Having lived abroad, I get so tchetchy about books (and movies) about people who go abroad and suddenly everything is different and life is amazing. I sound bitter, I know. But living abroad isn’t magical. You still have to go to the grocery store. I don’t think you find yourself abroad; I think that when you step away from everything and everyone that you know, suddenly you are forced to see yourself and depend on yourself in a way that you never have before. And you realize that the world around you might be different, but you’re still you. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. I think traveling can change your perspective. It can open you up to amazing things. It can force you to look closely at your own culture. It can introduce you to new people. It can illuminate trends and patterns. It can push you outside your comfort zone. It can make you marvel at how big the world is, while you simultaneously start to appreciate how small it is. I love traveling. I love moving around. I love discovering things and places that I didn’t even know existed. But one of the things I’ve noticed, is that I’m always still me. I think that’s one of the reasons, I appreciated Maureen Johnson’s 13 Little Blue Envelopes (HarperTeen, $8.99). Ginny Blackstone’s aunt sends her on a trip. Ginny has to follow the directions left to her, one envelope at a time. Ginny has adventures across Europe. She meets interesting people. And yes there is a bit of romance. But she doesn’t suddenly become a different person. There is a lot of space in this book. A lot of silence. It took me a while to figure out that Ginny doesn’t say very much. She seems to be soaking in the views around her. Watching more than participating. I really appreciated that. I liked that she goes on a grand adventure, but fundamentally stays the same person all the way through. It’s the steadiness in this book, as opposed to all the books about Amazing Things That Happen When You Leave The Country, that make 13 Little Blue Envelopes stand out.
On that note, I’m heading to Scotland for a few days. More posts to follow, because there are some amazing new books out. I’ve been remiss lately and look forward to catching up.
Rick Riordan is starting to become a household name. His book, The Lightning Thief, was made into a movie and most of our customers are at least familiar with his books. Of his series for middle-grade readers, The Kane Chronicles are my favorite. The two primary characters, Sadie and Carter, are brother and sister, but Carter has grown up traveling with their father, and Sadie lives in London with their mother’s parents. They have met over the years, but don’t really know each other until the beginning of their adventures in The Red Pyramid (Hyperion Books, $9.99). They have such a quirky and genuine dynamic. They bicker and save each other and bicker while saving each other. I laughed out loud several times during their conversations. Unlike Riordan’s other series’, The Kane Chronicles focuses on Egyptian Mythology. Sure sure, he’s taking some artistic license in these books, but it’s obvious that he’s done a tremendous amount of research and I honestly felt like I was learning something new along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed the two strong female and male narrators and also really appreciated the subtle issue of growing up in a mixed-race family that occasionally surfaces in the narrative.
The series is currently in progress; the third volume, The Serpent’s Shadow, is in hardcover. Be careful, though! The covers of this series are almost indistinguishable from Riordan’s Lost Heroes of Olympus series, which is also in progress. Most readers will enjoy both series, but might be confused if they end up with the wrong book!
Crabtree Publishing Company has an excellent series, by Bobbie Kalman, about various countries, including China. The series contains three books for each country on The People, The Land, and The Culture ($8.95). Comprised of quality research and images, this series is a valuable resource for teachers and any late-elementary or middle-school enthusiast starting to be interested in China. Younger readers will enjoy China ABC’s (Picture Willow Books, $7.95), which is beautifully illustrated and edited for ages 4-6.
Ed Young, author/illustrator of Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China and The Lost Horse: A Chinese Folktale, has written and illustrated an auto-biographical picture book entitled, The House that Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China (Little, Brown, $17.99), which describes the encroaching war in China through the lens of a child and artist. Marco Polo, by Demi, is a lavishly illustrated history book (Marshall Cavendish, $19.99) and discusses Marco Polo’s explorations, including his two years in China.
For older readers, there are two poignant autobiographies that illuminate very different interpretations of childhood in China. In Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter (Delacorte, $8.99), Adeline Yen Mah describes her childhood in Hong Kong and tells of the psychological abuse she endured at the hands of her step-mother. Conversely, Jean Fritz, in Homesick: My Own Story, describes her childhood experiences growing up as an American expatriate in China. Homesick (Paperstar Book, $5.99) was a Newbery Honor book in 1983.