children's Book Centre