Youth Programs

The House Baba Built by Ed Young Mod. 5



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Young, Ed. The House Baba Built. Little Brown Company: New York, 2011. ISBN 9780316076289

Plot Summary:

Ed Young didn’t have a typical childhood. With his country, China, at war, the world seemed a dark place. But one thing stood true for Ed Young. Nothing bad could happen to him when he was in the house his father built. And because of his father, instead of his childhood being about planes, bombs, and soldier, it was  filled with imagination and joy.

Critical Analysis: 

I thought this book was very well written and interesting to read. The pages fold out. They also include beautiful drawings of family and corresponding moments in the story. I love that his “baba” desired to keep his family safe and did so by using his skills as a carpenter and construction worker and imagination. Instead of being influenced by bombs and soldiers, they had a swimming pool and tennis courts and their imagination.

I was pulled into this book and was engaged the whole way through.

I did wish there was more about the war, and how the war was viewed from the point of the Chinese, but that’s also the point of the book, they weren’t as aware of it either, and they lived it.

There was surprisingly a very real lack of culture in this book.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal

“Young’s father builds a house for his growing family and for others who join them. Against the background of World War II, the author shares childhood memories of changing seasons, raising silkworms, and picnicking by the pool. This oversize book with foldout pages is illustrated with photos, drawings, and collage. Includes a time line and a diagram of the house.”

From Kirkus Review

“The episodic text rambles; some illustrations are casual and chaotic. Others are magnificent. Young uses myriad textures, including crinkly paper and woven reed paper. Collaged family silhouettes feature tenderly sketched faces. Old photos and bits of painted collage glow on dark pages. Miniscule cut-out people populate fold-out drawings and complex, three-dimensional–looking collages of the house. Those wanting historical or cultural background will need supplements, though.

Sophisticated, inventive art invites close viewings for patient readers in this unusual family story.”

From Publishers Weekly

“Young’s creation, shaped with help from author Libby Koponen, is as complex and labyrinthine as Baba’s house, with foldout pages that open to reveal drawings, photos, maps, and memories. Tender portraits of his siblings, torn-paper collages showing tiny figures at play, and old photos of stylish adults intermingle, as if they’d been found forgotten in a drawer. Young’s fans will savor stories of his East-West childhood; he and his four siblings raise silkworms, watch Westerns, train fighting crickets, and dance the conga when the war finally ends 14 years later. “Life,” Baba writes to his children, “is not rich not real unless you partake life with your fellow man”; Young set the course of his life by his father’s words. It’s history at its most personal.”


Books by Ed Young:

My Mei Mei ISBN 978-0399243394

The Lost Horse ISBN 978-0152050238

The Sons of the Dragon King ISBN 978-0689851841

Other Books:

Shanghai Messenger by Andrea Cheng ISBN 978-1620142301

The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen ISBN 978-0698116443

The Empty Pot by Demi ISBN 978-0805049008

Discussion Circle:

How can we find happiness when things are bad?


Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac (Mod. 4)



Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker: a novel about the Navajo Marines of World War Two. Dial Books: New York, 2005.

Plot Summary:

Ned Begay wants to join the war, especially when he hears that Navajos are being recruited specifically. He lies about his age so he can enlist, goes through boot camp, and finds himself involved in a top-secret task performed only by Navajos, as a code talker. Code Talkers were a crucial part of WWII. They helped US efforts by sending messages back and forth in an unbreakable code using their language. This is a story of the legendary Code Talkers.

Critical Analysis:

This book is so important for multicultural literature and literature in general. WWII is one of the most highly discussed wars and shows up so often in books (such as The Book Thief or The Librarian of Auschwitz). However, even in our history classrooms, the contribution of the Navajos are barely touched on, if even mentioned at all. They were key in our win in the war, and without their sacrifice and bravery, we would have been severely impacted. That’s why I think this book is so important.

Not only is the historic impact of this book significant, it’s significant to Native American literature. The choices, especially for young adults, are few and far between. Not much is written on Native Americans and there is very little representation for their ethnic group in literature.  This book focuses on Navajo Native Americans and the treatment that they received before, during, and after the war.

The book is very well written. It is styled with Grandfather telling his grandchildren about the events. Using this narrative voice mutes the horror of war a little, making it more palatable for children. While I understand the desire to not subject kids to the horrors of our world, and to keep them innocent for as long as we can, we gain nothing by keeping them in the dark and uninformed. But it’s also just a fantastic way to tell this kind of story. While you read, you feel as if you are sitting around a campfire, listening to the grandfather tell his story. It’s very inclusive in that you feel like you are apart of it. The flow and pacing were really well done, and the characters were well developed.

I would highly recommend this book to others, especially for those interested in military novels, history, or multicultural literature.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“In the measured tones of a Native American storyteller, Bruchac assumes the persona of a Navajo grandfather telling his grandchildren about his World War II experiences. Protagonist Ned Begay starts with his early schooling at an Anglo boarding school, where the Navajo language is forbidden, and continues through his Marine career as a “code talker,” explaining his long silence until “de-classified” in 1969. Begay’s lifelong journey honors the Navajos and other Native Americans in the military, and fosters respect for their culture. Bruchac’s gentle prose presents a clear historical picture of young men in wartime, island hopping across the Pacific, waging war in the hells of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, and Iwo Jima. Nonsensational and accurate, Bruchac’s tale is quietly inspiring, even for those who have seen Windtalkers, or who have read such nonfiction works as Nathan Aaseng’s Navajo Code Talkers (Walker, 1992), Kenji Kawano’s Warriors: Navajo Code Talkers (Northland, 1990), or Deanne Durrett’s Unsung Heroes of World War II: The Story of the Navajo Code Talkers (Facts On File, 1998).”

From Booklist:

“Six-year-old Ned Begay leaves his Navajo home for boarding school, where he learns the English language and American ways. At 16, he enlists in the U.S. Marines during World War II and is trained as a code talker, using his native language to radio battlefield information and commands in a code that was kept secret until 1969. Rooted in his Navajo consciousness and traditions even in dealing with fear, loneliness, and the horrors of the battlefield, Ned tells of his experiences in Hawaii, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The book, addressed to Ned’s grandchildren, ends with an author’s note about the code talkers as well as lengthy acknowledgments and a bibliography. The narrative pulls no punches about war’s brutality and never adopts an avuncular tone. Not every section of the book is riveting, but slowly the succession of scenes, impressions, and remarks build to create a solid, memorable portrayal of Ned Begay. Even when facing complex negative forces within his own country, he is able to reach into his traditional culture to find answers that work for him in a modern context. Readers who choose the book for the attraction of Navajo code talking and the heat of battle will come away with more than they ever expected to find.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“When WWII broke out, Navajos…were recruited by the Marine Corps to use their native language to create an unbreakable code….Telling his story to his grandchildren, Ned relates his experiences in school, military training, and across the Pacific….With its multicultural themes and well-told WWII history, this will appeal to a wide audience.”


Other books by Joseph Bruchac

Skeleton Man ISBN 9780064408882

The First Strawberries ISBN 9780140564099

Dragon Castle ISBN 9780803733763

Similar Books:

Eyes of the Emperor by Graham Sailsbury ISBN 9780440229568

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry ISBN 9780547577098

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ISBN 9781423152880



The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin Mod. 5


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Lin, Grace. The Year of the Dog. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2007. ISBN 9780316060028.

Plot Summary:

Pacy Lin is excited for the new year, the Year of the Dog, where she is supposed to find wealthy and strengthen relationships. This funny book is about a young Taiwanese-American girl who is discovering who she is and fostering her relationships with her parents, her friends, her sisters, and her cultural identity.

Critical Analysis:

I thought this was a very good book. It is well written, especially for children transitioning from early readers to middle grade. The language is simplistic and easy to follow, yet descriptive and well written enough to keep their attention and increase their imagination.

The story is one that will most especially resonate with children from immigrant families. The cross between cultures, and feeling as though there are two parts of you, or more.

“But I’m not really Chinese either. It’s kind of confusing. My parents came from Taiwan. Some people thought Taiwan was part of China. So then calling me Chinese was kind of correct. Other people thought Taiwan was a country all by itself, so then I should be called Taiwanese. It didn’t help that my parents spoke both Chinese and Taiwanese. ‘So when people ask me what I am, what am I supposed to tell them?” I once asked Mom. “You tell them that you’re American,” Mom told me firmly. But my friend didn’t call me Chinese, Taiwanese, or American. They called me Grace, my American name.”  pg. 18 & 19

The focus on culture is really well done. The story centers around the Chinese new year, being the year of the dog, it indicates celebrating friends and family and self discovery.

“‘Yes,’ Lissy told me, nodding her head so hard that her black hair swung back and forth. Lissy always thought she knew everything. ‘You know how they say a dog is a man’s best friend? Well, in the Year of the Dog you find your best friends.” pg. 2

The sense of community is also very present in this book.

“What’s TAC camp?” I asked. 
“Oh, it’s a camp for Taiwanese-Americans. We all get together and do things,” she told me. “We go every summer. We spend a week there and then we go see my Aunt Alice the next week.” 
“That sounds boring,” I said. 
“No, it’s fun!” Melody said. “We sing songs and go to art class- all the usual fun camp things, except everyone is Taiwanese. Maybe you should come!” pg. 90 & 91

It also brings to light challenges our young kids have to face, like friendship and relations between parents and siblings. Even extended family.

The book is dotted with cute little black and white drawings and the who layout of the book is good. Several stories that were told by herself or family members interrupt the narrative.

This is a great middle grade book that kids will love.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. Readers follow Grace, an American girl of Taiwanese heritage, through the course of one year–The Year of the Dog–as she struggles to integrate her two cultures. Throughout the story, her parents share their own experiences that parallel events in her life. These stories serve a dual purpose; they draw attention to Graces cultural background and allow her to make informed decisions. She and her two sisters are the only Taiwanese-American children at school until Melody arrives. The girls become friends and their common backgrounds illuminate further differences between the American and Taiwanese cultures. At the end of the year, the protagonist has grown substantially. Small, captioned, childlike black-and-white drawings are dotted throughout. This is an enjoyable chapter book with easily identifiable characters.”

From Booklist:

“When Lin was a girl, she loved the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward, a series about a quintessentially American girl whose days centered around friends and school. But Lin, a child of Taiwanese immigrants, didn’t see herself in the pages. Now she has written the book she wished she had as a child. Told in a simple, direct voice, her story follows young Grace through the Year of the Dog, one that Grace hopes will prove lucky for her. And what a year it is! Grace meets a new friend, another Asian girl, and together they enter a science fair, share a crush on the same boy, and enjoy special aspects of their heritage (food!). Grace even wins fourth place in a national book-writing contest and finds her true purpose in life. Lin, who is known for her picture books, dots the text with charming ink drawings, some priceless, such as one picturing Grace dressed as a munchkin. Most of the chapters are bolstered by anecdotes from Grace’s parents, which connect Grace (and the reader) to her Taiwanese heritage. Lin does a remarkable job capturing the soul and the spirit of books like those of Hayward or Maud Hart Lovelace, reimagining them through the lens of her own story, and transforming their special qualities into something new for today’s young readers.”

From Kirkus Review:

“This comfortable first-person story will be a treat for Asian-American girls looking to see themselves in their reading, but also for any reader who enjoys stories of friendship and family life.”



Other books by Grace Lin:

Dumpling Days ISBN: 9780316125895

Dim Sum for Everyone ISBN: 9780385754880

The Ugly Vegetables ISBN: 9781570914911

Similar books:

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look ISBN 9781416913894

Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet S. Wong ISBN 9780152057084

The Dragon’s Child: A Story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep ISBN 9780060276928

Connective Activity:

Find out what the animal is for the year you were born. What is the characteristic for that year?


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


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Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: New York, 2009. ISBN 9780316013697.

Plot Summary: 

This is the story of a young boy named Junior, who is a wannabe cartoonist living in the Spokane Indian Reservation. But he wants more for his life than the constant reservation life that everyone gets sucked into. He leaves the reservation to go to an all white farm town high school. Based on the events of the author, this book is a contemporary coming of age about a boy who wants to break free from the mold others expect him to stay in.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was okay. It was written decently, but I just wasn’t very interested in the story. I didn’t feel immersed in it. I kept getting pulled out of the story, and had a hard time finishing it.

That being said, it did a good job in themes and in showing the Native American culture.

Alcoholism and poverty are among the two most common hardships those living on reservations face. This is made evident in the book. In fact, our main character’s parents are alcoholic.

The other thing I liked about this book was about overcoming disability. Junior was born with brain damage, but despite it, is incredibly intelligent and gifted in both drawing and basketball. He battles those related issues to do what he loves, which earns him respect at the white school he goes to, off the reservation.

If nothing else, the morals are good, and can show how we can overcome any issues facing us, but more importantly, how who we are/where we were born does not define who we become.



Review Excerpts: 

From School Library Journal:

The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.

From Booklist:

Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.

From New York Times:

“This is a gem of a book….may be [Sherman Alexie’s] best work yet.”


Books by Sherman Alexie:

Flight ISBN 9780802170378

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven  ISBN 9780802141675

Other Books about Native Americans:

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume ISBN 9780330398121

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison by Lois Lenski ISBN 9780064461627

The Indian in the Cupboard by Scott O’Dell ISBN 9780007148981

Discussion Topic:

Why do Native American’s face the challenges they do? How are ways we can help?


Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (Mod. 3)


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Medina, Meg. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. Candlewick Press: New York, 2014. ISBN 978-0763671648.

Plot Summary:

Piddy Sanchez is told that Yaqui Delgado hates her and wants to kick her ass. Piddy doesn’t know who Yaqui is. As she continues to face harassment at school, all while balancing good grades and a job, she tries to figure out how to survive. As the harassment continues, it starts to take over her life, and she’s not sure how she’ll survive.

Critical Analysis:

This book was wonderful! Pura Belpre winning novels tend to be spectacular, and this one is no exception. The novel is wonderfully written. The characters, even the background characters we hardly see, are very well developed. The book flows well and keeps up a nice pace. I didn’t fly through it, but I didn’t feel like it was dragging either.

This book is more culturally specific than other books I’ve read. It included a lot with the characters. Latino culture was completely immersed in the book, which made me happy.

This is your basic coming of age novel, but with a Latin flair. The Spanish used in the book is wonderful. Just enough to give it a good taste. The context clues worked well enough for you to know what the words mean if you don’t speak Spanish.

I think the portrayal of the Latinx community in this book was spot on.

Piddy moves to a new school where she seems to be immediately hated, and starts receiving harassment. Between that and her ever straining relationship with her mom and best friend, she struggles to figure out who she is.

The struggle our main character goes through is one millions of kids all around the world go through. Figuring out sexuality, who you are as a person, parental relationships, and bullying are all topics we are very familiar with. This makes for a character everyone can relate to.

This was a very good book about growing up and becoming yourself, and I highly recommend it.


Review Excerpts:

From Booklist

“Medina authentically portrays the emotional rigors of bullying through Piddy’s growing sense of claustrophobic dread, and even with no shortage of loving, supportive adults on her side, there’s no easy solution. With issues of ethnic identity, class conflict, body image, and domestic violence, this could have been an overstuffed problem novel; instead, it transcends with heartfelt, truthful writing that treats the complicated roots of bullying with respect.”

From Kirkus Review

“A nuanced, heart-wrenching and ultimately empowering story about bullying….Interweaving themes of identity, escapism and body image, Medina takes what could be a didactic morality tale and spins it into something beautiful: a story rich in depth and heart…Far more than just a problem novel, this book sheds light on a serious issue without ever losing sight of its craft.”

From School Library Journal

“The Latino cultural milieu adds a richness and texture that lifts this up above many problem novels. The plot points are dexterously intertwined, and the characters are distinct. A real bonus for those looking for a bullying book for older readers that is not simplistic.”


Other books by Meg Medina:

Burn Baby Burn ISBN 978-1511371872

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind ISBN 978-0763664190

Mango, Abuela, and  Me ISBN 978-0763669003

Books with Latino Characters:

So Hard to Say by Alex Sanchez ISBN: 9781416911890

More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera ISBN: 9781616955601

The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano ISBN:9780545325059

Journal Entry:

What’s been your biggest trial so far in your life? Have you overcome it, or are you still facing it? How did you beat it, or how do you plan to?

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle Mod. 3


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Engle, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings:  A Memoir. Atheneum Books for Young Readers: New York, 2016. ISBN 978-1481435239

Plot Summary: 

In this poetic memoir, we see a young Margarita torn between two worlds: her mother’s lush and tropical island of Cuba, and her home in Las Angeles. She travels between the two, her heart in both places. But when the war erupts and tensions grow between her two beloved countries, she is torn. Eventually her two worlds collide.

Critical Analysis: 

This book was phenomenal. Really, as per usual, Margarita Engle delivers a beautifully written, thought provoking, and emotional read. Told in free verse, this memoir addresses her childhood as a half Cuban, half American during the Cold War.

The writing and the imagery are poetic.  I could clearly envision the beautiful island of Cuba, that her heart yearned for. I could feel her struggle, learning that she couldn’t go back and that she was cut off from her family and her identity. I could feel her sense of loss.

The book flows well, and is split into different time periods that were crucial in her life. Before, during, and after. We start in 1947, before Engle is born; the day her parents met. We then move to 1951-1959, then to 1960, 1961-1964, and finally, 1965. Each time period starts with a picture of a flower, and a section heading. Each poem has a “title” a phrase to sum up the experience. It is laid out beautifully.

Through her childhood eyes, we can see how children who are from or whose parents are from countries we are fighting against feel. The fear of losing her mom. The fear of being put in internment camps. The fear of never seeing her Cuban extended family again.

Cuba is described so beautifully. It really makes me want to go there. The culture is heavy in this book, so it would be classifies as culturally specific. But more than the culture and the country itself, this is a book about how it feels to be in a family of immigrants.

Unfortunately, this is a book for all time periods. This is how the Japanese Americans felt. This is how the Irish immigrants felt. I’m sure our Muslim brothers and sisters feel the same way now. I’m sure our Syrian brothers and sisters feel the same. And I’m sure all of our immigrants feel the same. In our current political climate, this book is relevant and necessary, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so.

The ending had me in tears. I won’t spoil it, but it was moving and remarkable.


Review Excerpts:

From School Library Journal:

“A deeply personal memoir-in-verse filled with Engle’s trademark intricately woven lyricism. The author’s memories focus on the first 14 years of her life, beginning with idyllic summers spent in her mother’s homeland of Cuba and ending during the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequent travel ban. Engle captures the heart of a quiet, young girl torn between two cultures. This historical memoir/love poem to Cuba couldn’t be more timely. With the recent easing of relations with Cuba, teachers can use the text as an accessible entry point into the history behind this very current event. And while the narrative unfolds over 50 years ago, Engle’s experiences will still resonate with adolescents and teens today. Any child who has felt like an outsider will recognize themselves in Margarita’s tale. When the Cuban Missile Crisis ended and everyone’s focus shifted, the author was left confused, empty and unfulfilled by her school’s seemingly senseless focus on what felt like irrelevant historical events. What American child with ties to a country experiencing turmoil couldn’t relate to the lingering after-effects of far off events in our era of two-minute news bytes? VERDICT: A more than worthwhile purchase for any library in need of a universally applicable coming-of-age tale, a fantastic new memoir-in-verse, or a glimpse into Cuba’s past.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Poet and novelist Engle has won a Newbery Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Américas Award, among others…. This time she brings readers her own childhood. Employing free verse, she narrates growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and early ’60s torn by her love of two countries: the United States, where she was born and raised, and Cuba, where her mother was from and where she spent vacations visiting family. Woven into the fabric of her childhood is the anxiety of deteriorating relations between the two countries as the Cuban revolution takes place, affecting both her family and the two countries at large…. Though it is a very personal story, it is also one that touches on issues affecting so many immigrants…. As so many of our children are immigrants or children of immigrants, we need more of these stories, especially when they are as beautifully told as this one.”

From Booklist:

“Reflecting on her childhood in Los Angeles and her Cuban heritage, Engle’s memoir in verse is, indeed, nothing short of enchanting. Descriptions of Cuba as a tropical paradise and the home of her beloved abuelita come alive in the spare free-verse poems. She evocatively addresses weighty issues, such as her mother’s homesickness, being bicultural, the challenge of moving homes and schools, the Cuban Revolution, and negotiating an identity that is being torn apart by politics and social attitudes at complete odds with her feelings and experiences. With characteristic precision, Engle captures a range of emotions and observations salient to a young girl…. In addition to the arresting content that provides many opportunities for learning, the craft of this memoir lends itself to creative exploration in the classroom…. The book’s poignancy and layered beauty make it a worthy addition to any collection and a fitting companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (2014) and Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again (2011).”


Books by Margarita Engle:

Forest World ISBN 978-1481490573

Drum Dream Girl ISBN 978-0544102293

The Surrender Tree ISBN 978-0312608712

Similar Books:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson ISBN 978-0147515827

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai ISBN 978-0061962790

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Majorie Agosin ISBN 978-1416994022

Journal Entry:

Write about your ancestors and where they’re from. It can be as far back as those who came on the Mayflower, or it can be as recent as your parents or even yourself. Who are you?