Introduction and Editor’s Note
The third issue of WOW Review, Volume II, is the result of an open call and might be considered an eclectic collection of significant titles with many potential connections. What I found most impressive about the titles in this issue is how they address the diverse roles that international books might assume for readers. At a time when life is both wonderful beyond words and frighteningly complex, readers can thrive on examples of young people dealing with situations in thoughtful, resilient ways. They can consider their lives with purpose—both the pleasurable and problematic—and realize that they are able to actively and positively deal with problems, even those that originated in situations beyond their control. These stories from around the world provide a sense of being able to intervene when life seems to just “happen” and can send a powerful message about one’s own potential to create paths in life journeys. Such lessons learned from enjoyable, intriguing, and authentic books are ones that become personal foundations for creative and critical thought.
The issue opens with a delightful collection of ghost tales that will appeal to readers with chilling story plots woven around the joys of food. Each tale in A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts (Compestine, 2009), however, is actually focused on a political, social or cultural issue that the author explains for the reader. Although the unique characters may provide non-traditional, and not always acceptable, approaches to problem solving, this collection can be used to show how the author addressed social issues with an inviting genre—a potentially empowering lesson in making one’s voice heard.
Typical adolescent themes of wanting to belong and negotiating personal identity among peer groups are explored by Grace Lin. The Year of the Dog (2005) and Millicent Min, Girl Genius (2003) provide a humorous contemporary look at young Chinese-American girls who are trying to fit in socially in American school contexts. Their situations are ones to which many can relate and the insights into Chinese-American culture challenge stereotypes. In more serious settings, Real Time (Koss, 2004) and Surrender Tree (Engel, 2008) focus on young protagonists, one in the midst of conflict within modern Israel and the other amidst Cuba’s struggle for freedom from Spain. In each, young people assume a critical role either by choice or circumstance, and the continuous action and energy in Real Time as contrasted with the peaceful role of a healer in Surrender Tree reflect the diverse ways that one might assume an active role in a time of national conflict. Add to these two titles Bog Child (Dowd, 2008), in which a young protagonist and his brothers in 1984 are in the midst of the Irish conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, and readers not only have 20th century challenges but the plot uniquely brings in a character from 2000 years prior to share the message of staying true to oneself.
From Somalia with Love (Robert, 2009) and Sold (McCormick, 2006) relate challenging personal situations of young girls due to cultural strife and socio-economics. In Robert’s story, a young Somalian Muslim girl settled in England is dealing with the change in family dynamics when her father returns home, but she is protected against conflicting social issues that might bring her physical harm. Lakshmi from Nepal in Sold is trying to problem-solve her family’s economic situation and is unknowingly traded into prostitution by her stepfather for a meager amount of money. Each story shares the mental journey these girls take as they deal with culture, relationships, and personal decisions.
Two pictures books provide further exploration of problem-solving by children. Home of the Brave (Say, 2002) invites readers to enter a surreal world that connects historical events to a reader’s own sense of home, patriotism, and identity. The reader can enter the story and, as the different events unfold, be that character positioned within and between these two historical situations. My Name is Sangoel involves an eight-year- old boy and, while appropriate for young readers, has a strong message concerning the cultural heritage found within one’s name—a message appropriate for all, especially since many refugees and immigrants are older students.
As you read these reviews, and hopefully are inspired to read the books as well, we would enjoy hearing about your responses, connections, and critique. Meanwhile, please consider submitting to Volume II, Issue 4, a themed issue focusing on picture and chapter books about the Middle East and South Asia. These reviews are due May 15, 2010. Guidelines are provided on this site.