Eyes that Speak to the Stars
Written by Joanna Ho
Illustrated by Dung Ho
HarperCollins, 2022, 40 pp
Eyes that Speak to the Stars is a beautiful picturebook about a young Chinese American boy who sadly greets his father after school because a friend drew a picture of their group of friends with his eyes as two slanted lines. The boy tells his father that he didn’t recognize himself in that picture. His father takes him on a journey of appreciation for his features as part of his identity. The remainder of the book takes the boy on a circular path of self-identity, sharing sweet memories with his father, grandfather, and brother, all of whom have eyes like his.
His Baba (father) gives him vision and encouragement for what he can accomplish. The boy’s Agong (grandfather) shares his wisdom through cultural stories that represent their shared family heritage such as rice paddies on mountains, miracles from the sea goddess Mazu (Hamilton, 2021), and mango milk. The boy realizes that his baby brother DiDi’s eyes also look like his when they squeeze shut with delighted laughter. Each experience reminds him that he is more than one physical feature and has a meaningful history and destiny.
The cover contrasts the boy holding a bright lantern against the dark night sky, which represents the deep emotions he feels. The dark blue represents his sadness and confusion with the realization that his friends’ ideas about his features differ from his own. Throughout the book, yellows, oranges, and reds convey emotional warmth and security as the boy comes to realize his identity and potential, supported by his family. The lines are often diagonal and slanted upward to suggest the deep emotions which the boy is feeling (Short et al., 2018). The pictures are realistic and heartwarming and complement the prose beautifully. They emphasize authentic aspects of Chinese culture such as dragon kites, stories from family history, a beautiful Chinese city, and paper lanterns.
This book is written for younger children. However, the themes in this book include stereotyping, family, and self-esteem rooted in cultural identity, which have far-reaching meaning for everyone. These themes invite readers to contemplate questions such as: Have I unknowingly or knowingly made comments or insinuations that stereotype others? Have others made stereotypes about me? What aspects of my family heritage influence my identity? Does my self-esteem build on my cultural identity? These questions can invite classroom discussions to enable students to gain awareness of their identity and interactions with others. Teachers could use this book as a starting point for a discussion about family heritage and the influence of our immediate family and ancestors on who we are.
Other books that could pair with Eyes that Speak to the Stars are The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (2003) and The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammed and Hatem Aly (2019). The Name Jar is about a girl who comes to a new school where the students can’t pronounce her name and she must decide if she will choose a new American name or keep her Korean name. The Proudest Blue is told from the perspective of a young girl whose older sister wears a Hijab to school for the first time. Though some students laugh, her big sister ignores them and lends courageous strength to her. Another pairing is on the first book on the stereotypes of Asian eyes by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners (2021), about a Chinese American girl.
The author of this story, Joanna Ho, has been an English teacher, high school vice principal, and professional development educator. She decided to create children’s books when she couldn’t find holiday books with diverse characters for her children. She enjoys spending time with her children, writing equitable stories, eating ice cream and chocolate cookies, and hiking, especially where there are waterfalls. More information can be found on her website, joannahowrites.com.
Dung Ho, the illustrator, lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where she enjoys drawing books for children. She was born in Hue, Vietnam and lived there through her college years. At Hue University, she studied graphic design. She worked in advertising and design before deciding to become a children’s book illustrator. Her interests include watching movies and cooking (Dung Ho, n.d.-a; Dung Ho, n.d.-b).
Dung Ho. (n.d.-a) Dung Ho. Simon and Schuster. https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Dung-Ho/164076650
Dung Ho. (n.d.-b) Dung Ho. Harper Collins. https://www.harpercollins.com/blogs/authors/dung-ho-52275
Hamilton, M. (2021, November 22). Chinese Goddess: Mazu. Mythopedia. https://mythopedia.com/topics/mazu
Short, K.G., Lynch-Brown, C.L., & Tomlinson, C. M. (2018). Essentials of children’s literature (9th ed.). Pearson.
Rebecca Rader, University of Nevada-Reno
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WOW Review, Volume XIV, Issue 3 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/xiv-3/5
WOW review: reading across cultures