José Mujica is no ordinary president. He lives on a small farm with his wife and three-legged dog. He drives a light blue, 1987 VW Bug. When he served as president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, Mujica donated 90% of his $12,000 per month salary to charities that worked to support small businesses and those living in poverty. It’s no wonder the citizens of Uruguay affectionately called him “Pepe.” But others around the world called Pepe Mujica “the world’s poorest president.” Pepe dismisses this nickname stating, “I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more.” Readers should know that Pepe is also known for unapologetically speaking his truth even if his words cause discomfort. Continue reading
There are many things beautiful about The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang. First, it shares the story of a young refugee from Laos and her grandmother. Then it has richly-colored illustrations. But the most beautiful thing might well be different for each reader. It is an emotional refugee story, a narrative of the challenge of poverty, a theme of acceptance, and a reflection on how beauty is identified. Each can be found in this sensitively told story that evolves from the author’s personal experiences. For me, the most beautiful thing about the book is the intergenerational relationship that reveals a mutual bond of love, respect and admiration, setting this book apart from many others that tell of relationships between children and grandparents. One quote represents the tone of this relationship:
“The luckiest of the grandchildren got to help take care of grandma.”
Both Kalia and her grandma are in the forefront as Kalia lovingly takes care of her grandmother, listening to her stories of growing up. Grandma’s story of life in the jungles of Laos are told as related to Kalia’s questions and the challenges of her family having little money. These stories create a brief cultural and historical background for young readers through a rich interweaving of past events, such as Grandma having to run to escape a tiger, with Kalia’s daily life. But they also create a parallel between the two generations as to the challenges of poverty each faced and the love of family that proved stronger than these challenges.
The Most Beautiful Thing is rich with sensory imagery as Kalia describes her grandmother’s soft but dry skin, her rough feet with “deep cracks filled with dirt from long ago and far away,” and the single tooth that stood strong in her mouth. The mixed media visual images created by Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le provide both realistic and abstract representations of both Kalia’s life with Grandma and the stories Grandma told. Rich colors and cultural motifs keep the stories visually interesting, often with symbolism that helps to show the passage of time as Kalia gets older and Grandma gets slower, although nonetheless wiser.
Kao Kalia Yang shares the Hmong refugee experience from her own childhood, but most impressive are the memories of family, stories, and lessons learned about “the most beautiful thing,” a grandmother’s smile. The focus is uplifting and invites readers of all ages to consider the beauty of the relationships they create. Among her other picturebooks are Map Into the World and The Shared Room. She has also written for adults. -Recommended by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas
Author: Kalia Yang
Illustrator: Khoa Le
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
PubDate: October 6, 2020
Each month a committee of Worlds of Words advisors recommends a book published within the last year. Our hope is to spark conversations on our website and on social media about the book that expand global understandings and perceptions. Please join us by leaving a comment. You can also share your thoughts with us by using the hashtag #WOWRecommends on social media. Check out our alphabetical listing of all the books featured in WOW Recommends.
North Korean, 1950. What the world comes to know as the Korean War is imminent. Determined to escape the North Korean regime during the chaotic days at the onset of conflict, the Pak family joins the stream of evacuees headed to South Korea while they feel they have a chance to escape. But then there is a napalm bombing, and the throng of refugees is thrown into turmoil. What happens next is chronicled in Brother’s Keeper, a piece of historical fiction for middle grade students. Continue reading
Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle follows a fictional character in the true story of Tacky’s War in Jamaica in 1760. In this book, 14-year-old Moa works the Frontier sugarcane plantation for endless hot days and endures the lash of white enslavers. Recruited to participate in an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky, Moa is terrified but resolved. He agrees to be a cane warrior and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in nearby plantations.
“Never look forward to war. It’ll come to we when it’s ready and when it come it never pretty.” (p. 117) Continue reading
In Santiago’s Road Home, Alexandra Diaz tells how twelve-year-old Santiago makes it across the border between Mexico and the U.S. only to be captured by the Border Patrol and placed in a detention center. Santiago has a traumatic family history as an orphan who is passed between his grandmother who abuses him and an aunt who is unkind. When the aunt sends him back to live with his grandmother, Santiago decides to live on the street. Fortunately, he meets Maríe Delores who gives him food and offers to take him to the U.S. with her and her young daughter, Alegría, since Maríe Delores has a sister in the U.S. and plans on living with her. Santiago is able to help the two as they journey to the border. Their relationship develops and he comes to consider them his sisters. Continue reading
Each scene in Breanna McDaniel’s picturebook Hands Up! depicts an everyday life event accompanied by text that ends with the phrase “hands up.”
“Morning, baby. Time to get dressed, hands up.”
Gotta get clean. Reach for the sink, hands up.
“It’s all right, baby girl, I’ll help, hands up.”
Thanhhà Lại gained many readers with her award-winning novel-in-verse, Inside Out and Back Again. Her newest novel, Butterfly Yellow, aims at an older audience of middle grade and teen readers, but, like her first novel, reaches inward to grab the reader’s heart. Continue reading
The use of English and the Aboriginal Australian language of Woiwurrung, in the picturebook, Birrarung Wilam: A Story from Aboriginal Australia, has a lilting candence that will perk up the ears of young listeners. Before reading this book aloud, study the Glossary in the back for the pronunciation and meanings of the Aboriginal words. Birrarung Wilam means Yarra river home, and the story tells how the Yarra River is home to the Aboriginal culture and many unique animals only found in Australia. Continue reading
The clear voice of Manuel narrates his powerful story of how, as a 12-year-old, he left his family in Oaxaca, Mexico to join his older brother, Toño. In Beast Rider by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoads, Toño has gone North to Los Angeles on the freight trains know as the Beast. “The Beast is a network of freight trains that move from southern Mexico to the U.S. border. La Bestia is a deadly way to travel. Getting on and staying on are hard in themselves. Sometimes a rider goes to sleep and falls from the train, to be maimed or killed. … Gangs swarm the tops of train cars looking for victims” (from the Authors’ Note). Continue reading